A first for animals, the clam produces its own antibiotic
Natural antibiotics usually come from bacteria or molds. But some clams make their own erythromycin, a study has found — the first animals reported to possess this ability. The spotted clam (A petechial prostitute) has an outer lip covered in mucus that contains specialized antibiotic-producing cells, according to an international research team. These may protect clams, which lack adaptive lymphocyte-based immune systems, from disease. Scientists found no signs of erythromycin-producing bacteria in clam tissue; instead, they noticed that its DNA contained an erythromycin-producing gene that resembled the one used by bacteria but differed enough that the invertebrate version could have evolved independently. The researchers found the gene in all life stages of the clam. Its genome also contains other genes necessary for the production of erythromycin, and a related species of clam also has these antibiotic genes. The results suggest that scientists can engineer cells in other animals to produce their own antibiotic, the authors write this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Embryo Editing Scientist Reboots
He Jiankui, who in 2018 conducted a widely condemned experiment in which his team edited the genes of human embryos and then implanted them into their mothers, says he has opened a new lab to develop “affordable” gene therapies. In 2018, Chinese officials arrested He, a biophysicist, for using the CRISPR gene editor on embryos, created through in vitro fertilization. The experience led to the birth of three babies. A court found him guilty of illegal medical practices and he was released from prison in April. Last week, he described his latest venture on Weibo, a popular social media platform in China: His lab in Beijing will aim to “defeat 3-5 genetic diseases in 2-3 years to benefit families with rare diseases “. He warned of the recent death of a man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) who was taking part in a trial to test CRISPR-based gene therapy. “History tells us that when new technology emerges, it is both angel and demon,” he wrote on Weibo. “The blind pursuit of new technologies and aggressive progress will certainly be punished by heaven.” He said Science he asked Jack Ma, the billionaire head of the Alibaba Group, for $140 million to fund his new lab’s efforts against DMD.
NSF rules tighten fundraising race
Researchers seeking National Science Foundation (NSF) grants for research equipment will likely face longer odds under new rules that don’t require institutions to share costs. This summer, Congress ordered the NSF to suspend cost-sharing of its $75 million Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program and foot the full bill for each winning proposal. In a new solicitation (NSF 23-519), the agency expects the number of awards next year to increase from the current 150 to 100 to accommodate this change, which aims to diversify the applicant pool and give less wealthy institutions a better chance of winning a scholarship. The reduction in scholarships will disappoint some applicants, says comparative biologist Cheryl Hayashi of the American Museum of Natural History, a former recipient of MRI grants. “But I don’t see a downside to having a more diverse pool.” The NSF will allow each institution to submit up to four nominations, instead of three, provided the fourth nomination is for an environmentally sustainable instrument.
Cannabis research to open
The US Congress has approved its first standalone bill allowing marijuana research and sent it to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it. The measure directs the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to establish a streamlined system for scientists to register to study cannabis for medical purposes. The legislation also directs the DEA to quickly register new growers, including universities, to grow and distribute for research purposes. The bill requires the United States Attorney General to assess annually whether there is an adequate and uninterrupted supply of cannabis for research. The Senate passed the bill, the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, on November 16, following a lopsided approval vote by the House of Representatives in July. Separately in October, Biden directed the US Attorney General to consider reclassifying the drug, which would also facilitate its study.
Dam Removal To Stimulate OK’d Salmon
The world’s largest dam removal project will begin as early as 2023, after US regulators last month approved the demolition of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in northern California and Oregon. The unanimous November 17 vote by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was the final regulatory hurdle. Native American tribes and environmentalists have been calling for years to remove the dams, which were built in the early 20th century and prevent migrating salmon from reaching some 600 kilometers of habitat. Salmon returns to the river have declined to less than 5% of historic levels.
Monkeypox gets a neutral name
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced this week that it would start referring to monkeypox disease as ‘mpox’ (pronounced ’em-pox’) after the current name drew criticism as evoking racist stereotypes and inciting stigma. It’s also a misnomer: the virus was first identified in laboratory monkeys, but is most likely carried by rodents in the wild. For a one-year transition period, WHO will use both names. Earlier this year, the agency changed the names of two different clades, or branches, of monkeypox viruses that were based on the regions where they were first identified. The Congo Basin clade became clade I and the West African clade became clade II. Weekly cases of monkeypox have declined globally since August, but hundreds of cases are still being reported each week and health authorities continue to call for vaccinations for those at risk.
Countries vote for sustainable shark fishing
Almost all shark species hunted for their fins must be caught sustainably, according to new trade rules adopted last week under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In a move supporters called historic, 183 countries and the European Union voted to place nearly 100 species of endangered sharks and shark-like rays on Appendix II of the treaty, roughly tripling the number that must be managed to avoid overexploitation. Within a year, countries exporting shark fins or meat must certify that the animals were caught legally and sustainably. Shark populations have been declining for 7 decades due to a lack of fishing regulations and enforcement. The trade in fins, which are used for soup, has been particularly devastating, putting 61 species at risk of extinction. The trade in shark products was worth nearly $1 billion in 2015, according to the latest comprehensive review by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Also newly listed are animals over-exploited for the international pet trade, including more than 160 species of glass frogs and 50 species of turtles.
Time and other units are changed
The controversial leap second, which timekeepers add sporadically to keep atomic clocks aligned with the Earth’s rotation, will be phased out in 2035, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) decided on November 18. Conceived in 1972 and used 27 times since, the leap second is wreaking havoc in telecommunications, banking and other modern networks. Its abandonment means that astronomical time, based on the rotation of the Earth, will slowly diverge from Coordinated Universal Time, based on the vibrations of cesium in atomic clocks. The BIPM plans to stop adding leap seconds for 100 years, by which time someone may have found a long-term solution to the problem. In addition, the BIPM has added new prefixes to the International System of Units to define very large and very small measurements. For example, 1 ronnametre (Rm) is worth 1 billion billion billion meters and 1 quettametre (Qm), 1000 times greater still; 1 rontometer (rm) is a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of 1 meter and 1 quectometer (qm) is a thousandth of that.
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