DNA

Hack a virus, win a prize: Scientist recognized for ‘useful’ germ modding

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 4, 2013   View Article

The inventor of a viral technology behind tomorrow’s electric car batteries, flexible touchscreen computers, and non-invasive cancer screening was awarded a $500,000 prize Tuesday.

Angela Belcher, a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, alters the genetic code of viruses to build things that are useful to humans. The technique is already being harnessed to produce touchscreen gadgets and convert methane gas to gasoline, jet fuel, and plastics.

She received the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Prize, which honors mid-career inventors who are dedicated to making the world a better place through technology.

Genome of ancient-looking fish gives clues to first limbed landlubbers

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 17, 2013   View Article

The genome of the coelacanth, an ancient-looking lobed-finned fish, has been sequenced and is already providing insight to the evolutionary changes that allowed the first four-limbed animals, called tetrapods, to crawl out of the water and on to land.

The sequence and preliminary analysis, reported Thursday in the journal Nature by a team spanning 40 research institutions and 12 countries, is a “massive piece of work,” Xiaobo Xu, a paleontologist at Kean University who was not involved in the effort, told NBC News in an email.

Tiny Breathing Plant Mouths

Publication: HHMI Bulletin   Date: May 1, 2012   View Article

When Keiko Torii gazed through the microscope at a mutant Arabidopsis thaliana leaf covered in specialized cells called meristemoids, she saw more than a beautiful anatomic anomaly—she saw a new way to probe a fundamental system in developmental biology.

Meristemoids are stem-cell-like precursors that give rise to a pair of guard cells, which form stomata—tiny pores on the skin of almost all land plants that are crucial for the exchange of water vapor and gas during photosynthesis. Close study of meristemoids has largely eluded scientists because the cells, by nature, are transient and few and far between.

“When I looked at this,” Torii says, pointing to a poster-size image of the mutant leaf with a tightly packed honeycomb of DayGlo blue meristemoids hanging on her office wall at the University of Washington, “I thought maybe this could be an economical tool to study what makes a meristemoid a meristemoid.”

Australia’s hybrid shark reveals evolution in action

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 3, 2012   View Article

Hybrid sharks have been discovered swimming in the waters off Australia’s east coast. The finding may be driven by climate change, a research team says, suggesting such discoveries could be more common in the future.

The hybridization is between the Australian black tip shark which favors tropical waters and the larger, common black tip shark, which favors sub-tropical and temperate waters.

Yeast adds vitamins to bread

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 24, 2011   View Article

Bread loaded with beta-carotene, the stuff that makes carrots orange and helps prevent blindness, could improve the health of millions of people, thanks to a strain of genetically enhanced yeast developed by undergraduate students.

“It looks exactly like normal bread,” Arjun Khakhar, a junior biomedical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University, told me Monday. “There’s no orange color or anything because the yeast only makes up a very small part of the bread.”

Magnetic algae make biofuels sticky

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 21, 2011   View Article

Scientists at a government lab in New Mexico have created what appear to be magnetic algae, a breakthrough that could lower the cost of harvesting biofuels from the microscopic plants.

‘Unnatural’ bugs to enhance our lives?

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: September 22, 2011   View Article

Scientists have successfully added multiple “unnatural” amino acids to a strain of bacteria, a breakthrough on the path to genetically engineered microbes that create useful things for people such as life-saving medicines and biofuels.

“We are adding components to the bug so that the bug can do something that a natural bug usually can’t do,” Lei Wang at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies told me today. “We are trying to make it do new tricks.”

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach