Genetics & Molecular Biology

By identifying the molecular structure of a vital biological chemical, researchers may have solved a long-standing debate. 

The controversy is about a form of enzyme called a heme (or haem, as in haemoglobin) at the center of which is an iron atom (Fe) called a 'ferryl' which becomes oxidized when a reacting heme is in an intermediate state called Compound I.

The question is whether this oxidation involves just an oxygen atom (O), or a hydroxyl group (OH). The difference being one hydrogen ion, or in other words, a proton.


In recent years, biology has been thrown around like a football. Activists in numerous areas invoke it - those against food science say scientists are tinkerers with no expertise while those against pesticides claim that the biology clearly shows what your grandparents ate made you obese.


The ability to switch out one gene for another in living stem cells puts us on the path to a  science fiction future - fixing disease-causing genes in humans.

But there are concerns about mutations. However, a new study has found that using gene-editing techniques on stem cells doesn't increase the overall occurrence of mutations in the cells.


New research has discovered that NANOG, an essential gene for embryonic stem cells, also regulates cell division in stratified epithelia, which form part of the epidermis of the skin or cover the oesophagus or the vagina in developed organisms. This factor could also play a role in the formation of tumors derived from stratified epithelia of the oesophagus and skin.

Pluripotency factor NANOG is active during just two days before implantation of the embryo in the uterus, from day 5 to day 7 post-fertilization. At this critical period of development, NANOG contributes to giving embryonic stem cells the extraordinary capacity to make up all of the tissues that become the adult organism, an ability known as pluripotency. 


A breakthrough discovery into how living cells process and respond to chemical information could help advance the development of treatments for a large number of cancers and resistant to therapy.

Researchers have unlocked the secret behind the activation of the Ras family of proteins, one of the most important components of cellular signaling networks in biology and major drivers of cancers that are among the most difficult to treat.


Sequences of DNA called enhancers, which control a gene's output, find their targets long before they are activated during embryonic development, according to scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, who write in Nature that the degree of complexity of enhancers' interactions in the 'simple' fruit fly Drosophila is comparable to what is seen in vertebrates.


Researchers from 13 institutions would worldwide believe they have made a breakthrough in understanding what causes autism -  a clear cut case of an autism specific gene. 

An analysis of 6,176 children with autism spectrum disorder, researchers found 15 had a CHD8 mutation and all these cases had similar characteristics in appearance and issues with sleep disturbance and gastrointestinal problems. How is 15 out of 6,176 a clear cut case? To find out, they went to zebra fish.

They disrupted the CHD8 gene in the fish and the fish developed large heads and wide set eyes. They then fed the fish fluorescent pellets and found that the fish had problems discarding food waste and were constipated.


The body contains two types of fat cells, white and brown.

White fat serves to store excess calories until they're needed by the body while brown adipocytes actually burn fat by turning it into heat. Ever since it was discovered that adult humans harbor appreciable amounts of brown fat, investigators have been working to better understand its thermogenic fat-burning properties with the ultimate goal of developing novel therapies to combat obesity and diabetes. 

Now, researchers have demonstrated that the transcription factor IRF4 (interferon regulatory factor 4) plays a key role in brown fat's thermogenic process, regulating energy expenditure and cold tolerance.  


Many ancient plants weren't pretty, they didn't taste good, and they weren't big - but they could defend themselves.

As food science progressed, numerous plants were genetically optimized for better flavor and yield, but some lost their ability to produce certain defense chemicals, making them vulnerable to attack by insects and pathogens. Swiss scientists are exploring ways to help protect 21st century maize by re-arming it with its ancestral chemical weapons.  


Researchers have announced the discovery of a gene, zic-1, that enables stem cells to regrow a head after decapitation in flatworm planarians.