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When you take a sip of tea, you’re drinking a beverage that is grounded in a particular time and place. In Yunnan province, southwestern China, which is the source of a highly prized tea known as pu-erh, summer brings monsoon rains, whereas spring is comparatively dry. Tea leaves that are harvested in spring therefore have different qualities to those collected in summer: each tea contains around 50 chemicals that are unique to its season of harvest, says Albert Robbat. The sensitivity of tea plants to the environment makes the crop vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Variations in temperature and precipitation are known to affect tea yield, as well as alter the complex balance of chemicals that gives tea its flavour and potential health benefits.
Computerized genetic-design tools automate the process by which researchers design complex genetic circuits that can program cells — especially bacteria and yeast — to carry out specific actions, such as activating a particular enzyme or churning out a certain protein. Synthetic biologists have used single-celled organisms in this way to produce drugs, biological sensors that include cells or antibodies, enzymes for use in industry, and more.
On a cold morning in Minneapolis last December, a man walked into a research centre to venture where only pigs had gone before: into the strongest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine built to scan the human body. First, he changed into a hospital gown, and researchers made sure he had no metal on his body: no piercings, rings, metal implants or pacemakers. Any metal could be ripped out by the immensely powerful, 10.5-tesla magnet — weighing almost 3 times more than a Boeing 737 aeroplane and a full 50% more powerful than the strongest magnets approved for clinical use. “This is a window we’ve just never had in the intact human brain,” says Ravi Menon.
People with glioblastoma multiforme, one of the most common forms of brain cancer, have a median survival of less than 15 months after diagnosis. If researchers could grow numerous small brain-like structures that contained a replica of the person’s tumour and then bathe them in various treatments, in the space of a few weeks, they might learn exactly which ones would have the best chance of fighting brain cancer in that individual. Howard Fine, a neuro-oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, is developing such models, known as cerebral organoids. Organoids are particularly valuable for studying brain cancer because neither human brain tumours transplanted into mice nor human tumour stem cells grown in a culture dish behave in the same way as their counterparts in the body.
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.
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.