Humanized Yeast: Scientists Create Yeast With Important Human Genes

Delft University of Technology scientists have created baker’s yeast with human muscle genes.

Human muscle genes were successfully inserted into the DNA of baker’s yeast by biotechnologist Pascale Daran-Lapujade and her team at Delft University of Technology. For the first time, scientists have effectively inserted a crucial human characteristic into a yeast cell. Their research was recently published in the journal Cell Reports.

Daran-Lapujade’s lab introduced a characteristic to yeast cells that is regulated by a collection of 10 genes that humans cannot live without; they carry the blueprint for a process known as a metabolic pathway, which breaks down sugar to gather energy and produce cellular building blocks within muscle cells. Because this mechanism is involved in many disorders, including cancer, the modified yeast could be used in medical studies.

“Now that we understand the full process, medical scientists can use this humanized yeast model as a tool for drug screening and cancer research,” Daran-Lapujade says.

Humans and yeast are similar

According to Daran-Lapujade, there are a lot of similarities between yeast and a human being: “It seems weird since yeast lives as single cells and humans consist of a substantially more complex system, but the cells operate in a very similar way.”

As a result, scientists often transfer human genes into yeast. Because yeast removes all other interactions that may exist in the human body, it creates a clean environment in which researchers can analyze a single process.

“As compared to human cells or tissues, yeast is a fantastic organism for its simplicity to grow and its genetic accessibility: its DNA can be easily modified to address fundamental questions,” Daran-Lapujade explains. “Many pivotal discoveries such as the cell division cycle, were elucidated thanks to yeast.”

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‘CRISPR 2.0’ Used To Change Patient’s DNA For First Time

Scientists are rewriting the code of life with a new technology that promises to cure inherited diseases by precisely correcting genetic typos. Known as base editing, the technology empowers researchers to pick a single letter amongst the three billion that compose the human genome, erase it, and write a new letter in its place.

Base editing is an updated version of the gene editing tool CRISPR, which has revolutionized life sciences research and is making strides in treating genetic blood and liver diseases. But some scientists think base editing, sometimes billed as CRISPR 2.0, could be safer and more precise than the original. And this summer, the sequel technology is being used in patients for the first time.

On Tuesday, the Boston biotech firm Verve Therapeutics announced that it had edited the DNA of a person with a genetic condition that causes high cholesterol and predisposes them to heart disease. The base editor is designed to tweak a gene in the liver, curtail the accumulation of cholesterol, and hopefully lower the risk of heart attacks.

Verve chief executive and cofounder Sekar Kathiresan likens the approach to “surgery without a scalpel.” Although the trial is focused on people with the genetic condition familial hypercholesterolemia, Kathiresan hopes that the one-and-done therapy may one day be used more broadly, to permanently reduce the risk of heart disease in millions of people with high cholesterol. “We are completely trying to rewrite how this disease is cared for,” he said.

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CRISPR Fried Chicken: Genetically Engineered Hens Made to Kill Their Male Chicks

One of the atrocities of industrialized agriculture is the egg industry’s killing of male chicks. Each year, more than 6 billion male chicks are killed worldwide, up to 300 million of them in the U.S.1 The reasoning behind this abhorrent practice is at the root of what is wrong with corporate agriculture — egg-laying hens are bred to lay eggs, and nothing more.

Because males cannot produce eggs, and don’t grow enough meat to make them useful for human consumption (as opposed to broiler chickens, bred to grow unnaturally large), they would cost more to raise than they would be “worth.” With complete disregard for life, egg producers therefore “cull” the males, or kill them off, shortly after birth, sending them to be used as pet feed, livestock feed or simply filler for landfills.

A team of Israeli scientists has now filed a concept patent that involves genetically engineering hens to pass on a lethality, or killer, gene to male embryos, which would eliminate them before they hatch.2 While it’s clear that the practice of killing male chicks must end, this biotech “solution” could end up creating far more problems than it solves.

GE Hens Pass on Lethal Gene to Male Embryos

The patent, which was filed with the State of Israel Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development listed as the applicant, and Yuval Cinnamon and Enbal Ben-Tal Cohen as the inventors,3 uses the gene-editing tool CRISPR, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, to insert a foreign gene — the lethality gene — into the male sex Z chromosome.4

The genetically engineered (GE) hen would pass the lethality gene — which is supposed to only be activated by blue light — onto all male embryos. Once the eggs are laid, blue light would then be used to activate the lethality gene and kill all of the male embryos in-ovo, or in the egg.

This will likely be presented as a more “humane” approach, but it comes with significant risks, including to the hen, because the lethality gene is likely to produce highly toxic protein. According to GM Watch:5

“In order to ensure reliable killing of the male chick embryos at an early stage of their development, the lethality gene that the developers insert will have to be highly toxic.

The various lethality-inducing proteins mentioned in the patent that are supposed to work by inhibiting growth/development (paragraphs 0156, 0157) or essential signalling pathways, such as “bone morphogenetic protein antagonist” or “RNA-guided DNA endonuclease enzyme” (paragraphs 0159, 0160), may be too uncertain in their effects.

Therefore the developer will almost certainly choose to use a known highly toxic element — such as genes encoding for diphtheria toxin or ricin toxin, both of which are specifically mentioned in paragraph 0158 as possible candidates for the lethal gene.

The fact that the authors illustrate their concept using a diphtheria toxin lethality gene, albeit within the context of in vitro tissue culture cell experiments (Figure 24A), supports this line of thinking.”

Further, the patent does not restrict the lethal gene to the types named, which means the scientists could use virtually anything, such as a gene encoding cholera toxin.

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Scientists ‘really surprised’ after gene-editing experiment unexpectedly turn hamsters into hyper-aggressive bullies

A team of neuroscience researchers was left “really surprised” after a gene-editing experiment unexpectedly created hyper-aggressive hamsters, according to a statement by Georgia State University (GSU).

The GSU research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), set out to find more about the biology behind the social behavior of mammals.

The scientists used Syrian hamsters and CRISPR-Cas9 — a revolutionary technology that makes it possible to turn on or off genes in cells. The technology knocked out a receptor of vasopressin — a hormone associated with enhanced aggression.

The scientists anticipated that doing so would “dramatically” alter the social behavior of the Syrian hamsters, making them more peaceful. It did change their behavior, but not how they had expected.

“We were really surprised at the results,” said the study’s lead author, GSU professor H. Elliott Albers, in the university’s statement.

“We anticipated that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication,” Albers continued. “But the opposite happened.”

The hamsters without the receptor displayed “high levels of aggression” towards hamsters of the same sex compared to their counterparts with the receptors intact, the study said.

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FDA Says CRISPR Gene-Edited Cattle Safe for Human Consumption

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined that short-haired cattle produced through CRISPR gene-editing technology are safe for human consumption. The cattle, known as PRLR-SLICK, were the first to receive an FDA “low-risk determination for enforcement discretion” after the agency determined the intentional genomic alteration (IGA) of the two genome-edited cattle does not raise any safety concerns.

Produced by Acciligen with climate change in mind, the cows have a genetic trait that gives them a short, sleek coat which is said to help the animals cope with hot weather more effectively. The FDA’s low-risk determination means the agency does not expect Acciligen, a “precision breeding” company, to seek regulatory approval before marketing products from the cattle.

The FDA spent years reviewing the two other genetically altered animals approved for human consumption—a faster-growing salmon and a pig the agency determined was safe for consumption by people with meat allergies. However, the review process for the CRISPR beef cattle took less than a year because the FDA noted the gene-editing results in the same slick-hair trait seen in cattle that are found in conventional agriculture. Talking about the Mar. 7, 2022 approval, Steven Solomon, director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, said:

“We expect that our decision will encourage other developers to bring animal biotechnology products forward for the FDA’s risk determination in this rapidly developing field, paving the way for animals containing low-risk IGAs (intentional genomic alterations) to more efficiently reach the marketplace.”

Looking closer at Acceligen, the company website says that most of its workers have backgrounds in the farm industry. The company explains that “precision breeding” is different from conventional breeding or genetically modified organisms (GMO) in that it allows a “highly desired trait” that may typically take years to show up to be expressed in “just one breeding cycle.”  

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Florida Approves Release of Billions of GMO Mosquitoes

Overlooking potential public health risks, lingering scientific questions, and deficient public data, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) approved the extension of Oxitec’s two-year field trial on Wednesday, which includes releasing several billion more genetically engineered (GE) mosquitoes into the Florida Keys — one of Florida’s most ecologically sensitive areas.

FDACS’ approval comes on the heels of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granting the British biotechnology company Oxitec a two-year extension for its Experimental Use Permit for the release of a GE version of the species Aedes aegypti across Monroe County, Florida.

“FDACS should have required Oxitec to cease claiming as ‘confidential business information’ their data on the human health and environmental effects of the release of the mosquitoes,” said Jaydee Hanson, Policy Director at Center for Food Safety. “In Spain, when Oxitec withheld the data, the Spanish government told Oxitec to make public the health and environmental safety effects of their genetically engineered insect. Florida should have done the same. Moreover, FDACS should not have allowed a second major release without making public the data from the first trial and having it reviewed by unbiased scientists in the field.”

FDACS’ approval came despite unresolved public health and environmental concerns raised by scientists, public health experts and environmental groups about potential impacts of the release. The data from Florida’s 2021 field trial release of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys still has not been made public or reviewed by independent scientists.

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Forget extinction: U.S. company plans to bring back wooly mammoths

Wooly mammoths might be making a comeback thanks to Colossal Biosciences of the great state of Texas.

The Dallas-based company says it plans to take on the environmental issues that led to critical endangerment and perform the once seemingly impossible task of reviving long-extinct species.

Colossal announced it will pioneer the use of CRISPR technology along with other genome engineering technologies toward a practical working model of de-extinction initially focused on its long-term goals of successful restoration and rewilding of functional woolly mammoths, large proboscideans from the Ice Age, to the tundra, according to a press release.

It said genetic engineering applications expand beyond animals and have the potential to advance human health, enhance food production, reduce environmental impact, and optimize animal health and welfare.

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Mosquitoes With Synthetic DNA Scheduled For California Release

In the mosquito breeding rooms of British biotech company Oxitec, scientists line up fresh eggs, each the size of a grain of salt. Using microscopic needles, the white-coated researchers inject each egg with a dab of a proprietary synthetic DNA.

For four days, Oxitec technicians care for the eggs, watching for those that hatch into wriggling brown larvae. Those “injection survivors,” as the company calls them, face a battery of tests to ensure their genetic modification is successful.

Soon, millions of these engineered mosquitoes could be set loose in California in an experiment recently approved by the federal government.

Oxitec, a private company, says its genetically modified bugs could help save half the world’s population from the invasive Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can spread diseases such as yellow fever, chikungunya and dengue to humans. Female offspring produced by these modified insects will die, according to Oxitec’s plan, causing the population to collapse.

“Precise. Environmentally sustainable. Non-toxic,” the company says on its website of its product trademarked as the “Friendly” mosquito.

Scientists independent from the company and critical of the proposal say not so fast. They say unleashing the experimental creatures into nature has risks that haven’t yet been fully studied, including possible harm to other species or unexpectedly making the local mosquito population harder to control.

Even scientists who see the potential of genetic engineering are uneasy about releasing the transgenic insects into neighborhoods because of how hard such trials are to control.

“There needs to be more transparency about why these experiments are being done,” said Natalie Kofler, a bioethicist at Harvard Medical Schoolwho has followed the company’s work. “How are we weighing the risks and benefits?”

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Beef from gene-hacked ‘super cows’ can now be sold in the US

You could soon be eating genetically modified beef thanks to the US Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA claims that two gene-edited breeds of beef cattle produced by a major breeder are safe for human consumption.

The two breeds of cow in question have been edited so they grow short slick coats.

This change is not thought to be harmful to the meat or the cow.

Experts suggest this genetic modification is “low risk”.

That means Acceligen, the company which produces the breed, doesn’t need to seek approval to sell it.

This is said to be the first time that the FDA has made such an assessment.

The federal agency has never given a “low-risk” premarket approval before to a gene-edited animal food product.

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Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Set to Be Released in California and Florida

Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes are set to be released in California and Florida in an effort to reduce the number of real, disease-carrying invasive mosquitoes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday approved use of the genetically engineered insects in pilot projects in specific districts across both states.

The mosquitoes were made by UK-based biotechnology firm Oxitec, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in an effort to combat insect-borne diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, and the Zika virus.

According to Oxitec, its “sustainable and targeted biological pest control technology does not harm beneficial insects like bees and butterflies and is proven to control the disease-transmitting Aedes aegypti mosquito, which has invaded communities in Florida, California, and other U.S. states.”

Since it was first detected in California in 2013, the Aedes aegypti mosquito has spread rapidly to more than 20 counties throughout the state, increasing the risk of mosquito-borne diseases being transmitted to humans.

Oxitec’s new technology consists of genetically-modified male mosquitoes, which do not bite, that will be released into the wild where they are expected to mate with females, which do bite.

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