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Genetically Modifying an Entire Ecosystem 52

New submitter structural_biologist writes: Genes normally have a 50-50 chance of being passed from parent to offspring, but scientists may have figured out a way to create genes that show up in offspring with a much higher frequency. "One type of gene drive influences inheritance by copying itself onto chromosomes that previously lacked it. When an organism inherits such a gene drive from only one parent, it makes a cut in the chromosome from the other parent, forcing the cell to copy the inheritance-biasing gene drive—and any adjacent genes—when it repairs the damage." When introduced into the wild, organisms containing gene drives would breed with the population, quickly spreading the modified genes throughout the ecosystem. While the technology could help prevent the spread of malaria and manage invasive species, many scientists worry about the wide-ranging effects of such a technology and are calling for its regulation.

If a Network Is Broken, Break It More 124

New submitter Aras Esor writes "When a network is broken — an electrical grid, the World Wide Web, your neurological system — one math model created by a PhD student at Northwestern University suggests that the best way to fix it may be to break it a little more. 'Take the web of interactions within a cell. If you knock out an important gene, you will significantly damage the cell's growth rate. However, it is possible to repair this damage not by replacing the lost gene, which is a very challenging task, but by removing additional genes. The key lies in finding the specific changes that would bring a network from the undesirable state A to the preferred state B. Cornelius's mathematical model (abstract) provides a general method to pinpoint those changes in any network, from the metabolism of a single cell to an entire food web.'"

Craig Venter Wants To Rebuild Martian Life In Earth Lab 142

Hugh Pickens writes "Karen Kaplan reports in the LA Times that Craig Venter is making plans to send a DNA sequencer to Mars. Assuming there is DNA to be found on the Red Planet – a big assumption, to be sure – the sequencer will decode its DNA, beam it back to Earth, put those genetic instructions into a cell and then boot up a Martian life form in a biosecure lab. Venter's 'biological teleporter' (as he dubbed it) would dig under the surface for samples to sequence. If they find anything, 'it would take only 4.3 minutes to get the Martians back to Earth,' says Venter, founder of Celera Genomics and the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). 'Now we can rebuild the Martians in a P4 spacesuit lab.' It may sound far-fetched, but the notion of equipping a future Mars rover to sequence the DNA isn't so crazy, and Venter isn't the only one looking for Martian DNA. MIT research scientist Christopher Carr is part of a group that's 'building a a miniature RNA/DNA sequencer to search for life beyond Earth,' according to the MIT website 'The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes.' SETG will test the hypothesis that life on Mars, if it exists, shares a common ancestor with life on Earth. Carr told Tech Review that one of the biggest challenges is shrinking Ion Torrent's 30-kilogram machine down to a mere 3 kg – light enough to fit on a Mars rover."

British Airways Plans To Google Passengers 177

itwbennett writes "British Airways wants to be the airline where everybody knows your name. The idea behind the 'Know Me' program is that by using Google Images to ID passengers, they'll be able to recreate the 'feeling of recognition you get in a favourite restaurant,' Jo Boswell, head of customer analysis at BA told the London Evening Standard. But the more privacy minded among us know that the airline could end up seeing a lot more than your face."

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"