For most teachers, school is out for the summer! Now it is time to kick back, relax, and catch up on some fun science writing. Here are three short stories that we liked.
- The scent of sickness: Did you know that animals can be trained to sniff out disease? This is because they have evolved to have an extra-sensitive sense of smell. Dogs, mice, and ferrets have over three times the amount of olfactory neurons when compared to humans and other primates. This give them super-sniffing abilities! The animals are trained to identify “meaningful odors.” In this article, published in ASBMB Today, the author talks about the qualities in certain that make them ideal for sniffing out sickness. However, while a certain breed of dog may be ideal for sniffing out disease, individual animals may be a bit more…. resistant. Researchers in Florida trained four beagles to detect cancer in patient samples. Three of the beagles were able to detect cancer with over 95% accuracy. The fourth beagles aptly named Snuggles, was not interested in participating in the study.
- CRISPR injected into the blood treats a genetic disease for first time: The gene-editing tool CRISPR is one of the most exciting biotechnology breakthroughs of the past decade. The CRISPR-Cas9 system evolved in bacteria as a defense against viral attacks. Researchers realized that using this system, bacteria can find any short sequence of DNA and attack it with precision. CRISPR has now become a valuable part of our efforts to improve human health, make our food supply hardier and more resistant to disease, and advance any arm of science that involves living cells, such as biofuels and waste management. Recent studies have used CRISPR in the bone marrow to “fix” genetic problems that led to two common blood disorders. In this new study, mRNA coding for CRISPR and the guide RNA was introduced into the blood stream. The mRNA finds its way to the liver where it inactivates the gene that produces a mis-folded protein. This reduces the severity of the disease.
- Scientists have taught spinach to send emails and it could warn us about climate change: Plants are ideal sensors for climate change – their growth is dependent on specific sun and temperature patterns, their roots penetrate deep into the ground where they can sample the water and elements in the soil, and they’re easily engineered using biotechnology techniques. This article describes the way that researchers manipulated spinach to produce carbon nano tubules in their leaves. When in the presence of explosives, these nano tubules organize into a specific signal that can emit infrared light. This light is easily detected by infrared cameras, so when the energy detected, an email is sent to alert the researchers. The next step is to take advantage of the spinach plant’s normal sensing properties to look for changes in gases, soil, or compounds in water.