Tag: biologist (page 1 of 2)

Lab for genetic modification of human embryos just $2,000 away – report


Reuters / Christian Charisius



Reuters

With the right expertise in molecular biology, one could start a basic laboratory to modify human embryos using a genome-editing computer technique all for a couple thousand dollars, according to a new report.

Genetic modification has received heightened scrutiny recently following last week’s announcement that Chinese researchers had, for the first time, successfully edited human embryos’ genomes. 
The team at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China, used CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced palindromic repeats), a technique that relies on “cellular machinery” used by bacteria in defense against viruses. 

This machinery is copied and altered to create specific gene-editing complexes, which include the wonder enzyme Cas9. The enzyme works its way into the DNA and can be used to alter the molecule from the inside. The combination is attached to an RNA guide that takes the gene-editing complex to its target, telling Cas9 where to operate. 

Use of the CRISPR technique is not necessarily relegated to the likes of cash-flush university research operations, according to a report by Business Insider. 


Geneticist George Church, who runs a top CRISPR research program at the Harvard Medical School, said the technique could be employed with expert knowledge and about half of the money needed to pay for an average annual federal healthcare plan in 2014 -- not to mention access to human embryos. 

"You could conceivably set up a CRISPR lab for $2,000,” he said, according to Business Insider. 

Other top researchers have echoed this sentiment. 

"Any scientist with molecular biology skills and knowledge of how to work with [embryos] is going to be able to do this,” Jennifer Doudna, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, recently told MIT Tech Review, which reported that Doudna co-discovered how to edit genetic code using CRISPR in 2012. 

Last week, the Sun Yat-Sen University research team said it attempted to cure a gene defect that causes beta-thalassemia (a genetic blood disorder that could lead to severe anemia, poor growth, skeletal abnormalities and even death) by editing the germ line. For that purpose they used a gene-editing technique based on injecting non-viable embryos with a complex, which consists of a protective DNA element obtained from bacteria and a specific protein. 

"I suspect this week will go down as a pivotal moment in the history of medicine," wrote science journalist Carl Zimmer for National Geographic.


Response to the new research has been mixed. Some experts say the gene editing could help defeat genetic diseases even before birth. Others expressed concern. 

“At present, the potential safety and efficacy issues arising from the use of this technology must be thoroughly investigated and understood before any attempts at human engineering are sanctioned, if ever, for clinical testing,” a group of scientists, including some who had worked to develop CRISPR, warned in Science magazine. 

Meanwhile, the director of the US National Institutes for Health (NIH) said the agency would not fund such editing of human embryo genes. 

“Research using genomic editing technologies can and are being funded by NIH,” Francis Collins said Wednesday. “However, NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes ... has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed.”

Although the discovery of CRISPR sequences dates back to 1987 – when it was first used to cure bacteria of viruses – its successes in higher animals and humans were only achieved in 2012-13, when scientists achieved a revolution by combining the resulting treatment system with Cas9 for the first time. 


On April 17, the MIT’s Broad Institute announced that has been awarded the first-ever patent for working with the Crisp-Cas9 system. 

The institute’s director, Eric Lander, sees the combination as “an extraordinary, powerful tool. The ability to edit a genome makes it possible to discover the biological mechanisms underlying human biology.”

The system’s advantage over other methods is in that it can also target several genes at the same time, working its way through tens of thousands of so-called 'guide' RNA sequences that lead them to the weapon to its DNA targets. 

Meanwhile, last month in the UK, a healthy baby was born from an embryo screened for genetic diseases, using karyomapping, a breakthrough testing method that allows doctors to identify about 60 debilitating hereditary disorders.

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Did natural selection make the Dutch the tallest people on the planet?

Dutch national women's field hockey team



Excerpt from news.sciencemag.org
ByMartin Enserink

AMSTERDAM—Insecure about your height? You may want to avoid this tiny country by the North Sea, whose population has gained an impressive 20 centimeters in the past 150 years and is now officially the tallest on the planet. Scientists chalk up most of that increase to rising wealth, a rich diet, and good health care, but a new study suggests something else is going on as well: The Dutch growth spurt may be an example of human evolution in action.
The study, published online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows that tall Dutch men on average have more children than their shorter counterparts, and that more of their children survive. That suggests genes that help make people tall are becoming more frequent among the Dutch, says behavioral biologist and lead author Gert Stulp of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"This study drives home the message that the human population is still subject to natural selection," says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University who wasn't involved in the study. "It strikes at the core of our understanding of human nature, and how malleable it is." It also confirms what Stearns knows from personal experience about the population in the northern Netherlands, where the study took place: "Boy, they are tall."

For many years, the U.S. population was the tallest in the world. In the 18th century, American men were 5 to 8 centimeters taller than those in the Netherlands. Today, Americans are the fattest, but they lost the race for height to northern Europeans—including Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, and Estonians—sometime in the 20th century.

Just how these peoples became so tall isn't clear, however. Genetics has an important effect on body height: Scientists have found at least 180 genes that influence how tall you become. Each one has only a small effect, but together, they may explain up to 80% of the variation in height within a population. Yet environmental factors play a huge role as well. The children of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii, for instance, grew much taller than their parents. Scientists assume that a diet rich in milk and meat played a major role.

The Dutch have become so much taller in such a short period that scientists chalk most of it up to their changing environment. As the Netherlands developed, it became one of the world's largest producers and consumers of cheese and milk. An increasingly egalitarian distribution of wealth and universal access to health care may also have helped.

Still, scientists wonder whether natural selection has played a role as well. For men, being tall is associated with better health, attractiveness to the opposite sex, a better education, and higher income—all of which could lead to more reproductive success, Stulp says.
Yet studies in the United States don't show this. Stulp's own research among Wisconsinites born between 1937 and 1940, for instance, showed that average-sized men had more children than shorter and taller men, and shorter women had more children than those of average height. Taken together, Stulp says, this suggests natural selection in the United States pulls in the opposite direction of environmental factors like diet, making people shorter instead of taller. That may explain why the growth in average American height has leveled off.

Stulp—who says his towering 2-meter frame did not influence his research interest—wondered if the same was true in his native country. To find out, he and his colleagues turned to a database tracking key life data for almost 100,000 people in the country's three northern provinces. The researchers included only people over 45 who were born in the Netherlands to Dutch-born parents. This way, they had a relatively accurate number of total children per subject (most people stop having children after 45) and they also avoided the effects of immigration.

In the remaining sample of 42,616 people, taller men had more children on average, despite the fact that they had their first child at a higher age. The effect was small—an extra 0.24 children at most for taller men—but highly significant. (Taller men also had a smaller chance of remaining childless, and a higher chance of having a partner.)  The same effect wasn't seen in women, who had the highest reproductive success when they were of average height.  The study suggests this may be because taller women had a smaller chance of finding a mate, while shorter women were at higher risk of losing a child.

Because tall men are likely to pass on the genes that made them tall, the outcome suggests that—in contrast to Americans—the Dutch population is evolving to become taller, Stulp says. "This is not what we've seen in other studies—that's what makes it exciting," says evolutionary biologist Simon Verhulst of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who was Stulp's Ph.D. adviser but wasn't involved in the current study. Verhulst points out that the team can't be certain that genes involved in height are actually becoming more frequent, however, as the authors acknowledge.

The study suggests that sexual selection is at work in the Dutch population, Stearns says: Dutch women may prefer taller men because they expect them to have more resources to invest in their children. But there are also other possibilities. It could be that taller men are more resistant to disease, Stearns says, or that they are more likely to divorce and start a second family. "It will be a difficult question to answer.”

Another question is why tall men in Holland are at a reproductive advantage but those in the United States are not. Stulp says he can only speculate. One reason may be that humans often choose a partner who's not much shorter or taller than they are themselves. Because shorter women in the United States have more children, tall men may do worse than those of average height because they're less likely to partner with a short woman.

In the end, Stearns says, the advantage of tall Dutchmen may be only temporary. Often in evolution, natural selection will favor one trend for a number of generations, followed by a stabilization or even a return to the opposite trend. In the United States, selection for height appears to have occurred several centuries ago, leading to taller men, and then it stopped. "Perhaps the Dutch caught up and actually overshot the American men," he says.

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Biologists fear DNA editing procedure can alter human DNA




Excerpt from themarketbusiness.com

A group of biologists was alarmed with the use a new genome-editing technique to modify human DNA in a way that it can become hereditary.
The biologists worry that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead with it before its safety can be weigh up. They also want the public to understand the ethical issues surrounding the technique, which could be used to cure genetic diseases, but also to enhance qualities like beauty or intelligence. The latter is a path that many ethicists believe should never be taken.


“You could exert control over human heredity with this technique, and that is why we are raising the issue,” said David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of the group whose paper on the topic was published in the journal Science.

Ethicists have been concerned for decades about the dangers of altering the human germ line — meaning to make changes to human sperm, eggs or embryos that will last through the life of the individual and be passed on to future generations. Until now, these worries have been theoretical. But a technique invented in 2012 makes it possible to edit the genome precisely and with much greater ease. The technique has already been used to edit the genomes of mice, rats and monkeys, and few doubt that it would work the same way in people.

The new genome-editing technique holds the power to repair or enhance any human gene. “It raises the most fundamental of issues about how we are going to view our humanity in the future and whether we are going to take the dramatic step of modifying our own germline and in a sense take control of our genetic destiny, which raises enormous peril for humanity,” said George Daley, a stem cell expert at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the group.

The biologists writing in Science support continuing laboratory research with the technique, and few if any scientists believe it is ready for clinical use. Any such use is tightly regulated in the United States and Europe. American scientists, for instance, would have to present a plan to treat genetic diseases in the human germline to the Food and Drug Administration.

The paper’s authors, however, are concerned about countries that have less regulation in science. They urge that “scientists should avoid even attempting, in lax jurisdictions, germ line genome modification for clinical application in humans” until the full implications “are discussed among scientific and governmental organizations.”

Though such a moratorium would not be legally enforceable and might seem unlikely to exert global sway, there is a precedent. In 1975, scientists worldwide were asked to refrain from using a method for manipulating genes, the recombinant DNA technique, until rules had been established.

“We asked at that time that nobody do certain experiments, and in fact nobody did, to my knowledge,” said Baltimore, who was a member of the 1975 group. “So there is a moral authority you can assert from the U.S., and that is what we hope to do.”

Recombinant DNA was the first in a series of ever-improving steps for manipulating genetic material. The chief problem has always been one of accuracy, of editing the DNA at precisely the intended site, since any off-target change could be lethal. Two recent methods, known as zinc fingers and TAL effectors, came close to the goal of accurate genome editing, but both are hard to use. The new genome-editing approach was invented by Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden.

Their method, known by the acronym Crispr-Cas9, co-opts the natural immune system with which bacteria remember the DNA of the viruses that attack them so they are ready the next time those same invaders appear. Researchers can simply prime the defense system with a guide sequence of their choice and it will then destroy the matching DNA sequence in any genome presented to it. Doudna is the lead author of the Science article calling for control of the technique and organized the meeting at which the statement was developed.

Though highly efficient, the technique occasionally cuts the genome at unintended sites. The issue of how much mistargeting could be tolerated in a clinical setting is one that Doudna’s group wants to see thoroughly explored before any human genome is edited.

Scientists also say that replacing a defective gene with a normal one may seem entirely harmless but perhaps would not be.
“We worry about people making changes without the knowledge of what those changes mean in terms of the overall genome,” Baltimore said. “I personally think we are just not smart enough — and won’t be for a very long time — to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual.”
Many ethicists have accepted the idea of gene therapy, changes that die with the patient, but draw a clear line at altering the germline, since these will extend to future generations. The British Parliament in February approved the transfer of mitochondria, small DNA-containing organelles, to human eggs whose own mitochondria are defective. But that technique is less far-reaching because no genes are edited.

There are two broad schools of thought on modifying the human germline, said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the Doudna group. One is pragmatic and seeks to balance benefit and risk. The other “sets up inherent limits on how much humankind should alter nature,” she said. 
Some Christian doctrines oppose the idea of playing God, whereas in Judaism and Islam there is the notion “that humankind is supposed to improve the world.” She described herself as more of a pragmatist, saying, “I would try to regulate such things rather than shut a new technology down at its beginning.”

Other scientists agree with the Doudna group’s message.
“It is very clear that people will try to do gene editing in humans,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a stem cell biologist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not a member of the Doudna group. “This paper calls for a moratorium on any clinical application, which I believe is the right thing to do.”
Writing in Nature last week, Edward Lanphier and other scientists involved in developing the rival zinc finger technique for genome editing also called for a moratorium on human germline modification, saying that use of current technologies would be “dangerous and ethically unacceptable.”

The International Society for Stem Cell Research said Thursday that it supported the proposed moratorium.

The Doudna group calls for public discussion but is also working to develop some more formal process, such as an international meeting convened by the National Academy of Sciences, to establish guidelines for human use of the genome-editing technique.

“We need some principled agreement that we want to enhance humans in this way or we don’t,” Jaenisch said. “You have to have this discussion because people are gearing up to do this.”

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UK Scientists: Aliens May Have Sent Space Seeds To Create Life On Earth

Excerpt from huffingtonpost.comScientists in the U.K. have examined a tiny metal circular object, and are suggesting it might be a micro-organism deliberately sent by extraterrestrials to create life on Earth.Don't be fooled by the size of the objec...

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Did viking men bring their wives along? Viking men may have brought their wives with them to colonize new lands, a new DNA study suggests




Excerpt from 
csmonitor.com

Vikings may have been family men who traveled with their wives to new lands, according to a new study of ancient Viking DNA.
Maternal DNA from ancient Norsemen closely matches that of modern-day people in the North Atlantic isles, particularly from the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

The findings suggest that both Viking men and women sailed on the ships to colonize new lands. The new study also challenges the popular conception of Vikings as glorified hoodlums with impressive seafaring skills. 

"It overthrows this 19th century idea that the Vikings were just raiders and pillagers," said study co-author Erika Hagelberg, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oslo in Norway. "They established settlements and grew crops, and trade was very, very important."

Vikings hold a special place in folklore as manly warriors who terrorized the coasts of France, England and Germany for three centuries. But the Vikings were much more than pirates and pillagers. They established far-flung trade routes, reached the shores of present-day America, settled in new lands and even founded the modern city of Dublin, which was called Dyfflin by the Vikings.

Some earlier genetic studies have suggested that Viking males traveled alone and then brought local women along when they settled in a new location. For instance, a 2001 study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggested that Norse men brought Gaelic women over when they colonized Iceland.

Modern roots

To learn more about Norse colonization patterns, Hagelberg and her colleagues extracted teeth and shaved off small wedges of long bones from 45 Norse skeletons that were dated to between A.D. 796 and A.D. 1066. The skeletons were first unearthed in various locations around Norway and are now housed in the Schreiner Collection at the University of Oslo.

The team looked at DNA carried in the mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of the cell. Because mitochondria are housed in the cytoplasm of a woman's egg, they are passed on from a woman to her children and can therefore reveal maternal lineage. The team compared that material with mitochondrial DNA from 5,191 people from across Europe, as well as with previously analyzed samples from 68 ancient Icelanders.

The ancient Norse and Icelandic genetic material closely matched the maternal DNA in modern North Atlantic people, such as Swedes, Scots and the English. But the ancient Norse seemed most closely related to people from Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scottish isles that are quite close to Scandinavia.

Mixed group

"It looks like women were a more significant part of the colonization process compared to what was believed earlier," said Jan Bill, an archaeologist and the curator of the Viking burial ship collection at the Museum of Cultural History, a part of the University of Oslo. 

That lines up with historical documents, which suggest that Norse men, women and children — but also Scottish, British and Irish families — colonized far-flung islands such as Iceland, Bill told Live Science. Bill was not involved with the new study.

"This picture that we have of Viking raiding — a band of long ships plundering — there obviously would not be families on that kind of ship," Bill said. "But when these raiding activities started to become a more permanent thing, then at some point you may actually see families are traveling along and staying in the camps."
As a follow-up, the team would like to compare ancient Norse DNA to ancient DNA from Britain, Scotland and the North Atlantic Isles, to get a better look at exactly how all these people are related, Hagelberg said.

The findings were published today (Dec. 7) in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

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World’s Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag

A jagged line etched on a fossil mussel shell may be the oldest evidence of geometric art.Photograph by Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam(Reuters) - It's a simple zigzag design scratched onto the surface of a freshwater mussel shell on t...

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Scientists Admit There Is a Second, Secret DNA Code Which Controls Genes

Contributed by Michael ForresterThe fascinating and recent discovery of a new, second DNA code further lends credence to what metaphysical scientists have been saying for millennia -- the body speaks two different languages.Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, researchers have assumed that it was used exclusively to write information about proteins.But biologists have suspected for years that some kind of epigenetic inheritance occurs at the cellular level. The different [...]

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