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Harvard researchers share views on future, ethics of gene editing

Harvard researchers share views on future, ethics of gene editing

January 9, 2019

Medicine is at a turning point, on the cusp of major change as disruptive technologies such as gene, RNA, and cell therapies enable scientists to approach diseases in new ways. The swiftness of this change is being driven by innovations such as CRISPR gene editing, which makes it possible to correct errors in DNA with relative ease.

Progress in this field has been so rapid that the dialogue around potential ethical, societal, and safety issues is scrambling to catch up.

This disconnect was brought into stark relief at the...

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A virtual reality experience of being inside an exploded star

A virtual reality experience of being inside an exploded star

December 21, 2018

Cassiopeia A, the youngest known supernova remnant in the Milky Way, is the remains of a star that exploded almost 400 years ago. The star was approximately 15 to 20 times the mass of our sun and sat in the Cassiopeia constellation, almost 11,000 light-years from earth.

Though stunningly distant, it’s now possible to step inside a virtual-reality (VR) depiction of what followed that explosion.

A team led by Kimberly Kowal Arcand from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and...

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Robots with sticky feet can go where humans can’t fit

December 19, 2018

Jet engines can have up to 25,000 individual parts, making regular maintenance a tedious task that can take over a month per engine. Many components are located deep inside the engine and cannot be inspected without taking the machine apart, adding time and costs to maintenance. This problem is not confined to jet engines, either; many complicated, expensive machines like construction equipment, generators, and scientific instruments require large investments of time and money to inspect and maintain.

To make this upkeep easier, faster, and cheaper, researchers at Harvard University’s...

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Inosine could be a potential route to the first RNA, Harvard study says

December 10, 2018

Prehistoric Earth, bombarded with asteroids, rife with bubbling geothermal pools, would seem an inhospitable place. But somewhere, the right chemicals combined in the precise sequence needed to form the building blocks of life. How? For decades, scientists have attempted to create miniature replicas of infant Earth in the lab. There, they hunt for the chemical pathways that led to life on Earth.

It’s attractive to chase our origin story. But this pursuit can bring more than just excitement. Knowledge of how Earth built its first cells could inform the search for extraterrestrial life. If...

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Study uses rings in teeth to understand the environment Neanderthals faced

December 3, 2018

Scientists are painting the clearest picture yet of what life may have been like for Neanderthals living in Southern France some 250,000 years ago, and to do it, they’re using an unlikely day-to-day record of what their environment was like — their teeth.

A team of researchers showed that examining the teeth of Neanderthal infants could yield insight into nursing and weaning behavior as well as winter and summer cycles. The study even found evidence that the Neanderthals had been exposed to lead — the earliest such exposure ever recorded in any human ancestor.

The study from...

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Harvard study models forelimbs of echidnas to shed light on evolution

Harvard study models forelimbs of echidnas to shed light on evolution

November 30, 2018

Mammals can use their forelimbs to swim, fly, jump, climb, dig, and nearly everything in between, yet the question of how all that diversity evolved has remained a vexing one for scientists.

To help answer that, Harvard researchers are turning to one of the most unusual mammals around: echidnas. These sprawling, egg-laying mammals have many anatomical features in common with mammal ancestors, and so can help bridge the gap between extinct and modern-day species.

Using a detailed, musculoskeletal model of an echidna forelimb, Sophie Regnault, a postdoctoral fellow, and Stephanie...

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Student engineers an interaction between two qubits using photons

Student engineers an interaction between two qubits using photons

November 30, 2018

In the world of quantum computing, interaction is everything.

For computers to work at all, bits — the ones and zeros that make up digital information — must be able to interact and hand off data for processing. The same goes for the quantum bits, or qubits, that make up quantum computers.

But that interaction creates a problem — in any system in which qubits interact with each other, they also tend to want to interact with their environment, resulting in qubits that quickly lose their quantum nature.

To get around the problem, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D....

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Arboretum expedition cultivates wider role for female scientists

Arboretum expedition cultivates wider role for female scientists

November 28, 2018

A tiny seed could change the way we experience the natural world. It’s already changed the careers of Tiffany Enzenbacher and Kea Woodruff, who work tending seed in their greenhouses. And it may one day bear fruit in an example of flora rescued from extinction — and a growing space for women in science.

In October, Enzenbacher, manager of plant production, and Woodruff, plant growth facilities manager, left the...

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