New GM technique injects mosquitoes with a gene that results in mostly male offspring, eventually leading to a population crash.
Previous efforts to tackle the disease, that kills more than 1 million people each year – most of whom are African children – have included bed nets to protect people and insecticides to kill the mosquito species most responsible for the transmission of malaria (Anopheles gambiae
). The new technique by a team at Imperial College London involves injecting mosquitoes with a gene that causes the vast majority of their offspring to be male, leading to an eventual dramatic decline in population within six generations as females disappear. “You have a short-term benefit because males don’t bite humans [and transmit malaria],” Andrea Crisanti, one of the authors of the new research, which was published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday
, told the Guardian. “But in the long term you will eventually eradicate or substantially reduce mosquitoes. This could make a substantial contribution to eradicating malaria, combined with other tools such as insecticides.”
These new mosquitoes are now set to be used in Brazil, having been approved for use by the Brazilian government with a factory for their production now opened. [more inside]
"The residents of Denmark regularly report the highest levels of life satisfaction in the world. Economists Eugenio Proto and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick cautiously submit that there is a genetic component to this high level of contentment
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is expected to sign Chloe's Law.
Chloe's Law, or the Down Syndrome Prenatal Education Act
, requires medical practitioners to provide up-to-date and accurate information about Down syndrome with the accompanying diagnosis. Similar laws were passed in Massachusetts
. Why is this necessary? Ask a parent
and you find out how most doctors aren't up to the task. Fortunately, there are parents
who will help them out (if they would listen).
The large got larger. The small got smaller. The weird got weirder. When you look at sporting achievements over the last decades, it seems like humans have gotten faster, better and stronger in nearly every way. Yet as David Epstein points out in this delightfully counter-intuitive talk, we might want to lay off the self-congratulation. Many factors are at play in shattering athletic records, and the development of our natural talents is just one of them.
TED talk, 14:53
Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie
- "The lettuce, peppers, and broccoli—plus a melon and an onion, with a watermelon soon to follow—aren't genetically modified at all. Monsanto created all these veggies using good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops
for millennia. That doesn't mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark's division is drawing on Monsanto's accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor." [more inside]
The Mammoth Cometh.
"Bringing extinct animals back to life
is really happening — and it’s going to be very, very cool. Unless it ends up being very, very bad." [Previously, Via]
The genome of the Anzick child, who died 12,600 years ago at the age of three and was buried with ceremony in the American Rockies, has been fully sequenced
. The results shed an incredible light on the history of the peopling of the Americas: his people seem to have been direct ancestors to most tribes of Central and South America, and close relatives of the Canadian tribes. The discoveries have had an emotional impact on Native Americans
, and the boy's remains will be reburied with great respect. Still, tribal belonging is about much more than genetics
, as anthropologist Kim Tallbear reminds us. You can see replicas of the heirloom artefacts left in the boy's grave here
, or visit the collection at the Montana Historical Society if you're in the area.
Animal Loses Head But Remembers Everything
: "What we do know is that memory can be stored outside the brain - presumably in other body cells - so that memories can get imprinted onto the new brain as it regenerates."
...Ressler... and Dias wafted the scent [of acetophenone] around a small chamber, while giving small electric shocks to male mice. The animals eventually learned to associate the scent with pain, shuddering in the presence of acetophenone even without a shock. Despite never having encountered acetophenone in their lives, the offspring exhibited increased sensitivity when introduced to its smell
, shuddering more markedly in its presence compared with the descendants of mice that had been conditioned to be startled by a different smell or that had gone through no such conditioning.
Just how much have dog breeds changed in the past hundred years? A lot (and for the worst)
. [more inside]
Spider webs are incredibly strong and flexible. It’s no surprise, then, that spider silk proteins may someday form durable artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders. Six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. These silk fibers have very different mechanical properties that are so effective they have changed very little over millions of years. How to synthetically develop these silks is one focus of Lewis’ research. The secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use “factories” designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scale-able and efficient. Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and transgenic silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins used to create spider silk. Spider silk is 100 times stronger than natural ligaments and 10 times stronger than natural tendons; it is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon.
A 6min brief on the work being done in Laramie, WY whereby spider silk is being spun from goat milk. SPIDERGOATS [more inside]
"During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed." - The Milk Revolution - how a single mutation expanded (some) of humanity's diet. (Nature.com)
Selfish traits not favoured by evolution, study shows
"Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research.
This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first.
Instead, it pays to be co-operative, shown in a model of "the prisoner's dilemma", a scenario of game theory - the study of strategic decision-making.
Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct. "
"I sent this paper
to JK Rowling explaining how the wizarding gene could be singular, autosomal, and dominant despite the protests of a bunch of fans who stopped learning genetics after Punnett squares." See also: Wizarding Genetics: More Complicated Than Mendel!
and Purple Orchids and Muggleborn Wizards: A Theory of Wizard Genetics
The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained.
With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade, the only chance left to save it, Mr. Kress believed, was one that his industry and others had long avoided for fear of consumer rejection.
They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species
Would you like to choose your baby?
We definitely want to be able to avoid genetic mutations that could cause diseases or problems later on. But what if you could make your babies more intelligent? Or more Athletic? or More beautiful? Or affect their political orientation
? (A 2011 study looked at differences between conservative and liberal leanings—and found, surprisingly, three areas that might be linked to political predisposition.)
Should you be able to choose what characteristics you want your babies to have?
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands
are a string of 572 islands that run roughly north-south in the Bay of Bengal between Myanmar and Indonesia, but are formally a part of the Republic of India
. Of the hundreds of islands, less than 40 are inhabited. While you can travel and visit some of the islands
, but as of 2005, there are also a few that India has declared closed to outsiders
to preserve these distinct cultures, living much as they have for hundreds to thousands of years, remaining distant from all outsiders. The most extreme example are the Sentinelese people
who live on North Sentinel Island
(Google maps). [more inside]
They came from test tubes. They came pale as ghosts with eyes as blue-white as glacier ice. They came first out of Korea. N-Words
- a science fiction short story by Ted Kosmatka
. Audio version
Some of My Best Friends Are Germs
It is a striking idea that one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation. Having recently learned to manage several external fermentations — of bread and kimchi and beer — I know a little about the vagaries of that process. You depend on the microbes, and you do your best to align their interests with yours, mainly by feeding them the kinds of things they like to eat — good “substrate.” But absolute control of the process is too much to hope for. It’s a lot more like gardening than governing.
The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder. [more inside]
Private Ceremonies. "Most women don’t talk about their abortions and miscarriages. Virtually none go through the experience with a loved one at their side. The greatest gift an abortion counselor can give is to bear witness, to be with a woman as she goes through this private journey, to witness her strength and weakness, her grief, her relief, her pain."
A first person essay from a former abortion counselor.
Is Psychometric g a Myth?
- "As an online discussion about IQ or general intelligence grows longer, the probability of someone linking to statistician Cosma Shalizi's essay g, a Statistical Myth
approaches 1. Usually the link is accompanied by an assertion to the effect that Shalizi offers a definitive refutation of the concept of general mental ability, or psychometric g
." [more inside]
I just attended a debate in New York a few weeks ago about whether or not we should outlaw genetic engineering in babies and the audience was pretty split. In China, 95 percent of an audience would say, “Obviously you should make babies genetically healthier, happier, and brighter!
Extinction got you down? Try de-extinction! Our species has played a role in the extinction of ... many other species. But now some scientists are proposing a radical turn of the tables: Bringing lost species back from the dead. How to Resurrect Lost Species
. [more inside]
November 24, 2012: analysis of extensive DNA sequencing of 'a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” ... suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.
' The press release claimed that the research was "currently under peer-review," except that no scientific journal would publish the research, until now: DeNovo
, an open access scientific journal. But DeNovo isn't really open access, as it costs $30 to view the article, the paper itself is brand new, the domain was recently purchased
, and the website features generic stock photos. Ars Technica digs deeper
, summarizing some of the "open access" article, and providing a link to a particularly insightful clip on YouTube
, with an odd water mark. [more inside]
"If the history of public health has until now been embodied by the map—as in British physician John Snow’s famous map, which allowed him to curb the London cholera outbreak of 1854 and to found, in doing so, the modern field of epidemiology—Snitkin was embarking on a new kind of epidemiology: one founded on the phylogenetic tree." Writing for Wired
, Carl Zimmer describes how Evan Snitkin and Julie Segre used genome sequencing to halt a bacterial outbreak
at the National Institute of Health's Clinical Center
. (via The Feature)
"Older parenthood will upend
American society." "Is waiting to have kids a big mistake
?" "Why do women believe they can delay children
for so long?" "Older men are more likely than young ones to father a child who develops autism or schizophrenia, because of random mutations
that become more numerous with advancing paternal age."
"The Turn of the Screw: James Watson on The Double Helix and his changing view of Rosalind Franklin":
's brief interview with Watson
, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, about his "infamous" treatment of Franklin
in his book The Double Helix
, on the occasion of the publication of an annotated and illustrated edition of the same
Hacking the President’s DNA.
"The U.S. government is surreptitiously collecting the DNA of world leaders, and is reportedly protecting that of Barack Obama. Decoded, these genetic blueprints could provide compromising information. In the not-too-distant future, they may provide something more as well—the basis for the creation of personalized bioweapons that could take down a president and leave no trace."
When looking for inspiration, most songwriters to go well-used emotional wells – triumph or loss, love or heartbreak. But Peter Larsen, a biologist at Argonne National Laboratory, looked to the microbes of the English Channel. He used seven years’ worth of genetic and environmental data, converting geochemical and microbial abundance measurements into notes, beats, and chords.
With the possible exception of the Nobel awards, physicists seem to get all the press these days, whether they're doing quantum level work at the LHC, or cosmology via the latest satellite data. Biologists, not so much. It's too bad, because Richard Lenski
is running one of the great evolutionary experiments of our time
, and it's producing interesting results. [more inside]
A genome-wide association study has linked a dislike of cilantro
with a variant of a single nucleotide
in a cluster of olfactory receptor
genes. The palatability of cilantro has previously
been a divisive subject
on the blue. [more inside]
In 2001, we learned the sequence of our genome; now, we have amassed a vast amount of knowledge about what those sequences actually do
. Yesterday, the data from the ENCODE
project went live. [more inside]
Ötzi the Iceman
died around 3,300 B.C., yet his body was preserved frozen in the Alps until 1991. DNA sequencing
of Neandertals (who died out about 35,000 years ago) suggests modern humans with ancestry outside of Africa carry a few percent of Neandertal genes due to interbreeding. Now (in a blog post knocking down a re-interpretation of the Neandertal DNA evidence) paleontologist John Hawks previews an upcoming publication of his examining Ötzi's DNA:
If we took as a baseline that Europeans have an average of 3.5 percent Neandertal, Ötzi would have around 5.5 percent (again, the actual percentage would be highly model-dependent). He has substantially greater sharing with Neandertals than any other recent person we have ever examined.
, Previously (Neandertals)
The fear of spiders is hardwired
into most of humanity, despite the creatures often being beneficial
to people. For some reason, it's the odd and scary stories about spiders that stick in our heads
A relatively small group of people from Appalachian, the dark-skinned Melungeons (previously)
have been a source for speculation and conjecture for many years. Exactly who where their ancestors? Portuguese? Turks? Roma? Cherokee? A recent DNA study
(108 page pdf) posted in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy (site link
) says otherwise