When scientists sequenced the human genome a decade ago, it was somewhat like looking at a blueprint in a foreign language — everything was marked in its proper location, but no one could tell what it all meant. Only about 1 percent of our genome codes for proteins that actually do anything, so the rest of our DNA has been like biology’s dark matter, acting in mysterious ways. Now, after years of monumental effort, scientists think they have some answers.
Independent research teams from the U.S. and the U.K. are developing genetic techniques similar to those used in forensics labs to trace the ancestry of the bedbug. The work may help map the spread of the pesky bloodsucker over the course of the continuing global resurgence, as well as lead to DNA tests for use in lawsuits and other bed-bug-related disputes.
We are still waiting with bated breath for the day scientists resurrect the woolly mammoth. Until then, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with resurrections of ancient plants and bacteria — which may be more amazing anyway, because they're even older.
The hunt for dark matter is arguably the biggest scientific search ongoing right now--even as scientists close in on the elusive Higgs boson--but finding it is not proving easy, since physicists can’t see or measure the stuff, or even be sure that it’s there at all (it is, after all, theoretical at this point).
When a bullet is recovered at a crime scene, ballistic identification can help track the gun that fired it, but identifying the person who fired the gun is a lot harder. Now scientists have found an unlikely method to ID gunmen on the lam, using flower pollen.
In a new study fraught with some heady ethical questions, scientists have sequenced almost the complete genome of an unborn child, and done so without interrupting the fetus or the mother’s womb. The team used the mother’s blood and the father’s saliva to determine their child’s genetic sequence in the second trimester.
In the bizarre world of cryptozoology, the yeti looms large, its potential existence the stuff of legend since the days of the first Mt. Everest expeditions. Now a new effort could settle it for good, by studying DNA from hair samples stored at various institutions around the world. Maybe the samples do belong to a yeti or some type of beast unknown to science, or maybe it’s as boring as a bear — a team of researchers at the University of Oxford and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology aim to find out.
DNA is the blueprint for life, and now it can serve as a computer to monitor life’s processes. Bioengineers transformed DNA into a one-bit memory system that can record, store and erase data within living cells. A future DNA memory device could be used to track cell division and differentiation in cancer patients, perhaps, or to monitor what happens as cells get sick or age.
DNA databases are highly protected resources, because they contain the most detailed fingerprint that can be used to identify a person — from genetic predisposition to cancer, to paternity tests, to criminal histories. But apparently RNA databases, derived from large genome studies, can also be used to pinpoint a person’s identity, according to a new study.
The first human genome sequence took 13 years and cost $3 billion — now, less than a decade later, a new company promises to sequence a full genome in 15 minutes for a song. If this exponential increase in efficiency and drop in price sounds like something out of the computing industry, that’s because it is. Multicore processors and customizable clusters are coming to gene sequencing, threatening to disrupt one of the most important industries in modern medicine.
Microbiologist Rosie Redfield, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, spent several months trying to reproduce the results of an experiment conducted by a team led by Felisa Wolfe-Simon (see the feature "Scientist in a Strange Land" I wrote for PopSci in October.) In the original paper, published in the online edition of the journal Science in December 2010, Wolfe-Simon and her team suggested that a bacterium called GFAJ-1 could substitute arsenic, poisonous for most life form
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.