Friday, August 11, 2017

Of Ants and Pigs

In the current situation we are the ants while Trump, Kim, and the rest of the world leaders and elite cla$$ are the pigs in the house (per Orwell):

"Scientists create the first mutant ants" by Ben Guarino Washington Post  August 10, 2017

WASHINGTON — Despite what you might’ve seen in 1950s monster movies, it’s difficult to raise mutant ants. For years, biologists have altered the genetics of organisms as varied as mice and rice. Mutant fruit flies are a laboratory staple. But ants’ complex life cycle hampered efforts to grow genetically engineered ants — until now.

On Thursday, two independent research teams described their work deleting ant genes. Two papers chronicling the first mutant ants appeared in the journal Cell, along with a third study that altered ant behavior using an insect brain hormone.

Claude Desplan, a New York University biologist and an author of one of the studies, said that, as far as he could tell, these ants are ‘‘the first mutant in any social insect.’’

Ants have complex social roles, even though members of a colony are genetically very similar. Females may be egg-laying queens or sterile workers, colony cleaners or fierce soldiers. Males, who are little more than sperm-delivery systems with wings, appear only seasonally. To ensure the mutant genes carry on, ‘‘you need to go through the queen,’’ Desplan said. ‘‘It is not so easy to make queens.’’

It looks like the human society and ant colonies are converging.

‘‘There’s a lot of interesting biologic questions that you can study with ants that you can’t study with fruit flies or even mice,’’ said Rockefeller University biologist Daniel Kronauer, an author of the other mutant-ant study. If you throw a thousand fruit flies in a bucket of dirt, maybe they’ll fight or copulate, he said. But that’s about it. Do the same with ants and they’ll set to work digging, caring for broods, and foraging.

Then ants are above the psychopathic scum running humans on the chain of evolution?

What’s more, the insects are prime targets for studies of epigenetics, the external factors that toggle genes on and off. ‘‘Ants are amazing because with the same genome you can be a queen, or a worker, or another class of worker, or a soldier,’’ Desplan said.

True democracy, eh? Bet one could even be president.

Desplan’s research group chose to study a species of jumping ant found in India, Harpegnathos saltator, because all of these ants are potentially fertile. Before laying eggs, though, the workers have to become pseudo-queens. (The scientific term for a pseudo-queen is a ‘‘gamergate’’ — no relation to the anti-feminist video game hullabaloo circa 2014.) If a jumping-ant colony loses its queen, the workers go through a gantlet of ritualized antenna-flailing duels. The victor transforms into a pseudo-queen. 

Interesting male/female relationships there.

Kronauer and his colleagues, led by Rockefeller University graduate student Waring Trible, studied clonal raider ants, Ooceraea biroi. Unlike most ants, the raider ants reproduce asexually, through parthenogenesis. Popularly called virgin birth, it’s a phenomenon seen in some snakes, lizards, and sharks. The offspring end up as clones of the females. For both species, the desired result of genetic alteration was the same: creating mother ants that gave birth to future generations of mutants.

Both research groups mutated their ants in the same way. Using the CRISPR-Cas9 technique, with bacterial molecules acting like scissors to snip out genes, the scientists knocked out a crucial component of the ant’s odor receptors.

Pheromones, the odors by which ants communicate, are their social medium. Though there are hundreds of olfactory genes in ants, deleting one particular gene — called orco, for odorant receptor co-receptor — effectively renders almost the entire ant olfactory system useless.

Removing every individual odor gene would be ‘‘essentially impossible,’’ Kronauer said. But the power of orco to ‘‘take out the whole family’’ of olfactory genes makes it an obvious candidate for manipulation. (It’s why both research groups independently decided to focus on deleting the gene.) The insects lost about 90 percent of their olfaction, Desplan said.

The behavior of the mutants changed dramatically. The Indian jumping ants wandered away from the colony and wouldn’t forage. If Desplan isolated a mutant jumping ant, the ant still became a fertile gamergate. But these pseudo-queens laid very few eggs and were poor mothers. And if the mutants belonged to a colony that lost its queen, they didn’t partake in the antennae duels. Instead, they only twitched their antennae when alone, as if shadowboxing.

The clonal raider ants that couldn’t sense pheromones acted strangely, too. Normally, these ants detest the smell of Sharpie markers. But the mutants marched right over lines drawn in Sharpie.

Like the jumping ants, the Ooceraea biroi mutants became antisocial. ‘‘Suddenly these ants aren’t really social any more. They wander off, they don’t join the colony,’’ Kronauer said. ‘‘They just walk around.’’ Nor did they follow the pheromone trails their brethren left. 

I'm wondering how you would do without sight, hearing, and smell, because that's basically what they did to the ants.

Stranger things happened, too. One particularly odd loner crept into a colony, stole off with an egg and began to groom it with her antennae. All of a sudden she startled. There was no cause for alarm, but the flood of warning pheromones she released sent the rest of the non-mutant colony into a tizzy, Kronauer said.

Now that scientists know they can alter ant behaviors through their genes, Kronauer plans to study the way colonies divide their labor.

I can't help thinking they are looking at all of us.


So when will you and I be tagged with colored chips? 

And as we all go about busily living our lives like ants :

"Gene editing spurs hope for transplanting pig organs into humans" by Gina Kolata New York Times  August 10, 2017

Dr. Moreau?

Dr. George Church of the Harvard group and his colleagues thought the retrovirus question could be resolved with Crispr, the new gene-editing technology. They took cells from pigs and snipped the viral DNA from their genomes. Then the scientists cloned the edited cells.

Each pig cell was brought back to its earliest developmental stage and then slipped into an egg, giving it the genetic material to allow the egg to develop into an embryo. The embryos were implanted in sows and grew into piglets that were genetically identical to the pig that supplied the initial cell.

Cloning often fails; most of the embryos and fetuses died before birth, and some piglets died soon after they were born. But Church and his colleagues ended up with 15 living piglets, the oldest now 4 months old. None have the retroviruses.

Church founded a company, eGenesis, in hopes of selling the genetically altered pig organs. Eventually, Church says, the company wants to engineer pigs with organs so compatible with humans that patients will not need to take anti-rejection drugs.

Part of the organ rejection problem is already being solved with gene editing and cloning. It is an issue that emerged in the early 1980s when surgeons put a pig heart into a baboon. To their shock, the baboon died in minutes.

Researchers soon discovered that pig organs are covered with carbohydrate molecules that mark the organs for immediate destruction by human antibodies.

Dr. David Cooper, at UAB, and his colleagues, including Tector, have used gene editing and cloning to make pigs without the carbohydrates on the surfaces of their organs.

They successfully transplanted hearts and kidneys from those pigs into monkeys and baboons. So far, the animals have lived more than a year with no problems, Tector said.

To some, the idea of growing pigs to be organ factories is distasteful, if not unethical, but Cooper noted, the few thousand pigs grown for their organs would be a small fraction of the 100 million pigs a year that are killed for food in the United States. And, he said, the pigs would be anesthetized and killed humanely.

Many patients may prefer a human organ, Cooper acknowledged, but that is not always possible.

“About 22 people a day die waiting for a transplant,” he said. “If you could help them with a pig organ, wouldn’t that be wonderful?”


You are what you eat.

Also see:

Shark attack on seal closes beaches

Herring migration on the rise in Mystic Lakes

Beaver activity helps delay woods trail plan

Police investigating death of third baby goat found with neck snapped

For use in Satanic rituals?

"Your Instagram posts may hold clues to your mental health" New York Times   August 10, 2017

NEW YORK — The photos you share online speak volumes. They can serve as a form of self-expression or a record of travel. But they might convey more than you realize: The photos you share may hold clues to your mental health, research suggests.

From the colors and faces in their photos to the enhancements they make before posting them, Instagram users with a history of depression seem to present the world differently, according to the study, published in EPJ Data Science.

“People in our sample who were depressed tended to post photos that, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, were bluer, darker, and grayer on average than healthy people,” said Andrew Reece, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University and coauthor of the study with Christopher Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont.

They identified participants as “depressed” or “healthy” based on whether they had a diagnosis of depression in the past. They used machine-learning tools to find patterns in photos. They found that depressed participants used fewer filters that let users alter a photo’s brightness and coloring. When these users did add a filter, they tended to choose “Inkwell,” making it black-and-white. The healthier users tended to prefer “Valencia,” which lightens a photo’s tint.

Reece and Danforth said the results suggest a machine-learning model could prove useful in conducting mental health screenings.



Cape Cod shark alert rise is deceptive

‘This is the best day ever’: Boston has its first ‘Caturday’

WPI to take bee work to high schools

What's the buzz there?

Done horsing around.