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'Molecular Sex'

In a new study published in PNAS, Daniel Morse and his colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, describe their use of Darwinian processes of selection to create materials for semiconductors, reports George Dvorsky at the io9 blog. The team added polystyrene microbeads to silicatein — the protein used by marine sponges to form silica skeletons — and then put them through an emulsion, essentially creating "a silicatein gene pool," Dvorsky says. The combination and recombination of various silacatine genetic materials — which the researchers dubbed "molecular sex" — allowed the team to create a variety of silicateins, and then select those with desired properties to make the best semiconductors. "By selecting the beads that exhibited the mineralization the researchers were looking for, they could harvest the material, or have it evolve even further," Dvorsky adds. The silicatein the researchers engineered through this artificial selection process of directed evolution is not found in nature.

The Scan

Tens of Millions Saved

The Associated Press writes that vaccines against COVID-19 saved an estimated 20 million lives in their first year.

Supersized Bacterium

NPR reports that researchers have found and characterized a bacterium that is visible to the naked eye.

Also Subvariants

Moderna says its bivalent SARS-CoV-2 vaccine leads to a strong immune response against Omicron subvariants, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Science Papers Present Gene-Edited Mouse Models of Liver Cancer, Hürthle Cell Carcinoma Analysis

In Science this week: a collection of mouse models of primary liver cancer, and more.