This Lab-Grown Perfume is Made From an Extinct Flower

iStock.com/phototropic
iStock.com/phototropic

Geneticists still haven't gotten around to turning ancient DNA into living dinosaurs, but a team of scientists has done something similar with extinct plant life. As IEEE Spectrum reports, Gingko Bioworks, a synthetic-biology company based in Boston, Massachusetts, has successfully concocted a perfume using floral scents that have been missing from nature for decades.

Taking a page out of Jurassic Park, the Gingko Bioworks scientists used old, damaged samples of organic material to reconstruct extinct DNA. Instead of mining caves for mosquitoes trapped in amber, they paid a visit to the Harvard University Herbaria, which houses millions of dried plant specimens. The plants they took samples from, which included the Falls-of-the-Ohio scurfpea, the Wynberg conebush, and the Hawaiian mountain hibiscus, all disappeared from the planet in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

To make perfume out of the lost plants, scientists had to reconstruct their terpenes, or the compounds responsible for odor. Using DNA from modern plants to fill in the gaps in the genetic code, the team was able to create 2000 gene variants from the extinct plant samples. Yeast cells were used to trigger gene expression, and mass-spectrometry machines helped identify terpene molecules in the expressed genes.

Once those molecules were analyzed, Gingko Bioworks sent the terpene profiles to an olfactory artist named Sissel Tolaas, who mixed the molecules into an appealing scent. The Hawaiian mountain hibiscus perfume, which Gingko unveiled at their meeting in Boston last week, has a "piney, earthy" aroma, according to IEEE Spectrum.

Gingko Bioworks is selling its resurrected Hawaiian mountain hibiscus scent as part of an art installation that will be traveling the world next year. The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Cooper Hewitt in New York City are the first two stops on the tour.

[h/t IEEE Spectrum]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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