yeast

Environmental contamination with heavy metals is often the result of various types of industrial processes. Because heavy metals can be dangerous to humans and other wildlife, contaminated sites need to be cleaned up. This isn't easy. Chemical extraction methods can introduce different types of pollutants into the environment.

Bioremediation -- using biological organisms to clean polluted areas -- is a hot area of research. Some plants can naturally sop up heavy metals without any ill effects, but plants don't always grow large enough to soak up all the pollution. Besides, plants can't be used to clean up contaminated water.

So, scientists have increasingly chosen to use the techniques of biotechnology to create genetically engineered microbes capable of gobbling up...

"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...

The proliferation of coffee shops and energy drinks bears testimony to the fact that caffeine is in high demand. The stimulant is even added to some medicine, like Excedrin Migraine. However, because only a handful of plants produce it, there has been some interest in creating caffeine synthetically. One approach would be to genetically engineer microbes capable of producing the molecule.

The trouble with this method is that caffeine is toxic to many microorganisms. (Caffeine is also a natural insecticide.) So, if microbes are to be used as tiny caffeine factories, they will first need to be made resistant to its noxious effects. A team of molecular biologists based mostly in China has accomplished just that using baker's yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

The...

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The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 brought with it the hope of being able to see into the future, imagining answers to questions such as “Will I get cancer?” and “When will I die?” becoming part of routine medical care.

Because genome sequencing technology has evolved incredibly rapidly, a person can have their whole genome sequenced for $999 by companies such as Veritas Genetics. That’s because sequencing a genome is easy. What is not easy is deciphering what the sequence data mean. It is a much more complicated process to figure out the...