2008-2010

Biology's Odd Couple

June 26, 2009

About 10 years ago, biology entered betting season. An upstart scientist named J. Craig Venter jolted the genetics establishment by launching his own gene-sequencing outfit, funded by commercial investment, and setting off toward biology's holy grail—the human genome—on his own. It was Venter versus the old guard—old because of where they got their money (governments and trusts) and the sequencing technique they wanted to hold onto. Venter won that race, and not because he got there first. By combining the freedom of academic inquiry and commercial capital, he came up with a new way...

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New Glimpses of Life's Puzzling Origins

New Glimpses of Life's Puzzling Origins

June 16, 2009

Some 3.9 billion years ago, a shift in the orbit of the Sun’s outer planets sent a surge of large comets and asteroids careening into the inner solar system. Their violent impacts gouged out the large craters still visible on the Moon’s face, heated Earth’s surface into molten rock and boiled off its oceans into an incandescent mist.

Yet rocks that formed on Earth 3.8 billion years ago, almost as soon as the bombardment had stopped, contain possible evidence of biological processes. If life can arise from inorganic matter so quickly and easily, why is it not abundant...

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George Church wins the 2009 Promega Biotechnology Research Award

June 8, 2009

The 2009 American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Promega Biotechnology Research Award is being presented to George M. Church, Ph.D., professor of genetics, Harvard Medical School, and director of the Lipper Center for Computational Genetics in Boston. This award recognizes outstanding contributions to the application of biotechnology through fundamental microbiological research and development.

Described as a "truly unique" and "extraordinarily creative" scientist, Dr. Church's forward thinking and wide-range of interests have resulted in numerous new technologies that have led to...

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Kepler starts search for other Earths

Kepler starts search for other Earths

May 14, 2009

As NASA’s Kepler space telescope this week begins scanning the Milky Way for planets that might harbor life, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) are keeping their fingers crossed and waiting for the data to start flowing.

The information stream is their reward for years of work dedicated to getting the space telescope off the ground and on the job. Kepler, which Astronomy Professor and Co-Investigator Dimitar Sasselov described as a giant space camera, was launched March 6 atop a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Read the...

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Harvard fuels quest to create life from scratch

March 8, 2009

Harvard scientists have created a biological machine in the lab that manufactures proteins, mimicking the activity of a cellular structure, called a ribosome, that is critical for life.

If it is verified by other scientists, the work by Harvard Medical School professor George Church would be an important step in the quest to create life from scratch.

Read the Boston Globe article. 

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Cynthia Friend receives Olah Award

March 5, 2009

Harvard Professor Cynthia M. Friend, the Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science, is the 2009 recipient of the George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry by the American Chemical Society.

Friend is “one of the outstanding surface scientists in the world and one who has consistently built connections between surface science and molecular chemistry — organic and hydrocarbon chemistry in particular,” said Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel laureate and the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters at Cornell...

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Charbonneau to receive 2009 Alan T. Waterman Award

Charbonneau to receive 2009 Alan T. Waterman Award

February 27, 2009

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is proud to announce that 34-year-old David Charbonneau, currently the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, will receive its 2009 Alan T. Waterman Award. Discover Magazine's 2007 Scientist of the Year, Charbonneau's research focuses on the development of novel techniques for the detection and characterization of planets orbiting nearby Sun-like stars--extra-solar planets, also known as exoplanets.

Read the...

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Transit search finds super-Neptune

Transit search finds super-Neptune

January 16, 2009

Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have discovered a planet somewhat larger and more massive than Neptune orbiting a star 120 light-years from Earth. While Neptune has a diameter 3.8 times that of Earth and a mass 17 times Earth's, the new world (named HAT-P-11b) is 4.7 times the size of Earth and has 25 Earth masses.

HAT-P-11b was discovered because it passes directly in front of (transits) its parent star, thereby blocking about 0.4 percent of the star's light. This periodic dimming was detected by a network of small,...

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Biologists on verge of creating new life form

Biologists on verge of creating new life form

September 8, 2008

A team of biologists and chemists is closing in on bringing non-living matter to life.

It’s not as Frankensteinian as it sounds. Instead, a lab led by Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building simple cell models that can almost be called life.

Szostak’s protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form...

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