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Scientists 3-D Print Mouse Ovaries That Actually Make Babies

Not all girls grow up to be mothers. Sometimes they choose not to be, and sometimes circumstances take those choices away. A superfluity of cancers and genetic diseases can destroy women’s ovaries. Or treatments like radiation—used to save a woman’s life—can render those egg-producing organs useless. Ovaries also mediate female hormones. Without them, young patients might never go through puberty; grown women could enter menopause early. Today, a team of bio-engineers reported a possible fix: 3-D printed ovaries. Their proof of concept—published in Nature Communications—only works on mice so far, but they could end up replacing the uterus-flanking, chestnut-sized organs in humans, too.

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Study of Worms Reveals ‘Selfish Genes’ That Encode A Toxin – and Its Antidote

A UCLA study has found that a common strain of Caenorhabditis elegans — a type of roundworm frequently used in laboratory research on neural development — has a pair of genes that encode both a poison and its antidote. The new research also revealed that if worms with the two genes mate with wild strains of C. elegans that don’t have both genes, their offspring who don’t inherit the antidote can’t protect themselves from the toxin — which is produced by mother worms — and die while they are still embryos.

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In Brain Evolution, Size Matters – Most of the Time

Which came first, overall bigger brains or larger brain regions that control specialized behaviors? Neuroscientists have debated this question for decades, but a new Cornell study settles the score. The study reports that though vertebrate brains differ in size, composition and abilities, evolution of overall brain size accounts for most of these differences, with larger brains leading to greater capabilities. The study is the first to compare – and resolve – two competing theories of brain evolution. One theory holds that natural selection drove progressive changes in particular areas of the brain, which then led to larger overall brains in species that needed them to survive. The other theory contends that some species acquired a bigger brain in general, and its larger basic parts could then be recruited for specific complex behaviors.

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Project to Map Human Brain From Womb to Birth Releases Stunning Images

A landmark project to map the wiring of the human brain from womb to birth has released thousands of images that will help scientists unravel how conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy and attention deficit disorders arise in the brain. The first tranche of images come from 40 newborn babies who were scanned in their sleep to produce stunning high-resolution pictures of early brain anatomy and the intricate neural wiring that ferries some of the earliest signals around the organ. Once a baby has been scanned, the images are processed to highlight basic anatomical features, such as the visual and auditory cortices, areas of grey and white matter, and the peaks and troughs of the crinkled cortex. The researchers ultimately hope to have medical and genetic data for the babies, and test results from later in life, which could give scientists extraordinary insights into how subtle changes in brain wiring and anatomy influence later life.

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Scythian Horse Breeding Unveiled: Lessons for Animal Domestication

Nomad Scythian herders roamed vast areas spanning the Central Asian steppes during the Iron Age, approximately from the 9th to the 1st century BCE (Before Common Era). These livestock pastoralists, who lived on wagons covered by tents, left their mark in the history of warfare for their exceptional equestrian skills. They were among the first to master mounted riding and to make use of composite bows while riding. A new study published in Science led by Professor Ludovic Orlando and involving 33 international researchers from 16 universities, now reveals the suite of traits that Scythian breeders selected to engineer the type of horse that best fit their purpose.

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Study Finds First Molecular Genetic Evidence of PTSD Heritability

DNA sequencingA large new study from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium provides the first molecular genetic evidence that genetic influences play a role in the risk of getting Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after trauma. The report extends previous findings that showed that there is some shared genetic overlap between PTSD and other mental disorders such as schizophrenia. It also finds that genetic risk for PTSD is strongest among women. “We know from lots of data—from prisoners of war, people who have been in combat, and from rape victims—that many people exposed to even extreme traumatic events do not develop PTSD. Why is that? We believe that genetic variation is an important factor contributing to this risk or resilience,” said senior author Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who leads the Global Neuropsychiatric Genomics Initiative of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute.

“PTSD may be one of the most preventable of psychiatric disorders,” said first author Laramie Duncan, who did part of the research while at the Broad Institute and is now at Stanford University. “There are interventions effective in preventing PTSD shortly after a person experiences a traumatic event. But they are too resource-intensive to give to everyone. Knowing more about people’s genetic risk for PTSD may help clinicians target interventions more effectively and it helps us understand the underlying biological mechanisms.”

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Scientists Unveil CRISPR-based Diagnostic Platform

A team of scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Institute for Medical Engineering & Science at MIT, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has adapted a CRISPR protein that targets RNA (rather than DNA) as a rapid, inexpensive, highly sensitive diagnostic tool with the potential for a transformative effect on research and global public health.

In a study published today in Science, Broad institute members Feng Zhang, Jim Collins, Deb Hung, Aviv Regev, and Pardis Sabeti describe how this RNA-targeting CRISPR enzyme was harnessed as a highly sensitive detector able to indicate the presence of as little as a single molecule of a target RNA or DNA molecule. Co-first authors Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg, graduate students at MIT and Harvard, respectively, dubbed the new tool SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing); this technology could one day be used to respond to viral and bacterial outbreaks, monitor antibiotic resistance, and detect cancer.

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“Smart” Cephalopods Trade Off Genome Evolution for Prolific RNA Editing

Octopus, squid, and cuttlefish are famous for engaging in complex behavior, from unlocking an aquarium tank and escaping to instantaneous skin camouflage to hide from predators. A new study suggests their evolutionary path to neural sophistication includes a novel mechanism: Prolific RNA editing at the expense of evolution in their genomic DNA. The study, led by Joshua J.C. Rosenthal of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole, and Eli Eisenberg and Noa Liscovitch-Brauer of Tel Aviv University is published this week in Cell. The research builds on the scientists’ prior discovery that squid display an extraordinarily high rate of editing in coding regions of their RNA — particularly in nervous system cells — which has the effect of diversifying the proteins that the cells can produce. (More than 60 percent of RNA transcripts in the squid brain are recoded by editing, while in humans or fruit flies, only a fraction of 1 percent of their RNAs have a recoding event.)

“This shows that high levels of RNA editing is not generally a molluscan thing; it’s an invention of the coleoid cephalopods,” Rosenthal says. In mammals, very few RNA editing sites are conserved; they are not thought to be under natural selection. “There is something fundamentally different going on in these cephalopods where many of the editing events are highly conserved and show clear signs of selection,” Rosenthal says.

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