Researchers Engineer Glow in the Dark Pigs

In one of the freakier scientific developments in recent memory, a team of scientists at the South China Agricultural University have successfully engineered ten piglets that emit a green glow beneath a black light.

Having developed a technique originally fostered by the University of Hawaii at Manua School of Medicine, the research team achieved this unique coloration through isolating a fluorescent protein present in jellyfish DNA. Once researchers isolated the required jellyfish DNA, they injected it within multiple pig embryos.

Far from an eerie scientific experiment, medical practitioners maintain that such glowing animals actually lay the foundation for the future of medicine. Doctors hope to one day use this brand of science to develop medicines and therapies designed to treat ailments as serious as hemophilia. Genetically altered animals could produce critical enzymes and make this a reality.

While the genetic mutation of animals will always raise a few eyebrows, especially among activists, researchers promise these animals will still live happy and full lives. Their natural enzyme production offers immense value over the production of expensive factories where the required chemical components are created in a lab. Essentially, this is a win/win situation for scientific research.

To see the piglets in action, click here.

Posted in DNA Tagged

Great Scientists in American History, Barbara McClintock

American Barbara McClintock is one of the earliest contributors to genetic transposition, serving as inspiration to women and the entire scientific community in general. Working as a cytogeneticist, McClinktock’s work would ultimately yield the prestigious 1983 Noble Prize and cement her place in history.

Barbara McClintock was born in 1902 and in later life received her PhD in botany from Cornell University. It was through Cornell that McClintock first became an innovator through her development of maize cytogenetics. Her intensive research would ultimately continue throughout the course of her entire life.

Her work focused on the finding a scientific approach to visualizing maize chromosomes, using microscopic analysis to discover various fundamental genetic ideas. Her work was considered groundbreaking within the scientific community. She would ultimately create the first genetic map for maize, creating a very valuable link from chromosomes to physical traits.

Later on in her career, McClintock developed transposition and successfully demonstrated the role of telomere and centromere, regions of the chromosome that play a critical role in terms of housing genetic information. It wasn’t long after that McClintock was elected membership into the coveted National Academy of Sciences.

McClintock’s incredible contributions added much to our understanding of genetic information, opening the door to further advanced research.

Posted in Genetics Tagged

23andMe Banned by FDA

Popular DNA testing company 23andMe has recently come under fire by way of US regulators concerning the direct sale of its gene analysis service. Regulators could potentially enlist an oversight committee to ensure their more recent tests are offering legitimate results to consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration took action to ban 23andMe for sales of The Personal Genome Test, a test that reportedly provides users with an analysis of their risk for hundreds of genetic diseases. The medical report, according to 23andMe, is the result of intensive DNA data. The FDA will now look to ensure these claims are valid before sales of this particular testing continue.

This is considered an effort on the FDA’s behalf to increase the scope of regulated testing. This push for increased regulations inevitably grew to affect DNA testing, a market analysts anticipate will increase fivefold in size.

The source of DNA testing’s popularity is clearly linked to individuals wishing to receive assistance in their treatment options, especially in cancer cases. Geneticists from respected learning institutions including the University of North Carolina believe such tests are required to prove themselves before being sold to the general public.

The controversy doesn’t end there. Several clients of 23andMe have publicly stated the company misled them concerning the accuracy and validity of its DNA testing. A complaint was filed as of November 27th through federal court systems seeking $5 million, alleging the Personal Genome Service was advertising medical claims prior to securing the all-important FDA authorization.

It’s worth mentioning that 23andMe’s DNA testing has very little in common with actual laboratory testing procedure, instead adopting a direct-to-consumer approach. The recent legal actions by the FDA will undoubtedly change the way DNA testing companies conduct business in the future.

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Benefits and Limitations of Genetic Sequencing

What are the benefits and limitations of genetic sequencing? One family learned many of their questions about their family’s genetics had answers while some only opened the door to further mysteries.

Jeanne and Andy Nadeau have a large family; 10 children make for a rather energetic household. Unfortunately hearing loss affects half of the family. In their quest to discover why hearing disability affects their family so strongly, the Nadeau’s have discovered some genetic tests are rather inconclusive.

The Neadeau children were not affected by DNA mutations commonly known to lead to a loss of hearing. In fact, their circumstances are rather unique – there’s virtually no medical text that pertains to their circumstances. The Nadeau’s were all too eager to participate in a study that sought to provide some explanation – a study that similarly interested researchers.

They first considered whole-genome sequencing, a process that scours each of the approximately 3 billion letters of DNA to outline genetic risk factors for diseases. This technology is considered at a ‘major transition point’, beginning the shift from a tool traditionally utilized by medical researchers to individual patients.

The test, which runs about $9000 currently, found a deletion occurring within the Nadeau’s DNA as the reason for their inexplicable hearing loss. Doctors suggest that such powerful results are not entirely common however, the Nadeau’s experience is not quite universal with this form of testing. Still, the results are promising in suggesting the research is making great strides to providing doctors and patients with medical explanations for genetic deficiencies.

Whole-genome sequencing is still a relatively new technology, a technology that is constantly developing. At present, the majority of testing is not covered by insurance companies in its developmental phase. That reality could change the more whole-genome sequencing is accredited.

Posted in DNA Tests Tagged

Harvard Study Sheds Light on Indian Population Genetics

Researchers from Harvard Medical School and the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology to Hyderabad, India, have discovered that modern-day India is the result of recent population mixture among divergent demographic groups.

The research, published August 8th in the American Journal of Human Genetic, show how India transformed from a country that had a great deal of mixture between different populations was occurring to a culture based on endogamy or marrying within a local community.

The research shows that the intense caste system in India was paramount to shaping the Indian community over the past couple millenniums. Co-author of the study David Reich, a professor of genetics at the Harvard Medical School published a paper in 2009 analyzing the 25 different Indian population groups evolved from two ancestral groups: Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral Soth Indians.

For the 2013 study researchers expanded their scope from 25 to 73 distinct Indian groups.

By measuring the lengths of the segments of ANI and ASI ancestry in Indian genomes, the authors were able to obtain precise estimates of the age of population mixture, which they hypothesized varied about 1,900 and 4,200 years, depending on the population analyzed.

While the findings show that no groups in India are free of such mixture, the researchers did identify a geographic element. “Groups in the north tend to have more recent dates and southern groups have older dates,” said co-first author Priya Moorjani, a graduate student in Reich’s lab at Harvard Medical School. “This is likely because the northern groups have multiple mixtures.”

The indication that populations evolved from randomly mixed populations suggest that the social classifications like the caste system were not a prevalent prior to the mixture.

Once the caste system was set in place it became genetically effective with mixtures between groups becoming increasingly rare.

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Harlem DNA Lab Offering Inner-City Kids Education Opportunities

The Harlem DNA Lab is offering kids the opportunity to experience hands on science throughout the sweltering summer months. The lab is providing inner-city kids with the rare ability to practice science, technology, engineering and math using some of the best tools and materials in the industry.

Harlem DNA LabLooking for a solution to a lapse in summer education, the city is seeking to replace the learning loss gap with safe and educational alternatives. By offering comprehensive instruction to students interested in science and technology, kids are receiving the type of opportunity their parents dream about.

The program is significant in the sense that many poverty stricken inner-cities such as Harlem lack the ability to provide higher education to students. Sadly, there’s little recourse for children attracted to subjects like science, technology and math in their respective areas. Many children don’t realize they’re interested in such subjects until formally introduced.

Offering the program throughout the summer is essential, according to several researchers involved in its coordination. These officials report learning loss over the three month break contributes to nearly two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading by freshmen year of high school.

Students taking part in the outreach program were invited to convert their graphic arts classroom into an advanced DNA laboratory. They were soon tasked with extracting DNA from a cell – something many private schools around the country don’t have capability of doing.

Dedicated students signed up for 55 hours of training pertaining to conservation genetics and DNA bar-coding. Previously in the program, students performed electrophoresis, pushing DNA strands through a filter to separate different molecules for identification purposes.

The Harlem DNA Lab is operated by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

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Missing Child Case Reopened after 22 years

A British Columbia man is having his DNA tested to determine whether or not he is Michael Dunahee a child abducted from a Victoria playground over two decades ago.

Victoria police have requested a blood sample from a Surrey man who could potentially be the boy who famously went missing in 1991. Authorities, however, are skeptical as to whether this is a new break is one to pursue any further.

The Victoria man came to police attention earlier this month when he posted on a Vancouver Canucks fan site under the username Canuckels. Dunahee wrote, “I was contacted by Victoria police because there have been tips that I have a remarkable resemblance to Michael Dunahee. I am freaked out right now and their coming to get a DNA sample…I’m pretty sure I’m not but what if I am?!?”

This isn’t the first time someone has undergone DNA testing in the Michael Dunahee case. However, Canuckels uploaded photos of himself that bear a resemblance to the age-enhanced picture of Dunahee from the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

Canuckels mentioned that he moved a lot as a child, his mother passed away earlier this year and he has not had contact with his father since he was ten years old. He is 26 now, with his online profile listing his birthday as Dec. 9, 1986. Michael Dunahee was born on May 12, 1986.

The Dunahee case sparked one of Canada’s largest missing person investigations, and received considerable media attention. More than 10,000 tips poured in from across North America.

Despite the new development Victoria police do not believe that the Surrey man is in fact Michael Dunahee, but they are testing him to rule him out completely.

“We usually don’t hear of cases like these,” said Dr. Yuri Melekhovets, laboratory director of Toronto-based HealthGene Corp, a forensic genetics centre. “This case is very unusual. Most of the time police do DNA tests of dead people. They don’t just conduct tests on every person who resembles someone who is missing.”

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Charles Darwin’s Galapagos Islands Headed to Google Street View

Galapagos Headed to Google Street ViewHow much would you like to take on the role of Charles Darwin? Google’s mapping technology is making the hypothetical a reality, expanding their content to include the Galapagos Islands. Darwin’s extensive time living amongst the Galapagos Islands fostered his eventual theory of evolution, one of the most significant discoveries pertaining to the existence of our DNA.

In a volume published by Darwin titled, “The Voyage of the Beagle”, Darwin referred to the Galapagos Islands as “a little world within itself,” referring to the lush landscape’s widespread diversity. Some of the islands inhabitants are found nowhere else in the world. As in Darwin’s time, great diversity exists among species from island to island and provides a modern demonstration of evolution.

Darwin invested five years of his life living in the Galapagos Islands, a span of time stretching from 1831 – 1836. The vast majority of people from the digital age lack that sort of time commitment, hence Google has made the Galapagos Islands vastly more accessible to the modern explorer. A Google Street View will allow users to experience the evolutionary world of Darwin for the first time ever.

Google is working closely with the Charles Darwin foundation to bring their idea to life. Additional partners working with Google include the Galapagos National Parks Directorate and the Catlin Seaview Survey. Forget the surrealism of viewing your own residence through Google Street View – you’ll soon be able to vividly transport yourself to a world populated by giant turtles and exotic finches.

How might Darwin view the technological innovation coming to the Galapagos Islands? We suppose Darwin would love Google Street View as the influential figure was so eager to share news of his own discoveries. Google’s mapping systems would even provide him a tool in which to monitor the occurring changes over time!

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Shrewsbury School Fields Charles Darwin Experiments in Madagascar

A group of Shropshire students are seemingly taking a page out of Charles Darwin’s book of genealogy. Students in the area recently had the opportunity to travel to Madagascar and study the environment.

26 students and 4 additional staff members from Shrewsbury School, Darwin’s former school, were invited to Madagascar within the Indian Ocean.

The first leg of the adventure included camping in the Spiny Forest, the southern point of the island where teams answered surveys for Operation Wallacea, an ecological research organization.

Charles Darwin Richard Case, the school’s presiding biology master and trip leader, reported that students had the rare ability to collaborate with university scientists who specialize in animals such as lemurs, chameleons, small mammals, birds, reptiles and other amphibians.

Students later traveled up through parts of the rainforest and mountains located along the east coast, targeting a variety of habitats and other nature reserves. It was Case’s hope that students involved in the Darwin-inspired field trip would gain a deeper appreciation for Malagasy wildlife and the very real threats facing it.

Students gained new insight into experiencing scientific study in the field. The experience also offered the type of study that perhaps could never be replicated within the prototypical classroom.

The chosen location for the study camp is affectionately referred to as ‘the eighth continent’, as 90% of the area’s wildlife cannot be found anywhere else on earth. As such, Madagascar provided students with the ability to experience countless varieties of natural selection. It’s commonly considered a biologist’s dream.

This trip marks the second occasion in which Shrewsbury School has undertaken a Madagascar expedition. Students once again spent a total of 17 days on the island, working closely with researchers to coordinate different experiments worthy of Charles Darwin.

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Masatoshi Nei of Population Genetics Awarded Kyoto Prize

Where does our understanding of population genetics derive from? Countless researchers have contributed, including Penn State’s Masatoshi Nei, Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and director of the Institute for Molecular Evolutionary Genetics. Now Nei is being honored with the Kyoto Prize for his contributions.

The Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences is being awarded to Masatoshi Nei continues the trend of a stellar career. The prestigious award includes an honorary diploma, monetary prize and additional gold medal.

Population geneticsThe award presented through the Inamori Foundation honors notable members of the international community who have contributed to scientific progression, the advancement of civilization and the enrichment and elevation of the human spirit.

The Inamori Foundation selected Nei for his “research on the evolution of biological populations using quantitative analyses of genetic variation and evolutionary time.” Nei’s genetic distance is considered the basis for analyzing population genetics.

The foundation also added, “Dr. Masatoshi Nei made it possible to discuss evolutionary divergence, genetic diversity and the mode of selection on genes in a quantitative manner by devising diverse statistical methods such as Nei’s genetic distance and applying them to molecular data. Using these methods, Dr. Nei’s research has yielded important contributions to molecular evolutionary biology, as well as to many other academic disciplines including ecology and conversation biology.”

Nei has established a reputation as a decorated researcher, winning several awards over the course of his career. Nei was honored in 2006 by the Genetics Society of America with its Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal. Earlier in 2003, he was the recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from Miyazaki University in Japan in 2002 as well as receiving the International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Nei’s illustrious career has produced the development of various statistical methods for determining the molecular mechanisms of biological diversity and evolution. He has additionally produced a mathematical theory used for studying the evolutionary relationships of various species that follows the principles of molecular data.

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