News And Views - Biotek Babble

5 March 2011

Autism Linked To Maternal Grandmother's Age

A new study into autism has found that maternal grandmothers were nearly twice as likely to have an autistic grandchild if they were over 30 when they had the child's mother, and three times as likely if they were over 35. This may point to factors operating at the time when the mother was in the womb, which may influence her developing ovaries and thus the genomes of her future children.

Brain Cells Created Directly From Skin Cells

Researchers have transformed adult mouse skin cells directly into fully functional nerve cells, skipping the stem cell stage! The technique could eventually be used to treat any condition where neurons need to be replaced, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, or spinal cord injuries.

Day-Glow Dogs for Genetic Research

Researchers at Seoul National University in South Korea have used a virus to deliver the gene for the red fluorescent protein (RFP) into the skin cells of four healthy puppies that now glow bright red under UV light. The red fluorescent protein was so strongly expressed that even in daylight, the puppy's skin and nails have a reddish hue. The researchers claim that making a transgenic dog is a useful tool for studying human genetic disease as many genetic diseases are shared between man and dog (224 in total).

Green-Glow Embryos

A research team at Cornell University in New York has created a genetically engineered human embryo using the same green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene that students use in classroom transformations. The scientists used a modified virus, commonly used in gene therapy treatments, to deliver the GFP gene to the embryo. In this study, because all the cells of the embryo were fluorescent, the gametes that would develop from the embryo would also be fluorescent, and in theory would be passed on in the germ line. The embryo was destroyed after five days.

Mosquitoes: Flying Vaccinators of the Future?

Japanese researchers are genetically modifying mosquitoes so that they are carriers of vaccines that could inoculate millions for free. The researchers have already genetically modified a mosquito species so that its saliva contains a protein that acts as a vaccine against leishmaniasis, a sandflyborne disease that triggers terrible skin sores and can be fatal.

British Scientists Discover 'criminal' Gene

Researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London say they have discovered a gene which is strongly linked to criminal and anti-social behaviour. They say children with a variation of a particular gene, when living in deprived social circumstances are nine times more likely to behave badly compared to others living in similar circumstances.

The Creation of Synthetic Life

Researchers at the J Craig Venter Institute (US) have successfully constructed the first selfreplicating, synthetic bacterial cell. This research - an example of a growing area of research called synthetic biology - has the potential for some amazing technologically relevant functions.

Neanderthal Genes Found in Some Modern Humans

According to an international eam of scientists, as humans migrated out of Africa 100,000 to 50,000 years ago, some individuals in the Middle East interbred with Neanderthals and as a result some genetic sequences can be found in all non-African humans.

Woolly Mammoth Blood ‘brought back to life’

Scientists have taken "a blood sample from a real mammoth" - by using ancient fragmented DNA from bones 25,000 to 43,000 years old they reconstructed the blood protein haemoglobin and found special adaptations to the harsh, arctic weather.

The ‘Benefits’ of Older Motherhood

Advances in reproductive technologies have now enabled women in their seventies to become mothers and has created the anomalous situation of a woman simultaneously qualifying for an old age pension and child benefit...

IVF More Efficient Than Sex in the Over-30's

Scientists predict that IVF (in vitro fertilisation) could become the routine method of conception for 30-40 year olds within a decade. The likelihood of natural conception in humans falls to less than 10 per cent once a woman is over 35. However, IVF success rates for healthy over 35's are near to 50 per cent.

Whole Genome Scans

Whole genome analysis can now be used to tailor medicine and lifestyle choices and to gather clinically- useful information about the risk of developing diseases later in life. A significant 74 per cent of Australians surveyed said that they are ready to have their genomes sequenced and analysed and are not afraid of potentially bad news.

'Junk' DNA Makes Us Unique

'Junk DNA' may be anything but junk! Only two per cent of the human genome is made up of protein-coding genes that shape attributes like our hair colour. These 23,000 genes vary by only 0.025 per cent across all humans. Until recently, scientists termed the remaining 98 per cent of our DNA that didn't produce proteins - 'junk DNA'. But, now researchers have shown that this noncoding DNA, which can vary by as much as one to four per cent between individuals, plays a crucial role in determining which genes are active and how much of a particular protein those genes produce. This has led many to theorise that the key to our individuality may not be our genes, but in these 'junk' sequences that surround and control the genes!