Tag Archives | DNA

Scientists To Put Genome-Sequencers On Mars To Find Alien DNA

The hunt for extraterrestrial DNA is on, Technology Review writes:

Two high-profile entrepreneurs say they want to put a DNA sequencing machine on the surface of Mars in a bid to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life.

In what could become a race for the first extraterrestrial genome, researcher J. Craig Venter said Tuesday that his Maryland academic institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics, would develop a machine capable of sequencing and beaming back DNA data from the planet. Separately, Jonathan Rothberg, founder of Ion Torrent, a DNA sequencing company, is collaborating on an effort to equip his company’s “Personal Genome Machine” for a similar task.

Venter said researchers working with him have already begun tests at a Mars-like site in the Mojave Desert. Their goal, he said, is to demonstrate a machine capable of autonomously isolating microbes from soil, sequencing their DNA, and then transmitting the information to a remote computer.

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Cloning Of Dinosaurs And Ancient Animals Proven Impossible

Humanity will never be able to resurrect the creatures of long ago. New research suggests that even under ideal conditions, DNA becomes unreadable after a mere 1.5 million years. Thus all the dino bones and amberized insects in the world are useless for cloning purposes, Scientific American writes:

Palaeogeneticists led by Morten Allentoft in Perth, Australia, examined 158 DNA-containing leg bones belonging to three species of extinct giant birds. By comparing the specimens’ ages and degrees of DNA degradation, the researchers calculated that DNA has a half-life of 521 years. That means that after 521 years, half of the bonds between nucleotides in the backbone of a sample would have broken; after another 521 years half of the remaining bonds would have gone; and so on.

The team predicts that even in a bone at an ideal preservation temperature of −5 ºC, effectively every bond would be destroyed after a maximum of 6.8 million years.

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Male DNA Commonly Found in Women’s Brains

Picture: (PD)

Via ScienceDaily:

Male DNA is commonly found in the brains of women, most likely derived from prior pregnancy with a male fetus, according to first-of-its-kind research conducted at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. While the medical implications of male DNA and male cells in the brain are unknown, studies of other kinds of microchimerism — the harboring of genetic material and cells that were exchanged between fetus and mother during pregnancy — have linked the phenomenon to autoimmune diseases and cancer, sometimes for better and other times for worse.

The study findings are published Sept. 26 in PLOS ONE. Lead author William F. N. Chan, Ph.D., in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta, conducted the research while working in the Hutchinson Center laboratory of J. Lee Nelson, M.D., a member of the Center’s Clinical Research Division and a leading international authority on microchimerism. Nelson is senior author on the paper.

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New Research on “Junk” DNA Raises Questions on Eve of Crucial Court Hearing

Picture: Flickr, Peter Alfred Hess (CC)

It seems that new discoveries about DNA, and our own human genome in particular, are coming more rapidly today. More things seem to exist on a scale of genetic variance, and it was recently found that our so-called “junk DNA” is full of important ramifications for genetic disorders and random mutations that determine our evolutionary fate.

But in a more immediate sense, DNA research may raise dire questions and have important bearing on current legal arguments, such as the Ninth Circuit‘s Haskell v. Harris, a case challenging California’s warrantless DNA collection program.

Via Jennifer Lynch at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

EFF asked the court to consider ground-breaking new research that confirms for the first time that over 80% of our DNA that was once thought to have no function, actually plays a critical role in controlling how our cells, tissue and organs behave.

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The Hi-Tech Fight Against Fake Food

Krokodilmenu fg1You may not be eating what you think is on your plate, reports Rose Eveleth for BBC Future:

From mislabeled meat to fake fur, a global industry has thrived for centuries by supplying shops and markets with fraudulent products. Is DNA barcoding the answer?

Investigations in New York’s Chinatown are a regular occurrence, but Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis’ mission was purely scientific. The professor of genetics at Barnard College sent his students out to trawl the markets’ open-air displays of exotic fish, fruit and vegetables, and purchase anything being sold as crocodile meat. When they brought the meat back and analysed it, they found it wasn’t from crocodile at all. Its origins weren’t exactly clear, but for all the world it looked suspiciously like some kind of python.

Slice it and package it in the right way, and one reptile’s meat looks – and may even taste – like another. From mislabeled crocodile to fake fur, a global industry has thrived for centuries by supplying shops and markets with fraudulent or counterfeit products.

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Junk DNA Not So Junky After All

Picture: Annso2505 (CC)

Surprise, surprise: we don’t know everything about the human genome just yet.

A five-year project called ENCODE, for “Encyclopedia of DNA Elements,” found that about 80 percent of the human genome is biologically active, influencing how nearby genes are expressed and in which types of cells. It’s not junk DNA, which was previously thought — instead, these non-coding regions of DNA could have major bearing on diseases and genetic mutations, researchers say.

The project will rewrite the textbooks, turning the architectural blueprint of the human genome into a control schematic and instruction manual that explains how genes turn on and off. These rules dictate anything from embryonic development to the process of aging.

Of course, developing a working knowledge of the genetic “instruction manual” could be used for good or evil: Cures for the genetic diseases that have plagued mankind forever, or phenome-targeted biological weapons and Gene-tweaked super soldiers?… Read the rest

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Scientists Convert A 53,000-Word Book Into DNA

Peter Pachal reports for Mashable:

In a scientific first, Harvard University researches successfully transformed a 53,426-word book into DNA, the same substance that provides the genetic template for all living things. The achievement could eventually lead to the mass adoption of DNA as a long-term storage medium.

Published Thursday in the journal Science, the experiment aimed to demonstrate the viability of storing large amounts of data on DNA molecules. Since the data is recorded on individual nucleobase pairs in the DNA strand (those adenine-guanine/cytosine-thymine pairs you may be straining to remember from high school biology), DNA can actually store more information per cubic millimeter than flash memory or even some experimental storage techs, IEEE Spectrum reports.

The difficulty is in the translation — both to DNA and back again (summarized in the diagram below). The researchers started with the book’s content, which included the text as well as 11 images and a javascript program, and converted it to binary code.

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A Genetic ‘Mistake’ 500 Million Years Ago Led To Advanced Life

Live Science on the fluke that eventually led to our current situation:

Over 500 million years ago a spineless creature on the ocean floor experienced two successive doublings in the amount of its DNA, a “mistake” that eventually triggered the evolution of humans and many other animals, says a new study.

The good news is that these ancient DNA doublings boosted cellular communication systems, so that our body cells are now better at integrating information than even the smartest smartphones. The bad part is that communication breakdowns, traced back to the very same genome duplications of the Cambrian Period, can cause diabetes, cancer and neurological disorders.

“Organisms that reproduce sexually usually have two copies of their entire genome, one inherited from each of the two parents,” co-author Carol MacKintosh explained. “What happened over 500 million years ago is that this process ‘went wrong’ in an invertebrate animal, which somehow inherited twice the usual number of genes.

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You’re The Drive: Digital Data Can Now Be Stored In DNA

DNA SplitCarl Franzen writes at TPM Idea Lab:

Forget saving files to flash drives and cloud servers. Now, digital information can be stored in the DNA of living organisms, thanks to a breakthrough discovery by researchers at Stanford University in California.

A trio of scientists successfully demonstrated the ability to flip the direction of DNA molecules in sample E.coli bacteria in two directions, mimicking the “1s” and “0s” of binary code, which is at the root of all modern computer calculations.

“Essentially, if the DNA section points in one direction, it’s a zero. If it points the other way, it’s a one,” said Pakpoom Subsoontorn, a bioengineering graduate student at Stanford involved in the research, in an article on the Stanford School of Medicine website

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Astronauts On Mars Would Risk DNA Damage

DeMonchaux30Sad news for hopes of future visits to the red planet — anyone who journeys to Mars could come back with their DNA adversely altered, Russian scientists warn. Mars Daily explains:

Future astronauts working on the Red Planet’s surface risk general changes in health at the DNA level because of increased radiation exposure, a prominent Russian academic said on Monday.

“According to our estimates, researchers on the surface of Mars can expect a number of adverse factors, such as cardiac arrhythmia, sensory impairments, changes at the DNA level, and demineralization of bone tissue,” Anatoly Grigoryev, the deputy head of Russia’s Academy of Sciences, told at a presentation at the International Symposium on the results of ground-based experiment Mars-500.

The unique Moscow-based Mars-500 experiment was completed on November 4. It attempted to recreate at least some of the conditions of a flight to the Red Planet by locking six men away in a mock spacecraft.

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