We Just Used Genetic Engineering to Create Completely Yellow, Three-Eyed, Wingless Mosquitoes

Self-Destructing Mosquitoes

Gene editing is an incredibly powerful technique, made faster and more capable by CRISPR, which is the world’s most efficient and exact genetic manipulation tool. Now, in an effort to demonstrate how gene editing could be used to eradicate the mosquito species Aedes aegypti —a major carrier of diseases like dengue, chikungunya, yellow fever, and Zika virus— researchers from the University of California, Riverside (UC Riverside) developed mosquitoes whose germlines express the Cas9 enzyme in a more stable way.

The result is a yellow, three-eyed, wingless mosquito, made possible through disruptions in the insect’s cuticle, wing, and eye development. These transgenic mosquitoes are now more susceptible to the use of CRISPR-Cas9 to facilitate edits that could lead to the eventual eradication of the species.

This is just a first step, however, according to lead researcher Omar Akbari, an assistant professor of entomology at UC Riverside, who published the study in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Ultimately, the plan is to combine CRISPR-Cas9 with the use of gene drives systems, a technology that increases the chance for a particular gene to express from a parent organism to its offspring.

Image credit: UC Riverside
These genetically modified mosquitoes could lessen the spread of disease. Image Credit: UC Riverside

“These Cas9 strains can be used to develop split-gene drives which are a form of gene-drive by which the Cas9 and the guide RNA’s are inserted at separate genomic loci and depend on each other for spread. This is the safest way to develop and test gene drives in the laboratory to ensure no spread into the wild,” Akbari said in a press release.

Gene drive systems would push for the expression of the genes that limit the mosquito’s sight, flight, and feeding, using a technique that disrupts a target gene in multiple sites called multiplexing. Recently, Akbari and his colleagues at UCR mathematically modeled this technique, which could increase the chances of passing down the disrupted genes to potentially 100 percent.

Towards Using Gene Drives

The use of gene drive systems to actively disrupt the growth and spread of organisms is relatively new, and the practice itself is still the subject of debate. Gene drives can be very effective in promoting the expression of genes that could lead to the self-destruction of particular species, as in the case of the UCR project of eradicating the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

Naturally, this makes gene drive systems a wonderful means of harnessing the potential of gene editing to make the world a better place — so we’d hope. However, using gene drives can have unwanted effects. In an email to Futurism, geneticist Neil Gemmell, from the University of Otago in New Zealand, explained the dangers of uncontrollable gene drive systems. “The worst case scenario is that a gene drive is developed that has the power to effect an entire species,” he said.

Gemmell explained further:

Lets use ship rats as an example. Suppose a gene drive system is initially deployed by one nation to control its pest rat problem. Some of these rats then find there way to neighbouring [sic] nations resulting in the reduction or elimination of rats in those countries, where perhaps rats aren’t a problem, and perhaps it even leads to the eradication of that rat species globally. We cannot yet predict what the environmental consequences would be if rats were removed from systems in which they are native, but the consequences could be grave – loss of ecosystem services, extinction or endangerment of species dependent on rats for food, or of species further down the food chain because of prey switching by top predators.

In short, while developing gene drives to disrupt species offers an environmentally friendly option for getting rid of pests and disease-carriers, it should be used with a great deal of thought and educated hesitation. This danger isn’t lost on Akbari. “Next steps should be undertaken to identify the regulatory sequences that can be used to express the guide RNAs from the genome, and once these sequences are identified developing gene drives in the species should be turnkey,” he said.

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Official iPhone X Teardown Proves It’s a Marvel in Engineering

Less than a day after hitting retail channels on Friday morning, the inquisitive folks at iFixit have published their official teardown of Apple’s ultra high-end iPhone X flagship, which intriguingly revealed a number of interesting innovations, fascinating features, and ultimately new details proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that its tenth-anniversary iPhone truly is Apple’s finest work yet.

Of course, iFixit notes first and foremost that due to the iPhone X’s sheer size in relation to its plentiful array of powerful components, the device’s internal configuration is, physically and geometrically speaking, among the “most densely packed” they’ve ever seen before. Remember, iPhone X is even more generously-equipped than iPhone 8 Plus, with its 5.8-inch Super Retina AMOLED and advanced component array — all while being packed inside a chassis that’s just a tad larger than Apple’s standard, 4.7-inch iPhone 8.

Accordingly, Apple’s engineering team really had to achieve a number of remarkable feats in order to maximize internal space. They started out, as you can see in the image above, by essentially “folding, stacking,” and then soldering the single, extended logic board into a much more compact solution that allegedly takes up 30% less internal space. Apple then used that extra space, iFixit noted, to incorporate its Face ID and TrueDepth camera hardware.

Meanwhile, in yet another remarkable accomplishment, Apple’s team appears to have incorporated a 2-cell, Li-Ion battery design, featuring a generous 2,716 mAh of power. Intriguingly, as you can see in the image below, Apple appears to have used an untraditional (through previously rumored) L-shaped battery configurations. Developed in partnership with LG, according to previous reports, this 2-cell battery design allowed Apple’s engineering team to fundamentally rearrange iPhone X’ internals and maximize every last nanometer of internal space.

Also worth noting is the iFixIt teardown confirms Apple’s use of a 3 GB RAM chip in the iPhone X, as previously speculated, as well as the revelation that Apple employed a more advanced and physically stronger camera lens bracket on the rear-side, which, aided by a dollop of industrial-grade adhesive, is designed to provide material strength and support to the new vertically mounted dual-lens camera system.

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Eligo Bioscience secures funding for precision microbiome engineering

Eligo Bioscience secures funding for precision microbiome engineering

French start-up Eligo Bioscience has won $ 20 million of funding to move its innovative synthetic biology forwards. The Series A round included Khosla Ventures, Seventure Partners and a $ 2 million award from the Worldwide Innovation Challenge.

The autonomous delivery of medical supplies is an exciting prospect. But instead of dropping medicine via parachute, Eligo Bioscience is looking to make a bigger impact on a much smaller scale. The company’s biotherapeutic platform is capable of making precision deliveries to the human microbiome: the complex and vast community of microbes present inside and on the body.

Read more: Las Vegas hospital trials IoT headband to ease patient discomfort

Engineering the microbiome

Research suggests that the microbiome sits “at the interface of health and disease.” The notion of ‘friendly bacteria’ has helped raise awareness of this, but there are many other bacteria types that have been linked with serious conditions and diseases, including colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Despite its importance to our health, we don’t yet have a way to selectively intervene at a bacterial level. Current solutions include prebiotics and probiotics, which are designed to have a restorative impact on ‘good’ bacteria but vary in effectiveness. And there are antibiotics, which kill bacteria indiscriminately. More importantly, their use is contributing to the emergence of resistant infections and superbugs. The situation is so serious that the World Health Organization has predicted that antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections will be a leading cause of death by 2050.

Eligo is developing a unique solution: the world’s first programmable biotherapeutics platform. The idea is to treat diseases at their source while improving overall microbiome health. The new technique has been dubbed ‘eligobiotics’.

Eligobiotics are closer to biological nanobots than conventional drugs. They are made from DNA and protein and are able to deliver a customized therapeutic payload to specific types of bacteria. Once the target bacteria have been found, eligobiotics can either kill them or transiently turn them into drug producers.

Eligo CEO, Dr Xavier Duportet, said “Antibiotics are weapons of mass destruction: extremely powerful but imprecise. With eligobiotics, we can precisely intervene on the microbiome – targeting specific bacteria for interventions of our choice. By engineering the microbiome itself with sniper-like precision, we can address the cause, not just the symptoms, of bacteria-associated diseases.”

Read more: Samsung debuts wearable tech for health and safety

Funding the future of medicine

The potential of Eligo’s biotherapeutic platform lies in its versatility. Currently in testing is an application capable of delivering a payload into the gut to selectively kill pathogenic bacteria. In contrast to the all-or-nothing approach of antibiotics, it allows the remaining flora to reestablish a healthy balance.

The team predicts that different payloads could be used in future to modulate immune responses, alter drug metabolism and even create transient drug production from directly within the gut.

“Xavier and the Eligo team have managed to use the tools of synthetic biology to create an elegant solution to an unbelievably complex problem: how to target, with extreme precision, the root causes of microbiome-associated diseases,” said Khosla Ventures partner Samir Kaul.

“We’re proud to lead this investment in Eligo Bioscience, a shining example of an innovative startup using the tools of synthetic biology to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.”

In a statement, Eligo has confirmed that the latest investments will be put towards strengthening the biotherapeutic platform and proving its worth in real-life scenarios. Clinical trials are on the horizon and the company is expecting to grow its international team of scientists, engineers and executives.

On 31 October & 1 November 2017, Internet of Business will be holding its Internet of Health USA event at the Royal Sonesta in Boston, MA. This event is North America’s only conference focused 100 percent on IoT applications for health providers and payers.


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Internet of Business

Genetic Engineering Could Allow Us to Treat or Even Prevent Obesity

Good and Bad Fat

Our bodies are home to two types of fat, one “good” and the other “bad.” The “good,” brown fat found near our necks and shoulders aids in the process of burning calories, while the “bad,” white fat in areas like our hips, bellies, and thighs simply stores calories.

Now, scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis think they’ve found a way to convert bad fat into good. Their research has been published in Cell Reports.

The researchers found that by genetically engineering mice that didn’t produce a protein called PexRAP, they could turn white fat into beige fat, an intermediary between white and brown fat that functions more like the latter.

The mice without PexRAP in their white fat cells were found to have more beige fat. What’s more, they were leaner than the control animals, even when they were eating the same amount of food.

Healthier Humans

The researchers hope that the results of their tests on mice could yield better treatments for obesity and diabetes caused by weight gain in humans.

“Our goal is to find a way to treat or prevent obesity,” the paper’s first author, Irfan J. Lodhi, PhD, noted in a press release. “Our research suggests that by targeting a protein in white fat, we can convert bad fat into a type of fat that fights obesity.”

Left: White fat cells from a normal mouse. Right: White fat cells from a mouse lacking the PexRAP protein. The fat cells without PexRAP store fewer calories and look more like brown fat cells. Image Credit: Irfan J. Lodhi

The next challenge is to figure out how this technique can be modified for human usage. More than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese, and some 30 million people suffer from diabetes. Blocking the production of the PexRAP protein could potentially make it easier for those people to lose weight.

However, researchers and drug manufacturers will have a few important hurdles to overcome before they can bring a product to market. “The challenge will be finding safe ways to [block the PexRAP protein] without causing a person to overheat or develop a fever, but drug developers now have a good target,” said Lodhi.

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