Debilitating hand pain is always bad news, but Harold Pimentel’s was especially unwelcome. As a computational-biology PhD student, his work involved constant typing — and he was born with only one arm. “My adviser jokingly said, ‘Can’t you do this by voice?’” he recalls. Three years later, as a computational-genomics postdoc at Stanford University in California, he does just that.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand someone else’s research through a static scientific paper. Across countless universities and companies, at whiteboards and cafeteria tables, you’ll find scientists in animated conversations explaining their research to one another, asking questions, playing around with each other’s data: in short, interacting. Across the internet in recent years, people have extended these explanations to include interactive graphics and code.
Now a web-only machine-learning journal called Distill aims to provide a formal home for these interactive graphical explanations.
This is shaping up to be the year of DNA for cryptocurrency. One startup after another is offering to pay you in bitcoin-like tokens for sharing your genetic data.
But it’s hard to see how using blockchains and cryptocurrencies will substantially increase demand for genome sequencing. That’s a vexing problem because too few genomes have been sequenced and analyzed to generate as many meaningful insights as scientists had hoped.
The esoteric world of pure math doesn’t usually play much of a role in promoting fairness in the U.S. political system, but Tufts mathematicians Moon Duchin and Mira Bernstein believe that needs to change. It is math, they say, that could help overcome gerrymandering—the practice of drawing legislative districts that favor one party, class or race.
Aviv Regev likes to work at the edge of what is possible. In 2011, the computational biologist was collaborating with molecular geneticist Joshua Levin to test a handful of methods for sequencing RNA. The scientists were aiming to push the technologies to the brink of failure and see which performed the best. They processed samples with degraded RNA or vanishingly small amounts of the molecule. Eventually, Levin pointed out that they were sequencing less RNA than appears in a single cell.
To Regev, that sounded like an opportunity. The cell is the basic unit of life and she had long been looking for ways to explore how complex networks of genes operate in individual cells, how those networks can differ and, ultimately, how diverse cell populations work together. The answers to such questions would reveal, in essence, how complex organisms such as humans are built.
Every day in the U.S., about 22 people die waiting for an organ transplant. If scientists could 3-D print organs like kidneys, livers and hearts, all those lives could be saved. For years, people have been touting personalized organ printing as the future.
But despite decades of promising work in bioengineered bladders and other kinds of human tissue, we’re not close to having more complicated organs made from scratch. Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis, a leader in advanced 3-D printing of biological tissue, has only recently developed the ability to print part of a nephron, an individual unit of a kidney.
I asked Lewis what it will take to someday print a full kidney or a similarly complex organ.
When a new drug is being tested in a controlled clinical trial, half the patients get the real drug and half get a placebo, something harmless like a sugar pill or a saline injection. But patients on the placebo often improve anyway, and that’s because they expect that they’re getting the real drug, right? Well, no. Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk’s research has exploded that explanation. Read the full story in NeoLife.
Dyslexia is not just about reading, or even language. It’s about something more fundamental: How much can the brain adapt to what it has just observed? People with dyslexia typically have less brain plasticity than those without dyslexia, two recent studies have found.
A fossil fish found in Yunnan, China, has filled in a gaping hole in how researchers thought the vertebrate jaw evolved.
The 423-million-year-old specimen, dubbed Qilinyu rostrata, is part of an ancient group of armoured fish called placoderms. The fossil is the oldest ever found with a modern three-part jaw, which includes two bones in the upper jaw and one in the lower jaw. Researchers reported their find on 20 October in Science.
A contagious facial cancer that is almost always fatal has cut a wide swathe through the population of Tasmanian devils since 1996. The disease has reduced the devil population by 80%, and researchers have predicted that the cancer will drive the animals to extinction within decades. But a study published on 30 August in Nature Communications offers hope. Researchers have found that Tasmanian devils have developed some genetic resistance to the disease in just four to six generations.
Large genomic databases are indispensable for scientists looking for genetic variations associated with diseases. But they come with privacy risks for people who contribute their DNA. To address those concerns, a system developed by Bonnie Berger and Sean Simmons, computer scientists at MIT, masks the donor’s identity by adding a small amount of noise, or random variation, to the results it returns on a user’s query.
Mice are a mainstay of biomedical research laboratories. But the rodents are poor models for studying women’s reproductive health, because they don’t menstruate. Now researchers at Monash University in Clayton, Australia, say that they have found a rodent that defies this conventional wisdom: the spiny mouse (Acomys cahirinus). If the finding holds up, the animal could one day be used to research women’s menstruation-related health conditions.
There’s a little too much wishful thinking about mindfulness, and it is skewing how researchers report their studies of the technique.
Researchers at McGill University analysed 124 published trials of mindfulness as a mental-health treatment, and found that scientists reported positive findings 60% more often than is statistically likely. The team also examined another 21 trials that were registered with databases such as ClinicalTrials.gov; of these, 62% were unpublished 30 months after they finished. The findings hint that negative results are going unpublished.
Madagascar is home to many unique and threatened mammals, such as lemurs and small hedgehog-like creatures called tenrecs. Most people wouldn’t think of consuming one of these animals, but for many in Madagascar, bushmeat is on the menu. Scientists assumed that people turned to wild meat just to survive, but two new studies that examine the entire supply chain for this meat have found that consumption of wild mammals in Madagascar is common and far more open a practice than anyone had suspected.Read the full article in Smithsonian.
The cabinets of the Field Museum in Chicago hold a collection of eggs that led to one of the most famous conservation discoveries of the twentieth century: that the pesticide DDT was causing widespread nesting failures in birds of prey.
But such specimen troves — which are used to identify species, track diseases and study climate change — have lost a valuable means of support. Last week, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that it would indefinitely suspend a programme that provides funding to maintain biological research collections.
A nuisance to dentists is now a boon for archaeologists. Researchers have successfully sequenced DNA from fossilized plaque on 700-year-old teeth.
Solidified plaque—called calculus, tartar, or that chalky stuff the dentist scrapes off—contains a whopping 25 times more DNA than ancient tooth or bone.
This robotics researcher might have something in just your size.
Most robotics labs don’t contain sewing machines. But there’s a room full of them in Conor Walsh’s lab, along with three full-time textile experts and a wall of fabrics in neat plastic bins. There’s a rack that looks as if it belongs in a sporting goods store, with a row of what could be some new kind of running shorts in an array of sizes.
For Walsh, a robot is not necessarily a rigid metal machine. He’s working on robots that are soft, lightweight, and flexible so people can wear them to enhance their abilities.
Mothers-to-be expecting to learn about chromosomal defects from a noninvasive prenatal test sometimes instead learn they may have cancer.
Biology professor Erin Lindquist was in the middle of class when she got the phone call telling her that a prenatal test had returned abnormal results.
The BabySeq project in Boston has begun collecting data to quantify the risks and benefits of DNA sequencing at birth.
The central question for this project is what will come of giving genomic information to parents and their baby’s doctor. Will doctors order more tests and interventions? Will those tests and interventions make babies healthier? Or will they just waste money, or even end up doing more harm than good?
Parents who have one child with an autism diagnosis can more accurately spot signs of the condition in their younger child at 12 months of age than clinicians can, according to a new study1. The advantage fades by 18 months of age, however.
The findings suggest that surveying knowledgeable parents could move up the date of autism diagnosis, enabling therapy to begin sooner.
Biosimilars are a growing share of the U.S. pharmaceuticals market. But while there are at least 240 biosimilars in the development pipeline, just nine have achieved FDA approval and only three have reached the market.
What needs to change for more biosimilars to enter the U.S. market?