Archive for the ‘food’ category

Mar 27, 2020

Editorial: Plant Immunity against Viruses

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, economics, food, genetics

Circa 2017

Plant viruses, the simple obligate intracellular parasites with small genomes, rely entirely on host machineries for their life cycle including replication, intracellular (cell-to-cell) and systemic movement (Nelson and Citovsky, ). Virus infections pose serious threats to agriculture and cause huge economic losses. Despite encoding only a limited number of proteins, numerous interactions of viral RNAs/proteins with host factors have puzzled the plant virologists for over a century and the complexity of these interactions is just becoming understood.

Plants have developed two major strategies to counteract virus infections: resistance (R) gene-mediated, and RNA silencing-based defenses. In addition, the mutation in essential genes for viral infection also causes plant resistance against viruses, called recessive gene-mediated resistance. These approaches have been used in crop protections and have shown significant economic impact (Abel et al., ; Whitham et al., ; Baulcombe, ; Kang et al., ; Wang and Krishnaswamy, ).

This Research Topic combines 13 publications, including 9 review articles and 4 research articles, covering almost every aspect of plant-virus interactions. The featured in-depth topic reviews in various sub-fields provide readers a convenient way to understand the current status of the related sub-fields and the featured research articles expand the current knowledge in related sub-fields.

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Mar 27, 2020

Genome Editing and the Future of Biowarfare: A Conversation with Dr. Piers Millett

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, food, genetics, military

Most simply, the phrase “genome editing” represents tools and techniques that biotechnologists use to edit the genome — that is, the DNA or RNA of plants, animals, and bacteria. Though the earliest versions of genome editing technology have existed for decades, the introduction of CRISPR in 2013 “brought major improvements to the speed, cost, accuracy, and efficiency of genome editing.”

CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats, is actually an ancient mechanism used by bacteria to remove viruses from their DNA. In the lab, researchers have discovered they can replicate this process by creating a synthetic RNA strand that matches a target DNA sequence in an organism’s genome. The RNA strand, known as a “guide RNA,” is attached to an enzyme that can cut DNA. After the guide RNA locates the targeted DNA sequence, the enzyme cuts the genome at this location. DNA can then be removed, and new DNA can be added. CRISPR has quickly become a powerful tool for editing genomes, with research taking place in a broad range of plants and animals, including humans.

A significant percentage of genome editing research focuses on eliminating genetic diseases. However, with tools like CRISPR, it also becomes possible to alter a pathogen’s DNA to make it more virulent and more contagious. Other potential uses include the creation of “‘killer mosquitos,’ plagues that wipe out staple crops, or even a virus that snips at people’s DNA.”

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Mar 27, 2020

Scientists discover largest bacteria-eating virus. It blurs line between living and nonliving

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, food

Scientists have discovered some of the largest bacteria-infecting virus out there.

Mar 27, 2020

Making sense of cells

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, computing, food, mathematics, neuroscience

Our body’s ability to detect disease, foreign material, and the location of food sources and toxins is all determined by a cocktail of chemicals that surround our cells, as well as our cells’ ability to ‘read’ these chemicals. Cells are highly sensitive. In fact, our immune system can be triggered by the presence of just one foreign molecule or ion. Yet researchers don’t know how cells achieve this level of sensitivity.

Now, scientists at the Biological Physics Theory Unit at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and collaborators at City University of New York have created a simple model that is providing some answers. They have used this model to determine which techniques a cell might employ to increase its sensitivity in different circumstances, shedding light on how the biochemical networks in our bodies operate.

“This model takes a complex biological system and abstracts it into a simple, understandable mathematical framework,” said Dr. Vudtiwat Ngampruetikorn, former postdoctoral researcher at OIST and the first author of the research paper, which was published in Nature Communications. “We can use it to tease apart how cells might choose to spend their energy budget, depending on the world around them and other cells they might be talking to.”

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Mar 26, 2020

Israeli scientist’s shrimp antiviral could be adapted for coronavirus

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, engineering, food

The 43-year-old scientist is a member of the Technion’s Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering, and his lab first developed a food additive to boost the immune system of animals to protect them from contracting viral diseases. This invention formed the basis of his own commercialized start-up company, ViAqua Therapeutics, which focused the development of the drug on shrimp, as over 30% of the global shrimp population is wiped out yearly by a viral disease known as white spot syndrome.

Israeli scientist and entrepreneur Prof. Avi Schroeder is working on a preventative drug for the coronavirus by adapting a food additive designed for shrimp.

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Mar 25, 2020

Mapping the cannabis genome to improve crops and health

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, food, genetics, health


Unlocking the full potential of cannabis for agriculture and human health will require a co-ordinated scientific effort to assemble and map the cannabis genome, says a just-published international study led by University of Saskatchewan researchers.

In a major statistical analysis of existing data and studies published in the Annual Review of Plant Biology, the authors conclude there are large gaps in the scientific knowledge of this high-demand, multi-purpose crop.

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Mar 24, 2020

While You Watched The Shiney Things

Posted by in category: food

Ladies Monday with ReallyGraceful.

Editors Note: While we have all been preoccupied with the relevant story of the day, ReallyGraceful has covered a couple of items that you may have missed over the past couple of weeks.

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Mar 22, 2020

DARPA is Building a Robotic Space Mechanic to Fix Satellites in Orbit

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, food, military, robotics/AI, satellites

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that’s responsible for developing emerging technologies for the U.S. military, is building a new high-tech spacecraft — and it’s armed. In an age of Space Force and burgeoning threats like hunter-killer satellites, this might not sound too surprising. But you’re misunderstanding. DARPA’s new spacecraft, currently “in the thick of it” when it comes to development, is armed. As in, it has arms. Like the ones you use for grabbing things.

Armed robots aren’t new. Mechanical robot arms are increasingly widespread here on Earth. Robot arms have been used to carry out complex surgery and flip burgers. Attached to undersea exploration vehicles, they’ve been used to probe submerged wrecks. They’ve been used to open doors, defuse bombs, and decommission nuclear power plants. They’re pretty darn versatile. But space is another matter entirely.

Mar 22, 2020

A ‘highly pathogenic strain’ of H5N1 bird flu has been reported in China’s Hunan province

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, food, government, sustainability

A “highly pathogenic” strain of the H5N1 bird flu has been reported in China’s Hunan province, Chinese officials said, according to a Saturday report from Reuters.

The outbreak was reported on a farm in the city of Shaoyang in the Hunan province, according to China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. Of the 7,850 chickens on the farm where the outbreak occurred, 4,500 died of the H5N1 avian flu, Reuters reported.

The Chinese government said it culled 17,828 chickens as a result of the H5N1 outbreak, per Reuters.

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Mar 19, 2020

Antibiotics weaken flu defenses in the lung

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, food, sustainability

Hmm… are people with reduced lung capacity after recovering from the coronavirus more susceptible to getting the flu? Or does taking antibiotics increase one’s risk getting the coronavirus since it attacks the respiratory system?

Antibiotics can leave the lung vulnerable to flu viruses, leading to significantly worse infections and symptoms, finds a new study in mice led by the Francis Crick Institute.

The research, published in Cell Reports, discovered that signals from gut bacteria help to maintain a first line of defence in the lining of the lung. When mice with healthy gut bacteria were infected with the flu, around 80% of them survived. However, only a third survived if they were given antibiotics before being infected.

“We found that antibiotics can wipe out early flu resistance, adding further evidence that they should not be taken or prescribed lightly,” explains Dr Andreas Wack, who led the research at the Francis Crick Institute. “Inappropriate use not only promotes antibiotic resistance and kills helpful gut bacteria, but may also leave us more vulnerable to viruses. This could be relevant not only in humans but also livestock animals, as many farms around the world use antibiotics prophylactically. Further research in these environments is urgently needed to see whether this makes them more susceptible to viral infections.”

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