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Celebrating Synthetic Biology


With so many recent advances in synthetic biology, GT sat down to envision a world where things like removing and adding genes, genetic toggle switches, and altered gene function were the norm. Using some of our favorite model organisms, here are a few synthetic biology accomplishments we’ll be looking for in the coming years.

Late night at the lab? Now you don’t have to worry about coming
in late with these new and improved rooster alarms. Sure, no one wants to wake up to a crowing rooster every day — but these roosters come equipped with a genetic toggle switch to turn their crowing instinct on and off. Simply give your rooster a special feed mix to turn on the crowing gene — but don’t forget to turn it off when you travel, or your neighbors could get awfully cranky.

We’ve all seen zebrafish with a particular gene fluorescently tagged to glow when it’s expressed. But why not tweak the organism to glow all the time? With oil prices climbing higher and higher, you’ll need a cheap light source for your lab. These glowing fish are sure to do the trick. Like Motel 6, they’ll leave the light on for you.

Wouldn’t it be great if your mosquito research didn’t include the risk of being covered in itchy red welts? These special mosquitoes have had their gene function altered so they don’t secrete that itch-inducing fluid into your skin — and as an added bonus, the new gene function has them suck out fat instead of blood. It’s a free mini-liposuction. You just have to get used to not swatting and killing them as they home in on their prey.

Postdocs are a great source of cheap labor, but couldn’t you always do with a few more? Scientists find a way to take the regeneration gene out of planarian worms and successfully insert it into your favorite postdoc. Don’t be squeamish about cutting them in half: the more times you do it, the more fully regenerated postdoc workers you get!



The Scan

Mosquitos Genetically Modified to Prevent Malaria Spread

A gene drive approach could be used to render mosquitos unable to spread malaria, researchers report in Science Advances.

Gut Microbiomes Allow Bears to Grow to Similar Sizes Despite Differing Diets

Researchers in Scientific Reports find that the makeup of brown bears' gut microbiomes allows them to reach similar sizes even when feasting on different foods.

Finding Safe Harbor in the Human Genome

In Genome Biology, researchers present a new approach to identify genomic safe harbors where transgenes can be expressed without affecting host cell function.

New Data Point to Nuanced Relationship Between Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder

Lund University researchers in JAMA Psychiatry uncover overlapping genetic liabilities for major depression and bipolar disorder.