SciTech Briefs

Genetically edited mushroom avoids FDA regulation

Lately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stated that it would not regulate a genetically edited mushroom created by Penn State University researcher Yinong Yang. Before contacting the USDA last fall, Yang used CRISPR/Cas9, a widely used gene-editing technique, to remove a piece of DNA from a specific gene in the white button mushroom.

In turn, he was able to alter a gene so that it decreased the rate in which the enzyme polyphenol oxidase was produced, causing the mushroom to brown more slowly. Since new genetic material was not introduced, government regulators must decide whether the mushroom should be considered as a genetically modified organism.

Furthermore, some scientists believe that the USDA should have a more systematic way of regulating crops that were genetically engineered by CRISPR, as it could cause other, unforeseen genetic alterations.

Source: NPR

Study suggests fossil fuels to be soon phased out

According to a publication in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, it could take as little as a decade for the globe to adopt a cleaner energy system with the aid of technological advancement and appropriate government intervention.

In turn, the world would no longer have to depend on rapidly depleting fossil fuels, which has been linked to climate change. Benjamin Sovacool, a professor at the University of Sussex, examined the trends in energy transitions over the course of history. For instance, he found that it took Europe less time to adopt electricity as an energy source than when it was moving from wood to coal.

Furthermore, he found many examples in which strong government intervention helped to drive consumer demand for these new energy sources. For example, France experienced almost a dramatic increase in its electricity supply after implementation of a nuclear power program back in the 1970s.

Source: Science News

Europa’s rapidly deforming ice generates heat

Scientists are looking into the chemical makeup of one of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, which is known to have an ocean hidden underneath an icy shell.

In a collaboration between Brown and Columbia universities, researchers found that heat is generated on the moon through a process called tidal dissipation, caused by the gravitational pull of Jupiter. According to Christine McCarthy, one of the collaborators, the heat produced builds upon the tectonic activity and melting that have been observed on the surface of the Europa.

Tidal pressures on Europa’s ice were simulated in a lab, revealing deformations in the structure of ice makes ice more dissipative to heat than was previously thought. In turn, the findings could lead to more information about the chemistry of Europa as NASA prepares to search for life on the moon during a summer mission.

Source: Discovery News

Zika virus causes microcephaly, CDC reports

Last Wednesday, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the Zika virus is linked to rare birth defects in newborn babies. The conclusion was made after an extensive review of current research, which collectively showed the persistence of microcephaly, which causes calcification of the brain in utero and vision problems in newborns.

Back in January, the mosquito-born disease drew the concern of global health officials, who have been advising women, as well as their sexual partners, to avoid Zika-affected areas if they currently are or plan to be pregnant.

While the new CDC report, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, does not change that advice, officials hope that the new review will better educate the public about the potentially damaging effects of the virus.

Source: The Washington Post

Model solves old mystery of monarch butterfly migration

In a recent paper published in the journal Cell Reports, scientists have modeled the neural mechanisms that allow butterflies to make their annual, southern migration to Mexico. Previously, it was unknown how the butterflies used the positioning of the sun and their circadian rhythms to dictate their movement.

Researchers from universities in Washington, Michigan, and Massachusetts used information from the monarch antenna nerves and eyes to gather data on the insect’s internal clock system and knowledge of the sun’s position. A circuit model was then formed, revealing an internal compass that allow the monarch butterfly to travel on the appropriate course.

According to Eli Shlizerman, a co-author of the study, the team hopes to build a robotic butterfly that would follow and potentially help to maintain the monarchs, which are decreasing in number.

Source: Discovery News

People found to be resistant to genetic disease

After sifting through the genes of 600,000 people, scientists discovered 13 adults that, in spite of their genetic mutations, managed to avoid certain childhood diseases. The research, which was reported in Nature Biotechnology, centers on the idea that the genes that lead to the symptoms of a disease are different from the genes that cause the symptoms of the disease.

Throughout the study, analysis of medical records allowed researchers to narrow down the number of possible ‘escape artists.’

However, the research was also met with concerns by geneticists, who noted drawbacks in the sample size of ‘genetic superheroes’ that could enable discovery of the protective genes. In addition, a range of factors could alter the validity of the findings, including environmental and unaccounted-for genetic factors.

Source: Science News