Gut bacteria could accumulate medications + Geneticists to resurrect woolly mammoth

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Human gut bacteria could be accumulating our medications without us realizing

EXCERPTS: In a new study, scientists found that numerous species of bacteria that live in the human gut can interact with and accumulate a number of different types of medicines taken by people, including antidepressants, pain relief, heart medication, and more.

"This calls for us to start treating the microbiome as one of our organs," says one of the study authors, bioinformatician Peer Bork from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Germany.

Scientists already knew that bacteria in the human microbiome had the ability to chemically modify drugs that they come into contact with inside the body – a phenomenon called biotransformation.

But the new research shows that biotransformation isn't the whole side of the story. Experiments in the lab with over 20 species of human gut bacteria exposed to 15 different kinds of human-targeted drugs showed that, most of the time, bacteria ended up unexpectedly accumulating the chemicals without actually modifying them.

[...] The distinction could be important. According to the researchers, bioaccumulated drugs show the potential not only to alter bacterial behavior and metabolic processes, but to affect the distribution and balance of bacterial populations.

In other words, therapeutic drugs don't just affect you – they're likely having unknown effects on the gut microbiome and its overall composition, if these experimental results are indeed replicated in actual human patients, which isn't yet known.

From the sounds of it, though, every individual gut's mileage will vary. [...] A lot more research will be needed to understand just how significant this bacterial accumulation issue really is, and there's no time like the present.

"The next steps for us will be to to take forward this basic molecular research and investigate how an individual's gut bacteria tie with the differing individual responses to drugs such as antidepressants – differences in whether you respond, the drug dose needed, and side effects like weight gain," Patil says. "If we can characterize how people respond depending on the composition of their microbiome, then drug treatments could be individualized." (MORE - missing details)

World's leading geneticists aim to resurrect woolly mammoth

EXCERPTS: . . . The technological breakthrough at the core of the de-extinction movement is CRISPR, a gene-editing tool that has been under development since the turn of the new millennium but has only recently found practical applications. CRISPR is a tool that functions as genetic scissors. It uses a strand of RNA to target a portion of a genome and deploys a protein called Cas-9 to remove that genetic material. As the strand of DNA repairs itself, it can be edited to express new traits that wouldn’t have occurred naturally.

[...] “Previously, technology has been barely used to slow or prevent extinction, but not to reverse it,” says Church. “Using CRISPR for the purpose of de-extinction is a breakthrough, with impacts far-reaching for species diversification efforts.”

[...] One of the earliest Revive & Restore projects focused on bringing back the passenger pigeon, a species of North American bird that once numbered in the billions before being hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. But Church had his sights set on an even bigger project: He wanted to revive a woolly mammoth.

The process of reviving an extinct species is long and complex. The first step is to reconstruct the animal’s genome. This in itself is no easy task. When an animal dies, its DNA begins to break down, which means that any samples collected by scientists will be incomplete. But by piecing together as much of the genomic fragments as possible and comparing the extinct animal’s genome to that of a close genetic relative, it’s possible to get a nearly complete genetic map of the species.

When Church set out to revive the mammoth, scientists had already sequenced some of its genome by sampling mammoth remains that had been preserved in the frozen Siberian tundra. Church then compared the incomplete mammoth genome to the genome from the modern Asian elephant, which shares 99.6% of the mammoth’s DNA. This comparison helped Church and his colleagues at Harvard identify genes that were responsible for many of the mammoth’s key traits such as its cold tolerance, its small ears, and its shaggy fur.

In 2015, Church and a team of scientists at Harvard successfully copied genes from the Woolly Mammoth into the Asian elephant genome using CRISPR. It was a start, but a long way from a living, breathing mammoth. The next step would be to move from these fibroblast models— a generic cell found in connective tissue—to more specialized cells such as blood or liver cells to see how they’re affected by the genetic changes. After that, the team would be ready to move onto mammoth embryos, which could be grown in artificial wombs or carried by female Asian elephants.

The result wouldn’t be an exact replica of the woolly mammoth, but a hybrid of a mammoth and an Asian elephant. Still, it would be a functional woolly mammoth with all its hallmark traits and would mark the first time that a mammoth’s distinctive genes have been found in a living animal in more than 4,000 years.

[...] Lamm saw reviving and rewilding the woolly mammoth as a natural starting place for Colossal for several reasons. Megafauna like the woolly mammoth and modern elephants play a big role in shaping their natural environment. There’s evidence that suggests the woolly mammoth played an important role in sequestering carbon and other greenhouse gases by trampling on the tundra and exposing the arctic permafrost under the snow, which exposed the permafrost to the cold air that keeps its deepest layers frozen. But without the mammoths to kick up snow, cold temperatures can’t penetrate the deep permafrost, which means it melts faster in the summer and releases greenhouse gases that have been trapped for centuries.

By reintroducing the woolly mammoth to its natural habitat, it could provide a mitigating influence to global warming by helping keep greenhouse gases trapped in the permafrost.

There are also practical considerations to reviving the woolly mammoth. For starters, it’s easy to keep track of an animal that’s bigger than a truck... (MORE - details)

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