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The GFAJ-1 bacteria, grown on arsenic

In a press conference held today, scientists working with NASA announced the discovery of a new microorganism right here on Earth that employs a survival strategy never seen before in any other life form. Found in Northern California’s highly-saline Mono Lake, the GFAJ-1 bacteria exists in an environment that has very little phosphorous, an element that had previously been considered essential for all living things in order to build DNA. To cope with this problem, the bacteria is able to substitute highly-toxic arsenic for phosphorous, in its cell components. The fact that a microbe is able to survive in such a fashion opens up the possibilities for where life could exist on other planets, and will require a rethink on NASA’s part regarding its search for extraterrestrial life forms.  Read More

Chromosomes, with their telomere caps highlighted. Looking after these telomeres could be ...

The aging process - it's undignified, unwanted, and many would say unnecessary. After all, the cells in your body are constantly replacing themselves - why can't they do it without causing progressive degradation of organs that lead to discomfort, weakness and death? Well, perhaps they can. Harvard scientists have discovered that by controlling certain genetic processes in mice, they can not only slow down the aging process, but "dramatically" reverse it throughout the body. It's a massive discovery, but it won't be able to be used in humans yet without some pretty scary consequences.  Read More

Researchers have developed a nanoneedle that releases quantum dots directly into the nucle...

We recently saw the potential for nanoneedles and quantum dots to treat skin cancer, however researchers at the University of Illinois have gone one step further. They have created a nanoneedle (an incredibly small needle) that allows them to peak into the nucleus of a cell. When subjected to an electrical charge, the needle injects quantum dots into the nucleus of a living cell. These quantum dots (nanoscale crystals with unique properties in terms of light emission) can be used to monitor microscopic processes and cellular conditions, aid the diagnosis of disease, and track genetic information from within the nucleus.  Read More

A DNA strand passing through a nanopore in a graphene sheet

Graphene is pretty amazing stuff. Just a couple of months ago, we heard about how the one-atom thick sheets of bonded carbon atoms had been used to create the strongest pseudo-electric magnetic fields ever sustained in a lab – and that was just the latest use that had been discovered for it. Now, word comes from Harvard University and MIT that graphene could be used to rapidly sequence DNA.  Read More

An illustration of a telomerase molecule (Image: Sierra Sciences, LLC)

For many scientists who know about such things, the question isn’t whether the first person to live forever has been born, but how old they are. The basis for this belief is that, if a person can survive the next 20 or 30 years, then breakthroughs in biotechnology will easily allow them to extend their lifespan – not to mention their quality of life – to 125 years. From that point, the advances will keep coming to allow the prolonging of life indefinitely. One of the first steps towards such a reality has just been announced by a group of researchers who have discovered the first compound that activates an enzyme called telomerase in the human body.  Read More

US scientists have mapped 90 percent of the domestic turkey genome

In the past few months, we’ve received announcements regarding the mapped genomes of wheat, of apples, and even the repulsive human body louse. Now, researchers from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have sequenced 90 percent of the genome of Meleagris gallopavo, which you may know as the domestic turkey.  Read More

The genome of the Golden Delicious apple has been sequenced (Photo: Glysiak)

No sooner do we hear about the sequencing of the wheat genome, than word comes this week that the genome of the apple has been decoded. The feat was accomplished through a collaboration between 18 research institutions in the US, Belgium, France, New Zealand and Italy, and was coordinated by Italy’s Istituto Agrario S. Michele all'Adige (IASMA). DNA sequences of the Golden Delicious apple were produced in 2007/08, and over 82 percent of the genome was assembled into the total 17 apple chromosomes in 2009. Now, over 90 percent of the genes have been anchored to a precise position in the chromosomes. It may all sound like Greek (or Italian) to us non-geneticists, but the upshot of the whole thing is that we should now be able to selectively breed apples like never before, resulting in hardier, tastier fruits.  Read More

UK scientists have sequenced the entire wheat genome, and released the data to crop breede...

Scientists from the University of Liverpool, in collaboration with the University of Bristol and the John Innes Centre in Norfolk, have sequenced the entire wheat genome. They are now making the DNA data available to crop breeders to help them select key agricultural traits for breeding. The data is presently in a raw format, and will require further read-throughs and annotations, plus the assembly of the genetic data into chromosomes, before it can be fully applied. Using advanced genome sequencing platforms, however, the task isn’t as daunting as it might seem. While the sequencing of the human genome took 15 years to complete, the wheat genome has taken only a year. This is thanks in no small part to U Bristol’s next-generation genome analyzers, which can read DNA hundreds of times faster than the systems that were used to sequence the human genome.  Read More

Illustration depicting a single strand of DNA moving through a nanopore that is being used...

One of the long held hopes for DNA sequencing is that it will usher in an era of personalized, predictive medicine by providing individualized blueprints of genetic predispositions for specific conditions and diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and addiction. Researchers have now devised a method that works at a very small scale to sequence DNA quickly and relatively inexpensively that could open the door to more effective individualized medicine.  Read More

Structure of the DNA-based sensor for protein detection

Anyone who has suffered the very unpleasant experience that is food poisoning will be happy to hear that researchers have developed technology enabling the high-speed detection of the toxic proteins that cause it. The new sensor was manufactured by employing a combination of artificial antibodies which capture these toxic proteins and a signal converter which converts those “capturing events” into optical signals.  Read More

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