The U.S. government estimates that hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits languish in police and crime lab storage facilities. The EndTheBacklog project illustrates that there's "more we do NOT know about the backlog than we do know." Read the rest
Entirely happy to use the word "chickenosaurus," NBC News reports that scientists are getting closer to creating a throwback creature by messing with avian DNA: "From a quantitative point of view, we're 50 percent there," a professor of paleontology told them.
Back in 2011, I posted that one of John Lennon's teeth was up for auction. Canadian dentist Michael Zuk bought the molar for approximately $34,000 and says he would eventually like to use it to clone Lennon and raise him as his own son.
"He would still be his exact duplicate but you know, hopefully keep him away from drugs and cigarettes, that kind of thing," Zuk said.
Zuk has all kinds of other plans involving the tooth, including a DNA pendant, fine art photos, a documentary film, charity fundraising... It goes on and on over at JohnLennonTooth.com.
Over the last couple of days, you might have heard about the "duon" — a "second" genetic code that's being hyped as a radical new "breakthrough" in science.
Based solely on the number of words I've put in quotations here, you can probably guess that the actual news doesn't really match the hype. Read the rest
Back in February, a Texas forensic scientist announced that she'd identified a DNA sample from Bigfoot and had sequenced the creature's genome. Now the sequences have been released for wider scrutiny and Ars Technica's John Timmer had a chance to dig into the data and speak with the discoverer of the possible Bigfoot genome. This is a story that, I think, everybody can enjoy — a skeptical analysis that's respectful to the Bigfoot researchers and genuinely interested in understanding where the DNA in question came from and what the genome sequences can tell us. Read the rest
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen sequenced the oldest genome yet — 700,000-year-old DNA from an ancient ancestor of the horse. The Nature Podcast explains why doing this is valuable (and, no, it's not about creating a cloned ancient horse park) and how you go about sequencing such elderly, and thus degraded, DNA. Read the rest
Last week, I told you about the US Supreme Court ruling that made it illegal to patent naturally occurring DNA. In that article, I talked briefly about the fact that the new ruling doesn't cover all DNA. It's still perfectly legal to patent synthetic DNA, and the court documents referred specifically to complementary DNA (aka cDNA).
This is where things get murky. Complementary DNA is a thing that can be both natural and synthetic. And, as a laboratory creation, it's an important step in a common method of replicating naturally occurring DNA. All of which leaves some holes in the idea that the Supreme Court ruling is a simple "win" for open-access science, patent activists, and patients. After all, if you can't patent a gene, but you can patent the laboratory copy of the gene, what's that mean? It's sort of like not being able to patent a novel, but being able to patent a copy of its contents that's had all the white space removed. It seems like everybody is a bit confused by this. So I wanted to take a moment to at least clarify what cDNA is and what some people, on different sides of the science/law/biotech divides, are thinking about it.
It starts with some stuff you learned back in junior high — how information from your DNA gets turned into actual working proteins. Read the rest
Before you get excited about the bones of Richard III being found under a parking lot, consider this — the announcement included no mention of how common the DNA sequences that ostensibly identified the body as Richard really are. Those sequences might match Richard's descendants, but if the sequences are also really common, well, that's not saying much. Read the rest
Researchers have successfully stored information in synthetic DNA and then sequenced the DNA to read the data. Nick Goldman and his colleagues from the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) encoded all of Shakespeare's sonnets, an audio clip of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, Watson and Crick's paper on DNA's structure, a photo of the EBI, and an explanation of their data conversion technique. Last year, Harvard molecular geneticist George Church encoded a book he had written in DNA, but EBI's breakthroughs are in the way the data is encoded and its error-correction. From the abstract of their scientific paper published at Nature:
We encoded computer files totalling 739 kilobytes of hard-disk storage and with an estimated Shannon information10 of 5.2 × 106 bits into a DNA code, synthesized this DNA, sequenced it and reconstructed the original files with 100% accuracy. Theoretical analysis indicates that our DNA-based storage scheme could be scaled far beyond current global information volumes and offers a realistic technology for large-scale, long-term and infrequently accessed digital archiving. In fact, current trends in technological advances are reducing DNA synthesis costs at a pace that should make our scheme cost-effective for sub-50-year archiving within a decade.
"Synthetic double-helix faithfully stores Shakespeare's sonnets" (Thanks, Mike Pescovitz!) Read the rest
The Curiosity rover can do a lot of things, but nobody is expecting her to find direct evidence of life on Mars. In fact, the hunt for life on the Red Planet has been a pretty stunted one. The last time we really looked was during the Viking missions, which tried to find chemical "footprints" that would exist if there had once been life on Mars, but that could end up on that planet for other reasons, as well. What we got back was a less-than-enthralling "Outlook Hazy. Try Again Later."
Ever since, we've contented ourselves with searching for indirect evidence — assessing the planet for signs that it might once have had the conditions necessary for life to happen. That's important, and it will make direct evidence of life more believable if we ever do find it, but it's not quite the same thing.
But now, DNA sequencing tools have become portable enough (and drilling technology has become powerful enough) that some scientists and Craig Ventner think we could send a probe to Mars which could find buried traces of actual DNA protected in the dirt and sequence that DNA on site.
Read the rest
It's also possible that life hitched a ride between Earth and Mars in their early days. Asteroid impacts have sent about a billion tonnes of rock careering between the two planets, potentially carrying DNA or its building blocks. That could mean that any genetic material on Mars is similar enough to DNA that we have a chance of finding it using standard tests.
A study at Nanjing University in China found that ingested "microRNA" (very small pieces of ribonucleic acid, or RNA) from plants were able to survive digestion and influence the function of human cells.
Food columnist Ari Levaux has a piece digging into the implications, in The Atlantic. The basic idea: if this research stands up to the rigors of scientific scrutiny, it could prove that when we eat food, we consume not just fuel and nutrients, but information that changes us on a cellular level, and influences health.
Read the rest
Monsanto's website states, "There is no need for, or value in testing the safety of GM foods in humans." This viewpoint, while good for business, is built on an understanding of genetics circa 1950. It follows what's called the "Central Dogma" (PDF) of genetics, which postulates a one-way chain of command between DNA and the cells DNA governs.
The Central Dogma resembles the process of ordering a pizza. The DNA knows what kind of pizza it wants, and orders it. The RNA is the order slip, which communicates the specifics of the pizza to the cook. The finished and delivered pizza is analogous to the protein that DNA codes for.
We've known for years that the Central Dogma, though basically correct, is overly simplistic. For example: Pieces of microRNA that don't code for anything, pizza or otherwise, can travel among cells and influence their activities in many other ways. So while the DNA is ordering pizza, it's also bombarding the pizzeria with unrelated RNA messages that can cancel a cheese delivery, pay the dishwasher nine million dollars, or email the secret sauce recipe to WikiLeaks.
Love these (sadly unattributed) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tattoos. Illustrating the flowerpot/whale scene is particularly poignant, as it is perhaps the most humorously existential moment in one of the great existential comedies of all time.
(via Forbidden Planet)Science fiction inspired tees from Atomic Tarantula - Boing Boing Knuckle tattoo blog - Boing Boing Science tattoos - Boing Boing Black light tattoo of a skeleton Boing Boing Buy the typewriter on which Douglas Adams wrote Hitchhiker's Guide ... Secret history of Infocom's abortive sequel to The Hitchhikers ... Read the rest
The condo association at Scarlett Place, a posh Baltimore building, have proposed to DNA-test all the dogs on the premises, and use DNA from errant dog-turds to identify feckless owners and fine them $500 per dog-pie.
Using all the dog swabs, BioPet would create a doggie database of sorts for the complex. It would compare all those samples to the mysterious doggie-doo. When BioPet identifies the guilty pooch, the owner would pay a $500 fine.
"We pay all this money, and we're walking around stepping in dog poop," resident Steven Frans told The Sun. "We bring guests over and this is what they're greeted by."
Frans is the board member who proposed the plan, calling it a reasonable and objective way to find the culprit.
(Image: A New Way to Complain About Dog Poop, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from aoifecitywomanchile's photostream)How to make a minpin poop compost bin: an illustrated guide ... Woman fined for picking up the wrong dog's poop Barbie doll set comes with plastic dog crap Al Jaffee's dog crap epoxy invention Designer dog poo bags Gadgets Taiwan city launches new cash-for-poop initiative Dogs and cats, living together ... mass hysteria! Read the rest