eldavojohn writes: Professor Gerald "Jerry" Crabtree of Stanford's Crabtree Laboratory published a paper (PDF warning) that has appeared in twoparts in "Trends in Genetics." The paper opens with a very controversial suggestion, 'I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions' and from there speculates we're on the decline of human intelligence and we have been for at least a couple millennia. His argument seems to suggest that agriculture and, following from that, cities have allowed us to break free of such environmental forces on competitive genetic mutations — a la Mike Judge's theory. However, the conclusion of the paper urges humans to keep calm and carry on as any attempt to fix this genetic trend would almost certainly be futile and disturbing.
eldavojohn writes: Agricultural biotechnology company Monsanto is now at the receiving end of a lawsuit from representatives of anyone who lived in the small town of Nitro, WV from 1949 on. This suit alleges that Monsanto spread chemical toxins all over town — most notably the carcinogenic dioxins. The plant in question produced herbicide 2,4,5-T which was used in Vietnam as an ingredient for "Agent Orange." From the article, 'Originally the suit called for Monsanto to both monitor people's health and clean up polluted property. The court rejected the property claims last year, leaving just the medical monitoring.' Strange that the suit is only allowed to address the symptom and not the root cause.
eldavojohn writes: Wuhan University researchers working with the National Research Council of Canada and the Center for Functional Genomics at the University at Albany have announced that they have genetically modified rice to produce a medically useful protein chemically identical to human serum albumin. This protein is used to treat burns, traumatic shock and liver disease at a global demand rate of 500 tons each year. Normally this would be extracted from blood donations but now you can just grow rice and extract it at a rate of 2.75 grams of protein per kilogram of rice. After testing on rats with liver cirrhosis, the same response was shown as the protein from blood. This is important for China after a spike in demand and lack of supply lead to fake albumin medicine flowing through Chinese hospitals. Worried about these GMO crops cross pollinating regular crops? The researchers referred to a study indicating "a very low frequency (0.04-0.80%) of pollen-mediated gene flow between genetically modified (GM) rice and adjacent non-GM plants." Nature has a slightly more detailed article with a reference to the peer review publication.
eldavojohn writes: Bovines rejoice, rinderpest has been eradicated worldwide. The rinderpest virus has plagued Europe, Africa and Asia for centuries causing indirect famine in countries as hundreds of millions of cattle fell victim. This is the first time in recorded history that humankind has completely eradicated an animal disease.
eldavojohn writes: A lizard long served on the menu in the Mekong Delta has recently caught the attention of scientists when it was noted that all animals in the species appeared identical as well as female. The species appears to be a hybrid of two other species (like a mule or liger). But the curious thing is that this hybrid isn't sterile — it reproduces asexually. The species, known for sometime in Vietnam, has now officially been named Leiolepis ngovantrii.
eldavojohn writes: Wouldn't it be great if periwinkle cured cancer? Well, it doesn't — at least not in its natural form. That didn't stop a few MIT chemists who found that metabolically engineering them creates new cancer fighting drugs like an alkaloid called vinblastine. As any farmer sued by Monsanto will tell you, genetically modifying plants is so 1990s but in this case the article explains how they tricked out periwinkle roots by genetically modifying how the plant created proteins and then controlling what it is fed. The team hopes to expand on this research to create even more novel compounds like tweaking venblastine — in addition to amplifying the yield of said proteins, enzymes and alkaloids. First pesticides and now medicine, what's next for our GMO leafy friends? Terraforming other planets? Or will we be hoisted by our own petard as GMO kudzu becomes Skynet?
eldavojohn writes: In Rotterdam, there's a new technology in place that dispenses a barely visible mist over those around it and alerts the police. The purpose? To tag robbers and link them back to the scene of the crime. From the article, 'The mist — visible only under ultraviolet light — carries DNA markers particular to the location, enabling the police to match the burglar with the place burgled. Now, a sign on the front door of the McDonald’s prominently warns potential thieves of the spray’s presence: “You Steal, You’re Marked.”' Developed in Britain, it's yet to nab a criminal but it will be interesting to see whether or not synthesized DNA will hold up as sufficient evidence in an actual court of law.
eldavojohn writes: "MIT's Technology Review's latest issue has a few stories on redesigning the genome and engineering viruses (more accurately bacteriaphage). The first video covers the J. Craig Venter Institute's efforts to synthesize genomes designed on a computer inside a bacteria in order to produce clean fuels and new vaccines. Another video describes viruses that are being synthesized to destroy biofilms both inside and outside the human body. Perhaps most interesting is the advertisement for free Windows software by dna2.0 that you can download on your computer and design your own genomes with (complete with demos on designing and cloning). They then make their money off of synthesizing the genome for you at a price. For better or for worse, synthetic biology is on the rise with biotech companies trying to put it into the hands of anyone."
eldavojohn writes: This Scientific Life noted a curious paper from the Virology Journal that discussed a case in which Jesus cured a fever. They used Bible passages to claim that it was influenza and not a fever that Jesus cured. The paper (doi:10.1186/1743-422X-7-169) resulted in an apology from the editor in chief of the Virology Journal. The paper apparently provided little more than evidence for the earliest recorded case of human influenza and caused Paul Gray of the Washington University School of Medicine to question what academic value the paper provided unless someone had paid to have the paper published.
eldavojohn writes: A research team conducting a survey has found that about 86% of wild canola plants in North Dakota have genetically modified genes in them and 'two samples contained multiple genes from different species of genetically modified plants.' Canola usually has little competition when cultivated but does not fare well in the wild. The Roundup Ready and Liberty Link strains of genetically modified canola appear to be crossing over to wild plants and helping it survive. The University of Arkansas team claims that the ease in which genetically modified canola has 'escaped' into the wild should be noted by seed makers like Mansanto because this is proof that it will happen.