Debates rage over what to do about genetically modified organisms, but we rarely stop to ask a more basic question: Do GMOs really exist? It’s an important question, because no one in this debate can tell you precisely what a GMO is. It’s a metaphor we use to talk about a set of ideas. It doesn’t map neatly onto any clear category in the physical world.
IN 1931 A fishing boat trawling the North Sea hauled in a spear point along with its catch. The sharpened piece of antler with barbs carved into one sides was almost 14,000 years old—a remnant of a place called Doggerland, underwater since the end of an ice age raised sea levels.
Today, researchers are embarking on an ambitious project to fully explore Doggerland—using DNA, seafloor sediment, and survey data from oil and gas companies.
Crispr-Cas9 used to write anti-malarial genes into the DNA of eggs belonging to Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes. A major carrier of the malaria parasite in Asia, the strain is responsible for more than 10% of malaria cases in India.
In lab tests, the modified mosquitoes passed on their anti-malarial genes to 99.5% of their offspring, suggesting that the procedure was incredibly effective and efficient.
Will it one day be possible to bring a woolly mammoth or a Neanderthal back to life? If so, should we? How is climate change affecting the evolution and extinction of species?
These are some of the questions explored in science writer Maura O’Connor’s new book, Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction And The Precarious Future of Wild Things.
As previously mentioned Beth Shapiro and her team at the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab have been performing the initial sample analysis for our attempt to sequence the moa genome. Unfortunately the news is not good for our first batch of samples. Here’s Beth’s report.
We extracted only one sample (and one blank) as a first pass. We sequenced about 4 million reads, of which 99.8% were unique (which means the library was very complex, or that a lot of different DNA sequences were present in the extract). Unfortunately, only 0.04% of these mapped to the Tinamou genome, which is approximately the same proportion that mapped to human. We also attempted to map the reads to the Anomalopteryx didiformis mitochondrial genome, and recovered only a few reads (0.014X coverage). A comparison to all data available online using the software MEGAN indicated that 84% of the recovered reads mapped to bacteria.
In summary, this specimen appears to have a very high bacterial component. It is not really possible to tell at this coverage whether there is also lots of moa DNA, but the enormous complexity of bacterial sequences means that ~99% of the recovered data will have to be thrown away.
If you want us to repeat the process or to sequence the sample more deeply (to see if we can learn whether there are lots of molecules of moa DNA present) we will. However, it might be better to attempt this with a better preserved bone at this point — one where the proportion of moa DNA to bacterial DNA is skewed more in favor of moa.
So unfortunately the first batch of samples appear to contain very little endogenous DNA. Therefore we will be resuming the hunt for better samples and will be repeating the process with the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab.
This result although disappointing was not particularly surprising. Obtaining a sample rich in endogenous DNA is very difficult, and it’s often necessary to process many samples before one of sufficient quality can be found. We will obtain a new batch of samples and repeat the process with the hope of more favorable results in the next round of analysis.
One of the greatest achievements of the coming century will be the characterization of the Biocode, not just as a list of genomes of different species, but as patterns of interacting communities. Our first guess at its size opens a door. We will start to understand how it has fluctuated in composition in the past and how it will change in the future. We can start to learn how it works.
Russia has opened a laboratory in Siberia devoted to the study of extinct animal DNA in the hope of creating clones
The new lab in Yakutsk – often called the world’s coldest city – will “seek out live cells with a view to cloning”, says Semen Grigoryev, director of the Mammoth Museum at the city’s Northeastern Federal University. He tells Ogonek magazine that “the priority is to look into bringing back the mammoth”, adding that the Beijing Institute of Genomics and South Korea’s Sooam Biotech company, which has pioneered dog cloning, will be involved in the study.
Earlier this year, researchers at Harvard University announced they had copied 14 woolly mammoth genes into the genome of an Asian elephant. The scientists at Yakutsk’s new facility hope that their own unrivalled collection of 2,000 or so remnants of prehistoric animals, ranging from primitive dogs and horses to mammoths, will help to identify quality cell tissue from which to extract useful DNA.