sciencehabit writes "The company 23andMe will no longer provide health information to people who purchase its DNA testing kit, it announced last night.The change was 'to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process,' the statement said. While current customers will still have access to a 23andMe online database noting the health issues associated with their particular DNA, the company will not update that information, and customers who purchased its Personal Genome Service (PGS) on or after 22 November will receive only information about their ancestry and their raw genetic data without interpretation." It would be great to see a secondary market in this kind of analysis emerge.
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schliz writes "Stanford scientists say they could help boost people's motivation to overcome difficulties by electrically stimulating the anterior midcingulate cortex in the brain. The study involved two patients, who described the 'will to persevere' beautifully. One said it was like driving into a storm front and knowing that he had to get through. From the article: 'Stanford University neuroscientists passed a small current through an area in the part of the brain that deals with error detection, anticipation of tasks, attention, motivation, and emotional responses. Both patients involved in the study had epilepsy, and already had electrodes implanted in their brains to help doctors learn about the source of their seizures."
ananyo writes "Bowing to scientists' near-universal scorn, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology has fulfilled its threat to retract a controversial paper which claimed that a genetically modified (GM) maize causes serious disease in rats after the authors refused to withdraw it. The paper, from a research group led by Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen, France, and published in 2012, showed 'no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data,' said a statement from Elsevier, which publishes the journal. But the small number and type of animals used in the study means that 'no definitive conclusions can be reached.' The known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat 'cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups,' it added. Today's move came as no surprise. Earlier this month, the journal's editor-in-chief, Wallace Hayes, threatened retraction if Séralini refused to withdraw the paper, which is exactly what he announced at a press conference in Brussels this morning. Séralini and his team remained unrepentant, and allege that the retraction derives from the journal's editorial appointment of biologist Richard Goodman, who previously worked for biotechnology giant Monsanto for seven years."
squiggleslash writes "The concerns, legitimate or otherwise, about genetically modified foods such as Monsanto's Round-up Ready soy-beans, may be causing unintended consequences: Monsanto's rivals such as BASF are selling 'naturally' mutated seeds where extreme exposure to ultra-violet is used to increase the rate of mutations in seeds, a process called mutagenesis. These seeds end up with many of the same properties, such as herbicide resistance, as GM seeds, but inevitably end up with other, uncontrolled, mutations too. The National Academy of Sciences warns that there's a much higher risk of unintentionally creating seeds that have active health risks through mutagenesis than by other means, including relatively controlled genetic engineering, presumably because of the blind indiscriminate nature of mutations caused by the process. But because mutagenesis is effectively an acceleration of the natural system of evolution, it's very difficult to regulate."
kkleiner writes "Starting next month, Americans suffering from degenerative eye diseases can get excited about the launch of the Argus II, a bionic eye implant to partially restore vision. Designed for those suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, the Argus II is a headset that looks akin to Google Glass but is actually hard wired into the optic nerve to transmit visual information from a 60 electrode array. The device opens the door for similar 'humanitarian' implants that both reduce the difficulty in getting government approval and increase the adoption of brain implants."
Daniel_Stuckey writes "No man is an island, but evolutionarily, each person functions like one for the HIV virus. That's according to Thomas Leitner, a researcher working on a project aimed at creating technology for tracking HIV through a population. The technology, which is being studied at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, may allow people to identify who infected them with the virus, a development that could have major implications in criminal proceedings. "If you're familiar with Darwin's finches, you have a population of birds on one island and they keep moving and evolving as they spread to other islands so that each population is a little different," Leitner said. "With HIV, it's the same. Every person infected with HIV has a slightly different form of the virus. It's the ultimate chameleon because it evolves this way.""
kkleiner writes "With the cost of healthcare services increasing, it's welcome news that a recent deal between Walgreens and Theranos will bring rapid, accurate, low-cost blood testing to the local pharmacy. A pinprick of blood from a finger is enough to run any number of a la carte diagnostic tests with results in four hours or less. The automation of blood testing in one convenient machine may mean that the demand for clinical technicians may decline, but the benefits of making blood analysis more accessible to everyone is enormous."
rtoz writes "MIT researchers have found that adding genetically modified viruses to the production of nanowires will boost the performance of lithium-air battery used in electric cars. The key to their work was to increase the surface area of the wire, thus increasing the area where electrochemical activity takes place during charging or discharging of the battery (abstract). The increase in surface area produced by their method can provide a big advantage in lithium-air batteries' rate of charging and discharging. Unlike conventional fabrication methods, which involve energy-intensive high temperatures and hazardous chemicals, this process can be carried out at room temperature using a water-based process."
First time accepted submitter Rozanne writes "The new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine has a story on Stanford professor Drew Endy's creation of microscopic computers out of biological components for use inside living cells. His work is a mash-up of molecular biology and computer engineering: Instead of a computer made of silicon, metal and plastic, it's a computer made of DNA, RNA and enzymes. Endy says biologists are typically confounded at first when he explains how the computers work and how they could be used."
ananyo writes "He founded two genetic-sequencing companies and sold them for hundreds of millions of dollars. He helped to sequence the genomes of a Neanderthal man and James Watson, who co-discovered DNA's double helix. Now, entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg has set his sights on another milestone: finding the genes that underlie mathematical genius. Rothberg and physicist Max Tegmark, who is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, have enrolled about 400 mathematicians and theoretical physicists from top-ranked US universities in a study dubbed 'Project Einstein'. They plan to sequence the participants' genomes using the Ion Torrent machine that Rothberg developed. Critics say that the sizes of these studies are too small to yield meaningful results for such complex traits. But Rothberg is pushing ahead. 'I'm not at all concerned about the critics,' he says, adding that he does not think such rare genetic traits could be useful in selecting for smarter babies. Some mathematicians, however, argue that maths aptitude is not born so much as made. 'I feel that the notion of "talent" may be overrated,' says Michael Hutchings, a mathematician also at Berkeley."
wabrandsma writes "New Scientist reports that 'A bacterium has had its genome recoded so that the standard language of life no longer applies. Instead, one of its words has been freed up to impart a different meaning, allowing the addition of genetic elements that don't exist in nature. ... The four letters of the genetic code are usually read by a cell's protein-production machinery, the ribosome, in sets of three letters called codons. Each codon "word" provides instructions about which amino acid to add next to a growing peptide chain. Although there are 64 ways of combining four letters, only 61 codons are used to encode the 20 amino acids found in nature. ... The three combinations left over, UAG, UAA and UGA, act like a full stop or period – telling the ribosome to terminate the process at that point. ... A team of synthetic biologists led by Farren Isaacs at Yale University have now fundamentally rewritten these rules (abstract). They took Escherichia coli cells and replaced all of their UAG stop codons with UAAs. They also deleted the instructions for making the release factor that usually binds to UAG, rendering UAG meaningless. Next they set about assigning UAG a new meaning, by designing molecules called tRNAs and accompanying enzymes that would attach an unnatural amino acid – fed to the cell – whenever they spotted this codon."
theodp writes "'There's a lot you can do for your child with 99 dollars,' explains Fast Company's Elizabeth Murphy, who opted to get her adopted 5-year-old daughter's genes tested by 23andMe, a startup founded by Anne Wojcicki that's been funded to the tune of $126 million by Google, Sergey Brin (Wojcicki's now-separated spouse), Yuri Milner, and others. So, how'd that work out? 'My daughter,' writes Murphy, 'who is learning to read and tie her shoes, has two copies of the APOE-4 variant, the strongest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's. According to her 23andMe results, she has a 55% chance of contracting the disease between the ages of 65 and 79.' So, what is 23andMe's advice for the worried Mom? 'You have this potential now to engage her in all kinds of activities,' said Wojcicki. 'Do you get her focused on her exercise and what she's eating, and doing brain games and more math?' Duke associate professor of public policy Don Taylor had more comforting advice for Murphy. 'It's possible the best thing you can do is burn that damn report and never think of it again,' he said. 'I'm just talking now as a parent. Do not wreck yourself about your 5-year-old getting Alzheimer's. Worry more about the fact that when she's a teenager she might be driving around in cars with drunk boys.'"
dryriver sends this article from the Economist: "A simple idea underpins science: 'trust, but verify'. Results should always be subject to challenge from experiment. That simple but powerful idea has generated a vast body of knowledge. Since its birth in the 17th century, modern science has changed the world beyond recognition, and overwhelmingly for the better. But success can breed complacency. Modern scientists are doing too much trusting and not enough verifying — to the detriment of the whole of science, and of humanity. Too many of the findings that fill the academic ether are the result of shoddy experiments or poor analysis (see article). A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists is that half of published research cannot be replicated. Even that may be optimistic. Last year researchers at one biotech firm, Amgen, found they could reproduce just six of 53 'landmark' studies in cancer research. Earlier, a group at Bayer, a drug company, managed to repeat just a quarter of 67 similarly important papers. A leading computer scientist frets that three-quarters of papers in his subfield are bunk. In 2000-10 roughly 80,000 patients took part in clinical trials based on research that was later retracted because of mistakes or improprieties. Even when flawed research does not put people's lives at risk — and much of it is too far from the market to do so — it squanders money and the efforts of some of the world's best minds. The opportunity costs of stymied progress are hard to quantify, but they are likely to be vast. And they could be rising."
First time accepted submitter Philip Ross writes "Scientists at the University of Texas looked at the interactions between bacteria in 3D-printed environments to better understand what makes some microbes resistant to antibiotics, something health officials have been warning us about for a long time. They used high-precision lasers to print multiple two-dimensional images, using a chip modified from a digital movie projector, onto a layer of flexible gelatin where bacteria were growing. As layers of protein were added to the gelatin, which contains photosensitive molecules that become aroused and bond together after being hit with a laser, they formed a tiny encasing around the bacteria."
An anonymous reader writes "Consumer genomics company 23andMe has developed a system for helping prospective parents choose the traits of their offspring, from disease risk to hair color. The patent — number 8543339, "Gamete donor selection based on genetic calculations" — describes a technology that would take a customer's preferences for a child's traits, compute the likely genomic outcomes of combinations between a customer's sperm or egg and other people's sex cells, and describe which potential reproductive matches would most likely produce the desired baby."
kkleiner writes "The FDA has approved a device that acts as an "artificial pancreas", which both continuously monitors a patient's glucose levels and injects appropriate amounts of insulin when needed. When blood-sugar levels become low, the device from Medtronics warns the wearer and will eventually shut down. The MiniMed 530G looks to offer an on-the-go solution for the growing number of people suffering from Type 1 diabetes who have to test their blood and inject insulin throughout the day. The company plans to improve the device to make a fully automated version down the road."
An anonymous reader writes with a story excerpt that may inspire envy in some readers: "Most beer guts are the result of consuming fermented brew, but a new case study describes a rare syndrome that had one man's gut fermenting brew, not consuming it. It's called gut fermentation syndrome or auto-brewery syndrome, and it's 'a relatively unknown phenomenon in Western medicine' according to a study published in July's International Journal of Clinical Medicine. 'Only a few cases have been reported in the last three decades' according to Dr. Barbara Cordell, the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas, and Dr. Justin McCarthy, a Lubbock gastroenterologist, the study's authors." (More at NPR.)
Google has announced the formation of a new company called Calico, which aims to promote health and fight aging. Larry Page said, "That’s a lot different from what Google does today. And you’re right. But as we explained in our first letter to shareholders, there’s tremendous potential for technology more generally to improve people’s lives. So don’t be surprised if we invest in projects that seem strange or speculative compared with our existing Internet businesses." He expanded upon this in an interview with Time: "I'm not proposing that we spend all of our money on those kinds of speculative things. But we should be spending a commensurate amount with what normal types of companies spend on research and development, and spend it on things that are a little more long-term and a little more ambitious than people normally would. More like moon shots." The new company's CEO will be Arthur Levinson, who is currently the chairman of Apple and biotech company Genentech. Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn't have to be this way."
An anonymous reader writes "The Department of Defense has just declassified a copy of its 2009 Concept of Operations Plan for an Influenza Pandemic. Among the Plan's scary yet reasonable assumptions are that in the United States, such a pandemic will kill 2 percent of the infected population, or about 2 million people. The plan also assumes that a vaccine won't be available for at least 4 to 6 months after confirmation of sustained human transmission, and that the weekly vaccine manufacturing capability will only produce 1 percent of the total US vaccine required. State and local governments will be overwhelmed, and civilian mortuary operations will require military augmentation. Measures such as limiting public gatherings, closing schools, social distancing, protective sequestration and masking will be required to limit transmission and reduce illness and death. International and interstate transportation will be restricted to contain the spread of the virus. If a pandemic starts outside the US, it will enter the country at multiple locations and spread quickly to other parts of the country. A related document, CONPLAN 3591-09, was released by DoD in 2010."
Zothecula writes "A very promising vaccine candidate for HIV/AIDS has shown the ability to completely clear the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), a very aggressive form of HIV that leads to AIDS in monkeys. Developed at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), the vaccine proved successful in about fifty percent of the subjects tested and could lead to a human vaccine preventing the onset of HIV/AIDS and even cure patients currently on anti-retroviral drugs."