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Scientists chart course toward a new world of synthetic biology

A team has compiled a roadmap for the future of synthetic or engineering biology, based on the input of 80 leaders in the field from more than 30 institutions. The report provides a strong case that the federal government should invest in this area, not only to improve public health, food crops and the environment, but also to fuel the economy and maintain the country’s leadership in synthetic/engineering biology.

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Mapping and measuring proteins on the surfaces of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in cells

Sigma receptors are proteins found on mainly the surface of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in certain cells. Sigma-1 and sigma-2 are the two main classes of these receptors. The sigma-1 receptor is involved neurological disorders and certain types of cancer. To understand better how the receptor is involved in disease and whether drugs developed to target it are working, it is important to be able to accurately trace the sigma-1 receptor. Researchers have now developed a probe, which can identify and latch onto the sigma-1 receptor.

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Marijuana use increases, shifts away from illegal market

A new article reports that, based on analysis of public wastewater samples in at least one Western Washington population center, cannabis use both increased and substantially shifted from the illicit market since retail sales began in 2014.

Cold weather increases the risk of fatal opioid overdoses

(Brown University) While the precise reasons are unclear, an analysis of overdose deaths in Rhode Island and Connecticut showed that cold snaps raised the risk of fatal opioid overdoses by 25%.

Gut microbes eat our medication

Researchers have discovered one of the first concrete examples of how the microbiome can interfere with a drug’s intended path through the body. Focusing on levodopa (L-dopa), the primary treatment for Parkinson’s disease, they identified which bacteria out of the trillions of species is responsible for degrading the drug and how to stop this microbial interference.

Environmental oxygen triggers loss of webbed digits

Free fingers have many obvious advantages on land, such as in locomotion and grasping, while webbed fingers are typical of aquatic or gliding animals. But both amphibians and amniotes — which include mammals, reptiles, and birds — can have webbed digits. Scientists now show that during embryo development, some animal species detect the presence of atmospheric oxygen, which triggers removal of interdigital webbing.

Origins of cannabis smoking

A chemical residue study of incense burners from ancient burials at high elevations in western China has revealed psychoactive cannabinoids. The finding provides some of the earliest evidence for the use of cannabis for its psychoactive compounds.