Adapted from Xie, et al.

Designer Biology in the Fight against Cancer

As many of you know and I have discussed before, cancer therapies have to target cancer cells while minimizing damage to normal cells. This is very difficult, in part because cancer cells are, although altered, still human cells. Synthetic biology is a new field that engineers biological systems for different applications. One interesting area where synthetic biology is now being applied is to cancer therapies. One advantage is that it may be possible to engineer sensors that can differentiate normal cells from tumor cells.

Early approaches have used engineering to create bacteria that specifically invade tumor cells. In one approach, bacteria More >

How many species exist on Earth?

How many species exist on Earth? Well, no one really knows exactly, but there are some reasonable estimates. One figure, estimated by the Census of Marine Life Scientists, is posited to be at 8.7 million based on taxonomic methodology.  Of this 8.7 million, at least 85% of the species on land and in sea still have yet to be identified and cataloged. It is amazing to think that we only know about 15% of the life found on Earth.  There remains much to be discovered.

Recently, researchers at the Smithsonian used the method of DNA barcoding to identify 168 crab species  More >

The fastest sneeze on record if 115 mph!

The Upside of Allergies

Are you one of those unfortunate souls who suffers from allergies? Do you shudder at the thought of spring time, with all its budding flowers, new growth and pollen flying through the air? Can’t visit Aunty Annie’s house because of the cat dander? Have to ask the ingredients of every cookie for traces of nuts, eggs, or wheat?

Well you may actually be one of the lucky ones! Your immune system’s sensitivity may be protecting you from contracting brain cancer.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago asked over 1,000 hospital patients about their allergy histories. Astonishingly, patients who had high-grade More >


Back in February, I blogged about a patient who received a bone marrow transplant, from an HIV-immune donor, that cured both his leukemia and AIDS.  I mentioned that while bone marrow transplants were impractical as a primary treatment for AIDS, I suggested that perhaps gene therapy tactics could be employed to achieve the same effect.  For the first time, scientists at Sangamo BioSciences have shown that this may actually be possible.

HIV infects white blood cells by latching onto two protein receptors, CD4 and CCR5.  Scientists noticed that people with a defect in the CCR5 gene (a 32-bp deletion) are incapable of More >

Pinus strobus EOL

The Encyclopedia of Life

Documenting the biological diversity of our planet is a challenging task. It implies information collection and organization of millions of species, their genetic diversity and their interactions in biological communities and ecosystems. It also implies coordination among multiple institutions and thousands of scientists, environmentalists, and professionals working with biodiversity.

In 2007, Dr. Edward O. Wilson’s speech as the recipient of the TED Prize potentiated the creation of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), an international effort to gather together all human knowledge of Earth’s biodiversity.  EOL’s mission is “to increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an encyclopedia that gathers, generates, More >



What do you think of when someone says virus?  Most people would say infection, getting sick, germs, and other negative associations.  Not only are viruses a valuable tool in research, they offer a look into history and also our own bodies.  I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with learning more about them.  Part of it is that I thought I knew more than I did.  There is a huge amout of information just waiting to be uncovered.  Too often we think we know something and it prevents us from learnng more.  Even something simple like having the chicken pox…

I remember More >