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Science Today is a daily radio feature produced by the University of California for the CBS Radio Network. From breakthroughs in medicine, agriculture and the environment to insights into the world around us, Science Today covers it all.

Posts tagged with ‘genetics’

If you’re one of the nation’s experts on spiders and the properties of their silk, you best not have a hint of arachnophobia. Fortunately for us UC Riverside’s evolutionary biologist Cheryl Hayashi does not have this problem. 
We had the pleasure of interviewing Hayashi in the past and she told us then that one of the spider silk proteins they genetically sequenced dated back about 250 million years.

That’s a really long period of time. I mean, we’re going back to the Mesozoic, when dinosaurs are walking around. And so this is a long time for these sequences to be conserved. And to us, that argues that these regions of the sequence are probably very important for the functioning of spider silks.

Hayashi explained that there’s lots of interest in creating synthetic spider silks.

Spider silk is very strong and very tough. It actually surpasses a lot of the common man-made materials. It’s stronger than high tensile steel and has a toughness that is greater than Kevlar. So there’s a lot of interest in being able to mass produce spider silk.

If you’re one of the nation’s experts on spiders and the properties of their silk, you best not have a hint of arachnophobia. Fortunately for us UC Riverside’s evolutionary biologist Cheryl Hayashi does not have this problem.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Hayashi in the past and she told us then that one of the spider silk proteins they genetically sequenced dated back about 250 million years.

That’s a really long period of time. I mean, we’re going back to the Mesozoic, when dinosaurs are walking around. And so this is a long time for these sequences to be conserved. And to us, that argues that these regions of the sequence are probably very important for the functioning of spider silks.

Hayashi explained that there’s lots of interest in creating synthetic spider silks.

Spider silk is very strong and very tough. It actually surpasses a lot of the common man-made materials. It’s stronger than high tensile steel and has a toughness that is greater than Kevlar. So there’s a lot of interest in being able to mass produce spider silk.

There are three problems when it comes to gene therapy - delivery, delivery and delivery.

That’s an old joke in the field, according to University of California, Berkeley researcher Dave Schaffer, who directs the Berkeley Stem Cell Center.

So, our group over the past 12 to 13 years at Berkley has really been trying to work hard on improving the process of delivering therapeutic genes to a patient’s cells so that we can really get up to therapeutic levels of gene delivery and cure diseases. 

In fact, Schaffer recently engineered a virus to deliver corrective genes to damaged eye cells — a process that involved his team creating over 100 million variants of the virus to ensure that they evolved one that was best suited for gene therapy.

The biggest surprise, which perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise, is that evolution works. Meaning that every single time we try to apply this approach, this directed evolution of the virus to treat or to overcome a new problem with gene delivery, it’s worked almost better than what we’d hoped for. 

Right on!