Genetics & Molecular Biology

As with any new technology, the development and commercialization of biotech crops is a story about people.  Its a story about people with ideas and vision; people who did hard and creative work; people who took career or business risks, and people who integrated this new technology into the complex business of farming.  By various artifacts of my educational and career path, I've been in a position to know many of these people as friends and colleagues over the last 36 years.  Their story is important, but it tends to get lost in much of the conversation about biotech crops.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is the name given to women who are in a bad mood when they are about to get their periods.  Most women are unaffected by the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle, but approximately 20% of women say they experience premenstrual syndrome and 5% say they have a severe disorder characterized by functionally impairing or distressing mood and physical symptoms in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (second half of cycle) - which scholars call premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe form of PMS.  


10 percent of the US is left handed and that is a similar ratio to many populations around the world so it would seem to be biological.

But a new paper in the journal Heredity has ruled out a 'strong genetic determinant' in influencing handedness. 

Professor John Armour, Dr. Angus Davison (both The University of Nottingham) and Professor Chris McManus (University College London) conducted a twin study examining the whole genome of nearly 4,000 subjects from the London Twin Research Unit to compare left and right handed participants. 


Researchers have created the first comprehensive roadmap of the protein interactions that enable cells in the pancreas to produce, store and secrete the hormone insulin. The finding makes possible a deeper scientific understanding of the insulin secretion process—and how it fails in insulin disorders such as type 2 diabetes.


I am 99.9% sure that there will never be commercial production of genetically engineered wine grapes ("GMO" to use the common misnomer). Even so, I'd like to indulge in imagining what could be if we lived in some parallel universe where rational scientific thinking prevailed.

The "green seed problem" is a long-standing issue that causes millions of dollars annually in canola crop losses for Canada.

Canola is the major cash crop in Alberta, which produces about 35 per cent of Canada's canola that generates in the province about $5 billion in revenue annually. Across the country, the oilseed crop, whose seeds are pressed into canola oil, contributes about $15 billion a year to the Canadian economy.

However, every year around the time when canola matures, an unpredictable touch of a light frost can damage crop quality and cause severe losses. The discovery of a plant gene regulatory network means plants could be genetically enhanced to prevent green seeds from occurring in mature canola.


Telomerase is an enzyme that is the hallmark of both aging and the uncontrolled cell division associated with cancer and in an effort to understand and control telomerase activity, researchers at The Wistar Institute have discovered a protein "motif," named TFLY, which is crucial to the function of telomerase.

Altering this motif disrupts telomerase function, they found, a fact that they believe will help them in their efforts to identify inhibitors of telomerase with potential cancer therapeutic properties. 


It often takes several weeks to feel the effect of newly prescribed antidepressants - a lingering mystery and a frustration to both patients and physicians.

CREB, and CREM to some degree, has been implicated in the pathophysiology of depression, as well as in the efficacy of antidepressants. However, whenever CREB is deleted, CREM is upregulated, further complicating the story.


The evolution of similar traits in different species, a process known as convergent evolution, is widespread not only at the physical level, but also at the genetic level, and scientists who investigated the genomic basis for echolocation, one of the most well-known examples of convergent evolution, sought to examine the frequency of the process at a genomic level. 

Echolocation is a complex physical trait that involves the production, reception and auditory processing of ultrasonic pulses for detecting unseen obstacles or tracking down prey, and has evolved separately in different groups of bats and cetaceans (including dolphins).