French teenagers are learning how to work with bacteria in science labs. Sound like a harmless–and even beneficial–thing, right? But because their experiments involve the genetic modification of Escherichia coli (E. coli) to build resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin, some French organizations are raising the alarm.
One such group includes the Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), which lobbies for tighter genetic engineering laws. CRIIGEN President Gilles-Eric Séralini said that he will implore France’s education ministry to ban the creation of trangenic E. coli by 15- and 16-year-old students.
He warns against trivialization of a sensitive subject, contamination risks and possible violation of European directives on the manipulation of genetically modified organisms in confined spaces. “I am also concerned that practical classes erode the time spent imparting knowledge of biology,” he adds.
The future looks green, even for bomb-detection squads: Instead of a bomb-sniffing dog at the end of a policeman’s leash, you could soon have a bomb-sniffing petunia. Scientists are now designing plants that are able to detect trace amounts of airborne TNT.
Funded in part by the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, scientists from Colorado State University reported this week that plants can be modified to change color when they detect TNT. According to their study published in the journal PLoS One, these plants’ leaves lose their chlorophyll when exposed to TNT, changing from green to white.
“It had to be simple, something your mom could recognize,” said June Medford, a professor of biology at Colorado State, referring to the idea of linking a plant’s chemical response to its color, visible to the naked eye. [New York Times]
The bomb-sniffing plants can detect much lower traces of TNT–about one-hundredth the amount–than their four-pawed co-workers can. But a changing leaf color isn’t quite as obvious as a dog’s bark, especially if you’re colorblind. TNT-detecting plants have yet another hurdle to cross before you’ll see them on the streets:
“Right now, response time is in the order of hours,” said Linda Chrisey, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research, which hopes to use the technology to help protect troops from improvised explosive devices…. Practical application, she said, requires a signal within minutes, and a natural reset system back to healthy green in fairly short order. [New York Times]
Researchers hope to have clear-signaling and fast-acting bomb-detecting plants ready for duty within the next three to seven years. Until then, our top bomb-sniffers still have fur, play fetch, and appreciate a good belly-rub.
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It’s furry like a mouse but sings like a bird. What is it? It’s a mutant mouse developed by the genetic engineers at the University of Osaka that is able to tweet and chip like a bird, instead of a mouse’s normal squeak.
Like dog breeders, who actively select for certain traits (like size, hair color, or disposition) the researchers from the Evolved Mouse Project crossbred their mutant mice to select for various traits. When they find one they like, like this singing mouse or the one that looks like a miniature Dachshund, they breed them until they have a sizable breeding stock of animals to establish a new breed.
The research group currently has over a hundred singing mice (it must get noisy in those labs) and they are continuing to study how they use their chirps, researcher Arikuni Uchimura told the AFP:
“Mice are better than birds to study because they are mammals and much closer to humans in their brain structures and other biological aspects,” Uchimura said. “We are watching how a mouse that emits new sounds would affect ordinary mice in the same group… in other words if it has social connotations.”
The tobacco plant is considered a villain of the plant world because of the harmful effects of smoking it. But now a genetically engineered tobacco plant is enjoying a moment of redemption, as scientists have discovered that tweaking a certain gene in one tobacco plant strain allows the plant to produce antibodies that disarm toxic pond scum.
The pond scum in question is microcystin-LR (MC-LR), which makes water unsafe for drinking, swimming and fishing in many parts of the world. Upon ingestion it can cause serious liver damage, with some studies indicating a connection to causing liver and colorectal cancers.
Have you ever held a genetically modified tomato and wondered, “Would the Pope eat this?” Well, here’s your answer: The Vatican has announced that it endorses the growth of genetically modified crops as a possible way to alleviate world hunger.
Given the papacy’s generally-hands-off approach to God’s creations, the decision to back genetically altered crops might seem surprising. In fact, because the environmental and health consequences of genetically modified foods remain largely unknown, they remain controversial in many circles, not just among Catholics.
On the other hand, these foods may just have the potential to grow heartier crops, or plants with added vitamins—such as rice with Vitamin A and iron—that could help feed the millions of starving people worldwide.
The latest in DIY involves playing around with DNA. Toying with circuit boards and Python algorithms in basements and garages is so passé. The new crop of amateur tinkerers—self-pronounced “biohackers”—are cooking up genetics experiments and trying to reprogram life itself. Could the biotech equivalent of Apple or Google, both of which were born in garages, emerge from someone’s home-made lab?
Meredith L. Patterson of San Francisco, who is a computer programmer by day, has set up a make-shift bio lab in her dining room. She’s trying to create a genetically modified yogurt bacteria that will glow green to signal melamine contamination. She constructed a gel electrophoresis chamber for $25 and purchased some green fluorescent jellyfish protein from a bio supply company for less than $100. Step-by-step instructions for genetic transformation experiments were only a Google search away. With the relative simplicity and low-cost of basic DNA experiments, it may not be long before kids start asking for electrophoresis kits instead of microscopes.
Everyone loves licorice. OK, that’s not true. But even if you loathe the smell of black jelly beans, sambuca, and root beer, put aside your distaste for a minute: Licorice is in trouble, and science might have the answer.
Licorice comes from the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza glabra, and it’s about 50 times sweeter than ordinary sugar. So its sweetener is often used as an additive, and it amounts to a $40 million-per-year business. But because of that, the wild plant is being over-harvested in some places, and that land is giving way to desertification. This is happening especially in China, one of the first places where licorice was identified and used.
We have a winner.
The last time we wrote about BioArts, the California-based biotech company was threatening action against a South Korean competitor over what BioArts says was patent infringement on its dog-cloning technology.
Well, yesterday the folks at BioArts were back in the news. After staging a competition to find the most clone-worthy dog in the world, the company made their selection: Trakr, a German shepherd that helped find survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers after the September 11 attacks.
California residents need no longer worry that anti-moth pesticides will rain down from the sky onto their houses. But they should still be on the lookout for thousands and thousands more moths.
The light brown apple moth, native to Australia, invaded northern California in March 2007 and state agricultural officials say it is a major threat to many different crops
proceeded to chow down on crops. Initially, the state planned to spray moth-infested areas, including residential ones, with a chemical that acts as a phony pheromone, mimicking the female scent and throwing the males off course so they don’t mate. According to The New York Times, there were “numerous complaints” of respiratory problems after the chemical was sprayed last November. And after an outcry from Northern Californians who didn’t want it in their town, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger relented and changed course.
I’m not one of a kind?!?
There can be only one dog cloning operation, or so says Lou Hawthorne, the CEO of BioArts, a biotech company based in California.
You may have heard that a South Korean company called RNL Bio announced earlier this week that they produced four cloned copies of a Labrador retriever. The original dog, Marine, was excellent at cancer-sniffing—able to pick out breast, prostate, lung, and bladder cancer cells. But she couldn’t have puppies, so her owner, canine trainer Yuji Satoh, asked RNL Bio to clone her. Two of the four new Marines have been donated to Satoh’s training center and to the Seoul National University lab; the other two are on the market for a cool half-million dollars each. And RNL Bio announced plans to venture into the pet market, cloning your deceased canine if you’ve got the cash.