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Biotech Science

Miniaturized DNA Sewing Machines 75

Roland Piquepaille writes "Japanese researchers have found a way to build long threads of DNA using miniaturized hooks and bobbins. In fact, they've demonstrated how to manipulate delicate DNA chains without breaking them. They've designed these laser-directed microdevices to pick up and manipulate individual molecules of DNA. The scientists have used optical tweezers to catch and move these microdevices, which could be used in the future to detect genetic disorders such as Down syndrome." Here's a link to the journal article.
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Miniaturized DNA Sewing Machines

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  • Lasers (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bovius ( 1243040 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:51PM (#24175119)

    Filed under the ever growing folder labeled "It works because of lasers".

  • by quitte ( 1098453 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:54PM (#24175135)

    Down syndrome can be spotted under a microscope. Just count the chromosomes. If you find 3 of the 21. you spotted down syndrome.

    If that is all this new technology can do it's hardly worth mentioning.

    • As far as I know, Down syndrome can go beyond simple trisomy 21; bits of the 21st chromosome may be duplicated. I am not entirely sure in how far this is detectable with a microscope, and would be an (admittedly rare) possible implementation of the procedure. However, it is far more likely that the author used Down syndrome as a placeholder genetic disease, without giving it too much thought.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by philspear ( 1142299 )

      It's not all it can do. I didn't do an in-depth read, but it seems like for one thing this technique could be an extremely handy way to test chromesomal stability as affected by nucleotide sequence, chromatin structure, histones and modifications, etc.

      Chromesomal instability could be a major cause of cancer. Nearly all cancerous cells have an abnormal number of chromesomes. It's not too hard to imagine that if you break part of your chromesome corresponding to the centromere and that cell divides, one of

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't even need a microscope, just look at the person. Down's is easy to spot.

      Determining if a sequence is present is simply a PCR reaction.

      Knowing where the sequence is either standard FISH, FISH on stretched chromatin fibers, or using a PNA padlock probe as an anchor for a rolling circle amplification.

      The tools could be cool, but how they are selling it tells me they developed it in vacuum of a need for it.

  • Slippery Slope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by negRo_slim ( 636783 ) <mils_orgen@hotmail.com> on Sunday July 13, 2008 @03:54PM (#24175137) Homepage

    which could be used in the future to detect genetic disorders such as Down's syndrome.

    But doesn't that in turn just open up a whole 'nother can of worms? There are people out there opposed to such screening, especially parents of children with downs syndrome... This article [woodrow.org] seems to put it in a good perspective.

    I'm all for using the tools we have created to better our lot but at some point we might be screening for gentic markers that effect personality and help to create the individual. Just as no one is wise enough (IMHO) to take another's life for any reason, I don't think we are wise enough to be scanning our dna for anything but the most flagrant of errors. The kind of problems that wouldn't allow such a person to live a normal and fufilling life... Instead we move one step closer to designer children.

    Today it's Downs Syndrome free, tomarrow it's, "Can I get a medium #1 with blond hair blue eyes, here's 1 egg and a table spoon of semen" "Thank you, your order number is 42".

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Technology doesn't force you to use it. If you don't think you are wise enough to do so, don't.

      On the other hand, other people may want to do this, even if it is probably a mistake. Of course, that's their decision. They probably don't care what you have to say about it.

      • No one is forced to use it, but things like genetic screening will be used by parents who must protect their little snowflakes at all costs. Which is sad because what may cause you to abort today might be easily treatable tomorrow. Just check out the strides we're making with autism [io9.com].
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You seem to have a view that I don't agree with. It is the "Mother's love is greater than anything" view and means that no matter how crippled, twisted or hard to take care of a child is, parents will always love them just as much. In real life, that doesn't always hold true.

          There are parents that would be perfectly capable of taking care of a child but when child hs genetic disorders, becomes crippled at birth, might never be able to play basketball with his dad or even talk with his parents, it changes th

    • Re:Slippery Slope (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak@yaGIRAFFEhoo.com minus herbivore> on Sunday July 13, 2008 @04:21PM (#24175287) Homepage Journal
      I'll agree. Many mutations have advantages as well as disadvantages, including the mutation known as "the average joe" - who is probably more disadvantaged than anyone else. In the same way that coders often use the maxim of "speed, size and simplicity - pick any two", the same is likely true of many of the variants found in human DNA. I would be extremely wary of allowing insurance agencies, jobs, or "social norms" to decide which variants were acceptable and which needed to be fixed.

      (Many aspies hate and revile organizations who consider them to be lesser beings who should be "cured", whether we want it or not. Yes, some do advocate cures against the will of the one being "cured". I think such organizations and such attitudes are an abomination and far more in need of "curing" than Asperger's or Autism.)

      Do we want human evolution - which has actually been accelerating over the past 10,000 years - to come to a complete stop? Are we willing to face the only possible consequence of such an event (extinction)? Are the fragile egos of a few corporate executives worth that much to us, as a species? The variation in human DNA is very close to the difference between the reference DNA of humans and the reference DNA of chimps. (The absolute percentage is of no consequence, if the variation means there is a potential of overlap, and I'm not interested here in whether such overlap exists or is merely approached.) If we start "fixing" DNA, how much of that variation do we condemn to oblivion? And can we be oh so amazingly certain that the variants we so condemn aren't exactly the variants we need?

      (Think Black Death. The mutation that increased resistance to Bubonic Plague decreased resistance to other diseases that are now proving fatal today, such as Ebola and Marburg. Those most likely to survive the modern killers are least likely to survive those diseases we can now cure by other means. The "reference" DNA is now the broken copy, the unpatched version has better survival odds. But those obsessed with "fixing" those of us who are "broken" would have it the other way round. You MUST apply the patch, or suffer serious social consequences, even if it means you are at greater risk of dying or being a contributor to the death of many. Conformism is bloody dangerous and should be outlawed.)

      • Re:Slippery Slope (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @06:39PM (#24176181)
        You, sir, are being extremely short-sighted. Diversity will hardly register as a concern when we get good at it. In the short term, many people will want the "perfect" baby. In the long run, why not eyes that can see at night? Why not muscles that are strong even without much exercise? How about a retractable third arm? Mock if you will, but we are going down that road. If we can understand what each part of the DNA does(getting there), and if we can make DNA (we can) then we can make improvements.I'm not judging whether its a good or bad thing. Don't discount this because it seems far-fetched. Its coming and we had best be ready.
      • I'll agree. Many mutations have advantages as well as disadvantages,
        including the mutation known as "the average joe" - who is probably
        more disadvantaged than anyone else. In the same way that coders often
        use the maxim of "speed, size and simplicity - pick any two", the same
        is likely true of many of the variants found in human DNA. I would be
        extremely wary of allowing insurance agencies, jobs, or "social norms"
        to decide which variants were acceptable and which needed to be fixed.

        (Many aspies hate and revile organizations who consider them to be
        lesser beings who should be "cured", whether we want it or not. Yes,
        some do advocate cures against the will of the one being "cured". I
        think such organizations and such attitudes are an abomination and far
        more in need of "curing" than Asperger's or Autism.)

        I agree.

        When it comes to "curing" autism, we need to be very careful. Just
        because autistic behaviour is different from that of the majority
        doesn't make it "wrong" or undesirable. Just because someone doesn't
        make eye contact, or flaps his/her hands in an "odd" way, doesn't mean
        he/she needs to be "fixed". Of course, those on the autism spectrum
        with impaired mental ability will probably have a difficult time
        achieving a high quality of life, but especially those with (above)
        average intelligence, can live pro

    • Re:Slippery Slope (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wild_quinine ( 998562 ) on Sunday July 13, 2008 @04:22PM (#24175299) Homepage

      There are people out there opposed to such screening, especially parents of children with downs syndrome...

      ... who it is likely cannot seperate their love of their own children from the fact that Downs Syndrome is bloody undesirable.

      Nobody is advocating killing their twelve year old kid with lasers.

      I don't think that the right of an unborn fetus to life trumps the rights of a parent to have a life.

      I have a great deal of respect for parents who have brought up children with Downs Syndrome, because it is hard, and thankless, and the amount of patience, time, energy and love that you have to put in is a burden many folks simply could not bear.

      If science can give me a choice, that cross will not be mine to carry.

      • Re:Slippery Slope (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Xzzy ( 111297 ) <.sether. .at. .tru7h.org.> on Sunday July 13, 2008 @04:51PM (#24175489) Homepage

        As someone who's had to live with a bum set of genes for all of his life, I fully support genetic screening if the parents desire it.

        Way I see it, the "we shouldn't play god!" argument breaks down really fast when the end result is a child who has to suffer a diminished quality of life. I couldn't imagine a more cruel thing to do than let myself reproduce and force a child to live with a disease that I was fully aware they could inherit.

        Give me a test to filter out embryos that have asthma, down's, diabetes, migraines, or whatever defect you can name, and I'd do it in a second.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Joe Tie. ( 567096 )
      The slippery slope argument is listed as a logical fallacy for a reason.
      • by nfk ( 570056 )
        Isn't it convenient though, to title your argument with the name of the fallacy you are defending? It would be great if politicians did the same; "Now I'm going to beg the question. Blah blah blah blah. Then I shall engage in shameless ad hominem attacks. Blah blah blah. And now listen as I deliver this delightful non sequitur to destroy the straw man I previously created. Blah blah."
    • Designer children WILL happen. There's a lot of countries and at least one of them will be willing to allow people to perform the procedure and some people will come (back) to the US after getting their designer babies from [Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, Norway, wherever] implanted into their womb. When it happens it's going to further the divide between the haves and the have nots by another step (past education, nurture, resources, social networks, and natural gene advantages).

      So we have a choice: We can

    • by Klowner ( 145731 )
      That reminds me, I haven't seen Gattaca [imdb.com] in quite some time. I'd definitely recommend it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      What is it about total random chance that makes it a superior mechanism for choosing the genetic component of a baby's personality, intelligence, or what have you?

      • Survival of the fittest.

        Sometimes humans tend to make the dumbest decisions. What we don't want is cultural fads being imprinted in the genes we leave for posterity. After all, do you really want all these fads translated into messing with genes: obsession with small feet/footbinding in ancient China, clitoral and labial mutilation in some African countries, popularity of anaemic women in Victorian England, preference for physical appearance over intelligence in most modern day contries (esp. for women), ob

        • Natural selection in humans is pretty much out the window already. I don't see any correlation between how successful someone is in our society and how widely their genes are propagated, if anything there could well be an inverse relationship between success (in terms of education, money, etc) and number of children produced.

        • How about the decision to make 8% of the male population color blind, give 0.1% of all babies Down syndrome, make 1 in 4000 babies partially or fully deaf at birth, and give 4% of west Africans sickle-cell anemia?

          Natural selection is a dreadful way to choose genetic traits. It is slow, inexact, error-prone, and uncaring. Natural selection will condemn a significant proportion of a population to a short, miserable existence due to a genetic accident which gives other people resistance to a curable disease wh

        • obsession with redheads/gingers in Israel (skin cancer central)

          That is completely and utterly retarded. I would dare call it the stupidest thing I've ever seen my people collectively do.

          I mean, seriously? Gingerism? In a hot-desert country?! We don't even have the genes for gingerism; you need Scottish or Irish blood for that!

          God damn it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Just as no one is wise enough (IMHO) to take another's life for any reason, I don't think we are wise enough to be scanning our dna for anything but the most flagrant of errors.

      Institutionalized health care will disagree with you on that. If we stay with private health insurance or if we switch to nationalized health care, it doesn't matter. As the ability to "optimize" a zygote becomes a reality, that tool will at first be only used in extreme cases, then later by request, and eventually it will be requ
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But doesn't that in turn just open up a whole 'nother can of worms?

      Yes. Go fishing.

      There are people out there opposed to such screening

      There are people opposed to saving life with blood transfusion. There are people opposed to teaching women to read. There are people opposed to your continued existence because you do not worship their god.

      a normal and fufilling life

      Do you have any idea what passes for a "normal" life for much of the 6.7 billion people existing right now this moment? Please do not use that c

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ErikZ ( 55491 ) *

      Today it's Downs Syndrome free, tomarrow it's, "Can I get a medium #1 with blond hair blue eyes, here's 1 egg and a table spoon of semen" "Thank you, your order number is 42".

      What's wrong with that? Are we on the slippery slope to...healthy, good looking children? Oh noes! The horror!

    • "The kind of problems that wouldn't allow such a person to live a normal and fufilling life... Instead we move one step closer to designer children."

      Custom humans are an eventuality. The choices we make will vary, but given the results of normal breeding I'd be hard pressed to say designer offspring are necessarily a bad idea. We "design" offspring by our choice of mates. but more granular control is not an unreasonable goal.

    • Imagine; MS, (Multiple Sclerosis), treated as an Out Patient Therapy? Diabetes, and Obesity treated like a scratch. All because DNA/RNA problems are mechanically curable. I do not know of any form of Death more hideous than that of Malignant Melanoma, but if a device could created that would create a therapy using the victims own Immune System to cure itself of problems like Cancer, that would be an invention worthy of mass producing.

    • Today it's Downs Syndrome free, tomarrow it's, "Can I get a medium #1 with blond hair blue eyes, here's 1 egg and a table spoon of semen" "Thank you, your order number is 42".

      I think we're confusing tech with politic/ethic here...
      I mean... all it takes is a law that says "use only to prevent physical illness" or similar...
      ok, other countries won't have it, but waiting will make them come up with the tech sooner or later.
      so... isn't this kind of pointless? yeah, it will require much more control and things, but i can't understand why you're washing your hands out of this.

    • Once we have that level of control, we will eliminate tooth decay and put nearly all the dentists out of work. Apparently susceptibility to dental caries is a genetic defect!

      Coroners occasionally find elderly corpses have incongruously perfect teeth. Supposedly, in a very small percentage of humans, the tiny tubes in the tooth continually transfer dentin to the surface to prevent enamel wear. Additionally (and more commonly) some persons have antibodies in their saliva that destroy tooth decay organisms.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The a great frontier seems to be biological engineering in this manner. Tools like this seem to be putting the ground work down for the ability to program biology like a computer.

    A recent interesting talk on the new field can be viewed here:
    http://norfolk.cs.washington.edu/htbin-post/unrestricted/colloq/details.cgi?id=677

    Exciting stuff! I can't wait for the api.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Shark-directed laser micro devices.

    Here it is, fixed for you.

  • Ahh, but do they have a T-Rex?

  • multipass (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So can we create the girl from 5th element now!

  • The technology will also be useful for a number of other applications including DNA sequencing and molecular electronics, he adds.

    So I'll get a PC eventually that I feed some bawls to so it runs for a day, and when I wanna upgrade it I just run some little laser program to tweak the graphics chips on it to the latest and greatest DNA available. Please say it is true. Only downside, it would probably eat all my CDs and DVDs...

  • ...who thought up as many "genes made like jeans" jokes as possible when they saw sewing mentioned?
  • I'm soo bookmarking this thread for the day they say they have DNA evidence against me.
  • Whatever is determined by genes (rather than upbringing) may become changeable — if not with the ease, with which we change clothes today, but, rather, more like we go about custom-tailored suits.

    For example, our epidermis is replaced fully every several weeks. With a small gene-change we'll be able to change the skin color to match the "vogue" of the season, an occasion (black skin will contrast sooo nicely with my wedding dress!), or a personal style. Same goes for hair-color...

    Deeper bodily-cha

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