Genetics

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.

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.

‘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.”

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.

Computer software helps engineer organisms

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

A computer software program is outfitting biotechnology companies with the ability to determine the genetic plans they need to engineer microorganisms for the production of products such as building materials, drugs and biofuels.

Companies routinely use microorganisms such as E. coli to manufacture products such as insulin. This has primarily been done by cutting and pasting DNA found in nature into organisms that can be grown in the lab, explained Howard Salis, a synthetic biologist at Pennsylvania State University.

Play a game and engineer real RNA

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

A new online game allows non-scientists to design molecules of RNA and then see how well the best of their virtual creations perform in a real-life lab.

The game, called EteRNA, breaks down a barrier that has long kept the virtual reality of video games separate from the real world and in the process may help scientists build ever more sophisticated RNA machines, according to the game’s creators.

3-billion-year-old genetic fossil traced

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: December 20, 2010   View Article

The collective genome of all life on Earth today went through a rapid growth spurt between 3.3 billion and 2.8 billion years ago, according to scientists who used computer algorithms to reconstruct the evolutionary history of thousands of genes.

The growth spurt coincides with the advent of a biochemical pathway known as electron transport that is “integral for photosynthesis as well as for respiration,” Lawrence David, a computational biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach