Scientists create a ‘lifelike’ material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

PAUL RATNER18 April, 2019

Scientists create a 'lifelike' material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material’s DNA.

Cornell University engineers have created an artificial material that has three key traits of life — metabolism, self-assembly and organization. The engineers were able to pull off such a feat by using DNA in order to make machines from biomaterials that would have characteristics of alive things.

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Researchers Find Evidence That Human Evolution Is Still Actively Happening

Scientists discover that humans are still evolving, with natural selection weeding out certain diseases.

A large new study says humans are still evolving. Scientists found that natural selection is weeding out harmful genetic mutations from our gene pool.

While we tend to think of evolution as laborious process that takes a long period of time, there also changes that can take place over one or two generations. Researchers from Columbia University analyzed DNA from 210,000 people in the United States and Britain and found that certain genetic variants, particularly those linked to Alzheimer’s disease and heavy smoking appear less frequently in people who live longer. This suggests that such genes are being less favored and may be on the way out of the human genome.

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Mood-Altering Messenger Goes Nuclear

Serotonin is best known for its role as a chemical messenger in the brain, helping to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, and many other functions. It exerts these influences by binding to its receptor on the surface of neural cells. But startling new work suggests the impact of serotonin does not end there: the molecule also can enter a cell’s nucleus and directly switch on genes. 

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Chronic Pain Linked to Genetic Changes in Immune System

Chronic pain changes the way DNA is marked not only in the brain, but also in T cells.

Researchers are currently working to better understand chronic pain, as it’s difficult to treat and can lead to lifelong disability for some sufferers. According to an NIH study released last year, some 25.3 million American adults have experienced chronic pain every day for the past three months. A study from McGill University revealed in the journal Scientific Reports that chronic pain may change the way genes perform in the immune system. «We found that chronic pain changes the way DNA is marked not only in the brain but also in T cells, a type of white blood cell essential for immunity», says Moshe Szyf, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill. «Our findings highlight the devastating impact of chronic pain on other important parts of the body such as the immune system.» Chronic pain is any pain that persists for six months or longer, and it can have both a physical and emotional impact. The McGill team assessed DNA from brains and white blood cells of rats, using a method that mapped DNA marking by a chemical called a methyl group. «Methyl marks are important for regulating how these genes function,» explains co­author Laura Stone, a professor in Dentistry and researcher in the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain. This kind of chemical marking is a part of the growing field of epigenetics, which employs modifications that turn genes “on” or “off”, effectively reprogramming how they perform. «We were surprised by the sheer number of genes that were marked by the chronic pain ­- hundreds to thousands of different genes were changed,» said Szyf. «We can now consider the implications that chronic pain might have on other systems in the body that we don’t normally associate with pain.» More research will be needed, but Szyf and his team are hoping that the study can jumpstart new avenues of treatment for specific genes marked by chronic pain. The findings of the study could open new channels to diagnosing and treating chronic pain in humans, the researchers suggest, as some of the genes discovered to be marked by chronic pain could also represent new targets for pain treatment.

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Beyond the DNA


Scientists have established comprehensive maps of the human epigenome, shedding light on how the body regulates which genes are active in which cells. Over the last five years, a worldwide consortium of scientists has established epigenetic maps of 2,100 cell types. Within this coordinated effort, the CeMM Research Center for Molecular Medicine contributed detailed DNA methylation maps of the developing blood, opening up new perspectives for the understanding and treatment of leukemia and immune diseases. Leer Más