Biotech

Want To Fight Climate Change? Stop Cows From Burping 171 171

sciencehabit writes: A simple supplement to a cow's feed could substantially decrease a major source of methane, a planet-warming greenhouse gas, a new study suggests. Each year worldwide, the methane produced by cud-chewing livestock warms Earth's climate by the same amount as 2.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a little more than 4% of the greenhouse gas emissions related to human activity. That makes cows tempting targets for methane reduction efforts. In a new study, researchers added the chemical 3-nitrooxypropanol, also known as 3NOP, to the corn-and-alfalfa-based feed of 84 milk-producing Holsteins and monitored their methane production for 12 weeks—the largest and longest such trial of its type in lactating cows, the scientists say. For cows whose feed included 3NOP, methane emissions dropped, on average, by 30%.
Biotech

The Biohacking Movement and Open Source Insulin 66 66

szczys writes: Since early last century, insulin has been produced from the pancreas of animals. In the late 1970s we figured out how to synthesize insulin using bacteria or yeast. As the biohacking movement has grown, insulin production has been a common target, but for some reason we're not there yet. Dan Maloney looked into the backstory (including the amazing story of the Saxl family who produced life-saving insulin during WWII) and a new startup that is trying to get Biohackers working on the problem. Update: 07/30 21:56 GMT by T : That's WWII above, not WWI; mea culpa.
Biotech

Genetically Modified Rice Makes More Food, Less Greenhouse Gas 292 292

Applehu Akbar writes: A team of researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences has engineered a barley gene into rice, producing a variety that yields 50% more grain while producing 90% less of the powerful greenhouse gas methane. The new rice pulls off this trick by putting more of its energy into top growth. In countries which depend on rice as a staple, this would add up to a really large amount of increased rice and foregone methane.
Biotech

Study: Certain Vaccines Could Make Diseases More Deadly 195 195

sciencehabit writes: New research suggests that vaccines that don't make their hosts totally immune to a disease and incapable of spreading it to others might have a serious downside. According to a controversial study by Professor Andrew Read these so-called "imperfect" or "leaky" vaccines could sometimes teach pathogens to become more dangerous. Sciencemag reports: "The study is controversial. It was done in chickens, and some scientists say it has little relevance for human vaccination; they worry it will reinforce doubts about the merits or safety of vaccines. It shouldn't, says lead author Andrew Read, a biologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park: The study provides no support whatsoever for the antivaccine movement. But it does suggest that some vaccines may have to be monitored more closely, he argues, or supported with extra measures to prevent unintended consequences."
Biotech

Eye Drops Could Dissolve Cataracts 70 70

An anonymous reader writes: As Slashdot readers age, more and more will be facing surgery for cataracts. The lack of cataract surgery in much of the world is a major cause of blindness. Researchers at University of California San Diego have identified lanosterol as a key molecule in the prevention of cataract formation that points to a novel strategy for cataract prevention and non-surgical treatment. The abstract is freely available from Nature. If you have cataracts, you might want to purchase a full reprint while you can still read it.
Australia

Studies Find Genetic Signature of Native Australians In the Americas 103 103

Applehu Akbar writes: Two new research papers claim to have found an Australo-Melanesian DNA signal in the genetic makeup of Native Americans, dating to about the time of the last glacial maximum. This may move the speculation around the Clovis people and Kennewick man to an entirely new level. Let's hope that it at least shakes loose some more funding for North American archaeology. Ars reports: "The exact process by which humanity introduced itself to the Americas has always been controversial. While there's general agreement on the most important migration—across the Bering land bridge at the end of the last ice age—there's a lot of arguing over the details. Now, two new papers clarify some of the bigger picture but also introduce a new wrinkle: there's DNA from the distant Pacific floating around in the genomes of Native Americans. And the two groups disagree about how it got there."
Medicine

How Drug Companies Seek To Exploit Rare DNA Mutations 93 93

An anonymous reader writes: With so many people in the world, humanity can't help but generate a large amount of genetic outliers. Most random mutations are undetectable, and many of the rest lead to serious diseases. But there's another class of mutation that has drug companies salivating. For example: a few dozen people worldwide have a condition that prevents them from feeling any pain. Another condition called sclerosteosis affects less than 100 people, giving them incredibly dense bone structure. Both of these conditions have serious downsides, but drug companies are beginning to see the dollar signs behind isolating these mutations and making them safe.

"People with sclerosteosis lack a protein that acts as a brake on bone growth. Without that protein, bones grow abnormally thick. It stood to reason, researchers thought, that a drug that could block the protein in patients with osteoporosis would encourage bone regrowth. Amgen's scientists created hundreds of antibodies that they tested to determine which might be able to get in the way of the protein. It took them three and a half years of research before they were able to identify the best antibody to inhibit the protein. Then NASA came calling." It's an unfortunate situation for those with the rare conditions; there's a lot more potential profit in finding a way to genetically prevent pain for billions of people than it is to cure the handful with the condition.
Biotech

Genetic Access Control Code Uses 23andMe DNA Data For Internet Racism 312 312

rjmarvin writes: A GitHub project is using the 23andMe API for genetic decoding to act as a way to bar users from entering websites based on their genetic data — race and ancestry. "Stumbling around GitHub, I came across this bit of code: Genetic Access Control. Now, budding young racist coders can check out your 23andMe page before they allow you into their website! Seriously, this code uses the 23andMe API to pull genetic info, then runs access control on the user based on the results. Just why you decide not to let someone into your site is up to you, but it can be based on any aspect of the 23andMe API. This is literally the code to automate racism."
Biotech

Scientists Arm Cells With Tiny Lasers 35 35

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have implanted tiny lasers within living cells. A team of physicists and biologists have coaxed a cell to envelop a tiny plastic sphere that acts like a resonant cavity—thus placing a whole laser within a cell (abstract). The spheres are seasoned with a fluorescent dye, so that a zap with one color of light makes them radiate at another color. The light then resonates in the sphere, triggering laser action and amplifying itself. So although demonstrated only in cultured cells, the technique might someday be used to track the movement of individual cells, say, within cancerous tumors.
United States

US House Committee Approves Anti-GMO Labeling Law 446 446

An anonymous reader writes: The House Agriculture Committee approved a measure banning mandatory GMO labeling as well as local efforts to regulate genetically engineered crops. The decision is a major victory for U.S. food companies and other opponents of labeling genetically modified foods. "This... legislation will ensure that Americans have accurate, consistent information about their food rather than a 50 state patchwork of labeling laws that will only prove costly and confusing for consumers, farmers and food manufacturers," said Pamela Bailey, CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), said in a statement.
Biotech

New Letters Added To the Genetic Alphabet 74 74

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Quanta Magazine: [A]fter decades of work, [organic chemist Steven] Benner's team has synthesized artificially enhanced DNA that functions much like ordinary DNA, if not better. In two papers published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society last month, the researchers have shown that two synthetic nucleotides called P and Z fit seamlessly into DNA's helical structure, maintaining the natural shape of DNA. Moreover, DNA sequences incorporating these letters can evolve just like traditional DNA, a first for an expanded genetic alphabet. In fact, the article continues, these new nucleotides can actually outperform their natural counterparts: "When challenged to evolve a segment that selectively binds to cancer cells, DNA sequences using P and Z did better than those without."
Biotech

Video Help Save Endangered Rhinos by Making Artificial Horns (Video) 202 202

Black Rhinoceros horn material sells for $65,000 per kilo. The rhinos are rare, which helps up the price, but the horn is also prized "as a fever-reducer, a cosmetic, an aphrodisiac, a hangover care. And so people highly value it in the Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. So we are trying to reduce that value by increasing the supply," says Jennifer Kaehms of Pembient, a company that's working to make artificial rhino horns that are not only chemically indistinguishable from the natural variety, but are 3-D printed to look the same. The idea is that if they can flood the market with human-made rhino horns, it will cut poaching -- which is a big deal because there are only about 5,000 black rhinos left in the whole world.

They have a crowdfunding appeal on experiment.com looking for help in sequencing the black rhino genome. At this writing, it has two days to run and has only raised $12,831 of its $16,500 goal. The results will be open sourced, and once the black rhino is on its way to salvation, they plan to work on the white rhino, then move on to killing the black market for ivory and tiger pelts, which don't sell for as much as rhino horns but are valuable enough to keep an international horde of poachers in business.
Biotech

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

Genetic Rescue Efforts Could Help Coral Shrug Off Warmer Oceans 167 167

The Washington Post reports that research published last week in the journal Science indicates that coral reefs may be less vulnerable to ocean temperature changes than has been widely believed, especially given human intervention. A slice: Some corals already have the genes needed to adapt to higher ocean temperatures, and researchers expect those genes will naturally migrate and mix with corals under stress over time ... And that process could potentially be sped up artificially. ... Giving coral evolution a boost isn't an entirely new concept. Some scientists have already suggested genetically modifying corals through artificial breeding, or doing the same for the tiny microbes that live inside corals and are essential to reef growth.
Biotech

Controversial Trial of Genetically Modified Wheat Ends In Disappointment 188 188

sciencehabit writes: A controversial GM wheat trial has failed after more than £2 million of public money was spent protecting it from GM opponents. Researchers had hoped that the wheat modified to produce a warning pheromone would keep aphids away and attract their natural enemies, reducing the need for insecticides. Despite showing promise in the laboratory, the field trial failed to show any effect. “If you make a transgenic plant that produces that alarm continuously, it’s not going to work,” ecologist Marcel Dicke of Wageningen University in the Netherlands says. “You have a plant crying wolf all the time, and the bugs won’t listen to it any longer.”
United Kingdom

NHS To Give Volunteers "Synthetic Blood" Made In a Laboratory Within Two Years 57 57

schwit1 writes: The NHS plans to test artificial blood made from human stem cells in patients and hopes to start transfusing people with artificial blood by 2017. The trials will take place in Cambridge and If successful could lead to the mass production of artificial blood. The Independent reports: "A long-awaited clinical trial of artificial red blood cells will occur before 2017, NHS scientists said. The blood is made from stem cells extracted from either the umbilical cord blood of newborn babies or the blood of adult donors. The trial, thought to be a world first, will involve small transfusions of a few teaspoons of synthetic blood to test for any adverse reactions. It will allow scientists to study the time the manufactured red blood cells can survive within human recipients. Eventually, it is hoped that the NHS will be able to make unlimited quantities of red blood cells for emergency transfusions."
Biotech

Building the Face of a Criminal From DNA 59 59

Dave Knott writes: It sounds like science fiction, but revealing the face of a criminal based on their genes may be closer than we think. In a process known as molecular photo fitting, scientists are experimenting with using genetic markers from DNA to build up a picture of an offender's face. Dr. Peter Claes, a medical imaging specialist at the University of Leuven, has amassed a database of faces and corresponding DNA. Armed with this information, he is able to model how a face is constructed based on just 20 genes (this number will soon be expanded to 200). At the moment, police couldn't publish a molecular photo-fit like this and hope to catch a killer. But that's not how Dr. Claes sees the technique being used in a criminal investigation. "If I were to bring this result to an investigator, I wouldn't necessarily give him the image to broadcast. I would talk to him and say okay, you're looking for a woman, with a very specific chin and eyebrow structure."
Earth

3D Printing Might Save the Rhinoceros 163 163

GordonShure.com writes: San Francisco based biotech startup Pembient have released details of their 3D printing led method to derail the market for Rhinoceros horns. Presently the bulk of demand originates from China, where said horns — gathered in the wild by poachers who usually kill the rhinos — are revered for supposed medicinal qualities. The new firm intends to mix keratin with Rhino DNA, then machine the combination with a 3D printer in a way that their counterfeit horns are difficult to detect by customers and traffickers alike.

The company already mulls expanding its production principle to other, lucrative wild animal trades such as the claws of tigers and lions. Pembient is however a young company — for all their ingenuity, will their ambitions to take on such a colossal black market be realized?
Biotech

Editing DNA For Fame and Fortune 62 62

An anonymous reader writes: The world of genome editing is booming, with several startups racing to develop new tools and therapies out of the DNA-hacking insights of several hotshot scientists. Venture capitalists are pouring big money into this so-called 'CRISPR craze,' which has attracted over $600 million in funding since the beginning of 2013. But major questions loom over who is the rightful owner of this technology, and the leading parties are battling for control of the key patents. Will this new crop of genome-editing companies survive long enough to fulfill their promise of treating genetic disorders? As the patent feud wages on, lives and fortunes hang in the balance.
Biotech

An Origami Inspired Bacteria-Powered Battery 27 27

jan_jes writes: Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding created by Akira Yoshizawa, which can be used to create beautiful birds, frogs and other small sculptures. Last year a team of engineers from MIT and Harvard has developed an origami flat-pack robot (YouTube video) which can fold itself and crawl away without any human intervention. But now a Binghamton University engineer says this technique can be applied to building batteries, too. The battery generates power from microbial respiration, delivering enough energy to run a paper-based biosensor with nothing more than a drop of bacteria-containing liquid. This method should be especially useful to anyone working in remote areas with limited resources. The total cost of this potentially game-changing device is "five cents."