The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
Epidemiology: Study of a lifetime. "In 1946, scientists started tracking thousands of British children born during one cold March week. On their 65th birthday, the study members find themselves more scientifically valuable than ever before." [more inside]
Invasive amniocentesis and chorionic villi sampling (CVS) tests are commonly used to determine the chromosomal, structural and genetic abnormalities in fetuses. But could they eventually become obsolete? A Chinese study has found that a complete copy of the fetal genome exists in the mother's blood, suggesting many prenatal diagnoses could potentially be performed noninvasively. [more inside]
Hugh Reinhoff has sequenced his daughters DNA at home attempting to diagnose her unique genetic mutation. [more inside]
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells - "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract, nature writeup, audio announcement]
Devil facial tumor disease has ravaged the population of Tasmanian Devils in the last decade. DFTD is a transmissible cancer, i.e. the tumor cells themselves (which differ genetically from their host animal) are the agent responsible. The disease is spread by biting and other contact, and the resulting grotesque tumors interfere with feeding and lead to starvation. Poor immune response may be partially responsible. This is actually not the only such disease: canine transmissible venereal tumor is an analogue that has been known to be contagious since the 19th century. (CTVT, however, gets a proper immune response.) [more inside]
Going bananas. The only fruit to ever appear on a Velvet Underground album cover (not to mention the title of a J. D. Salinger short story) may be on its way to extinction. Facts: I) total disappearance could occur within a decade; II) bananas are the staple diet for half a billion people and III) current genetic tampering mean that, even if the fruit doesn't quite disappear, it will taste and look different (Guardian article here). Feeling nostalgic already? Visit the stylish Banana Museum or give someone you love the Enchanted Banana of Happiness (not what you're thinking). first link via Fark
A success for gene therapy to help hemophiliacs is announced. This is a first, but only time will tell if the treatment has a lasting effect and can be repeated. So far it's worked for only four of the six patients in the trial. The NY Times explains the research.