London Research Spotlight
Synthetic biology merges biological theory with engineering approaches in order to create artificial systems that can be applied for industrial use. Most of the current systems rely on bacterial cells that contain reprogramed genetic material which produce the substance of interest. This is, however, a laborious and time consuming method so new approaches are always being sought. Imperial College scientists have now come one step closer by creating a completely in vitro system, which can perform the same tasks as a living cell. Researchers attempted to isolate all of the basal molecular machinery that is necessary to manipulate and regulate transcription and translation of genetic material. By identifying the necessary DNA regulatory elements, the scientists showed that provided the right environment an artificial system containing these proteins is able to effectively perform the same tasks as an in vivo system. This major step will greatly reduce the time needed to test synthetic systems, and will allow more rapid mass production of biological molecules and materials.
Holiday Photos Can Help to Save Species
Scuba divers can now contribute to conservation programs by taking pictures of their dives. A study published by scientists from Imperial College investigated the use of publicly-sourced data in application to mark-recapture studies of whale sharks. Scientists compared photographs taken from webpages like Flickr and YouTube to those made by researches in order to evaluate if they could be successfully used to identify different sharks. Surprisingly, public photos identified different individuals correctly in 85% of cases. Researchers’ photos that have 100% accuracy, but the public photos still give a very good result. This new resource will help scientists to evaluate the current population of whale sharks. Although whale sharks are thought to be a rare species, their true conservation status is difficult to establish because of a lack of data. Using the public photos, scientists have found that the whale shark population has remained relatively constant over recent years. Hopefully this new method will provide new insight into other animal populations as well.
Link Between Obesity and Vitamin D
A new study done by UCL researchers suggests that obesity can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Previous research has already shown that obesity and vitamin D deficiency are linked, but no one knew which was the cause and which the effect. The study used genetic markers to find the link between body mass index and metabolism of vitamin D. The majority of vitamin D is when the skin is exposed to sunlight, but some of it also comes from the food we eat. Some experiments have shown that vitamin D increases calorie burning rate in rats, however, increased amount of it in dietary supplements does not seem to show any significant effects. The UCL scientists have found that the most likely link between the two components is that obese people have a higher capacity for vitamin D storage in fatty tissue. This leads to less vitamin D circulating in the blood and vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is an increasing problem in the population and this study highlights that it can be caused by factors other than sun exposure as first thought.
1) Chappell, James, Kirsten Jensen, and Paul S. Freemont. “Validation of an entirely in vitro approach for rapid prototyping of DNA regulatory elements for synthetic biology.” Nucleic Acids Research (2013).
2) Davies, Tim K., Stevens, Guy, Meekan, Mark G., Struve, Juliane, and Rowcliffe, J. Marcus (2012) Can citizen science monitor whale-shark aggregations? Investigating bias in mark–recapture modelling using identification photographs sourced from the public. Wildlife Research 39, 696–704.
3) Vimaleswaran KS, Berry DJ, Lu C, Tikkanen E, Pilz S, et al. (2013) Causal Relationship between Obesity and Vitamin D Status: Bi-Directional Mendelian Randomization Analysis of Multiple Cohorts. PLoS Med 10(2): e1001383. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001383