Gene Researchers Have Created Green Mice

These are no Frankenstein mice. Their green feet come courtesy of a fluorescent green jelly fish gene added to their own genome. This allows a team of British scientists to test out gene editing using CRISPR-Cas9 technology.


“We take what were or would have been green embryos and we make them into non-green embryos, so it’s a really great way of demonstrating the method“, said Dr. Anthony Perry, reproductive biologist at the University of Bath.

The technique uses the ribonucleic acid molecule CRISPR together with the Cas9 protein enzyme. CRISPR guides the Cas9 protein to a defective part of a genome where it acts like molecular scissors to cut out a specific part of the DNA. This could revolutionise how we treat diseases with a genetic component, like sickle cell anaemia. The technique is being pioneered in the U.S.
We now have a technology that allows correction of a sequence that would lead to normally functioning cells. And I think you know the opportunities with this are really exciting and really profound. There are many diseases that are have known genetic causes that we now have in principle a way to cure,“explains Jennifer Doudna, Professor of cell biology at the University of Berkeley.
Last year two teams of U.S. based scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 technology in mice to correct the genetic mutation that causes sickle cell disease. Although researchers aren’t yet close to using CRISPR-Cas9 to edit human embryos for implantation into the womb – some are already warning against it.

Dr David King, Director of  Human Genetics Alert, comments: “It will immediately create this new form of what we call consumer eugenics, that’s to say eugenics driven by the free market and consumer preferences in which people choose the cosmetic characteristics and the abilities of their children and try to basically enhance their children to perform better than other people’s children.” Other potential applications of the technology could be to make food crops and livestock animal species disease-resistant. The British team say CRISPR-Cas9 presents a golden opportunity to prevent genetic disease.


How To Fix Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have engineered a new way to deliver CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology inside cells and have demonstrated in mice that the technology can repair the mutation that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle-wasting disease. A new study shows that a single injection of CRISPR-Gold, as the new delivery system is called, into mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy led to an 18-times-higher correction rate and a two-fold increase in a strength and agility test compared to control groups.

Since 2012, when study co-author Jennifer Doudna, a professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry at UC Berkeley, and colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, repurposed the Cas9 protein to create a cheap, precise and easy-to-use gene editor, researchers have hoped that therapies based on CRISPR-Cas9 would one day revolutionize the treatment of genetic diseases. Yet developing treatments for genetic diseases remains a big challenge in medicine. This is because most genetic diseases can be cured only if the disease-causing gene mutation is corrected back to the normal sequence, and this is impossible to do with conventional therapeutics.

CRISPR/Cas9, however, can correct gene mutations by cutting the mutated DNA and triggering homology-directed DNA repair. However, strategies for safely delivering the necessary components (Cas9, guide RNA that directs Cas9 to a specific gene, and donor DNA) into cells need to be developed before the potential of CRISPR-Cas9-based therapeutics can be realized. A common technique to deliver CRISPR-Cas9 into cells employs viruses, but that technique has a number of complications. CRISPR-Gold does not need viruses.

In the new study, research lead by the laboratories of Berkeley bioengineering professors Niren Murthy and Irina Conboy demonstrated that their novel approach, called CRISPR-Gold because gold nanoparticles are a key component, can deliver Cas9 – the protein that binds and cuts DNA – along with guide RNA and donor DNA into the cells of a living organism to fix a gene mutation.

CRISPR-Gold is the first example of a delivery vehicle that can deliver all of the CRISPR components needed to correct gene mutations, without the use of viruses,” Murthy said.

The study was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.


Faulty DNA Linked To Fatal Heart Condition Removed From Embryo

Scientists have modified human embryos to remove genetic mutations that cause heart failure in otherwise healthy young people in a landmark demonstration of the controversial procedure. It is the first time that human embryos have had their genomes edited outside China, where researchers have performed a handful of small studies to see whether the approach could prevent inherited diseases from being passed on from one generation to the next.

While none of the research so far has created babies from modified embryos, a move that would be illegal in many countries, the work represents a milestone in scientists’ efforts to master the technique and brings the prospect of human clinical trials one step closer. The work focused on an inherited form of heart disease, but scientists believe the same approach could work for other conditions caused by single gene mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and certain kinds of breast cancer.

This embryo gene correction method, if proven safe, can potentially be used to prevent transmission of genetic disease to future generations,” said Paula Amato, a fertility specialist involved in the US-Korean study at Oregon Health and Science University.

The scientists used a powerful gene editing tool called Crispr-Cas9 to fix mutations in embryos made with the sperm of a man who inherited a heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. The disease, which leads to a thickening of the heart’s muscular wall, affects one in 500 people and is a common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people. Humans have two copies of every gene, but some diseases are caused by a mutation in only one of the copies. For the study, the scientists recruited a man who carried a single mutant copy of a gene called MYBPC3 which causes HCM.


Multi-AntiOxidant Nanoparticles Fight Sepsis

With an incidence of 31.5 million worldwide and a mortality of around 17%, sepsis remains the most common cause of death in hospitalized patients, even in industrialized countries where antibiotics and critical care facilities are readily available. While this disease begins as a serious infection, sepsis‘ life-threatening organ failure is due to an excessive inflammatory response.

By overproducing oxygen free radicals, the immunity of the host itself paradoxically leads to an increase in morbidity and mortality. A team of researchers from Center for Nanoparticle Research, within the  (IBS), with colleagues from the Seoul National University Hospital synthesized nanoparticles with superior antioxidant properties to treat sepsis in rats and mice by removing harmful oxygen radicals and reducing inflammatory responses.

Under normal physiological conditions, oxygen radicals, also called reactive oxygen species (ROS), are created as by-products of several cellular reactions and their concentration is counterbalanced by antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT). However in patients with severe infections, the production of ROS as well as reactive nitrogen species (RNS), increases dramatically, while the body’s antioxidant capacity may be compromised. As a consequence, the ROS and RNS accumulation can lead to damages to DNA, proteins, and lipid membranes.

All major diseases are related to ROS,” explains HYEON Taeghwan, the director of the Center for Nanoparticle Research. “Cellular damage caused by ROS has been found not only in sepsis, but also in cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases, just to name a few.”

Ceria nanoparticles replace the function of antioxidant enzymes. Cerium trivalent ions (Ce3+) play a decisive role in eliminating ROS. Thanks to the addition of zirconium ions, the scientists could create a new type of nanoparticles, named 7CZ (containing 70% Ce ions and 30% Zr ions), with optimized nanoparticle size and Ce3+ content. The nanoparticles described in this study are smaller, just two nanometers in size. Moreover, they have a higher percent of Ce3+. When tested in mice with sepsis, the survival rate increased 2.5 fold in the 7CZ NP-treated group compared to the control. Scientists found that 7CZ nanoparticles can infiltrate the damaged tissue and act locally at the infection site.

Treating sepsis has been an old challenge for physicians worldwide,” emphasizes LEE Seung-Hoon, professor of department of Neurology, Seoul National University Hospital. “This study shows the possibility of overcoming the limits of modern medicine with nanotechnology.”

This study has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

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How To Capture Quickly Cancer Markers

A nanoscale product of human cells that was once considered junk is now known to play an important role in intercellular communication and in many disease processes, including cancer metastasis. Researchers at Penn State have developed nanoprobes to rapidly isolate these rare markers, called extracellular vesicles (EVs), for potential development of precision cancer diagnoses and personalized anticancer treatments.

Lipid nanoprobes

Most cells generate and secrete extracellular vesicles,” says Siyang Zheng, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. “But they are difficult for us to study. They are sub-micrometer particles, so we really need an electron microscope to see them. There are many technical challenges in the isolation of nanoscale EVs that we are trying to overcome for point-of-care cancer diagnostics.”

At one time, researchers believed that EVs were little more than garbage bags that were tossed out by cells. More recently, they have come to understand that these tiny fat-enclosed sacks — lipids — contain double-stranded DNA, RNA and proteins that are responsible for communicating between cells and can carry markers for their origin cells, including tumor cells. In the case of cancer, at least one function for EVs is to prepare distant tissue for metastasis.

The team’s initial challenge was to develop a method to isolate and purify EVs in blood samples that contain multiple other components. The use of liquid biopsy, or blood testing, for cancer diagnosis is a recent development that offers benefits over traditional biopsy, which requires removing a tumor or sticking a needle into a tumor to extract cancer cells. For lung cancer or brain cancers, such invasive techniques are difficult, expensive and can be painful.

Noninvasive techniques such as liquid biopsy are preferable for not only detection and discovery, but also for monitoring treatment,” explains Chandra Belani, professor of medicine and deputy director of the Cancer Institute,Penn State College of Medicine, and clinical collaborator on the study.

We invented a system of two micro/nano materials,” adds Zheng. “One is a labeling probe with two lipid tails that spontaneously insert into the lipid surface of the extracellular vesicle. At the other end of the probe we have a biotin molecule that will be recognized by an avidin molecule we have attached to a magnetic bead.”


Shape-shifting Molecular Robots

A research group at Tohoku University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a molecular robot consisting of biomolecules, such as DNA and protein. The molecular robot was developed by integrating molecular machines into an artificial cell membrane. It can start and stop its shape-changing function in response to a specific DNA signal.

This is the first time that a molecular robotic system has been able to recognize signals and control its shape-changing function. What this means is that molecular robots could, in the near future, function in a way similar to living organisms.

Using sophisticated biomolecules such as DNA and proteins, living organisms perform important functions. For example, white blood cells can chase bacteria by sensing chemical signals and migrating toward the target. In the field of chemistry and synthetic biology, elemental technologies for making various molecular machines, such as sensors, processors and actuators, are created using biomolecules. A molecular robot is an artificial molecular system that is built by integrating molecular machines. The researchers believe that realization of such a system could lead to a significant breakthrough – a bio-inspired robot designed on a molecular basis.

molecular robot

The molecular robot developed by the research group is extremely small – about one millionth of a meter – similar in size to human cells. It consists of a molecular actuator, composed of protein, and a molecular clutch, composed of DNA. The shape of the robot’s body (artificial cell membrane) can be changed by the actuator, while the transmission of the force generated by the actuator can be controlled by the molecular clutch. The research group demonstrated through experiments that the molecular robot could start and stop the shape-changing behavior in response to a specific DNA signal.

The findings were published in Science Robotics.


Nanofiber For Bullet Proof Vests

Harvard researchers have developed a lightweight, portable nanofiber fabrication device that could one day be used to dress wounds on a battlefield or dress shoppers in customizable fabrics. There are many ways to make nanofibers. These versatile materials — whose target applications include everything from tissue engineering to bullet proof vests — have been made using centrifugal force, capillary force, electric field, stretching, blowing, melting, and evaporation.

Each of these fabrication methods has pros and cons. For example, Rotary Jet-Spinning (RJS) and Immersion Rotary Jet-Spinning (iRJS) are novel manufacturing techniques developed in the Disease Biophysics Group at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. Both RJS and iRJS dissolve polymers and proteins in a liquid solution and use centrifugal force or precipitation to elongate and solidify polymer jets into nanoscale fibers. These methods are great for producing large amounts of a range of materials – including DNA, nylon, and even Kevlar – but until now they haven’t been particularly portable.

The Disease Biophysics Group recently announced the development of a hand-held device that can quickly produce nanofibers with precise control over fiber orientation. Regulating fiber alignment and deposition is crucial when building nanofiber scaffolds that mimic highly aligned tissue in the body or designing point-of-use garments that fit a specific shape.


Our main goal for this research was to make a portable machine that you could use to achieve controllable deposition of nanofibers,” said Nina Sinatra, a graduate student in the Disease Biophysics Group and co-first author of the paper. “In order to develop this kind of point-and-shoot device, we needed a technique that could produce highly aligned fibers with a reasonably high throughput.

The new fabrication method, called pull spinning, uses a high-speed rotating bristle that dips into a polymer or protein reservoir and pulls a droplet from solution into a jet. The fiber travels in a spiral trajectory and solidifies before detaching from the bristle and moving toward a collector. Unlike other processes, which involve multiple manufacturing variables, pull spinning requires only one processing parameter — solution viscosity — to regulate nanofiber diameter. Minimal process parameters translate to ease of use and flexibility at the bench and, one day, in the field.

The research was published recently in Macromolecular Materials and Engineering.


‘Protective’ DNA strands are shorter in adults who had more infections as infants

New research indicates that people who had more infections as babies harbor a key marker of cellular aging as young adults: the protective stretches of DNA which “cap” the ends of their chromosomes are shorter than in adults who were healthier as infants.

TELOMERESThe 46 chromosomes of the human genome, with telomeres highlighted in white

These are important and surprising findings because — generally speaking — shorter chromosome ‘caps’ are associated with a higher burden of disease later in life,” said lead author Dan Eisenberg, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Washington.

The ‘caps’ Eisenberg and his co-authors measured are called telomeres. These are long stretches of DNA at the ends of our chromosomes, which protect our genes from damage or improper regulation. One Nobel Prize-winning scientist who studies telomeres has compared them to aglets — the plastic or metal sheath covering ends of shoelaces. When aglets wear down, the shoelace is exposed to fraying and degradation from environmental forces.

Like aglets, telomeres don’t last forever. In most of our cells, telomeres get shorter each time that cell divides. And when they get too short, the cell either quits dividing or dies.

That makes telomere length particularly important for the cells of our immune system, especially the white blood cells circulating in our bloodstream. When activated against a pathogen, white blood cells undergo rapid rounds of cell division to raise a defensive force against the infectious invader. But if telomeres in white blood cells are already too short, the body may struggle to mount an effective immune response.

Many studies — in laboratory animals and humans — have associated shorter telomeres with poor health outcomes, especially in adults,” said Eisenberg. But few studies have addressed whether or not events early in a person’s life might affect telomere length. To get at this question, Eisenberg turned to the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey, which has tracked the health of over 3,000 infants born in 1983-1984 in Cebu City in the Philippines. Researchers collected detailed data every two months from mothers on the health and feeding habits of their babies up through age two. Mothers reported how often their babies had diarrhea — a sign of infection — as well as how often they breastfed their babies. As these babies grew up, scientists collected additional health data during follow-up surveys over the next 20 years. In 2005, 1,776 of these offspring donated a blood sample. By then, they were 21- or 22-year-old young adults.

Eisenberg measured telomere length in cells from those blood samples. He then combined the data on adult telomere length with information about their health and feeding habits as babies. He found that babies with higher reported cases of diarrhea at 6 to 12 months also had the shortest telomeres as adults.

The findings have been published in the American Journal of Human Biology.


£25,000 To Fabricate A New Beer According To Your DNA

Can’t quite find the perfect pint? A London brewer claims to have the answer – a beer designed around your DNA profile. The Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich says designing a product to suit a particular person’s palate is a world first.


What we looked at doing was trying to create a beer where we could produce a beer specifically to that person, so looking at their DNA to understand the taste profile of the individual to then say OK, you particularly identify bitter flavours, sweet flavours what have you and then produce a beer which has that characteristic so you would ultimately like that beer and it would be a great beer to taste and it would suit your taste buds perfectly.” explains Ciaran Giblin, Brewmaster at Meantime Brewing Company.

Launching in February, Meantime Bespoke customers will have their DNA analysed They’re looking for variations in the gene that allows us to taste bitter compounds like those found in cabbage, coffee and certain dark beers. Then it’s back to the brewery and tried and tested variations of barley, hops, yeast and water.

It’s about interpreting all these different facets to bring it together to produce one beer that someone is going to like. So it’s a complex process. It’s not a simple case of just putting it all in together and off it goes. There’s lots of elements that we’ve got to draw in together to focus on in order to deliver the beer that is perfect for someone to drink,” comments Ciaran Giblin.

Customers will pay 25,000 pounds for the privilege – and for a little extra can impact the whole process of creating a new beer .

You have influence on what the label looks like, on what the taste of the beer looks like. You can even get a glass perfectly formed to your hand so you can enjoy it in the perfect way. A glass can influence the flavour of the beer as well. So it really ticks off every box that you go through and then you get to share it with friends or if you’re a business or wherever you go,” says Richard Myers, Marketing Director of the company. Customers will get 12 hectolitres of their unique brew in bottles – more than 2,000 pints It can also be delivered in kegs to your favourite pub – where you’ll have even more friends than you realised.


Light-Controlled NanoRobot Attacks Tumors

A team of researchers led by Dr Jinyao Tang of the Department of Chemistry, the University of Hong Kong, has developed the world’s first light-seeking synthetic Nano robot. With size comparable to a blood cell, those tiny robots have the potential to be injected into patients’ bodies, helping surgeons to remove tumors and enabling more precise engineering of targeted medications.

It has been a dream in science fiction for decades that tiny robots can fundamentally change our daily life. The famous science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage” is a very good example, with a group of scientists driving their miniaturized Nano-submarine inside human body to repair a damaged brain. In the film “Terminator 2”, billions of Nanorobots were assembled into the amazing shapeshifting body: the T-1000.


“Light is a more effective option to communicate between microscopic world and macroscopic world. We can conceive that more complicated instructions can be sent to Nanorobots which provide scientists with a new tool to further develop more functions into Nanorobot and get us one step closer to daily life applications”

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016 was awarded to three scientists for “the design and synthesis of molecular machines”. They developed a set of mechanical components at molecular scale which may be assembled into more complicated Nano machines to manipulate single molecule such as DNA or proteins in the future. The development of tiny nanoscale machines for biomedical applications has been a major trend of scientific research in recent years. Any breakthroughs will potentially open the door to new knowledge and treatments of diseases and development of new drugs.

One difficulty in Nanorobot design is to make these nanostructures sense and respond to the environment. Given each Nanorobot is only a few micrometer in size which is ~50 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, it is very difficult to squeeze normal electronic sensors and circuits into Nanorobots with reasonable price. Currently, the only method to remotely control Nanorobots is to incorporate tiny magnetic inside the Nanorobot and guide the motion via external magnetic field.

The Nanorobot developed by Dr Tang’s team use light as the propelling force, and is the first research team globally to explore the light-guided Nanorobot and demonstrate its feasibility and effectiveness. In their paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, Dr Tang’s team demonstrated the unprecedented ability of these light-controlled Nanorobots as they are “dancing” or even spell a word under light control. With a novel Nanotree structure, the Nanorobots can respond to the light shining on it like moths being drawn to flames. Dr Tang described the motions as if “they can “see” the light and drive itself towards it”.

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology.


How To Map RNA Molecules In The Brain

Cells contain thousands of messenger RNA molecules, which carry copies of DNA’s genetic instructions to the rest of the cell. MIT engineers have now developed a way to visualize these molecules in higher resolution than previously possible in intact tissues, allowing researchers to precisely map the location of RNA throughout cells. Key to the new technique is expanding the tissue before imaging it. By making the sample physically larger, it can be imaged with very high resolution using ordinary microscopes commonly found in research labs.

MIT RNA-Imaging

Now we can image RNA with great spatial precision, thanks to the expansion process, and we also can do it more easily in large intact tissues,” says Ed Boyden, an associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, a member of MIT’s Media Lab and McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of a paper describing the technique in the July 4 issue of Nature Methods.

Studying the distribution of RNA inside cells could help scientists learn more about how cells control their gene expression and could also allow them to investigate diseases thought to be caused by failure of RNA to move to the correct location.


Biosensor Chip Detects DNA Mutations

Bioengineers at the University of California, San Diego have developed an electrical graphene chip capable of detecting mutations in DNA. Researchers say the technology could one day be used in various medical applications such as blood-based tests for early cancer screening, monitoring disease biomarkers and real-time detection of viral and microbial sequences.

biosensor chip SNP detection

We are at the forefront of developing a fast and inexpensive digital method to detect gene mutations at high resolution—on the scale of a single nucleotide change in a nucleic acid sequence,” said Ratnesh Lal, professor of bioengineering, mechanical engineering and materials science in the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

The technology, which is at a proof-of-concept stage, is a first step toward a biosensor chip that can be implanted in the body to detect a specific DNA mutation—in real time—and transmit the information wirelessly to a mobile device such as a smartphone or laptop.

The advance was published June 13 in the online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.