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Biotech

DNA Manufacturing Enters the Age of Mass Production (ieee.org) 82

the_newsbeagle writes: Now that it's easy and cheap to build strands of DNA, what kinds of strange new organisms will scientists and start-ups build? That's the question raised as synthetic biology companies like Twist Bioscience and Zymergen start up their DNA manufacturing lines. Researchers who order DNA snippets typically pay on a cost-per-nucleobase basis. These companies say their mass-production techniques could bring prices down to 2 cents per base, which would allow researchers to scale up experiments and learn through trial and error.
Biotech

Wasps Have Injected New Genes Into Butterflies 103

sciencehabit writes: If you're a caterpillar, you do not want to meet a parasitic wasp. The winged insect will inject you full of eggs, which will grow inside your body, develop into larvae, and hatch from your corpse. But a new study reveals that wasps have given caterpillars something beneficial during these attacks as well: pieces of viral DNA that become part of the caterpillar genome, protecting them against an entirely different lethal virus. In essence, the wasps have turned caterpillars into genetically modified organisms.
Government

More Cities Use DNA To Catch Dog Owners Who Don't Pick Up Waste 177

dkatana writes: For many cities one of the biggest cleaning expenses is dealing with dog poop. While it is impossible to ask the birds to refrain from splattering the city, dogs have owners and those owners are responsible for disposing of their companion's waste. The few who shirk their duty create serious problems for the rest. Poop is not just a smelly inconvenience. It's unsanitary, extra work for cleaning crews, and in the words of one Spanish mayor, on a par with vandalism. Cities have tried everything from awareness campaigns with motorized poo videos, to publishing offenders names to mailing the waste back to the dog owner. In one case, after a 147 deliveries, dog waste incidents in the town dropped 70 percent. Those campaigns have had limited effect and after an initial decline in incidents, people go back to their old ways. Which has left many cities resorting to science and DNA identification of waste. Several European cities, including Naples and one borough in London, are building DNA registries of pets. Offending waste will then be tested and the cost of the analysis charged to the dog owner, along with a fine.
Biotech

Checking Mammoth DNA Against Elephants Hints At How They Got Hairy 22

An anonymous reader writes: A new study on mammoth DNA comparing the hairy animals to their cousins, the Asian and African elephants, has isolated what genes separate it from its warm-weather cousins. The study found that genes controlling skin and hair development, fat metabolism, insulin signaling, and skull shape, differed from today's contemporary elephant species. "They have this weird hump on their back, which is thought to be something like a camel hump — sort of a fat deposit that stored water and energy for the cold, dark winters," says Vincent Lynch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago.
Medicine

Gene Testing Often Gets It Wrong 37

BarbaraHudson writes: ABC is reporting that gene tests for risk of specific diseases are not as accurate as we'd like to think, with different labs giving different interpretations. Over 400 gene variants that could help one make medical decisions regarding breast and ovarian cancer or heart disease have different interpretations from different labs according to the study. "The magnitude of this problem is bigger than most people thought," said Michael Watson, executive director of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, one of the study's authors. Researchers caution consumers to be careful when choosing where to have a gene test done and acting on the results.
Biotech

The One Thousand Genes You Could Live Without 111

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.
Medicine

Scientists Discover How To Track Natural Errors In DNA Replication 19

BarbaraHudson writes Researchers figured out how to label and keep track of new pieces of DNA, and learned to follow the enzyme responsible for copying those pieces. Their research focused on enzymes called polymerases. These enzymes create small regions in DNA that act as scaffolds for the copied DNA. Scientists assumed that the body deletes the scaffolds containing errors, or mutations, and the standard computer models supported this theory. However, the actual research showed that about 1.5 percent of those erroneous scaffolds are left over, trapped within the DNA. After running models, scientists now believe they can track how DNA replicates and find the most likely areas where these scaffolds with errors turn up. The erroneous scaffolds usually appear close to genetic switches, those regions that turn on when genes activate. The mutations damage the switch, which results in genetic disease, as well as increasing the likelihood of cancer.
Science

Scientists Discover That Exercise Changes Your DNA 56

HughPickens.com writes The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. Scientists have known that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise but they hadn't understood how those genes knew how to respond to exercise. Now the NYT reports that scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have completed a study where they recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, brought them to the lab for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months. The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer. Not surprisingly, the volunteers' exercised leg was more powerful now than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements. But there were also changes within the exercised muscle cells' DNA. Using technology that analyses 480,000 positions throughout the genome, they could see that new methylation patterns had taken place in 7,000 genes (an individual has 20–25,000 genes).

In a process known as DNA methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body. In the exercised portions of the bodies, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. And gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become. Many mysteries still remain but the message of the study is unambiguous. "Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn't cost much money," says Sara Lindholm, "we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life."
Biotech

700,000-Year-Old Horse Becomes Oldest Creature With Sequenced Genome 69

sciencehabit writes "Scientists have sequenced the oldest genome to date—and shaken up the horse family tree in the process. Ancient DNA derived from a horse fossil that's between 560,000 and 780,000 years old suggests that all living equids—members of the family that includes horses, donkeys, and zebras—shared a common ancestor that lived at least 4 million years ago, approximately 2 million years earlier than most previous estimates. The discovery offers new insights into equine evolution and raises the prospect of recovering and exploring older DNA than previously thought possible."
Government

SCOTUS Says DNA Collection Permissible After Arrest 643

schwit1 writes in with news about a ruling on the legality of the police collecting your DNA after an arrest. "A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday said police can routinely take DNA from people they arrest, equating a DNA cheek swab to other common jailhouse procedures like fingerprinting. 'Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's five-justice majority. But the four dissenting justices said that the court was allowing a major change in police powers. 'Make no mistake about it: because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,' conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said in a sharp dissent which he read aloud in the courtroom. Details of ruling available here.
Biotech

"Lazarus Project" Clones Extinct Frog 154

cylonlover writes "Australian scientists have successfully revived and reactivated the genome of an extinct frog. The 'Lazarus Project' team implanted cell nuclei from tissues collected in the 1970s and kept in a conventional deep freezer for 40 years into donor eggs from a distantly-related frog. Some of the eggs spontaneously began to divide and grow to early embryo stage with tests confirming the dividing cells contained genetic material from the extinct frog. The extinct frog in question is the Rheobatrachus silus, one of only two species of gastric-brooding frogs, or Platypus frogs, native to Queensland, Australia. Both species became extinct in the mid-1980s and were unique amongst frog species for the way in which they incubated their offspring."
Australia

Australian Federal Court Rules For Patent Over Breast Cancer Gene 160

Bulldust writes "The Federal Court in Australia has ruled in favor of U.S. biotechnology company Myriad Genetics, enabling them to continue to hold the patent over the so-called breast cancer gene BRCA1. The same patent is also being reconsidered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the current session. From the article: 'Federal court Justice John Nicholas has ruled that a private company can continue to hold a patent over the so-called breast cancer gene BRCA1, in a decision that has devastated cancer victims.The decision is the first in Australia to rule on whether isolated genes can be patented, and will set a precedent in favor of commercial ownership of genetic material.'"
Medicine

Cambridge University Scientists Find Quadruple Helix DNA In Human Cells 67

SternisheFan notes that scientists at Cambridge University have found four-stranded DNA in human cells for the first time. "If you've ever studied genetics in school or college, you'll know that the structure of DNA is a double helix. You likely know that DNA carries all of our genetic code. While traditionally we think of only double helix DNA, scientists from Cambridge University in England have made an interesting discovery. According to the researchers, a quadruple helix is also present in some cells and is believed to relate to cancer in some ways. According to the researchers, controlling these quadruple helix structures could provide new ways to fight cancer. The scientists believe the quadruple helix may form when the cell has a certain genotype or operates in a certain dysfunctional state. Scientists have been able to produce quadruple helix material in test tubes for years. The material produced is called the G-quadruplex. The G refers to guanine, which is one of the base pairs that hold DNA together. The new research performed at the University is believed to be the first to firmly pinpoint quadruple helix in human cells."
Crime

Dutch Cold Case Murder Solved After 8000 People Gave Their DNA 513

sciencewatcher writes "A 1999 cold case rape and murder in The Netherlands has been solved. Dutch police asked 8000+ men living within 5 kilometers of the crime scene to volunteer their DNA so that the murderer could be traced through (close or distant) family members sharing part of this DNA. As it turned out, the man now in custody turned in his own DNA, resulting in a 100% match. The request of the police was discussed here on Slashdot in September. The percentage of people participating was closing in on 90%; in the midsize town of the victim it was 96%."
The Military

Designing DNA Specific Bio-Weapons 227

Hugh Pickens writes writes "The Atlantic reports that experts in genetics and microbiology are convinced we may be only a few years away from the development of advanced, genetic bio-weapons able to target a single human being based on their DNA. The authors paint a scenario of the development of a virus that causes only mild flu in the general population but when the virus crosses paths with cells containing a very specific DNA sequence, the sequence would act as a molecular key to unlock secondary functions that would trigger a fast-acting neuro-destructive disease that produces memory loss and, eventually, death. The requisite equipment including gene sequencers, micro-array scanners, and mass spectrometers now cost over $1 million but on eBay, it can be had for as little as $10,000. According to Ronald Kessler, the author of the 2009 book In the President's Secret Service, Navy stewards gather bedsheets, drinking glasses, and other objects the president has touched—they are later sanitized or destroyed—in an effort to keep would-be malefactors from obtaining his genetic material. However no amount of Secret Service vigilance can ever fully secure the president's DNA, because an entire genetic blueprint can now be produced from the information within just a single cell. How to protect the President? The authors propose open-sourcing the president's genetic information to a select group of security-cleared researchers who could follow in the footsteps of the computer sciences, where 'red-team exercises,' are extremely common practices so a similar testing environment could be developed for biological war games. 'Advances in biotechnology are radically changing the scientific landscape. We are entering a world where imagination is the only brake on biology,' write the authors. 'In light of this coming synbio revolution, a wider-ranging relationship between scientists and security organizations—one defined by open exchange, continual collaboration, and crowd-sourced defenses—may prove the only way to protect the president.'"

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