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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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genetics
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.”

genetics
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.”

genetics
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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Google To Provide 4K Chromebooks, 1 Lakh Wi-fi Hotspots For Rural Students in California

The search engine giant has announced to provide over $800 million to support small and medium businesses (SMBs), health organisations, governments and health workers on the frontline of global COVID-19 pandemic

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Google
The search engine giant has announced to provide over $800 million to support small and medium businesses (SMBs), health organisations, governments and health workers on the frontline of global COVID-19 pandemic. Pixabay

Google has announced to provide 4,000 Chromebooks and 1,00,000 Wi-Fi hotspots for rural students in California, who are studying from home due to coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative was announced by California Governor Gavin Newsom and Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday. “We are providing 4,000 Chromebooks to California students in greatest need & free wifi to 1,00,000 rural households during the #COVID19 crisis to make distance learning more accessible,” Pichai tweeted.

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Governor Newsom said the state’s Department of Education will distribute the Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots, prioritising rural communities.

However, the governor estimated that California needs an additional 1,62,013 hotspots on top of the 1,00,000 hotspots and to meet the need the governor has asked other companies to donate.

Google
The initiative was announced by California Governor Gavin Newsom and Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Wikimedia Commons

The search engine giant has announced to provide over $800 million to support small and medium businesses (SMBs), health organisations, governments and health workers on the frontline of global COVID-19 pandemic.

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The commitment would include $250 million in ad grants to help the World Health Organisation (WHO) and more than 100 government agencies globally provide critical information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other measures to help local communities. (IANS)

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Tesla To Close its California Plant Due To Coronavirus Outbreak

Musk has recently shown select signs that he was starting to take the global pandemic more seriously

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Tesla
Tesla CEO Elon Musk had come under widespread criticism from government officials, industry watchdogs and many consumers for attempting to keep production humming in the face of Alameda county's COVID-19-induced "shelter in place" order, CNET reported on Friday. Wikimedia Commons

Tesla has announced that it will close its Fremont, California, factory on March 23 in acknowledgement of the coronavirus crisis.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk had come under widespread criticism from government officials, industry watchdogs and many consumers for attempting to keep production humming in the face of Alameda county’s COVID-19-induced “shelter in place” order, CNET reported on Friday.

On Tuesday it was initially reported that Tesla wouldn’t be subjected to the shelter-in-place order designed but the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department shortly thereafter issued a statement proclaiming Tesla “is not an essential business as defined in the Alameda County Health Order. Tesla can maintain minimum basic operations per the Alameda County Health Order”.

Musk has recently shown select signs that he was starting to take the global pandemic more seriously.

Tesla
Tesla has announced that it will close its Fremont, California, factory on March 23 in acknowledgement of the coronavirus crisis. Wikimedia Commons

He has offered to make medical ventilators from its Fremont, California factory for coronavirus sufferers.

Responding to Pakistan’s Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry, a tweet from Musk said the company would make ventilators if there was a shortage.

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The need for additional ventilators has taken center stage in the ongoing fight against the spread of coronavirus and the ventilator has become a critical first line of defense for patients infected by the virus. (IANS)

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Coronavirus Outbreak May impact Electric Car-Maker Tesla’s California Factory

Musk earlier underplayed the coronavirus scare

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Tesla
Tesla's human resources head Valerie Workman reportedly wrote an email to employees, saying Tesla could be exempted from the order to close as its operations might come under "essential business" category. Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Bay Area’s new coronavirus shelter-in-place order that requires all “non-essential businesses” shut down for three weeks will also impact Elon Musk-led electric carmaker Tesla’s California factory, according to county officials and the local sheriff’s office.

The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office tweeted late Tuesday that Tesla is “not an essential business as defined in the Alameda County Health Order,” and said “Tesla can maintain minimum basic operations” per the order, The Verge reported.

“Minimum Basic Operations” are defined by the order as “(t)he minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions,” and “(t)he minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.”

The clarification came after Tesla kept its factory open on Tuesday, the first day that the new guidance issued with an intention to contain the spread of coronavirus came in place. Leaders of six counties in the Bay Area issued the shelter-in-place order on Monday.

The order requires people to stay at home unless they need to venture out for “essential activities” like buying food. It also asked “non-essential businesses” to shut down.

Tesla’s human resources head Valerie Workman reportedly wrote an email to employees, saying Tesla could be exempted from the order to close as its operations might come under “essential business” category.

Tesla
San Francisco Bay Area’s new coronavirus shelter-in-place order that requires all “non-essential businesses” shut down for three weeks will also impact Elon Musk-led electric carmaker Tesla’s California factory, according to county officials and the local sheriff’s office. Wikimedia Commons

Musk earlier underplayed the coronavirus scare. After calling coronavirus panic dumb and mind-killer on Twitter, Musk wrote an email to employees in Bay Area, saying “coronavirus panic is worse than virus itself”.

“First, I’d like to be super clear that if you feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable, please don’t feel obligated to come to work. I will personally be at work, but that is just me. Totally ok if you want to stay home for any reason,” he said in the email seen by electrek.co.

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“A lot of rumours are flying around, but, to the best of our knowledge, no one at Tesla (over 56,000 people) has tested positive for COVID-19. I will inform you immediately if anything changes,” he added. (IANS)