Researchers detect 100-million-year-old virus in pregnant women’s blood

October 9, 2017 by  
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Here’s a startling thought: the human genome contains ancient viruses . Researchers recently detected a 100-million-year-old virus called a human endogenous retrovirus (HERV)—that would have infected our ancestors when dinosaurs roamed the Earth—in the blood of pregnant women. They are still puzzling over how retroviruses might affect us in the long term. Eight percent of the human genome is made up of ancient viruses and scientists are still trying to puzzle out their function. Three scientists, led by Gkikas Magiorkinis of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens , wrote an article available online the end of September for Trends in Microbiology , delving into the mystery behind HERVs. They said, “Are they merely fossils that, like mosquitoes in amber, were stuck and preserved in large host genomes while their functions decayed?” They noted the 100-million-year-old retrovirus, first detected by another research group, “became a human gene that is expressed in embryos and cancers , and can be detected in the blood of pregnant women.” Related: University of Queensland scientists uncover an ‘explosion’ of new life forms Retroviruses insert a DNA copy of their RNA into a genome, according to IFLScience – this has devastating consequences with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV , for example. The 100-million-year-old HERV looks to be inactive during most stages, with low expression in many normal tissues, but it is expressed in the placenta, some stem cells, and cancer tissues like those of ovarian cancer, according to the scientists. The expression pattern “suggests potential roles for manipulation of stem cells and early life events, which could have very important impacts on adult diseases.” IFLScience points out the find has raised more questions than it solves – the three researchers suggest a hypothesis at the end of their paper, but no definitive conclusions. They say scientists should explore the roles of endogenous retroviruses to pin down potential anticancer treatments. Via IFLScience Images via freestocks.org on Unsplash and Pixabay

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Researchers detect 100-million-year-old virus in pregnant women’s blood

Muscle-packed pigs in Cambodia raise alarms

October 9, 2017 by  
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Videos and images of Cambodian pigs with extremely muscular physiques have gone viral in recent weeks, raising concerns and questions over the origin and well-being of these augmented animals. Although PETA claims that these animals have been genetically modified , there is no clear evidence to confirm this theory. It is possible that the animals were simply bred to display these characteristics. “We could do this through breeding,” said Jin-Soo Kim, a researcher at Seoul National University, “but then it would take decades.” Regardless of the specific reason for the pigs’ appearance, one can certainly add this to the already long list of unsettling happenings in the meat industry. In 2015, Kim and his peers at  Seoul National University led an experiment in which pigs were genetically modified to posses “double muscles” by altering the myostatin gene, a relatively minor tweak to the genetic code. By changing the amount of lean meat on an animal, these modifications could increase profits for animal producers. The pigs in Cambodia could have come from the same lineage. However, there is no evidence yet to confirm that this is the case. Related: Chinese scientists genetically engineer muscular superdogs While the US Food and Drug Administration has declared that GMO salmon is as safe to eat as natural salmon, no other GMO animal product has yet been approved for human consumption in the United States. However, pigs have been genetically modified in the past, for meat production or otherwise. The EnviroPig is a trademarked, genetically modified organism created in Canada that has been altered to produce waste that contains less phosphorus, which decreases the environmental costs of hog raising. Scientists in Japan have spliced spinach genes into pigs to create a less fatty animal. While the pigs in Cambodia may appear disturbing, there may be benefits to humans and the environment from genetic modification. However, further study is needed and animal welfare standards must be improved around the world. Via Newsweek Images via Facebook/Duroc Cambodia and  Xi-jun Yin

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Muscle-packed pigs in Cambodia raise alarms

University of Queensland scientists uncover an ‘explosion’ of new life forms

September 15, 2017 by  
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The Tree of Life just got bigger. University of Queensland scientists found thousands of organisms that don’t into any known phylum. They acquired 7,280 bacterial genomes and 623 archaeal genomes, raising the number of known genomes by nearly 10 percent. Scientist Gene Tyson, who was part of the effort, said, “The real value of these genomes is that many are evolutionarily distinct from previously recovered genomes.” There are some 80,000 genomes in genome repositories, according to the university. This new work, published online in September by Nature Microbiology , recovers almost 8,000 genomes – what the university called an explosion in the number of life forms we know about. Related: Tree of Life redesigned to reflect thousands of new species The scientists drew on the technique metagenomics, which is relatively new, according to Futurism. Researchers sequenced all the DNA in a sample – including water, feces, or dirt – to generate a metagenome. They were then able to reconstruct individual genomes of new bacteria and new archaea . Around a third of those microorganisms were distinct, allowing the researchers to create three archaeal phyla and 17 bacterial phyla. Microbes can be hard to scrutinize; scientists can only culture under one percent, according to Tyson. Utilizing metagenomics may offer a new method of studying microorganisms researchers can’t grow in a laboratory – and such research could be vital as microbes are opposing our life-saving antibiotics , and we face antibiotic resistance . According to Futurism, it’s possible some of these new species could be used in better antibiotics. And there could be more discoveries to come – study lead author Donovan Parks said in a statement, “We anticipate that processing of environmental samples deposited in other public repositories will add tens of thousands of additional microbial genomes to the tree of life.” Via Futurism and the University of Queensland Images via Pixabay and Parks, Donovan, et al.

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University of Queensland scientists uncover an ‘explosion’ of new life forms

Antony Gibbons modern Trine treehouse is a tranquil nature retreat

September 15, 2017 by  
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Designer Antony Gibbon merges natural materials with modern design in his latest tree house design—the Trine house. Completed as part of his Roost treehouse series, this freestanding cluster of bulbous buildings forms a triangular formation elevated into the forest canopy. Slatted timber surrounds the living spaces to allow for light and views, creating an immersive experience in nature. The proposed Trine house comprises four elevated pod-like spaces that bear resemblance to budding flowers with long stems. The treehouses are accessed from the forest floor via a winding staircase in the central pod building that serves as an outdoor room and viewing tower. Three treehouses branch out of the main pod and are connected with canopy walkways. Related: Antony Gibbon unveils a new light-filled treehouse designed for the ground The triangular formation of the Trine house “distributes the support across all of the structures creating a sound and stable frame when high up in the elements,” wrote Gibbon. “The tree houses are accessed through the central staircase building which follows the form of the tree houses. The slatted wood design created a semi transparency to the building allowing the light and wind to pass through it.” The three peripheral treehouse pods contain a large open-plan living area with floor-to-ceiling windows, a bathroom on the lower floor, and an accessible top deck. Water pipes and wiring for energy needs would be installed through the supporting treehouse stems. You can explore more of Antony Gibbon’s work on his website and on Instagram . + Antony Gibbon Designs Images via Antony Gibbon Designs

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Antony Gibbons modern Trine treehouse is a tranquil nature retreat

Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

April 27, 2017 by  
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For years, scientists have believed that humanity was a relatively recent visitor to the North American continent, migrating from Siberia only 15,000 years ago. Now, more accurate dating of mastodon fossils from California shows that an early human ancestor likely existed on the continent 130,000 years ago , far further back than even the most extreme estimates made by previous researchers. The fossils consist of elephant-like teeth and bones, which were discovered in Southern California during the construction of an expressway in 1992. The fossils bear clear signs of deliberate breakage using stone hammers and other early human tools – but until recently, dating technology was not sophisticated enough to accurately pinpoint the era from which they originated. Related: Archaeologist suggests ancient humans helped catalyze the Sahara’s desertification Using new methods to measure traces of natural uranium in the bones, researchers with the US Geological Survey and the Center for American Paleolithic Research found these bones were far older than the era when humans are generally accepted to have lived in America. While these people were clearly somehow related to modern-day humans, and were advanced enough to create and use stone tools, researchers say that they wouldn’t have been Homo sapiens as we know them. Our species didn’t leave Africa until 80,000 to 100,000 years ago. Instead, some likely candidates are Homo erectus, the Neanderthals, or perhaps a little-known hominid species called the Denisovans , whose DNA can still be found in Australian aboriginal populations today. It’s likely this ancient human population died out before Homo sapiens eventually crossed the Pacific. It’s believed they did not interbreed with modern humans and likely are not direct ancestors of any Native American groups. The new findings have been published in the journal Nature . Via Phys.org Images via San Diego Natural History Museum

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Humans may have lived in America 115,000 years earlier than we thought

Busy Moms: Finding the Time to Recycle in the Bathroom

April 17, 2017 by  
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Every mom I know is busy — it’s in our DNA. In order to make sure everyone is where they need to be with everything they need to have, multitasking is a built-in mom job requirement. But when you’re trying to do everything, sometimes…

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Busy Moms: Finding the Time to Recycle in the Bathroom

How Finland plans to completely eradicate tobacco use by 2040

January 27, 2017 by  
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Finland is looking to set a world standard for anti-smoking campaigns , with an ambitious new plan to make the country largely tobacco-free by 2040. That means the Finnish government wants less than 2 percent of adults in the country to consume tobacco in any form – be it cigarettes, snuff, pipes or e-cigarettes – by that time. According to CNN , smoking rates in Finland have been declining on par with those in other industrialized countries around the world – by and large due to things like bans on advertising and shop displays, as well as the creation of smoke-free public spaces. Still, the Finnish government has its work cut out for it, as 16 percent of 15 to 64-year olds in the country smoked as of 2013. That means they need to achieve a 14 percent reduction in just 23 years. Related: Coffee addict? It’s all in your DNA They’re hoping a “revolutionary” approach to tobacco reduction will help them meet the lofty goal. As CNN reports, instead of just targeting one area at a time, like exposure in public space or cigarette use, the Finnish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs plans to be precautionary in every angle, using a “comprehensive set of policies,” according to Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Kaari Paaso . They’re not going halfway by advocating for milder products that do less harm like e-cigarettes or snuff, as happened in neighboring Sweden. Instead, they’re moving to phase out all products. “We don’t want to fall into the trap of other policies that have less harmful products,” said Paaso, noting that he fears the promotion of other products will just create different problems for the health care system to confront down the road. “We want to phase out all products.” Finland plans to use a method that has worked in many other locations, raising the price of cigarettes, but with its own unique take. It plans to charge a licensing fee for vendors and an annual fee to pay for surveillance officers who ensure compliance with rules – which is sure to drive the price of tobacco up even further. Via CNN Images via Pixabay and Pexels

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How Finland plans to completely eradicate tobacco use by 2040

Experimental Zika vaccine to be tested on humans for the first time

June 21, 2016 by  
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The FDA just approved the world’s first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine . The tests will determine whether or not the vaccine is safe for use in normal, healthy people – however, they will not be able to determine whether or not the vaccine prevents the disease. The vaccine, called GLS-5700, has been shown to cause a strong antibody response against the Zika virus in monkeys and mice. With any luck, the results of this new study will be available by the end of the year. The trial will be run by Inovio Pharmaceuticals , a company specializing in immunotherapy, and GeneOne Life Science , a DNA vaccine developer. It will begin in just a few short weeks, and it will include 40 adult subjects. If successful, the vaccine may be tested in people who have an existing Zika infection in later trials. GLS-5700 is what is known as a ” DNA vaccine ,” a relatively new approach to fighting disease. Instead of directly injecting parts of the infectious agent, it consists of DNA coded to produce a special protein that surrounds the Zika virus. The vaccine is injected the same way as a normal shot, and it’s also zapped with a device that delivers a short electrical pulse to help guide the DNA into the patient’s cells. Once this process is complete, the new DNA trains the immune system of the patient to fight the disease. Related: Millions of genetically altered mosquitoes are being released in the Cayman Islands to fight Zika This may be the first Zika vaccine approved for testing, but it isn’t the only one being developed. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is also in the process of developing a DNA vaccine , which may begin phase 1 testing as soon as August. However, it’s important to note that clinical testing is a long and complex process, and that it might still be years yet before either of these vaccines are ready for the mass market. Via The Verge Photos via Tom and Oregon State University

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Experimental Zika vaccine to be tested on humans for the first time

Did these scientists just cure HIV/AIDS?

March 22, 2016 by  
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Researchers at Philadelphia’s Temple University have made a thrilling breakthrough on the path to cure HIV/AIDS . In a recent experiment, they managed to remove HIV-1 DNA out of the human genome . And when they reintroduced HIV to the edited genomes, the cells were no longer infected with the virus . Read the rest of Did these scientists just cure HIV/AIDS?

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Did these scientists just cure HIV/AIDS?

UK scientists given the go-ahead to begin genetically modifying human embryos

February 2, 2016 by  
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British lawmakers have handed down a historical and controversial decision to allow scientists to move forward with new “gene editing” techniques on human embryos . The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has given the go-ahead on genetically modified human embryos for the first time in the nation’s history. Scientists will use these techniques to study the earliest stages of development – the first week after fertilization, to be specific – in order to better understand the genes human embryos need to develop successfully. The research could improve success rates for in vitro fertilization, as well as possible lead to developments in infertility treatment. Read the rest of UK scientists given the go-ahead to begin genetically modifying human embryos

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