Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – January 23, 2015

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By: Thomas Calder, Ph.D.

Source for image: Creative Commons; author Alfred Palmer

Climate Change

Wrap-up: U.S. Senate agrees climate change is real—but not necessarily that humans are causing it

The U.S. Senate voted this week on several amendments to affirm their belief on climate change. One of the amendments, which states that climate changes is real and not a hoax, was approved by 98 of the 99 senators present. This consensus was a surprise to many people, because several conservative politicians have challenged the idea of climate change in the past. Another amendment that was more controversial specifies that humans are contributing to climate change. This amendment failed to reach the 60-vote majority required for passage, despite being attached to the Keystone Pipeline bill to entice approval by conservative senators. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) believes that this vote was still a victory though, stating, “I think this is a significant step forward, and I think in the months and years to come more and more Republicans will accept that position.” Future climate-based amendments will likely continue this debate. (Puneet Kollipara, ScienceInsider)


Federal Science Policy

Science gets its moment in Obama’s 2015 State of the Union

In President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, the President discussed several important science-related topics. The idea of “precision medicine” gained the national spotlight, as the President announced, “Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes—and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.” Precision medicine, also known as personalized medicine, involves tailoring medication specific to a patient by utilizing information about the patient, such as their genomic sequence. The Precision Medicine Initiative is still in the planning stages. The president also stressed the country’s dire need to combat climate change, and described the recent negations with China on cutting carbon pollution as a helpful step in the right direction. NASA also gained attention in the President’s address. The President highlighting astronaut Scott Kelly’s year-long trip in space and described its potential to help NASA plan future trips to Mars. (Puneet Kollipara, ScienceInsider)


Genetically Modified Organisms

Scientists Work to Contain Modified Organisms to Labs

With the invention of genetic engineering in the 1970s, scientists have been addressing the need to contain genetically modified organisms in the lab. Several methods have been developed, such as physical containment with sealed containers or biological methods involving suicide genes or nutrient dependent genes. Recently, scientists from Harvard Medical School developed a novel method to prevent a genetically modified E. coli strain from spreading into the wild. The research team engineered the bacterium’s genetic code by replacing a specific stop codon, defined as a 3 nucleotide signal that stops amino acid construction at the end of a protein, with a different stop codon. The researchers then incorporated this removed stop codon into the middle of essential genes and created a synthetic amino acid that would be incorporated into that codon site. With this technique, the engineered bacteria can only survive in the presence of the synthetic amino acid. According to Dr. Karmella A Haynes, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, “this research represents a step-change towards building reliable control switches for G.M.O.s.” This novel technique may become a useful tool for industries that grow large amounts of genetically modified bacteria. Further information about this study can be found in the journal Nature. (Andrew Pollack, New York Times)



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Written by sciencepolicyforall

January 23, 2015 at 11:31 am

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