Monday, 21 January 2008

Weekly BioNews 14 - 21 Jan 2008

- UK parliamentary committee calls for biofuel moratorium

Sun Jan 20, 2008 7:24pm EST
LONDON (Reuters) - Most biofuels harm rather than help the environment and the British government should call a moratorium on increasing their use, a parliamentary committee said on Monday."Biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transport -- but at present most biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment overall," Tim Yeo, chairman of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) said.Biofuels can be substituted for fossil fuels and are seen by advocates as a way of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming. Grains, vegetable oils and sugar are among the industry's current feedstocks.

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- Gene studies home in on lupus cause

Sun Jan 20, 2008 3:16pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four separate studies published on Sunday identify a series of genes linked with lupus, a debilitating illness that can affect various parts of the body at once.The studies show that, as suspected, the immune system is going haywire in lupus. But it also points to some previously unsuspected causes of the once-mysterious disease.And the findings may not only help scientists find better treatments for the disease -- but may help in diagnosing it in the first place, as it is easily confused with other conditions.

- Bird flu spreads to new districts in India's east

Sat Jan 19, 2008 5:29pm EST
By Bappa Majumdar

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Bird flu spread to two new districts in an eastern Indian state, officials confirmed on Saturday, as veterinary staff struggled to cull thousands of birds in the face of resistance from farmers.The H5N1 virus was found in dead birds in Burdwan and Nadia, taking to five the number of infected districts in West Bengal state.The virus was also spreading to new areas within already infected districts.India, which is witnessing its fourth bird flu outbreak in poultry since 2006, has not reported any human infection.

- Stem cells help mice with muscular dystrophy: study

Sun Jan 20, 2008 5:15pm EST
By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A therapy using embryonic stem cells helped restore muscle function in mice with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy in children, U.S. researchers said on Sunday.They said the study is the first to show that transplanted embryonic stem cells can restore muscle in genetically engineered mice with the disease.Stem cells are the body's master cells, acting as a source for the various cells and tissues in the body. Those taken from days-old embryos, called embryonic stem cells, can produce all of the body's cell types.

- Green light for hybrid research (article 1)

Thursday, 17 January 2008, 12:09 GMT

Regulators in the UK have given scientists the green light to create human-animal embryos for research. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority granted permission after a consultation showed the public were "at ease" with the idea. Experts said it was vital for research into life-threatening diseases.

Hybrids are made using an animal egg mixed with human genes

Two centres, King's College London and Newcastle University, will now be able to begin their work under one-year research licences. Any other centres wishing to do similar work will have to apply to the HFEA for permission, which will make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Scientists want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with animal eggs in a bid to extract stem cells. The embryos would then be destroyed within 14 days.

- Hybrid Human-Animal Embryo Research Approved In The UK (article 2)

ScienceDaily (Jan. 18, 2008)

Two research groups in the United Kingdom have been given permission to use hybrid human-animal embryos in research which aims to lead to the development of new therapies for debilitating human conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and stroke.Newcastle University stem cell scientist Dr. Lyle Armstrong, who is based at the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, has received a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to carry out research using human-animal cytoplasmic embryos. Another group -- the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, at King's College London -- has also received a research license by HFEA to carry out research using hybrid embryos.

- Tiny Genetic Differences Have Huge Consequences

ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2008)

A study led by McGill University researchers has demonstrated that small differences between individuals at the DNA level can lead to dramatic differences in the way genes produce proteins. These, in turn, are responsible for the vast array of differences in physical characteristics between individuals.This study solves in part the mystery of how a relatively small number of differences within DNA protein coding sequences could be responsible for the enormous variety of phenotypic differences between individuals.

The interaction of messenger RNA (mRNA) in a cell. Majewski and his colleagues have demonstrated that the natural processing of mRNA, via a process called splicing, is genetically controlled by single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). (Credit: NHGRI/Talking Glossary of Genetics)

It had previously been shown that individual differences reside in simple, relatively small variations in the DNA sequence called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, often pronounced "snips"), which exist primarily in the "junk code" of the DNA not previously known to have any profound genetic effect.

Full Article

- Stem Cell Research Aims To Tackle Parkinson's Disease

ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2008)

Scientists in Sweden are developing new ways to grow brain cells in the laboratory that could one day be used to treat patients with Parkinson's disease, an international conference of biologists organised by the European Science Foundation (ESF) was told recently.Stem cell therapy hold the promise of treating disease by growing new tissues and organs from stem cells -- 'blank' cells that have the potential to develop into fully mature or 'differentiated' cells. The EuroSTELLS is an ESF EURCORES programme, managed by the European Medical Research Councils (EMRC), that aims to develop a stem cell 'toolbox' by generating fundamental knowledge on stem cell biology.

- Means Of Controlling A Parasite That Kills And Eats Human Cells Identified

ScienceDaily (Jan. 20, 2008)

Researchers from the University of Virginia and the University of Vermont have discovered a means of inhibiting one of the world's most voracious parasites. The study targets a protein which aids the parasite in ingestion of immune cell corpses.Entamoeba histolytica, which causes inflammation of the colon (colitis), plays dirty. It attacks and kills human immune cells in seconds. Then the parasite hides the evidence by eating the cells' corpses. While doing so, it kills nearly 100,000 people each year. The research team, led by Dr. William Petri, hypothesized that identifying molecules involved in the corpse ingestion might provide insight into how the amebae cause colitis in children.
- Cells get sprayed

January 20, 2008 12:27 AM
Biology News

Genetically engineered products have become indispensable. For example, genetically modified bacteria produce human insulin. In future, gene therapy should make it possible to introduce genes into the cells of a diseased organism so that they can address deficiencies to compensate for malfunctions in the body. In order for this to work, foreign (or synthetic) DNA must be introduced into host cells, which is not exactly a trivial task. Japanese researchers have now developed a method which could represent a true alternative to conventional processes. As described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the cells are “bombarded” with water droplets produced and accelerated by electrospray. There are several methods to transfer DNA into a host cell. In the simplest case the foreign DNA forces its way into the cell through a cell membrane that has been made porous, through treatment with electrical current or UV lasers, for example. Viruses and liposomes can be used as genetic transporters and the genetic material can be injected or shot into the cell with a “particle gun”. These methods all have the disadvantage of either severely damaging delicate cells or of being markedly expensive and complicated.

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