Archive for the 'science' Category

Grape genome


A group of French scientist revealed last week that they had sequenced the grape genome. A Pinot Noir to be more precise.

The Full analysis  of the more than 30,000 genes contained within the sequence, have revealed many that are responsible for flavour (tannins and terpenes) and could be useful for altering the taste, aroma of wine and increasing the resitance of grape vines to disease.

There lots of interest for the plant scientist here, but what about for the rest of you? Is there fear, distrust and scorn about the revolution of this age-old tradition? 

Wine is well on the way to being a ‘functional food’ that is designed and engineered to meet your requirements. So you better think about flavours you want on your palette now.

Opportunity missed

Major scientific journals this week, are again covering the work of the South Korean Scientist who fraudulently claimed in 2005 to have produced stem cells from cloned human embryos.

In fact, what he did inadvertently achieve, was something far less ethically challenging and still with vast therapeutic value; that is to produce stem cells from human eggs alone, and no nasty cloning involved. The eggs are produced by parthenogenesis, or ‘virgin birth’ and without fertilisation by sperm (…more food for thought). It is a form of asexual reproduction found in insects, lizards and sharks, but not naturally in mammals — all the cell’s DNA comes from the mother. Am I loosing you here?

stem_cells.jpgEmbryotic stem cells that are the ‘body’s master cells’ with the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the body. They can be used to replace lost, diseased or aging cells and therefore carry their weight in gold (… or diamonds) for therapeutic disease research. For stem cells to survive however, they need to be genetically matched to the patient. This would mean, in effect, cloning that person, as an embryo— all of which raises difficult ethical questions. The ability to produce stem cells from human eggs alone avoids this problem.

As always, life just doesn’t seem fair. While Hwang awaits trial for admittedly one of the most notorius scientific scandals of our time, other scientists reap the benefits of his breakthough. Nevertheless, your stem cells will be out there, in the future, helping you to overcome whatever life and nature throws at you.

opossums revealed and unravelled

The genome of the opossum has now been sequenced and this is a major accomplishment. However I bet some people are asking what silly nonsense scientists have been up to now? So perhaps a few facts about these furry creatures are in order.



  • Opossums (or possums) are marcupials, meaning that they are pouched animals that give birth to relatively immature young in comparison to other mammals.

  • In Australia and North America they are mostly looked upon kindly.
  • However in New Zealand we grow up knowing that they run rampant around our country, destroying our native trees and spreading disease in livestock. The number that you find run over by vehicles on the roads is testimony to their populous (estimated 20 per person).
  • So depending on where you reside, possums are either protected or disliked with a vengance. To illustrate the later, this is a very gruesome video, ‘possum killing spree’.
  • There is even a whole industry in possum fur products from New Zealand in an effort to control this pest. Its fur is incredibly soft so that is convenient.
  • So why sequence its genome? The entire sequence of DNA and proteins of any species (bacteria, plant, animal) can tell us a great detail about evolutionary relationships. The genomic study published in Nature recently reveals that there are a features in the DNA sequence of the opossum that tell us about the functional arrangement of mammalian genomes. So we are closer to pinpointing the genetic features that make us similar or different to other animals and understanding how we evolved.

    So even if you are dubious about the relevance of the opossum genome to everyday life in general, its still nice to know a little bit more about where we come from right?

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