Compound Points Toward The Pill for Men
A contraceptive pill for men has stumped researchers for decades. But new research published in Cell this week suggests there may be hope. A small molecule given to male mice renders them infertile without affecting the animals' testosterone or other hormone levels. And the effect is reversible: When the researchers stopped giving the animals the compound, their sperm production came back and they were able to sire healthy offspring after 1 or 2 months.
The compound, called JQ1, blocks the function of a protein called BRDT, which is crucial for sperm development. It was originally developed as an anticancer agent, targeting a protein related to BRDT called BRD4. Although the mice in the study seemed to have no obvious side effects while on the treatment, study authors Martin Matzuk of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and James Bradner of Harvard Medical School in Boston say that a more specific compound, which targets only the testis-specific BRDT, is needed before testing in healthy men. That should be possible, they say; colleagues at the University of Oxford have identified the detailed crystal structures of BRDT interacting with JQ1, which provides helpful clues. http://scim.ag/manpill
Written in (DNA) Code
As the amount of digital information grows at an ever faster pace, the race is on to find new storage media. A paper published online 16 August in Science offers one surprising entrant: DNA.
Less than a gram of DNA can store hundreds of petabytes (millions of gigabytes) of information. But you need a practical system for reading and writing. So a team led by George Church of Harvard Medical School in Boston created a code for converting a digital file into short DNA fragments. Each fragment carries a “barcode” address that records its location in the original file, and a chunk of digital data, coded as a string of zeroes (A or C in the DNA alphabet) and ones (G or T).
To test the code, the team converted a genetics book co-written by Church into DNA fragments, and then printed them onto a DNA chip. After resequencing the DNA fragments from the chip and converting them back into the book, the error rate was only about 2 bits per million—comparable to a typical DVD disk, but far smaller. http://scim.ag/DNAcodes
Ocean Health Index Shows Room for Improvement
An ambitious new scorecard aims to give the broadest view yet of the condition of the world's oceans and their ability to provide benefits to humans. Overall, the oceans score 60 out of a possible 100 points, which the authors describe in this week's issue of Nature as “a cautionary message.”
Rather than focusing on only marine life conservation, the new index also considers human uses of the oceans, such as artisanal fishing, tourism, and other coastal livelihoods. “The index shifts our focus to what people want from oceans and how we achieve that in a sustainable way,” says lead author Benjamin Halpern of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The team gathered global data from about 171 countries and territories, set performance targets, and scored the countries for current conditions and trends. Scores ranged from 36 (Sierra Leone) to 86 (uninhabited Jarvis Island); only 5% of locations scored higher than 70. The holistic index is “a breakthrough on a number of counts,” says Margaret Caldwell of Stanford University, who was not involved. http://scim.ag/oceanindex