Archive for the ‘genetics’ category

Jan 24, 2020

Study reveals interplay of an African bat, a parasite and a virus

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

To better understand the dynamics of bats and potential threats to human health, Goldberg and his colleagues explored the relationship of an African forest bat, a novel virus and a parasite. Their work, described in a report published July 13 in Nature Scientific Reports, identifies all three players as potentially new species, at least at the molecular level as determined by their genetic sequences.

Many viral pathogens often have more than one or two hosts or intermediate hosts needed to complete their life cycles. The role of bat parasites in maintaining chains of viral infection is little studied, and the new Wisconsin study serves up some intriguing insights into how viruses co-opt parasites to help do the dirty work of disease transmission.

The parasite in the current study is an eyeless, wingless fly, technically an ectoparasite. It depends on the bat to be both its eyes and wings. And it plays host to a virus, as the current study shows. For the virus, the fly plays the role of chauffeur. “From a virus’s perspective, an ectoparasite is like Uber. It’s a great way to get around — from animal to animal — at minimal expense and effort,” Goldberg explains.

Jan 23, 2020

Genome Sequencing and Analysis of the Tasmanian Devil and Its Transmissible Cancer

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution, genetics

The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), the largest marsupial carnivore, is endangered due to a transmissible facial cancer spread by direct transfer of living cancer cells through biting. Here we describe the sequencing, assembly, and annotation of the Tasmanian devil genome and whole-genome sequences for two geographically distant subclones of the cancer. Genomic analysis suggests that the cancer first arose from a female Tasmanian devil and that the clone has subsequently genetically diverged during its spread across Tasmania. The devil cancer genome contains more than 17,000 somatic base substitution mutations and bears the imprint of a distinct mutational process. Genotyping of somatic mutations in 104 geographically and temporally distributed Tasmanian devil tumors reveals the pattern of evolution and spread of this parasitic clonal lineage, with evidence of a selective sweep in one geographical area and persistence of parallel lineages in other populations.

Jan 23, 2020

Two mutations triggered an evolutionary leap 500 million years ago

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution, genetics, time travel

Circa 2013

In a feat of “molecular time travel,” the researchers resurrected and analyzed the functions of the ancestors of genes that play key roles in modern human reproduction, development, immunity and cancer. By re-creating the same DNA changes that occurred during those genes’ ancient history, the team showed that two mutations set the stage for hormones like estrogen, testosterone and cortisol to take on their crucial present-day roles.

“Changes in just two letters of the genetic code in our deep evolutionary past caused a massive shift in the function of one protein and set in motion the evolution of our present-day hormonal and reproductive systems,” said Joe Thornton, PhD, professor of human genetics and ecology & evolution at the University of Chicago, who led the study.

“If those two mutations had not happened, our bodies today would have to use different mechanisms to regulate pregnancy, libido, the response to stress, kidney function, inflammation, and the development of male and female characteristics at puberty,” Thornton said.

Continue reading “Two mutations triggered an evolutionary leap 500 million years ago” »

Jan 23, 2020

How cancer shapes evolution, and how evolution shapes cancer

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution, genetics, life extension

Circa 2011 essentially cancer could help with evolution as it can challenge the immune system to be more strong. Essentially a symbiotic relationship to evolve with it and grow stronger with it then like it can be used as a good thing to make sure that evolution has stronger genetic code.

Evolutionary theories are critical for understanding cancer development at the level of species as well as at the level of cells and tissues, and for developing effective therapies. Animals have evolved potent tumor suppressive mechanisms to prevent cancer development. These mechanisms were initially necessary for the evolution of multi-cellular organisms, and became even more important as animals evolved large bodies and long lives. Indeed, the development and architecture of our tissues were evolutionarily constrained by the need to limit cancer. Cancer development within an individual is also an evolutionary process, which in many respects mirrors species evolution. Species evolve by mutation and selection acting on individuals in a population; tumors evolve by mutation and selection acting on cells in a tissue. The processes of mutation and selection are integral to the evolution of cancer at every step of multistage carcinogenesis, from tumor genesis to metastasis. Factors associated with cancer development, such as aging and carcinogens, have been shown to promote cancer evolution by impacting both mutation and selection processes. While there are therapies that can decimate a cancer cell population, unfortunately, cancers can also evolve resistance to these therapies, leading to the resurgence of treatment-refractory disease. Understanding cancer from an evolutionary perspective can allow us to appreciate better why cancers predominantly occur in the elderly, and why other conditions, from radiation exposure to smoking, are associated with increased cancers. Importantly, the application of evolutionary theory to cancer should engender new treatment strategies that could better control this dreaded disease.

We expect that the public generally views evolutionary biology as a science about the past, with stodgy old professors examining dusty fossils in poorly lit museum basements. Evolution must certainly be a field well-separated from modern medicine and biomedical research, right? If the public makes a connection between evolution and medicine, it is typically in the example of bacteria acquiring antibiotic resistance. But what does evolution have to do with afflictions like heart disease, obesity, and cancer? As it turns out, these diseases are intricately tied to our evolutionary histories, and understanding evolution is essential for preventing, managing and treating these diseases (1, 2). This review will focus on cancer: how evolutionary theories can be used to understand cancer development at the level of species as well as at the level of cells and tissues. We will also discuss the implications and benefits of an evolutionary perspective towards cancer prevention and therapies.

Continue reading “How cancer shapes evolution, and how evolution shapes cancer” »

Jan 22, 2020

Hyper-Long Telomeres Give Non-Genetically Modified Mice Longer, Healthier Lives

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, genetics, life extension

“Unprecedented results” showed that longer than normal telomeres in mice hahd only beneficial effects, such as increased longevity, delayed metabolic age and fewer cancers.

Jan 22, 2020

New Ebola-like virus found in a Chinese bat’s liver

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, genetics

The Měnglà virus can infect human cells but the risk of its transmission from bats to humans is unknown.

Zheng-Li Shi at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan and their colleagues examined a Rousettus fruit bat caught in southern China. The bat’s liver contained a new type of filovirus that the researchers named Měnglà virus for the county where the bat was captured. Měnglà is substantially different from both Ebola and Marburg virus, highlighting the genetic diversity of filoviruses in bats.

Jan 22, 2020

Global patterns in coronavirus diversity

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, evolution, food, genetics, health…d-a-virus/

Since the emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrom Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) it has become increasingly clear that bats are important reservoirs of CoVs. Despite this, only 6% of all CoV sequences in GenBank are from bats. The remaining 94% largely consist of known pathogens of public health or agricultural significance, indicating that current research effort is heavily biased towards describing known diseases rather than the ‘pre-emergent’ diversity in bats. Our study addresses this critical gap, and focuses on resource poor countries where the risk of zoonotic emergence is believed to be highest. We surveyed the diversity of CoVs in multiple host taxa from twenty countries to explore the factors driving viral diversity at a global scale. We identified sequences representing 100 discrete phylogenetic clusters, ninety-one of which were found in bats, and used ecological and epidemiologic analyses to show that patterns of CoV diversity correlate with those of bat diversity. This cements bats as the major evolutionary reservoirs and ecological drivers of CoV diversity. Co-phylogenetic reconciliation analysis was also used to show that host switching has contributed to CoV evolution, and a preliminary analysis suggests that regional variation exists in the dynamics of this process. Overall our study represents a model for exploring global viral diversity and advances our fundamental understanding of CoV biodiversity and the potential risk factors associated with zoonotic emergence.

Jan 22, 2020

Brain organoids may shed light on seizures in Angelman syndrome

Posted by in categories: genetics, neuroscience

The mutation that causes Angelman syndrome makes neurons hyperexcitable, according to a study in brain organoids and mice1. The findings may help explain why about 90 percent of people with the syndrome experience seizures that do not respond to treatment.

Angelman syndrome is a rare genetic condition linked to autism. It is caused when the maternal copy of a gene called UBE3A is either missing or mutated. Apart from seizures, the condition is characterized by developmental delay, problems with balance and speech, and an unusually happy disposition.

The new study found that mutations in UBE3A suppress the production of proteins that keep the activity of ‘big potassium’ ion channels in check. These channels control the flow of large amounts of potassium ions passing through neurons. When the current increases in the absence of UBE3A, the neurons become exceptionally excitable.

Continue reading “Brain organoids may shed light on seizures in Angelman syndrome” »

Jan 22, 2020

America’s most widely consumed oil causes genetic changes in the brain

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

New UC Riverside research shows soybean oil not only leads to obesity and diabetes, but could also affect neurological conditions like autism, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and depression.

Used for fast food frying, added to packaged foods, and fed to livestock, soybean oil is by far the most widely produced and consumed edible oil in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In all likelihood, it is not healthy for humans.

It certainly is not good for mice. The new study, published this month in the journal Endocrinology, compared mice fed three different diets high in fat: soybean oil, soybean oil modified to be low in linoleic acid, and coconut oil.

Jan 21, 2020

Why Gene Editors Like CRISPR/Cas May Be a Game-Changer for Neuroweapons

Posted by in categories: bioengineering, biotech/medical, genetics, governance, health, neuroscience, policy, surveillance

This year marks the Eighth Review Conference (RevCon) of the Biological Toxins and Weapons Convention (BWC). At the same time, ongoing international efforts to further and more deeply investigate the brain’s complex neuronal circuitry are creating unprecedented capabilities to both understand and control neurological processes of thought, emotion, and behavior. These advances have tremendous promise for human health, but the potential for their misuse has also been noted, with most discussions centering on research and development of agents that are addressed by existing BWC and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) proscriptions. In this article, we discuss the dual-use possibilities fostered by employing emergent biotechnologic techniques and tools—specifically, novel gene editors like clustered regular interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)—to produce neuroweapons. Based on our analyses, we posit the strong likelihood that development of genetically modified or created neurotropic substances will advance apace with other gene-based therapeutics, and we assert that this represents a novel—and realizable—path to creating potential neuroweapons. In light of this, we propose that it will be important to re-address current categorizations of weaponizable tools and substances, so as to better inform and generate tractable policy to enable improved surveillance and governance of novel neuroweapons.

Keywords: : CRISPR, Gene editing, Neuroweapon, Neurotherapeutic pathways, Dual-use neuroscience, Biosecurity policy.

T his year marks the Eighth Review Conference (RevCon) of the Biological Toxins and Weapons Convention (BWC), the purpose of which is to ensure that the convened parties’ directives continue to be relevant to and viable for prohibiting the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons in the face of newly emerging scientific advancements and biotechnologies. Apropos of issues raised at previous RevCons and elsewhere, there are growing concerns about current and future weaponization of neurobiological agents and tools (ie, “neuroweapons”1–6).

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