"The question is which are okay, which are not okay."
- As the material that makes all living things what/who we are, DNA is the key to understanding and changing the world. British geneticist Bryan Sykes and Francis Collins (director of the Human Genome Project) explain how, through gene editing, scientists can better treat illnesses, eradicate diseases, and revolutionize personalized medicine.
- But existing and developing gene editing technologies are not without controversies. A major point of debate deals with the idea that gene editing is overstepping natural and ethical boundaries. Just because they can, does that mean that scientists should be edit DNA?
- Harvard professor Glenn Cohen introduces another subcategory of gene experiments: mixing human and animal DNA. "The question is which are okay, which are not okay, why can we generate some principles," Cohen says of human-animal chimeras and arguments concerning improving human life versus morality.
A team of scientists managed to install onto a smartphone a spectrometer that's capable of identifying specific molecules — with cheap parts you can buy online.
- Spectroscopy provides a non-invasive way to study the chemical composition of matter.
- These techniques analyze the unique ways light interacts with certain materials.
- If spectrometers become a common feature of smartphones, it could someday potentially allow anyone to identify pathogens, detect impurities in food, and verify the authenticity of valuable minerals.
The quality of smartphone cameras has increased exponentially over the past decade. Today's smartphone cameras can not only capture photos that rival those of stand-alone camera systems but also offer practical applications, like heart-rate measurement, foreign-text translation, and augmented reality.
What's the next major functionality of smartphone cameras? It could be the ability to identify chemicals, drugs, and biological molecules, according to a new study published in the Review of Scientific Instruments.
The study describes how a team of scientists at Texas A&M turned a common smartphone into a "pocket-sized" Raman and emission spectral detector by modifying it with just $50 worth of extra equipment. With the added hardware, the smartphone was able to identify chemicals in the field within minutes.
The technology could have a wide range of applications, including diagnosing certain diseases, detecting the presence of pathogens and dangerous chemicals, identifying impurities in food, and verifying the authenticity of valuable artwork and minerals.
Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy
Raman and fluorescence spectroscopies are techniques for discerning the chemical composition of materials. Both strategies exploit the fact that light interacts with certain types of matter in unique ways. But there are some differences between the two techniques.
As the name suggests, fluorescence spectroscopy measures the fluorescence — that is, the light emitted by a substance when it absorbs light or other electromagnetic radiation — of a given material. It works by shining light on a material, which excites the electrons within the molecules of the material. The electrons then emit fluorescent light toward a filter that measures fluorescence.
The particular spectra of fluorescent light that's emitted can help scientists detect small concentrations of particular types of biological molecules within a material. But some biomolecules, such as RNA and DNA, don't emit fluorescent light, or they only do so at extremely low levels. That's where Raman spectroscopy comes into play.
Raman spectroscopy involves shooting a laser at a sample and observing how the light scatters. When light hits molecules, the atoms within the molecules vibrate and photons get scattered. Most of the scattered light is of the same wavelength and color as the original light, so it provides no information. But a tiny fraction of the light gets scattered differently; that is, the wavelength and color are different. Known as Raman scattering, this is extremely useful because it provides highly precise information about the chemical composition of the molecule. In other words, all molecules have a unique Raman "fingerprint."
Creating an affordable, pocket-sized spectrometer
To build the spectrometer, the researchers connected a smartphone to a laser and a series of plastic lenses. The smartphone camera was placed facing a transmission diffraction grating, which splits incoming light into its constituent wavelengths and colors. After a laser is fired into a sample, the scattered light is diffracted through this grating, and the smartphone camera analyzes the light on the other side.
Schematic diagram of the designed system.Credit: Dhankhar et al.
To test the spectrometer, the researchers analyzed a range of sample materials, including carrots and bacteria. The laser used in the spectrometer emits a wavelength that's readily absorbed by the pigments in carrots and bacteria, which is why these materials were chosen.
The results showed that the smartphone spectrometer was able to correctly identify the materials, but it wasn't quite as effective as the best commercially available Raman spectrometers. The researchers noted that their system might be improved by using specific High Dynamic Range (HDR) smartphone camera applications.
Ultimately, the study highlights how improving the fundamentals of a technology, like smartphone cameras, can lead to a surprisingly wide range of useful applications.
"This inexpensive yet accurate recording pocket Raman system has the potential of being an integral part of ubiquitous cell phones that will make it possible to identify chemical impurities and pathogens, in situ within minutes," the researchers concluded.
For every good idea in evolution, there is an unintended consequence. Disease is often one of them.
- A new essay suggests that evolution both dooms us to certain diseases and provides ways to help improve medical care.
- Technology like polygenic risk scores already allow us to use genetics to predict and improve health outcomes.
- Future treatment options may begin with a review of your genetics.
For every great evolutionary innovation, there is a new way for things to go wrong.
Multicellularity allowed for more complex organisms, but those organisms became susceptible to cancer. The evolution of asymmetric cell division was a boon that prevented damaged cells from proliferating but also created the mechanisms which cause us to age. Blood cell traits that help prevent malaria can also cause sickle cell anemia. Improvements in our brain power can lead to mental illnesses that no other animal can get. In short, it seems that our own genetics can be both a blessing and a curse.
While this is interesting in and of itself, a team of researchers led by Dr. Mary Benton of Baylor University recently published an essay in Nature Reviews Genetics on the influence of evolutionary history on human health and disease and possible new approaches to treating ailments caused by our own genetics. Their essay considers how evolution accidentally made us susceptible to certain diseases and how genomics might be used to improve health outcomes.
No good idea goes unpunished
Credit: Benton et al.
As the above chart shows, evolutionary advances that impact our health occurred at various points in history. As the environment, both natural and social, changes, traits and adaptations that worked really well in the past can become a source of problems. Consider, for example, the tendency of humans to want sweet foods that were once rare. This was likely a useful trait to have when it evolved, but the surplus of sweets we have these days has resulted in an obesity epidemic. Outside of its original context, a once adaptive trait can become maladaptive.
Understanding the context within which certain traits entered the human genome can shed light on why they are now causing problems. This can yield further insights on population genetics and even personalized medicine. As the authors put it:
"Much like a family's medical history over generations, the genome is fundamentally a historical record. Decoding the evolution of the human genome provides valuable context for interpreting and modeling disease."
"While most of the variations that impact disease risk evolved recently, they are part of more complex systems that go much further back. With our improving understanding of how these variations interact with our modern environment, society, and cultures, doctors can potentially begin to use a patient's genetic history to help craft personal care plans."
An evolutionary understanding of disease
While evolutionary takes on disease are not currently used for most conditions, the capacity for medical professionals to do so is increasing. The authors mention the potential of polygenic risk scores, a recently developed technology that estimates the effect of a subject's genetics on their health, as a possible application of evolutionary history on individual health.
While not everyone can get a full genome record at this moment, the possibilities of using our evolutionary history in medicine are tremendous. Dr. Benton spoke to these possibilities with the Baylor University News Service:
"If we can better understand our genomes, then we can better understand risk for disease broadly, but also for specific people. Understanding how genetic variants relate to disease can help us tailor treatments, preventative measures, or drugs. Evolution plays into what variants we have, which variants have stuck around, which people they are present in, and why. I think evolution gives us context for what we want to use in the clinic moving forward."
Invest in the future of arthritis medicine with Cytonics.
It can often be difficult for investors to predict the next industry that will boom within the next decade.
What's not difficult to predict is how current health crises will look within ten years—and how new treatments are certain to have a critical place in the healthcare landscape. That's why the cutting-edge osteoarthritis treatment by Cytonics is worth investing in today: this global $180B industry is expected to affect 25 percent of American adults by 2030.
Osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis, is the degradation of the cartilage in joints and underlying bone. Joint cartilage wears down with age, causing severe discomfort when moving knees, elbows, fingers and various joints throughout the body. This condition currently plagues 27 million American adults, making it a significant healthcare issue in the years to come. That's what makes Cytonics critical in the healthcare industry: its mission to develop first-in-class therapies for treating osteoarthritis will be a life-changing force for millions of American adults.
Proteases are the enzymes at play with osteoarthritis, breaking down the cartilage and causing pain and inflammation with joint movement. Cytonics utilizes the proprietary CYT-108 molecule, an A2M variant that is based on a naturally occurring molecule within the human body. Cytonic's preliminary preclinical research suggests that CYT-108 has the potential to reverse the progression of cartilage damage in arthritic joints and could restore damage caused by osteoarthritis by 60 percent. That's because CYT-108 bonds with the protease enzymes, triggering encapsulation by the body's immune cells. Because CYT-108 bonds with the proteases, this incredible molecule is able to rescue the cartilage from these destructive enzymes.
Over 6,000 patients have been treated using Cytonics' revolutionary osteoarthritis treatment: it's only the beginning for this patented arthritic treatment. Unlike previous arthritic treatments, Cytonics doesn't treat the symptoms: its novel treatment attacks arthritis at the molecular level, reversing cartilage degradation before it can occur.
Cytonics is proven to work, and it solves an issue that harms millions of Americans, making this the perfect time to invest in this opportunity. When it comes to investing, predicting the future is never easy—but arthritis is here to stay, and Cytonics is now here to fight it. Now is the time to jump on this innovative new technology–invest in Cytonics while you still can.
Cytonics is offering securities through the use of an Offering Statement that has been qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission under Tier II of Regulation A. A copy of the Final Offering Circular that forms a part of the Offering Statement may be obtained from: https://www.seedinvest.com/cytonics/series.c
When you buy something through a link in this article or from our shop, Big Think earns a small commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.
A newly discovered coronavirus — but not the one that causes COVID-19 — has made some dogs very sick.
- A different coronavirus outbreak in late 2019 made many dogs in the UK very ill.
- The strangeness of the disease led veterinarians to send questionnaires to their peers and pet owners.
- The findings point toward the need for better systems to identify disease outbreaks in animals.
A recent study suggests that a mysterious disease plaguing dogs in the UK is caused by a novel coronavirus. This virus, which coincidentally appeared in late 2019 and began to concern veterinarians in early 2020, is not related to the virus which causes COVID-19, but can make your four-legged friend feel quite ill.
Novel coronavirus in dogs
The term "coronavirus" doesn't refer to a single disease, but a family of viruses (more formally, Coronaviridae) that share a shape similar to a crown (hence the name, "corona"). They infect many different kinds of animals and cause various diseases from COVID-19 and SARS to the common cold.
This new coronavirus, a variant of canine enteric coronavirus, was first noticed in January 2020 when a veterinarian in the United Kingdom treated "an unusually high number" of dogs with severe vomiting and other gastrointestinal issues at his office. Concerned about this spike in doggy indigestion, they reached out to other veterinarians to see if they were reporting a similar outbreak.
Online questionnaires were sent out to more than a thousand vets and pet owners to map the outbreak and collect information on which animals were being affected. Analysis of this data showed that nearly all of the cases involved vomiting and a loss of appetite, and half of them also involved diarrhea. Most of the cases took place in south and northwest England, though a large outbreak also occurred in and around the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
The data also suggested that male dogs in contact with other dogs were most likely to be infected, hinting at "either transmission between dogs or a common environmental source." The dogs recovered in more than 99 percent of cases.
Hoping to move beyond the questionnaire, the authors also turned to records to piece together what happened.
While public health data for animals is less frequently gathered than it is for humans, electronic records of pet admissions to veterinarian offices and pet insurance payouts do exist. The researchers accessed these records and found that the number of dogs recorded with stomach problems rose between December 2019 and March 2020, with nearly double the number of expected cases occurring during that time. There was also a concomitant rise in prescriptions for drugs to treat those conditions.
A later comparison of samples from dogs that were sick and healthy control dogs confirmed the presence of the novel coronavirus in the ill dogs. All of this was later compiled into a study that was recently published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, which is produced by the CDC.
Should I be concerned?
This coronavirus only affects dogs, and the researchers didn't find anything to suggest that humans could become infected.
However, the scale of the outbreak and the lack of tools immediately available to determine what was happening led the researchers to suggest that better organization is needed. Many of the authors are involved in creating a disease surveillance system for dogs, known as SAVSNet-Agile.
The authors also mention that "previous CeCoV [canine enteric coronavirus] seasonality suggests further outbreaks may occur." Thanks to this study, your local vet might be a little more prepared for it next time.