3-D map of human genome reveals relationship between mutations and disease development


Whitehead Institute researchers have created a map of the DNA loops that comprise the three dimensional (3D) structure of the human genome and regulate gene expression in human embryonic stem (ES) cells and adult cells. The location of genes and regulatory elements within this chromosomal framework could help scientists better navigate their genomic research, establishing relationships between mutations and disease development.
“This is transformational,” says Whitehead Member Richard Young. “This map allows us to predict how genes are regulated in normal cells, and how they are misregulated in disease, with far greater accuracy than before.”
In order to regulate gene expression, a regulatory element needs to contact its target gene. Through looping, element/gene partners that are distant from each other in linear DNA can be brought together. Most disease mutations occur in regulatory elements, but if the partnership between a seemingly far-flung gene and the regulatory element is not known, the mutation data is of limited use. This draft map, which can help scientists predict the relationships between mutated elements and their target genes, is described online this week in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
“When thinking about disease, we need to think about the structure of the genome in 3D space because that is how we now understand that genes are regulated,” says Xiong Ji, a postdoctoral researcher in the Young lab and a co-author of the Cell Stem Cell paper.

Q-Carbon: Scientists Discover New Allotrope of Carbon | Materials Science, Physics | Sci-News.com


Q-carbon is distinct from graphite and diamond. The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets, according to team leader Prof. Jagdish Narayan, of North Carolina State University.
The new carbon allotrope has some unusual characteristics: it is ferromagnetic, harder than diamond, and it glows when exposed to low levels of energy.
“Q-carbon’s strength and low work-function – its willingness to release electrons – make it very promising for developing new electronic display technologies,” Prof. Narayan explained.

Genetically engineering life forms to travel and colonize space | Genetic Literacy Project


Genetic biotechnology is usually discussed in the context of current and emerging applications here on Earth, and rightly so, since we still live exclusively in our planetary cradle. But as humanity looks outward, we ponder what kind of life we ought to take with us to support outposts and eventually colonies off the Earth.
While the International Space Station (ISS) and the various spacecraft that ferry astronauts on short bouts through space depend on consumables brought up from Earth to maintain life support, this approach will not be practical for extensive lunar missions, much less long term occupation of more distant sites. If we’re to build permanent bases, and eventually colonies, on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, moons of outer planets or in free space, we’ll need recycling life support systems. This means air, water, and food replenished through microorganisms and plants, and it’s not a new idea.
Space exploration enthusiasts have been talking about it for decades, and it’s the most obvious application of microorganisms and plants transplanted from Earth. What is new, however, is the prospect of a comprehensive approach to develop and apply synthetic biology for a wide range of off-Earth outpost and colonization applications.
To this end, considering human outposts on the Moon and Mars, a recently
published study from scientists based at NASA Ames Research Center and the University of California at Berkeley examines the potential of genetic technology, not only to achieve biologically-based life support systems, but also to facilitate other activities that must be sustained on colony worlds. Not discussed as often with biotechnology and space exploration in the same conversation, these other activities include generation of rocket propellant, synthesis of polymers, and production of pharmaceuticals. Together with the life support system, they paint a picture of the beckoning era of space activity that puts synthetic biology at center stage.
Although written specifically in the context of lunar and Martian outposts, the proposed biologically based technical infrastructure is just as applicable to a colony on less frequently discussed worlds, such as the dwarf planet Ceres or an outer planet moon, or to a colony that orbits in the Earth moon system, orbits Venus, Mars, or an outer planet, or makes its own orbit around the Sun (known as a free space colony), rather than being located on a celestial body.

Here’s a Peek at the First Sodium-ion Rechargeable Battery


Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere, powering phones, cars, and avionics, among other things. However, lithium is a relatively rare element, found in some locations in South America. That not only keeps the price of lithium-ion batteries high, but also makes the supply chain vulnerable to political instabilities.
Sodium has a very similar chemistry to lithium, and as soon as lithium-ion batteries came to market, researchers started looking to sodium as a substitute for lithium in rechargeable batteries. Unlike lithium, the reserves of sodium are practically unlimited. The highest hurdle for sodium to clear on its way to battery dominance is the development of suitable electrodes.
At the end of November a team of French researchers from the CNRS, the  French National Centre for Scientific Research and the CEA, France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, announced in a press release and a CNRS News article that they had produced, in collaboration with the Research Network on Electrochemical Energy Storage, RS2E, a prototype sodium-ion battery that can store an acceptable amount of electricity in the same standard industry format as lithium ion batteries. It is slightly larger than an AA battery—18 mm x 65 mm.

Forget the credit card, here’s a new way to pay


You may wonder how secure your data are at the stores where you’re shopping. After all, it’s almost the one-year anniversary of the massive Target credit card breach, and high-profile database thefts show few signs of slowing down.
Given the consistent stream of announcements, you might be asking why merchants like Home Depot, Target and Bebe have piles of credit card account numbers that can be stolen in the first place.
What if there was a way to buy things without ever giving your credit card number to the store?
Actually, there is. It’s a concept known as “tokenization.”

Implanting electronic circuits in roses


Who would have thought that your living-room ficus might someday be part of the Internet of Things? A team of researchers led by Professor Magnus Berggren at Linköping University in Sweden have found a method of convincing cut roses to tolerate having a conductive-but-hydrated polymer related to polystyrene, called PEDOT, present in their stems. (Rumor has it wine and a nice dinner were part of the requirements.)
Since the polymer is compatible with dissolution in water, the rose drew the polymer into its stem along with the water in which it was dissolved, and when it cured, it created a length of delicate wires threading along the anatomical pathways traced out by the xylem. This produced a living plant with a network of conductive fibers traveling through intact anatomical pathways: a first in the study of organic electronics.

Cold virus replicates better at cooler temperatures

influenza viruses

Unfortunately, nothing really works – or works that well – to prevent or treat colds. Credit: Jacob Spencer, CC BY-NC-SA
The common cold virus can reproduce itself more efficiently in the cooler temperatures found inside the nose than at core body temperature, according to a new Yale-led study. This finding may confirm the popular yet contested notion that people are more likely to catch a cold in cool-weather conditions.
Researchers have long known that the most frequent cause of the common cold, the rhinovirus, replicates more readily in the slightly cooler environment of the nasal cavity than in the warmer lungs. However, the focus of prior studies has been on how body temperature influenced the virus as opposed to the immune system, said study senior author and Yale professor of immunobiology Akiko Iwasaki.
To investigate the relationship between temperature and immune response, Iwasaki and an interdisciplinary team of Yale researchers spearheaded by Ellen Foxman, a postdoctoral fellow in Iwasaki’s lab, examined the cells taken from the airways of mice. They compared the immune response to rhinovirus when cells were incubated at 37 degrees Celsius, or core body temperature, and at the cooler 33 degrees Celsius. “We found that the innate immune response to the rhinovirus is impaired at the lower body temperature compared to the core body temperature,” Iwasaki said.
The study also strongly suggested that the varying temperatures influenced the immune response rather than the virus itself. Researchers observed viral replication in airway cells from mice with genetic deficiencies in the immune system sensors that detect virus and in the antiviral response. They found that with these immune deficiencies, the virus was able to replicate at the higher temperature. “That proves it’s not just virus intrinsic, but it’s the host’s response that’s the major contributor,” Iwasaki explained.
Although the research was conducted on mouse cells, it offers clues that may benefit people, including the roughly 20% of us who harbor rhinovirus in our noses at any given time. “In general, the lower the temperature, it seems the lower the innate immune response to viruses,” noted Iwasaki. In other words, the research may give credence to the old wives’ tale that people should keep warm, and even cover their noses, to avoid catching colds.
Yale researchers also hope to apply this insight into how temperature affects immune response to other conditions, such as childhood asthma. While the common cold is no more than a nuisance for many people, it can cause severe breathing problems for children with asthma, noted Foxman. Future research may probe the immune response to rhinovirus-induced asthma.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
More information: Temperature-dependent innate defense against the common cold virus limits viral replication at warm temperature in mouse airway cells, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1411030112