Synthetic Cell, Greenland Rising, Adapted for Altitude, Monkeys Munch on a Locust Lunch, Do Fish Feel Pain?

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Synthetic Cell

may22-2010-syn_cells.jpg Synthetic cells dividing, electron micrograph by Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the UCSD.
This week scientists from the J Craig Venter Institute announced they'd created what they call the world's first synthetic cell. It's a huge step in the development of the field of synthetic biology - the attempt to create living organisms from scratch. They took the complete genetic sequence of a simple bacterium and duplicated it, chemically building the DNA one step at a time. They then inserted their newly sythnesized chromosome into the cells of a different species of bacteria, replacing the original DNA. These cells then "rebooted", and transformed themselves according to the instructions in their new genome. Dr. John Glass, a researcher at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, says this is an important step in understanding how to take synthesized DNA and turn it into a living organism. The next step is to do this with DNA not simply copied from another organism, but one actually designed in the lab.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Science
external site - links will open in a new windowNews report from Science
external site - links will open in a new windowResearch Overview from JCVI
external site - links will open in a new window80 Beats blog
external site - links will open in a new windowArs Technica article
external site - links will open in a new windowCBC News story
external site - links will open in a new windowScientists' comments on the work in Nature

Greenland Rising

may22-2010-greenland_rising.jpg A satellite image of western Greenland from NASA's MODIS satellite.
The fact that Greenland's ice cap is melting is not a surprise to scientists like Dr. Tim Dixon, a Canadian professor of Geophysics at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. What is surprising is the rate at which the land is actually rising. The dense ice cap, which is up to 2 kilometres thick, presses the land beneath it down and lowers its elevation. As the ice melts around the edges of the glacier in coastal areas of Greenland, the land rises by at least one millimetre per year. This rate of this rise has been accelerating since it began in the mid 1990's and could double by 2025.

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Related Links

external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Nature Geoscience
external site - links will open in a new windowNews release from University of Miami
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Dixon's web page
external site - links will open in a new windowCBC News story

Adapted for Altitude

may22-2010-everest.jpg Mount Everest - in thin air, Lance Trumball - EverestPeaceProject.org
The people of the Tibetan plateau live 4000m above sea level, an altitude whose thin air presents dire challenges to lowlanders. Altitude sickness can be very serious - even fatal - and is associated with a whole range of physiological symptoms. However, the people of the Tibetan plateau are known to be resistant to altitude sickness, and seem to have quite different physiological response to the thin air of their homeland. A team led by Tatum Simonson, a graduate student in the department of Human Genetics at the University of Utah, has found that these different physiological responses seem to be connected to variations in genes that appeared and spread in the people of the plateau. Among the genetic differences that they think are important are changes in the genes that regulate hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in the blood.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in Science
external site - links will open in a new windowNews from University of Utah
external site - links will open in a new windowGene Expression blog

Monkeys Munch on a Locust Lunch

may22-2010-gelada_locust.jpg Gelada feeding on a locust - courtesy P. Fashing
Dr. Peter Fashing, an anthropologist from California State University, Fullerton, has been studying Gelada monkeys in the Ethiopian highlands for many years. These baboon-like monkeys are unique in the primate world, in that they mostly live on grass, grazing in large groups of up to several hundred animals on the vegetation of their alpine home. That made the event Dr. Fashing witnessed during his last visit that much stranger. A swarm of desert locusts swept up into the mountains - an event never seen before - as the locusts don't tolerate the cold tempeartures very well. The monkeys were intially startled, but then these normally vegetarian animals turned on the locusts and began chasing and eating them, in what Dr. Fashing called a "feeding frenzy."

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowPaper in the journal Primates
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Fashing's web site
external site - links will open in a new windowBBC Earth News story (with video)
external site - links will open in a new windowGelada Research Project

Do Fish Feel Pain?

may22-2010-fish_pain.jpg
There is a perception that fish have simple brains and are incapable of feelings. This has somehow made them different from birds and mammals when it comes to our concerns for their welfare. But new research by Dr. Victoria Braithwaite, Associate Director of the Penn State Institute of the Neurosciences and a Professor of Fisheries and Biology, has resulted in evidence that suggests fish are more intelligent than previously thought and their behaviour more complex. In her new book, Do Fish Feel Pain?, she discusses what she has discovered about the capacity of fish to experience pain and suffering. Because we interact with fish in so many ways, she contends we should balance their welfare with the many ways they provide us with benefits.

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Related Links
external site - links will open in a new windowDo Fish Feel Pain? - Oxford University Press
external site - links will open in a new windowDr. Braithwaite's general web page
external site - links will open in a new windowThe Braithwaite Lab at Penn State

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