Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The top 10 causes of death

Low-income countriesDeaths in millions% of deaths
Lower respiratory infections1.0511.3%
Diarrhoeal diseases0.768.2%
Ischaemic heart disease0.576.1%
Stroke and other cerebrovascular disease0.454.9%
Prematurity and low birth weight0.303.2%
Birth asphyxia and birth trauma0.272.9%
Neonatal infections0.242.6%

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indian Express article on GM CROP REPORT

The SC must reject the biased interim report of the committee on GE crops

While hearing two writ petitions opposing genetic engineering technology in agriculture, the Supreme Court constituted a technical expert committee with six members and seven terms of reference. It asked the committee to hear interested parties and submit an interim report on open-field trials of GE crops, whether to ban them or not and what protocol should be imposed by the court if they are to be continued.

The committee submitted a confidential interim report on October 7, which soon became public and was widely covered in the media. However, the report very seriously impacts the prospects of GE crop technology in India, and was probably leaked only so that wide publicity would make it difficult for the court to reject it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Question -1: Innovation and the Economy. Science and technology have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII, when the federal government first prioritized peacetime science mobilization. But several recent reports question America’s continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains a world leader in innovation?


Barack Obama:

I believe that in order to be globally competitive in the 21st century and to create an American economy that is built to last, we must create an environment where invention, innovation, and industry can flourish. We can work together to create an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, and skills for American workers.

Six French Science Academies Dismiss Study Finding GM Corn Harmed Rats

Translation of French science academies critique of controversial Séralini GM corn study— Document Transcript

  • 1. The French science academies’ statement on problems with the Séralini et al. study of health impacts of GM corn and Roundup herbicide on rat health, translated (via U.S.embassy in Paris). Related Dot Earth post.Given the media coverage around this issue and its impact on the public opinion, the Academies decided to jointly publish a review covering several aspects: scientific,societal, and ethical, and including recommendations.- Science aspects: the Academies would like to point several severe flaws of the article: Statistics and methodology: in the case of the Seralini 2-year study, a significantly higher number of animals should have been used as recommended by guidelines, of in the specific case of a total number of 200, a lower number of groups would have allowed to answer specific questions, such as (1) can the studied GMO have a toxic or tumorigenic impact on its own? (2) can Roundup have a toxic or tumorigenic impact on its own? (3) is there a specific impact of the combination of the 2 products? The use of small size groups of 10 animals cannot answer the specific questions.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Why cancer treatment fails ? – This question is raised by family members of cancer patients around the world and Doctors and Researchers were unable to answer. Many recent studies have shown that one of the main  reason for failures in cancer treatment  could be lack of  precision in targeting the right cells.  But what are right cells ?.  This was not difficult  to answer as most researchers believed that they are the cancer stem cells but were difficult to identify as there were no proper methods available to identify them.  If these cells can be  identified and distinguished from other cells, treatment strategies could be more focused.  

Four recent studies found a way to identify the cancer stem cells. If this is found in other cancers also, then it will change totally the parameters used for evaluating success of  chemotherapy and method of treating cancers. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aged termites carry out suicide missions on behalf of their nest mates.

Biologists led by biochemist Robert Hanus of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague  found something strange with termites in  a forest in French Guiana. The strange thing is presence of  unique spots of blue on the backs of the insects in one nest [see figure below]. When touched with forceps the termites having these spots exploded. Further study of these blue spots showed that they contain   explosive crystals. These spots (crystals) were found only on the backs of the oldest termites in the colony. Their study concluded that the aged termites carry out suicide missions on behalf of their nest mates.

After their initial observation, the team carried out field studies of Neocapritermes taracua termites and discovered that those with the blue spots also exploded during encounters with other species of termites or larger predators. The researchers report online today in Science that the secretions released during the explosion killed or paralyzed opponents from a competing termite species. However, if the scientists removed the blue crystal from the termites, their secretions were no longer toxic.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rare Genomics Institute - giving free genomic solutions to people affected by rare diseases

An estimated 250 million people worldwide suffer from rare diseases. However, because each individual disease affects such a small number of people, little funding is used to study these conditions. Consequently, these patients are left with neither hope of a cure nor understanding of the disease. Each day is a living struggle for them to find a social identity in a world where they feel socially neglected and lost. Because most rare diseases are genetic in nature, it is believed that genome sequencing has the power to help these patients in a way that conventional diagnostics cannot. However, most families affected with rare diseases are under financial strain, making access to such technologies difficult. To address this need, an institute called Rare Genomics Institute has been established.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Questions on Science Policies for US Presidential Candidates

ScienceDebate [ Science Debate is a nonprofit  organization dedicated to elevating science and engineering policy issues in the national dialogue of the United States] has asked the Obama and Romney campaigns to address the following questions on Science policies by mid-August. It would be interesting to give these questions to our leaders.

1. Innovation and economics: Science and technology have fueled more than half of U.S. economic growth since World War II, but studies suggest that may be changing. What policies will best ensure America remains a world leader in innovation?
2. Climate change: What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes and other policies to address global warming? What steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?
3. Research and the future: Many other countries are making big investments in scientific research, but since the next U.S. Congress will inevitably have to curb spending, how would you prioritize research projects in your budget proposals?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Aged people get more cancers than young ones due to use of Non-homologous end joining instead of homologous recombination for repairing double strand breaks

Double stranded breaks are the most dangerous form of DNA damage occurring in the genome. Double strand breaks are caused by internal agents like reactive oxygen species and many external agents like radiation.  Replication errors also cause double strand breaks.   Living organisms have two methods for correcting this error: Homologous recombination(HR) found both in bacteria and eukaryotes and non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) found mostly in eukaryotes. HR is a method which corrects the double strand breaks by using the homologous chromosome as the reference (this is the reason for diploid nature of most eukaryotes). Except for gene conversion, it does not cause mutation  to the genes in which the double strand break has occurred (usually broken ends have damaged bases which are removed  and correct bases are added by HR using the homologous chromosome as the template). But NHEJ just joins the broken ends without replacing the damaged bases (as it does not have a template to refer) leading to mutation of the genes in which double strand breaks occurred.

BT Cotton increased yield by 24 % and profit by 50 %

Bt cotton, the genetically engineered cotton plant, contains genes from Bacillus thuringiensis that make
the plant resistant to the cotton bollworm complex. This inbuilt insect resistance was predicted to reduce the pesticide usage. Most short term analyses showed that farmers are benefited because of reduced  pesticide usage and increased yield. But environmentalists never agreed with these analyses.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Last year  NASA made a sensational claim about discovery of  DNA in which the phosphorous is replaced by arsenic.  The bacterial strain GFAJ-1 was isolated from the arsenic-rich sediments of California’s Mono Lake by its ability to grow in the artificial Mono Lake medium without phosphate but with high concentrations of arsenate. It was claimed that GFAJ-1 grew in -P medium only when arsenate was provided, and  significant amounts of arsenate were detected in subcellular fractions.  This was interpreted as “ growth due to  use of arsenate in place of phosphate”. Wolfe-Simon et al. further reported that arsenic was incorporated into the DNA backbone of GFAJ-1 in place of phosphorus, with an  estimated 4% replacement of P by As based on the As:P ratio measured in DNA samples embedded in agarose gel slices.

This discovery claim by NASA  Scientists was sensational as

Monday, July 9, 2012

HIGGS BOSON (God Particle) discovered last week may be an impostor

Last week CERN scientists announced proof of the existence of the Higgs boson that  gives us mass and holds the Universe together. Now a group of Scientists have reinterpreted the data and conclude that the particle identified as Higgs Boson may  be an impostor.
Click the link below for the full article about this

Next Generation Genomics Lecture at CPMB

Friday, July 6, 2012

Choosing negative control of cell division: one of the major cause of problems in animal system

Some weeks back when we were discussing about cell division and cancer we were comparing plant vs animal cell cycle and the interesting question came is “Why animals and plants chose different mode of controlling their cell division ?”.  I thought of sharing this with you in this post.
Plants normally do not die (premature death) out of inherent problems (defects in their own genes controlling cell cycle). Mostly their premature death is due to pathogens or stress which are external. In contrast, in animals including human one of the major cause of premature death is the cancer which is due to the defects in cell division control genes.  If we take an aerial view of this problem one thing is clear that plant cells are

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Higgs Boson Particle: Not able to understand ?, Read this Article written by a Dutch theoretical physicist


Just as a start: the most important concept is not the Higgs particle but the Higgs field. By finding and studying the Higgs particle one hopes to find out more about the properties of the Higgs field.

The Higgs field is a field that fills the entire universe and with which we continuously interact and so we "feel" the presence of the Higgs field. Because of this continuous interaction we are heavy and do not fly through space with the speed of light. The Higgs particle is the ripple of the lowest possible energy in the Higgs field.

The best way to picture a field is as a very long but tight rope that at at one end is secured to a wall and that at the other end is held in your hand. If you now move your hand quickly up and down, it will cause a wave to run through the rope. A field is like the rope and a particle is like a wave in the rope. With a rope held in your hand you can make any motion you want and thus make any wave you like. In quantum mechanics you can only move your hand in a definite number of ways and so create only a limited number of particles.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


3D printing is a method of  manufacturing  things like models of humans, animals, proteins, commonly used tools, jewelry parts of automobiles, machines and aeroplanes etc. using a computer-controlled printer. Printer means not the ink based printers we use daily. These printers  spit  materials like metals, plastic, plaster, polymer, resin etc. Scientifically manufacturing things in 3D printing is called an additive manufacturing technology compared to the normal manufacturing technologies which are called subtractive technologies.   3D objects are generally built out of layers.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Biggest Plant Biotech Patent Expiry: Roundup Ready Soybean Patent Expires soon

The world’s most widely adopted biotech trait, Roundup Ready® soybeans, is set to go off patent soon in the U.S. – the last applicable Monsanto-owned patent is expected to expire in 2014. Monsanto is amending all Roundup Ready soybean trait licenses to extend through the final patent expiration. As a result, the last crop year for which Monsanto will collect royalties on the technology is 2014. Licensees have no obligation to destroy or return seed due to expiration of the Roundup Ready soybean trait licenses. Monsanto will not use variety patents against U.S. farmers who save varieties containing the Roundup Ready trait for planting on their own farms after expiration of the trait patent. Farmers should check with seed suppliers regarding the

Friday, June 8, 2012

For the First time, genome of a polar alga, Coccomyxa subellipsoidea, sequenced fully.

Life is diverse and life exists in every part of the earth including the most extreme habitats. One such extreme habitat is the polar regions. There is poor understanding of the adaptive mechanisms used by polar organisms to function under extreme cold conditions.  More than 30 psychrophylic microbial genomes have been fully sequenced and these  Psychrophilic prokaryotes were found to possess various adaptive strategies for survival in cold environments, including cold-induced desaturation of fatty acids in membrane lipids, protective mechanisms against increased amounts of solubilized oxygen and ROS, synthesis of antifreeze lipoproteins and glycoproteins, and global change in amino acid composition of encoded proteins to decrease protein structural rigidity.

For the first time  the genome of  a polar eukaryotic  unicellular green alga  Coccomyxa subellipsoidea (C169) has  been sequenced by  a team of  Researchers from  Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology (France), University of Nebraska (USA)  DOE Joint Genome Institute (USA), University of Rostock (Germany), Hiroshima University (Japan) and Georgia Tech Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Genomics (USA).

Analysis of the 48.8 MB genome of this alga (for comparison (approximate ): Human genome size-3000 mb, E.coli genome size 4.5 MB, Rice genome size 370 MB) revealed that like the psychrophylic  microbes sequenced, this eukaryotic alga is also possessing special features

Thursday, June 7, 2012

BREAKTHROUGH DISCOVERY: Neonatal genome sequencing for mutation detection

Non-invasive prenatal diagnostics analysis is desired for detection of  inherited mutations and common polymorphisms.  But, proper methods were not available  for doing this.   A new method has been discovered  by researchers from University of Washington (USA),  University of Bari (Italy),  Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (USA), University of Washington School of Medicine (USA),  University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (USA), Seattle Children’s Research Institute (USA) and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (USA) combines   genome sequencing of two parents, genome-wide maternal haplotyping,

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Human ancestors originated in Asia (not in Africa) and moved to Africa

Reconstructing the origin and early evolutionary history of anthropoid primates (monkeys, apes, and humans) is a current focus of paleoprimatology. Although earlier hypotheses frequently supported an African origin for anthropoids, recent discoveries of older and phylogenetically more basal fossils in China and Myanmar indicate that the group originated in Asia. Given the Oligocene-Recent history of African anthropoids, the colonization of Africa by early anthropoids hailing from Asia was a decisive event in primate evolution. However, the fossil record has so far failed to constrain the nature and timing of this pivotal event. 

Scientists from France and Myanmar  describe a fossil primate from the late middle Eocene Pondaung Formation of Myanmar, Afrasia djijidae gen. et sp. nov., that is remarkably similar to, yet

Friday, June 1, 2012

ENVIRONMENT MEETS GENOMICS: EXPOSOME – the new buzzword in environmental biology

Our body is exposed  to  agents that can cause / predispose our body to various disorders both internally and externally from conception to death.  The  exogenous sources   of these agents include: air, water, diet, drugs, and radiation while the internal or endogenous source include processes like inflammation, lipid peroxidation, oxidative stress, existing diseases, infections, and gut flora.  These agents are said to be major determinants  of  chronic diseases like cancer and were  studied poorly due to lack of proper methodology especially to study the body response and the variation in the population to exposure to these agents. But the developments in the field of  omics  have opened up new ways of looking into this complex unresolved problem. Simply Exposome  is the  comprehensive measurement of all exposure events (exogenous and endogenous) from conception to death.

The CDC  (centre for disease control and prevention) defines exposome as

Tissue Biopsy for cancer detection may disappear soon: Genomic method of cancer detection

Tissue Biopsy for cancer detection may disappear soon: Simple blood plasma assay (a liquid biopsy) may be the method of cancer detection in future

Blood plasma,  the straw-colored liquid component of blood that normally holds the blood cells in whole blood in suspension contains dissolved proteins, glucose, clotting factors, mineral  ions,  hormones  and carbon dioxide and DNA. Plasma of cancer patients contains cell-free tumor DNA that carries information on tumor mutations and tumor burden. Though individual mutations have been probed earlier, for the first time a method has been  developed  ( by a team of researchers from UK) for tagged-amplicon deep sequencing (TAm-Seq) which resulted in  screening  5995 genomic bases for low-frequency mutations. Using this method they  identified cancer mutations present in circulating DNA at allele frequencies as low as 2%, with sensitivity and specificity of >97%.They identified mutations throughout the tumor

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tomato is tomato because of two whole genome triplications

Tomato Genome Update - 2

Analysis of the recently sequence tomato genome in comparison to potato and grape genome reveal that massive genome duplication events shaped the evolution of these plants. Ancestors of tomato genome underwent whole genome triplication twice, one very early in a common eudicot ancestor shared with rosid and the second more recent triplication in the ancestor of tomato and potato followed by widespread gene loss. This recent  triplication has occurred around  71 million years ago well before divergence of tomato and potato which took place approximately

How many genes in Tomato ?

Tomato Genome Update-1:

  • The genome size of tomato is ca. 900 MB (Approximate values: Human genome is 3000 MB, rice genome is 370 MB, Arabidopsis genome  is 130 MB, E.coli genome is 4.5 MB)
  • Total number of protein coding genes: 34,727 (8615 groups common between rice, Arabidopsis, grape, tomato and potato; 1727 groups are common between

Breaking Discovery: Tomato genome sequenced

The genome of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum),  a major crop plant and a model system for fruit development,  is sequenced by an International Consortium of Scientists. The genome of   domesticated tomato and  its closest wild relative, Solanumpimpinellifolium were sequenced.  The two tomato genomes show only 0.6% nucleotide divergence and signs of recent admixture, but show more than 8% divergence from potato, with nine large and several smaller inversions. In contrast to Arabidopsis,

Transfer PCR: a new method for one step transfer of gene from one plasmid vector to another

A new method called Transfer PCR (TPCR) which  combines PCR amplification of a gene present in a vector / plasmid and subsequent integration of the PCR product into the recipient vector without intermediate product purification and without the need of any commercial kit has been discovered by Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem,and  Weizmann Institute of Science,  Israel.

For DNA cloning, the donor and the recipient plasmids are present in the same reaction tube together with the other reaction components, including primers, reaction buffer and dNTPs. The two primers include sequences, which are complimentary to the target gene at the 3′ end and sequences corresponding to the integration site in the recipient vector at the 5′ end.

{Image courtesy: Journal of Structural Biology)

The transcription factor IIE α subunit (ΤFIIEα, ∼1300 bp) gene is  in

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

tssRNA , a new type of transcription start site associated small RNA in bacteria

Researchers from Spain have identified a  new class of small RNA (~45 bases long)  in gram positive and negative bacteria. These tssRNAs are associated with RNA polymerase pausing some 45 bases downstream of the transcription start site and show global changes in expression during the growth cycle.  They are related to eukaryotic tiRNAs in their localization (transcription start sites, TSS) but not in their biogenesis. tssRNAs are generated at the same positions

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BREAKTHROUGH DISCOVERY: Tet-assisted bisulfite sequencing (TAB-Seq), a new method for mapping methylation to single base resolution of entire genome


Tet-assisted bisulfite sequencing (TAB-Seq), a new method for mapping methylation to single base resolution of entire genome

DNA methylation regulating gene expression is a known fact but study of this 5-hydroxylmethylcytosines (5hmC) has been hampered by the lack of a method to map it at single-base resolution on a genome-wide scale. Affinity purification-based methods (which are used currently) cannot precisely locate 5hmC nor accurately determine its relative abundance at each modified site.  For the first time a revolutionary  genome-wide approach  named “ Tet-assisted bisulfite sequencing (TAB-Seq)” has been devised by Scientists from University of Chicago, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, University of California, San Diego and Emory University.  This method,  when combined with traditional bisulfite sequencing can be used for

Ferroptosis, a new type of cell death with potential applications

Ferroptosis, a new type of cell death,  is the iron dependent form of nonaptotic cell death triggered by  the oncogenic  RAS-selective lethal small molecule erastin (Nonapoptotic forms of cell death may facilitate the selective elimination of some tumor cells or be activated in specific pathological states). Ferroptosis is dependent upon intracellular iron, but not other metals, and is morphologically, biochemically, and genetically distinct from

What is Cancer Genome Atlas ?

Cancer genome atlas is a very important project aiming to map all genomic variations associated with different cancers and create a comprehensive atlas. This was initiated by The National Cancer Institute (USA)and the National Human Genome Research Institute (USA) and is being carried out by a network of more than 100 researchers at many

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Segmental genome duplication responsible for our brain power

Genome duplication is the trigger for evolution. Complex multicellular organisms have evolved from simple unicellular organisms by genome duplication and other genome rearrangements. Genome duplication can be of two types: whole genome duplication in which a diploid organism becomes a tetraploid and provide whole set of additional genes i.e for every old gene a new copy is provided. This type of change is considered to be responsible for major changes in organisms including speciation. The second type of duplication is called segmental duplication or copy number variation.  Here only a part of the genome gets duplicated and provide additional copies of only those genes in the duplicated regions. This type of  variation is considered to be responsible for differences among closely related organisms for example between monkeys and humans. Immediately after sequencing genomes of chimp and other primates Scientists were expecting to find a segmental duplication of  genomic regions possessing genes associated with  the brain i.e neural system but were not successful.

Recently  two  groups of Scientists led by Evan Eichler and Franck Polleux have found a part of the missing clue.  They identified segmental duplication that led to

Friday, May 25, 2012

BREAKING DISCOVERY: Radiation treatment converts a normal breast cancer cells to breast cancer stem cells which are more tumorigenic

Breast cancers are thought to be organized hierarchically with a small number of breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) able to regrow a tumor while their progeny lack this ability. Recently, several groups reported enrichment for BCSCs when breast cancers were subjected to classic anticancer treatment. However, the underlying mechanisms leading to this enrichment are incompletely understood.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Global Research Council (GRC) formed to coordinate scientific collaborations

The Global Research Council (GRC) (a voluntary organization), has been formed recently  to share best practice and encourage common principles for research collaborations in  different countries. Leaders of about 50 national research-funding agencies met at the headquarters of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in Arlington, Virginia, to discuss the GRC’s agenda: issues such as peer review, data sharing, research integrity, open access, career development and ethical conduct in research on humans.  The GRC’s first meeting produced a set of short, uncontroversial statements

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Light switch for gene expression with potential use in therapeutics

Scientists from  North Carolina State University have identified light-activated molecules to turn gene expression on and off. Triplex-forming oligonucleotides (TFOs) are commonly used molecules that can prevent gene transcription by binding to double-stranded DNA

A light-activated “cage” was attached to a Triplex-forming oligonucleotides. In the absence of light, transcription activity is 100 percent. When exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, the cage is

Friday, May 18, 2012

DNA sequencing found to be better than flow cytometry in predicting cancer relapse

In a recent study Scientists at  University of Washington, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, University of Virginia,  University of California and  Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found that  high-throughput sequencing could improve the diagnosis and post-treatment monitoring of leukemia. The sequencing-based method is more sensitive than flow cytometry and cheaper  and faster than the quantitative real-time PCR. They used high throughput sequencing (HTS)  to the diagnosis of T-lineage acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma. 43 paired patient samples were used for assessing

Germline low-methylated regions are more prone for structural mutation than methylated regions

The human genome contains many loci with high incidence of structural mutations, including insertions and deletions of chromosomal segments. This excessive mutability has accelerated evolution and contributed to human disease but has yet to be explained. 

Segments of DNA repeated in low-copy numbers (LCRs) have been previously implicated in promoting structural mutability in specific disease-associated loci. Lack of methylation (hypo-methylation) of genomic DNA has been previously associated with high structural mutability in gibbons and in human cancer cells, but the association with structural mutability in the human germline has not been explored. 

A recent study carried out by Scientists from

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

SOMETHING UNUSUAL: RecA of Dinococcus radiodurans binds to double standed DNA first

The D. radiodurans RecA protein (361 amino acids, Mr 38,013) is 57% identical (72% similar) to the E. coli RecA protein (352 amino acids, Mr 37,842). In vitro, the protein promotes all of the key recombino genic activities of RecA-class recombinases. It forms filaments on DNA, hydrolyses ATP and dATP in a DNA-dependent fashion and promotes DNA-strand exchange. However, the D. radiodurans RecA protein has one distinct function. The DNA strand-exchange reactions of the E. coli RecA protein, and all other homologues examined to date, are ordered so that the single-stranded DNA is generally bound first, before the double-stranded DNA is bound.

Development of a nanofluidic device that combines real-time detection and automated sorting of individual molecules based on their epigenetic state.

Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA and histone methylation, are responsible for regulatory pathways that affect disease. Current epigenetic analyses use bisulfite conversion to identify DNA methylation and chromatin immunoprecipitation to collect molecules bearing a specific histone modification.  A new method  using a nanofluidic device that combines real-time detection and automated sorting of individual molecules based on their epigenetic state has been developed by a group of Scientists from Cornell University.

This device evaluates the fluorescence from labeled epigenetic modifications

Thursday, April 19, 2012

XENO-NUCLEIC ACIDS – alternatives to DNA / RNA

Genetic information storage and processing rely on just two polymers, DNA and RNA, yet whether their role reflects evolutionary history or fundamental functional constraints is currently unknown. With the use of polymerase evolution and design, a Group of Scientists have shown that genetic information can be stored in and recovered from six alternative genetic polymers based on simple nucleic acid architectures not found in nature [xeno-nucleic acids (XNAs)]. They also select XNA aptamers, which bind their targets with high affinity and specificity, demonstrating that beyond heredity, specific XNAs have the capacity for Darwinian evolution and folding into defined structures. Thus, heredity and evolution,

Monday, April 16, 2012


Scientists have created an H5N1 avian influenza strain that has been genetically altered and is now easily transmissible between ferrets, the animals that most closely mimic the human response to flu. Flu researchers believe it's likely that the pathogen, if it emerged in nature or were released, would trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths. The virus's creators say the research, which has been submitted for publication, promises major public health benefits. Knowing exactly what makes H5N1 a virus with pandemic potential is useful because scientists can look out for such

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Global warming ended ice age on earth

Rising levels of carbon dioxide really did bring about the end of the most recent ice age, say researchers. By compiling a global climate record, a team has shown that regions in which concentrations of greenhouse gases increased after the warming were exceptions to the big picture. There are many ideas about what caused the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago, but a lack of data has hindered testing of hypotheses. It has been known that changes in temperature and CO2 levels were closely correlated during this time, but no one has been able to prove that CO2 caused the warming. Atmospheric CO2 levels increased by around 100 parts per

Genome analysis reveals malarial genomic region responsible for drug resistance

Researchers have identified a region of the malaria-parasite genome that underlies resistance to the most effective current treatment. The finding comes as drug resistance seems to be spreading in Southeast Asia.
Artemisinin has become the go-to treatment nearly everywhere that malaria is endemic. Resistance to it was first identified in 2005 in western Cambodia. Resistance does not necessarily cause artemisinin treatment to fail completely, but it does slow the clearance of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum from patients' blood.
To find the causes of artemisinin resistance, Ian Cheeseman, a geneticist at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, and his colleagues compared Cambodian, Thai and Laotian P. falciparumpopulations that had differing clearance rates after artemisinin treatment. Their results are published inScience today1.Researchers are concerned that artemisinin-resistant strains of P. falciparum

Two Human Ancestor Species Co-Existed

A fossil discovered in Ethiopia suggests that humans' prehistoric relatives may have lived in the trees for a million years longer than was previously thought.
The find may be our first glimpse of a separate, extinct, branch of the human family, collectively called hominins. It also hints that there may have been several evolutionary paths leading to feet adapted for walking upright.
The fossil, a partial foot, was found in 3.4-million-year-old rocks at Woranso-Mille in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Bones of the hominin Australopithecus afarensis — the species to which the famous 'Lucy' skeleton belongs — have also been found in this location and from the same period.

Au. afarensis has a big toe that is more closely aligned with the other digits on the foot, an adaptation that provides support during upright walking. Au. afarensis “was fully bipedal and had already abandoned life in the trees”, says study author Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio, whereas the newly discovered creature had not seemingly committed to life on the ground.But unlike Au. afarensis, the latest find has an opposable big toe — rather like a thumb
 on the foot — that would have allowed the species to grasp branches while climbing. Modern apes have similar toes, but the youngest hominin previously known to have them is Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived about 4.4 million years ago. The details of the discovery are published today in Nature1.
Other features of the fossil foot show that it did not belong to an ape, but that it is truly a member of the hominins, says Haile-Selassie. The latest specimen is “very much like the Ardipithecus foot, which I believe had many hominin features, so it’s likely to be a hominin”, agrees Daniel Lieberman, an anthropologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study.
Good grasp of history
The discovery shows that one hominin lineage had grasping feet for at least a million years after Ar. ramidus. The creature was probably more agile in the trees than Au. afarensis but less nimble on two feet, says William Harcourt-Smith, an anthropologist at the City University of New York’s Lehman College. “We can only get a tantalizing glimpse at this, but its bipedal gait is likely to have been very different from Lucy’s and was probably a lot less efficient,” he says.
The finding will force a rethink regarding the course of early hominin evolution, Harcourt-Smith adds. The addition of a mystery hominin species at this crucial time period suggests that the new species' lineage split from that leading to Lucy earlier in hominin history, and provides further evidence against the idea that modern humans evolved via a linear progression of species from apes. “This [finding] is fascinating, and makes the evolution of this defining behaviour not a single, linear evolutionary event, but a far more complex affair,” Harcourt-Smith says.


The Burtele partial foot (BRT-VP-2/73). A laboratory photo after cleaning and preparation. It is shown here in its anatomically articulated form.
© The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Monday, March 26, 2012

Million Genomes by 2014

Without a doubt the hottest company in the genomics sector right now is gene sequencing powerhouse Complete Genomics. In just the last four years the company has come out of nowhere to dominate the market for low cost sequencing of human genomes in large quantities. Although Complete Genomics is now slated to sequence an incredible 5,000 human genomes in 2010, this is nothing compared to what the company has in store for the years ahead.  Just days ago, in a Singularity Hub exclusive interview with Complete Genomics CEO Dr. Cliff Reid, we have learned that the company is now hoping to sequence 50,000 genomes in 2011 and a whopping 1 million genomes by 2014.