Building a parallel universe

Building a parallel universe

December 14, 2010

A team of scientists is re-engineering cells to create a mirror image of life on Earth. The best-case scenario? A whole new branch of biology. Worst case? A new ice age.

Dimitar Sasselov was at the end of a long day of having his mind blown, when the really big idea hit him. Sasselov, an astrophysicist and head of the Origins of Life Initiative at Harvard, was sitting in the front row of a packed lecture hall at the university last spring, listening to the famous human-genome sequencer J Craig Venter talk about his efforts to synthesise new forms of life. Sasselov had introduced the...

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It Is Within Our Grasp

It Is Within Our Grasp

September 16, 2010

With a bit of luck and a new space telescope, within five years we could know the answer to a question that humanity has pondered for millennia: Is there life beyond Earth?

With initial results from the planet-finding Kepler satellite to be released in coming months, and the prospects of taking a closer look at those planets in the coming years with the Webb space telescope, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) astronomer...

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'Super-Earths': Could They Harbor Life?

August 2, 2010

Imagine yourself gazing at the sky on a summer night. You look in the direction of a particular star that, you have heard, has a special planet orbiting around it. Although you cannot actually see the planet—you can barely see the star itself—you know it is several times larger than Earth and, like Earth, is made mostly of rock. Quakes sometimes shake its surface, much of which is covered by oceans. Its atmosphere is not too different from the one we breathe, and its sky is swept by frequent storms and often darkened by the ash of volcanoes. But most of all, you know that scientists think...

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Jack W. Szostak Awarded 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

October 5, 2009

This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to three scientists who have solved a major problem in biology: how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. The Nobel Laureates have shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes – the telomeres – and in an enzyme that forms them – telomerase.

Read the full Nobel Prize press release. 

Whitesides receives inaugural Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences

Whitesides receives inaugural Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences

September 29, 2009

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation announced that George M. Whitesides, a Wyss faculty member and the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University, has won the inaugural Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences.

The prize, to be given biennially by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, recognizes exceptional and original research in a selected area of chemistry that has advanced the field in major ways. Conferred this year in materials chemistry, the prize consists of a monetary award of $250,000 — one of the largest awards dedicated...

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Two Steps Forward for Synthetic Biology

Two Steps Forward for Synthetic Biology

August 21, 2009

For more than 3 decades, researchers have been engineering microbes with the aim of harnessing these simple creatures to clean up pollution, make drugs, and produce biofuels. They have largely been limited to tinkering with individual genes, however. Now, two new developments, one of which is described in a paper published online this week by Science, have brought genetic engineers closer to a major goal: routinely manipulating sets of genes and even whole genomes....

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Origins of Life on Earth

Origins of Life on Earth

August 19, 2009

Every living cell, even the simplest bacterium, teems with molecular contraptions that would be the envy of any nanotechnologist. As they incessantly shake or spin or crawl around the cell, these machines cut, paste and copy genetic molecules, shuttle nutrients around or turn them into energy, build and repair cellular membranes, relay mechanical, chemical or electrical messages—the list goes on and on, and new discoveries add to it all the time.

It is virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines, which are mostly protein-based catalysts called enzymes, could...

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