For four billion years, what lived and died on Earth depended on two principles: natural selection and random mutation. Then humans came along and changed everything — hybridizing plants, breeding animals, altering the environment and even purposefully evolving ourselves.
Posts Tagged ‘Genetics’
Gattaca is a movie that presents a vision of a future society where children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the very best characteristics of their parents.
Recently scientists developed a technology called CRISPR-Cas9 that allows DNA strands to be edited.
CRISPR allows scientists to edit genomes with unprecedented precision, efficiency, and flexibility. The past few years have seen a flurry of “firsts” with CRISPR, from creating monkeys with targeted mutations to preventing HIV infection in human cells.
The following clips give a glimpse into the technology we may use in a future where we, for better or worse, begin to engineer ourselves …
If a chimpanzee appears unusually intelligent, it probably had bright parents. That’s the message from the first study to check if chimp brain power is heritable.
The discovery could help to tease apart the genes that affect chimp intelligence and to see whether those genes in humans also influence intelligence. It might also help to identify additional genetic factors that give humans the intellectual edge over their non-human-primate cousins.
Dr. Dean Ornish shares new research that shows how adopting healthy lifestyle habits can affect a person at a genetic level. For instance, he says, when you live healthier, eat better, exercise, and love more, your brain cells actually increase. And new findings show that a healthier lifestyle can turn off disease-provoking genes and turn on the good ones.
One of the first things you learn in Biology 101 is that the genetic code consists of four letters: A, T, C, and G. Each represents a chemical building block of DNA, the molecule that encodes the information necessary to build life as we know it. But what if we didn’t have to settle for just four letters? Now, scientists have accomplished something once thought impossible: They’ve created cells with an expanded genetic alphabet that includes two more letters.
Having more letters to work with potentially opens the door to a huge range of novel molecules. (A rough analogy: Just think how many crazy new words you could spell with 39 letters instead of the usual 26). With further refinements, synthetic cells might one day be used to create–or evolve–proteins that don’t exist in nature, as well as new sequences of DNA and RNA, any of which could be useful for research, diagnosing disease, or creating new therapies. But that’s still a ways off. Learn more here.
Your genome, every human’s genome, consists of a unique DNA sequence of A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s that tell your cells how to operate. Thanks to technological advances, scientists are now able to know the sequence of letters that makes up an individual genome relatively quickly and inexpensively.
How does evolution really work? Actually, not how some of our common evolutionary metaphors would have us believe. For instance, it’s species, not individual organisms, that adapt to produce evolution, and genes don’t “want” to be passed on — a gene can’t want anything at all!
So you want to be muscular, buff, ripped, but you don’t want to have to work for it. Who does? Well here’s some good news, researchers have identified a “Hulk” protein that could give you crazy muscle mass with no effort on your part.
Grb10 is the protein in question, and researchers have found that disrupting the gene responsible for it can cause crazy boosts in muscle mass. That’s right, it seems that you need to get rid of it, not get more of it. In the study a group of mice with a disrupted Grb10 gene were far more muscular than their control counterparts, both at birth and during adulthood.
There are, of course, some caveats. In this study, the whole beefcake-ifying process started in the womb, so there’s no hope you could get the same treatment. These are also mice, not men. Nonetheless, this all points to an important protein that, in the future, could be extremely valuable in the treatment of people with muscle-wasting diseases. Learn more here or here.
For the past decade, scientists have been working on the assumption that 20,000 genes, less than 2 per cent of the total genome, underpin human biology. But a massive international project called ENCODE has revealed that plenty of the remaining 98 per cent, once tossed aside as “junk DNA”, is in fact incredibly important.
In fact, the project — known more formally as the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements — reveals that 80 per cent of that “junk DNA” is biochemically active. Add to that the fact that large stretches of DNA that appeared to serve no purpose actually contain over 400,000 regulators that help activate or silence genes, and the scientific community is surprised to say the least.
The findings will shake up biology for good, and are already starting to help scientists better understand disease. It will, however, take a long time for scientists to get to grips with the vast quantities of information this research yields. Learn more here or here.
In a stunning technical feat, an international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of an archaic Siberian girl 31 times over, using a new method that amplifies single strands of DNA. The sequencing is so complete that researchers have as sharp a picture of this ancient genome as they would of a living person’s, revealing, for example that the girl had brown eyes, hair, and skin.
That precision allows the team to compare the nuclear genome of this girl, who lived in Siberia’s Denisova Cave more than 50,000 years ago, directly to the genomes of living people, producing a “near-complete” catalog of the small number of genetic changes that make us different from the Denisovans, who were close relatives of Neandertals.
Ironically, this high-resolution genome means that the Denisovans, who are represented in the fossil record by only one tiny finger bone and two teeth, are much better known genetically than any other ancient human—including Neandertals, of which there are hundreds of specimens. Learn more here.