Millions of years before scientists created genetically modified Atlantic salmon with genes from two other fish, nature created genetically modified smelt with a gene from herring, growing evidence shows.
And now the Canadian scientists who first proposed that controversial idea say they have a hunch how nature might have done it.
A new study by Queen’s University researchers Laurie Graham and Peter Davies finds “conclusive” evidence for the controversial idea that the antifreeze gene that helps rainbow smelt survive icy coastal waters originally came from herring and was somehow stolen by smelt about 20 million years ago.
They propose in their new paper in Trends in Genetics that this could have happened through a process quite similar to the way genes are sometimes transferred from one species to another by scientists in the lab today.
Stealing genes from other species
Genes are normally passed on from parents to offspring. But in recent decades, scientists discovered they can also “jump” or be “stolen” from one species to another outside normal reproduction — a process called horizontal gene transfer or lateral gene transfer.
It’s something that happens frequently among microbes such as bacteria — so frequently that Canadian scientist W. Ford Doolittle suggested it might explain a big part of life’s history on Earth.
There’s been some recent evidence of it happening in some more complex organisms. For example, aphids appear to have stolen a fungus gene to make a plant pigment and marine algae seem to have colonized the land 500 million years ago with the help of a gene stolen from soil bacteria. Most recently, scientists reported last week the first known case of a gene getting transferred from a plant to an animal.
In more complex organisms such as fish and people, certain virus-like DNA sequences called “transposable elements” or “transposons” are also known to jump from species to species.
But the same hadn’t been seen for useful genes that code for things like proteins. That’s because genes in multicellular organisms can only be transmitted from generation to generation if they specifically get into reproductive cells such as eggs or sperm.
Davies is a professor and Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering at Queen’s University. Graham is a research associate in his lab.
When the two first realized more than a decade ago that the herring and smelt must have shared their antifreeze protein via horizontal gene transfer, it was the first time anyone had suggested that a vertebrate — a complex animal with a backbone — had transferred such a gene to another vertebrate. That made it quite controversial.
“We had a really hard time finding a journal to take our first paper,” recalled Graham. “The reviewers were not exactly kind, and there was a lot of doubt.”
It didn’t help that a high-profile report of horizontal gene transfer in complex organisms at the time, from bacteria to humans, had been called into question by other scientists, who proposed other explanations for genes shared among the two types of organisms.
Clues pointing to a stolen gene
Graham had been originally examining different kinds of antifreeze proteins, not just in fish but also insects, bacteria, plants and small soil creatures called springtails.
Most of them appeared to arise from a common ancestor, with a similar structure in closely related animals.
But that wasn’t the case for herring and smelt, which are so distantly related that the last time they shared an ancestor was 250 million years ago, about the time the first dinosaurs arose.
“Every other gene we’ve looked at in these two species, it tends to be quite different,” Graham said.
Meanwhile, she added, closer cousins don’t have the antifreeze protein that Atlantic herring, Pacific herring and rainbow smelt are known to share.
“We’ve got other fish that are more closely related to these species that make completely different kinds of antifreeze protein. So this doesn’t really make sense on an evolutionary basis if everybody’s inheriting their antifreeze protein from their ancestors.”
Skeptics weren’t convinced, so the researchers looked for more evidence. Closely related fish such as different types of smelt tend to have the same genes in the same order. And the researcher found that was the case — except for the antifreeze gene, which was found between two genes that are normally next to each other in other smelt.
“That’s what you would expect when you have a gene that’s just sort of been pasted into a genome through horizontal gene transfer.”
Then, recently, the researchers heard that the genome of Atlantic herring was published in a public database.
They decided to take a closer look.
Remember those transposable elements that often jump between organisms? They can also be used as a fingerprint for a particular organism. Herring have certain transposable elements pasted hundreds of times all over their genome, including in and around their eight antifreeze genes.
When the researchers looked at the smelt’s single antifreeze gene, it had three of those herring transposable elements attached, Graham said. “So it was like a little tag to say, ‘Hey, I’m from herring.'” Those transposable elements weren’t found anywhere else in the smelt.
The researchers say it’s conclusive evidence that the antifreeze gene moved between the two fish via horizontal gene transfer and that it went from herring to smelt and not vice versa.
How did the gene jump species?
When the researchers’ previous papers went through peer review, one of the questions reviewers had was how the gene might have moved between species, so they sought to come up with a hypothesis.
One possibility, they thought, was it might be similar to techniques used in the lab to create genetically modified animals. One called “sperm-mediated gene transfer” involves mixing sperm with the DNA you want to introduce, then using it to fertilize an egg.
“And we thought, ‘Well, couldn’t this also happen in nature?” Graham recalled.
Fish and many other marine animals have external fertilization, where eggs and sperm — known as milt — are released into the water at the same time in massive quantities during spawning, and some of them combine to produce offspring.
Graham noted that when herring spawn on Canada’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts, “you can actually see the ocean is sort of stained white from all of the milt that the male herring are releasing.”
The sperm breaks apart after a few hours, releasing DNA into the water. And the researchers proposed that during one of these events, herring DNA may have found its way into rainbow smelt eggs or sperm.
Graham acknowledges there’s no way to prove that — “not unless we had a time machine.”
But if that is the way the genes were transferred, it has probably happened with other fish genes also, Davies suggested, and scientists should start looking for other examples.
The other implication is that genetically modified organisms, which have been characterized by activists as “Frankenfoods”, might not be so unnatural.
“One of the take-home lessons here is that this genetic modification is actually happening in nature,” Davies said. “Not very often — it’s probably quite rare — but maybe we shouldn’t be so alarmed at this. It’s actually more of a natural event than we previously thought.”
What other scientists think
Garth Fletcher, professor emeritus and head of the ocean sciences department at Memorial University, is the co-inventor of Aquabounty’s genetically modified salmon (but not through sperm-mediated gene transfer) and has previously collaborated with Davies comparing antifreeze proteins in fish. He wasn’t involved in the new study.
Fletcher doesn’t think the research will reassure those opposed to GMOs.
He says it’s significant that the researchers have gotten to the point where they feel their evidence for horizontal gene transfer in this controversial case is so strong. He credited new molecular genetic techniques with making it possible.
“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t have done this stuff.”
Luis Boto, head scientist in the evolutionary biology department at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, has been tracking the evidence for horizontal gene transfer in complex organisms, and said the new genetic tools will allow scientists to explore how common this is.
“This paper opens the door to an important research field in that sequencing of new fish genomes will provide us with interesting findings,” he added in an email, “and will allow us to understand more about the possible importance of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of animals.”
He said evidence for horizontal gene transfer in vertebrates remains rare, but the new paper offers “important support” for the case of it happening between herring and smelt.
Gane Ka-Shu Wong, a University of Alberta biology professor, is also convinced by the study and thinks the proposed way the gene moved from herring to smelt is plausible.
Wong published a study a couple of years ago showing plants, which used to be confined to the oceans, stole a gene from soil bacteria to gain the ability to colonize land.
While such horizontal gene transfer events seem rare in complex organisms, if they help the organism survive, they could make a big difference, he said.
“My guess is that a lot of a lot of important evolutionary events may have been driven by some sort of horizontal gene transfer.”
Researchers create a novel method of bioprinting neuron cells – Medical Xpress
A group of researchers including a Concordia Ph.D. student have developed a new method of bioprinting adult neuron cells. They’re using a new laser-assisted technology that maintains high levels of cell viability and functionality.
Ph.D. candidate and 2020-21 Public Scholar Hamid Orimi and his co-authors present the feasibility of a new bioprinting technology they developed in a recent paper published in the journal Micromachines. They demonstrate how the methodology they created, called Laser-Induced Side Transfer (LIST), improves on existing bioprinting techniques by using bioinks of differing viscosities, allowing for better 3D printing. Orimi, his Concordia co-supervisor Sivakumar Narayanswamy in the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, CRHMR co-supervisor Christos Boutopoulos and co-authors at the Université de Montréal first presented the method in the Nature journal Scientific Reports in 2020.
Orimi co-wrote the newer paper with lead author Katiane Roversi, Sebastien Talbot and Boutopoulos at UdeM and Marcelo Falchetti and Edroaldo da Rocha at Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. In it, the researchers demonstrate that the technology can be used to successfully print sensory neurons, a vital component of the peripheral nervous system. This, they say, is promising for the long-term development of bioprinting’s potential, including disease modeling, drug testing and implant fabrication.
Viable and functional
The researchers used dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons from the peripheral nervous system of mice to test their technology. The neurons were suspended in a bioink solution and loaded into a square capillary above a biocompatible substrate. Low-energy nanosecond laser pulses were focused on the middle of the capillary, generating microbubbles that expanded and ejected a cell-laden microjet onto the substrate below it. The samples were briefly incubated, then washed and re-incubated for 48 hours.
The team then ran several tests to measure the printed cells’ capacities. A viability assay found that 86 percent of the cells remained alive two days after printing. The researchers note that viability rates improved when the laser used lower energy. The thermomechanics associated with higher laser energy use was more likely to damage the cells.
Other tests measured neurite outgrowth (in which developing neurons produce new projections as they grow in response to guidance cues), neuropeptide release, calcium imaging and RNA sequencing. Overall, the results were generally encouraging, suggesting that the technique could be an important contribution to the field of bioprinting.
Good for people and animals
“In general, people often leap to conclusions when we talk about bioprinting,” Orimi says. “They think that we can now print things like human organs for transplants. While this is a long-term objective, we are very far from that point. But there are still many ways to use this technology.”
Nearest at hand is drug discovery. The team hopes to get approval to continue their research into cell grafting, which can assist greatly in drug discovery, such as for nerve recovery medicines.
Another advantage to using this technology, Orimi says, is a decrease in animal testing. This not only has a humanitarian aspect—fewer animals will be euthanized to carry out experiments meant to benefit humans—but it will also produce more accurate results, since testing will be carried out on human, not animal, tissue.
Hamid Ebrahimi Orimi et al, Drop-on-demand cell bioprinting via Laser Induced Side Transfer (LIST), Scientific Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-66565-x
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Josh Richards Is Bringing Back The Woolly Mammoth – Forbes
Influencers are everywhere.
They are at the MET Gala. They are walking the red carpet at the VMAs and now they are part of a team creating de-extinction technology which will bring the woolly mammoth back to the Arctic tundra within the next six years.
Yes, you read that right. Extinction could be a thing of the past thanks to a TikToker and his friends.
Josh Richards may be known to the masses as a TikTok star with over 40 million followers across social media but he has consistently proven to be a lot more than that.
He has developed himself into a serial entrepreneur with companies ranging from Ani Energy, his energy drink which is now in Walmart, to Cross Check Studios, his production company with Mark Wahlberg, to Animal Capital, an $18 million venture capital fund that he started with his business partner Michael Gruen and former Goldman Sachs investment banker Marshall Sandman.
This week, Richards and his fund Animal Capital announced their investment and advisory position into Colossal. They are a company that is using recent breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering, a new wave of disruptive conservation and restorative biology, which will eventually make extinction a thing of the past.
The company was founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and world-renowned geneticist and serial biotech entrepreneur George Church, Ph.D. In addition to being a founder of Colossal, Church also serves as a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and is a Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard and MIT.
Lamm said, “Genetic engineering holds an endless amount of opportunity for the future of humanity: From eradicating diseases to improving our ability to survive in changing climates. It is a breakthrough technology. As an entrepreneur, I’ve routinely found myself on the cusp of breakthrough technologies because I believe they mark powerful nexus events in the future of our species. I am incredibly excited and grateful for great partners and investors like Josh Richards and Animal Capital who see our long-term vision and can help contribute to the advancement of science and genomics.”
Richards has been involved in the Animal Capital since its inception a year ago and his stamp is felt throughout the company. He, Gruen and Sandman brought on billionaire movie and technology mogul, Thomas Tull, to lead the round of funding. They brought Paramount Pictures President, Michael Ireland, and Billboard president, Julian Holguin, on as advisors. They got the billionaire Winklevoss twins to invest, as well as others. They’ve also been heavily involved in the company’s rollout and media strategy.
Josh Richards said, “It is mind boggling that a 19-year-old kid from a small town in Ontario could be a part of a team that will change the world. To be involved in a company like this, that will change the world for the better, and allow my kids’ kids to have a better life, is truly an honor. My generation is the generation tasked with combatting climate change and creating a better world as we are the generation set to inherit the Earth.”
Sandman, the managing partner of Animal Capital, said, “The opportunity to invest in Colossal really speaks to the reason we originally started Animal Capital. Ben, George and the entire team are on a path to change the world and we are proud to be along for the journey”
Animal Capital’s other investments, include: Mental health technology, Whoop, crypto startup, WonderFi, which went public on the NEO two weeks ago and calendar-based social media platform, Saturn.
So, who knows, maybe we’ll see Josh Richards making a TikTok on a wooly mammoth. soon. Stay tuned.
SpaceX set to launch first all-civilian crew into orbit. Here’s what you should know – Globalnews.ca
The latest in a recent line of billionaire space enthusiasts prepared for liftoff on Wednesday along with three other private citizens aboard a SpaceX rocket ship, aiming to become the first all-civilian crew launched into Earth orbit.
The quartet of amateur space travelers, led by the American founder and chief executive of e-commerce firm Shift4 Payments Inc Jared Isaacman, were due for blastoff as early as 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The flight, with no professional astronauts accompanying SpaceX’s paying customers, is expected to last about three days from liftoff to splashdown in the Atlantic.
“Everything is go for launch,” SpaceX principal integration engineer John Insprucker declared about 3 1/2 hours before launch time in a SpaceX webcast of pre-liftoff activities.
A short time earlier, Isaacman, 38, and his crewmates – Sian Proctor, 51, Hayley Arceneaux, 29, and Chris Sembroski, 42 – strolled out of a SpaceX hangar waiving to cheering crowds of family, friends and well-wishers.
From there they were driven in two automobiles across the space center complex to a support building, where they donned the black-and-white spacesuits they will wear for liftoff.
They then headed to the launch pad to board a gleaming white SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed Resilience, perched atop one of the company’s reusable Falcon 9 rockets and fitted with a special observation dome in place of the usual docking hatch.
Video shows SpaceX debris lighting up B.C. skies
This marks the debut flight of SpaceX owner Elon Musk’s new orbital tourism business, and a leap ahead of competitors likewise offering rides on rocket ships to customers willing to pay a small fortune for the exhilaration – and bragging rights – of spaceflight.
Isaacman has paid an undisclosed sum to fellow billionaire Musk to send himself and his three crewmates aloft. Time magazine has put the ticket price for all four seats at $200 million.
The mission, called Inspiration4, was conceived by Isaacman mainly to raise awareness and support for one of his favorite causes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading pediatric cancer center in Memphis, Tennessee.
Inspiration4 is aiming for an orbital altitude of 360 miles (575 km) above Earth, higher than the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. At that height, the Crew Dragon will circle the globe once every 90 minutes at a speed of some 17,000 miles per hour (27,360 kph), or roughly 22 times the speed of sound.
Leap ahead of rivals
Rival companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin inaugurated their own private-astronaut services this summer, with their respective founding executives, billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, each going along for the ride.
Those suborbital flights, lasting a matter of minutes, were short hops compared with Inspiration4’s spaceflight profile.
SpaceX already ranks as the most well-established player in the burgeoning constellation of commercial rocket ventures, having launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. Two of its Dragon capsules are docked there already.
The Inspiration4 crew will have no part to play in flying the spacecraft, which will be operated by ground-based flight teams and onboard guidance systems, even though two crew members are licensed pilots.
Isaacman, who is rated to fly commercial and military jets, has assumed the role of mission “commander,” while Proctor, a geoscientist and former NASA astronaut candidate, has been designated as the mission “pilot.”
Rounding out the crew are “chief medical officer” Arceneaux, a bone cancer survivor turned St. Jude physician assistant, and mission “specialist” Sembroski, a U.S. Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer.
The four crewmates have spent five months in rigorous preparations, including altitude fitness, centrifuge (G-force), microgravity and simulator training, emergency drills, classroom work and medical exams.
Inspiration4 officials have said the mission is more than a joyride.
Once in orbit, the crew will perform a series of medical experiments with “potential applications for human health on Earth and during future spaceflights,” the group said in media materials.
Biomedical data and biological samples, including ultrasound scans, will also be collected from crew members before, during and after the flight.
“The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come,” Isaacman said in a statement.
— Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles
© 2021 Reuters
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