Twenty years ago, sequencing the human genome was one of the most ambitious science projects ever attempted. Today, compared to the collection of genomes of the microorganisms living in our bodies, the ocean, the soil and elsewhere, each human genome, which easily fits on a DVD, is comparatively simple. Its 3 billion DNA base pairs and about 20,000 genes seem paltry next to the roughly 100 billion bases and millions of genes that make up the microbes found in the human body.
And a host of other variables accompanies that microbial DNA, including the age and health status of the microbial host, when and where the sample was collected, and how it was collected and processed. Take the mouth, populated by hundreds of species of microbes, with as many as tens of thousands of organisms living on each tooth. Beyond the challenges of analyzing all of these, scientists need to figure out how to reliably and reproducibly characterize the environment where they collect the data.
“There are the clinical measurements that periodontists use to describe the gum pocket, chemical measurements, the composition of fluid in the pocket, immunological measures,” said David Relman, a physician and microbiologist at Stanford University who studies the human microbiome. “It gets complex really fast.”
Excerpt from an article by Emily Singer at Quanta. Continue THERE
The announcement was short. It lasted only a fraction of second — a blink of an eye. But a spacecraft in Earth’s orbit, keeping an eye on such events, captured it on June 3 this year. The announcement may have been brief, but it told us that two exotic dead stars, called neutron stars, have collided with each other. This is a relatively rare event, but it bears good news for the merchants in the Sona bazaar. This collision has created gold — lots of it.
But before you head over to Sona bazaar, you should know that this particular collision happened in a galaxy so far away that it has taken light — traveling at a stupendous speed of 186,000 miles every second — four billion years to reach us! In astronomical terms, this collision happened in a galaxy four billion light-years away. In comparison, light from our Sun gets to us in 8 minutes, and is therefore only 8 light-minutes away. The distance of billions of light-years doesn’t intimidate astronomers, as they routinely study events and objects that are even farther away than this particular galaxy. The significance of this event, however, resides in the fact that for the first time, astronomers have been able to study light from collisions that may help us understand the way elements like gold are created in the universe.
Before we get too caught up in the cosmic glamour, we should remember that almost all of the elements that make our bodies were cooked up inside the stars: the carbon in our DNA, oxygen in our lungs, and iron in our blood. Hydrogen in the water molecule, on the other hand, is a leftover from processes in the early history of the universe. The classic quote from the late astronomer Carl Sagan is indeed true: “We are made up of star stuff”.
Excerpt from an article written by Salman Hameed at the IHT. Continue THERE
Researchers have provided the first comprehensive compendium of mutational processes that drive tumour development. Together, these mutational processes explain most mutations found in 30 of the most common cancer types. This new understanding of cancer development could help to treat and prevent a wide-range of cancers.
Each mutational process leaves a particular pattern of mutations, an imprint or signature, in the genomes of cancers it has caused. By studying 7,042 genomes of people with the most common forms of cancer, the team uncovered more than 20 signatures of processes that mutate DNA. For many of the signatures, they also identified the underlying biological process responsible.
All cancers are caused by mutations in DNA occurring in cells of the body during a person’s lifetime. Although we know that chemicals in tobacco smoke cause mutations in lung cells that lead to lung cancers and ultraviolet light causes mutations in skin cells that lead to skin cancers, we have remarkably little understanding of the biological processes that cause the mutations which are responsible for the development of most cancers.
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In the past few decades, scientists studying the eating habits of Earth’s creatures have noticed something strange: the babies of several species, from tiger sand sharks to fruit flies, are eating each other.
Thing is, they aren’t freaks of nature. And in fact, the mechanisms behind animal cannibalism are helping scientists ask–and answer–some important evolutionary questions. These three recent studies provide a glimpse into this gruesome diet and what it means for evolution.
Why paternity might still matter after fertilization
Sand tiger sharks have been known to have cannibalistic embryos since the 1980s, when detailed autopsies revealed embryos in the stomachs of other shark embryos. But a new study published in Biological Letters could give some clues as to why.
Female sand tiger sharks aren’t the most faithful–they tend to mate with multiple male partners. And if you’re a male sand tiger shark trying to further your lineage, it’s not just about the speed and strength of sperm. The competition continues even after the eggs turn to embryos. After about five months of gestation, the embryo to first hatch from its egg in utero (the female sand tiger shark has two uteri) begins to feed on its smaller siblings–specifically those fathered by a different male. Some litters may start at 12 but this alpha embryo will eat all but one, leaving its brother or sister from the same mister alive. So despite the litters starting out with various fathers, the offspring that make it through the gestational massacre tend to be from the same father–and they’re large and strong enough to survive potential predators after birth. “It’s exactly the same sort of DNA testing that you might see on Maury Povich to figure out how many dads there are,” Stony Brook University marine biologist and study author Demian Chapman told LiveScience.
Text and Image via POPSci. Continue THERE
In the mid-2000s, David Markovitz, a scientist at the University of Michigan, and his colleagues took a look at the blood of people infected with HIV. Human immunodeficiency viruses kill their hosts by exhausting the immune system, allowing all sorts of pathogens to sweep into their host’s body. So it wasn’t a huge surprise for Markovitz and his colleagues to find other viruses in the blood of the HIV patients. What was surprising was where those other viruses had come from: from within the patients’ own DNA.
HIV belongs to a class of viruses called retroviruses. They all share three genes in common. One, called gag, gives rise to the inner shell where the virus’s genes are stored. Another, called env, makes knobs on the outer surface of the virus, that allow it to latch onto cells and invade them. And a third, called pol, makes an enzyme that inserts the virus’s genes into its host cell’s DNA.
It turns out that the human genome contains segments of DNA that match pol, env, and gag. Lots of them. Scientists have identified 100,000 pieces of retrovirus DNA in our genes, making up eight percent of the human genome. That’s a huge portion of our DNA when you consider that protein coding genes make up just over one percent of the genome.
Excerpt form an article written by Carl Zimmer. Continue HERE
Through an un-usual DNA collection method, American artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg creates portrait sculptures from the analyses of genetic material collected in public places. From cigarette butts to hair samples, she works using random traces left behind from un-suspecting strangers. In a statement by Dewey-Hagborg, ‘Stranger Visions’ calls attention to the impulse toward genetic determinism and the potential for a culture of genetic surveillance. Using DNA facial modeling software and a 3D printer, physical models are conceived – reconstructed from ethnic profiles, eye color and hair color.
Text and Images via DesignBoom
Many extinct species—from the passenger pigeon to the woolly mammoth—might now be reclassified as “bodily, but not genetically, extinct.” They’re dead, but their DNA is recoverable from museum specimens and fossils, even those up to 200,000 years old.
Thanks to new developments in genetic technology, that DNA may eventually bring the animals back to life. Only species whose DNA is too old to be recovered, such as dinosaurs, are the ones to consider totally extinct, bodily and genetically.
But why bring vanished creatures back to life? It will be expensive and difficult. It will take decades. It won’t always succeed. Why even try?
Excerpt from an article written by Stewart Brand for National Geographic News. Continue THERE