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Evolution: Not So Random After All

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 10-29-2012

Evolution, often perceived as a series of random changes, might in fact be driven by a simple and repeated genetic solution to an environmental pressure that a broad range of species happen to share, according to new research.

Princeton University research published in the journal Science suggests that knowledge of a species’ genes — and how certain external conditions affect the proteins encoded by those genes — could be used to determine a predictable evolutionary pattern driven by outside factors. Scientists could then pinpoint how the diversity of adaptations seen in the natural world developed even in distantly related animals.

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A viral hitchhiker’s guide to the evolutionary galaxy

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 10-16-2012

Late last year, we told you how most human beings are more virus than human. Now a newly published paper shows that the genomes of birds are riddled with DNA sequences from viruses, and that analysis of these viral sequences, known as endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), can provide insights into how both hosts and viruses have evolved over the eons.

All genomes are cobbled together works-in-progress. Scientists have long known that the human genome, for example, is not all human: like most every other genome studied to date, a good chunk of the DNA we call “human” is actually made up of proviruses, sequences that retroviruses have deposited there to take advantage of the cell’s ability to copy DNA and translate that DNA into working proteins. These proviruses can either be inherited in the DNA we get from our parents (endogenous retroviruses), or they can be picked up during our lifetime (exogenous retroviruses).

The study reveals that millions of years ago birds were host to many different kinds of ERVs, serving as a kind of melting pot: a meeting and mingling place where viruses recombined and shared genetic information.

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Now THAT’S the way to use a cell phone

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 07-25-2012

In my opinion, there are waaayyy too many cell phones in schools these days. Ringing, texting, gaming…all of these are annoyances that disturb class and distract students’ attention. However, students at Johns Hopkins have redeemed themselves and renewed my confidence that undergrads can actually utilize cell phones responsibly.

Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering undergraduates have developed a noninvasive way to identify patients suffering from anemia hoping to save thousands of women and children from this dangerous blood disorder in developing nations. The device, HemoGlobe, is designed to convert the existing cell phones of health workers into a “prick-free” system for detecting and reporting anemia at the community level.

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The empty call of personalized medicine

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 05-24-2012

For years, scientists and medical professionals have been searching for the holy grail that is personalized medicine. Here, at the American Biotechnologist, we too have been enamored by the concept and have written many articles in its support, (see for example Genomes, Phenomes and Personalized Medicine and Andrew Hessel is a Seer…Personalized Medicine is Very Near). Yet, although many personalized medicine crusaders have gone to war, few battles have been won.

In an unfortunate turn of events, a recent publication out of Harvard University has found that a person’s genetic profile is a very poor predictor of disease and of little use in clinical practice. The study looked at genetic variations associated with breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and found that knowledge of these variations only resulted in a 1-3% increase in risk prediction sensitivity. Hardly anything to get excited about.

Does this mean the end to personalized medicine? Of course not! However, it does mean that readers should be skeptical when hearing stories about the great predictive powers of genomic information and need to make sure to keep their scientific glasses on in order to avoid getting swept up by the excitement.

For more information see Knowing genetic makeup may not significantly improve disease risk prediction.

Reference:
Aschard, H., Chen, J., Cornelis, M., Chibnik, L., Karlson, E., & Kraft, P. (2012). Inclusion of Gene-Gene and Gene-Environment Interactions Unlikely to Dramatically Improve Risk Prediction for Complex Diseases The American Journal of Human Genetics DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2012.04.017

Rest in Peace David Schwartz

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-03-2012

Bio-Rad‘s dear Co-founder and chairman of the board, David Schwartz, passed away on April 1. He was 88.

Mr. Schwartz served as Bio-Rad President, Chief Executive Officer, and as Chairman of the Board from the company’s incorporation in 1957 until 2003, when his son, Norman Schwartz, assumed the role of President and Chief Executive Officer. He remained Chairman of the Board until he died.

Along with his wife, Alice Schwartz, Mr. Schwartz founded Bio-Rad in 1952 in Berkeley, California, shortly after they had both graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. The company was initially engaged in the development and production of specialty chemicals used in biochemical, pharmaceutical, and other life science research applications. Bio-Rad entered the field of clinical diagnostics in the 1960s with the development of its first test kit for thyroid function that was based on separation techniques and materials developed for life science research.

In the years that followed under the leadership of Mr. Schwartz, Bio-Rad continued to broaden its product lines and expand its geographical markets. Today, the company is renowned worldwide and a leader in life science research and clinical diagnostics.

Rest in Peace. We will sure miss you.