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Biotech

The One Thousand Genes You Could Live Without 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the stuff-you-don't-need dept.
sciencehabit writes Today researchers unveiled the largest ever set of full genomes from a single population: Iceland. The massive project, carried out by a private company in the country, deCODE genetics, has yielded new disease risk genes, insights into human evolution, and a list of more than 1000 genes that people can apparently live without. The project also serves as a model for other countries' efforts to sequence their people's DNA for research on personalized medical care, says study leader Kári Stefánsson, deCODE's CEO. For example, the United States is planning to sequence the genomes of 1 million Americans over the next few years and use the data to devise individualized treatments.
Australia

Draconian Australian Research Law Hits Scientists 144

Posted by Soulskill
from the blunder-down-under dept.
An anonymous reader writes: The Australian government is pushing ahead with a draconian law placing "dual use" science (e.g. encryption, biotechnology) under the control of the Department of Defence. The Australian ACLU, Civil Liberties Australia, warns the law punishes scientists with $400,000 fines, 10 years in jail and forfeiture of their work, just for sending an "inappropriate" e-mail.

Scientists — including the academics union — warn the laws are unworkable despite attempted improvements, and will drive researchers offshore (paywalled: mirror here).
Biotech

Scientists: It's Time To Resolve the Ethics of Editing Human Genome 299

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-we-haven't-created-a-real-spiderman-yet dept.
An anonymous reader writes: We've previously discussed a system called CRISPR-cas9, which is dramatically reducing the cost and effort required to do gene editing. In fact, the barrier to entry is now so low that a group of biologists is calling for a moratorium on using the method to modify the human genome. Writing in the journal Science (abstract), the scientists warn that we've reached the point where the ethical questions surrounding DNA alteration can be put off no longer. David Baltimore, one of the group's members, said, "You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue. ... I personally think we are just not smart enough — and won't be for a very long time — to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual." Another group of scientists called for a similar halt to human germline modification, and the International Society for Stem Cell Research says it agrees.
Biotech

Sloppy Biosafety Procedures Found At Federal Disease Center 21

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
schwit1 writes: An investigation of a federal center for studying dangerous diseases in primates has found serious biosafety procedure violations. "Concerns arose at the center in Covington, Louisiana, after two rhesus macaques became ill in late November with melioidosis, a disease caused by the tropical bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. In January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Agriculture investigators traced the strain infecting the primates to a vaccine research lab working with mice. Last month, as the investigation continued, CDC suspended the primate center's 10 or so research projects involving B. pseudomallei and other select agents (a list of dangerous bacteria, viruses, and toxins that are tightly regulated). Meanwhile, a report in USA Today suggested the bacterium might have contaminated the center's soil or water. In addition, workers "frequently entered the select agent lab without appropriate protective clothing," the release says. No center staff has shown signs of illness. On 12 March, however, Tulane announced that blood tests have found that one worker has low levels of antibodies to the bacterium, suggesting possible exposure at the center, according to ABC News."
Biotech

Lawsuit Over Quarter Horse's Clone May Redefine Animal Breeding 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the reasons-genetic-superhorses-will-take-over-the-world dept.
schwit1 sends this report from the LA Times: "Lynx Melody Too, a clone of a renowned quarter horse, is at the center of a lawsuit that could change the world of animal breeding and competition. Texas horse breeder Jason Abraham and veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen sued the American Quarter Horse Assn., claiming that Lynx Melody Too should be allowed to register as an official quarter horse. A Texas jury decided in their favor in 2013, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling in January, saying there was 'insufficient' evidence of wrongdoing by the association.

The suit is among the first to deal with the status of clones in breeding and competition, and its outcome could impact a number of fields, including thoroughbred horse racing and dog breeding. The quarter horse association is adamant that clones and their offspring have no place in its registry. "It's what AQHA was founded on — tracking and preserving the pedigrees of these American quarter horses," said Tom Persechino, executive director of marketing for the association. "When a person buys an American quarter horse, they want to know that my quarter horse has the blood of these horses running through it, not copies of it."
Biotech

Controlling Brain Activity With Magnetic Nanoparticles 42

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-saw-that-episode-of-star-trek-too dept.
sciencehabit writes: Deep brain stimulation, which now involves surgically inserting electrodes several inches into a person's brain and connecting them to a power source outside the skull, can be an extremely effective treatment for disorders such as Parkinson's disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression. The expensive, invasive procedure doesn't always work, however, and can be risky. Now, a study in mice (abstract) points to a less invasive way to massage neuronal activity, by injecting metal nanoparticles into the brain and controlling them with magnetic fields. The technique could eventually provide a wireless, nonsurgical alternative to traditional deep brain stimulation surgery, researchers say.
Biotech

New Molecular 3D Printer Can Create Billions of Compounds 132

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home dept.
ErnieKey writes: University of Illinois researchers have created a device, called a Molecular-Machine, which essentially manufactures on the molecular compound level. Martin Burke, the lead researcher on this project says that they are already able to synthesize over a billion different compounds with the machine, compounds which up until now have been very difficult to synthesize. The impact on the pharmaceutical industry could be staggering.
Biotech

The Origin of Life and the Hidden Role of Quantum Criticality 188

Posted by timothy
from the tasers-hurt-us-at-a-deep-level dept.
KentuckyFC writes One of the great puzzles of biology is how the molecular machinery of life is so finely coordinated. Even the simplest cells are complex three dimensional biochemical factories in which a dazzling array of machines pump, push, copy, and compute in a dance of extraordinarily detailed complexity. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how the ordinary processes of electron transport allow this complexity to emerge given the losses that arise in much simpler circuits. Now a group of researchers led by Stuart Kauffmann have discovered that the electronic properties of biomolecules are entirely different to those of ordinary conductors. It turns out that most biomolecules exist in an exotic state called quantum criticality that sits on the knife edge between conduction and insulation. In other words, biomolecules belong to an entirely new class of conductor that is not bound by the ordinary rules of electron transport. Of course, organic molecules can be ordinary conductors or insulators and the team have found a few biomolecules that fall into these categories. But evolution seems to have mainly selected biomolecules that are quantum critical, implying that that this property must confer some evolutionary advantage. Exactly what this could be isn't yet clear but it must play an important role in the machinery of life and its origin.
Biotech

Inside the Weird World of 3D Printed Body Parts 61

Posted by samzenpus
from the pick-a-spleen-any-spleen dept.
An anonymous reader writes Last November a news report in Russia Today sent a shudder of excitement through the tech blogs that cover 3D printing: an eccentric Russian provocateur claimed he would this month start printing functioning thyroids. Tech reporter Andrew Leonard set out to fact-check that claim, and along the way discovered an unlikely relationship between a Russian mad scientist and the U.S.'s most advanced, most respected 3d bioprinting companies—TeVido, which aims to 3D print custom nipples, and Organovo, which sells samples of 3D printed liver tissue. In the field of 3D printing, the line between science fiction and peer-reviewed research is very, very thin.
Biotech

NASA Ames Reproduces the Building Blocks of Life In Laboratory 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the build-it-yourself dept.
hypnosec writes "Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center have reproduced non-biologically the three basic components of life found in both DNA and RNA — uracil, cytosine, and thymine. For their experiment scientists deposited an ice sample containing pyrimidine — a ring-shaped molecule made up of carbon and nitrogen — on a cold substrate in a chamber with space-like conditions such as very high vacuum, extremely low temperatures, and irradiated the sample with high-energy ultraviolet photons from a hydrogen lamp. Researchers discovered that such an arrangement produces these essential ingredients of life. "We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, cytosine, and thymine, all three components of RNA and DNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space," said Michel Nuevo, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California. "We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate conditions in outer space, can make several fundamental building blocks used by living organisms on Earth."
Biotech

Xeroxed Gene May Have Paved the Way For Large Human Brain 93

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 193

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.