Genetics & Molecular Biology
Scientists at the University of Leicester, where genetic 'fingerprinting' was invented by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, say they are developing techniques which may one day allow police to work out someone’s surname from DNA alone.
Research by Turi King has shown that, unsurprisingly, men with the same British surname are highly likely to be genetically linked even in today's multicultural world. The results of her research have implications in the fields of forensics, genealogy, epidemiology and the history of surnames.
On Wednesday 8th October Dr King will present the key findings of her Ph.D. research in which she recruited over two and a half thousand men bearing over 500 different surnames to take part in the study. Carried out in Professor Mark Jobling’s lab, Dr Turi King’s research involved exploring this potential link between surname and Y chromosome type.
Howard Berg is a physicist turned systems biologist, and he's been a systems biologist long before it was trendy to be one. He's one of the smartest systems biologists around, and a nice guy too (one who was nice enough to sit down for lunch next to an alone, confused, awkward grad student who I'm sure came off as a tremendously boring person...)
Berg has devoted his career to understanding information processing in E. coli, and this week in PNAS he describes a physical model of how E. coli senses food in its environment.
I am obsessed with CSI (excluding CSI Miami, David Caruso is just too smarmy). I simply can’t help it. I will watch an episode of CSI that I have already seen twice, just for the thrill of seeing the cases unfold. I even downloaded the entire first season of CSI and watched every single episode, back to back, without sleeping. I know that I am not alone. Shows like CSI have swept the nation due partly to its drama, but also to its science. The fact that a single hair, nail or swath of skin could yield a lead on a case is captivating. It is also true.
Granted shows like CSI sensationalize the lab work and results yielded by forensic science, but its basis is accurate. DNA profiling is one of the most valuable tools used by law enforcement and in fact does help to solve cases.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tuebingen, Germany, have reported the completion of the first genomes of wild strains of the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana as part of the 1001 Genomes Project.
The entire genomes of two individuals of this species, one from Ireland, the other from Japan, have now been compared in great detail. They were found to be astonishingly different from each other, as Detlef Weigel and his colleagues write in Genome Research.
This study marks the starting point of the 1001 Genomes Project, in which a total of thousand and one individuals of the same species will be sequenced. The scientists aim at correlating the genetic differences between the different strains with variation in the speed of plant growth and their resistance against infectious germs. These strategies could then also be applied to crop plants or trees.
The recent announcement
that Sergey Brin, the multibillionair co-founder of Google
, has discovered that he possesses a genetic mutation that predisposes him to a form of Parkinson's disease has resulted in multiple stories in the news on the "genetic basis" of Parkinson's and the candidate gene LRRK2
A study in northern China indicates that genetically modified cotton, altered to express the insecticide Bt, not only reduces pest populations among those crops, but also reduces pests among other nearby crops that have not been modified with Bt. These findings could offer promising new ideas for controlling pests and maximizing crop yields in the future.
Bt is an insecticide derived from the spores and toxic crystals of the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis, and has been sold commercially since 1960. It is considered non-toxic to humans, animals, fish, plants, micro-organisms, and most insects. However, it is highly selective and lethal to caterpillars of moths and butterflies. Bt is currently registered and marketed for use as an insecticide in more than 50 countries worldwide. It does not contaminate groundwater because it degrades so rapidly.
Dr. Kong-Ming Wu from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing and colleagues analyzed data from 1997 to 2007 about the agriculture of Bt cotton in six provinces in northern China, covering 38 million hectares of farmland cultivated by 10 million resource-poor farmers. They compared that information with data on pest populations in the region, focusing on the cotton bollworm, a serious pest for Chinese farmers.
I usually like Nicolas Wade, but this very first sentence of a piece in this week's NY Times science section
is not right:
The principal rationale for the $3 billion spent to decode the human genome was that it would enable the discovery of the variant genes that predispose people to common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Yeast, the essential microorganism for fermentation in the brewing of beer, converts carbohydrates into alcohol and other products that influence appearance, aroma, and taste. In a study published online today in Genome Research, researchers have identified the genomic origins of the lager yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus, which could help brewers to better control the brewing process.
For thousands of years, ale-type beers have been brewed with Saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer's or baker's yeast). In contrast, lager beer, which utilizes fermentations carried out at much lower temperature than for ale, is a more recently developed alcoholic beverage, appearing in Bavaria near the end of the Middle Ages.
The genetic code is the metabolic instructions by which the genetic information in the DNA is translated into a protein. The fact that almost all organisms use the same code is prime evidence that all life is related in its evolutionary past. The code is considered to be "conserved" and "universal". Of course, the concept of universality may be challenged by exobiology's explorations of Mars
, Europa, and Titan, but the conservative nature of the genetic code, with the exception of a few Archaebacteria
, has always been a cornerstone of biological science.
Michael Creighton's latest thriller, Next, presents all sorts of what-if scenarios for the genetic community. While most of us will not have to deal with foul-mouthed orangutans or smart-ass parrots, a recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there may be a genetic factor contributing to fear of commitment in males. As reported today by the BBC ("Commitment phobes can blame genes", Sept 2, 2008), this gene is called AVPR1A.