Monday, January 14, 2008

Bioscience News Roundup: 01-14-07

Some interesting bits of bioscience in the news (I apologize if some of them are old, I've been cleaning out my collected links):

Science News reports on making "life from scratch", with a focus on the work at the J. Craig Venter Institute (via BoingBoing) From the article:

"We eventually want to make an organism called Mycoplasma laboratorium," Smith says. The more familiar name for this hypothetical cell is Synthia.

Glass says that the team is on the verge of making such a cell within the next few months. In the Aug. 3, 2007 Science, the researchers announced that they had transplanted the entire genome of one species of Mycoplasma into a related species. The recipient cells began using the foreign genome as if it was their own, showing that the receiving cells can "boot up" the newly inserted DNA (SN: 6/30/07, p. 403). All that remains is to finish piecing together a minimal, synthetic genome and then to insert it into a Mycoplasma bacterium by the same technique.

Beyond serving as a hobby-kit cell for unraveling basic cell biology, Synthia might serve as a platform for developing novel biotechnologies.

"Learning how to rebuild something will give us control over a cell that we don't now have," Glass says. Craig Venter, the scientist-cum-biotech tycoon who led the private effort to map the human genome and now heads the Venter Institute, has said he hopes that a minimal genome will serve as a base upon which to add custom functions, such as genes for converting feedstock into hydrogen for fuel.

They should probably read io9's post about the "Dos and Don'ts of Biology Hacking"

Wired Science also looks at microbes reengineered "to do humanity's dirty work"

University of Minnesota researchers have created a beating heart in the laboratory. You can even watch a video of the process. (via Pharyngula).

Twisted Bacteria reports on the work of Chinese scientists to improve microbial strains by giving them a ride in space.

Wired Science has a report on cool new bioscience-related technology presented at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference. Neo-Organs and anti-fat ray sound like something out of Futurama.

American Scientist has an interesting article about the possible origins of larvae that are very different from the adult forms.
Biologist Williamson has proposed that larvae are juvenile forms acquired through hybridization—the fusing of two genomes, one of which is now expressed early in an animal's life, the other late. This hypothesis, which goes against traditional thinking that branches on the evolutionary tree cannot fuse to form chimeric species, is one of several possible solutions to open questions about the evolution of larvae. Although an experiment did not yield convincing DNA evidence, the hypothesis is consistent with certain patterns seen in the distribution of genes across species. Along with other evidence of cross-species hybridization, it implies a pattern of evolution that looks more like a network than like Darwin's tree of life.
There is an interesting Ask MetaFilter discussion about whether you can use DNA analysis to determine the time of conception. I'm pretty sure I've seen that used as a plot device. On Enterprise maybe?

Ron at Beam Me Up writes about recent research on space agriculture. Does our future hold space bug entrées?

Did you know the first structure visible from space was made by wombats? Discover Magazine reviews the book Built by Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture, and links to images of some of the structures.

In legal news, Wired Science reports on the United Nation's report that recommends treating human clones as our equals.

Finally, in the category of "pseudoscience", The Mental Floss blog lists 5 creatures that probably don't exist, yet received government protection anyway.

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