Solar cells are about to become more affordable, with the help of a new process that makes them more efficient. With the use of a genetically modified virus called M13, MIT researchers were able to make carbon nanotubes self-assemble which allowed the solar cells to collect more electrons at a more efficient rate. With the knowledge that they have on nanotubes, researchers could improve the efficiency of photovoltaic devices, like solar panels. However, one problem with the carbon nanotubes is that when they’re formed they come in a mix of two types. Some act like semiconductors, while others act like metals, and because of this the two basically will cancel each other out if they are used together. With this problem in mind, the MIT researchers devised a mehod to separate the two types of nanotubes so they can be applied to a solar cell in a more efficient manner. The researchers used the M13 virus to rearrange the carbon nanotubes on the surface, and keep the tubes separate so they would not cause the circuit to blow out. The MIT researchers claimed that this process increased the the solar cells’ efficiency by almost one third. These, now more efficient, solar cells will cause the solar cells to become more affordable which will in turn make solar energy a more available resource.
Although many of today’s Americans have fallen into the “eat organic” trend, many of the foods that they have consumed are, or have been made with, some kind of genetically modified organism (GMO). 70 percent of America’s
corn farmland and 93 percent of the soy farmland are planted with crops that are genetically engineered to resist pests, resist herbicides, and increase crop yields. Many people protest the use/production of GMOs, fearing that they will
somehow affect their overall health and wellness. To date, there has been no widely accepted scientific link between genetically modified foods and human health issues. Many of the protests also concern the consumer’s right to know if they are purchasing/consuming some type of GMO, because as of yet there is no law requiring GMO labeling. Even considering that there is no required labeling there are ways that the public can be sure that they’re not consuming GMOs: buy “USDA certified organic” items, look for items with the up-and-coming “Non-GMO” label, choose “rBST- or rBGH-Free” milk. GMOs get a bad reputation from many large protest groups throughout the world, but what it comes down to is the question; Are the GMOs doing more harm or good for the planet?
I hate to say that I’m on the fence about an issue, such as this, but I’m not the only one. GMOs are a symbol of huge scientific progress, and these crops can be used to feed the hungry, but where is the line and are we overstepping our bounds when it comes to tampering with nature?
I’m sure many of you have heard that there is believed to be a genetic component that is suspect when it comes to being an alcoholic. Studies to find this gene(s) and study human alcoholism have been strained in the past, due to human testing being somewhat “frowned upon”. But this research may have found an easier way in which it can continue. Vervet monkeys, a species that resides on St. Kitts Island, seem to mirror the drinking habits of humans. The monkeys have been seen stealing alcohol from the local bars and many sleeping tourists. Researchers collected 1000 of the monkeys from the island and kept them in a social group to observe their drinking habits. What they found was that the monkeys displayed different levels of alcohol consumption that was similar to humans, which ranged from “social drinker” to “binge drinker”. The way in which the monkeys’ behavior mimics that of humans suggests that they too may have a geneitic component that causes them to fall into alcoholism. Due to the fact that the vervet monkeys DNA shares 84.2% similarity to humans, scientists see them as fit to perform research on, with hopes that they will aid in the search for the genes associated with alcoholism in humans.
Many people are aware of in vitro fertilizations (IVF) goings on, but what if instead of two parents involved, there are three? How is such a procedure done, and why would it need to be done? British scientists have led efforts to find ways to prevent inherited disorders being passed on and causing babies to die or be disabled. The genetic complications can include blindness, organ failure, muscular disorders, learning disabilities and diabetes. Many babies die as a result of such genetic defects. In their search they have found that many of the diseases cause by sheer inheritance have been caused by mutations in the mitochondrial DNA, which is found only in the egg of the mother. Two separate techniques have been explored by scientists, both of which involve mixing the DNA of the parents with a small amount of mitochondrial DNA from a donor egg. Despite how it may sound, this is not like a three-person IVF. The amount of information from the donor egg is considered to be tiny compared to that of the parent egg and sperm. Dr Evan Harris, the former Lib Dem MP who has taken a close interest in embryo research, likened it to “changing the battery on the laptop, but not affecting the information on the hard disk”. The only things that are holding this research back are regulations by the government. The procedure has been tested in animals, but has not yet been tested within human eggs.
This type of procedure could dramatically reduce the amount of babies born with complications. With hope, the government will give in and allow such research to continue on, for the sake of future generations.
This one goes out to all of those “fun-loving” college kids out there. A study going on in Europe suggests that heavy beer drinking, coupled with a gene mutation involved in the metabolism of alcohol, may face a higher risk in the development of stomach cancer. The study suggests that having the genetic variant and drinking about three 12-ounce cans or more of beer per day markedly raised the risk of “non-cardia gastric cancer”. The variant being looked at is the “rs1230025 variant”, which is located among a group of three genes already linked to alcohol digestion. “All we can currently say is that the genetic variant is associated with increased risk, heavy drinking is associated with increased risk, and when the two are together, the risk is even worse,” said Eric Duell, a senior epidemiologist at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, Spain, and lead author of the study. Understandably, either of these factors on their own have the ability to raise one’s risk for developing stomach cancer, but together that risk is much increased. The variant is carried by about twenty percent of the European population, so it is not something rare. Although never fear, this genetic issue seems to apply more towards northern Europeans than it does to Americans. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting factor to be observed and should be further looked into.
Coming from someone who is looking at some form of gastric cancer from both sides of the family, this was interesting, but not very concerning. Three beers every night seems like quite a lot, but I don’t doubt that there are people out there who drink that much or more every evening. If you’re drinking that much or more every night I would be more concerned about your liver than your stomach.
For years, stem cell research has been a very controversial topic. Research on stem cells could prove to aid the human race in a big way, but the way in which the stem cells are collected causes a great amount of opposition to the use of them. For the most versatile stem cells to be collected, it meant destroying human embryos. So to avoid the disdain of the public, scientists have been trying to find new ways to collect stem cells that does not involve the destruction of embryos. “It’s an exciting time in stem cell biology for a host of reasons,” says Paul Fairchild, co-director of the newly founded Oxford Stem Cell Institute. “We’ve entered a whole new phase in the stem cell field, which has been held up enormously by ethical issues for over a decade.” What is causing all this stem cell, non-embryo buzz? Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells
. These iPS cells avoid the ethical issues faced by stem cell collection, are easier to make, give scientists an inexhaustible supply of material, and bring the scientific world a step closer to the hoped-for treatments that could be provided by stem cells. In 2007, Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University in Japan demonstrated a way to produce embryonic stem (ES)-like cells without the use of eggs. “He took a skin cell and, using a virus, inserted four specific bits of DNA into the skin cell’s nucleus. The skin cell incorporated the genetic material and was regressed into an ES-like cell”. With that, a few experiments later, scientists had a near-limitless supply of stem cells that seemed to be just as good as ES cells.
This new way of harvesting stem cells may seem like it has no downside, but there are still some bugs that need to be worked out with the iPS cell. A lab in Helsinki found genetic abnormalities when creating the iPS cells, in which they reported the deletion or amplification of certain strands of DNA. Another concern is stemmed from the same traits that make them so great for a laboratory. The iPS cells are both versatile and practically immortal, and these cells left in a person unchecked could prove to be disastrous. I believe that these cells are worth looking into further. The idea of what stem cells are capable of is amazing as it is, but the collection of them has been conceived as non-ethical and has held up the research for years. These iPS cells could alter the scientific world as we know it… once they get the bugs worked out.
A recent reflection upon past polygamist cultures led to the conclusion that Mormons and fruit flies shared more than a want for multiple partners. While studying the Mormon polygamists of Utah in the 1800s, it was found that Brigham Young, who had 55 wives, produced only 56 children. Although 56 children is nothing to scoff at, one would expect more offspring from 55 producing females. Did Young believe that a child per wife was enough, or was there some kind of limiting factor? These strange findings led scientists to believe that Mormons were plagued with something called the Bateman gradient. The Bateman gradient, a trait often found is fruit flies, designated that “the more sexual partners a male fruit fly had, the lower the fecundity of females of each of those partners.” The gradient, first observed by geneticist Angus Bateman, was originally observed in fruit flies. The Bateman gradient is generally a rarely observed trait and there are not many examples of its occurrence other than in generations of fruit flies, the Soay sheep, and now 19th century Mormons. The results of the study were quite clear, in the Mormon society the more wives a man had, the less children those women produced. This and other factors may have easily led to the lack of success of the Utah polygamy experiment.
One wife is enough, and 56 children is just far too many. I think the amount of children that each wife produced would be a matter of preference, maybe each wife didn’t want to deal with three of her own children and then help if her other 54 sister-wives needed some help with their children. Or perhaps many of Young’s wives developed an overlapping ovulation cycle, and Brigham just wasn’t up for the challenge. There are many different ideas that disprove the Bateman gradient as the reason for the fewer amount of children, but who knows which one is the real reason?