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Genetically modified bacterium absorbs CO2 and produces biofuel

Bionic leaf Ralstonia eutropha

Harvard Professor of Energy Daniel G. Nocera has genetically engineered bacteria (Ralstonia eutropha) to absorb hydrogen and carbon dioxide and convert them into alcohol fuel: isopropanol, isobutanol and isopentanol.  The hydrogen could come from Nocera’s previous invention, the artificial leaf. It converts sunlight ten times more efficiently than plants. Continue reading

Netherlands allows growing human embryos

Netherlands allows growing human embryos
The government of the Netherlands is willing to allow growing human embryos “under strict and limited conditions” for research purposes, which would give hope to parents who have problems conceiving. The Dutch minister of health, Edith Schippers, said the aim is to “give people the possibility of (healthy) children”. The research has to do with infertility, artificial reproduction techniques and hereditary or congenital diseases. It also meant for people who became infertile after being treated for cancer at an early age. Continue reading

DNA as digital data storage

A team of researchers from the University of Washington and Microsoft have used DNA to store four image files with a total size of 145 kilobytes, among them an image of a cat. The files have been read error-free afterwards, without losing a single byte of information.
Why was DNA chosen for a storage medium?
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Dead tumor cells may be used for vaccination

Dead tumor cells

Researchers from the University of Ghent have demonstrated that dead tumor cells are an exceptionally strong stimulus for the immune system in its fight against spreading tumors. The discovery comes from a group of young scientists who study different types of cell death on the molecular level. Dr. Peter Vandenabeele’s team shifted their interest to cancer research when more and more results implied a relation between that process and metastasis and other disease.
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Study used CRISPR technology to introduce HIV-resistance mutation into embryos

DNA eraser
Researchers from the Guangzhou Medical University in China have reported the use of CRISPR gene editing in human embryos to try to make them resistant to HIV infection. A total of 213 fertilized human eggs were collected from 87 patients of in vitro fertility therapy. The embryos were unsuitable for implantation because they contained an extra set of chromosomes. They were destroyed after the experiment.
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Synthetic bacterium lives with less than 500 genes

Synthetic microbe

Researchers led by genome sequencing pioneer Craig Venter report engineering a microbe to have the smallest genome—and the fewest genes—of any freely living organism. Known as Syn 3.0, the new organism has a genome whittled down to the bare essentials needed to survive and reproduce, just 473 genes. In their current work, Venter, along with project leader Clyde Hutchison at JCVI, set out to determine the minimal set of genes needed for life by stripping nonessential genes. The team systematically whittled away genes that either had nonessential functions or duplicated the function of another gene. In the end, Venter says, his team built, designed, and tested “multiple hundreds” of constructs before settling on Syn 3.0.
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Adaptations to the CRISPR technology enable production of biofuel precursors in yeast


Yeast, among other microbes, are highly valuable for metabolic engineering because they can produce chemicals and other compounds for biofuels, food, and other industrial products. The yeast Yarrowia lipolytica is an important microbial host for chemical production because it has a high capacity to synthesize, modify, and store intracellular lipids; however, rapid strain development has been hampered by the limited availability of genome engineering tools. This can be overcome by adapting the CRISPR-Cas9 system from Streptococcus pyogenes for markerless gene disruption and integration in Y. lipolytica.
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Genetically-modified monkeys with autism created


Scientists in China say they have created monkeys with a version of autism by genetic engineering, an achievement that could make it easier to test treatments for the condition.
Zilong Qiu’s team at the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences has generated more than a dozen monkeys with a genetic error that in human children causes a rare syndrome whose symptoms include mental retardation and autistic features, such as repetitive speech and restricted interests.
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How did Zika become the threat it is?


The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on January 28th that the Zika virus is “spreading explosively.” The virus was unknown to most people until recently, and is one of the scary new viruses that emerge abruptly in the modern world. The causes for that are complex and have developed, unnoticed, over years or decades.
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Pigeons can recognize cancer

Cancer - pigeon

A report in the journal PLOS ONE shows that pigeons can learn to recognize tumor tissue in microscopic or mammographic images after several days of training. This highlights the birds’ outstanding visual memory, as well as their ability to categorize similarities.
The brain of a pigeon is as small as the tip of a human finger, yet the tiny organ has impressive capabilities.
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