Biology and Biotech

Classifying species is a notoriously sticky problem in biology. As a very broad rule, organisms can be classified as belonging to a distinct species if they can successfully mate with each other to produce offspring that can also successfully mate.

But this rule completely falls apart for microbes. Bacteria reproduce asexually; they simply divide into two "daughter" cells. They also promiscuously swap DNA with other bacterial species, such as antibiotic resistance genes. So, bacteria are classified mostly based upon similarity in DNA sequences.

All of this fuss over bacterial taxonomy may seem to be merely an academic exercise, but understanding differences between the "core genome" and "accessory genes" is important for both medical microbiology as well as synthetic...

It is rare that a scientist discovers a completely novel technique or method. When it happens, and that technique is useful, it is revolutionary. In recent history, techniques such as PCR, large scale DNA sequencing and CRISPR-Cas9 fall into this category. As I wrote about recently, CRISPR-Cas9 is quickly becoming a household word (and will soon be a Hollywood star.)

More commonly than designing techniques from scratch, scientists employ previously developed techniques...

Why America's supposed newspaper of record has become a voice for anti-biotechnology food activists remains a profound mystery. The only plausible explanation is that this is calculated; the New York Times must be tailoring its reportage to its customers, who consist mostly of well-to-do, organic-food-eating elites. Evidence plays little to no role in the paper's coverage of controversial scientific issues.

Michael Pollan serves as a case-in-point. In one of his most recent articles, he bashes modern agriculture and casually libels pro-biotech organizations (like ACSH) with whom he disagrees. Few journalists and even fewer...

By Sean Nee, Pennsylvania State University

We humans like to think of ourselves as on the top of the heap compared to all the other living things on our planet. Life has evolved over three billion years from simple one-celled creatures through to multicellular plants and animals coming in all shapes and sizes and abilities. In addition to growing ecological complexity, over the history of life we’ve also seen the evolution of intelligence, complex societies and technological invention, until we arrive today at people flying around the world at 35,000 feet discussing the in-flight movie.

It’s natural to think...

By Marcus Woo

(Inside Science) -- If you're a fisherman, you might be inclined to keep your favorite fishing spot a secret and keep more fish for yourself. But sometimes it helps to tell others. They may return the favor and tell you about other great places.

It's a dilemma that also faces hunters, wild predators like lions, or anyone else searching for a limited resource. When should you share information, and when should you go at it alone? A new study might have some answers.

Researchers developed a mathematical model that can lead to predictive tools for managing fisheries, wildlife conservation and logging. It may even apply to social or financial scenarios like dating or identifying the best stocks to invest in.

These situations are usually complex....

Communication is fundamental to all living organisms. We need to share information for the survival of our species and many species have different means to get their message across. The honeybee (Apis mellifera) has, perhaps, the coolest form of communication.

When you watch a video of honeybees in their hives, they seem to be in constant motion. However, if you look closely, you will see that sometimes one of them is doing a dance that is repetitive and deliberate. This was first observed by the ethologist (human behavior scientist) Dr. Karl von Frisch. His observations were published in 1927, to much criticism, in his book Aus dem Leben der Bienen (The Dancing Bees.) 

Those observations were later proven correct and the "waggle dance" is now the only...

More rational than you?

Though we consider ourselves quite clever (Homo sapiens means "wise man"), humans are notoriously poor at risk perception.

As this cartoon cleverly illustrates, people get worked up over tiny threats, like Ebola, while ignoring much greater dangers like obesity and tobacco. People play the Mega Millions lottery even though they have a better chance of being struck by lightning, eaten by a shark, or murdered

Other animals aren't any smarter. In a recent experiment, reported by Science's...

While out for sushi recently, I realized that I could not really tell which fish was which - not by sight and hardly even by taste. 

It made me stop for a moment because my coworker recently told me that one tuna can sell for over a million dolllars. Obviously, I was skeptical. To my surprise, he was right. In 2013, at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, Japan, the first tuna (traditionally the most expensive) sold for $1.76 million to a restaurateur. There are many reasons for this incredible price, including the shortening supply of tuna and the bidding wars that occur due to the esteem assigned the winner of the first fish. 

The fish sold at the Tsukiji market is flown all over the world - for a price. We, as consumers, feel that price in our wallets. In fact, in NYC,...

John Podesta, campaign manager and a close advisor to Hillary Clinton, believes the government has not divulged everything it knows about UFOs and Area 51. Given his predilection for conspiratorial beliefs, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that he has a fear of biotechnology.

WikiLeaks has made public thousands of Mrs. Clinton's emails. Normally, a politician's campaign machinations would not be of interest to ACSH. However, Stephan Neidenbach, purveyor of the website We Love GMOs and Vaccines, combed through the emails and discovered that certain influential members of the Clinton campaign hold pseudoscientific beliefs about GMOs. The campaign also...

Ever wonder how the green forest gets its vibrant red and yellow colors when the seasons change? Science has some answers.


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