Gene-editing is Science mag’s breakthrough of 2015

Gene-editing is Science mag's breakthrough of 2015
A gene-editing technique known as CRISPR was named by the influential US journal Science as 2015’s breakthrough of the year

A gene-editing technique known as CRISPR was named Thursday by the influential US journal Science as 2015’s breakthrough of the year, due to its potential to revolutionize health and medicine.

The method has stirred controversy, particularly after Chinese researchers earlier this year announced they had deliberately edited the DNA of nonviable human embryos from a .

Concerns over such research—and the prospect of altering humans to promote certain, desirable traits—recently prompted global scientists to urge researchers to steer clear of interfering with embryos destined for pregnancy, citing the risks of introducing permanent changes into the population.

But many are excited about the “superior ability of CRISPR to deliver a gene to the right spot compared to its genome editing competitors -– as well as the technique’s low cost and ease of use,” said the journal Science.

“Clinical researchers are already applying it to create tissue-based treatments for cancer and other diseases,” wrote managing news editor John Travis.

“CRISPR may also revive the moribund concept of transplanting animal organs into people.”

Thousands of labs, and scientists have already begun exploiting the three-year old technique, he said.

“It’s only slightly hyperbolic to say that if scientists can dream of a genetic manipulation, CRISPR can now make it happen,” said Travis.

The technique, first announced in 2012, experienced a “massive growth spurt last year,” Travis said, describing it as a “molecular marvel.”

Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, said in an accompanying editorial that “in two ‘ time CRISPR will have brought to many diverse fields in biology the enduring level of excitement and optimism that immunotherapy has brought to cancer patients.”

Immunotherapy, a host of techniques which harness the body’s immune cells to fight cancer, was named Science’s breakthrough of 2013.

But the lay public was less enthusiastic about CRISPR, according to online visitors who voted on the top 10 picks of the year on Science’s website.

To 35 percent of voters, the flyby of Pluto by an unmanned NASA probe called New Horizons was the top breakthrough of the year, offering views in unprecedented detail of the distant dwarf planet.

CRISPR followed with 20 percent of online votes.

The ‘Super Condom’: Pleasure-enhancing and HIV-proof

A new hydrogel-based condom that contains antioxidants has been invented by a team of Indian-American scientists at the Texas A&M University Health Science Center. And not only does it contain plant-based antioxidants, which kill the HIV-virus in case of condom breakage but it also uses antioxidants to enhance pleasure. Experts say it is the new big player to join the fight against AIDS.


Borophene: Scientists create atomically thin boron

Borophene: Scientists create atomically thin boron
Schematics of distorted B7 cluster. 

A team of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern University and Stony Brook University has, for the first time, created a two-dimensional sheet of boron—a material known as borophene.

Scientists have been interested in for their unique characteristics, particularly involving their electronic properties. Borophene is an unusual material because it shows many metallic properties at the nanoscale even though three-dimensional, or bulk, is nonmetallic and semiconducting.

Because borophene is both metallic and atomically thin, it holds promise for possible applications ranging from electronics to photovoltaics, said Argonne nanoscientist Nathan Guisinger, who led the experiment. “No bulk form of elemental boron has this metal-like behavior,” he said.

The study will be published Dec. 18 by the journal Science.

Like its periodic table neighbor carbon, which appears in nature in forms ranging from humble graphite to precious diamond, boron wears a number of different faces, called allotropes. But that’s where the similarities end. While graphite is composed of stacks of two-dimensional sheets that can be peeled off one at a time, there is no such analogous process for making two-dimensional boron.

“Borophenes are extremely intriguing because they are quite different from previously studied two-dimensional ,” Guisinger said. “And because they don’t appear in nature, the challenge involved designing an experiment to produce them synthetically in our lab.”

Although at least 16 bulk allotropes of boron are known, scientists had never before been able to make a whole sheet, or monolayer, of borophene. “It’s only in the recent past that researchers have been able to make tiny bits of boron at the nanoscale,” said Andrew Mannix, a Northwestern graduate student and first author of the study. “This is a brand new material with exciting properties that we are just beginning to investigate.”

“Boron has a rich and storied history and a very complicated chemistry,” added Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, who helped advise Mannix. “This is something that could have easily not worked, but Andy had the courage and persistence to make it happen.”

One of boron’s most unusual features consists of its atomic configuration at the nanoscale. While other two-dimensional materials look more or less like perfectly smooth and even planes at the nanoscale, borophene looks like corrugated cardboard, buckling up and down depending on how the bind to one another, according to Mannix.

The “ridges” of this cardboard-like structure result in a material phenomenon known as anisotropy, in which a material’s mechanical or electronic properties—like its electrical conductivity—become directionally dependent. “This extreme anisotropy is rare in two-dimensional materials and has not been seen before in a two-dimensional metal,” Mannix said.

Based on theoretical predictions of borophene’s characteristics, the researchers also noticed that it likely has a higher tensile strength than any other known material. Tensile strength refers to the ability of a material to resist breaking when it is pulled apart. “Other two-dimensional materials have been known to have high tensile strength, but this could be the strongest material we’ve found yet,” Guisinger said.

The discovery and synthesis of borophene was aided by computer simulation work led by Stony Brook researchers Xiang-Feng Zhou and Artem Oganov, who is currently affiliated with the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. Oganov and Zhou used advanced simulation methods that showed the formation of the crinkles of the corrugated surface.

“Sometimes experimentalists find a material and they ask us to solve the structure, and sometimes we do predictions first and the experiment validates what we find,” Oganov said. “The two go hand-in-hand, and in this international collaboration we had a bit of both.”

“The connection we have between the institutions allows us to achieve things that we couldn’t do alone,” Hersam added. “We needed to combine scanning tunneling microscopy with X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy to both obtain a view of the surface of the material and verify its atomic-scale thickness and chemical properties.”

As they grew the borophene monolayer, the researchers discovered another advantage within their experimental technique. Unlike previous experiments that used highly toxic gases in the production of nanoscale boron-based materials, this experiment involved a non-toxic technique called electron-beam evaporation, which essentially vaporizes a source material and then condenses a thin film on a substrate—in this case, boron on silver.

“When we did our theoretical work, I had doubts as to the feasibility of obtaining two-dimensional boron because boron likes to form clusters, and ironing it out into two-dimensions I thought would be challenging,” Oganov said. “It turned out that growing on the substrate was key, because the boron and silver turn out not to react with each other.”

Benefits of fluoride continue to be undermined while health risks continue to be underscored

For years, anyone who questioned the safety of fluoride was cast to the lunatic fringe. Recently, however, science has narrowed in on the so-called “benefits” of fluoride with damning results. Now, approximately 97 percent of tap water in Europe is fluoride free, prompting many people to wonder whether it’s time for the U.S. to take a lesson from these countries.

Fluoride has been paraded as an effective way to keep tooth decay at bay. However, whatever benefits might be attached to fluoride are overshadowed by its risks. A growing number of studies suggest that regularly consuming fluoridated water can impair neurological development and thyroid function.

For instance, Dr. Steven Peckham of the University of Kent oversaw an observational study earlier this year, which found a possible link between fluoridated water and an under-active thyroid, otherwise known as hypothyroidism.(1)


In addition, Dr. Philippe Grandjean, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, oversaw a study which found a correlation between fluoridated water consumption and lower I.Q. His study conducted a meta-analysis reviewing more than 20 other studies, which compared Chinese children exposed to various levels of fluoridated water. According to Grandjean, the difference in performance among these children was seven IQ points.(1)

Fluoride occurs naturally in water. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that adding small amounts of fluoride to public drinking water can help thwart tooth decay. It’s been in practice since the 1940s, and is still in practice in 29 of the country’s largest 30 cities. According to Dr. David W. Tanton, author of Antidepressants, Antipsychotics, And Stimulants – Dangerous Drugs on Trial:

“Epidemiology research in the mid-1970s by the late Dr. Dean Bur, head of the cytochemistry division of the National Cancer Institute, indicated that 10,000 or more fluoridation-linked cancer deaths occur yearly in the United States. In 1989, the ability of fluoride to transfer normal cells into cancer cells was confirmed by Argonne National Laboratories.”(2)

“Fluoride even at dosages of 1 part per million, found in artificially fluoridated water, can inhibit enzyme systems, damage the immune system, contribute to calcification of soft tissues, worsen arthritis and, of course, cause dental fluorosis in children.”(2)


Although the fluoridation of water has been widely practiced for decades, the scientific consensus about its so-called benefits is beginning to sway. According to the Cochrane Collaboration, a network of scientists who analyze data to aid public health, the evidence in favor of fluoridated water is muddy. The organization could only find three studies since 1975 that established a credible link between water fluoridation and cavity prevention.

“Their main conclusions were that there was no evidence to suggest that it reduced inequalities in dental health, that there was no evidence to support that it had a positive effect on adult teeth, and that there was no evidence to suggest that if you stopped water fluoridation, levels of decay would increase,” according to Peckham.(1)

Peckham concludes that we don’t know enough about fluoride. “It’s surprising that there hasn’t been a lot of really good-quality research looking at the effects of water fluoridation. If you were to put water fluoridation up now as an intervention, which was to be started, I suspect that on both scientific and ethical grounds, it would not be introduced.” Since we don’t know enough about the health risks and benefits attached to fluoride, why on earth are we putting it in the water?(1)

As the so-called benefits of fluoride continue to be undermined, its many risks continue to be underscored. For the sake of your physical and mental health, don’t swallow the fluoride myth.

Science Finally Explains How Cannabis Kills Cancer Cells And it’s amazing

Only recently we had published an article explaining how scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) have found cannabis to be a potential killer of cancer cells. You can read the article here.

On that note, we’re going to talk about a scientific explanation that supports the NIH claim: “cannabis and cannabinoids may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer therapies.”

A molecular biologist, Dr Christina Sanchez, at the Compultense University in Madrid (Spain) spells out the exact mechanism at work, wherein the THC – “the main psychoactive constitute of the cannabis plant” – completely destroys the cancer cells.

Lab testing of cannabis

Cannabinoids is a group of compounds that comprise cannabinol and the active components of cannabis. These bring the cannabinoid receptors in our body alive. Dr Sanchez explains how our body itself produces endocannabinoids that activate various processes within, “creating a healthy environment”. According to her, it’s important to note that cannabis has the potential to kill anything cancerous, without giving birth to any psychoactive effects.

Cannabis kills cancer cells

Because cannabinoids aid towards strengthening the immune system, these have proven instrumental in killing cancer cells. There are instances to prove that cancer patients have registered a health boost by using cannabis as part of their treatment, in a short span of time.

The necessary ingredient, cannabinoid, however can’t be supplied into our systems through smoking. According to Dr Sanches, using the plant works best when it’s eaten or when its oil is extracted. It’s also important to note here that cannabis still has some ground to cover before it can rub shoulders with chemotherapy.