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Genetic evidence shows how early humans migrated from Africa to Europe

Humans emerged en masse from Africa thousands of years ago, but scientists still aren’t sure about the exact routes they took as they set out to populate the planet.

According to a new DNA analysis from an international team of researchers, human expansion most likely occurred after the Last Glacial Maximum, between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago, and the Neolithic Era, approximately 12,000 years ago.

The researchers reached their conclusion by expanding and re-analyzing the available datasets of mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, in search of specific signifying markers.

Read the full, original story here: Genetic Evidence Shows How Early Humans Migrated From Africa To Europe

cognitive chip

Programming language based on the human brain

Two years ago this month, IBM announced that it had developed a cognitive computer chip, inspired by human neural architecture. That chip was developed as part of the SyNAPSE project, which has a long term goal of building a computing system that can handle tasks that are relatively easy for human brains, but hard for computers. Today, the company has announced that it’s created a programming architecture for those chips so that developers can design applications for them once those chips are a reality.

“Today’s computers are very good at analytics and number crunching,” project leader Dr. Dharmendra S. Modha told me. “Think of today’s computers as left brained and SyNAPSE as right brained.”

Read the full, original story here: IBM Develops Programming Language Inspired By The Human Brain

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Agriculture expert to become first scientist CEO of Monstanto India

A 24-year agriculture veteran, Dr Gyanendra Shukla, Ph.D. (Agriculture Botany) and MBA, recently took over as Regional Lead and CEO, Monsanto India. He is the first scientist to become the company’s CEO, succeeding finance and strategy experts who held the position before him.

Business Line caught up with Dr Shukla to get to know his vision for Indian agriculture and his company’s plans.

Read the full, original story here: “‘Farm research needs regulator to be predictable’

GM rice delivers antibodies against deadly rotavirus

A strain of rice genetically engineered to protect against diarrhoeal disease could offer a cost-effective way to protect children in developing countries, according a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Researchers engineered the rice, called MucoRice-ARP1, by adding an antibody to fight rotavirus originally found in llamas in the rice genome.

Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in young children and infants, killing more than 520,000 people each year, according to the WHO. More than 85 per cent of those deaths occur in impoverished countries in Africa and Asia.

Read the full, original story here: “GM rice delivers antibodies against deadly rotavirus”

The next big thing in pregnancy: Sequencing your baby’s genome

Every year roughly 4 million pregnancies go through the same battery of prenatal health checks: analyses of the mother’s blood and urine, of the mother’s blood pressure, of the mother’s weight, of the mother’s blood sugar — even of the mother’s genetic makeup if she’s deemed a risk for certain inheritable disorders.

But if parents could know more about their child’s health before birth, wouldn’t they want to? And if a bounty of health information — even the unborn child’s entire genome and all the data contained therein — could be accessed via nothing more than a simple blood draw from the mother, wouldn’t parents want to have that option? A new generation of non-invasive prenatal tests (NIPT) is prepared to provide it.

Read the full, original story here: The next big thing in pregnancy: Sequencing your baby’s genome

Glowing plant large

Glowing Plant researchers respond to Kickstarter ban

A recent controversy surrounding Kickstarter’s decision to ban GMOs from future fund-raising campaigns has left users wondering. Last week, Kickstarter finally revealed why it made the decision, citing uncertainty in the scientific community. Antony Evans, one of the co-founders of the project, responded:

[Kickstarter] is saying that the scientific community has not yet reached a consensus on how GMOs/synthetic organisms should be released to the environment. In general, this is true, and I think one of the most important things we have done with this project is triggered a debate about how this technology should be developed and released.

APHIS/USDA uses information submitted by the applicant related to plant pest risk characteristics, disease and pest susceptibilities, expression of the gene product, new enzymes, or changes to plant metabolism, weediness of the regulated article, any impacts on the weediness of any other plant with which it can interbreed, and the transfer of genetic information to organisms with which it cannot interbreed.

While we don’t expect to have to go through USDA approval, we are still doing the same kinds of tests.

Read the full, original story here: “Kickstarter responds to explain why they banned GMOs”

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Autorecessive tay sachs

Non-Jews hit by ‘Jewish’ diseases fall through the cracks of genetic screening

For three days in April, about 70 families whose lives have been upended by Tay-Sachs disease gathered in San Diego for the annual National Tay-Sachs and Allied Diseases conference, including support group sessions and a candle-lighting ceremony honoring those who had died.

Tay-Sachs is probably the best known “Jewish” disease. As many as one in 25 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier of the defective recessive gene. Yet, among the conference attendees, who came from as far away as Poland and Guatemala, only a handful were Jewish.

Today, the vast majority of babies born with the disease are not Jewish. But unlike Jewish parents-to-be, non-jews are rarely advised to get prenatal screening for Tay-Sachs.

Read the full, original story here: Non-Jews hit by ‘Jewish’ diseases fall through the cracks of genetic screening

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African countries slowly warming up to the idea of GM crops

While South Africa has long grown genetically modified (GM) crops, resistance from across most of the continent is set to slow global plans to turn Africa into the world’s breadbasket.

Just four countries on the continent — South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan — allow GM crops to be grown commercially. As recently as 2008, South Africa was the only African country to commercially cultivate GM crops such as maize, soya beans and cotton.

In that year Egypt joined in, with a limited amount of GM maize cultivated. Burkina Faso allowed GM cotton to be grown and last year Sudan followed in cultivating the non food crop.

Read the full, original story here: “Most of Africa ‘not positive’ about growing genetically modified crops”

Common genetic ground found for depression, schizophrenia, austism

New research bolsters the idea that the risk for psychiatric and developmental disorders isn’t specific to particular conditions— and that could mean new opportunities to treat mental illnesses that focus more on their common genetic roots.

Mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia clearly run in families, but neuroscientists have always assumed that the biological drivers behind these disorders were distinct. However, expanding on results reported earlier this year from psychiatry’s largest-ever experiment, researchers now report that known genetic variations account for 17% to 29% of the risk for schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  And risk for one condition is often strongly linked with risk for others.

Read the full, original story here: Common Genetic Ground Found for Depression, Schizophrenia, Autism

Visit to vandalized Golden Rice field trial

On August 9 and 10, we traveled overland 320 kilometers to the Bicol region in Southern Luzon in the Philippines. The day before, a crowd of 300 had stormed the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit 5’s (DA-RFU5) Bicol Experiment Station, overwhelming the police and guards, and vandalizing the research plots of Golden Rice.

The purpose of the trip was to learn first-hand about the act of vandalism, and to hear the views of the key officials on site. Joining me on the trip was Chief Science Research Specialist and Project LeaderDr. Antonio Alfonso of the Philippine Rice Research Institute, National Programs Relations Manager of IRRI Julian Lapitan, and Healthier Rice Project Manager Raul Boncodin.

Read the full, original story here: “Visit to vandalized Golden Rice field trial”

Why do microbes kill some people but not others?

Why do some horrible infectious diseases kill an unlucky few and ignore millions of others? Perhaps the most infamous example is Typhoid Mary, a woman who infected approximately 51 people with Salmonella Typhi, though she herself never got sick. Also, did you know that some people are completely resistant to HIV infection? Lucky.

For these people, their favorable fortune is tied to genetics. Increasingly, evidence suggests that the genes we carry around may be just as important in determining the outcome of an infection as the genes the microbes carry around.

Read the full, original story here: Why Do Microbes Kill Some People but Not Others?

Plant geneticist Kevin Folta explains GMO process in foods

When humans began to farm between ten and twenty thousand years ago, they took the seeds from their best edible wild plants and sowed them to create crops.  Early farmers selected the most desirable plants to provide seeds for the next year’s crop.  They looked for faster growth, higher yields, larger seeds, tastier fruit, bigger plants, resistance to insects, other pests, and disease, and other desirable traits. One of the most important traits was that the plants didn’t make them sick. Eventually they learned that plants within the same species, and in the 1700’s, across different species could be artificially mated or cross-pollinated to improve the characteristics of the plant.

These farmers knew nothing of genes, of course, but were actually altering the genetic makeup of the plants.

Read the full, original story here: “Can you describe in detail the process by which genes are altered in foods?”

On voters’ plates: genetically engineered crops

Get ready for a food fight.

When Washington voters decide Initiative 522 this fall, they will do more than determine whether to label food that contains genetically engineered ingredients.

They also will take sides in a national battle that has raged for two decades about the benefits and safety of manipulating the DNA of food — something many people view suspiciously but do not really understand.

“There’s a lot of uneasiness among consumers on the topic,” said Amy Sousa, managing consultant at the consumer research firm Hartman Group in Bellevue. “They don’t like the sound of it but have a difficult time articulating exactly why.”

Read the full, original story here: “On voters’ plates: genetically engineered crops

The Sports Gene author debunks the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’

Long before he co-authored a damning investigative article on Lance Armstrong or introduced the phrase “deer antler spray” into the lexicon with his feature on Ray Lewis’s dealings with some hucksters,Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein had questions about the biology behind elite athletic performance.

His observations of nature’s influence on athleticism seemed to contradict the nurture-based 10,000-Hour rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. Epstein saw the rule influence not only popular culture, but academia as well. He wanted to investigate the long-standing nature versus nurture debate among elite competitors, so he travelled the world, interviewing athletes, scientists, and coaches in search of some answers.

Read the full, original story here: How Athletes Get Great

For IVF, biopsied and frozen sperm is as effective as fresh

Some men with very severe infertility (with either very little or no sperm in their semen due to testicular failure, cancer or genetics) are unable to have their own children through IVF without being biopsied. In these cases a small needle biopsy is used to extract some tissue from the testicles and then a if sperm cells are found, they can be extracted and used in IVF.

Sperm taken by biopsy from the testicles of men with no sperm in their semen and then frozen can be as effective as fresh sperm taken by biopsy for helping couples to conceive through in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Read the full, original story here: Study: when it comes to biopsied sperm, frozen is as effective as fresh

GMO Label Advocate

GMO labeling proponents now fighting their own labeling legislation on supplements

Maybe mandatory labeling is not such a good idea after all.

The movement for the labeling of genetically modified foods has found growing momentum thanks in large part to lobby groups such as Citizens for Health, which represent companies selling dietary supplements and other products.

Citizens for Health, among other groups, has for years pushed lawmakers to demand product labeling of GMOs, despite resistance from mainstream scientists, physicians, farmers and companies worried such labeling would provide misleading information to consumers and would unnecessarily damage the food and crop biotech industries. Its founder, James S. Turner, just happens to be the lawyer for Jeffrey Smith, who runs the anti-GMO website Institute for Responsible Technology, and has funded his Genetic Roulette book and movie efforts, which have been devastatingly reviewed by scientists and yet are cited as reputable sources by crop biotechnology activist campaigners.

In an ironic twist, Citizens for Health and other big guns in the supplement industry are now fighting their own battle against mandatory labeling for supplements. Senate Bill 1425, also known as the Dietary Supplement Labeling Act of 2013, would require food supplement companies to label their supplements in much the same way similar legislation would mandate GMO labeling.

Supplement companies and their interest groups fear that the legislation would impose severe restrictions on their industry and gradually drive the price of supplements higher than most would be able to afford, thereby threatening their industry’s huge profit margins. Essentially, they are making the same argument that GMO companies and supporters have made since the labeling movement was started several years ago.

In a message to their supporters, Citizens for Health wrote:

Supplements are not drugs, and therefore, deserve their own system of regulation – and that’s the point. Such a system already exists thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), and it has done a more than adequate job protecting consumers largely due to supplement companies’ compliance with, and support of, that system.

Put simply: At best, S. 1425 is a bad bill, albeit with good intentions. At worst, it uses recent attacks on supplement safety as an excuse to take another crack at imposing unnecessary regulations on the dietary supplement industry, which has demonstrated time and again its ability to ensure the safety of its products.

Another big name in the industry, Joseph Mercola, who has made millions hawking “health products” and other supplements–Mercola was one of the primary financial backers of the failed GMO labeling bill initiative in California and is now pouring money to generate support for Washington state’s bill–has been almost apoplectic in his opposition to mandatory labeling of the products he sells. He calls the legislation “ridiculous,” asserting that the “bill threatens the supplement industry by granting the FDA more power to regulate supplements as if they were drugs, effectively putting supplement companies out of business.”

Wait, it’s just a label, right?

What makes labeling so necessary for GMOs but not for other ingested products, such as dietary supplements? The actions of Citizens for Health, Mercola and other interest groups to demand legislation for mandated GMO labeling and resist similar legislation impacting their own economic interests is a glaring hypocrisy that should make people think twice about the reasoning behind the labeling campaigns.

Demands to label foods are cloaked in the guise of consumers’ right to know what they are putting in to their bodies. But when the same argument is focused on supplement companies, as it will inevitably be for other industries now fighting to damage farmers, food producers and biotechnology companies through mandated labeling, they don’t think consumers have the same right to know. It’s obvious that the right to know demands are not truly in the interest of consumer protection, but a demonization tool used to dissuade the public from buying products that could threaten the market share of a company or industry.

What makes this hypocrisy all the worse is the denial by supplement companies of the questionable science behind their industry and products. Their campaigns challenge the safety of GMOs despite the fact that there is no evidence that genetically modified crops are harmful. Meanwhile, numerous studies and other hard evidence suggest very strongly that supplement usage, at best, has little to no beneficial effect on a person’s health while, at worst, are potentially harmful–and those very real concerns are the driving force behind Senator Dick Durbin’s legislation.

Hopefully, such hypocrisy will make people who are so adamant about GMO labeling on the grounds that it’s the public’s “right to know” will think twice about what motivations are really behind such legislation.

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