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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Scientists crack the CRISPR code for precise human genome editing

Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have discovered a set of simple rules that determine the precision of CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing in human cells. These rules, published in Molecular Cell, could help to improve the efficiency and safety of genome editing in both the lab and the clinic.

Despite the wide use of the CRISPR system, rational application of the technology has been hindered by the assumption that the outcome of genome editing is unpredictable, resulting in random deletions or insertions of DNA regions at the target site.

Before CRISPR can be safely applied in the clinic, scientists need to make sure that they can reliably predict precisely how DNA will be modified.

"Until now, editing genes with CRISPR has involved a lot of guesswork, frustration and trial and error," says Crick group leader Paola Scaffidi, who led the study. "The effects of CRISPR were thought to be unpredictable and seemingly random, but by analysing hundreds of edits we were shocked to find that there are actually simple, predictable patterns behind it all. This will fundamentally change the way we use CRISPR, allowing us to study gene function with greater precision and significantly accelerating our science."

By examining the effects of CRISPR genome editing at 1491 target sites across 450 genes in human cells, the team have discovered that the outcomes can be predicted based on simple rules. These rules mainly depend on one genetic 'letter' occupying a particular position in the region recognized by the 'guide RNA' to direct the molecular scissors, Cas9 .

Guide RNAs are synthetic molecules made up of around 20 genetic letters (A,T,C,G), designed to bind to a specific section of DNA in the target gene. Each genetic letter has a complementary partner—A binds to T and C binds to G—which stick together a bit like Velcro. The guide RNA is like the 'hook' side of Velcro, designed to stick to the 'loop' side on the target gene.

Guided by the RNA molecule, the Cas-9 enzyme scans along the genome until it finds the region of interest. When the RNA guide matches the correct DNA sequence, it sticks like Velcro and Cas9 cuts through the DNA. The DNA is broken three letters from the end of the target sequence, and bits of genetic code are then inserted or deleted, seemingly haphazardly, when the cell attempts to repair the break.

In this study, the researchers found that the outcome of a particular gene edit depends on the fourth letter from the end of the RNA guide, adjacent to the cutting site. The team discovered that if this letter is an A or a T, there will be a very precise genetic insertion; a C will lead to a relatively precise deletion and a G will lead to many imprecise deletions. Thus, simply avoiding sites containing a G makes genome editing much more predictable.

"We were amazed to discover that the rules that determine the outcome of CRISPR human genome editing are so simple," says Dr. Anob Chakrabarti, Wellcome Trust clinical Ph.D. fellow in the Crick's Bioinformatics and Computational Biology lab and joint-first author of the study. "By bearing these rules in mind when designing our guide RNAs, we can maximise the chances of getting the desired outcome of a specific gene edit—which is particularly important in a clinical context."

The team also discovered that how 'open' or 'closed' the target DNA is also affects the outcome of gene editing. Adding compounds that force DNA to open up—allowing Cas9 to scan the genome—led to more efficient editing, which could help when modifications need to be introduced in particularly closed genes.

"The good news is that regardless of the tissue of origin—which influences the degree of DNA 'openness' at specific genes—target regions containing an A or T at the key position show common editing," says Paola. "This means that, if we carefully select the target DNA, we can be pretty confident that we'll see the same effect in different tissues."

Josep Monserrat, Crick Ph.D. student in the Cancer Epigenetics lab and joint-first author of the study, says: "We hadn't previously appreciated the significance of DNA openness in determining the efficiency of CRISPR genome editing. This could be another factor to consider when aiming to edit a gene in a specific way. We are excited to observe that distinct cell types share common editing at precise target regions, and hope translation of our findings will be beneficial across disciplines."


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Friday, December 14, 2018

New cruise ship will feature world's first at-sea roller coaster

The world's first at-sea roller coaster is set to debut in 2020, set to hurtle thrill-seekers 187 feet above sea level and offer sweeping views of the ocean surroundings. 
After bumper cars, indoor skydiving, laser tag and surf simulators, the next innovation to up the ante in cruise ship developments will be a Carnival Cruise Line's full-scale roller coaster, planned for the company's newest ship Mardi Gras. 
An artist rendering of the thrill ride shows the all-electric roller coaster track wrapping around the ship's funnel and following the perimeter of the ship, high above the top deck. 
Unlike other coasters, "Bolt: Ultimate Sea Coaster" allows guests to choose their own speed. Riders board a two-person motorcycle-like car that races along 800 feet of twists, turns and drops, reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. 
The highlight is the hairpin turn around the funnel. 
Mardi Gras will be based in Port Canaveral, Florida where it will also drop anchor at a new state-of-the-art terminal. 

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Oprah Might Be Getting An Airport Named After Her

You get a flight to Oprah, you get a flight to Oprah and you get a flight to Oprah!
A Nashville councilwoman has proposed renaming the Nashville International Airport to the Oprah G. Winfrey Nashville International Airport.

Although Oprah was born in Mississippi, she got her career start in Nashville, after graduating from Tennessee State University. In honor of the star’s local roots, Councilwoman Sharon Hurt wrote letters to Nashville Mayor David Briley and the current airport board chairman, Dexter Samuels, to request the name change.
"I think it's a grand opportunity for us to recognize someone of Oprah's stature," Hurt said in an interview .

However, it’s not the city council who will make the final decision but rather airport authority. The board has said that to name the airport after Oprah would go against airport policy. The current policy states that in order to change the airport name, the honoree must have made a "substantial contribution" to either the Nashville International Airport or the field of aviation. (The airport board must have forgotten that time Oprah appeared on an episode of 30 Rock and dispensed her wisdom from a plane.) The honoree must also have been deceased for at least two years for the change to be made.
"Both the president/CEO of the authority and I agree that Ms. Winfrey's achievements and accolades are too numerous to recite," Samuels wrote in a letter, "however, renaming the airport after Ms. Winfrey does not meet the criteria established by the (airport authority)."
The board does have the ability to overturn the rule but, as of yet, no proposal has been made.

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Green Bee Eater
GBE - a commonly seen flycatcher is enjoying morning breakfast.
It keeps me wondering how these birds can manage capturing their prey in flight? 

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Which song is this???

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What's Next for NASA's Voyager 2 in Interstellar Space?

Voyager 2 has passed an incredible milestone in its journey to explore the solar system by entering interstellar space, but neither its travels nor its science are ending any time soon.
During a news conference held at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union today (Dec. 10), scientists and engineers said that while they're excited about crossing the boundary, both Voyager 2 and its twin probe have plenty of life left in them. Their continuing science will help shed light on how particles flowing off the sun collide with the particles on the interstellar wind beyond.
The twin Voyager probes are the first spacecraft to date that humans have sent to this boundary, called the heliopause. "Nothing is really like taking those steps, taking that journey into the region to really visit it for yourself," Nicky Fox, head of solar science at NASA, said during a news conference. 
That journey could last for years if all continues to go well. "Both spacecraft are very healthy, if you consider them senior citizens," Suzanne Dodd, project manager for the Voyager Interstellar Mission, as the mission has been rebranded, said during the news conference.
The key challenge for the remainder of spacecraft operations is coping with the gradual loss of heat and power. Voyager 2 is currently operating in temperatures of just about 38.5 degrees Fahrenheit (3.6 degrees Celsius), and for each year that passes the spacecraft's power production drops 4 watts.
That means that eventually, the team will need to turn off instruments in order to coax as much science as possible out of the spacecraft before they can no longer operate. "We do have difficult decisions ahead," Dodd said.
Right now, she estimates that the twin probes can operate for at least five, perhaps 10 more years with this gradual decay of science data coming back. Dodd said that her own goal for the mission is to coax a full 50 years of exploration out of the spacecraft since their launch in 1977. "I think that would be fantastic."
Although Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause first, Voyager 2 offers a couple of new opportunities. It carries an operating plasma science detector, whereas its predecessor's stopped working decades ago. And because of the current stage of the solar cycle, Voyager 2 may find itself crossing the heliopause again as the sun's bubble expands around us.
Even once the heliosphere is well and truly in Voyager 2's rearview mirror, it will be able to tell scientists about the flood of interstellar wind pushing against the heliopause and about the local bubble surrounding the heliosphere. That means catching sight of lots of galactic cosmic rays, the incredibly high-energy atoms of a whole range of elements that are careening across the universe at nearly the speed of light.
"Galactic cosmic rays act as tiny messengers of our local galactic neighborhood," Georgia Denolfo, an astrophysicist at NASA who is not involved with the Voyager mission, said during the news conference. "We're able to actually look at the galaxy through the clouded lens of our heliosphere and now take a step outside with Voyager and for the first time contemplate the vistas of our local galactic neighborhood."
Not only could Voyager 2's continuing journey tell us about our own neighborhood, but its insights may also shape how we understand exoplanets. Each alien solar system is nestled in its own equivalent of a heliosphere, pushing out against its own local interstellar space. How precisely that balance plays out could shape how hospitable these planets are to life.
Although neither Voyager's instruments will last forever, the two spacecraft themselves will continue their plodding course across the solar system. Within about 300 years, they will reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud, the sphere of comets surrounding our solar system. Crossing that field will take somewhere in the realm of 30,000 years.
Once the Voyager probes leave our solar system entirely, they'll settle into a long, lazy orbit around the heart of the Milky Way galaxy for millions, if not billions of years, humanity's first emissaries into the vastness around us.
Meghan Bartel

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

India Test Fires Agni-V Nuclear-Capable ICBM

ndia has successfully test fired its most advanced nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Agni-V, the Indian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a statement. The missile was fired from a canister on a road mobile launcher at Dr Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of the eastern Indian state of Odisha on December 10.
“The launch operations were carried out and monitored by the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) in presence of Scientists from Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and other associated officials,” the MoD statement reads.  The flight performance of the Agni-V was tracked and monitored by radars, tracking instruments and observation stations. According to the MoD, the user trial of the new ICBM was successful. All test objectives were met.
The December 10 test firing constitutes the seventh test launch of the three-stage Agni-V ICBM, officially designated as an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), and the third launch in 2018. The last test of the missile took place on June 3. A previous test occurred on January 18. In both instances, the ICBM was launched in deliverable configuration from a hermetically sealed canister mounted on a mobile transporter erector launcher.

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Cityblog Feature: Science Club: The Controversy regarding the World's first genetically edited babies

By: Riya Naik (

The world’s first genetically edited baby or in fact babies are born! Isn’t that surprising! But first, we need to know if this is true or fake. This blog summarizes the new controversy about the Chinese Professor, He Jiunki, who claims that he has successfully edited faulty genes in twins.
This all started on the 28th of November 2018 when Professor He at the Genome Summit in Hong Kong announced that he was successful in editing the genes of twin girls. The father of the twins was HIV positive whereas the mother was HIV negative. The twins were at the risk of inheriting HIV. However, Professor He with the use of the CRISPR/ CAS9 technology was able to reduce the twin’s risk of inheriting HIV. CRISPR/CAS9 is a gene found in the bacteria which is known for cutting the default gene. When bacteria are infected with a virus, they use this gene to “cut” the DNA of a harmful virus. This gene is used to delete the mutated1 gene and add the donor gene. The mutated gene is cut by the “scissors” or CAS9 and the donor gene fills the void in the DNA. This way the mutated gene is replaced by the donor gene. Nevertheless, all this is done while there exists a single human cell in other words, this is all performed on an embryo. As it is impossible to alter the DNAs in trillions of cells.  A pretty exciting and interesting technology right?
Many professors believe his research untrue because the University he worked did not fund the research, therefore, denying the validity of this claim. Also, many other scientists believe the information untrue as there is no scientific paper backing up his claims. Professor He asserts that he privately funded the research which involved the deleting of the gene of the twins, Lulu and Nana.
Moreover, the whole ethical questions come into the play. Are the genetic engineers playing Gods by going against nature?
Professor He played God and many ethicists believe that this action is unethical as Professor He has deliberately made one twin as a control which can make her susceptible to HIV whereas the other twin is not. CCR5 is a coreceptor protein which provides a way to infect other cells with the HIV virus. Professor He turned the CCR5 gene off in one twin and kept one gene on in the other twin. This action favors one twin over the other.
In conclusion, many ethicists and scientists reject this claim to be untrue. Please let me know your thoughts on the issue in the comment section below.

Work cited:

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Monday, December 10, 2018

How 5G aims to end network latency

Just about everything you hear about 5G points out how its higher data speeds will let you download videos or update your apps much more quickly. Well, whoop-de-do. Faster data is helpful, but a different 5G benefit could actually be a bigger deal: reducing network communication delays called latency. Latency is the time it takes to get a response to information sent -- for example, the lag between the moment you try to shoot a space invader and the moment the internet server hosting the game tells your app whether you succeeded.

Lower latency could help 5G deliver mobile networks that let us do entirely new things, not just modestly improve what we're already doing now. Possibilities include multiplayer mobile gaming, factory robots, self-driving cars and other tasks demanding quick response -- all areas where today's 4G networks struggle or can't manage at all. 

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Big tech has your kid’s data — and you probably gave it to them

A new report highlights the way big tech companies collect data on children.

Many parents today enjoy posting about their family on social media. But along with those adorable photos, they are sharing crucial data about their children that big tech companies are harvesting.
A recent study focusing on the “datafication” of children and its possible consequences suggests these posts may be more problematic than we think.
In late November, Anne Longfield, England’s children’s commissioner — tasked with promoting and protecting the rights of children — published a report titled “Who Knows What About Me,” which examines how big tech collects data on children and what the potential dangers can be.
In the report, Longfield argues that parents are exposing their children’s data at an alarming rate. The report calculates that by the time a kid turns 18, there will be 70,000 posts about them on the internet. The report calls on parents and schools to examine the type of gadgets children play with, like smart speakers, wifi-powered toys, and gaming apps, all of which are collecting data on kids. It also recommends that local governments start pressuring big tech for answers about surveillance and data collection.
“We need to stop and think about what this means for children’s lives now and how it may impact their future lives as adults,” Longfield writes. “This is only going to get bigger — so let’s take action now to understand and control who knows what about our children.”

Data shared by parents about children is collected at an alarming rate

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