SciTech Briefs

Gene editing cures mice of disease

The CRISPR-Cas system, developed by researchers affiliated with The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has shown to correct a genetic mutation in mice by using gene-snipping machinery from bacteria. With this technology, a DNA-cutting enzyme binds to a specific sequence close to the mutation. The enzyme is then able to cut the DNA and then paste a correct, non-mutated version of the gene into place. Using this method, researchers were able to correct a mutation in live mice that results in the inability to break down the amino acid tyrosine.

The hope is that one day this technology can be used to cure single-gene disorders in humans.

Source: ScienceDaily

Geologic clock finds age of moon

An international team of planetary scientists has determined that the moon formed around 100 million years after the solar system began. The international research team set up hundreds of simulations of the growth history for planets similar to Earth. By looking at growth simulations for Earth-like planets, they found a relationship between the time Earth was impacted to create the moon and the amount of material added afterward. By adding information about the mass of the Earth to the simulations, a “clock” was found in the data. Previous research provided data on the mass of the Earth post-impact.

Source: ScienceDaily

Researchers reset immune systems

Researchers at Emory University have tested a method that “reboots” one’s immune system on 20 patients undergoing kidney transplants. Normally, when a patient undergoes an organ transplant, he or she must take an intense drug cocktail to keep the immune system from attacking the new organ. The treatment begins with a drug, inserted intravenously, that significantly decreases the amount of white blood cells. These cells “regrow” over the next year, and this time they accept the new organ. Doctors give a monthly injection of a drug that helps the white blood cells accept the new organ even more; another drug is given to suppress some of the old cells which might attack.

Source: New Scientist

Ebola outbreak in Western Africa

An outbreak of the Ebola virus has taken the lives of more than 80 people in Western Africa, mostly in the country of Guinea. The World Health Organization reports a total of 137 cases. Doctors Without Borders has been attempting to educate citizens about how Ebola is spread, as well as help train medical personnel that may have to deal with infected patients. Genetic analysis has indicated that the strain of this outbreak is most closely related to the strain Ebola-Zaire, considered one of the most deadly of Ebola strains.

Ebola causes hemorrhagic fever and has a mortality rate of over 60 percent.

Source: CNN

Transgenic trees better for biofuels

A recent article published in Nature shows that transgenic poplar trees are easier to break down to make paper and biofuels. Lignin, a tough polymer found in trees, is usually the most difficult part of the plant to break down when making biofuels or paper. The transgenic poplar trees, however, have a form of lignin that is easier to break down.

“The potential for saving energy is so high that this change should be considered in every plant that’s destined to be pulped or converted to biofuel,” said Professor of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison John Ralph, an author of the paper. Ralph and his team have filed patent applications for the genetically modified poplars.

Source: Nature

Muscles controlled by reaction to light

Scientists have developed a new way to control muscles with light.

The research, developed at the University College London, involves transplanting synthetic motor neurons into nerve endings. The neurons are made from stem cells and react to blue light; scientists can control the muscle function depending on frequency, intensity, and pulse of the light. These cells may help individuals with diseases that affect motor neurons and cause paralysis, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Source: ScienceDaily