‘Glowing Plants‘ is a kickstarter project which is set to create the first publicly available bioluminescent plants. To do this, they will be adding the luciferase-luciferin gene system into the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana. Expanding on previous work done by the State University of New York and the University of Cambridge iGEM team, this synthetic biology project is truly exciting. What makes this project different is how widespread these plants will be disseminated, with over 5000 backers already. This project is the most successful biological crowdfunded campaign ever, and is setting a precedent for future projects which might seek funding this way.
I was lucky enough to get an interview with Antony Evans the project manager of Glowing Plants. Check out the kickstarter video for glowing plants and our exclusive interview after the break.
Scientists from MIT have engineered a set of logic gates using DNA and cellular machinery. In short, they have turned living cells into working computers! Core logical functions are the basis of all modern computation, and developing this system is a huge step towards larger scale “biocomputers”. The applications are many and varied, the ability to having living organisms respond to programming has seemingly limitless potential. One example could be a medical colony of healthy bacteria programmed to produce and excrete medicine inside you at regular intervals before killing themselves at the end of your treatment. But thats just one basic idea.
The logic gates within the cell store their results in DNA itself, giving each logic gate its own personal “memory”, something electrical logic gates don’t currently have. This result history can remain for up to 90 generations and can be retrieved even after the cells carrying the switches are dead! Find out more about the exciting work in this Nature News piece, or in the original paper.
Citizen scientists have recently published a paper in PLOS One tracking human male migration and expansion, using the R1b1a2 gene on the Y chromosome. What makes this work special is the citizen scientist aspect of it. Following on from our previous article on bioinformatics as a growing hobby, this work shows that such a hobby can be a truly useful form of crowd sourced science. One of the authors of the paper remarked:
We’ve tried to show how such progress can be facilitated by an engaged community of individuals, with varied and complementary skills, connected via the Internet.
Find out more at Futurity. Also check out our educational page on DIY biology.
Just what makes a natural food? Anti-GMO advocates consistently bring up the idea that food should be ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. But when it comes to human-induced modification of genes, it turns out that most traditional crops are really far more modified (and far less tested) than feared GMOs.
Kevin Folta writes an informative opinion piece on this issue here. In it he creates a handy table for side by side comparison of traditional modifications – which points out the inconstancies in the arguments of many who advocate compulsory (misleading) labelling of GMOs. (Click the table to enlarge)
Switch Critters are a re-imagining of light switches – the are switches we do not have full control over. Normal light switches obey our every command (on and off), whereas these critters require particular attention to be devoted to them for their tasks to be accomplished. This is infuriating and annoying, but over time one becomes accustomed to it and is actually satisfied with the interaction. This leads in general to a more mindful interaction of the rhythms of your environment. At the very least its a very interesting concept, perhaps one relevant to future consumer based (application driven) synthetic organisms?