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Biotech

Xeroxed Gene May Have Paved the Way For Large Human Brain 79

Posted by samzenpus
from the look-at-the-big-brain-on-test-subject-35 dept.
sciencehabit writes Last week, researchers expanded the size of the mouse brain by giving rodents a piece of human DNA. Now another team has topped that feat, pinpointing a human gene that not only grows the mouse brain but also gives it the distinctive folds found in primate brains. The work suggests that scientists are finally beginning to unravel some of the evolutionary steps that boosted the cognitive powers of our species. "This study represents a major milestone in our understanding of the developmental emergence of human uniqueness," says Victor Borrell Franco, a neurobiologist at the Institute of Neurosciences in Alicante, Spain, who was not involved with the work.
Biotech

Police Use DNA To Generate a Suspect's Face 100

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-the-generic-looking-ones-you've-gotta-watch dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times has a pair of articles about a technology now being used in police investigations: computer generation of a suspect's face from only their DNA. Law enforcement in South Carolina had no pictures or descriptions of a man who murdered a mother and her daughter, but they had some of his DNA. From this, a company named Parabon NanoLabs used a technique called DNA phenotyping to create a rough portrait of the suspect's facial features, which the police then shared with the public.

The accuracy of these portraits is still an area of hot debate — most of them look rather generic. The NY Times staff tested it with a couple of their employees, circulating the DNA-inspired portraits and seeing if people could guess who it was supposed to be. None of the ~50 employees were able to identify reporter John Markoff, and only about 10 were able to identify video journalist Catherine Spangler. But even though the accuracy for a person's entire face is low, techniques for specific attributes, like eye color, have improved greatly. Of course, the whole situation raises a slew of civil liberties questions: "What traits are off limits? Should the authorities be able to test whether a suspect has a medical condition or is prone to violence should such testing be possible?"
The Military

100 Years of Chemical Weapons 224

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-century-later dept.
MTorrice writes This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first large-scale use of chemical weapons during World War I. Sarah Everts at Chemical & Engineering News remembers the event with a detailed account of the day in 1915 when the German Army released chlorine gas on its enemies, igniting a chemical arms race. Read the diaries of soldiers involved in the first gas attack. By the end of WWI, scientists working for both warring parties had evaluated some 3,000 different chemicals for use as weapons. Even though poison gas didn't end up becoming an efficient killing weapon on WWI battlefields—it was responsible for less than 1% of WWI's fatalities--its adoption set a precedent for using chemicals to murder en masse. In the past century, poison gas has killed millions of civilians around the world: commuters on the Tokyo subway, anti-government demonstrators in Syria, and those incarcerated in Third Reich concentration camps. Everts profiles chemist Fritz Haber, the man who lobbied to unleash the gas that day in 1915.
Medicine

Drug-Resistant Malaria May Pose Major Threat 71

Posted by timothy
from the not-just-crazy-dream-pills dept.
According to Newsweek, "A strain of drug-resistant malaria that was discovered last summer along the Thailand-Cambodia border has been been spreading throughout Southeast Asia, to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar." Specifically, the samples are resistant to anti-malarial artemisinin. The study analyzed more than 900 blood samples from malaria patients at over 55 different sites in Myanmar. The results showed that the drug-resistant bug was widespread, and dangerously close to the Indian border in the country’s Sagaing region. "Our study shows that artemisinin resistance extends over more of southeast Asia than had previously been known, and is now present close to the border with India,” wrote the researchers in the study abstract.
Biotech

Human DNA Enlarges Mouse Brains 192

Posted by timothy
from the what-about-vice-versa dept.
sciencehabit writes Researchers have increased the size of mouse brains by giving the rodents a piece of human DNA that controls gene activity. The work provides some of the strongest genetic evidence yet for how the human intellect surpassed those of all other apes. The human gene causes cells that are destined to become nerve cells to divide more frequently, thereby providing a larger of pool of cells that become part of the cortex. As a result, the embryos carrying human HARE5 have brains that are 12% larger than the brains of mice carrying the chimp version of the enhancer. The team is currently testing these mice to see if the bigger brains made them any smarter.
Data Storage

Storing Data In Synthetic Fossils 36

Posted by Soulskill
from the worked-for-the-dinosaurs dept.
Bismillah tips news of research from ETH Zurich which brings the possibility of extremely long-term data storage. The scientists encoded data in DNA, a young but established technique that has a major problem: accuracy. "[E]ven a short period of time presents a problem in terms of the margin of error, as mistakes occur in the writing and reading of the DNA. Over the longer term, DNA can change significantly as it reacts chemically with the environment, thus presenting an obstacle to long-term storage." To get around this issue, they encapsulated the DNA within tiny silica spheres, a process roughly comparable to the fossilization of bones (abstract). The researchers say data can be preserved this way for over a million years.
Medicine

Two New Male Birth Control Chemicals In Advanced Stages 369

Posted by samzenpus
from the man-pills dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Researchers at the University of Kansas and Harvard are working to give men more choices for avoiding unwanted pregnancies. From the article: "H2-gamendazole keeps sperm from maturing. The unfinished sperm fragments are then reabsorbed into the testis, never ending up in the semen. 'If there's no sperm, the egg's not going to get fertilized,' says Joseph Tash, a reproductive biologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Almost two years ago, the FDA reviewed the compound, and now the agency wants Tash to investigate if the compound remains in the semen and whether that would harm a woman if it ends up in the vagina. Jay Bradner, working with other anti-cancer researchers at Harvard, discovered that the JQ1 molecule blocked a bromodomain in cancer cells, causing them to forget how to be cancer. One side effect is that JQ1 also obstructed a testicle-specific bromodomain called BRDT, making the sex cells that would otherwise produce sperm non-functional — mice treated with JQ1 can hump with abandon yet generate zero mouselings. Researchers are looking for a version of the molecule that works on the testicle protein only, to avoid any weird side effects."
Medicine

Researcher Developing Tattoo Removal Cream 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the wipe-it-off dept.
BarbaraHudson writes During tattooing, ink is injected into the skin, initiating an immune response, and cells called "macrophages" move into the area and "eat up" the ink. The macrophages carry some of the ink to the body's lymph nodes, but some that are filled with ink stay put, embedded in the skin. That's what makes the tattoo visible under the skin. Dalhousie Uiversity's Alec Falkenham is developing a topical cream that works by targeting the macrophages that have remained at the site of the tattoo. New macrophages move in to consume the previously pigment-filled macrophages and then migrate to the lymph nodes, eventually taking all the dye with them. "When comparing it to laser-based tattoo removal, in which you see the burns, the scarring, the blisters, in this case, we've designed a drug that doesn't really have much off-target effect," he said. "We're not targeting any of the normal skin cells, so you won't see a lot of inflammation. In fact, based on the process that we're actually using, we don't think there will be any inflammation at all and it would actually be anti-inflammatory."
Medicine

US Military Working On 3D Printing Exact Replicas of Bones & Limbs 80

Posted by samzenpus
from the brand-new-you dept.
ErnieKey writes The U.S. military is working with technology that will allow them to create exact virtual replicas of their soldiers. In case of an injury, these replicas could be used to 3D print exact medical models for rebuilding the injured patient's body and even exact replica implants. Could we all one day soon have virtual backups of ourselves that we can access and have new body parts 3D printed on demand?
Biotech

Woman Suffers Significant Weight Gain After Fecal Transplant 378

Posted by timothy
from the watch-the-upstream dept.
Beeftopia (1846720) writes In a case reported in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases, a woman suffering from a drug-resistant intestinal infection gained 36 pounds after receiving a fecal transplant from her overweight daughter. Previous mouse studies have shown thin mice gain weight after ingesting fecal bacteria from obese mice. The woman previously was not overweight. After the procedure, despite a medically supervised liquid protein diet and exercise regimen, the woman remained obese. Her doctor said, "She came back about a year later and complained of tremendous weight gain... She felt like a switch flipped in her body, to this day she continues to have problems... as a result I'm very careful with all our donors don't use obese people."
Biotech

British MPs Approve 3-Parent Babies 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the who's-your-mitochondrial-mommy dept.
An anonymous reader writes: A vote of 382-128 in the UK's House of Commons gave approval for a procedure that allows the creation of babies using DNA from three parents. If the measure passes the House of Lords and gets licensed by the fertility regulator, the UK would be the first country to allow such genetic engineering. The medical procedure was designed to help conception when genetic diseases could be passed through mitochondrial DNA. A child inherits mitochondria only from its mother, and these mitochondria have their own DNA, which doesn't affect things like the child's appearance.

The purpose of the procedure is to replace the mother's mitochondria, and that can happen in two different ways. In one method, doctors take eggs from the mother and from a donor, removing the nucleus of both. The mother's nucleus is then implanted in the donor's egg, which can then be fertilized by the father's sperm. The other method is similar, but both eggs are fertilized before the nucleus swap takes place.

There has been lively debate about this issue, with critics raising ethical concerns and questioning the procedure's success rate. They also bring up the slippery slope argument that this will lead to further genetic modification of children. Proponents point out that less than 0.1% of the child's DNA will come from the donor, and it won't affect anything other than the child's health.
Biotech

Lowering the Cost of Biofuel Production 56

Posted by Soulskill
from the baby-steps dept.
sciencehabit writes: 2014 was a banner year for making automotive fuel from nonfood crops, with a series of major new production plants opening in the United States. However, producing this so-called cellulosic ethanol remains considerably more expensive than gasoline. So researchers are always on the lookout for new ways to trim costs. Now they have a new lead: a microbe that can use abundant nitrogen gas as the fertilizer it needs to produce ethanol from plants. The discovery (abstract) is "a major commercial accomplishment for biofuel production," says microbiologist Steven Ricke.
Medicine

Scientists Float Soap Bubbles As a More Effective Drug Delivery Method 15

Posted by Soulskill
from the bad-news-if-you-enjoy-getting-stabbed-by-sharp-objects dept.
Zothecula writes: As if soap bubbles don't spread enough happiness on their own, scientists have discovered a way of coating them in biomolecules with a view to treating viruses, cancer and other diseases. The technology has been developed at the University of Maryland, where researchers devised a method of tricking the body into mistaking the bubbles for harmful cells, triggering an immune response and opening up new possibilities in the delivery of drugs and vaccines.
Biotech

New Study Says Governments Should Ditch Reliance On Biofuels 224

Posted by samzenpus
from the won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-switchgrass? dept.
HughPickens.com writes The NYT reports on a new study from a prominent environmental think tank that concludes turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand. They add that continuing to pursue this strategy is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world's growing population. "I would say that many of the claims for biofuels have been dramatically exaggerated," says Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization based in Washington that is publishing the report. "There are other, more effective routes to get to a low-carbon world." The report follows several years of rising concern among scientists about biofuel policies in the United States and Europe, and is the strongest call yet by the World Resources Institute, known for nonpartisan analysis of environmental issues, to urge governments to reconsider those policies.

Timothy D. Searchinger says recent science has challenged some of the assumptions underpinning many of the pro-biofuel policies that have often failed to consider the opportunity cost of using land to produce plants for biofuel. According to Searchinger, if forests or grasses were grown instead of biofuels, that would pull carbon dioxide out of the air, storing it in tree trunks and soils and offsetting emissions more effectively than biofuels would do. What is more, as costs for wind and solar power have plummeted over the past decade, and the new report points out that for a given amount of land, solar panels are at least 50 times more efficient than biofuels at capturing the energy of sunlight in a useful form. "It's true that our first-generation biofuels have not lived up to their promise," says Jason Hill said. "We've found they do not offer the environmental benefits they were purported to have, and they have a substantial negative impact on the food system."
Biotech

FDA Wants To Release Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In Florida 265

Posted by samzenpus
from the I've-seen-this-movie dept.
MikeChino writes In an attempt to curb outbreaks of two devastating tropical diseases in the Florida Keys, the FDA is proposing the release of millions of genetically modified mosquitoes into the area. Scientists have bred male mosquitoes with virus gene fragments, so when they mate with the females that bite and spread illness, their offspring will die. This can reduce the mosquito population dramatically, halting the spread of diseases like dengue fever.
Medicine

Scientists Discover How To Track Natural Errors In DNA Replication 19

Posted by samzenpus
from the points-of-failure dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Researchers figured out how to label and keep track of new pieces of DNA, and learned to follow the enzyme responsible for copying those pieces. Their research focused on enzymes called polymerases. These enzymes create small regions in DNA that act as scaffolds for the copied DNA. Scientists assumed that the body deletes the scaffolds containing errors, or mutations, and the standard computer models supported this theory. However, the actual research showed that about 1.5 percent of those erroneous scaffolds are left over, trapped within the DNA. After running models, scientists now believe they can track how DNA replicates and find the most likely areas where these scaffolds with errors turn up. The erroneous scaffolds usually appear close to genetic switches, those regions that turn on when genes activate. The mutations damage the switch, which results in genetic disease, as well as increasing the likelihood of cancer.
Biotech

Scientists Determine New Way To Untangle Proteins By Unboiling an Egg 155

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-would-like-my-eggs-undone-please dept.
An anonymous reader sends word of this biotech breakthrough. "Univ. of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites—an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published in ChemBioChem. 'Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,' said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. 'In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold. We start with egg whites boiled for 20 min at 90 C and return a key protein in the egg to working order.'"
Biotech

New Advance Confines GMOs To the Lab Instead of Living In the Wild 130

Posted by timothy
from the we've-decided-to-put-this-in-everyone dept.
BarbaraHudson (3785311) writes In Jurassic Park, scientists tweak dinosaur DNA so that the dinosaurs were lysine-deficient in order to keep them from spreading in the wild. Scientists have taken this one step further as a way to keep genetically modified E. coli from surviving outside the lab. In modifying the bacteria's DNA to thwart escape, two teams altered the genetic code to require amino acids not found in nature. One team modified the genes that coded for proteins crucial to cell functions so that that produced proteins required the presence of the synthetic amino acid in the protein itself. The other team focused on 22 genes deemed essential to a bacterial cell's functions and tied the genes' expression to the presence of synthetic amino acids. For the bacteria to survive, these synthetic amino acids had to be present in the medium on which the bacteria fed. In both cases, the number of escapees was so small as to be undetectable."
Biotech

Drug Company CEO Blames Drug Industry For Increased Drug Resistance 136

Posted by samzenpus
from the who's-to-blame dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Times Live is reporting that while doctors have usually been blamed for bacterial resistance because of over-prescribing, Karl Rotthier, chief executive of the Dutch DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals, claims lax procedures at drugs companies are the real cause. "Most antibiotics are now produced in China and India and I do not think it is unjust to say that the environmental conditions have been quite different in these regions. Poor controls mean that antibiotics are leaking out and getting into drinking water. They are in the fish and cattle that we eat, and global travel and exports mean bacteria are traveling. That is making a greater contribution to the growth of antibiotic resistance than over-prescribing", Rothier said. "We cannot have companies discharging untreated waste water into our environment, contributing to illness and, worse, antibacterial resistance. We cannot accept that rivers in India show higher concentrations of active antibiotic than the blood of someone undergoing treatment."
Biotech

Hibernation Protein May Halt Alzheimer's 79

Posted by timothy
from the all-ideas-welcome dept.
BarbaraHudson writes The BBC is reporting that tests show a protein called RBM3, involved in hibernation, may hold the key to regenerating synapses. In the early stages of Alzheimer's, and other neurodegenerative disorders, synapses are lost. This inevitably progresses to whole brain cells dying. But during hibernation, 20-30% of the connections in the brain — synapses — are culled as the body preserves resources over winter, and are reformed in the spring, with no loss of memory. Memories can be restored after hibernation as only the receiving end of the synapse shuts down. In a further set of tests, the team showed the brain cell deaths from prion disease and Alzheimer's could be prevented by artificially boosting RBM3 levels. Prof Mallucci was asked if memories could be restored in people if their synapses could be restored: "Absolutely, because a lot of memory decline is correlated with synapse loss, which is the early stage of dementia, so you might get back some of the synapse you've lost."

Further reading: here, here, and here"