‘The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is just two to three millimeters long but its impact is devastating. Of the thousands of mosquito species, this one bears primary responsibility for one of the world’s deadliest and fastest growing diseases. In the past 50 years, incidence of Dengue Fever has multiplied by 30 according to the WHO, spreading from nine countries in 1970 to over 100 today. There is no vaccine or cure for the painful virus known as Breakbone Fever, and of the 50-100 million people infected each year, over 20,000 die.
Aedes Aegypti has spread with this epidemic, and has become the target of efforts to control the disease. But while solutions such as mass spraying of toxic chemicals have proved expensive, ineffective and environmentally damaging, scientists hope to use the insect as the agent of its own destruction. British biotech firm Oxitec is tackling the problem through pioneering genetic modification (GM) of the Aedes Aegypti. Scientists breed large numbers of the insects in laboratories and inject the sperm cells of males with a lethal gene. When the mosquito is released into the wild and mates with a female — always of the same species – the deadly transgene is passed on and the offspring dies.’
‘Britain’s leading fertility doctor, Lord Robert Winston, has warned that his recent research could open the door to “risky” eugenics programs.
Lord Winston, who developed preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and his colleagues have developed a technique to splice genes into sperm, thus making it far easier to modify the genetic make-up of embryos. His focus is creating genetically modified pigs whose organs could be transplanted into humans without being rejected.
However, he told the Cheltenham Science Festival this week that it will be a far easier way to create “designer babies” because it would not be necessary to manipulate embryos. Only artificial insemination would be needed.’
An American businesswoman and an Ivy League scientist have teamed up to create a sophisticated service for reducing genetic diseases for lesbian couples and single women. Anne Morriss and Lee Silver, of Princeton, have founded
Genepeeks, a company which will identify the sperm donors who have the best chance of producing a disease-free baby. Using Silver’s patented gene analysis technology, Matchright, Genepeeks will create “virtual babies” for the woman and a range of possible sperm donors and screen out donors with a flawed genetic profile. Matchright screens for hundreds of diseases, but also other features, like eye colour and height. Morriss and Silver insist, however, that the technology will not be used to create genetically engineered children.
However, Silver, the author of pop science books like Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (1998) andChallenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality at the New Frontiers of Life (2006) is an apostle of genetic engineering and even human cloning.
Genepeeks will have to be prepared for stiff opposition.
Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, in California, told BBC News that its service was “highly irresponsible”.
“It amounts to shopping for designer donors in an effort to produce designer babies. We believe the patent office made a serious mistake in allowing a patent that includes drop-down menus for which to choose a future child’s traits. A project like this would also be ethically and socially treacherous.”
Bioethicist Julian Savulescu: We have a moral obligation to increase the intelligence of our children
Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu has again sparked controversy, this time advocating for the genetic screening of embryos and foetuses for intelligence genes.
In article published Wednesday in The Conversation, Savulescu referred to new research that identified specific genetic factors that contribute to low intelligence. A recent study, conducted by researchers from Cardiff University, showed that children with two copies of a common gene (Thr92Ala), together with low levels of thyroid hormone are four times more likely to have a low IQ.
… Accusations of eugenics have been leveled at Savulescu in the past, and this article is likely to garner similar responses. This most recent piece forms part of Savulescu’s growing corpus of articles advocating for human enhancement.
Early computers could perform fairly complex calculations just by arranging a few analog circuits. By choosing appropriate resistor and capacitor values, arithmetic summers, integrators, and differentiators can be easily constructed using a single amplifier, so long as the answer is less than the supply voltage. Indeed this is, at least in part, how early computers were able to track and deploy countermeasures to incoming missiles. It is even possible to take a couple of transistors and turn them into a precision multiplier. Inspired by these simple circuits, researchers at MIT have created synthetic analog computers that run genetic machinery — in other words, living cell calculators. In addition to arithmetic, these computers are also able to also perform more complex functions like taking logarithms, square roots, and even do power law scaling (evaluate functions of x raised to a certain power). While these machines are not as convenient as any inexpensive calculator, they can process numbers up to four digits, and are a heck of a lot smaller.
J. Craig Venter, the man who raced the U.S. government to sequence the first human genome, has a new goal: Help everyone live to 100, in good health. “Our goal is to make 100-years-old the new 60,” said Peter Diamandis, who co-founded with Venter a company that aims to scan the DNA of as many as 100,000 people a year to create a massive database that will lead to new tests and therapies that can help extend healthy human life spans.
Human Longevity Inc. will use machines from Illumina Inc., which has a stake in the company, to decode the DNA of people from children to centenarians. San Diego-based Human Longevity will compile the information into a database that will include information on both the genome and the microbiome, the microbes that live in our gut. The aim is to help researchers understand and address diseases associated with age-related decline. The company, with $70 million in initial funding, will focus first on cancer, according to a statement today.
The controversy over three-parent embryos could soon be old hat. Writing in one of the world’s leading journals, one of Britain’s best-known bioethicists has outlined a strategy for creating children with four or more genetic parents. He calls it “multiplex parenting”.
John Harris, of the University of Manchester, and two colleagues, César Palacios-González and Giuseppe Testa contend in the Journal of Medical Ethics (free online) that this is one of many exciting consequences of using stem cells to create synthetic eggs and sperm. (Or as they prefer to call them, in vitro generated gametes (IVG).)
After the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells in 2007, theoretically any cell in the body can be created from something as simple as a skin cell. Mice have already been born from sperm and eggs created from stem cells. Harris and his colleagues believe that the day is not far off when scientists will be able to do the same with humans. In their paper, they spin an ethical justification for this and outline some possible uses.
Japanese scientists may have found the way to address the global organ transplant shortage. According to new research published by Yokohama City Unversity Graduate School of Medicine, scientists have succeeding in growing primitive livers from pluripotent stem cells.
The nascent livers, dubbed by the scientists “liver buds”, are the product of mixing three different cell kinds – liver, endothelial and mesenchymal- in a fashion akin to what happens in developing human foetuses. To the surprise of the researchers the cells bound together and developed into a primitive liver.
David Milarch wants to clone the UK’s biggest, oldest, and most ecologically important trees. The US tree conservationist has embarked on a $3 million project to reproduce and regrow Britain’s “super trees” and offer tens of thousands of the genetically identical saplings to schools, cities and landowners for free. “The idea is to put back what we have lost,” says Milarch. ”It makes sense to use the largest, oldest, most iconic trees with their supergenes. These trees, which can be 1,000 years or older, have weathered the industrial age and all the climate changes. They have proved that they can take everything.”
by Helen Briggs
Scientists in Japan have cloned a mouse from a single drop of blood.
Circulating blood cells collected from the tail of a donor mouse were used to produce the clone, a team at the Riken BioResource Center reports in the journal Biology of Reproduction.
The female mouse lived a normal lifespan and could give birth to young, say the researchers.
Scientists at a linked institute recently created nearly 600 exact genetic copies of one mouse.
Mice have been cloned from several different sources of donor cells, including white blood cells found in the lymph nodes, bone marrow and liver.
The Japanese research group investigated whether circulating blood cells could also be used for cloning.
Their aim was to find an easily available source of donor cells to clone scientifically valuable strains of laboratory mice.
by James Gallagher
The UK looks set to become the first country to allow the creation of babies using DNA from three people, after the government backed the IVF technique.
It will produce draft regulations later this year and the procedure could be offered within two years.
Experts say three-person IVF could eliminate debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial diseases that are passed on from mother to child.
Opponents say it is unethical and could set the UK on a “slippery slope”.
They also argue that affected couples could adopt or use egg donors instead.
Mitochondria are the tiny, biological “power stations” that give the body energy. They are passed from a mother, through the egg, to her child.
Defective mitochondria affect one in every 6,500 babies. This can leave them starved of energy, resulting in muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death in the most extreme cases.
Research suggests that using mitochondria from a donor egg can prevent the diseases.
It is envisaged that up to 10 couples a year would benefit from the treatment.
However, it would result in babies having DNA from two parents and a tiny amount from a third donor as the mitochondria themselves have their own DNA.
by Julian Ryall
A panel of scientists and legal experts appointed by the government has drawn up a recommendation that will form the basis of new guidelines for Japan’s world-leading embryonic research.
There is widespread support in Japan for research that has raised red flags in other countries. Scientists plan to introduce a human stem cell into the embryo of an animal – most likely a pig – to create what is termed a “chimeric embryo” that can be implanted into an animal’s womb.
That will then grow into a perfect human organ, a kidney or even a heart, as the host animal matures.
When the adult creature is slaughtered, the organ will then be harvested and transplanted into a human with a malfunctioning organ.
by Richard Wolf
The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that human genes cannot be patented, a decision with both immediate benefits for some breast and ovarian cancer patients and long-lasting repercussions for biotechnology research.
The decision represents a victory for cancer patients, researchers and geneticists who claimed that a single company’s patent raised costs, restricted research and sometimes forced women to have breasts or ovaries removed without sufficient facts or second opinions.
But the court held out a lifeline to Myriad Genetics, the company with an exclusive patent on the isolated form of genes that can foretell an increased genetic risk of cancer. The justices said it can patent a type of DNA that goes beyond extracting the genes from the body.
by Erin Fuchs
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that police don’t need a search warrant before they open your mouth and take a swab of DNA.
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that DNA swabs are a “legitimate police booking procedure” that is allowed under the Constitution just like fingerprinting and mugshots.
The court’s swing voter Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which said DNA identification has become an important tool to help police identify suspects.
by GAUTAM NAIK
Wall Street Journal
‘[...] Since the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996, researchers have cloned about 20 different species, including rabbits, goats, cows and cats. Yet they so far have been unable to create biologically identical copies of any monkey or primate, including humans, possibly because their reproductive biology is more complicated.
But the refinements described in the latest experiment suggest that “it’s a matter of time before they produce a cloned monkey,” said Jose Cibelli, a cloning expert at Michigan State University, who wasn’t involved in the study. It also means, he added, “that they are one step closer to where the efficiency is high enough that someone is willing to try” to clone a person, though that remains a distant—and disturbing—prospect.
The experiment was published online Wednesday in the journal Cell. It was funded by Oregon Health and Science University and a grant from Leducq Foundation of France.’
by Francie Diep
‘Scientists have made an embryonic clone of a person, using DNA from that person’s skin cells. In the future, such a clone could be a source of stem cells, for super-personalized therapies made from people’s own DNA.
It’s unlikely that this clone could develop into a human, say the scientists, a team of biologists from the U.S. and Thailand. The team plans to publish a paper in the future detailing why not, Nature reported. Previously, the team conducted this entire process, including a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in monkeys. Those monkey embryo clones always died before they could grow into adult monkeys.’
by Sandy Kleffman
‘No matter what else is happening in his life, David Anderson knows he cannot go far from the dialysis machine that sustains him. Jobs, vacations, get-togethers with friends — everything takes a back seat to his thrice-weekly treatments that do the work of his failing kidneys.
But across town, UC San Francisco researchers are using Silicon Valley technology to create a device they hope can untether the 63-year-old San Franciscan and 380,000 other Americans who rely on dialysis to cope with kidney disease.
They’re developing an implantable, artificial kidney that would shrink the refrigerator-size dialysis machine into a device the size of a coffee cup and perform functions a dialysis machine cannot do.’
by Andy Coghlan
For the first time, complete lab-grown kidneys have been successfully transplanted into rats, filtering and discharging urine as a normal kidney would.
The breakthrough paves the way for human-scale versions, which could potentially provide an inexhaustible supply of organs, eliminating the need for recipients to wait for a matching donor kidney.
Similar techniques have already been applied successfully in people with simpler tissue, such as windpipes. But the kidney is by far the most complex organ successfully recreated.
The US Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case challenging patents on breast and ovarian cancer genes. If the court upholds the company’s right to patent human genes, the course of US medical research could forever be altered.
The case involves the Utah biotech firm Myriad Genetics, which for years has been facing a lawsuit for placing patents on human genes and restricting cancer patients’ treatment options.
The molecular diagnostic company, which is based in Salt Lake City, holds a number of patents on genes related to breast cancer and ovarian cancer, two of which US District Court Judge Robert W. Sweet ruled invalid in 2010, the decision that Myriad appealed. The genes in question, BRCA1 an BRCA2, often appear in cancer patients, sometimes before the cancer has even developed. With methods to diagnose these genes patented by Myriad Genetics, patients are unable to go to any other doctors for a second opinion before seeking treatment.
Reaching into a stainless steel tray, Francisco Fernandez-Aviles lifted up a gray, rubbery mass the size of a fat fist.
It was a human cadaver heart that had been bathed in industrial detergents until its original cells had been washed away and all that was left was what scientists call the scaffold.
Next, said Dr. Aviles, “We need to make the heart come alive.”
Inside a warren of rooms buried in the basement of Gregorio Marañón hospital here, Dr. Aviles and his team are at the sharpest edge of the bioengineering revolution that has turned the science-fiction dream of building replacement parts for the human body into a reality.
Since a laboratory in North Carolina made a bladder in 1996, scientists have built increasingly more complex organs. There have been five windpipe replacements so far. A London researcher, Alex Seifalian, has transplanted lab-grown tear ducts and an artery into patients. He has made an artificial nose he expects to transplant later this year in a man who lost his nose to skin cancer.
“The work has been extraordinarily pioneering,” said Sir Roy Calne, an 82-year-old British surgeon who figured out in the 1950s how to use drugs to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs.
Now, with the quest to build a heart, researchers are tackling the most complex organ yet. The payoff could be huge, both medically and financially, because so many people around the world are afflicted with heart disease. Researchers see a multi-billion-dollar market developing for heart parts that could repair diseased hearts and clogged arteries.
In additional to the artificial nose, Dr. Seifalian is making cardiovascular body parts. He sees a time when scientists would grow the structures needed for artery bypass procedures instead of taking a vein from another part the body. As part of a clinical trial, Dr. Seifalian plans to transplant a bioengineered coronary artery into a person later this year. His employer, University College London, has designated a person to oversee any future commercialization of it and other man-made organs.
The development of lab-built body parts is being spurred by a shortage of organ donors amid rising demand for transplants. Also, unlike patients getting transplants, recipients of lab-built organs won’t have to take powerful anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. That’s because the bioengineered organs are built with the patients’ own cells.
Until the late 1980s, few scientists believed it would be possible to make human organs because it was a struggle to grow human cells in the laboratory. The task became easier once scientists figured out the chemicals—known as growth factors—that the body itself uses to promote cellular growth.
Scientists started out growing simple organs. In 1999, Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., implanted lab-grown bladders into the first of several children with severely dysfunctional bladders. The organs have continued to function well for several years. Dr. Atala’s team now is trying to grow a whole range of bioengineered parts, from simple blood vessels to human livers.
“You can see the acceleration in the field,” Dr. Atala said.
by Robin McKie
It was the scientific surprise of 2012. Researchers announced they had found that long stretches of human DNA – previously dismissed as “junk” – were in fact crucial to the working of our bodies. The assumption that our cells are controlled by only a few genes was wrong.
Scientists on the Encode project – an international public consortium researching the human genome – argued that most of our DNA has a part to play.
But this idea is now the subject of an astonishingly vitriolic attack from other scientists, who say that Encode’s “absurd” ideas are the work of people who know nothing about evolutionary biology. “News concerning the death of junk DNA has been greatly exaggerated,” they insist.
The row divides scientists over the most fundamental of questions – is most of our DNA devoid of purpose or does it play a major role in our cells? The debate has been triggered by a critique in the Genome Biology and Evolution journal that is striking for its strident language.
“Everything that Encode claims is wrong. Their statistics are horrible, for a start,” the lead author of the paper, Professor Dan Graur, of Houston University, Texas, told the Observer. “This is not the work of scientists. This is the work of a group of badly trained technicians.”
The scientists responsible for Encode – whose findings were published in more than 30 papers in Nature, Science, Genome Biology and other journals last September – reject the criticisms.
“The nature of the attacks against us is quite unfair and uncalled-for,” said Dr Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute, near Cambridge, a principal investigator in the five-year project. “Our work has very important implications for understanding disease susceptibility.”
When the human genome was sequenced in 2000, only 26,000 genes appeared to be directing the manufacture of proteins and growth control, and 98% of our DNA was written off.
But Encode researchers claimed to have identified more than 10,000 new genes and suggested that up to 18% of our DNA is responsible for regulating other genes. They said about 80% of DNA had a biochemical function. The group also identified where defects in DNA could leave a person susceptible to illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes and bipolar disorder, discoveries that could help treat such ailments.
This is dismissed as “absurd” by Graur and others, including scientists from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. They accuse Encode of using “analytical methods that yield biased errors and inflate estimates of functionality” and say it reveals a basic misunderstanding of evolutionary biology.
“Just because a piece of DNA has biological activity does not mean it has an important function in a cell,” said Graur. “The Encode people don’t seem to have grasped that point. They completely exaggerated the amount of human DNA that has a role to play inside our cells. Most of the human genome is devoid of function and these people are wrong to say otherwise.”
The Encode project involved 442 researchers, based at 32 institutes, who used 300 years of computer time and five years in the lab to get their results.
Grauer said: “This is big science and big science should, if nothing else, generate masses of reliable data. They haven’t done that. When they published their results, it was claimed its conclusions would necessitate the rewriting of textbooks. Well, yes, but only those textbooks about marketing, mass-media hype and public relations.”
But Birney said: “I think this attack is really a complaint about big science, about big projects that absorb lots of money. These people don’t like that.”
by Dan Nosowitz
In 1983, the world lost one of its weirdest frogs. The gastric-brooding frog, native to tiny portions of Queensland, Australia, gave birth through its mouth, the only frog to do so (in fact, very few other animals in the entire animal kingdom do this–it’s mostly this frog and a few fish). It succumbed to extinction due to mostly non-human-related causes–parasites, loss of habitat, invasive weeds, a particular kind of fungus. There were two subspecies, the northern and souther gastric-brooding frog, and they both became extinct in the mid-80s sometime.
Except–what if they didn’t?
Taking place at the University of Newcastle, the quest to revive the gastric-brooding frog became known as the Lazarus Project. Using somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a method for cloning, the project has achieved the major step forward of creating an early embryo of the extinct frog. Essentially, they found a related frog–the great barred frog, which also lives in Queensland and has cool eye markings, like it’s wearing sunglasses–deactivated its eggs, and replaced them with eggs taken from the extinct frog.
Even though the gastric-brooding frog has been extinct for decades, it’s possible to do this because individual specimens were kept preserved in, believe it or not, everyday deep freezers. When going through somatic-cell nuclear transfer, the eggs began to divide and form into the early embryo stage.
The embryos didn’t survive much longer than that, but it was confirmed that these embryos contain genetic information from the gastric-brooding frog–that yes, in fact, they have brought it back to life. The researchers are confident that this is a “technical, not biological” problem at this stage to breed gastric-brooding frogs to adulthood. This is a big step forward for the worldwide attempts to revive extinct animals–the Lazarus Project researchers will soon meet with those working to revive the woolly mammoth, dodo, and other extinct beasties to share what they’ve learned.
Oh, and in case you were wondering: the gastric-brooding frog lays eggs, which are coated in a substance called prostaglandin. This substance causes the frog to stop producing gastric acid in its stomach, thus making the frog’s stomach a very nice place for eggs to be. So the frog swallows the eggs, incubates them in her gut, and when they hatch, the baby frogs crawl out her mouth. How delightfully weird!
Speaking from the prestigious TED Conference in Long Beach Wednesday, Sausalito activist Stewart Brand said scientists are developing the ability to reassemble an extinct animal’s genome, and even recreate the animal itself.
Brand, who gained fame after he campaigned to have the original NASA space photos of earth published, and subsequently created the Whole Earth Catalog, said Wednesday that “de-extinction” could be used to help restore organisms and habitats damaged human activity, according to a report in the Marin Independent Journal.
A team of Harvard geneticists are currently working to bring back the passenger pigeon, which has been extinct since 1914, according to the TED website. The passenger pigeon is considered a keystone species because it aided the survival of the buffalo, according to TED. Researchers believe it may now be possible to alter the genetic makeup of a close relative, the band-tailed pigeon, to re-engineer the passenger pigeon.
The Jurassic Park-like science was already used to recreate an extinct variety of wild mountain goat in 2010, but the animal died after just minutes due to a lung defect, reports TED.
Brand said he hopes advancements in the field will help reverse some of the damage done to earth by humans.
“Humans have made a huge hole in nature in the last 10,000 years,” Brand said. “We have the ability now, and maybe the moral obligation, to repair some of the damage.”
Scientists at the University of Southern California have found a way to turn off the neuron responsible for sensing cold in mice, and it could help humans who have extreme sensitivities to cold temperatures.
The neuron channel, called TRPM8, is responsible for sensing “normal cold responses in mammals,” according to David McKenny, the neurobiologist responsible for the study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience Tuesday. By turning it off in mice, the animals turned “insensitive to cool and painfully cold temperatures” and “did not distinguish between cold and a preferred warm temperature.” The mice were still able to feel warm temperatures and pain.
Though the process is currently irreversible, McKenny says if pharmaceutical companies can develop a drug that will make the effect temporary, it could be useful for patients with certain conditions that make them hypersensitive to cold temperatures.
by Jacob Sloan
The day is approaching in which we will be GMOs. KurzweilAI recently reported:
European regulators have approved the first therapy in the western world that can correct errors in a person’s genetic code, according to Amsterdam-based uniQure.
Europe has approved Glybera for treatment of Lipoprotein Lipase Deficiency, a rare, inherited disease. Patients with LPLD are unable to metabolize the fat particles carried in their blood, which leads to inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Glybera introduces a normal, healthy LPL gene into the body so that it can make functional LPL protein.
Glybera will be available in the second half of 2013, according Glybera will be available in the second half of 2013, according to uniQure, which is preparing to apply for regulatory approval in the U.S., Canada, and other markets.