Gene

Critters evolve rapidly to cope with environmental change

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 8, 2013   View Article

Critters can evolve over just a handful of generations to survive whatever environmental maladies humans toss their way, from climate change to over fishing, suggests a new study.

“That is the first take-home message, and it is a positive message,” Thomas Cameron, a biologist at Umea University in Sweden, told NBC News as he explained his new findings reported Tuesday in the journal Ecology Letters.

Inventor of plumbing on a chip wins $500,000 prize

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: June 4, 2012   View Article

Stephen Quake, a prolific inventor whose application of physics to biology has led to breakthroughs in drug discovery, genome analysis and personalized medicine, has won the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, a prestigious award for outstanding innovators.

“A big part of physics is trying to figure out how to measure things,” Quake, who is a professor of bioengineering and applied physics at Stanford University, told me. “And so I get interested in a biological problem [and] figure out a way to measure it.”

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.”

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.”

Eternal youth: A fix for biofuels

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 11, 2011   View Article

The push to wean the biofuel industry off its heavy diet of corn may, ironically, involve transferring a corn gene to non-corn plants such as switch grass, suggests a new study.

The gene, called Corngrass 1, essentially locks the switch grass into a state of perpetual pre-adolescence, explained George Chuck, a plant molecular geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley.

“One of the consequences of staying juvenile forever is they don’t flower, they don’t become sexually mature,” he said.

How we’ll eat the same with climate change

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 7, 2011   View Article

Want a varied, abundant, and healthy diet in the decades ahead? Then be glad that researchers are beginning to pinpoint the genes that allow plants to thrive and adapt to different climates.

That’s because our agricultural system is largely adapted to perform in today’s climate, which despite some warmer and cooler swings over the past 10,000 years or so, has been relatively stable.

That’s unlikely to be the case in the future, meaning we will need to adapt our agricultural system to a changing climate if we aim to maintain our current eating and drinking habits.

Beer mystery solved! Yeast ID’d

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

Ice cold beer: In these dog days of summer, few things are better. So, let’s raise a glass and toast Saccharomyces eubayanus, newly discovered yeast that helped make cold-fermented lager a runaway success.

The yeast, in the wild, thrives in ball-shaped lumps of sugar that form on beech trees in Patagonia of South America. Its discovery appears to solve the mystery of how lager yeast formed. Until now, scientists only knew about the origins of ale yeast, which makes up just half of the lager yeast genome.

Yeasts are microscopic fungi that feast on sugar, converting it to carbon dioxide and alcohol via the process of fermentation. Ale yeast, S. cerevisiae, has been doing this throughout the history of beer, which stretches back to at least 6,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach