Genetics & Molecular Biology


There is never enough of this golden beauty. Credit: bradhigham, CC BY

By Angela White, University of Sheffield

Humans may think we are eating paleo - like ancient ancestors - or organic - like before the advent of modern fertilizers and pesticides in the early 1800s - but nothing could be further from the truth. The microbiome of today shares little in common with people of even 100 years ago and if epigenetic claims about diet are true, our genome is different as well.

And nothing should be changed like pigs, which are commonly now descended from Asian and European mixes. But a team of Spanish researchers have obtained the first partial genome sequence of an ancient pig, sequences from remains found at the site of the Montsoriu Castle in Girona.


That DNA makes RNA which makes protein is a simplified explanation molecular biologists use to explain for how genetic information is deciphered and translated in living organisms.

The process is more complicated than the schema first articulated nearly 60 years ago by Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA's double-helix structure. Now it is known that there are multiple types of RNA, three of which—messenger RNA (mRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), and ribosomal RNA (rRNA)—are essential for proper protein production. Moreover, RNAs that are synthesized during the process known as transcription often undergo subsequent changes, which are referred to as "post-transcriptional modifications."


Vitamin B12 is an essential molecule required by most life on this planet but it is only produced by a relatively small group of microorganisms due to its large size and complexity. For us, vitamin B12 plays a key role in maintaining the brain and nervous systems, as well as DNA synthesis in cells throughout the body. 


A decade ago there was mass hysteria among the fringes of science academia because American President George W. Bush limited federal funding for human embryonic stem cells to existing lines. Accompanying claims were that Alzheimer's Disease wouldn't be cured and Republicans hated science. 

In 2014, it is difficult to remember what all the fuss was about. California wants its $3 billion in hESC funding back, though that money did finally produce one paper, and adult stem cells have done all of the things hESC research was speculated to be able to do. Now, a final hurdle is about to be crossed: researchers have successfully 'reset' human pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to a fully pristine state, the point of their greatest developmental potential. 

Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic pain and inflammation in joints, such as those in the hands and feet, as well as knees and hips. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can destroy the cartilage that lubricates and cushions the joints. In essence, it 'remodels' bones, leading to disfigurement, pain and reduced mobility.

Cartilage was previously thought to be a victim of an overzealous immune system but a new paper finds it has an active role in rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr Tommy Liu, Professor Ian Wicks, Dr Kate Lawler, Dr Ben Croker and colleagues from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute made the discovery while investigating the role of the protein SOCS3 in controlling inflammation during rheumatoid arthritis. 


Researchers have revealed an unusual biochemical connection: ft (Fat) genes interact directly with mitochondria in cells.

Mitochondria are the primary sources of energy production within our cells and there are some 200 pathologies linked to mitochondrial dysfunction. 


A new study has found that the pond-dwelling, single-celled organism Oxytricha trifallax has the remarkable ability to break its own DNA into nearly a quarter-million pieces and will then rapidly reassemble those pieces when it's time to mate.

Why? No one knows, sometimes nature gets drunk and creates things that make no sense. The organism internally stores its genome as thousands of scrambled, encrypted gene pieces. Upon mating with another of its kind, the organism rummages through these jumbled genes and DNA segments to piece together more than 225,000 tiny strands of DNA. This all happens in about 60 hours.


In order to understand the genesis and treatment of cancer scientists are searching for links between genetic alterations and those diseases. 

Historically, most of those studies have focused on the portion of the human genome that encodes protein – about 2 percent of human DNA overall. The vast majority of genomic alterations associated with cancer lie outside protein-coding genes, in what biologists call "junk DNA" and that colloquially became considered junk to the public, even though that is no more accurate than the Higgs boson being an actual God Particle. "Junk DNA" is anything useless rubbish – much of it is transcribed into RNA, for instance - but finding meaning in the sequences remains a challenge. 


If you enjoy a sweet, fleshy peach today, give some thanks to scientifically minded, free-market farmers in China 7,500 years ago.

A new analysis has found that the domestic peaches popular worldwide today can trace their ancestry back to the lower Yangtze River Valley in Southern China at least that long ago.  Radiocarbon dating of ancient peach stones (pits) discovered in the Lower Yangtze River Valley indicates that the peach seems to have been diverged from its wild ancestors as early as 7,500 years ago.