Ethical questions raised in search for Sardinian centenarians’ secrets

There is something like gold flowing through the veins of 100-year-old Maria Tegas, and everyone wants a piece of the treasure. The centenarian, who lives in a poor and remote area of central eastern Sardinia – in one of 14 villages known to geneticists and genealogists as the Blue Zone – has not had an easy life. Orphaned at the age of one, she remembers what it was like to go hungry, when homemade acorn bread was her main sustenance. As a young woman, she often walked 15 miles (24km) a day in steep and rocky terrain to bring food home to her six children. “We lived like birds in the sky,” she says in a tiny whisper of a voice. Continue Reading →

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

BY ADRIENNE LAFRANCE
THE ATLANTIC
History is filthy with stories of pest control gone terribly, terribly wrong. Consider, for example, the infamous tale of how the mongoose got to the Hawaiian Islands. The sleek carnivore was imported in the 1880s as part of a plan by the sugar industry to subdue the rats that wouldn’t stop gnawing through stalks of sugar cane. Mongoose do enjoy a tasty rat supper, when the opportunity presents itself, but there was a problem: Rats are active at night, while mongoose are active during the day. So instead of decimating the rat population, the mongoose came to Hawaii and feasted on native birds and their eggs. Continue Reading →

Swedish politicians consider opening population’s medical-research DNA database for private insurance companies

BY RICK FALKVINGE
PRIVATE INTERNET ACCESS

Since 1975, Sweden has taken a DNA sample from all newborns for medical research purposes, and asked parents’ consent to do so for this research purpose. This means that over time, Sweden has built the world’s most comprehensive DNA database over everybody under 43 years of age. But now, politicians are considering opening up this research-only DNA database to law enforcement and private insurance companies. It was a treasure to the scientific community, at the same time as it held enormous privacy risks that were not foreseen at the time. Scientists desired to study Phenylketonuria (PKU), a hereditary metabolism deficiency that, among other things, turns the common diet-soda-sweetener aspartame into a lethal poison. Continue Reading →

Gene therapy partially restores vision in rare blindness disorder

BY IAM SAMPLE
THE GUARDIAN

Two men with progressive blindness have regained some of their vision after taking part in the first clinical trial of a gene therapy for the condition. The men were among six patients to have experimental treatment for a rare, inherited, disorder called choroideremia, which steadily destroys eyesight and leaves people blind in middle age. After therapy to correct a faulty gene, the men could read two to four more lines on an optician’s sight chart, a dramatic improvement that has held since the doctors treated them. One man was treated more than two years ago. The other four patients, who had less advanced disease and good eyesight before the trial, had better night vision after the therapy. Continue Reading →

Britain gives scientist go-ahead to genetically modify human embryos

BY KATE KELLAND
REUTERS

Scientists in Britain have been give the go-ahead to edit the genes of human embryos for research purposes, using a technique that some say could eventually be used to create “designer babies”. Less than a year after Chinese scientists caused an international furor by saying they had genetically modified human embryos, Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist from London’s Francis Crick Institute, was granted a license to carry out similar experiments. “The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved a research application from the Francis Crick Institute to use new ‘gene editing’ techniques on human embryos,” Niakan’s lab said on Monday. It said the work carried out “will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilized egg’s development, from a single cell to around 250 cells”. The scientists will not be allowed to develop the modified embryos for clinical purposes or implant them into any women. Continue Reading →