A step closer to man-made life

In one of a series of seven papers published this week, a team of researchers have designed five yeast chromosomes – 30% of the entire genome – completely synthetically. The genome of the yeast species S. cerevisiae – the same used to bake bread – consists of sixteen chromosomes containing the DNA. The project, titled the Synthetic Yeast Project, aims to have a complete genome compiled by the end of 2017.

By designing a complete yeast genome, researchers could use these new cells as tools to mimic human diseases, drugs, and nutrition at a cellular level with unprecedented levels of control. The structure of a yeast cell is remarkably similar to that of a human cell but allowing for easy manipulation and production. As one of the first genomes to be mapped by the Human Genome Project, yeast stands out as one of the most important organisms in genetic research and the perfect start-point for synthesis.

For more information check out the story on Science Daily, Nature, and Science Magazine.

Image Credit: Rainis Venta-Wikimedia Commons

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Genetically modified, sterile mosquitoes


Two studies posted in Nature this week (LePage, Beckman) have shown the power of common bacterial genes in mosquito sterilisation. By splicing bacterial genes into living male mosquitoes they become infertile and allow for control of the mosquito population size. The bacteria Wolbachia is found in approximately 60% of insects including some species of mosquito, however, in the mosquito responsible for Zika and dengue fever, Aedes aegypti, it is absent.

The current understanding of the bacteria involves two genes one that codes for an enzyme that acts as a toxin and one for a protein that acts as an antidote. The toxin acts on sperm preventing the chromosomes from moving apart, crucial for the cell to replicate. The protein prevents this from happening by binding to the enzyme and stopping it from having any effect. This new technique places the gene for the toxin directly into the mosquito, sterilising it.

For more information check out the story on Wired, Science News and the BMJ.


Image Credit: Bordenstein lab-Vanderbilt

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Fly me to the moon

For the first time in 45 years humans will again be heading into deep space. The private company SpaceX – founded by Elon Musk of Paypal and Tesla – has set its sights on providing the first commercial flight around the moon. SpaceX have been at the forefront of space travel and rocket design with the first private craft to have made  a low earth orbit return trip, traded cargo with the international space station, and most recently landing a craft on a boat.

The manned trip is planned for late 2018 and aims to use the newly developed Falcon Heavy. The new craft is a manned version of their Dragon craft and will be making its test flight at the end of this year. Similarly to the original Apollo missions some 45 years ago with Apollo 17, the trip around the moon should take around a week in total to complete.

For more information check out the story on SpaceX, the BBC, the Guardian, and the New Scientist


Image Credit: SpaceX

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Earth 2.0, and 3.0, and 4.0…

Seven earth sized planets have been discovered by space telescope Spitzer in a galaxy 40 light years away. Three of these newly discovered planets sit in what is known as the Goldilocks zone, a distance near enough to a star for liquid water to form. These planets are named after the star they orbit – TRAPPIST-1, the three most habitable therefore: TRAPPIST-1e, TRAPPIST-1f, and TRAPPIST-1g. Further research aims to reveal whether the atmospheres of these planets contain gases recognisable as “life” gases on earth, namely Oxygen and Methane. There have however been no signs of life or organic compounds on these planets yet and those researching them suggest remaining cautious as the star the planets orbit is known to be variable in starlight. As research continues the James Webb Telescope, set to begin operation next year, will be pointed at the system and offer a more sensitive look into space than ever before.


For more information check out the story on TheNewScientist, NatureNews, ScienceNews, and ScienceDaily.


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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