Biology and Biotech

Causes of obesity are not as simple as a lack of exercise or overindulging. It has been known for some time that a predisposition for obesity has been linked to certain genes, however, specific mechanisms have been more difficult to elucidate. 

Some changes in our DNA, called mutations, alter the sequence of the bases in our DNA which can result in changing a trait or a disease. Other changes in our DNA - epigenetic changes (changes to our DNA that do not have to do with the sequence of bases) - can lead to the same result without the DNA sequence being changed. In this process, DNA gets marked with epigenetic 'tags' that can make the DNA alter its conformation. The result is that genes are expressed more or less which has an effect on the amount of proteins that they produce...

Judging from our readers' strong response to a recent article on why pancreatic cancer kills so quickly, we thought we'd turn our attention to another form of fast-acting cancer and what takes place at the cellular level.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, claims between 9,000-10,000 American lives annually. And a primary reason it does is that, like in the pancreas, its cancer cells swiftly coalesce into tumors. Another important reason: like pancreatic cancer, early diagnosis often eludes its victims, of which there are many thousand in the U.S. each year.

However, we might soon see progress in defending against both of these killers.

That's...

Part of the global effort to discover new antibiotics involves inventing new techniques to analyze the ones we already have. The idea is that the more we learn about how antimicrobials work at the molecular level, the easier it will be to find or synthesize novel ones.

One way to learn about how antibiotics work is to visualize their accumulation within bacterial cells. But this is no easy feat. Several imaging techniques already exist, such as monitoring fluorescence or tracking molecules using radioactive labels, but these methods suffer from various drawbacks. So, a team of researchers from Penn State University and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant Novartis set about inventing a new technique.

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The Dutch are famous for windmills, impressive feats of geoengineering, and being tall and blonde. At a towering 183.8 cm (just over 6 feet tall), Dutch men are widely hailed as the tallest in the world. But new data suggests that men from regions within the Balkan country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) are even taller.

The inhabitants of B&H display a large variation in average height. This is due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, religion, and socioeconomics. B&H is a multiethnic country, so the genetic background of its citizens is varied. Religion influences a person's dietary choices (e.g., Muslims avoid pork), while socioeconomic status affects the nutritional value of the food that a person can obtain. Just...

A new Zika vaccine may be just around the corner, with incredibly promising results recently published in Nature Medicine.

A team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and the Instituto Evandro Chagas at the Ministry of Health in Brazil published findings of a new Zika mutant that elicits an immune response that is very similar to an actual infection. 

But, what makes this vaccine so exciting, in and among the other reports of progress on Zika vaccines over the past year, is that this study is the first on a live-attenuated vaccine. That distinction is important because a live, attenuated vaccine typically provides the best protection.

The reason lies...

23andMe, founded in 2006, is a personal genetics company with the mission to "help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome."

Up until 2013, 23andMe was selling home DNA testing kits that gave genetic information to consumers. After submitting a sample of saliva, customers could have access to their genetic results online - related to both ancestry and health information. However, after years of back and forth with the FDA, 23andMe was told to stop selling their kits that allow disease detection. The letter from the FDA stated, 

“because you are marketing the 23andMe Saliva Collection Kit and Personal Genome Service (PGS) without marketing clearance or approval in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and...

One in 10 people have a major depressive disorder (MDD) during their lives, which makes depression the most common mental illness. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. Like many ailments, it is known that depression has both a genetic component and environmental factors.

The genetic component has been difficult to determine. Researchers from Erasmus University Medical Centre in The Netherlands published a new study, in the journal Biological Psychiatry, which may shed some light on this, They identified one gene implicated in MDD called NKPD1. 

How did they find this gene? The researchers took advantage of a genetically ...

Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend the Congressional Luncheon hosted by the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE) in an effort to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. The event included the presentation of the Senator Joseph I. Lieberman award for Outstanding Achievement in Science by the Senator himself along with remarks by prominent bipartisan congressional and senatorial figures like Ted Cruz.

CEE’s flagship program is the Research Science Institute (RSI) through which many notable scholars matriculated, for example: Ben Silbermann (co-founder of Pinterest), Feng Zhang (CRISPR) and Terence...

"Ew, what was that?" is perhaps the most common refrain uttered by people as they drive past roadkill. Most people find these carcasses repulsive, as they glide their cars carefully around the bloody remains. But a team of microbiologists and chemists from the University of Oklahoma hope that roadkill will prove to be a biomedical gold mine.

Because of widespread antibiotic resistance and a dwindling pipeline for new drugs, scientists are in a global hunt for new antibiotics. A potential source is the microbiome of humans. The bacteria that live in and on our bodies are adept at keeping pathogens away. One reason is competition for resources, but another likely reason is that they produce molecules that are poisonous to unfriendly bacteria. Some strains of E. coli...

Reputations are a funny thing. It takes years to build them but mere seconds to destroy them.

Cargill, a company that provides all manner of agricultural products and services, has managed to ruin its reputation with farmers and science writers in a single tweet. On March 17, the company announced its partnership with the thoroughly wretched Non-GMO Project*, an anti-biotech organization that sticks a goofy "non-GMO verified" label on everything from water to kitty litter.

Here's the tweet:

And the flood gates swung open wide. The backlash was swift, brutal, and...