It’s hard to recall a revolution that has swept biology more swiftly than CRISPR. Just 3 years ago, scientists reported that the CRISPR system—an adaptive immune system used by microbes to defend themselves against invading viruses by recording and targeting their DNA sequences—could be repurposed into a simple and reliable technique for editing, in living cells, the genomes of mammals and other organisms. CRISPR was soon adapted for a vast range of applications—creating complex animal models of human-inherited diseases and cancers; performing genome-wide screens in human cells to pinpoint the genes underlying biological processes; turning specific genes on or off; and genetically modifying plants—and is being used in thousands of labs worldwide. The prospect that CRISPR might be used to modify the human germline has stimulated international debate.
Let’s say you had a mummy of a giant extinct bird—what would you do with it? Marie Attard and co-authors had a brilliant idea. They stuck it in an MRI scanner to get a detailed look at its jaw muscles and reconstruct the way it ate, even though moas have been extinct for 550 years.
The evidence for a new geological epoch which marks the impact of human activity on the Earth is now overwhelming according to a recent paper by an international group of geoscientists. The Anthropocene, which is argued to start in the mid-20th Century, is marked by the spread of materials such as aluminium, concrete, plastic, fly ash and fallout from nuclear testing across the planet, coincident with elevated greenhouse gas emissions and unprecedented trans-global species invasions.
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.