Posts Tagged ‘Genetics’

Chimpanzee brain power is strongly heritable

July 11, 2014

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.

Chimpanzee

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.

The researchers estimate that, similar to humans, genetic differences account for about 54 per cent of the range seen in “general intelligence”. Learn more here or here.

Your genes are not your fate

May 12, 2014

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.

Biologists Create Cells With 6 DNA Letters, Instead of Just 4

May 10, 2014

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.

6 DNA 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.

How to sequence the human genome

December 13, 2013

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.

Myths and misconceptions about evolution

July 31, 2013

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!

‘Hulk’ Protein found

November 25, 2012

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.

Human Genome Is Much More Than Just Genes

November 8, 2012

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.

50,000 year old human genome sequenced

November 6, 2012

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.

A tiny finger bone from Denisova Cave

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.

DNA: The Ultimate Hard Drive

October 29, 2012

When it comes to storing information, hard drives don’t hold a candle to DNA. Our genetic code packs billions of gigabytes into a single gram. A mere milligram of the molecule could encode the complete text of every book in the Library of Congress and have plenty of room to spare. All of this has been mostly theoretical—until now. In a new study, researchers stored an entire genetics textbook in less than a picogram of DNA—one trillionth of a gram—an advance that could revolutionize our ability to save data.

The scientists encoded the 53,400-word book, 11 JPG images and a JavaScript program – amounting to 5.27 million bits of data in total – into sequences of DNA. If they were able to upscale the process this would equate to 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA.

Just think about it for a moment: One gram of DNA can store 700 terabytes of data. That’s 14,000 50-gigabyte Blu-ray discs… in a droplet of DNA that would fit on the tip of your pinky. To store the same kind of data on hard drives — the densest storage medium in use today — you’d need 233 3TB drives, weighing a total of 151 kilos. Learn more here, here, here or here.

Whole fetal genome sequenced before birth

August 19, 2012

The day when you can sequence your baby’s genome before it is born might not be too far away. Researchers have reconstructed the genome of a fetus without touching it. Instead, they used both parents’ genomes and free-floating fetal DNA, which circulates in the mother’s blood.

It may be at least five years before this type of test reaches the clinic and everyday use. By then, the price of the technology should have dropped. This current sequencing cost about $50,000 to perform.

The fact that it’s still a way off in the future is good considering the legal and ethical complications of parents having the ability to see every disease and trait their child will have before it is born. Learn more here or here.


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