Genetics & Molecular Biology

Boosting the photosynthetic efficiency of plants offers the best hope of increasing crop yields and feed a planet expected to have 9.5 billion people on it by 2050, according to a new report. 

Photosynthetic microbes offer other clues to improving photosynthesis in plants. For example, some bacteria and algae contain pigments that utilize more of the solar spectrum than plant pigments do. If added to plants, those pigments could bolster the plants' access to solar energy. Some scientists are trying to engineer C4 photosynthesis in C3 plants, but this means altering plant anatomy, changing the expression of many genes and inserting new genes from C4 plants.


Nobody likes getting the flu, and it isn't fun, but for most people drinking fluids and getting some rest and waiting it out are all it takes.

But a small number of children who catch the influenza virus fall so ill they end up in the hospital, even needing ventilators to breathe, though family and friends recover easily. New research says that is due to a rare genetic mutation.


Intermittent fasting (also called alternate day fasting) has become a popular diet.

In most versions of intermittent fasting, people fast or eat very little a few days each week and then eat normal amounts during the remaining days.

Fasting is something that human beings have practiced throughout history, often out of circumstance rather than choice. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were probably expert fasters, indulging in feasts in times of plenty, and then facing long periods of scarcity in between. With this in mind, it makes sense that our bodies' cells could perform well under the harsh conditions of feast and famine.

More than 60 percent of the world's population is infected with a type of herpes virus called human cytomegalovirus, which replicates by commandeering the host cell's metabolism, but the details of this maneuver have been unclear.

Researchers have discovered that cytomegalovirus manipulates a process called fatty acid elongation, which makes the very-long-chain fatty acids necessary for virus replication. They identified a specific human enzyme - elongase enzyme 7 - that the virus induces to turn on fatty acid elongation.

"Elongase 7 was just screaming, 'I'm important, study me,'" said John Purdy, a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton and lead author of the study. 


Animal development has an intriguing puzzle - scaling, the proportionality of different body parts. Whether you have an elephant or a mouse, organ and tissue sizes are generally proportional to the overall size of the body.

Clearly evolution determined 'just right' but how? Some new clues from fruit flies show the size and patterning accuracy of an embryo depend on the amount of reproductive resources mothers invest in the process before an egg leaves the ovary.

Both vegetarians and elite environmental activists have long considered meat as a vital food to cut if we are to reduce global emissions. For poor people, elites in developed nations believe beans would be a good substitute. While their 'it takes a gallon of gas to make a pound of beef' metric has long been debunked, they are not wrong for believing that livestock leads to emissions that would not be evident if we did not want the world's poorest to be equal to the rich when it comes to nutrition.

Scientists have grown the first 3-D mini lungs from stem cells, which means research is one step closer to being able to create one of the Big 5 organs from a patient's stem cells rather than having waiting lists for donors.

The University of Michigan scientists succeeded in growing structures resembling both the large proximal airways and the small distal airways.

Their recipe: 

Embryonic stem cells

Proteins involved in lung development

Growth factors

Inhibitors of intestine development

Growing media

Petri dish

Protein mixture

Method for "morphogenesis in a dish"


In a complex system like the human body, it's no surprise things can sometimes go wrong in development but evolution has made the system rather forgiving. When children inherit chromosomes from their parents, some minor genetic changes frequently occur without consequence but chromothripsis - chromosomal shattering - has been linked to severly affected children of healthy mothers in a small study.
Living beings can keep gene expression in check, which might partly explain the uncontrolled gene expression found in many cancers, according to a new paper/

"Using yeast as a model organism, we studied the Tup1 protein, a negative regulator of gene expression," says Biology Professor Emanuel Rosonina. "This protein binds to some genes and blocks their expression, helping to ensure genes that shouldn't be turned on remain inactive." 
A team of scientists have successfully transferred a receptor that recognizes bacteria from the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, a dicot, to wheat, a monocot.

The receptor can trigger a defensive response and confers increased resistance to bacterial disease. The research findings demonstrate that the signaling pathways or circuitry downstream of the receptor are conserved between evolutionary distant monocots and dicots.