Lab report

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 10:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 July, 2013, 10:04am

Baby marks the ‘next generation’

A British woman’s newborn last month became the first baby to be born after being screened using a new genome-mapping technique known as “next-generation sequencing”. The method – reported today  by Dr Dagan Wells of Oxford University’s NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, who led the study’s international research team – can decode entire genomes (a person’s complete hereditary information). It can reveal data about serious inherited disorders or deadly chromosome abnormalities, which scientists speculate add to the high failure rate of in vitro fertilisation. Only about 30 per cent of embryos selected for transfer actually implant. “[The sequencing] improves our ability to detect these abnormalities and helps us identify the embryos with the best chances of producing a viable pregnancy,” Well says. “Potentially, this should lead to improved in vitro success rates and a lower risk of miscarriage.”

Clues on squeeze in breast milk

Researchers have revealed in detail the blueprint for making milk in the human mammary gland, uncovering why many mothers have difficulty making enough milk to breastfeed. Insulin plays a key role in the lactation process, say scientists from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre  and the University of California, Davis.  The new study shows a “dramatic switching-on” of the insulin receptor and its downstream signals when the breast turns into a “biofactory that [produces] massive amounts of proteins, fats and carbohydrates for nourishing the newborn”, says Dr Laurie Nommsen-Rivers,  the study’s author. “Considering that 20 per cent of women between 20 and 44 are pre-diabetic  [or almost, but not completely diabetic], it’s conceivable that up to 20 per cent of new mothers in the United States are at risk for low milk supply due to insulin dysregulation,” she says.

Cooling fears of Sars-like pandemic

Researchers have found that the risk for a pandemic triggered by the Sars-like coronavirus is low – at least for now. The findings come amid concerns about a virus spread more deadly than that caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome. Researchers from Institut Pasteur in Paris  analysed data – 55 of the 64 laboratory-confirmed cases worldwide – on the novel Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).  “[The virus] has not spread as rapidly or as widely as Sars did,”  says lead researcher Arnaud Fontanet,  adding that the coronavirus did not mutate into pandemic form despite circulating among humans for more than a year. Still, researchers urge vigilance to prevent the global spread of the virus. No one has tested positive for it in Hong Kong as yet. A 51-year-old man suspected of infection  tested negative last week.