Genetics

Updated at 4:05 p.m. ET

For the first time, doctors in the U.S. have used the powerful gene-editing technique CRISPR to try to treat a patient with a genetic disorder.

Sequencing a person's DNA is now a routine task. That reality has left doctors looking for ways to put the technology to work.

A decade ago, a top federal scientist said, "Whether you like it or not, a complete sequencing of newborns is not far away." Dr. Francis Collins, who made that statement, has been head of the National Institutes of Health for the intervening decade. But his prophecy hasn't come to pass, for both scientific and practical reasons.

Genetics can tell us a lot about ourselves, from where we come from to our risk of developing disease. In Nevada, researchers are collecting this personal information in the largest health study of its kind in the world.

The company Calyxt, just outside St. Paul, Minn., wanted to make a new kind of soybean, with oil that's a little healthier — more like olive oil.

As it happens, some wild relatives of soybeans already produce seeds with such "high oleic" oil — high in monounsaturated fat. It's because a few of their genes have particular mutations, making them slightly different from the typical soybeans that farmers grow.

Is there an efficient way to tinker with the genes of plants? Being able to do that would make breeding new varieties of crop plants faster and easier, but figuring out exactly how to do it has stumped plant scientists for decades.

Now researchers may have cracked it.

Modifying the genetics of a plant requires getting DNA into its cells. That's fairly easy to do with animal cells, but with plants it's a different matter.

Instead of eating a typical breakfast every day, Jonah Reeder gulps down a special protein shake.

"The nutrients in it like to sit at the bottom, so I usually have to shake it up and get all the nutrients from the protein and everything," says Reeder, 21, of Farmington, Utah, as he shakes a big plastic bottle.

Scientists have launched a major new phase in the testing of a controversial genetically modified organism: a mosquito designed to quickly spread a genetic mutation lethal to its own species, NPR has learned.

For the first time, researchers have begun large-scale releases of the engineered insects, into a high-security laboratory in Terni, Italy.

"This will really be a breakthrough experiment," says Ruth Mueller, an entomologist who runs the lab. "It's a historic moment."

William A. Cotton / Colorado State University Photography

The first bison calf to be conceived using in vitro fertilization has died. The 11-month-old calf, named IVF1, was part of the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd.

William A. Cotton / Colorado State University Photography

The first calf born through in vitro fertilization is now part of the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd. The calf, a 10-month-old named IVF1, is also the first in the world to be conceived using eggs and sperm collected from Yellowstone bison, one of the last genetically pure herds in the country.

IVF1 was released into the herd – along with her mother and three other calves and their mothers – in mid-March, boosting the herd, which lives at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space, from 36 to 44 animals.

Stephanie Daniel / KUNC

On crisp, sunny morning in February, Jennifer Barfield threw large vegetable pellets from her car window. She was trying to lure a distant herd of bison closer.

It worked. The large brown animals – also known as buffalo – came right up to the car.

“Nothing like being chased by a herd of bison on Sunday morning,” Barfield joked.

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