Learning about the autism-and-vaccines issue has been likened to becoming an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here’s a 14-point chronology of recent events to get you started.
Earlier today, Gov. Charlie Crist released the final report and recommendations from the state’s Task Force on the Study of …Click Here to Read More
The human genome gets more and more complicated
IT WAS, James Watson claimed, something even a monkey could do. Sequencing the human genome, that is. In truth, Dr Watson, co-discoverer of the double-helical structure of DNA back in the 1950s, had a point. Though a technical tour-de-force, the Human Genome Project was actually the sum of millions of small, repetitive actions by cleverly programmed robots. When it was complete, so the story went, humanity’s genes—the DNA code for all human proteins—would be laid bare and all would be light.
It didn’t quite work out like that. Knowing the protein-coding genes has been useful. It has provided a lexicon of proteins, including many previously unknown ones. What is needed, though, is a proper dictionary—an explanation of what the proteins mean as well as what they are. For that, you need to know how the genes’ activities are regulated in the 220 or so different types of cell a human body is made from. And that is the purpose of the American government’s Roadmap Epigenome Programme, results from which are published this week in Nature by Ryan Lister and Mattia Pelizzola of the Salk Institute in California, and their colleagues. …
Prizes for optical fibres, charge-coupled devices, ribosomes and telomeres
HOW do you look through a window that is 100km thick? That, in essence, was the question facing Charles Kao in 1966. For working out the answer, Dr Kao has been awarded part of this year’s Nobel prize for physics. Besides being thick, the window was narrow: it was an optical fibre. Dr Kao’s prize is a belated recognition of his contribution to the telecommunications revolution of the past few decades. But better late than never.
The rest of the physics prize goes almost as belatedly to Willard Boyle and George Smith who, in 1969, ushered the charge-coupled device (CCD) into being, paving the way for the digital camera. The chemistry prize went to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath for working out the structure of ribosomes—the parts of living cells that translate genetic information into proteins. And the physiology prize went to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak for their work on telomeres, the DNA caps that stop the ends of chromosomes either unravelling or sticking to one another. …
Biotechnology: The falling cost of equipment capable of manipulating DNA is opening up a new field of “biohacking” to enthusiasts
MANY of the world’s great innovators started out as hackers—people who like to tinker with technology—and some of the largest technology companies started in garages. Thomas Edison built General Electric on the foundation of an improved way to transmit messages down telegraph wires, which he cooked up himself. Hewlett-Packard was founded in a garage in California (now a national landmark), as was Google, many years later. And, in addition to computer hardware and software, garage hackers and home-build enthusiasts are now merrily cooking up electric cars, drone aircraft and rockets. But what about biology? Might biohacking—tinkering with the DNA of existing organisms to create new ones—lead to innovations of a biological nature?
The potential is certainly there. The cost of sequencing DNA has fallen from about $1 per base pair in the mid-1990s to a tenth of a cent today, and the cost of synthesising the molecule has also fallen. Rob Carlson, the founder of a firm called Biodesic, started tracking the price of synthesis a decade ago. He found a remarkably steady decline, from over $10 per base pair to, lately, well under $1 (see chart). This decline recalls Moore’s law, which, when promulgated in 1965, predicted the exponential rise of computing power. Someday history may remember drops in the cost of DNA synthesis as Carlson’s curve. …