Genetics & Molecular Biology

Euglena gracilis, the single cell algae which inhabits most garden ponds, has a whole host of new, unclassified genes which can make new forms of carbohydrates and natural products. Euglena creates many well-known, valuable natural products including vitamins, essential amino acids and a sugar polymer which may have anti-HIV effects. 

New analysis examines the possibility of using in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) for human reproduction. IVG derives gametes from induced pluripotent stem cells (capable of giving rise to several different cell types) or human embryonic stem cells.

It's not ready for human procreation but it's a good idea to start discussing the implications in case it ever is, according to a study in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences.

Researchers say they have found the strongest evidence to date that human pluripotent stem cells -- cells that can give rise to all tissues of the body -- will develop normally once transplanted into an embryo.

Pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine or biomedical research come from two sources: embryonic stem cells, derived from fertilized egg cells; and induced pluripotent stem cells, where skin cells are 'reset' to their original form. The promise (bordering on hype in the case of human embryonic stem cells, with promises a decade ago of curing Alzheimer's if they just got more money) is that they might repair various organs and tissues, particularly those that have poor regenerative capacity, such as the heart, brain and pancreas. 

Almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Strategies for fighting obesity, such as pharmacological and behavioral approaches to decrease food intake, have been only marginally successful. Patients who have undergone various surgeries for the gastrointestinal system have found success, but these are extreme measures. Scientists are hopeful that increasing energy expenditure with brown or brite/beige fat cells could be an effective way to fight obesity.

Scientists have carried out the first ever genome-wide survey of heritable molecular changes that regulate gene activity in wheat. Epigenetic marks are chemical tags which physically attach themselves to DNA, and modify its function without changing the genetic code. DNA methylation is one such mechanism of epigenetic gene expression control that can be passed down to future generations.

Now, developing technology has allowed scientists to study DNA methylation across the complex and challenging wheat genome.

 Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) virus, first detected in the U.S. in 1987, has been identified as a $660 million per year problem. Pigs who contract the disease have extreme difficulty reproducing, don't gain weight and have a high mortality rate and no vaccine has been effective.

A team of researchers from the University of Missouri, Kansas State University, and Genus plc have put biology on the case, by breeding genetically edited pigs that are not harmed by the disease.

The clinical potential and ethical difficulty posed by gene-editing technology, which can “find and replace” targeted genes, is seemingly endless.

But while public attention is focused on whether we should use it to change the genes of embryos, application of the technology to genetically modify pig tissues and organs for transplantation into humans could potentially have a bigger and more immediate impact on human health.

There has long been evidence that lifestyles of parents could influence offspring - a parent who smokes or does drugs has a greater chance of having a child with a birth defect - but epigenetics is a brand new world of how choices can be passed through generations, because it says that the environment may affect how cells read genes instead of causing changes in the DNA sequence.

Biologists have induced one species of flatworm to grow heads and brains characteristic of another species of flatworm without altering the genomic sequence. The work reveals physiological circuits as a new kind of epigenetics - information existing outside of genomic sequence - that determines large-scale anatomy.  

In many cases, cancer is a lifestyle disease. You are far more likely to get lung cancer if you smoke and the older you get, the more likely you are to get cancer of all kinds. Age is the biggest risk factor and we get more cancer than our ancestors because they died from a lot of other things before cancer could develop.