Genetics & Molecular Biology

How did life begin?   A pair of Scripps Research Institute scientists say they have taken a significant step toward answering that question because they have synthesized RNA enzymes that can replicate themselves without the help of any proteins or other cellular components - and the process proceeds indefinitely. 
Unfortunately for all of us still breathing braniacs, the title only applies to those of us who are also medieval Ashkenazi Jews, according to the authors of the 2006 paper "Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence".

If you put 'genomics' on the end of a word, you can gain instant credibility, so it makes sense that someone would come up with 'nutrigenomics' and say they can make a diet that corresponds to your genetic profile.

It's tough to know what they mean by 'genetic profile' though obviously some people have a different metabolism than other so they can eat more.   A customized diet consisting of 'eat fewer calories' wouldn't seem to require genomics.   But 'nutrigenomics', they say, is something better because it aims to identify the genetic factors that influence the body's response to diet and studies how the bioactive constituents of food affect gene expression.

Since 1899, when acetylsalicylic acid was named "aspirin" in Germany, the emphasis has been placed on its properties. There is a new wind on the subject -- a medical cyclone seems to be brewing in the United Kingdom. John R. Patterson and colleagues report their new findings in the Dec. 24 issue of ACS' biweekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have, for the first time in history, derived authentic embryonic stem (ES) cells from rats. This breakthrough finding will enable scientists to create far more effective animal models for the study of a range of human diseases. 

The finding brings scientists much closer to creating "knockout" rats—animals that are genetically modified to lack one or more genes—for biomedical research. By observing what happens to animals when specific genes are removed, researchers can identify the function of the gene and whether it is linked to a specific disease.
Researchers have what they think may be a basic recipe for capturing and maintaining indefinitely the most fundamental of embryonic stem cells from essentially any mammal, including cows, pigs and even humans. Two new studies reported in Cell, show that a cocktail first demonstrated to work in mice earlier this year, which includes inhibitory chemicals, also can be used to successfully isolate embryonic stem cells from rats.

Authentic rat embryonic stem cells had never before been established.
A groundbreaking study of popularity by a Michigan State University scientist has found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors.  According to the investigation by behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt, male college students who had a gene associated with rule-breaking behavior were rated most popular by a group of previously unacquainted peers.

It's not unusual for adolescent rule-breakers to be well-liked – previous research has made that link – but Burt is the first to provide meaningful evidence for the role of a specific gene in this process. The study appears in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
At a very early stage of human development, all cells of the embryo are identical, but unlike adult cells are very flexible and carry within them the potential to become any tissue type, whether it be muscle, skin, liver or brain. 

This cell differentiation process begins at about the time that the embryo settles into the uterus. In terms of the inner workings of the cell, this involves two main control mechanisms. On the one hand, the genes that keep the embryo in their fully potent state are turned off, and at the same time, tissue-specific genes are turned on. By activating a certain set of genes, the embryo can make muscle cells. By turning on a different set, these same immature cells can become liver. Other gene sets are responsible for additional tissues.
Metaphors are dangerous things. On the one hand, it seems pretty much impossible to avoid using them, especially in rather abstract fields like philosophy and science. On the other hand, they are well known to trick one’s mind into taking the metaphor too literally, thereby creating problems that are not actually reflective of the reality of the natural world, but are only perverse constructs of our own warped understanding of it.
Asymmetry is crucial for the heart proper functioning, and now, scientists from the Institute Gulbenkian of Science in Portugal and Harvard University, have discovered that a family of genes, called Nodal, is crucial determining this asymmetry by controlling the speed and direction of the heart muscle cells during embryonic development.

The finding, by helping to understand how the heart develops, is a step closer to intervention and is of particular importance if we consider that problems in heart asymmetry are the main cause of heart congenital diseases that can affect as much as 8 out of 1000 newborns. The research appears in a special December issue of the journal Development Dynamics 1 dedicated to left-right asymmetry development.