May 05, 2017

Advances in Gene-Editing, Geothermal Energy and Antibiotics

By Chelsea Follett
Harnessing the Power of Volcanoes

Do volcanoes represent an untapped source of environmentally-friendly energy? An experiment in Iceland is testing out the idea. A team of scientists and engineers is trying to harness geothermal energy from within a volcano. They drilled three miles into the volcano, completing the well earlier this year. Scientists working on the “Iceland Deep Drilling Project,” nicknamed the "Thor" drill project, will give a verdict in two years on whether geothermal wells in volcanoes offer an economically viable form of energy.

Yeast Rises Up Against Disease

Humanity has experimented with yeast for millennia, using it to do everything from brewing beer to baking bread. British scientists have now re-engineered the cells of baker’s yeast to produce the valuable antibiotic penicillin. Ordinarily, scientists obtain penicillin from bacteria and fungi, not from yeast. The new antibiotics could prove important to combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, against which conventional antibiotics are no longer effective. While the research is still in an early phase, one of the scientists on the team stressed that yeast could yield a “largely untapped treasure trove of compounds” leading to a "new generation of antibiotics."

Gene Editing Takes on HIV

A U.S. research team has successfully removed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from animals using the highly precise gene-editing technology called CRISPR. The researchers experimented on “transgenic” mice and rats, which contained HIV-infected human genetic material in their bodies. To determine whether CRISPR gene-editing eliminated the virus, the team used a new “bioluminescence” imaging system that lights up HIV-infected cells. "The imaging system … pinpoints the spatial and temporal location of HIV-1-infected cells in the body,” explained one of the scientists involved, “allowing us to observe HIV-1 replication in real time.” The researchers hope to advance to human clinical trials.