Biology in the News

Scientists Surprised to Find No Two Neurons Are Genetically Alike   Scientific American - May 3, 2017
The genetic makeup of any given brain cell differs from all others. That realization may provide clues to a range of psychiatric diseases. The past few decades have seen intensive efforts to find the genetic roots of neurological disorders, from schizophrenia to autism. But the genes singled out so far have provided only sketchy clues. Even the most important genetic risk factors identified for autism, for example, may only account for a few percent of all cases.

Organisms created with synthetic DNA pave way for entirely new life forms   The Guardian - January 23, 2017

From the moment life gained a foothold on Earth its story has been written in a DNA code of four letters. With G, T, C and A - the molecules that pair up in the DNA helix - the lines between humans and all life on Earth are spelled out. Now, the first living organisms to thrive with an expanded genetic code have been made by researchers in work that paves the way for the creation and exploitation of entirely new life forms.

  Forget DNA, experts say RNA could hold the key to 'eternal life pill'   Daily Mail - October 8, 2016

The benefit of manipulating RNA rather than DNA is that the cell's blueprint does not change, which could cause unpredictable, permanent changes to the cell. This focus on RNA represents a potentially major shift in how scientists try to prevent cellular damage.

How evolution has equipped our hands with five fingers   Science Daily - October 5, 2016

Have you ever wondered why our hands have exactly five fingers? Scientists have uncovered a part of this mystery, and their remarkable discovery is outlined in a new report. We have known for several years that the limbs of vertebrates, including our arms and legs, stem from fish fins. The evolution that led to the appearance of limbs, and in particular the emergence of fingers in vertebrates, reflects a change in the body plan associated with a change of habitat, the transition from an aquatic environment to a terrestrial environment. How this evolution occurred is a fascinating question that goes all the way back to the work of Charles Darwin.

Scientists isolate, culture elusive Yellowstone microbe   PhysOrg - July 5, 2016
A microbial partnership thriving in an acidic hot spring in Yellowstone National Park has surrendered some of its lifestyle secrets to researchers. The team isolated the archaeon Nanopusillus acidilobi, cultured - tiny microbes - just 100 to 300 billionths of a meter in size - and can now study how they interact with their host, another archaeon (Acidilobus). The relationships between these two organisms can serve as a valuable model to study the evolution and mechanisms of more complex systems.

Chemists offer more evidence of RNA as the origin of life   PhysOrg - May 14, 2016

A team of chemists at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich has shown how the purines adenine and guanine can be synthesized easily and in reasonable yields, offering more evidence that RNA could have served as the origin of life on Earth. The team describes the process they took in looking for evidence that RNA could have been the first self-replicating molecule that eventually led to all life on our planet and what they found.

DNA points to Neanderthal breeding barrier   BBC - April 8, 2016
Incompatibilities in the DNA of Neanderthals and modern humans may have limited the impact of interbreeding between the two groups. It's now widely known that many modern humans carry up to 4% Neanderthal DNA. But a new analysis of the Neanderthal Y chromosome, the package of genes passed down from fathers to sons, shows it is missing from modern populations.

Modern men lack Y chromosome genes from Neanderthals   Science Daily - April 7, 2016
Although it's widely known that modern humans carry traces of Neanderthal DNA, a new international study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that Neanderthal Y-chromosome genes disappeared from the human genome long ago.

New study hints at spontaneous appearance of primordial DNA   PhysOrg - April 7, 2015

The self-organization properties of DNA-like molecular fragments four billion years ago may have guided their own growth into repeating chemical chains long enough to act as a basis for primitive life. While studies of ancient mineral formations contain evidence for the evolution of bacteria from 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago - just half a billion years after the stabilization of Earth's crust - what might have preceded the formation of such unicellular organisms is still a mystery. The new findings suggest a novel scenario for the non-biological origins of nucleic acids, which are the building blocks of living organisms.


-D maps of folded genome: Catalog of 10,000 loops reveals new form of genetic regulation   Science Daily - December 11, 2014

In a triumph for cell biology, researchers have assembled the first high-resolution, 3-D maps of entire folded genomes and found a structural basis for gene regulation -- a kind of "genomic origami" that allows the same genome to produce different types of cells.


Identifying the source of stem cells   PhysOrg - October 30, 2014
When most animals begin life, cells immediately begin accepting assignments to become a head, tail or a vital organ. However, mammals, including humans, are special. The cells of mammalian embryos get to make a different first choice - to become the protective placenta or to commit to forming the baby. It's during this critical first step that research from Michigan State University has revealed key discoveries. The results, published in the current issue of PLOS Genetics, provide insights into where stem cells come from, and could advance research in regenerative medicine. And since these events occur during the first four or five days of human pregnancy, the stage in which the highest percentage of pregnancies are lost, the study also has significant implications for fertility research.

Why an extra helix becomes a third wheel in cell biology   PhysOrg - July 3, 2014

In a literal scientific twist, researchers are finding examples of a third strand that wraps itself around RNA like a snake, a structure rarely found in nature. Researchers recently have discovered evidence of a triple helix forming at the end of MALAT1, a strand of RNA that does not code for proteins. This extra strand of RNA, which is seen in the accompanying movie, prevents degradation of MALAT1. The formation of a triple helix explains how MALAT1 accumulates to very high levels in cancer cells, allowing MALAT1 to promote metastasis of lung cancer and likely other cancers.

How did we get four limbs? Because we have a belly   Science Daily - January 28, 2014
As with any long-standing question in evolutionary biology, numerous ideas have been proposed to explain different aspects of the origin of paired appendages in vertebrates known as gnathostomes, which includes all living and extinct animals having both a backbone and jaw.

Physical Reason for Chromosome's Cylindrical Shape Discovered   Science Daily - January 14, 2014

Researchers have determined why metaphase chromosomes have their characteristic elongated cylindrical shape. The results show that this morphology is related to the chromosome's self-organizing structure. This study demonstrates that it is possible to explain this morphology by considering that chromosomes are self-organizing supramolecular structures formed by stacked layers of planar chromatin having different nucleosome-nucleosome interaction energies in different regions.

New steps in the quest to break the code of life   PhysOrg - August 21, 2013
The deciphering of the human genome in 2000 was a major milestone in the history of science and a vital step towards the more complete understanding of human life. But like many advancements in science, what it really did was lay the groundwork for a far more challenging task: to understand the intricate and diverse modes of action of the proteins, which are the products of genes. Understanding protein function on a genomic scale is now one of the central goals of biology.

Adam's rib, revisited: Evolutionary divergence of mammalian sex chromosomes   PhysOrg - April 18, 2012
Males and females... Mars and Venus... XY and XX chromosomes -- all are common memes. At the same time, the evolution of therian (placental and marsupial) sex chromosomes is less widely understood.

Secrets of Smell: Different Nose Parts for Stinky, Sweet   National Geographic - October 4, 2011
Hot spots aid brain, "exciting, disturbing" study hints.

How man 'lost his penile spines'   BBC - March 10, 2011
Scientists believe men once had small spines on their genitalia such as those found in chimpanzees, cats and mice. Analysis of the genomes of humans, chimpanzees and macaques indicates that a DNA sequence thought to play a role in the production of these spines have been deleted in humans, but has been preserved in other primates. It suggests another genetic deletion may have led to the expansion of specific regions of the human brain.

Scientists pinpoint link between light signal and circadian rhythms   PhysOrg - December 29, 2010
Scientists who work in this field, known as chronobiology, have identified the genes that direct circadian rhythms in people, mice, fruit flies, fungi and several other organisms. However, the mechanisms by which those genes interact with light in the organism's environment have not been well understood.

Biology May Not Be So Complex After All, Physicist Finds   Science Daily - March 20, 2010

Centuries ago, scientists began reducing the physics of the universe into key laws described by a handful of parameters. Such simple descriptions have remained elusive for complex biological systems -- until now. A biophysicist has identified parameters for several biochemical networks that distill the entire behavior of these systems into simple equivalent dynamics. The discovery may hold the potential to streamline the development of drugs and diagnostic tools, by simplifying the research models.