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Suspicious hidden gene found in coronavirus genome

Suspicious hidden gene found in coronavirus genome 86

Biologists have found a hidden gene in the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that cannot be detected by conventional methods. As it turned out, this gene “turns on” when the virus enters the cell. This could mean that it plays an important role in the spread of the infection.

The discovery is described in a scientific article published in the journal eLife.

Word game with viruses

The hereditary information of some viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, is not stored in DNA, but in RNA. However, the basic principle of its storage does not change from this. The RNA molecule consists of repeating units of four types: adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil. This chain looks like a string written using an alphabet consisting of only four letters: A, G, C, U. (In the case of DNA, everything is the same, only uracil needs to be replaced with thymine).

This line breaks down into words – genes. Each such word is an instruction for the synthesis of a specific protein. Usually genes are separated from each other by “stop, stop synthesis” commands. There are also meaningless sets of letters between genes. One thing is invariable: genes follow one another. The next word will not begin before the previous one ends.

Suspicious hidden gene found in coronavirus genome 87
There is still a lot to be learned for ORF3d. Why it exists, hides in the genome and overlaps other genes.

However, in nature, there are rarely rules without exceptions. Here and in this case there is an exception: the so-called overlapping genes (overlapping genes).

Such genes, as the name suggests, overlap. Part of one of them is at the same time part of the other: which protein will be synthesized depends on the point at which RNA (or DNA) reads start.

Overlapping genes are rare in cellular life forms, but common in viruses. Scientists believe that the fact is that the DNA (or RNA) molecules in viruses are very short. Therefore, evolution has invented a way to use the same part of the molecule in several genes at once.

The difficulty is that conventional genome reading techniques are not suited to detecting overlapping genes. Therefore, they are sometimes called hidden genes.

Surprise from SARS-CoV-2

Now scientists have found such a surprise in the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the culprit of the current pandemic. To do this, the authors of the new study used a proprietary algorithm specifically aimed at identifying overlapping genes. Biologists have named the new gene ORF3d.

Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The recently identified gene, called ORF3d, is an example of what is called overlapping gene: a gene whose expressible nucleotide sequence partially overlaps with the expressible nucleotide sequence of another gene.

In search of this gene, researchers read the genomes of several SARS-CoV-2 related coronaviruses. They found no “novice” in similar bat viruses. But ORF3d was found in the RNA of one of the coronaviruses that infect pangolins. Recall that, according to scientists, this animal could become an intermediate carrier of SARS-CoV-2 between a bat and a person.

Biologists emphasize that they do not yet know what role ORF3d plays in the coronavirus genome.

“We do not know its function and clinical significance”, – the first author of the article, Nelson Chase from the Center for biodiversity research in Taiwan says.

However, scientists have established an important fact. Antibodies to coronavirus, produced by the immunity of people who have been ill, react to a protein encoded by the ORF3d gene. This means that this protein is produced when the virus is in charge of the cell.

It is possible that this gene plays an important role in the spread of the virus. After all, there are only about 15 genes in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, so each of them can be very “loaded” with important functions.

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Science & Technology

The European Space Agency has released a game about the settlement of Mars

The European Space Agency has released a game about the settlement of Mars 88

The European Space Agency, together with the British company Auroch Digital, released the game Mars Horizon. This is a simulator of the colonization of Mars.

In Mars Horizon, players will have to manage scientific activities, processes in the colony and, of course, finances. You will need to complete missions to make money before sending your astronauts to Mars. The agency directors, who will play the role of the players, will have to fight other large space agencies that pursue the same goals – sending colonists to Mars.

During missions, players are faced with intense turn-based gameplay and each step determines their success or failure. Each individual decision is critical – will you waste time repairing a faulty antenna? How about saving energy in the event of a fuel leak? Maybe if you decide to delay the dispatch of the mission by three months, it will prevent a disaster?

Auroch Digital has created Mars Horizon in collaboration with ESA. The developers consulted with the agency’s staff, including members of the ExoMars mission. ESA provided technical assistance to game developers, provided gameplay advice and tested the game. The developers were given the opportunity to try to manage space projects at the agency’s facilities themselves.

Today you can install the game on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation4 and Nintendo Switch. In the future, the developers want to create special educational versions of the game and put them in schools to show how such large international projects as the colonization of Mars are actually carried out.

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What’s in store for us in the next decade?

What's in store for us in the next decade? 89

About 70 thousand years ago, Homo Sapiens was an insignificant animal living somewhere on the African continent. But in the millennia that followed, the Sapiens became the rulers of the planet: we subdued the environment, increased food production, built cities and connected them with trade networks. 

But our achievements, no matter how beautiful they look from the outside, have a downside, because our civilization has endangered more than one million species of animals and plants, and the rapid climate change (also the work of man) brings catastrophic consequences every year. But if other, now non-existing civilizations dominated the planet before us, does this mean that we are rapidly approaching sunset? Nobody knows the exact answers to these questions, but let’s try to figure it out.

Great civilizations of the past

Humans have been around for several hundred thousand years, but until the last 7,000 years, we roamed the earth in small groups, hunting, gathering edible plants and fearing threats from other people, animals and weather. Everything changed after the development of tools, weapons and fire, and the first major step towards civilization was the domestication of animals for food, clothing, transportation and communication.

As William R. Nester writes in his work entitled “The Rise and Fall of Civilizations” , plant domestication followed, with small groups settling in river valleys, planting and harvesting. Over the centuries, some of these settlements have developed into complex civilizations that include most or all of the following components:

  • cattle breeding and agriculture; complex, hierarchical political, social, economic, military, and religious institutions, each with a division of labor;
  • the use of metals, wheels and writing; clearly defined territories;
  • trade with other people.

The first “civilization” is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia around 5000 BC. BC, and over the next 6,500 years or so, great civilizations grew and appeared elsewhere, expanded their rule, and then perished for a variety of interconnected political, technological, economic, military, and environmental causes.

What's in store for us in the next decade? 90
Roman civilization originated around the sixth century BC. 
At the height of its power, the Roman Empire ruled over a vast tract of land, and all modern Mediterranean countries were part of ancient Rome.

Roman civilization originated around the sixth century BC. At the height of its power, the Roman Empire ruled over a vast tract of land, and all modern Mediterranean countries were part of ancient Rome.

Recently, scientists have finally solved the mystery of the death of the Mayan civilization – one of the brightest civilizations in the history of mankind, the dawn of which came approximately in the III-IX centuries. As the results of several scientific studies have shown, among the reasons for the death of the Maya, researchers single out several factors at once – droughts, wars, food shortages, etc.

Where is our civilization heading?

According to the data obtained using the ESCIMO computer model, we have just passed the “point of no return” – the moment when humanity could prevent the most severe consequences of rapid climate change. In a paper published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the researchers write the following:

“Even if all emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere are reduced to zero right now, this will not stop the rise in global temperatures.”

And yet, despite this disturbing news, let’s hope that we will meet 2030 and all the decades to come, caring for the environment and looking to the future with optimism. We do not want it, the passage of time is inexorable, and with it the changes in all areas of everyday life. Thus, many researchers regard the near future as a time even more technological than ours.

What will our world be like in 10 years?

Fighting fake news

As stated in an article published on the Science Focus portal, technology can lead us to a world where we will not be sure what is real and what is not. At the same time, thanks to technology, we can distinguish fact from fiction, which is especially relevant in the era of fake news and Deepfake.

For example, some AI startups use machine learning algorithms to identify fakes and errors on the Internet. 

“Fake news and social media have eroded trust in traditional media that have failed to adapt to the new reality. Solving the problem of fake news requires rebuilding the news ecosystem and educating people to think critically and to be more responsible on social media,” Michael Bronstein said, co-founder of AI startup Fabula, a professor of computing at Imperial College London. Well, let’s hope this fight against fake news will be successful.

What's in store for us in the next decade? 91
Most likely, by 2030, technology will help us lead a better life, morally and physically healthy. Jobs are also expected to undergo a number of major changes.

Genetic revolution

Today, many researchers have high hopes for the genome-editing CRISPR method, which can treat hereditary diseases or significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. There is even talk of the possibility of reversing the biological aging process. 

But how far can we go in this war on disease? After all, most ailments are caused not by one gene, but by a combination of several genes and environmental factors. Some genes that predispose us to one disease simultaneously protect us from another.

The researchers point out that one of the main challenges today is the costly availability of CRISPR. Moreover, editing the human genome also raises ethical dilemmas – for example, a widely publicized act of a Chinese scientist who used CRISPR-Cas9 technology on unborn babies, for which he is now serving time in prison.

What's in store for us in the next decade? 92
Perhaps over the next 10 years, we will be able to address a number of difficult ethical issues.

However, many scientists hope that in the future, doctors will be allowed to use this technique for the benefit of people, but the “finer details” have yet to be determined. It appears that different cultures will approach ethical issues differently. So in this regard, the future is complex and difficult to predict.

Space revolution

The last time a human foot set foot on the lunar surface was in 1972. Then few could predict that people would not return to Earth’s satellite for another 50 years. As for the latest plans of the world space agencies (both private and public), the plans for the next decade include not only the launch of robotic vehicles, such as the Europa Clipper (scheduled to start in 2021), the James Webb Space Telescope, but also a return to the Moon and human flight to Mars.

In general, speaking about space exploration, we would like to believe that studies of the solar system and the observed Universe in the next 10 years will bring long-awaited news and answers to questions that excite the imagination. 

Technologies of the future from 2020 to 2030

More than 800 experts, economists, businessmen and executives surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) predict the following technologies will be trending. They will make a technological revolution in our world (watch the video below about technologies of the future).

1. AI 2 IoT
3. Blockchain
4. 3D printing
5. Mobile technologies
6. Autonomous cars (transport)
7. Mobile Internet
8 Robotics
9. VR / AR
10. Wireless Power
11. Quantum computing
12. 5G/6G
13. Voice Assistant
14. Cybersecurity
15. Cloud (cloud computing)

Who knows, maybe in 2030 humanity will know for sure that it is not alone in the vastness of the infinite universe. What do you think the world will be like in the near future? 

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Cancer vaccine shown to be safe and effective has entered human trials

Cancer vaccine shown to be safe and effective has entered human trials 93
University of Montreal

A person, like any living creature, can be vaccinated against cancer, although this disease is fundamentally different from viral infections against which vaccines are traditionally used. 

This has been proven by scientists at Ohio University, who developed a methodology for the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors. Animal studies have shown 90% effectiveness of this therapy and complete safety for the body.

Cancer tumors are extremely insidious and have a defense mechanism against the body’s immune system in the form of the signaling protein PD-1. It is present on both healthy and cancerous cells, and is responsible for the friend-or-foe recognition procedure when immune B and T cells approach them. As long as PD-1 proteins in cancer cells and PD-L1 proteins in lymphocytes are working normally, the immune system simply ignores the infection, not seeing it as a target to attack.

The idea of ​​Dr. Pravin Kaumay, the developer of the inhibitors, is to interfere with the identification procedure. For this purpose, special monoclonal antibodies have been developed, which are injected into the body, seek out PD-1 proteins and settle on them, preventing proper contact with PD-L1 proteins. Lymphocytes cannot recognize these cells and automatically start the procedure for destroying them – the immune system itself begins to eradicate cancerous tumors in the body.

More importantly, blocking the signaling system destroys the usual comfortable environment for cancer cells, they are constantly threatened, cannot grow and spread throughout the body. 

This is the beneficial effect of vaccination with inhibitors – this therapy is called PD1-Vaxx. The technology has been thoroughly tested, it uses second-generation inhibitors, which are much more effective. The first human patients have already been recruited in the US and Australia to test PD1-Vaxx.

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