GavaghanCommunications | Snippets of scienceby GC. Issue 2, 19-25.07.10

Item 1: Diel-Alder and biology. Item 2: The brain and cortical folding. Item 3: Synthetic biology dialogue. All of this week's items by Helen Gavaghan.

Item 1: Keywords. Diels-Alder, binding pocket, reaction rates.

Synthetic gene code provides binding pocket for diel-alder enzymatic reaction rate optimisation.

Proof of principle in silico that a protein binding pocket can be designed with amino acid residues that provide a hydrogen acceptor and hydrogen donor that changes the overall electronic balance of diene and dieonophile such that the diels-alder reaction can take place. Quantum mechanical calculations determined the transition state energy levels that the in silico designers were aiming for. Of the 50 binding pockets then created by expressing gene sequences in E. coli only two had measurable activity. Deliberately caused mutations in amino acid sequence varied active site binding geometry such that in a number of cases enzymatic (catalytic) activity was squashed or reduced.

Based on a paper published in Science: Computational Designs of an Enzyme Catalyst for a Stereoselective Biomolecular Diels-Alder Reaction. The paper was embargoed to 15.7.10. AUTHORS: Justin B. Siegel et al.DOI:10.1126/science.1190239.

Item 2: Keywords.
Cortex, Human.

Differential regional pattern (some unexpected) of cortex surface suculi development observed as humans become adults.

Based on comparative observations of 12 healthy full term babies and 12 healthy young adults the hypothesis being considered is that the post neurogenic neonatal neural state and their conditions may impact expansion of the cortex surface during growth from baby to adult. The discussion reprises the existing literature on PET scans, transcranial stimulation in babies younger than 2, white matter etc... The authors observe that for humans compared with macaques ontogeny repeats phylogeny.

Minor typos corrected within half an hour.
No further extracts of the published scientific literature will be added this issue. Item based on a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): Similar Patterns of Cortical Expansion during Human Development and Evolution. Tip sheet for 12.16/7/2010. Authors: Jason Hill et al. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1001229107.

Qualified approval for synthetic biology

Based on recruitment of 160 members of the public, selected to reflect socio economic groups AB, C1, C2 and DE and aged 18 to 55 plus, a research project funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills concluded there was support for synthetic biology research if there was effective regulation and involvement by the public in questions about suitable research.

Among the quantitative results were findings about moral acceptablility of:
Medical applications (80 per cent said yes)
Energy applications (78 per cent said yes)
Bioremediation (58 per cent said yes)
Food crop applications (55 per cent said yes).

Recruitment methodology

Snippets of science by Helen Gavaghan©