Genetic engineering

Just like fingerprints, we all have a unique set of behavioral quirks.

For example, I tend to drink triple shot, iced vanilla lattes. Before beginning my work, I clean off the table using water and a napkin. (Seriously, why are coffee shop tables always so disgusting?) And, oftentimes, I tip my glasses in a peculiar way as I write my articles.

None of these quirks is particularly unique. But taken together, I'm probably the only triple shot, iced vanilla latte-drinking, table-cleaning, glasses-tipping person in Seattle. If I ever committed a crime and the police were out to get me, this combination of quirks may be just enough to identify me.

The same is true of DNA. A lab that is studying, say the genetics of the bacterium E. coli, may engineer a strain...

One of the troubles with agriculture is the need for farmers to apply fertilizer. The plants don't soak up all of it, which inevitably results in fertilizer running off into lakes and rivers.

That's problematic not just because it is wasteful of the farmer's precious financial resources, but because it is also wasteful of the planet's finite supply of phosphorus. Worse, when phosphorus and other nutrients make their way into bodies of water, they can trigger nasty algal blooms, which kicks off a chain reaction known as eutrophication. As the algae die off, they are decomposed by bacteria that use up...

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...

For years now, we've been writing about and assessing the importance to Americans' nutrition from organic foods (not very) and genetically modified (GMO) or genetically engineered foods (potentially highly). Based on comments from our own website and journalists' reports in the popular media, it's been hard to tell what people (except for activists pro and con) really think. Nearly two years ago we noted how different the assessments of scientists and non-scientist consumers were with respect to GMO foods, for example. Thus it's instructive to examine a recent report from the Pew Research Center about attitudes...

At this time of year, we look forward to feasting to celebrate the holidays. But, as Earth's population grows, feasts may become more scarce.Currently there are more than 7 billion people on the planet; according to some authorities, the increase in population between 1900 and 2000 was greater than that in all of human history. Although these same folks note that the rate of population growth has been slowing, we can still expect that by the year 2100, there will be over 11 billion people hanging around this planet. So, how are we going to feed them all? No, organic agriculture isn't going to do it. Genetic engineering will be needed to help increase food production. And scientists are working constantly to find new and...

Mitochodria via shutterstock Mitochodria via shutterstock

If it seems that the Americans are always a step behind our British counterparts with respect to stem cell research, it s because they are.

Last year, the United Kingdom s House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favor of fertility treatments using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replacement therapy (MRT), to enable women with heritable...

shutterstock_186042563 Teosinte (Corn Ancestor) Courtesy of Shutterstock

It's been said (many times) before, but bears repeating that pretty much all our foods have been genetically modified and not just by the modern technology of genetic engineering. Farmers and agricultural researchers have been selecting and cross-breeding plants for millenia to get rid of unwanted traits and emphasize ones they want. And...

shutterstock_269884550With its decision to approve genetically modified (GM) salmon not even a month old, the FDA is advancing science once again. This time officials have approved a GM chicken, but this approval is much different than the last.

AquaBounty's GM salmon, which contains genes from other salmons so it grows big fast, is intended for human...

blood-glucose-meter-1318261-640x480The holy grail of diabetes research has long been finding a way to administer insulin by mouth. And that goal may have been reached by scientists at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas' beta-cells, was first identified in 1921. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes essentially make no insulin of their own and if it isn't replaced, they...

Organic farmers must obey certain guidelines to be in compliance with organic rules for example they can't grow genetically engineered (GM) crops, use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. They have on some occasions complained that neighboring farmers put their organic crops at risk if wind-blown pollen from non-organic crops (especially genetically engineered ones) drift into their fields and "contaminate" their crops.

Well, last year in Australia, an organic farmer actually sued a...