Would you alter your baby’s DNA?

Click on the links below to jump to any of these stories:

THE CASE FOR CRISPR: CRISPR is the latest technology in gene-editing and has been changing the face of biochemistry for the last decade or so. But how does it work and what exactly can it do? Read on to find out!

SLEEPING LIKE THE DEAD: Ever wondered just how our bodies power down when we go to sleep? Researchers in Japan think they’ve found the answer.

PICTURE OF THE DAY: There’s a new wrestler in sumo town! Only 10 years old, Kyuta Kumagai weighs 85kg and shows great talent for sumo wrestling — but how healthy is it for a 10-year-old to weigh that much?

THE CASE FOR CRISPR

The Big Idea:
CRISPR is the latest technology in gene-editing and has been changing the face of biochemistry for the last decade or so. But how does it work and what exactly can it do? Read on to find out!

Using Ctrl+X on DNA

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, but is now usually used to refer to CRISPR/Cas9, which is basically a molecular scissors that can find and edit any sequence in a cell’s DNA. Last year, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna, who pioneered the use of CRISPR for gene-editing back in 2012.

The possibilities are endless

Because it allows us to rewrite the genes of plants, animals, and anything else with cells, the applications of CRISP are kind of infinite. So many projects have been and are been conducted and these include:

There’s also a lot of debate around topics like whether we could use CRISP to bring back extinct species, or wipe out malaria and other diseases.

A question of ethics

But as with all breakthroughs in science, there are limits to what CRISPR can, and should, do.

While much work has been done in the past 10 years, there’s still so much scientists don’t know, especially when it comes to the long term effects of gene-editing. New technologies bring about new problems, as shown in these studies which reveal the negative and unforeseen side effects of using CRISPR.

In 2018, a Chinese scientist shocked us all when he announced that he had created the world’s first gene-edited babies, designed to be resistant to HIV. Forgery and deception aside, this was a huge breach of medical ethics, and drew condemnation from scientific communities worldwide.

As the world continues to experiment with CRISPR, the general consensus is to proceed with caution and to keep self-imposed ethics at the forefront of any research.

SNIPPETS

5 Singaporean stories to catch up on

1️⃣ For safety and for luck: Starting 26 January, every Singaporean household will only be allowed 8 unique visitors a day.

2️⃣ Put on a few pandemic pounds? You’re not the only one! Surveys show that 1 out of 3 Singaporeans gained weight during the Covid-19 pandemic.

3️⃣  Need a life coach for health? Singapore University of Social Sciences will now teach psychology undergrads how to coach patients to take charge of their own health.

4️⃣ Protecting our elders: Senior citizens in Singapore will be able to get a Covid-19 vaccine starting 27 January.

5️⃣ #supportlocal: The newly opened Fairprice supermarket at Parkway Parade has a section dedicated entirely to local produce.

And 5 facts to spice up your life:

1️⃣ Hong Kong’s turn for quarantine: This weekend, thousands of people in Hong Kong have been told to stay home in a 2-day Covid-19 lockdown.

2️⃣ Changing the face of beauty: Some women in the US are embracing the lowered beauty standards brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

3️⃣ Poor pigs: A new strain of African swine fever has been identified in Chinese pig farms.

4️⃣ No more cloth masks: Countries in Europe are making the use of medical-grade masks compulsory in order to curb the spread of Covid-19.

5️⃣ A smelly cure for Alzheimers: Research from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shows that hydrogen sulfide may help protect aging brain cells from Alzheimer’s disease.

SLEEPING LIKE THE DEAD

The Big Idea:
Ever wondered just how our bodies power down when we go to sleep? Researchers in Japan think they’ve found the answer.

Sleep paralysis… but not the scary kind

You might have already heard about sleep paralysis, the temporary inability to move when you’re right on the edge of falling asleep or waking up that often comes with hallucinations and a suffocating sensation. If you haven’t, and that sounds terrifying to you, that’s because it is.

But we’re not talking about the nightmarish kind of sleep paralysis today. Instead, we’re just looking at the regular, run-of-the-mill not moving that happens while we sleep.

Of sleeping mice and men

Sure, some of us tend to toss and turn during the night, but proper REM sleep entails an almost complete paralysis that hasn’t quite been understood until recently.

By examining the neural systems of mice, a team of researchers at the University of Tsukuba have discovered that it all comes down to a particular group of neurons located in the brainstems of the mice. Basically, these neurons are activated when we go into REM sleep and when active, they are able to inhibit our voluntary body movements.

Changing the future of sleep therapy

This discovery could change the way sleep disorders like narcolepsy or REM behaviour disorder are treated, as it provides a new target for treatment methods to focus on. Current treatment methods include prescription medication, various forms of therapy, and even surgery in certain cases.

Having some trouble getting to sleep? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Sleep Disorders in Singapore!

SHOWER THOUGHTS

Weird & Wonderful

  1. Seeds are the ultimate zip files.
  2. Driving is a game of trust that we play with hundreds of strangers we have never met.
  3. It’s kinda unrealistic how all movie action heroes don’t have cauliflower ears.
  4. You can eat 50% of a mermaid before being considered a cannibal.
  5. We decorate people we love with shiny stones and metal.
PICTURE OF THE DAY

Image of Kyuta Kumagai (left) trains with his coach Shinichi Taira, formerly a professional sumo wrestler, at Komatsuryu sumo club in Tokyo.

The Big Idea:
There’s a new wrestler in sumo town! Only 10 years old, Kyuta Kumagai weighs 85kg and shows great talent for sumo wrestling — but how healthy is it for a 10-year-old to weigh that much?

A pro sumo wrestler in the making

Meet Kyuta Kumagai, the 10-year-old in Tokyo, Japan, taking the sumo wrestling world by a storm. Weighing in at 85kg, Kyuta is much bigger than other children his age, and he often wrestles with teenagers 5 years his senior. He enjoys the thrill of besting these older wrestlers — and who wouldn’t?

A day in the life of Kyuta

In addition to training at the sumo club 6 days a week, Kyuta swims and does track and field regularly to build up his speed and flexibility. He has to eat 4,000 calories a day and is aiming to put on another 20kg in the next two years.

Outside of sumo, Kyuta goes to school and hangs out with his friends just like any other kid his age.

The sumo health debate

It’s long been debated whether or not it’s healthy for sumo wrestlers to weigh as much as they do. 

While sumo wrestlers may look obese, they’re actually pretty healthy and athletic. Studies show that their fat is subcutaneous and that they have lots of muscle mass.

Unlike in true obesity, the intense training regimes of sumo wrestlers (4 to 7 hours, 6 days a week!) prevent the formation of visceral fat, which tends to wrap around the abdominal organs and is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

However, sports careers don’t tend to last very long, and retirement from the sumo wrestling world means having to get rid of all that now-unnecessary weight, which would otherwise become dangerous for their health.

Vanessa

Vanessa is a go-getter and knowledge-seeker with way too many hobbies. On weekends, she can be found enjoying a lie-in and pretending she doesn't have anything else she should be doing.