Food for Thought: Weekly Wrap-Up

Sascha Karberg in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) features the latests attempts of biologists to understand and replicate the endosymbiosis of cyanobacteria and cells of eucaryotes that led to the chloroplasts found in all green plants. Already in the 1970s, biologists successfully incorporated cyanobacteria into an amoeba and meanwhile, several animals carrying endosymbionts providing them with extra energy from the sun have been discovered. This is now replicated in the lab. Using genetically engineered cyanobacteria, scientist recently created zebrafish larvae as well as mice and hamster cells with endosymbionts that not only survive but replicate. Karberg also explains why this will not lead to green cows living on sunlight.

Silvia von der Weiden in Die Welt introduces novel findings about the role of water molecules in protecting and maintaining the DNA geometry. Reducing or expanding the size of the water sheath covering the DNA changes the conformation of the molecule as if activating a switch. The findings may be used to create novel DNA-based nanotools or develop DNA-binding drugs to influence gene activation.

In Forbes, Mattew Herper features a graph proving Moore’s law wrong – at least in the decline of cost of DNA sequencing: the cost of getting DNA data (i.e. cost per genome as well as per megabyte of DNA sequence) is dropping way faster than the cost of processing data on computers. In a separate article, Herper endorses Wall Street’s forecast, that Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 vaccine against pneumococcus infections will be the company’s biggest seller in five years.

The Economist features an Italian engineering firm developing a system to collect oil spills in the sea that is based on wool. Already the company has been granted a patent of its containerized, ship-based kit. After absorbing the oil, the wool is pressed to recover the oil and the reused.

Andrew Pollack in the New York Times reports about setbacks in the development of treatments based on stem cells. Experiments recently  showed that induced pluripotent stem cells – which are thought to be superior both ethically and technically to embryonic stem cells – are rejected by the immune system. However, it is not yet clear whether the results obtained in mice hold true for humans, too.