Tag: Genetic-surprises

Food Technology

Oranges Are Going Extinct – Unless a Gene from Spinach Can Help

The apocalypse is on its way – at least for oranges. Citrus greening, a disease that kills citrus trees and makes their fruit green, shrunken and inedibly bitter, is racing across the globe. The disease, which is transmitted from tree to tree by a tiny insect called a psyllid, was first reported in China in 1943. Since then, it’s spread across the globe, finally making its way to Florida’s famous orange groves in 2005.

There is no known cure. A worldwide search failed to turn up a naturally immune tree. Measures like burning infected trees and dousing the psyllids with insecticide slow but do not stop the disease. With such seemingly bleak odds, does this mean the end of oranges, lemons and grapefruits?

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Taste the Artificial Fish Rainbow

A gorgeously uncanny school of discus fish cluster in an aquarium, all of them captive breeds. Though there’s nothing unusual about artificially selecting animals for flamboyant or bizarre traits, it’s still compelling to see such a lovely display of manmade biodiversity. Some of these discus strains are the result of “natural” hybridization between fish from different geographic locations, while others are the result of random mutations and intense inbreeding.

Photo via Practical Fish Keeping.

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Purple GM Tomatoes Prevent Cancer

Normally, when we select for characteristics in fruits and vegetables, it’s to bring them closer to some modernist ideal: corn that’s sweeter, lettuce that’s crisper, cucumbers that are perfectly green and straight. However, a new strain of tomato out of the UK may soon topple the spherical red fruit from its iconic position. These purple GM tomatoes owe their unusual hue to a dark purple-blue pigment called anthocynanin. Not only does this antioxidant double the shelf life of tomatoes in the supermarkt, it also extends the lives of mice that are genetically predisposed to cancer. A tomato that cuts down on food waste and the incidence of cancer? Even if pasta and pizza will never look the same, maybe it’s time to pass the purple.

Via John Innes Centre. Photo via Natural Eater.
Thanks to Peter Klomp for the heads up!

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genetically modified sheep

Modifying Milk and Glowing Livestock

A team of scientists from the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay have genetically modified nine sheep with a phosphorescent jellyfish protein. This causes the lambs to grow a neon green colour when exposed to ultraviolet light. Besides the lambs’ predisposition to glow green, they are otherwise perfectly healthy and normal.

Genetically modifying the sheep to glow under UV light is an attempt to advance and perfect the technique that will allow scientists to add beneficial new genes to livestock. Once the genes are integrated into an animal’s DNA, it can produce milk with various medical advantages for humans. Perhaps this could lead to the creation of a real-life Korova Milk Bar, the bar from “A Clockwork Orange” that offers drug-laced milk.

Story via redorbit. Image via Fundación IRAUy / J. Calvelo

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Artist Creates Portraits of Strangers Using DNA in Discarded Hair

Through cigarette butts and strands of loose hair, we constantly and carelessly discard our genetic material. One New York-based artist, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, used these random traces left behind by unsuspecting strangers to make sculptures of what their owners might look like.

In her Stranger Visions series, Dewey-Hagborg created physical models using DNA facial modeling software and a 3D printer. The masks reflect eye color, geographical roots, sex, and other traits, but not exact facial features because forensic phenotyping can’t yet fill in all the details. Stranger Visions calls attention to the potential for a culture of “genetic surveillance” made possible by inexpensive $1,000 DNA sequencers. “As a society,” says Dewey-Hagborg, “we need to have a discussion about that.”

Soon, our entire genome may be accessible to strangers within minutes, with fears of cloning or genetic hacking to go along with it. It’s unsettling to think that our DNA, and therefore our identities, are not as precious as we think they are.

Via Designboom.

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Implanted into Bacteria, Synthetic DNA Functions as a Diagnostic Computer

In the movie Fantastic Voyage, a submarine and its crew were shrunk and injected into the body of a sick man in an attempt to save his life. Despite the fictional nature of this story, in the near future miniaturized, organic “computers” may roam our bodies, detecting early-stage diseases and treating them on the spot. There are already 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells in our bodies – so why not add a few more?

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Manufactured Animals

Why It’s Time to Calm Down about “Invasive” GM GloFish

Is the neon green tetra GloFish soon to be the florescent, transgenic terror of America’s waterways? The internet hype machine has repeated ad infinitum the Washington Post’s recent story about the invasive potential of a new breed of GloFish. First sold to the public in 2003, the original GloFish were four brightly colored strains of zebrafish that fluoresced thanks to jellyfish and coral genes.

Last February, the biotech company Yorktown expanded their species range by introducing a transgenic, acid green version of the tetra fish. It’s this Electric Green Tetra (©) that has biologists and wetland conservationists worried. While tropical zebrafish go belly-up in cooler US waters, their argument goes, tetras are better adapted to seasonally cold conditions. Any released GloFish tetras could potentially take over lakes and rivers, their freaky genes compelling them to outcompete native species or breed with their wild cousins.

It’s a catchy argument. It’s also untrue.

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Post Natural Organisms of the EU

If you happen to be in the neighborhood you might want to drop by at the exhibition Post Natural Organisms of the European Union in Amsterdam. The small but delicate expo, curated by the good people of the Center for Post Natural History, presents eleven specimens of organisms that were intentionally altered by humans via domestication, selective breeding or genetic engineering. Think alcoholic rats, genetically modified wheat, a chihuahua, anti-malarial mosquitoes and a rib-less mouse embryo (image above).

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