Illumina – The Google of DNA

We have all used Google and other search engines to find everything from that news article we told our friends about the other day to the cute cat video that we just can’t stop watching. We use search engines because they let us find and pick up things more easily, so why not use something similar for our genetic sequences?

San Diego-based biotech company Illumina Machines uses the Illumina for just that. The Illumina is a DNA sequencing machine that has so far generated as much 90% of all our data regarding the DNA sequence to date. That doesn’t mean they plan to stop though as they are about to move into a new venture with another company that focuses on liquid cancer biopsy’s, Grail. With less than a hundredth of the world’s population having their genetic sequence mapped, the idea is that increasing the mapping and detail that these scans are done we can detect, pick up and analyse illness and irregularities in our very building blocks.

Eric Endicott, the director of global relations at Illumina, stated that “we are at a tipping point genomics, where a broad community of scientists and researchers continue to translate the potential of the genome from science to discoveries and applications”.

Would you want a map of your genome done? From the looks of it, Illumina is keen to go from theory to practice by letting everyone get their genetic sequences mapped, even letting companies use it in the field to help detect illnesses and high-risk patients before they are struck by the symptoms.

Elon Musk to Eschew Genetic Engineering Over “The Hitler Problem”

Maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO and founder of both electronic car company Tesla Motors and private astronautics outfit SpaceX, has distanced himself from ever toying with the human genome for fear of its association with Nazi eugenics programs.

In an interview with Tim Urban of Wait But Why, Musk was asked his opinion on “genetic reprogramming,” and whether recoding the human DNA was a field he was interested in exploring. Musk replied that his problem with it is less of a “technical battle” but more a “moral battle”. He elucidates: “You know, I call it the Hitler Problem. Hitler was all about creating the Übermensch and genetic purity, and it’s like— how do you avoid the Hitler Problem? I don’t know.”

In relation to solving problems like eradicating disease and genetic defects, Musk said, “I mean I do think there’s … in order to fundamentally solve a lot of these issues, we are going to have to reprogram our DNA. That’s the only way to do it,” calling DNA “little more than software, and admitting that “reprogramming the human genetic code” was one of five key things he listed as vital to the future of humanity while he was trying to determine his career path back in college.

Musk has already spoken of his fear over the rise of artificial intelligence which, when added to his aversion to tampering with the human genome, demonstrates a refreshing reluctance to ‘play God’ from the innovative magnate.

Thank you NextShark for providing us with this information.

Chinese Scientists Edit Embryonic Human Genome

A group of Chinese scientists have become the first to edit the genetic code in a human embryo. The study, which aimed to remove the gene responsible for the potentially fatal blood disorder β-thalassaemia, rewrote the genetic material – using a technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 – of ‘non-viable’ embryos that were incapable of producing life, with the scientists recognising the ethical implications of editing a human life prior to its birth.

The study, the results of which were published in online journal Protein & Cell, was led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at the Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou. Huang and his team injected 86 embryos with the CRISPR/Cas9 system and waited 48 hours for its molecules to react. 71 embyros survived the process, with each having grown by eight cells. 54 of those cells were genetically tested, of which 28 had successfully had their DNA rewritten to edit the HBB gene, responsible for β-thalassaemia.

“If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%,” Huang said. “That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.”

George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at the Boston, Massachusetts Harvard Medical School, said of the study, “I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale. Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

The study was not without controversy, with science journal Nature and Science rejecting the paper due to ethical objections. Despite this, it is reported that four other studies into gene editing are underway in China.

Thank you nature for providing us with this information.

OK Go Plans to Release Album on DNA

Innovative rock band OK Go, famous for spectacular home-made music videos, wants to encode the band’s fourth album, Hungry Ghosts, on DNA.

Lead singer Damian Kulash, who studied computer science at university, recalls the fork in the road that took him toward music: “I remember sitting with my friend and saying ‘dude, what are we going to do? Are we going to start a startup or a band?’ And at almost the exact same moment he said ‘startup’ and I said ‘band’. He sold his startup to Microsoft, so he’s got a lot more money than I do!”

But Kulash kept one foot in the science camp; he’s been working with UCLA biochemist Sriram Kosuri on genetic encoding. “I was at a conference, the Future of Storytelling, where a book had been encoded in DNA,” Kulash said, “and I was fascinated by lots of parts of that idea.”

For an album, or any data, to be encoded on DNA means translating it from binary into base 4 code, referring to the four DNA nucleotides A, C, T, and G. The album cannot be listened until it is translated back into binary, meaning the DNA acts purely as a rudimentary storage device, a fact Kulash readily admits: “It’s arbitrary as an artistic gesture, but the scientists are actually figuring out a lot of actual cryptography and biology, so it’s win-win.”

“I’ve been saying for a while now that nerds are the new rock stars, and that goes both ways,” Kulash concludes.

Source: The Guardian

Russia to Create a ‘Noah’s Ark’ Database Containing DNA From Every Animal in the World

Russia has awarded a huge national grant to Moscow State University to facilitate the creation of a ‘Noah’s Ark’ containing DNA from every living creature on the Earth, the first database of its kind.

The database should be completed by 2018 and the storage vault is said to cover an area of 430sq/km.

Viktor Sadivinchy, rector of Moscow State University, said in a press release, “I call the project ‘Noah’s Ark.’ It will involve the creation of a depository – a databank for the storing of every living thing on Earth, including not only living, but disappearing and extinct organisms. This is the challenge we have set for ourselves.”

“It will enable us to cryogenically freeze and store various cellular materials, which can then reproduce. It will also contain information systems. Not everything needs to be kept in a petri dish.”

“If it’s realized, this will be a leap in Russian history as the first nation to create an actual Noah’s Ark of sorts.”

The DNA samples will be compiled from a number of existing sources, including the Botanical Garden, the Anthropological Museum, and the Zoological Museum, at a cost of 1 billion rubles (US$194 million).

Source: Inhabitat

Online Matchmaking for Coffee

We’ve all heard of online matchmaking sites when it comes to dating, but this is somewhat more useful. At least to me, and I’m loving this idea, lets hope it spreads to more parts of the world.

Craft Coffee has come up with a concept of matching the perfect cup of coffee to the customer.The company has been around since 2011, offering up a coffee subscription service designed to help users discover new roasts from around the country. It partners with dozens of different independent roasters to source beans and deliver them to customers that would probably never have heard of them.

The subscription model isn’t anything new in itself, but Craft has taken all their information from previous sale and combined it with their knowledge about the beans to create a discovery model based on what it calls the Coffee DNA project. Having shipped over 50 thousand pounds of coffee already, Craft has a big database. That coupled with customer survey and and coffee drinkers will be presented with a products just for his or hers taste.

New customers just sign up and take a short survey, and if they’re looking for something similar or something new and different. They then choose a price level and delivery schedule, as well as whether they’d prefer whole or ground beans.

The new coffee is sent each month, either one package of beans or a sampler from three different roasters. Plans start at $11.99 and go up to $24.99, depending on the quality of the coffee that they send. With thousands of different blends in its database and hundreds of different beans available to ship to its customers at any time, Craft Coffee hopes to find something for anyone. According to founder Michael Horn, the company is building out a distribution network for the roasters that it partners with, who probably wouldn’t be able to reach the customers it connects them with otherwise.

This is technology based matchmaking I can get behind.

Thank you TechCrunch for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of TechCrunch.

Jellyfish DNA Can Make Glow In The Dark Pigs

When scientists from Turkey created glow in the dark Rabbits in August 2013, we wondered whether or not this interesting experiment would continue. Well it has, a team from the South China Agricultural University has been able to produce 10 glow in the dark pigs. The pigs turn a green color when exposed to black fluorescent lights. The technique was first developed at the University of Hawaii’s Manona School of Medicine. The technique involves injecting the subject animal embryo with DNA from jellyfish. The reason for the “green” glow is that the florescent genetic material from the jellyfish has successfully been incorporated into the pigs natural genetic make-up whilst the animal was still an embryo.

The reason for these color changing experiments isn’t just for fun or a giggle. Researchers hope that from the findings of these successful experiments in the future they will be able to introduce different beneficial genes into much larger animals to help create more effective and less costly medicines. Dr Stefan Moisyadi from the University of Hawaii where the technique was developed went onto explain more;

“The green color shown by the animals is just a marker to show that we can take a gene that was not originally present in the animal and now is. With this technique we can create enzymes a lot cheaper in animals rather than in a factory that will cost millions of dollars to build”.

Although there is a scientific and medical use tho this breakthrough, one would wonder when new genetic trait could be made available to the public as a new version of “designer pet”. What family petwould you like to see glow in the dark? On a final note Dr Moisyadi went onto say that the animals were not negatively affected by the florescent protein and they would have the same life span as other pigs.


Thanks to The Sydney Morning Herald for the information provided

Image Courtesy of ZDOUF

Teenager Builds DNA Testing Machine In His Bedroom, Stuns Scientists

Scientists are stunned by a teenager Fred Turner from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, who built a working DNA testing machine in his bedroom see if this brother, Gus, has a mutated gene to cause ginger hair. Yeah!! He wanted to know why is brother is Ginger, and he isn’t.

He calls this machine as Polymerase chain reaction machine where he spent £250 to make the device. Ordinarily, a DNA testing machine would cost £3,000. He said that the machine makes copies of his DNA and use it to test how it reacts under different temperatures. By heating and cooling the DNA sample, he was able to see if his DNA is different from his brother’s. He then discovered that his brother Gus has a mutated Gene which explained why his brother was ginger. His source of inspiration to make such a machine was that he read about a man in United States who made his own, he read how he had made his machine and thought that he could improve the design.

He started on this project in May 2012 and he also worked in a part-time job selling sofas while studying for A-levels in biology, maths, physics and chemistry.

Fred was very fascinated by his brother’s ginger coloured hair, and it was that which encouraged him to build this DNA testing machine by using components from household items, even using an old video player. After years of work, the end product impressed certain scientists enough to name him “UK’s young Engineer of the Year’. He participated in Young Engineer of the year awards in London and after impressing the judges, he won. Now he gets calls from researchers who want to use his machine.

Fred is now offered a place to study biochemistry in Oxford Univeristy from September.

Source: DailyMail

A strand DNA can store upto 2.2 petabytes of data

Researchers from the European Bioinformatics institute were able to encode 154 Shakespeare sonnets and Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech in a single strand of DNA. This came to a total of 739KB but the researchers are confident that it can hold 2.2 petabytes of information.

It is also noted in a report that DNA has a capacity for high-density storage for information, as well as encoding and the ability to preserve data for a very long time.

The procedure however is expensive. A DNA manipulation method to hold per GB of data costs around $12,400 per MB. We’ll have to wait till this becomes feasible. They’ve also noted that embedding information on a strand of DNA takes a lot more time than it needs to be calculated in months rather than seconds.

Via: Gizmodo