Biology and Biotech

Since you aren't here unless you are a pro-science reader, if I ask you what Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group and Center for Science in the Public Interest have in common, you might answer they hate science and actively undermine it. Yes, that is true. And you might also answer they are primarily lawyers who make their money suing companies after they manufacture doubt about them. Also true, but there is one really interesting thing they all have in common, not only with each other, but with Union of Concerned Scientists, Mother Jones, Maryland Pesticide Action Network, Natural Resources Defense Council and many more.

They are all funded by the Wallace Genetic Foundation. 

You may never...

In case you missed it, Bill and Melinda Gates were pretty visible over the weekend expanding their altruistic pursuits, specifically by contributing their names and ample resources to important, underfunded causes.

Sunday night on 60 Minutes, they spoke about helping low-income, but high-achieving students, known as the Gates Millennium Scholars, reach their dreams in higher education by covering their four-year tuition bill. And two days prior, Microsoft's co-founder met with health experts in Boston and pledged millions to help speed the development of a universal flu vaccine, which he argued is badly needed.

During his presentation at the...

For my monthly installment of the macabre, the fascinating discovery by archaeologists of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas on Peru’s northern coast won’t disappoint. With apparent physical signs of a single incident ritualistic killing, scientists sponsored by the National Geographic Society hope to elucidate the what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why of this mass tragedy.

According to National Geographic, this is what we already know

Huanchaquito-Las Llamas is the official name for the...

It's dangerous being livestock. If you aren't being fattened up to be turned into a Happy Meal, you're wandering the fields, gobbling up plants that appear tasty and innocent but are actually toxic. Some can cause death, while others cause horrifying birth defects, like a mother giving birth to a cyclops. Every year, plant poisonings cost the livestock industry more than $500 million.

A new review article, written by the USDA and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, discusses some of the most common problematic plants.

Veratrum. If a pregnant ewe (sheep) consumes Veratrum californicum (photo A), the lamb may be born as a cyclops. The steroid-like toxin responsible for this and other deformities is named,...

A team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons from Johns Hopkins just successfully performed the world’s first total penis and scrotum transplant in a 14-hour operation. The complex procedure was performed in March on a combat veteran who sustained catastrophic injury to the genital region while serving in Afghanistan. The soldier is set to be discharged home this week.

According to W.P. Andrew Lee, M.D....

PETase in green with a docked PET polymer in yellow bound to the active site

A genetically engineered enzyme could provide a more elegant solution for plastic bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which are nearly 70 percent of the market and can persist for hundreds of years.

While analyzing the crystal structure of PETase, a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET, researchers created a fortuitous accident - they engineered an enzyme that is much better at degrading the plastic than the natural kind, which was discovered in 2016 and is thought to have evolved in a waste recycling plant in Japan. It allows a bacterium to degrade plastic as a food source. It had to have evolved somewhere recently because PET was only patented as a plastic in the 1940s.

The goal was to determine its structure, but they ended up going a step further...

The cause of autoimmune diseases remains a black box. Sure, there is a genetic component, and certain environmental conditions that likely kick start them. But, as far as the complete cause of diseases such as lupus, celiac disease, Hashimoto's thyroiditis and the rest of the group - there are still a lot of unanswered questions. 

This is one of the reasons why a new paper published in Science entitled “Translocation of a Gut Pathobiont Drives Autoimmunity in Mice and Humans” is so exciting. Although there have been many links made between the microbiome (bacteria that reside in our bodies) and immune diseases, the role of these bacteria in autoimmunity is poorly understood.

The research group from Yale show that a gut bacteria can translocate and promote...

Yes, you read that title correctly. Scientists might have just made the case for less unwieldy and enlarged genitalia being superior to cumbersome and grand versions as a means to enhance a species survival. It seems those on the giant genital side of the spectrum, while preoccupied evolving to land a potential mate, might divert their attention away from very real environmental threats for which they have become ill-equipped to handle.

Put simply, exaggerated male sex organs may intensify an organism’s focus so much that they pay a hefty cost when it comes to their own survival. In some cases, facilitating their own extinction.

So says new research published in ...

If the thought of conceiving in space or the potential of one day giving birth there seem unimaginable and far-fetched notions, then think again. NASA is already studying the possibility. With the Micro-11 mission, they recently launched human and bull sperm specimens to the international space station where astronauts will assist in experiments on the impact of microgravity on sperm’s motility and function (see here).

As the bull samples are necessary for quality control measures,...

How time flies, just a short 200 years since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, electrifying the world with a new version of the tale of Prometheus and the quest for fire. In honor of Luigi Galvani, Galvinism and of course the monster himself I wanted to share an article about a direct descendant, bioelectricity.

Bioelectricity refers to the electrical potentials and the current produced by living creatures. While the electric eel may come to mind, our bodies use bioelectricity most notably in nerve conduction sending signals throughout the body. Because the cell wall is permeable to some chemicals and not others, electric charges can build up and subsequently use for a variety of actions. A recent article in Quanta discussed bioelectricity’s role, not in the day-to-day nerve...