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Harvard Scientists Uncover ‘DNA Switch’ That Could Lead to Human Limb Regrowth

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DNA Switch
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A team of scientists at Harvard University has discovered the “master gene” that enables animals such as lizards, geckos and jellyfish the ability to regrow large appendages of their body such as limbs and tails—if not their entire body—and they’re hoping that the discovery could be a crucial first step to humans one day being able to regenerate their lost limbs.

The team released their study in Science journal this week that reveals the “DNA switches” that animals have used to control their genes and regenerate parts of their body.

Basing their research on the three-banded panther worm, the team led by Harvard Assistant Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Mansi Srivastava were able to pinpoint the “master control gene” they refer to as the early growth response or EGR–the gene that activates the complex system of genetic code necessary to trigger the worm’s ability to regrow lost tissue and complex parts.

Andrew Gehrke, a postdoctoral fellow in Srivastava’s lab, told The Harvard Gazette:

“What we found is that this one master gene comes on [and activates] genes that are turning on during regeneration… Basically, what’s going on is the noncoding regions are telling the coding regions to turn on or off, so a good way to think of it is as though they are switches.”

Gehrke was able to identify no less than 18,000 regions of the panther worms’ genome that began to physically undergo transformation during regeneration, showing the importance of EGR in triggering the process. However, without EGR such processes are rendered impossible.

Srivastava explained:

“We were able to decrease the activity of this gene and we found that if you don’t have EGR, nothing happens… The animals just can’t regenerate. All those downstream genes won’t turn on, so the other switches don’t work, and the whole house goes dark, basically.”

But the truly groundbreaking nature of the team’s discovery lies in the fact that the same switch discovered in the worm is also present in other species, such as humans. But at present, the gene appears to only set in motion processes on a cellular level–a far more limited process than what’s required for full-on limb regeneration.

Srivasta continued:

“If humans can turn on EGR, and not only turn it on, but do it when our cells are injured, why can’t we regenerate? The answer may be that if EGR is the power switch, we think the wiring is different. What EGR is talking to in human cells may be different than what it is talking to in the three-banded panther worm, and what Andrew has done with this study is come up with a way to get at this wiring. So we want to figure out what those connections are, and then apply that to other animals, including vertebrates that can only do more limited regeneration.”

The team is hopeful, however, that their discovery of such a dynamic genome is merely the tip of the iceberg. Gehrke noted that the team has “only just scratched the surface… but there’s a whole other aspect of how the genome is interacting on a larger scale, not just how pieces open and close.”

Srivastava is hopeful that the discovery could point the way to human patients regrowing entire lost limbs and appendages in cases where they have been severed. She said:

“It’s a very natural question to look at the natural world and think, if a gecko can do this, why can’t I? There are many species that can regenerate, and others that can’t, but it turns out if you compare genomes across all animals, most of the genes that we have are also in the three-banded panther worm.”

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Corruption

Man Who Spent Decades in Prison Gets $6 Million After Cop Found to Have Faked Evidence

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A North Carolina man who spent decades in prison was awarded $6 million in damages by a federal jury after it was found that he was wrongfully convicted thanks to evidence fabricated by a detective.

Darryl Howard languished in prison for over 20 years on double murder and arson charges in 1995 for killing a woman and her teen daughter in 1991. Last Wednesday, a jury in Winston-Salem found that former Durham police detective Darryl Dowdy simply faked the evidence that resulted in his conviction.

In 2016, Howard’s 80-year sentence was stricken down by a Durham County judge who cited the misconduct of police and prosecutors. The $6 million award was the result of a 2017 federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Howard, reports the News & Observer.

Dowdy, 65, denied the accusations in the lawsuit. The former detective was a 36-year veteran of the Durham Police Department before he retired in 2007.

Howard and his legal team have expressed satisfaction that the jury recognized the grave injustice he faced, but are disappointed that the $6 million is a mere fraction of the $48 million in damages they requested.

Attorney Nick Brustin, who represented Howard, said that Dowdy’s defense attacked Howard for his past gunshot wounds and history of selling and using drugs.

“I think to some extent the racist defense that they have been implementing since the beginning of the ligation has in some ways succeeded,” Brustin said. “I think the verdict doesn’t value the suffering that Darryl went through.”

Howard himself noted that the heavy damage dealt by his long incarceration have completely altered his life.

“I am happy about the verdict, but I am kind of upset about the damages,” Howard told the News & Reporter.

“Just imagine, 23 years I stayed in prison,” he added.

Brustin also highlighted the systemic nature of the injustice his client suffered as a result of Dowdy’s police work.

“The kinds of misconduct are pattern misconduct,” he noted, adding that Durham police need to review other cases handled by the crooked cop.

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Happy Holidays? Billionaire CEO Fires 900 Workers in Zoom Call

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The boss of an online mortgage lending company has come under fire as callous and heartless after he unceremoniously fired about 900 staff members in the run-up to the holidays – all on one single Zoom call.

Vishal Garg, the chief executive of New York-based mortgage firm Better.com, didn’t mince words in the call, telling employees:

“This isn’t news that you’re going to want to hear … If you’re on this call, you are part of the unlucky group that is being laid off. Your employment here is terminated effective immediately.”

Adding that he did “not want to do this,” he explained that “this is the second time in my career I’m doing this … The last time I did it, I cried.” 

While the 43-year-old CEO claimed that the mass sacking was a painful ordeal, he also noted that the “market has changed” and the company required streamlining to deal with the cool-off in the recent housing boom.

However, Garg neglected to mention that the company recently received $750 million from investors just last week.

According to Fortune, the chief executive also was the anonymous author of a blistering blog post to professional network Build that put his own employees on blast.

“You guys know that at least 250 of the people terminated were working an average of 2 hours a day while clocking 8 hours+ a day in the payroll system?” Garg wrote, adding that “they were stealing from you and stealing from our customers who pay the bills that pay our bills. Get educated.”

Garg also has come under fire for his poor management approach and history of abusing workers after an email he sent to employees was published by Forbes last year.

“You are TOO DAMN SLOW,” the CEO wrote. “You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME.”

Regardless of his personal frustrations with employees, social media users were stunned by news of the mass firing, calling the move “cold,” “a horrible move,” and “harsh” – especially with Christmas around the corner.

Employment law and business experts have also lambasted Garg’s actions, noting that such mass firings run counter to the law in most countries, and are not only abusive but destructive toward morale, despite being perfectly legal in the United States.

“Existing employees will look to how the company treats people as a signal to how it will treat them in the future,” Gemma Dale of the Liverpool John Moores University in the UK told the BBC.

“There are ways to do these things which, even in difficult conditions, are empathetic and decent,” she added. “There is a right way to do these things both morally and legally.”

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Environment

China Was Just Caught Literally Changing The Weather For Communist Party Celebration: Study

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In recent years, China has made a number of head-turning and downright dazzling technological advances. Now, according to a new study, the East Asian giant has successfully managed to literally change the weather.

According to a recent report from the South China Morning Post, scientists at Tsinghua University say that during the 100-year anniversary of the Communist Party of China, authorities succeeded in modifying the weather in Beijing to clear the sky and improve air quality for the masses gathered to celebrate the party’s centenary in Tiananmen Square.

The large-scale operation involved lacing the clouds above the capital with chemicals to usher in rainfall over suburban parts of Beijing before the July 1 centennial event. According to the Tsinghua researchers, eyewitnesses report rockets being launched from mountains outside the city in the run-up to the event.

The Beijing researchers claim that the artificial rain managed to reduce the level of PM2.5 air pollutants by over two-thirds, bringing air quality to “good” conditions from “moderate” levels per World Health Organization Standards.

The use of chemicals to modify weather conditions is a practice that dates back to at least the 18th century, when European states used gunfire to shoot at storms in hopes to prevent hail from harming crops.

By the turn of the 20th century, dozens of hail cannons were deployed for commercial purposes despite the unproven nature of such primitive geo-engineering methods.

Fast forward to the 2020s, and the People’s Republic of China has reportedly invested vast resources into weather modification programs that will be tested in a region spanning 5.5 million square miles by the year 2025. The impact of such geo-engineering efforts could lead to regional tensions with China’s increasingly nervous neighbors.

Meanwhile, as the potential for a new cold war with the people’s republic continues to grow, professional China skeptics have stoked fears that the ruling Communist Party could use its newfound ability to manipulate the weather for military purposes. However, it’s worth noting that the United States military has been hoping to weaponize the rain since at least 1967.

However, with arid conditions and extreme drought threatening the food security of populations across the globe, the ability to literally make rain fall may not be as frightening as some make it out to be.

Additionally, some researchers have claimed that geoengineering could play a role in mitigating the impact of rampant climate change. However, it remains far too early to know the long-term impact of lacing skies with chemicals on a widespread, regular basis.

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