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Down with dads? Researchers spawn healthy mice from 2 mothers

In a major breakthrough in the field of epigenetics, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences m..

In a major breakthrough in the field of epigenetics, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences may have just rendered males obsolete… well, for mice anyway. For now.

The rules of reproduction may have changed irrevocably after the researchers overcame the the joint male-female barrier to sexual reproduction in mammals for the first time, using 210 embryos to create 29 live, healthy mice with two mothers, but no father.

“We were interested in the question of why mammals can only undergo sexual reproduction,”says the study's senior co-author Qi Zhou. Parthenogenesis, or sperm-free reproduction, is common among insects, fish and lizards – but not in mammals.

READ MORE: Rodent explosion: Lab accidentally breeds 180,000 mice, conducts unauthorised experiments

The team concentrated on roughly 100 genes that are activated when they come from both parents, but rely on each other for correct development. However, using only genetic material harvested from two female mice, the team began deleting certain key sequences in the DNA of embryonic stem cells, using the Crispr-Cas9 genetic cutting tool.

Traditionally, problems arise when attempting to reproduce clones using DNA from single-sex parents as certain gene expressions can be muted depending on the sex of their donor parent; running the risk of doubling-up on certain gene expressions but missing out on other critical genetic markers necessary for healthy development.

Japanese researchers were able to overcome this obstacle in 2004, but the procedure was deemed too inefficient and costly. However, epigenetics has advanced a great deal in the subsequent 14 years.

The Chinese researchers strategically deleted specific regions on the female stem cells chromosomes, thus making them more akin to primordial germ cells, “the precursors of eggs and sperm,” according to Baoyang Hu, also a senior co-author on the study.

READ MORE: FDA to use aborted fetus parts to breed humanized mice, pro-life lobby outraged

The fatherless mice achieved maturity and themselves reproduced the old-fashioned way without any issue.

While a major step in single-sex parent fertilisation, the current technique is far from perfect: just 29 live mice were produced from 210 embryos. In addition, this success could not be replicated with babies from male-only mice: none of the twelve mice that were born survived 48 hours. Male mice will have to up their game to stay relevant it seems.

“If the research is reproducible, and also works in humans, it still has to be shown to be safe,”Bob Williamson, the chair of the Board of Stem Cells Australia, said. “The experiments are, however, important, because they may shine a light on some causes of serious handicap in children.”

The research was published in the journal Cell.

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Italexit looming? Majority of Italians would vote to leave EU as immigration tops agenda

Italy has turned out to be more Euroskeptic than previously imagined after a new survey revealed tha..

Italy has turned out to be more Euroskeptic than previously imagined after a new survey revealed that a majority of Italians want to see their country crashing out of the 28-member bloc.

According to an opinion poll commissioned by Brussels Eurobarometer, only 44 percent of Italians would vote to remain in the EU, compared to the member states average of 66 percent.

The figure is lower even than Britain, where a majority (53 percent) would today vote Remain if they had another EU referendum, while 35 percent would vote Leave. Britain announced that it was withdrawing from the bloc in 2016 after 51 percent of Britons voted for Brexit.

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Italy was also the only country in the bloc where a majority (45 percent to 43 percent) thought the nation hadnt benefited from its membership of the EU, Euronews reports.

The findings contrast with those published in June following an Ipsos poll commissioned by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, which found that 55 percent would still vote to remain in the bloc, despite declining faith in the EU.

Commenting on the findings, EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani called on the bloc to strengthen efforts to convince member states of the importance of remaining an EU member.

“We must double the efforts to prove that the union knows how to give really effective answers to the main problems of Europeans, such as immigration, security and unemployment,” Italian newspaper La Repubblica quotes him as saying.

READ MORE: Italys deputy PM predicts political earthquake for European Union (more…)

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Ancient graffiti shows weve been wrong about Pompeii doomsday date all along

The idle scrawlings of an over-indulgent Roman builder may have just rewritten the history books reg..

The idle scrawlings of an over-indulgent Roman builder may have just rewritten the history books regarding the date that Mount Vesuvius obliterated the city of Pompeii in 79AD.

Recently discovered graffiti at the site has shifted the timeline of when disaster struck the Roman city, killing all of its roughly 1,000 residents and preserving many of them in volcanic ash.

Graffiti of the phrase “XVI K Nov in [d]ulsit pro masumis esurit [ions],” which roughly translates as “He over-indulged in immodest food,” was found written on the wall of a house that was apparently undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption.

“XVI K Nov” indicates the 16th day before the first of November, or October 17, contradicting the widely held belief that Vesuvius erupted earlier in the year, sometime in August, based on correspondence between Pliny the Younger and historian Tacitus 25 years after the disaster.

“Being charcoal, fragile and evanescent, which could not last long over time, it is more than likely that it is October 79 AD, a week before the great catastrophe that, according to this hypothesis, occurred on 24 October,” archaeologists at the site wrote in a statement.

“Today, with much humility, perhaps we will rewrite the history books because we date the eruption to the second half of October,” said Italys Culture Minister Alberto Bonisoli, as quoted by The Independent.

The graffiti isnt actually the first discovery to cast doubt on Plinys claims. Archaeologists previously found out-of-season produce like calcified fruits on tree branches, preserved in the ash, such as pomegranates, walnuts and wine which suggest that Pompeii wasnt obliterated until the Autumn.

READ MORE: Pompeii unveiled: Jaw-dropping drone footage shows extent of citys excavation

The well-preserved remains of Pompeians also provided another clue as their tunics were far too heavy for August, indicating that temperatures had cooled by the time disaster struck. Many braziers, used for heating, were discovered strewn around the city, indicating there may have been a chill in the air at the time of the catastrophic eruption.

This latest discovery indicates that yesterday, 1,939 years ago, a bored builder left a mundane scrawl about overindulging on junk food a week before their entire city was destroyed. This might put modern tweets and instagram posts in perspective, but probably not. (more…)

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China plans to launch artificial moon bright enough to replace streetlights by 2020

Related Story: China's mission to go where no spacecraft has gone before Related Story: 'A..

Related Story: China's mission to go where no spacecraft has gone before Related Story: 'A warfighting domain': Is the global race for space supremacy reigniting?

China is reportedly in the process of creating an "artificial moon" that would be bright enough to replace the streetlights in the south-western city of Chengdu by 2020.

Key points:

  • Chinese scientists plan to install three artificial moons by 2022
  • The illuminated satellite is designed to complement the moon at night
  • The artificial moon could save hundreds of million of dollars a year in electricity costs

The illuminated satellite is said to be eight times brighter than the real moon, according to state media People's Daily, and forms part of the country's growing ambitions in space.

Chinese scientists plan to send three artificial moons into space in the next four years, and the moons — made from reflective material like a mirror — are expected to orbit at 500 kilometres above the Earth and light up an area with a diameter of 10 to 80 kilometres.

Wu Chunfeng, chairman of Chengdu Aerospace Science and Technology Microelectronics System Research Institute Corporation which developed the project, said the illuminating satellite would provide a "dusk-like glow".

"The satellites' brightness and service time are both adjustable, and the accuracy of the lighting can be controlled within tens of metres," Mr Wu told the state media agency earlier today.

Mr Wu added the three artificial moons would operate alternately in order to significantly reduce infrastructural electricity consumption, especially during winter.

The illuminated satellite is designed to complement the moon at night.

'Who paid for it and what is the purpose?'

A cityscape in China at night.

Mr Wu said lighting from the artificial moon covering 50 square kilometres in Chengdu could save about 1.2 billion yuan ($240 million) in electricity costs every year. (more…)

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