For millions of people who live with debilitating inherited disease and who don’t want to pass it on to the next generation, scientists have found hope through gene-editing.
Scientist have for the first time corrected a disease-causing mutation in early stage human embryos with gene editing. The gene-editing success holds promise for preventing inherited diseases
US teams at Oregon Health and Science University and the Salk Institute worked with the Institute for Basic Science in South Korea. They focused their work on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that affects one in 500 people. It is the most common cause of sudden death in otherwise healthy young athletes.
Here’s the key point:
This work paves the way for eventual cures for thousands of diseases caused by mutations in single genes.
This means the potential end of devastating debilitating diseases like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, muscular dystrophy, or Huntington’s disease.
The embryos, minus the piece of faulty DNA, if allowed to develop fully, would result in babies that would not have the deadly heart disease and would not pass the disease onto their descendants.
What was the scientific breakthrough?
Gene-editing hold risks – it can lead to unintended mutations which can lead to unpredictable consequences. The researchers found a safe method that avoids these dangers.
Science News explains how the researchers avoided mutations and genome instability by editing genes during fertilization instead of after. Previously, scientists fertilized eggs and then added the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editor. Sometimes eggs had already copied DNA, and a mutant gene escaped editing. That led to a patchwork, or mosaic, embryo with edited and unedited cells.
“Gene editing is still in its infancy so even though this preliminary effort was found to be safe and effective, it is crucial that we continue to proceed with the utmost caution, paying the highest attention to ethical considerations,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory and a corresponding author of the paper.
The researchers stressed that their results are very preliminary and more research will be needed to ensure no unintended effects.
Altering human heredity to fight genetic diseases is a noble pursuit but one with many ethical implications. Many people, academics and the public alike, have expressed concern about human gene editing, fearing that the same techniques could also be used to enhance intelligence or other physical attributes.
Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, stripped the issue down to the fundamentals in an interview with the BBC:
“Perhaps the biggest question, and probably the one that will be debated the most, is whether we should be physically altering the genes of an IVF embryo at all.”
“This is not a straightforward question… equally, the debate on how morally acceptable it is not to act when we have the technology to prevent these life-threatening diseases must also come into play.”
What is your take on this? Are we wrong to meddle with genetics or would it be wrong not to use gene-editing techniques if it could prevent unnecessary suffering?
It’s not often that one has cause to use ‘nuclear physics’, ‘mobile app’ and ‘menstrual cycle’ in one sentence. The three concepts seem wildly disparate. Let’s see what they have to do with each other.
The woman responsible for bringing these concepts together is Elina Berglund, co-founder and chief technical officer of mobile fertility app Natural Cycles. Berlund is a Swedish nuclear physicist who was a member of the team that discovered the Higgs boson at Cern. Berglund co-founded the company with her husband, physicist Raoul Scherwitzl and Natural Cycle’s CEO.
Natural Cycles is the world’s only app that has been certified for use as a contraceptive. The app makes use of a sensitive thermometer and an algorithm that accurately detects and predicts ovulation and fertility. The two founders used their knowledge in advanced mathematics and data analysis to develop the app.
Natural Cycles works by detecting a woman’s ovulation and calculating her fertile days by taking a number of factors into account. All a woman has to do is to take her temperature every morning when she wakes up and enter the reading into the app. An algorithm that accurately detects and predicts ovulation and fertility then tells her via color coding where she is in her menstruation cycle. On red days: be careful or abstain all together, because you can get pregnant. On green days: you’re not fertile, go for it!
The good news is that this digital version of birth control is highly effective. As can be expected of highly qualified scientists, Natural Cycles has completed two clinical trials and more are on the way.
The first study looked at whether Natural Cycles accurately predicts the day of ovulation. The result is a very comforting one for anyone deciding to rely on the app to avoid pregnancy or trying to fall pregnant. The rate at which the algorithm mistakenly marked a day as ‘green’ was less than 0.1%.
The second study analysed the effectiveness of Natural Cycles as a contraceptive. The study showed that the effectiveness of Natural Cycles, when used correctly, is on a par with the pill. Around 4,000 women participated in the clinical trial and only seven out of 100 women who wanted to prevent pregnancy, got pregnant using the app.
Many women around the world want to move away from birth control thatis invasive or messes with their hormones. Natural Cycles is a welcome alternative that has been clinically verified and certified. Tüv Süd, the European inspection and certiﬁcation organisation, certiﬁed Natural Cycles as a class IIb medical device intended for use as a contraception. This puts the app in the same category as the condom, incubators for babies and dialysis devices.
Natural Cycles has over 150,000 users in 161 countries. Of course, the app is only as good as the person using it – for it to be a reliable predictor of ovulation, the user must use it correctly: take temperature every day and avoid unprotected sex on red days.
What is a Chinese research lab doing in Ngari, Tibet at an altitude of over 4,000 meters?
It’s a strategically chosen spot, no doubt.
This is where researchers from China teleported an object to a satellite orbiting more than 500 kilometers above the earth, according to MIT Technology Review.
A miniscule object over a long distance. That object was a photon.
But we must not think in terms of the kind of teleportation on Star Trek, Prof Sandu Popescu, from Bristol University told the BBC. We are not likely to beam ourselves to the other side of the world anytime soon.
The satellite, called Micius after an ancient Chinese philosopher who died in 391 B.C. was placed in a Sun-synchronous orbit last year so that it passes over the same point on Earth at the same time each day. Micius is a highly sensitive photon receiver that can detect the quantum states of single photons fired from the ground.
The team created a satellite-to-ground quantum network and used it to teleport the first object from the ground to orbit. That’s important because it should allow scientists to test the technological building blocks for various quantum feats such as entanglement, cryptography, and teleportation, according to MIT Technology Review.
“This work establishes the first ground-to-satellite up-link for faithful and ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation, an essential step toward global-scale quantum Internet,” the team said in a statement, according to MIT Technology Review.
Teleportation relies on a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement.
What is quantum entanglement? Quantum entanglement arises when two particles are created at the same time and place and so effectively have the same existence. This entanglement continues even when the photons are then separated. It means that if one of the photons changes, the other photon in the other location changes too, writes Tom Spender for the BBC.
Teleportation can be described as transmitting the state of a thing rather than sending the thing itself, writes Spender.
“Some physicists give the example of a fax machine – it sends information about the marks on a piece of paper rather than the paper itself. The receiving fax machine gets the information and applies it to raw material in the form of paper that is already there.”
According to MIT Technology Review the interesting thing about entanglement is that the shared state continues even when the photons are separated by vast distances. So a measurement on one immediately influences the state of the other, regardless of the distance between them. This phenomenon has important implications for the secure transfer of information.
The Chinese team’s accomplishment was to dramatically increase the distance of possible teleportation by establishing a base in Tibet and teleporting photons from there to a satellite. The photons have to travel through a vacuum to get to the satellite and by setting up a ground station in Tibet at an altitude of 4,000 meters, atmospheric interference was minimized.
“Previous teleportation experiments between distant locations were limited to a distance on the order of 100 kilometers, due to photon loss in optical fibers or terrestrial free-space channels,” states the team.
Why is all this important?
Quantum teleportation can ensure completely secure communication networks.
“The laws of nature offer protection,” Prof Popescu told the BBC. “If someone was to intercept the information you could detect it because whenever you try to observe a quantum system you disturb it.”
Do you remember 2012? The heady days leading to the final count down and the end of life as we know it?
Apart from the Mayan predictions, it turns out there was a very real reason for panic in that year. 2012 was the year of Earth’s lucky escape. We had a close shave with a super solar storm – the most powerful on the sun in 150 years. We were lucky then. Had that solar storm occurred a week earlier, earth would have been in the line of fire.
Let’s hope our luck holds, because at this moment we are facing the same peril.
NASA has found a massive 75,000-mile hole in the sun. The video below by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory with footage taken from July 5 to July 11 shows an active region — an area of intense and complex magnetic fields — that has come into view on the sun. According to NASA it seems to be growing rather fast.
Labeled AR2665, the sunspot could potentially cause havoc here on earth.
Sunspots are darker, cooler areas on the surface of the sun, caused by interactions with the sun’s magnetic field. They tend to appear in regions of intense magnetic activity, and when that energy is released, solar flares and huge storms erupt from sunspots.
The more intense the interaction with the magnetic field, the more likely it is for sunspots to appear. The problem is that when all that energy is released, solar flares erupt that send out giant bursts of light and radiation called coronal mass ejections (CME) out into space.
These huge sun flares could cause radio blackouts and electricity shortages in some areas, disable communication satellites and disrupt GPS systems.
Such sunspots are a common occurrence on the sun, but are less frequent as we head toward solar minimum, which is the period of low solar activity during its regular approximately 11-year cycle. This sunspot is the first to appear after the sun was spotless for two days, and it is the only sunspot group at this moment, according to NASA.
“The spots are like freckles on the face of the sun, they appear to be small features, but size is relative: The dark core of this sunspot is actually larger than Earth.”
A really large one can send us back to the dark ages if it knocked out all power on earth.
One recent study predicted solar storms could cause massive blackouts across America and cost the country up to $41.5 billion a day.
What are the chances of that happening? Should we worry?
Physicist Pete Riley who published the paper On the probability of the occurrence of extreme weather events, has calculated that the odds of a solar storm strong enough to disrupt our lives in the next ten year is about 12%.
In January this year NASA announced a breakthrough in predicting solar storms, which will help give Earth an early warning. That should put our minds at rest. Or not.
Have you ever had the sensation of suddenly closing your eyes only to realize afterwards that an insect was heading straight for your face? Your body reacted instinctively before you had time to think because our brains are aware of the space around us.
This phenomenon might have something to do with a personal force field that we have around us.
Neuroscientists from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have used a twist on the rubber hand illusion to help people actually feel this force field.
Here’s the proof:
Hard neuroscientific evidence on the phenomenon appeared in the late 1990s in animal studies when Michael Graziano of Princeton University, New Jersey, and his team recorded the brain activity of monkeys and found that some neurons fired not only when an object touched part of the body, but also when the object approached it, reports Anil Ananthaswamy for New Scientist.
Now, neuroscientist Arvid Guterstam of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has devised a clever way to help humans sense the peripersonal space around them. They used the well-known rubber hand illusion, but took it further.
The original illusion involved an inflated rubber glove, a flat piece of cardboard and two small paintbrushes. The hand is placed on the table in front of the volunteer and their real hand is concealed. When someone strokes that fake hand and real hand simultaneously, most people become convinced after a while that they feel the brush strokes on the rubber hand as if it is their own hand.
For the latest experiment, which involved 101 adults, the researchers didn’t stroke the actual rubber hand, but move the brush in midair above it, while stroking the real hand with brush strokes, reports Ananthaswamy.
Most volunteers reported feeling a “magnetic force” or “force field” between the paintbrush and the rubber hand below – as if the brush was encountering an invisible barrier. This time the volunteers also felt a sense of ownership of the rubber hand, writes, Ananthaswamy.
“We can elicit this bizarre sensation of there actually being something in mid-air between the brush and the rubber hand,” Guterstam, told New Scientist.
The sensation of a force field disappears when the brushstrokes are more than about 30-40 centimeters above the rubber hand, which seems to indicate the size of our peripersonal space.
Could there possibly be some kind of relationship between this force field that scientists have detected and the human aura that some people are able to see around people? Or are they completely different? What do you think?