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DNA Manufacturing Enters the Age of Mass Production ( 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.

Gene Editing Offers Hope For Treating Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy ( 48

schwit1 writes with news that scientists have used a new gene-editing technique called CRISPR to treat mice with defective dystrophin genes. This is the first time that such a method has successfully treated a genetic disease inside a living mammal. The Times reports: "Three research groups, working independently of one another, reported in the journal Science that they had used the Crispr-Cas9 technique to treat mice with a defective dystrophin gene. Each group loaded the DNA-cutting system onto a virus that infected the mice's muscle cells, and excised from the gene a defective stretch of DNA known as an exon. Without the defective exon, the muscle cells made a shortened dystrophin protein that was nonetheless functional, giving all of the mice more strength."

Geneticists Push For Databases Over Journals As Main Source of Information ( 31

neoritter writes: The issues of reproducibility in journals continues to present problems. This time in the world of clinical geneticists where a misleading or incorrect journal on the effect of a gene variant can affect the decisions made by doctors and patients alike; from heart monitoring implants to abortions. Poor sampling and low thresholds for evidence have led some clinical geneticists to work towards an open database of genetic information. Scientists and doctors would go to a "one-stop shop for disease genes" to check and share information with each other under the strictest of standards.

Disease-Resistant Pigs Latest Win For Gene Editing Technology ( 125

schwit1 writes with news that using gene editing technology researchers have bred pigs that do not produce a protein necessary for the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus to spread. According to Reuters: "A British animal genetics firm, working with U.S. scientists, has bred the world's first pigs resistant to a common viral disease, using the hot new technology of gene editing. Genus, which supplies pig and bull semen to farmers worldwide, said on Tuesday it had worked with the University of Missouri to develop pigs resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSv). The condition, also known as blue-ear disease, can be fatal as it affects the animals' immune system and costs farmers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. There is no cure. By using precise gene editing, the team from the University of Missouri was able to breed pigs that do not produce a specific protein necessary for the virus to spread in the animals. Their research was published in journal Nature Biotechnology."
United Kingdom

Researchers Are Developing Cure for Human Pain ( 151

transporter_ii writes: Scientists from University College London seem to have come up with a two-pronged treatment regimen they believe would help patients suffering from chronic pain. And in a strange irony, they did it by making it possible for mice – and one human – to feel pain when they previously couldn't. From the story: "To examine if opioids were important for painlessness, the researchers gave naloxone, an opioid blocker, to mice lacking Nav1.7 and found that they became able to feel pain. They then gave naloxone to a 39-year-old woman with the rare mutation and she felt pain for the first time in her life. 'After a decade of rather disappointing drug trials, we now have confirmation that Nav1.7 really is a key element in human pain,' says senior author Professor John Wood (UCL Medicine). 'The secret ingredient turned out to be good old-fashioned opioid peptides, and we have now filed a patent for combining low dose opioids with Nav1.7 blockers. This should replicate the painlessness experienced by people with rare mutations, and we have already successfully tested this approach in unmodified mice.'"

Gene Drive Turns Mosquitoes Into Malaria Fighters ( 69

sciencehabit writes: The war against malaria has a new ally: a controversial technology for spreading genes throughout a population of animals. Researchers report today that they have harnessed a so-called gene drive to efficiently endow mosquitoes with genes that should make them immune to the malaria parasite—and unable to spread it. On its own, gene drive won't get rid of malaria, but if successfully applied in the wild the method could help wipe out the disease, at least in some corners of the world. The approach "can bring us to zero [cases]," says Nora Besansky, a geneticist at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, who specializes in malaria-carrying mosquitoes. "The mosquitoes do their own work [and] reach places we can't afford to go or get to."

FDA Signs Off On Genetically Modified Salmon Without Labeling ( 514

kheldan writes: Today, in a historic decision, the FDA approved the marketing of genetically-engineered salmon for sale to the general public, without any sort of labeling to indicate to consumers they've been genetically altered. According to the article: "Though the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) gives the FDA the authority to require mandatory labeling of foods if there is a material difference between a GE product and its conventional counterpart, the agency says it is not requiring labeling of these GE fish 'Because the data and information evaluated show that AquAdvantage Salmon is not materially different from other Atlantic salmon.' In this case, the GE salmon use an rDNA construct composed of the growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon under the control of a promoter from another type of fish called an 'ocean pout.' According to the FDA, this tweak to the DNA allows the salmon to grow to market size faster than non-GE farm-raised salmon."

Scientists Grow Working Vocal Cord Tissue In the Lab ( 25

sciencehabit writes that tissue engineers have for the first time grown vocal cords from human cells. Science reports: "For the first time, scientists have created vocal cord tissue starting with cells from human vocal cords. When tested in the lab, the bioengineered tissue vibrated—and even sounded—similar to the natural thing. The development could one day help those with severely damaged vocal cords regain their lost voices. 'It’s an exciting finding because those patients are the ones we have very few treatment options for,' says Jennifer Long, a voice doctor and scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, head and neck surgery department, who wasn’t involved in the study."

A Fresh Take On Fake Meat 317

JMarshall writes: Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley food start-up started by a Stanford professor who quit his job, just raised $108 million to pursue a plant-based burger that truly tastes like meat. This ACS article explains how Impossible Foods and other startups and researchers are tackling the tricky chemical and engineering challenge of making fake meat that tastes real. "Meat flavors and aromas come from thousands of volatile small molecules released by muscle and fat cell destruction. Flavor precursors start with an animal’s diet, which influences the molecular composition of its cells. After slaughter, enzymes in an animal’s muscle cells begin breaking down biomolecules into simpler amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids. This means some flavor molecules develop even as the meat ages during its trip to the store. Other flavor and aroma components emerge from reactions between sugars, amino acids, or fatty acids as the meat is cooked."

Hi-Tech Body Implants and the Biohacker Movement ( 74

szczys writes: Body modification has been growing in popularity. It's pretty common to see people with multiple piercings or stretched earlobes (called gauging). With this wider acceptance has risen a specific subset of Biohacking that seeks to add technology to your body through implants and other augmentation. The commonly available tech right now includes the addition of a magnet in your fingertip, or an RFID chip in your hand to unlock doors and start your car. Cameron Coward looked into this movement — called Grinding — to ask what it's like to live with tech implants, and where the future will take us.

Scientists Hope To Attract Millions To "DNA.LAND" ( 32

An anonymous reader writes: Started by computational geneticist Yaniv Erlich, and geneticist Joseph Pickrell at the New York Genome Center and Columbia University in New York, DNA.Land is a project which hopes to create a crowdsourced DNA database for genetic studies. Nature reports: "The project, DNA.LAND, aims to entice people who have already had their genomes analyzed by consumer genetics companies to share that data, allowing DNA.LAND geneticists to study the information. Although some consumer genetic-testing companies share data with researchers, they provide only aggregate information about their customers, not individual genomes. Because the data are not always accompanied by detailed information on patients' health, they are of limited use for drawing links between genes and disease."

Complex Living Brain Simulation Replicates Sensory Rat Behaviour ( 63

New submitter physick writes: The Blue Brain project at EPFL, Switzerland today published the results of more than 10 years work in reconstructing a cellular model of a piece of the somatosensory cortex of a juvenile rat. The paper in Cell describes the process of painstakingly assembling tens of thousands of digital neurons, establishing the location of their synapses, and simulating the resulting neocortical microcircuit on an IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. “This is a first draft reconstruction of a piece of neocortex and it’s beautiful,” said Henry Markram, director of the Blue Brain Project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. “It’s like a fundamental building block of the brain.”

Dormant Virus Wakes Up In Some Patients With Lou Gehrig's Disease 47

MTorrice writes: Our chromosomes hold a partial record of prehistoric viral infections: About 8% of our genomes come from DNA that viruses incorporated into the cells of our ancestors. Over many millennia, these viral genes have accumulated mutations rendering them mostly dormant. But one of these viruses can reawaken in some patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive muscle wasting disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A new study demonstrates that this so-called endogenous retrovirus can damage neurons, possibly contributing to the neurodegeneration seen in the disease. The findings raise the possibility that antiretroviral drugs, similar to those used to treat HIV, could slow the progression of ALS in some patients.

Researchers Identify Newer and More Precise System For Genome Editing 33

An anonymous reader writes: Scientists have identified a new advanced molecular system for human genome editing with potential to increase power and precision of genome engineering. The team, including the scientist who first harnessed the CRISPR-Cas9 system for mammalian genome editing, described the features of the new system and demonstrated that it can be engineered to edit the genomes of human cells.

Stem Cell-Derived Brain Mimics Predict Chemical Toxicity 16

MTorrice writes: Scientists in Wisconsin have grown three-dimensional brain-like tissue structures from human embryonic stem cells. These new structures are easy to grow and contain vascular cells and microglia, a type of immune cell. The breakthrough may change the way we test drugs and chemicals for their effect on the human brain. Currently most tests use multiple generations of rats and cost about $1 million to test one chemical. “In the near term, the approach might be more valuable to identify pathways and mechanisms of toxicity,” says William Murphy, a biomedical engineer at the University of Wisconsin. “We are gathering so much data on responses of these human brain mimics to known toxic chemicals that we can start to understand the signaling pathways affected by the chemicals. Not just whether, but how the chemicals are affecting the developing human brain.”

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