It could the premise of a good movie…

5 07 2010
…or even a good book.

Bringing back into existence extinct animals through the use of genetic and reproductive technologies. I wonder where that idea came from, researchers at Scripps & San Diego Zoo?

Well, okay, it’s not quite extinct, but the Drill Monkey from equatorial Africa is pretty darn endangered, which might be a redeeming factor for this story. Instead of creating a whole range of new endangered species, we should be working on protecting the ones we already have. And we definitely should be trying to avoid resurrecting giant reptilian predators that will eat all our goats.


Zombie genetics

22 04 2009

Last month there was an interesting genetics story about the discovery of the zombie gene (or “Jesus gene”*).

IRGM, which may or may not be involved in Crohn’s disease, appears to have reactivated in humans after becoming degraded in our ancestors around 25 million years ago.

It is really interesting – perhaps mostly because we can now actually show that this is the case, and guesstimate an era like 25MYA as the original inactivation.

I don’t think its quite as surprising as its being made out to be. It makes plenty of sense given what we know about how genetics evolve. It’s not too inconceivable that if genes can become inactive through random mutation, that so to can inactive genes become re-activated through a similar process.

Just because a gene is inactivated doesn’t exactly mean it’s going to go straight to gobbleygook. By not actually contributing anymore, that gene has effectively removed itself from any selective pressure – including negative. It won’t be selected to become more inactivated. There is no benefit for an organism to scramble the signal any further.

Actually this discovery might show that their is some benefit in not deliberately scrambling genes that aren’t currently expressed. But is that a benefit that selection can act upon?


*everyone knows Jesus isn’t real though, right, kids?

No teacher left behind

1 03 2009

If your teacher doesn’t know any better, how can we expect you?

How your body works is no longer a mystery. Babies are not tiny miracles. And “Better Living Through Chemistry” does not mean what they think it does…

While not quite so abrupt as that, this press release from the University of Colorado makes a point – increasing scientific literacy is the primary method by which we can protect future generations from becoming victims of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo jargon overload. This will not happen without similarily increasing the scientific literacy of teachers in topics such as basic biology, biochemistry and genetics.

Frankenfoods and anthrax

19 01 2009

The SciBorg Seed-Cube has had another of their industry-sponsored blogs for a small while. At first it showed as an inaccessible anomaly in my rss feeder, but now it seems Invitrogen’s is live and screaming.

Yes, asking “What’s new in life science research” brings up doom and gloom. It started of with bioterrorism, and has now moved onto genetically modified organisms. While its certainly quite difficult to argue the merits of bioterror-orientated research (“just-in-case” is often as best as it gets), the merits of GMOs are all around us. Nutritional food. Economic boom. Less environmental impact of pesticides. Antibiotics. Biofuels. Extended shelf life.

Some of the recent discussion has been on labelling.

Labelling on GMOs I don’t see as a problem. At a basic level its as reasonable as allowing sellers to mark their food and products as “organic”, “98% fat free” or “heart-safe”. Consumers have a right to make informed decisions about their consumption, even if their decision is stupid.

I’m a bit disappointed with the Invitrogen/Seed blog though. These aren7t “new life research”. Bioterror is centuries old (plague-ridden bodies were “weaponised” during the Black Death). And even GMOs on the level with Bt-cotton and Monsanto’s dubious canola IP-debacles getting old hat. Where is something truly new – like synthetic life, personal genomics, or I don’t know, something more 2009, less 1999.

CSIRO on the menu

22 12 2008

CSIRO Plant Industries has a youtube channel.

Only one movie up so far, educating on what the real deal is with GMO crops in Australia.

This is a good piece that does do its part to address some concerns regarding the health and environmental impacts of genetic engineering. I think its good and educational and helps pull back from some scaremongering that come from green politics.

It does avoid some issues though, which does pock it as propoganda framing.

On allergies, I’ve never heard anyone ty to link GM with the rise of allergies (sounds Kool-Aid conspiracy). I have heard concerns of whether placing fish proteins in vegetables may be an issue for persons allergic to fish. The food might be safe for general human consumption, but to allergic persons. Will the food be marked “GMO, may contain fish proteins” or simply “GMO foodstuff”?

On company involvement. That is great that in Australia most research is done by non-afiliated organisations. But who sponsors their research? CSIRO was notorious under its previous management for offering commercial services to the detriment of “blue-sky” research – but personally, I didn’t find it affecting their ethical integrity too much (it just meant industry directed where research was performed). And probably more importantly who benefits (and who suffers)?

On environmental impact. It is great news that GMOs can decrease output of environmental waste. But can GMOs encourage any unsustainable farming methods, such as reducing genetic diversity in a crop?

I support GM technology and research (I’d much rather see it done in animals than crops though), and I like this video. What do others think of this video.

That’s not a mouse, or is it?

5 07 2008

You’d think I’d be all chuffed about this research. A Tasmanian Tiger gene was put into a mouse embryo quite a while back now. It’s sexy, with extinct marsupials and genetics.

But it’s more a Holly Valance sexy than Nicole Kidman sexy. It’s all new and shiny and wow, and then you realise, it can’t sing, act, or dance.

According to the article:

The results, published in the international scientific journal PLoS ONE this week, showed that the thylacine Col2a1 gene has a similar function in developing cartilage and bone development as the Col2a1 gene does in the mouse.

But the University of Melbourne researchers say:

“As more and more species of animals become extinct, we are continuing to lose critical knowledge of gene function and their potential.”

Right. Critical knowledge, like thylacine gene acts the same as a mouse gene.

Okay. I’m being harsh. It is a little sexy. Looking at how extinct genes behave could turn out interesting. But inserting genes into mice isn’t news. And neither is sequencing genes from extinct animals. So combining the two just isn’t that exciting for me.

I am a bit curious though why they are using Mus musculus embryos, and not Monodelphis domestica – your friendly neighbourhood laboratory marsupial research subject.

Evidence claims cat’s innocence

4 07 2008

via Australia Life Scientist

I don’t think these guys could have done research any cooler for me. They’ve combined my favourite fields all together – evolutionary biology, emerging infectious diseases, animal biology, genetics and bioinformatics.

Wasn\'t me, Honest Lah

What they’ve done is analysed the genome of the coronavirus that causes SARS –remember that? – and claim they have vindicated the poor beleagured civet cat as the natural reservoir of the disease.

Good news for the civet cat. (Maybe not, it’s possibly back on the menu).

And definitely not good news for chiropterologists and spelunkers – as bats have been implicated as the cause.

Bat’s just can’t get away from having a reputation as a “big bad”. If it’s not silly business such as  getting tangled in hair or stealing goats. There are a bunch of real viral diseases with human health impact that bats are known for being a natural reservoir for – many from Australasia. SARS is just one of the more recent additions.

Is this good news or bad news for bats and research?

Image credit: original caption; photo by Top Tripster cc-sa (Flickr)