Paving way for evolution on demand — inorganic biology

Life forms have been created that carry strands of genetic material designed and built from scratch in the lab, paving the way for on-demand “evolution” of organisms.

Scientists made sections of chromosomes, the long molecules that bear DNA, and transferred them into yeast cells, of the kind normally used in baking. The cells adopted the new genetic code as part of their normal cellular machinery and, to the scientists’ surprise, appeared as healthy as their natural counterparts.

The feat is a big step towards the manufacture of completely synthetic organisms that could be designed to churn out biofuels, vaccines and industrial chemicals, said Jef Boeke, who led the study at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland…”We have created a research tool that not only lets us learn more about yeast biology, but also holds out the possibility of someday designing genomes for specific purposes, like making new vaccines or medications”…

Boeke’s work centred on a yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one of the most well-understood organisms in the field of genetics. It has 16 chromosomes that together carry around 6000 genes…

Once the first chromosome was finalised, Boeke’s team took a second chromosome and edited that in a similar way.

In the next stage of the experiment, Boeke’s team used feedstocks of chemicals to manufacture the new chromosomes from scratch. They then dropped these into growing colonies of yeast cells, which replaced parts of their natural chromosomes with the synthetic versions.

The yeast cells’ genetic makeover was modest, amounting to changes in only one percent of the organism’s entire genome, but Boeke was still intrigued to see the organisms thrive.

“They are remarkably healthy and to us that’s incredibly exciting because it means our design is sound and we can play all the games we are fantasising about,” Boeke told the Guardian. The study is reported in the journal, Nature…

The process has more practical implications, by allowing scientists to direct the evolution of yeast cells, until they are better than those in use by industry.

Man and yeast have this ancient relationship. We’ve been brewing beer and making bread since before the written word,” said Boeke. “Nowadays, a major share of fermentation is done using yeast, and that’s everything from making vaccines to chemicals and biofuel production.

“All of those industries are actively looking for yeast that makes their favourite product better, whether it’s more efficiently, with a higher yield, or in special conditions.

“Industrial geneticists are always looking for new tools for their toolbox and this will become an important part of that.”

It’s the usual race between public and private universities on one side – and industry on the other. The dialectic of progress crosses forth-and-back between the two. But, with society’s current focus on everything from biofuels to vaccines, the likelihood of successes grows as fast as does the yeast.

Good news and bad news about teen cancer victim


Her new dream is time off for good behavior

The good news is she doesn’t have cancer.

The bad news is she faces criminal charges.

The Horizon City Police Department has filed criminal charges against a young woman who raised the sympathy of a community along with thousands of dollars in donations by claiming she was dying from cancer.

Police officials said Tuesday that a three-month investigation found that Angie Gomez, 18, had no record of having leukemia, as she claimed while allegedly collecting about $17,000 in donations.

Gomez is accused of theft by deception over $1,500, a state jail felony. The case has been sent to the district attorney’s office as a non-arrest, meaning she has not been taken into custody.

“There is nothing to indicate she had cancer. There is no medical records, no doctors,” Detective Liliana Medina said. The investigation determined there were no other suspects in the case, Medina said.

Gomez had an infectious smile, a positive outlook and a tragic tale. Gomez was a senior at Horizon High School when her story unfolded earlier this year. She graduated in June.

Gomez told a tale of having leukemia as a child and was now fighting a fatal resurgence of the cancer. She told classmates that doctors in January had given her six months to live. Classmates and teachers at Horizon High School rallied around her and held fundraisers…

The kind of fraud that perpetuates myths about charities commonly being frauds.

We’re all cynical enough. I’d be the last to claim otherwise – though I claim to be an optimist and a cynic. Point is – throw the book at someone who hustles people for their good will and kind hearts.

Most London looters had prior convictions — and no jail time!

Two in three of those involved in the riots who had a criminal record had never been to jail, despite amassing an average of 15 previous offences each, figures have shown.

One in four people charged over the violence and looting that swept through English cities had committed more than 10 previous offences, with one in 20 having more than 50, the Ministry of Justice figures showed…

Four in 10 of males aged 10-17 who were brought before the courts over the riots had at least one previous conviction, compared with just one in 50 of those aged 10-17 in the general population.

But the officials said that while those involved in the violence and looting were ”much more likely than the population as a whole to have previous convictions, there is also evidence of some people being drawn into the criminal justice system for the first time…”

New figures for the crown courts showed 79 jail sentences have been handed down so far, with nine in 10 of those appearing in crown courts being sent to prison, compared with one in three for similar offences last year.

For those dealt with in magistrates courts, 97 have been sent to jail – four in 10 of those who have been sentenced – compared with one in 10 of those who appeared before magistrates for similar offences last year.

Overall, sentences were tougher too, with those involved in the riots being jailed for an average of 10.4 months for violent disorder, compared with an average of 5.3 months last year.

For burglary, the average for those involved in the riots was 14.1 months, compared with 8.8 months last year.

Mr Clarke added: “I congratulate the courts for delivering swift and firm justice, which stopped the riots spreading further.

I am dismayed to see a hardcore of repeat offenders back in the system

He went on: “We are making our jails places of hard work, getting criminals off drugs and alcohol, toughening community sentences and making offenders pay back to victims and communities for their crimes.”

The paying back part is praiseworthy – not often realistic though.

Sounds like the Brits have to make the same sort of decision we’re barely starting to make in the US about our own drug gangs. Make rehab and education available in the slammer — but, count on warehousing some of these miserable lowlifes often and for bigger time.

Bank trader steals/looses $2 billion before he’s caught

A 31-year old man – Kweku Adoboli – has been arrested by City of London Police on suspicion of fraud in connection with an alleged rogue trading incident that has cost Swiss bank UBS around $2 billion.

The Zurich-based bank uncovered the incident in the past 24 hours. Shares in UBS plunged nearly 10% after it revealed the loss, which could push the bank into the red for the current financial quarter.

The City of London Police confirmed they had arrested a 31-year old man at 3.30am in central London on “suspicion of fraud by abuse of position”. The police did not identify the individual who remains in custody, but sources say he is Adoboli. The force has begun an investigation…

The bank would not comment but Adoboli is understood to work in its equity division and on a trading desk called Delta One that was involved with its exchange traded funds business. ETFs are complex financial instruments that comprise a basket of investments intended to mimic a market’s movements while Delta One traders try to make huge profits on tiny differences between prices. It is understood that the entire trading desk, including Adoboli’s supervisor John Hughes, has been sent home while the investigation continues…

On the third anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Swiss bank said: “UBS has discovered a loss due to unauthorised trading by a trader in its investment bank. The matter is still being investigated, but UBS’s current estimate of the loss on the trades is in the range of $2 billion. It is possible that this could lead UBS to report a loss for the third quarter of 2011.”

It added that “no client positions were affected”…

So, erm, while every banker I know is whining about more and deeper regulation being put in place by governments trying to prevent the sort of corruption and deceit that initiated our Great Recession – UBS, the leading Swiss bank in a nation of bankers, manages to lose $2 billion through one man’s hanky-panky. Not exactly confidence inspiring.

Coppers raid student writing Master’s thesis – get to pay £20,000


You can buy it at Amazon, too

A student who was arrested and held for seven days after downloading the al-Qaida training manual as part of his university research into terrorist tactics has received £20,000 in compensation and an apology from the police for being stopped and searched.

Rizwaan Sabir, 26, was studying for a master’s at the University of Nottingham in 2008 when he was detained under the Terrorism Act and accused of downloading the material for illegal use. He was arrested on 14 May after the document was found on an administrator’s computer by a member of staff.

Sabir had asked the administrator, Hisham Yezza, to print out the 140-page manual as they were collaborating on research…As soon as he was made aware of the situation, one of Sabir’s supervisors confirmed that the manual – which he had downloaded from a US government website and which can be bought at WH Smith – was relevant to his research.

After seven days and six nights in custody, he was released without charge or apology. But his lawyers later discovered Nottinghamshire police were holding an intelligence file on him, which contained false information about him and wrongly claimed he had been convicted of a terrorist offence.

…The force settled last week, paying Sabir £20,000 compensation and covering his legal fees. It apologised to Sabir for a stop and search on 4 February 2010 and agreed to delete the inaccurate intelligence information.

Sabir, now a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde researching domestic UK counter-terrorism policy, told the Guardian he was delighted at the settlement…

His solicitor, Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy, said the case showed how the so-called “war on terror” had perverted the rule of law over recent years.

“Clearly, the police have a difficult and important job to do in their counter-terrorism role, however, they must nonetheless act within the law and must be held to account when they do not,” he said. “Through his remarkable effort and fierce determination over the last three years, Mr Sabir has been able to do that in this case. This result is nothing more than the clear vindication that he is entitled to.”

RTFA if you feel a need to [1] read a few more details provided by Mr. Sabir; [2] you enjoy reading boilerplate bullshit rationales from police departments and incompetent university administrators.

Man blows himself up trying to burn ex-girlfriend’s body

An explosive south Fulton County fire was apparently started last month by a man trying to burn his ex-girlfriend’s body…Sarone Bridges perished in the ensuing blaze, but not immediately after the blast that started the quick-burning fire, Fulton County Fire Chief Larry Few said.

“Based on how his body was positioned, I think (the) explosion took its toll on him,” Few said. “The concussion from the blast could have made him disoriented where he fell, and he received the thermal burns afterwards.”

Investigators from the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said Bridges died of burns and smoke inhalation.

Bridges’ ex-girlfriend, Beverly Bland, 34, was strangled before the fire, police said…

Few said Bridges, 35, doused a sleeping bag with gasoline and laid Bland’s body on the bag to set it on fire. But his plan literally blew up in his face.

“When he threw that match, the vapors of gasoline are what ignited,” Few said. “There was an immediate fireball that blew the windows out…”

Sometimes you get what you deserve.