Infographic: Growing Human Organs in a Pig

There’s still a great demand for human organs all the world. And there aren’t enough donors to meet that demand. That’s why scientists are working hard to alternatives to meet the demand and even spare individuals for giving up their own to save another life.

One such research is led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte from the Salk Institute, which had made progress in growing human organs in pigs. The process is explained in the nifty infographic below:

grow human organs in pig

If you’re squeamish, you’d never look at pork chops the same way again. Still, it’s a fascinating way of growing organs. There are other ideas being researched on, like growing organs in the lab, or even using 3D printers which have been a trend of late. How it all turns out, the future has good promise for those who are or would need a new organ.

Source: Scientific American

Our lack of physical activities triggers gene for obesity

We may bask in the glory of modern technology today – smartphones, apps, the Internet and how these advances have made life easier by a just a few clicks and taps. However, this led to a more sedentary lifestyle (couch potatos, *ehem *ehem) than generations before, how many children nowadays go out and actually play with other kids?

Carl Zimmer writes for The New York Times about several scientific studies have shown that our less-physically strenuous way of life today has triggered a gene that causes obesity:

People born before the early 1940s were not at additional risk of putting on weight if they had the risky variant of FTO. Only subjects born in later years had a greater risk. And the more recently they were born, the scientists found, the greater the gene’s effect.

Some change in the way people lived in the late 20th century may have transformed FTO into a gene with a big impact on the risk of obesity, the researchers theorized. Giles S.H. Yeo, a geneticist at the University of Cambridge who wasn’t involved in the study, said he suspected that physical activity had something to do with the change.

It is possible that before World War II, people were so physically active that they were shielded from FTO’s obesity risks. As people became sedentary, they lost that protection and the gene emerged as a danger.

So it’s alright to hit the gym or simply get up and move about. Specially if you have the FTO gene.

In my case, I could use a little help from that gene as I need to put on more weight.

Biological Lasers – first step towards Cyclops?

It’s not science-fiction anymore, it’s a fact. Scientists have found a way to make lasers out of living cells. Kidney cells, of all candidates, have been utilized to prove that a biological laser is feasible.

Two physicists Malte Gather and Seok Hyun Yun were behind this project, they explained that:

Almost any organism, from bacteria to higher mammalians, can be programmed to synthesize such luminescent proteins, so we wondered if GFP could be used to amplify light and build biological lasers.

And that’s exactly what they did. They took human embryonic kidney cells and reprogrammed them with an enhanced version of the GFP gene. The cells where then sandwiched between highly reflective mirrors and a blue light were pulsed through the chamber.

The cells absorbed and re-emitted a green light enough to be used as a laser by amplifying it with mirrors. Unlike regular lasers that wear out with use, the new biological laser is able to “self-heal” and go on.

One of the practical uses this new technology offers is its potential to help reveal biological processes within the cell as the light emitted contained information about the insides of the cell as Gather told MSNBC.

The biological laser could also lead to new treatment for cancer patients, using light to activate drugs that attack cancer cells. Don’t you just love science? So this means that a human eye capable of projecting a laser blast can now be engineered and implanted on a human? (ehem X-Men!)

Read more about this new biological laser through the paper published online by Nature.

Will you trust the government with your genes?

An interesting issue is discussed over at Eye on DNA: Newborn Genetic Screening vs Right to Privacy.

Bush on DNABasically, the big groups and associations of health professionals in the US are arguing that all newborns should be screened for 29 genetic disorders. Being a Federal Republic, this kind of notion or policy varies from state to state.

Some states have laws that mandate the genetic screening of a newborn, which of course parents can opt-out, while other states do it in reverse, parents can opt-in to have their newborn screened for genetic disorders.

Both have disadvantages and advantages, if the screening is required by state laws, almost all babies are checked and so given the right medical attention accordingly. However, if it is not required less newborns are screened, less genetic disorders are discovered early on and so less infants recieve the medical care they need to.

Either way it’s well and good. Both scenarios offer a compromise between your right to genetic privacy and your right to recieve medical attention as a tax-paying citizen.

So what’s all the fuss about? It all boils down to what is to be done or being done to the blood samples after they have been tested. Do they get destroyed or kept on for future (read: reasearch) uses?

Privacy stalwarts would argue that it’s a big No-no because what the government is left with is a pieace of the actual genetic material from the newborn, the screening being done, the government or hospital authorities are basically free to do what they want with it. In the most sincere of intents, use it for further genetic research that will benefit the general public.

However, it is the government and as commenter Yvette points out; I think the public may be wise to mistrust this motivation in the area of genetic health given the government’s track record with its citizen’s health generally.

So now we have a dilemma, should we require that all newborns be screened or not? Should we allow government to keep our health records and actual genetic material?

More on genetics, drop by Froodee where today I briefly talk about pregnancies, genetics and tofu.

Genetically-modified peanut butter

peanut butterWell it’s a guess, that would probably come true in the next 3-5 years from now. The go signal has been given to scientists to create genetically-modified peanuts that are more nutritious, more resistant to pests, less allergic to those who are allergic to peanuts and easier to grow and cultivate.

The signal came from the peanut industry led by the American Peanut Council, (Yes, such organization does exists.) They say that competitors from China and India have been working a lot lately on genetically modified peanuts, it’s now America’s time to do it. The beauty of the free economy; in the quest for more profits certain things would have to fly out the window, like social and health concerns about GMOs or genetically-modified organisms.

Now genetic engineering per se is not bad, heck; we’re using it right now to treat certain cancers and birth-defects. Scientists just have to do their homeworks better so that decision makers can make the best of out them. You never know what GMOs can do to your body or to other creatures on this planet, so it will be greatly beneficial to be extra careful about tinkering with the genes of any living organism.

That includes peanuts, and in turn its derivative peanut butter. That yummy brown paste that is the essential ingredient of the peanut butter and jelly sandwhich, and for us Filipinos Kare-kare.

We may think that this is only the first instance where science and genetic engineering will work on peanuts. We better guess again as not so long ago, the Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program (P- CRSP) which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (AID) has worked with the National Food Authority/Food Development Center (NFA/FDC) and University of the Philippines (UP) to put peanut butter in a better social use. They developed a technology to fortify peanut butter with Vitamin A so as to make the delivery of this important vitamin to the people, particularly among children. Lack of Vitamin A is a leading cause of blindness amongst them. Noble isn’t it? Let’s just hope and remind scientists that after they have tinkered with the peanuts, it better be good for all of us.

Gap between humans and chimps widens

An article from the National Geographic website has a basic laydown about the results of the latest mapping of the human genome.

According to the story, our DNA varies more widely from person to person. This is one of the conclusions scientists and geneticists had after analyzing new researches about the human genome. The genetic material found in every cell of our bodies that define and make us humans.

The new map provides a much clearer picture of human genetic variation, says geneticist and co-researcher Charles Lee of the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

“This evidence is showing that we are more genetically unique from one another—we all have individualized genomes,” he said.

Personalized DNA? You can bet a monkey’s butt on it. Which is not really surprising when one would consider that we humans are among the most dispersed organisms in the planet. We inhabit almost every terrain on Earth and continue to expand our territories, often with harmful effects to other species.

Evolutionary theory would support this and say that since we have a very wide range of distribution-we’re found almost anywhere in the planet, we would have more variation in our DNA since we have adapted and continue to adapt to more types of different habitat.

This also justifies the difference between ethnic groups and help us understand how they adapted to their specific environments; e.g. Why Asians have a smaller body build compared to their European cousins and why our African brothers are more resistant to HIV infections compared to our South American cousins and so forth.

Aside from shedding more light into those topics mentioned earlier, medicine will greatly benefit from this new research because now, we could better understand the effects of genes on diseases, how they originate, how they spread, how they are passed on from one generation to the next and of course the why-counterparts of these questions and more. We answer those questions, we would finally have a cure, even prevent age-old diseases like cancer, deformities and AIDS.

Lastly, as pointed out in the title of this piece, we have also come to the surprising suggestion that we humans are now more distant to chimpanzees that we previously thought. Before, studies suggested that we shared 99% of our genome with chimps, that has now changed and the figure is now somewhere between 96-97% similarity.

A difference of roughly 3% over the past million years has made us more humans than chimps. The question now is, what particular genes made us more humans instead of chimps?