Friday October 20, 2017
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A Powerful Find that can change gene in Insects, Animals and Plants

Scientists are looking for ways to use this advance to curb diseases like malaria by destroying the problem at its stem itself

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Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes to combat Zika Virus. Image Courtesy: Getty Images
  • Study shows that genes of an entire species can be modified 
  • This discovery was used in making malaria in Brazil that are resistant to Zika Virus
  • Few scientists are worried bioterrorists will cause havoc if this technology reaches their hands

Valentino Gantz, a graduate student, was recently successful in changing the genetic modelling of brown fruit flies in such a way they their offspring all turned out to be blonde. This discovery proved to be a milestone in the way genetics is understood by scientists. The changes that are made in the genes have the possibility of being passed on to newer generations. Fruit flies were used in particular since their biological settings help biologists study pathogens that cause human diseases.

“I believe it’s going to transform the world of genetics,” Biologist Ethan Bier says, “because it’s going to allow researchers to bypass the rules of genetics in many different spheres of activity.” Ethan Bier runs a laboratory at the University of California, San Diego.

What Gantz demonstrated was a new technique that could make that happen almost every time. Scientists call it a “gene drive.”

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A Brown Fruit Fly. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Gene drive is a breakthrough discovery by a panel of influential scientists of  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report that the panel came up with greatly appreciated the efforts that were put in to obtain these results. This means that, if done right, most of the major viruses that claim human lives today can be eradicated. An example is the use of genetically influenced mosquitoes that were released in Brazil to combat the vicious Zika virus.

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However, there’s a long way to go before scientists can start using this information in today’s genetics. There is a very high possibility of mistakes at the molecular level, which will have exponential effects. Scientists cannot afford to disturb the delicate balance that exists in the ecosystems.

According to an independent report, “It’s possible that a particular altered trait could cause unexpected and possibly harmful side-effects on other organisms when spread through a particular species using a drive. The risks will primarily depend on the alteration and species rather than on the drive itself. This is why proposed gene drive must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis – it’s all about the trait, species and ecosystem in question.”

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Academics of Sciences, Engineering and Medicines. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists who work in the field of genetics have been able to make changes in the gene for decades, but what is exciting about this new discovery is that now, a change in an organism can be quickly passed on to the next generation, and eventually an entire species. This is achieved by creating a change in the sequence of the DNA molecule itself.

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Scientists are looking for ways to use this advance to curb diseases like malaria by destroying the problem at its stem itself. Mosquitoes are being genetically modified so that they can no longer carry the parasite.

Anthony James of the University of California, Irvine, one of the scientists who created the mosquitoes that can block malaria, lauded the report for providing a calculated framework while performing the research. “I think it’s actually fair and balanced and well done,” James says. “I think they did a really good job.”

However, there are experts who fear if this technology is placed in the wrong hands, it can be used by bioterrorists to create large scale havoc. Not only will it destroy ecosystems, but also allow evolution of new diseases and spread the reach of existing diseases to new areas.

-by Saurabh Bodas, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @saurabhbodas96

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California Becomes the first US State to allow Gender-neutral Birth Certificates

The so-called "nonbinary" gender means not exclusively male or female or a combination of two or more "genders."

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The law, published on the government official website, also made it easier for people to change their gender identity on official documents. Pixabay

California, October 17, 2017 : California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a state senate bill, allowing a gender-neutral marker on birth certificates and driver’s licenses starting from 2019.

California thus became the first state in the US to allow a “nonbinary” gender to be marked on birth certificates, Xinhua news agency reported.

The so-called “nonbinary” gender means not exclusively male or female or a combination of two or more “genders.”

According to the Gender Recognition Act approved on Sunday, California will offer a gender-neutral option on state documents for those who are transgender, intersex and others who are not identified as male or female.

ALSO READ Finding their place in the world; Oxford Dictionary to include honorific Mx for transgenders

The law, published on the government official website, also made it easier for people to change their gender identity on official documents.

“Existing law authorises a person who was born in this state and who has undergone clinically appropriate treatment for the purpose of gender transition to obtain a new birth certificate from the State Registrar,” the bill read.

The Golden State is now also the second state in the US to allow residents to be identified by a gender marker other than “F” or “M” on their driver’s license.

Oregon and the District of Columbia had earlier issued the gender-neutral option on their driver’s licenses.

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Apple Has Shut Down Iranian Mobile Apps: Iran Media Report

Apple is not officially in Iran or any other Persian Gulf countries, but many Iranians purchase its products from stores inside Iran

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An Iranian woman tries out an iPhone in an electronics shop selling Apple products in Tehran, Iran. VOA
  • Apple Inc. has removed all Iranian mobile apps from its App Store
  • Telecommunication Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said Apple should respect its Iranian consumers
  • Giving respect to consumer rights is a principle today which Apple has not followed

Tehran, August 26, 2017: Iranian media is reporting that Apple Inc. has removed all Iranian mobile apps from its App Store.

In reaction to the decision, Telecommunication Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said Apple should respect its Iranian consumers. He also sent out this tweet:

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also Read: How Iran protects itself from the Islamic State (ISIS) Terrorist Attacks? Read it here!

Jahromi tweeted: “11 percent of Iran’s mobile phone market share is owned by Apple. Giving respect to consumer rights is a principle today which Apple has not followed. We will follow up the cutting of the apps legally.”

Apple is not officially in Iran or any other Persian Gulf countries, but many Iranians purchase its products from stores inside Iran. (VOA)

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Cambodian Girls compete in a Mobile App Competition, Pushes Boundaries for Women in Technology

Cambodian girl coders achieve recognition at a Global Competition

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The five Cambodian girls of the app team Cambodia Identity Product, right, stand next to other coders from India and Hong Kong, at Technovation Challenge World Pitch Summit competition at Google headquarters
The five Cambodian girls of the app team Cambodia Identity Product, right, stand next to other coders from India and Hong Kong, at Technovation Challenge World Pitch Summit competition at Google headquarters. VOA
  • We want to increase employment for Cambodians
  • In Cambodia, just 14 percent of students in information technology were women

A group of Cambodian girls who recently traveled to California to compete in a mobile app competition offered inspiration for other girls worldwide to consider careers in technology.

Their pitch in Silicon Valley wasn’t a bid to be the next billion-dollar company. Instead, they want to help their country with a mobile phone application to address poverty.

“Let’s fight poverty by using our app. Don’t find customers for your product, find products for your customers,” said Lorn Dara Soucheng, 12, who led the team that created the app, Cambodian Identity Product.

“We want to increase employment for Cambodians, so there will be a reduction of Cambodian migrants to work in other countries, reducing poverty through making income and providing charity to local Cambodians,” Chea Sopheata, 11, told the judges at Google’s headquarters. Google was one of the program’s sponsors.

To participate in the Aug. 7-11 Technovation global competition, girls around the world had to build a mobile app — and a business plan — that addressed a U.N. development goal. The Cambodian girls picked poverty.

While globalization has boosted the economic growth of Cambodia, especially its tourism industry, it has also created greater economic inequality and competition. The girls think their app can help.

“We want to promote our culture to people from all over the world,” said Lorn Dara Soucheng.

At their young age, no one expects these girls to be able to solve their country’s most pressing issues quite yet. But their presence here highlighted another issue: girls in tech fields.

In the U.S. and worldwide, the number of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) remains low and has even dropped.

In Cambodia, just 14 percent of students in information technology were women as of 2010. It’s a situation some attribute to a lack of equal access to education and a lack of female role models.

It’s hoped that programs like Technovation can reverse that trend.

“For the first time in history, technology can really help girls have a strong voice and help us have a society that has equality,” said Tara Chklovski, founder, and CEO of Iridescent, the nonprofit organization behind Technovation.

These young Cambodian girls have proved how far they can go with technology. Most come from underprivileged backgrounds but had support from teachers, mentors, and family.

Cambodian American Pauline Seng, a program manager at Google, said the young coders have become role models for many other Cambodians, including herself. She didn’t get into technology until she was 23.

“There’s going to be so many people who aspire to reach this stage and also inspire other people to get involved in technology,” she said.

Although the Cambodian girls did not win the grand prize, which went to a team from Hong Kong, they were proud to have made it to Google and Silicon Valley.

After watching the male CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, speaking at the closing ceremony, the girls said they believed the tech giant would one day have a female leader.

“Yes!” they said, in unison.

Whether that will come true or not, they have themselves already become the youngest role models to inspire others, one girl at a time. (VOA)