2015 Nobel Prize In Chemistry Awarded To 3 For DNA Repair 16

An anonymous reader writes: Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar have earned the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discoveries about how DNA is repaired at the cellular level (PDF), and how genetic information is protected. "Each day our DNA is damaged by UV radiation, free radicals and other carcinogenic substances, but even without such external attacks, a DNA molecule is inherently unstable. Thousands of spontaneous changes to a cell's genome occur on a daily basis. Furthermore, defects can also arise when DNA is copied during cell division, a process that occurs several million times every day in the human body."

Tomas Lindahl first published work in this field back in 1974, when he found a bacterial enzyme that culled damaged remains of cytosines from DNA. He methodically worked out how base excision repair works, and even managed to recreate the process in vitro in 1996. Aziz Sancar's contribution has to do with how DNA repairs damage from ultraviolet light. After struggling to find a lab interested in his work, he went on to show how a group of enzymes identify and excise UV damage. Paul Modrich's focus was on how natural processes corrected base pair mismatches in DNA. He spent a decade laboriously mapping out how each enzyme interacted with this process — an important thing to know, since defects in the repair system can cause cells to turn cancerous.

DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets 30

the_newsbeagle writes: DARPA is sinking some cash into the buzzy new research field of "electroceuticals," which involves stimulating nerves to control the activity of organs or bodily systems. The newest techniques have little in common with electroshock therapy, which sends a strong current broadly through the brain tissue; today's cutting-edge methods can target individual neurons, and turn them "on" and "off" with great precision. Under DARPA's new ElectRx program, seven research teams will explore different ways to modulate activity of the peripheral nervous system. Some will stimulate neurons directly with electricity, while others will take more roundabout routes involving light, acoustics, and magnetic fields.

DNA Vaccine Sterilizes Mice, Could Lead To One-Shot Birth Control For Cats, Dogs 148

sciencehabit writes: Animal birth control could soon be just a shot away. A new injection makes male and female mice infertile by tricking their muscles into producing hormone-blocking antibodies. If the approach works in dogs and cats, researchers say, it could be used to neuter and spay pets and to control reproduction in feral animal populations. A similar approach could one day spur the development of long-term birth control options for humans.

Majority of EU Nations Seek Opt-Out From Growing GM Crops 324

schwit1 writes: Nineteen EU member states have requested opt-outs for all or part of their territory from cultivation of a Monsanto genetically-modified crop, which is authorized to be grown in the European Union, the European Commission said on Sunday. Under a law signed in March, individual countries can seek exclusion from any approval request for genetically modified cultivation across the 28-nation EU. The law was introduced to end years of stalemate as genetically modified crops divide opinion in Europe. The requests are for opt-outs from the approval of Monsanto's GM maize MON 810, the only crop commercially cultivated in the European Union, or for pending applications, of which there are eight so far, the Commission said.

Dormant Virus Wakes Up In Some Patients With Lou Gehrig's Disease 46

MTorrice writes: Our chromosomes hold a partial record of prehistoric viral infections: About 8% of our genomes come from DNA that viruses incorporated into the cells of our ancestors. Over many millennia, these viral genes have accumulated mutations rendering them mostly dormant. But one of these viruses can reawaken in some patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive muscle wasting disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A new study demonstrates that this so-called endogenous retrovirus can damage neurons, possibly contributing to the neurodegeneration seen in the disease. The findings raise the possibility that antiretroviral drugs, similar to those used to treat HIV, could slow the progression of ALS in some patients.

Rogue Biohacking Is Not a Problem 43

Lasrick writes: Although biosecurity experts have long warned that biohackers will eventually engineer pathogens in the same way that computer enthusiasts in the 1970s developed viruses and adware, UC Berkeley's Zian Liu thinks fears about 'rogue biohackers' are overblown. He lists the five barriers that make it much more difficult to bioengineer in your garage than people think, but also suggests some important chokeholds regulators can take to prevent a would-be bioweaponeer from getting lucky.
Input Devices

ALS Patients Use a Brain Implant To Type 6 Words Per Minute 26

the_newsbeagle writes: With electrodes implanted in their neural tissue and a new brain-computer interface, two paralyzed people with ALS used their thoughts to control a computer cursor with unprecedented accuracy and speed. They showed off their skills by using a predictive text-entering program to type sentences, achieving a rate of 6 words per minute. While paralyzed people can type faster using other assistive technologies that are already on the market, like eye-gaze trackers and air-puff controllers, a brain implant could be the only option for paralyzed people who can't reliably control their eyes or mouth muscles.

Rare "Healthy" Smokers Lungs Explained 175

Bruce66423 writes: New research suggests that a portion of the population suffers few problems from smoking because their genes enable the smoke's effects to be overcome. The Medical Research Council reports: "The new findings, which used the first analyses of genetic data from participants in UK Biobank, may one day help scientists develop better treatments for diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a collection of life-threatening lung disorders affecting almost one million people in the UK. The findings could also help improve interventions aimed at helping smokers to give up."

Researchers Identify Newer and More Precise System For Genome Editing 33

An anonymous reader writes: Scientists have identified a new advanced molecular system for human genome editing with potential to increase power and precision of genome engineering. The team, including the scientist who first harnessed the CRISPR-Cas9 system for mammalian genome editing, described the features of the new system and demonstrated that it can be engineered to edit the genomes of human cells.

Paralyzed Man Uses Own Brainwaves To Walk Again -- No Exoskeleton Required 35

Zothecula writes: A man suffering complete paralysis in both legs has regained the ability to walk again using electrical signals generated by his own brain. Unlike similar efforts that have seen paralyzed subjects walk again by using their own brainwaves to manually control robotic limbs, the researchers say this is the first time a person with complete paralysis in both legs due to spinal cord injury was able to walk again under their own power and demonstrates the potential for noninvasive therapies to restore control over paralyzed limbs.

Stem Cell-Derived Brain Mimics Predict Chemical Toxicity 16

MTorrice writes: Scientists in Wisconsin have grown three-dimensional brain-like tissue structures from human embryonic stem cells. These new structures are easy to grow and contain vascular cells and microglia, a type of immune cell. The breakthrough may change the way we test drugs and chemicals for their effect on the human brain. Currently most tests use multiple generations of rats and cost about $1 million to test one chemical. “In the near term, the approach might be more valuable to identify pathways and mechanisms of toxicity,” says William Murphy, a biomedical engineer at the University of Wisconsin. “We are gathering so much data on responses of these human brain mimics to known toxic chemicals that we can start to understand the signaling pathways affected by the chemicals. Not just whether, but how the chemicals are affecting the developing human brain.”

UK Researcher Applies For Permission To Edit Embryo Genomes 62

sciencehabit writes with the news that developmental biologist Kathy Niakan, of the Francis Crick Institute in London, has applied for permission from the UK's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to edit the genes of human embryos. Niakan, says the article, "investigates the genes that are active at the earliest stages of human development, before it implants in the womb. Work with embryonic stem cells from mice and humans has suggested that some of the key genes active in this preimplantation period are different in humans and in mice. Niakan hopes to use genome editing to tweak some of the key genes thought to be involved and study the effects they have on human development." If approved, Niakan's work would only involve embryos in a lab, not implanted for gestation.

The Ethical Issues Surrounding OSU's Lab-Grown Brains 190

TheAlexKnapp writes: Last month, researchers at Ohio State University announced they'd created a "a nearly complete human brain in a dish that equals the brain maturity of a 5-week-old fetus." In the press release, the University hailed this as an "ethical" way to test drugs for neurological disorders. Philosopher Janet Stemwedel, who notes that she works in "the field where we've been thinking about brains in vats for a very long time" highlights some of the ethical issues around this new technology. "We should acknowledge," she says. "that the ethical use of lab-grown human brains is nothing like a no-brainer."

Wasps Have Injected New Genes Into Butterflies 103

sciencehabit writes: If you're a caterpillar, you do not want to meet a parasitic wasp. The winged insect will inject you full of eggs, which will grow inside your body, develop into larvae, and hatch from your corpse. But a new study reveals that wasps have given caterpillars something beneficial during these attacks as well: pieces of viral DNA that become part of the caterpillar genome, protecting them against an entirely different lethal virus. In essence, the wasps have turned caterpillars into genetically modified organisms.

DNA-Based Advertising Redefines Commercial "Ad-Targeting" 31

An anonymous reader writes: Hidden among the customary disclaimers about how the website intends to use the information it holds about you, states that it reserves the right to leverage the genotyping tests of users (who have contributed their DNA to AncestryDNA research) in order to serve back 'relevant' advertising via the site. Critics of the clause believe that the site's promise to delete a user's genome on request is devalued both by the possibility of data breaches and by the fact that data brokers and other third parties are both unlikely to honor (or even know about) removal requests, and are likely to improve at leveraging genetic information in the future.

Researchers Switch Neurons Off and On Using Noninvasive Ultrasound 37

Jason Koebler writes: Optogenetics, the ability to control neurons using bursts of light, has been one of the most promising breakthroughs in neurology of this decade. It's been a boon for researchers, but its invasive nature (the brain must usually be exposed) has held the technology back. Sreekanth Chalasani of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies described a new, noninvasive method of controlling neurons using ultrasound pulses in Nature Communications. For the first time ever, he was able to manipulate a genetically modified organism using a new technique called sonogenetics.

Damaged Spinal Cord "Rewires" Itself With Help of Electrical Stimulation 30

the_newsbeagle writes: Many prior experiments that tried to restore function after a spinal cord injury have used electrical stimulation to replace the signals from the brain, essentially implanting a replacement nervous system. But a new project instead used electrical stimulation to encourage the natural nervous system to adapt to a severe injury. When researchers repeatedly jolted a rat's damaged spinal cord at the precise moment that it tried to move a paralyzed limb, its nervous system developed new neural pathways that detoured around the site of injury in the spine. Researchers don't think it grew new neurons, but think instead that new connections formed between surviving neurons.

DNA From Neanderthal Relative May Shake Up Human Family Tree 61

sciencehabit writes: In a remarkable technical feat, researchers have sequenced DNA from fossils in Spain that are about 300,000 to 400,000 years old and have found an ancestor—or close relative—of Neanderthals. The nuclear DNA, which is the oldest ever sequenced from a member of the human family, may push back the date for the origins of the distinct ancestors of Neanderthals and modern humans.

Genes and Ancient Remedies May Help Fight Antibiotic Resistance 30

szczys writes: We've been hearing about it for years; bacteria are developing resistance to antibiotics and evolving into what are called superbugs. Some forecast the end of our ability to combat infection, but humanity has a knack for making breakthroughs that carry everyone forward. Dan Maloney looked at what is being done to combat antibiotic-resistance and the answer combines new technology with old remedies. It turns out that there are many ancient cures that successfully combat infections (video); they're just mixed in among a lot of cruft. More modern efforts focus on attacking bacteria on the genetic level which is a research area just getting itself up to speed now.

Pentagon Halts Work at Labs For Dangerous Pathogens After Anthrax Scare 50

An anonymous reader writes: The Pentagon announced yesterday it is issuing a moratorium on work at nine different biodefense labs after live anthrax was discovered outside containment at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The facility was discovered to have been shipping live anthrax specimens — instead of dead ones — to other labs. Work can only begin again after the shuttered facilities are certain to be clean of anthrax and assured of safe conduct. "The review calls for the military labs to ensure that personnel are properly trained on lab safety procedures and that necessary maintenance is conducted on biosafety level 3 lab facilities that work with some of the most dangerous pathogens. It calls for validating record-keeping and inventories of the military's 'Critical Reagents Program' — including 'ensuring that all materials associated with the CRP are properly accounted for.'"