Science, Technology, and Current Futurism
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A Completely new Look at DNA Replication

A Completely new Look at DNA Replication | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Scientists have gotten a close look at a process that is fundamental to life on earth - DNA replication - and were suprised by what they saw.
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Human embryos make viral proteins within days of fertilization, a new study shows

Human embryos make viral proteins within days of fertilization, a new study shows | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it

A fertilized human egg may seem like the ultimate blank slate. But within days of fertilization, the growing mass of cells activates not only human genes but also viral DNA lingering in the human genome from ancient infections. Now researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that the early human cells produce viral proteins, and even become crowded with what appear to be assembled viral particles. These viral proteins could manipulate some of the earliest steps in human development, affecting gene expression and even possibly protecting the cells from further viral infection.

 

The finding raises questions as to who, or what, is really pulling the strings during human embryogenesis. “It’s both fascinating and a little creepy,” said Joanna Wysocka, PhD, associate professor of developmental biology and of chemical and systems biology. “We’ve discovered that a specific class of viruses that invaded the human genome during recent evolution becomes reactivated in the early development of the human embryo, leading to the presence of viral-like particles and proteins in the human cells.” A paper describing the findings was published online April 20 in Nature.

 

Retroviruses are a class of virus that insert their DNA into the genome of the host cell for later reactivation. In this stealth mode, the virus bides its time, taking advantage of cellular DNA replication to spread to each of an infected cell’s progeny every time the cell divides. HIV is one well-known example of a retrovirus that infects humans.

 

When a retrovirus infects a germ cell, which makes sperm and eggs, or infects a very early-stage embryo before the germ cells have arisen, the viral DNA is passed along to future generations. Over evolutionary time, however, these viral genomes often become mutated and inactivated. About 8 percent of the human genome is made up of viral sequences left behind during past infections.

 

One retrovirus, HERVK, however, infected humans repeatedly until relatively recently — within about 200,000 years. Much of HERVK’s genome is still snuggled, intact, in each of our cells.

 

Most of these sequences are inactive in mature cells, but recent research has shown that they can spring to life in tumor cells or in human embryonic stem cells. A study published in February in Cell Stem Cell by researchers from Singapore’s Genome Institute showed that sequences from a primate virus called HERVH are also activated in early human development.

 

Now the Stanford researchers have shown for the first time that viral proteins are abundantly present in the developing human embryo and assemble into what appear to be viral particles in electron microscopy images. By following up with additional studies in human embryonic cells grown in vitro, scientists showed that these viral proteins affect gene expression in the developing embryo and may protect the cells from infection by other viruses.

 

But it’s not clear whether this sequence of events is the result of thousands of years of co-existence, a kind of evolutionary symbiosis, or if it represents an ongoing battle between humans and viruses. “Does the virus selfishly benefit by switching itself on in these early embryonic cells?” said Grow. “Or is the embryo instead commandeering the viral proteins to protect itself? Can they both benefit? That’s possible, but we don’t really know.”


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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How Languages and Genes Evolve Together

How Languages and Genes Evolve Together | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters As human populations disperse, the separation leads to changes both in genes and in language. So if we look at human DNA and languages over time, we should find that they differ along similar geographic lines.
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Scientists develop thought-controlled gene switch - BBC News

Scientists develop thought-controlled gene switch - BBC News | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
A study shows that human brainwaves can wirelessly activate light-sensitive genes implanted in mice.
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New blood test accurately detects presence of breast cancer and monitors response to treatment

New blood test accurately detects presence of breast cancer and monitors response to treatment | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center investigators report they have designed a blood test that accurately detects the presence of advanced breast cancer and also holds promise for precisely monitoring response to cancer treatment.

 

The test, called the cMethDNA assay, accurately detected the presence of cancer DNA in the blood of patients with metastatic breast cancers up to 95 percent of the time in laboratory studies. The findings were described in the April 15 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

Currently, there is no useful laboratory test to monitor patients with early stage breast cancer who are doing well, but could have an asymptomatic recurrence, says Saraswati Sukumar, Ph.D., who is the Barbara B. Rubenstein Professor of Oncology and co-director of the Breast Cancer Program at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

 

Generally, radiologic scans and standard blood tests are indicated only if a woman complains of symptoms, such as bone aches, shortness of breath, pain, or worrisome clinical exam findings. Otherwise, routine blood tests or scans in asymptomatic patients often produce false positives, leading to additional unnecessary tests and biopsies, and have not been shown to improve survival outcomes in patients with early stage breast cancer who develop a recurrence.

 

Sukumar, also a professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins, says that the current approach to monitoring for recurrence is not ideal, and that "the goal is to develop a test that could be administered routinely to alert the physician and patient as soon as possible of a return of the original cancer in a distant spot. With the development of cMethDNA, we've taken a first big step toward achieving this goal."

 

To design the test, Sukumar and her team scanned the genomes of primary breast cancer patients, as well as DNA from the blood of metastatic cancer patients. They selected 10 genes specifically altered in breast cancers, including newly identified genetic markers AKR1B1, COL6A2, GPX7, HIST1H3C, HOX B4, RASGRF2, as well as TM6SF1, RASSF1, ARHGEF7, and TMEFF2, which Sukumar's team had previously linked to primary breast cancer.

 

The test, developed by Sukumar, collaborator Mary Jo Fackler, Ph.D., and other scientists, detects so-called hypermethyation, a type of chemical tag in one or more of the breast cancer-specific genes present in tumor DNA and detectable in cancer patients' blood samples. Hypermethylation often silences genes that keep runaway cell growth in check, and its appearance in the DNA of breast cancer-related genes shed into the blood indicates that cancer has returned or spread.


Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald
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Epigenetics 101: a beginner’s guide to explaining everything

Epigenetics 101: a beginner’s guide to explaining everything | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Cath Ennis: The word ‘epigenetics’ is everywhere these days, from academic journals and popular science articles to ads touting miracle cures. But what is epigenetics, and why is it so important?

Epigenetics is one of the hottest fields in the life sciences. It’s a phenomenon with wide-ranging, powerful effects on many aspects of biology, and enormous potential in human medicine. As such, its ability to fill in some of the gaps in our scientific knowledge is mentioned everywhere from academic journals to the mainstream media to some of the less scientifically rigorous corners of the Internet.

The basics

Epigenetics is essentially additional information layered on top of the sequence of letters (strings of molecules called A, C, G, and T) that makes up DNA.

If you consider a DNA sequence as the text of an instruction manual that explains how to make a human body, epigenetics is as if someone's taken a pack of highlighters and used different colours to mark up different parts of the text in different ways. For example, someone might use a pink highlighter to mark parts of the text that need to be read the most carefully, and a blue highlighter to mark parts that aren't as important.

There are different types of epigenetic marks, and each one tells the proteins in the cell to process those parts of the DNA in certain ways. For example, DNA can be tagged with tiny molecules called methyl groups that stick to some of its C letters. Other tags can be added to proteins called histones that are closely associated with DNA. There are proteins that specifically seek out and bind to these methylated areas, and shut it down so that the genes in that region are inactivated in that cell. So methylation is like a blue highlighter telling the cell "you don't need to know about this section right now."


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Researchers discover ancient virus DNA remnants necessary for pluripotency in humans

Researchers discover ancient virus DNA remnants necessary for pluripotency in humans | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
(Phys.org) —A team of Canadian and Singaporean researchers has discovered that remnants of ancient viral DNA in human DNA must be present for pluripotency to occur in human stem cells. In their paper published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the team describes how they disabled ...

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Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code

Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Scientists have discovered a second code hiding within DNA. This second code contains information that changes how scientists read the instructions contained in DNA and interpret mutations to make sense of health and disease.
Sharrock's insight:

"The genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The UW team discovered that some codons, which they called duons, can have two meanings, one related to protein sequence, and one related to gene control." 

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-12-scientists-genetic-code.html#jCp

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Washington Post: DNA: The next big hacking frontier

Washington Post: DNA: The next big hacking frontier | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Imagine computer-designed viruses that cure disease, new bacteria capable of synthesizing an unlimited fuel supply, new organisms that wipe out entire populations and bio-toxins that target world leaders.

Via Bronwen Evans
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Fears About Gene Editing Are Probably Overblown

Fears About Gene Editing Are Probably Overblown | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
Alarm about super-healthy children seems like "a first world problem."
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World's Data Could Fit on a Teaspoon-Sized DNA Hard Drive and Survive Thousands of Years

World's Data Could Fit on a Teaspoon-Sized DNA Hard Drive and Survive Thousands of Years | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
The blueprint of every living thing on the planet is encoded in DNA. We know the stuff can hold a lot of information. But how much is a lot? We
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DNA nanobots deliver drugs in living cockroaches - health - 08 April 2014 - New Scientist

DNA nanobots deliver drugs in living cockroaches - health - 08 April 2014 - New Scientist | Science, Technology, and Current Futurism | Scoop.it
The DNA computers – known as origami robots because they work by folding and unfolding strands of DNA – travel around the insect's body and interact with each other, as well as the insect's cells. When they uncurl, they can dispense drugs carried in their folds.
Sharrock's insight:

bots in bugs! 

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