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Comment This is a dumb idea. (Score 4, Insightful) 81

Ancient mammoth DNA didn't persevere in casual ambient conditions. They were only able to retrieve genetic material because the animal's corpse had been preserved by permafrost. DNA storage of actual data would require cooling solutions an order of magnitude more intense than what is currently used to keep a data center running. Most people don't realize how much nucleic acid digesting enzymes are in our normal environment. A great deal of the sticky slimy residue generated copiously by our bodies are the chewed up DNA remnants of microbial organisms that our immune system keeps in check. This is to say nothing of the difficulty involved with reading/writing of said data. You DON'T want to go down that rabbit hole.

Comment Re:equilibrium (Score 1) 692

You are free to disagree, but I will assert that a modern society is marked by secularism. In most of the developed world, the birth rate is either stable or in decline. What growth there is is often due to significant immigration from less developed parts of the world. Those who cling to religion and are susceptible to obsolete ideologies tend to be less educated and are economically disadvantaged. I think if we can keep a lid on social inequality, we wond need to worry about what you're talking about (too much).

Comment equilibrium (Score 1) 692

One way or another some kind of balance has to be struck. Dwindling resources are likely to make the cost of living expensive. If things get bad enough, population control of the Chinese variety isn't too far fetched. But something tells me you won't need to tell people to stop reproducing. Given the situation in Japan and other places that are experiencing negative population growth, It is more likely than not that the problem a modern society will face is going to be the complete opposite.

Comment sorry. butterfingers resulted in a premature post (Score 1) 183

Mind you, the chromosome is still damaged to some degree, but it doesn't get worse.

Cancer cells are observed to maintain viability this way - even though they are diseased and abnormal cells, they maintain just enough chromosomal health by activating the necessary telomere maintenance process to continue dividing without incurring even greater genomic damage.

Comment Re:cancer (Score 5, Interesting) 183

Not offhand in any good laymen's literature I know of. But the process is described in a bunch of molecular biology textbooks I don't have access to at the moment. When chromosomes are not protected with telomere caps on the ends, the cellular machinery is likely to mistakenly treat them as DNA double strand breaks. What happens in such situations is that proteins involved in DNA repair will try to join the "naked" end to the nearest other piece of DNA, even if it belongs to another healthy chromosome. Fused chromosomes are always bad news for cellular health. The problem is amplified in what is called a breakage-fusion-bridge (b/f/b) cycle as cells try to continue dividing with abnormal chromosomes that now doesn't separate as they should.

The presence of healthy telomeres suppresses this process. Even if your chromosomes get messed up through the infrequent snags that still happens occasionally, a damaged chromosome that is able to restore the presence of telomeres at the end by one means or another (there are several) will stop undergoing b/f/b cycles. Mind you, the chromosome is still damaged to some degree, but it doesn't get worse.

Comment Re:Wow .... (Score 1) 155

All jokes aside, maturation of this technique has huge ramifications for the treatment of diseases that are fundamentally due to misfolded proteins. Prion diseases, frightening as they are, might finally have a cure. I would dare say related disorders that involve plaque deposits such as Alzheimer's might also benefit from possible therapeutics.

Comment Re:is this news? (Score 1) 221

I don't necessarily disagree with you completely. But I think your point is badly argued and perhaps unnecessarily harsh.

>As far as i know.

THAT is pretty much what it boils down to... WHAT do you know? HOW do you know it? Is it really fair of you to dismiss a position where one only seeks to know more than what you currently know?

>The very idea that some things outcompete others is one of our basic immunological defenses.

I don't know where you pulled this out of or where you're going with it. Perhaps a point can be made about host immunological tactics and responses to pathogens in the context of ecological adaptation and niches. But to draw some kind of connection via competition for resources is a pretty awkward and bizarre way of making that point. And what is purpose of bringing this up in the current context? Are you suggesting if our immune system doesn't need to handle something that can't compete in our ecological backyard, we shouldn't bother? I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but that is not a very scientific perspective.

>That we haven't seen something already.
>I doubt you'll find much outside of novel viruses because bacteria infest every corner of our world. around you, on you, inside you, above you and below you.

Are you sure you would know even if you were looking at it? Moreover, what are you looking with? If as it was postulated, a non-DNA based genetic code was used, our existing assays may not pick up anything at all. I'm not going to dive into a discussion about laboratory science just yet. But let's pull back for a minute and consider something even more conventional. There is a enigma in microbial ecology sometimes called "The Great Plate Count Anomaly" that simply stated is the fact many more microbial organisms exist than we can culture in the lab. Recent advances in metagenomic techniques has allowed us to sequence the DNA of these previously un-grow-able bugs and given microbiologists their first look at stuff they've never seen before. And this is only within the last couple of years.

New discoveries and advances are occurring much more recently than you believe. A few months ago, I came across a bit of relatively new research where modern techniques identified some symbiotic bacteria in the gut of an insect called the glassy winged sharpshooter which finally explained how it was able to feed on relatively un-nutritious xylem that lacked essential nutrients required for survival. It turned out there was a previously unknown microbial community in this hard to observe environment with different bacteria synthesizing different nutrients crucial for this insect's survival. Discoveries like this are possible because obstacles exist but researchers never stop asking how we can overcome the limits of existing methods and techniques. There are countless examples of such "things we haven't already seen" to paraphrase you. And I am confident that if we should dare to extend our search as was urged in the paper, we'll open up new door we can't even dream of at the moment.

I guess I can't really fault you for your perspective as it appears biology isn't your field of expertise. But for those of us bio-hackers here on slashdot, compelling questions of what we should be looking for and where/how to look for it, is most definitely "News for Nerds, Stuff that Matters". For the good of the community, I would ask that you and others not try to knock something simply because you don't understand it. Please try not to ask questions on the premise of unfounded assumptions.

Comment Re:is this news? (Score 1) 221

That's a pretty narcissistic and arrogant world view which does little to advance the current state of knowledge. When we stop daring to think ambitiously and asking improbable questions about the world around us, we settle into a valley of complacency from which we loose the momentum of curiosity that has driven science and technological innovation. Imagine Einstein never bothered to write that letter which lead to the Manhattan project. Or if DARPA thought the packet switching ARPANET was a waste of time and money. Or if the DOE thought sequencing the human genome was someone elses responsibility.

Believe me, as a lab rat who's been doing bench work in molecular and cell biology for the last 3 years I am more qualified than anyone to sing the praises of our current power to probe the depth, diversity, and extent of life. It is easy for me to sympathize with those who are jaded by these routine "miracles" where we can send out a DNA sample and have it sequenced overnight. If we wanna know something, the answer is literally a bunch of mouse clicks and a few pipette pumps away. Not much to get excited about at all.

But any self respecting biologist who works with modern molecular tools and technique has seen the frightening pace of progress that has allowed us to do the previously unimaginable. For example, the 2007 Nobel prize was awarded for the development of the "knock-out" mouse. This has lead to all sorts of experiments that has elucidated protein (mal)functions that have lead to a revolutionary understanding of countless diseases and illnesses. In more recent years, we are poised for another such quantum leap with bacteria-derived "genomic editing" techniques such as TALEN and CRISPR that allows us to make precise changes in the DNA of model organisms.

If biologists have the mindset you espouse, that everything worth discovering has been found, none of these type of breakthroughs would be possible. I've talked to colleagues who often muse wishfully, "If only we can do ****** more easily, our experiment would be so much better." There isn't one among us who don't hope some newly discovered microbe from the deep ocean or where ever will lead to some new technique or method that will allow us to do different kinds of experiments to generate data we didn't think was possible to collect.

And that is not as far-fetched as it sounds. It has been pointed out before that more people have walked on the moon than been to the deepest part of Earth's oceans. Of the little bit we have seen down there, entire ecosystems run on biochemistry that might as well be from another planet. You think it is *easy* to go down there and do science on those critters? There is a reason why astronauts outnumber aquanauts and ease/simplicity isn't one of them. You can't just bring them to you either because, those organisms don't live in the kind of environment we operate most lab equipment.

And it isn't necessarily about who can out-compete who on this planet. Everyone gets to shine in the spot light because everyone potentially has a role to play on the stage of life. How unimpressed will you be if it is discovered that some newly identified ocean trench bottom dweller can help us clean up the "Deep Horizon" oil spill in the gulf of Mexico? Or what if some rare sparsely growing thing-in-a-rock synthesizes a potent life-saving anti-cancer compound? We are not out to make discoveries for something that can necessarily colonize and take over the planet. The motivation for such quests are as varied as life itself, but for me personally, it is about finding something that can be of use to humanity. New biology may mean our current tools/techniques don't work. But therein also lies opportunities for new technologies and new discoveries. And you can bet there will be spin-offs to spare!

Sure, it may be not much more than viruses we find out there. There may NOT be some exotic thing out there that confounds established biology of life. But who are YOU to say? Plenty of reputable scientists have expressed the sentiment, "That's impossible! Don't be so ridiculous!" only to eat crow as their more open minded colleagues scope them. All things being equal, I'd rather bet on the long shot with anticipation, open eyes, and an open mind.

Comment Re:Yeah but ... (Score 5, Insightful) 128

Mod parent up. The article as written is dumbed down and misleading in many ways. Against my usual temperament I'm going to make a sociological/anthropological argument that someone reading the article will draw very wrong conclusions about the nature of prehistoric Neanderthal-modern human interaction. Genetic inheritance or progeny happens to be the only evidence we have right now about early Neanderthal-modern human interaction. But it does not say anything useful about when we "first had sex with" them as the article claims. Consider the following: Archaeological evidence suggests that large scale violence we would consider warfare was a part of human life as far as 7,500 or possibly 14,000 years ago. Does that mean ancient society was all about peace and love before that time? No. There is too little information to make such sweeping conclusions. To return to the subject at hand, not all sexual encounters with Neanderthals are going to leave evidence for us to conveniently find. What we *DO* know at this point is that at least one such encounter resulted in a pregnancy that was carried to term and the resulting offspring lived long enough to have children of his/her own who continued to survive. That's ALL we know. Put another way, imagine the young men and women of ancient communities playing a game of "fuck, marry, or kill" that included their funny looking neighbors. The visual may not be pleasant, but any earlier incidents of war-rape and deliberate infanticide due to parental rejection will leave little to no evidence behind for us. And barring extreme luck, there is almost NO WAY we can know if/when such incidents occurred. Who really knows when Neanderthals and us *FIRST* had sex?

Comment Re:so...... (Score 2) 352

Why is this comment modded off topic? Anyone who has bothered to read the linked webpages would know they are not talking about photovoltaics. What perhaps *IS* off topic is that is usually a really poor source of good science. The feed they provide to YAHOO is almost always filled with sensationalist nonsense.

Comment Re:the next logical step (Score 1) 85

I don't have very deep background in this area, but a bit of trivia from a neuroscience class two years ago is relevant here. Decades ago, before research ethics developed to its current state, there was an experiment using a de-brained but still living cat that showed the neural circuitry in the spinal cord was sophisticated enough to coordinate walking/running with no input/output to the brain. The following youtube clip shows film footage of the cat suspended over a treadmill where the motion of the tread stimulated anatomically correct gaits of normal healthy animals. In other words, the artificial stimulation doesn't really control *how* they walk or perform other tasks that are "instinctual". Most of that is an innate ability of the central nervous system. Voluntary control of muscles and movement, especially fine control, like dodging obstacles, for example, are still a bit tricky to hack at the current state of understanding.

Comment the next logical step (Score 3, Insightful) 85

After they optimize this for human physiology and gain commercial approval, this technology will obviously be a boon for accident victims. However, the engineer in me can't help but think of how far they can take the cyborg theme. ALS is a disease where motor neurons selectively waste away. Do we dare hope that we can eventually bypass the whole path of neuro connections to directly stimulate individual muscle groups?

Comment Re:You completely missed the point of the article (Score 1) 27

Mod parent up. I've read only the abstract of the article, but even still, the proposed system as described is a terribly expensive way to do PCR for another reason. Typical PCR reaction runs usually thermocycle around 20-30 times. That is 20 to 30 times you will need to change the temperature of your heat sink from a high denaturing temp to a low annealing temp to facilitate DNA replication. One of the first things I was taught in heat transfer as an electrical engineer is that the overwhelming factor involved in electronics failure is material fatigue due to thermo expansion/contraction. If you try to turn the CPU of a commodity PC into a thermocycling heat sink, you are going kill that machine really fast. Better to put in the investment for a proper thermocycler and related equipment designed to do the job correctly and reliably. Molecular biology is cheap enough these days that you don't need to do these crazy ostentatious hacks.

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