The Chemistry Nobel: Evolving proteins into better medicines and biofuels

It’s that time of year – Nobel Prize season! This year, the Chemistry Nobel prize was awarded to three scientists: one half to Frances Arnold “for the directed evolution of enzymes,” and the other half to George Smith and Sir Gregory Winter “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies.” What exactly are these award-winning technologies and how have they impacted society? ‘Directed evolution of … Continue reading The Chemistry Nobel: Evolving proteins into better medicines and biofuels

It Takes Two: Twins may be the key to understanding human biology in space

by Aparna Nathan Graphics by Nicholas Lue Space: It has been the final frontier ever since Captain Kirk and Starfleet shot into space at warp speed in the 1960s. But are humans really made for space? We did not evolve for the environment of space and we don’t know how space travels affects our biology. Now, NASA has a powerful new tool to tease out … Continue reading It Takes Two: Twins may be the key to understanding human biology in space

Transposons: Your DNA that’s on the go

by Francesca Tomasi figures by Olivia Foster Rhoades Argonaut. Idéfix. Flamenco. These words invoke movement: the ancient Greek Argonauts were a band of adventurous sailors famous for their epic quests. Meanwhile, Idéfix is the name of an adventure-loving dog in the French Astérix comic book series. And finally, flamenco conjures images of vivacious dancers. You would think the similarities between Greek mythology, French comic books, and … Continue reading Transposons: Your DNA that’s on the go

Zombie genes help eradicate elephant cancer in early stages

Let’s consider a paradox of probabilities. If all cells have the same risk of becoming cancerous, then the likelihood of developing cancer is proportional to the number of cells in an animal. This argument generally holds true for the incidence of cancer and body size for individuals within a given species. However, when comparing across different animal species, there is no constant proportionality between body … Continue reading Zombie genes help eradicate elephant cancer in early stages

Buckle Up for Gene Drives of the Future!

by Jessalyn Ubellacker figure by Jovana Andrejevic Between September 1999 and June 2000, the first human genome was sequenced. Since then, scientists have learned not only to read the human genome, but also to manipulate it, offering unprecedented opportunities to improve human health through genetic alterations. One example of this is gene drive technology, which circumvents classical inheritance patterns to ‘drive’ the presence of particular … Continue reading Buckle Up for Gene Drives of the Future!

Successful treatment of a rare genetic disorder in the womb

For the first time, an inherited disorder has been reversed in babies before birth. “There are a number of conditions for which we would seek treatment in utero, but traditionally these have been non-genetic, non-inherited conditions,” Dr. Maisa Feghali, an assistant professor of maternal fetal medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in this study, told STAT. The disease, X-linked hypohidrotic ectodermal … Continue reading Successful treatment of a rare genetic disorder in the womb

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Thirsty Plants: Can plants be genetically modified to need less water?

In order to feed every human being on the planet by 2050, the world will need to produce far more food. One difficulty farmers face is finding enough fresh water. A group of scientists led by Katarzyna Glowacka, from the University of Illinois, Urbana, may have found a potential way to save farmers water. The group’s technique hinges on the stomata of plants. Stomata are … Continue reading Thirsty Plants: Can plants be genetically modified to need less water?

Crowdsourced Data Helps Scientists Construct the World’s Largest Family Tree

We cannot predict how long we each live, but can our genes? For as long as longevity has been a desirable good, it has never been equally distributed across humanity, not even within families. The role of heritable traits in longevity is still debated. Previous genomic studies have reported a low heritability for longevity. However, inadequate sample sizes prevent these studies from examining the influence of … Continue reading Crowdsourced Data Helps Scientists Construct the World’s Largest Family Tree

Scientists have created sheep that are 0.01% human

For as long as humans have conceived of making hybrid organisms, an ethical debate has been waged over whether or not we should. The pros and cons are vast and poignant. Each new scientific advancement towards making hybrids stokes the fire of controversy. This year, researchers presented work at a conference detailing the most recent hybrid: a sheep-human chimera. To create these chimeras, scientists used … Continue reading Scientists have created sheep that are 0.01% human

Monkey see, monkey do: scientists have created the first cloned primates

No, we won’t be seeing designer babies anytime soon. But scientists have successfully cloned monkeys for the first time, establishing a technique that could be used to create better disease models using primates, the closest animals to humans. These cloned monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, are alive and well in China. They were created using the same technology (somatic cell nuclear transfer) used to … Continue reading Monkey see, monkey do: scientists have created the first cloned primates