Environmental DNA (eDNA)

Download pdf version. What it is: Getting DNA from soil, water, and even from thin air Imagine you want to study a particular animal, but this animal is difficult to find or catch. You might trace their tracks to determine where they’ve been, or study their feces to learn what they eat. Biologists have always [...]

Dog DNA testing

Download pdf version. What it is: Learning more about your dog through their DNA You might have heard of direct-to-consumer DNA tests that give information on a person’s ancestry. These tests work by comparing regions of DNA that vary across human populations and can provide you with information about where in the world your ancestors [...]


Download pdf version. What it is: RNA – not just a messenger! For a long time, RNA was viewed mostly as just a simple intermediary between DNA and protein. To make a protein, a DNA sequence, or a gene, must first be copied into messenger RNA (mRNA) in a process called transcription. Next, in a [...]

mRNA vaccines

Download pdf version. What they are: A new tool for the job Your immune system's job is to recognize foreign bacteria and viruses and clear them from your body. Your immune system does this using antibodies. Antibodies are large proteins created by immune cells that recognize and bind to a piece of a foreign invader, [...]


Download pdf version. What they are: Infectious proteins In the 1950s and ‘60s, an epidemic of a disease known as kuru hit the Fore tribal peoples in Papua New Guinea. Victims experienced muscle tremors that eventually gave way to a complete loss of motor control. The late stages of the illness brought on uncontrolled emotional [...]

Cell-free protein synthesis

Download pdf version. What it is: An easier method to make all the proteins we need When someone has diabetes, their body is unable to produce the hormone insulin and can’t properly signal when to store nutrients. To make up for their lack of insulin, diabetes patients will instead inject themselves with insulin that has [...]

RNA-Seq (RNA sequencing)

Download pdf version. What it is: Using sequencing to measure RNA Seeing an artisan’s toolkit can tell you a lot about how that person works. But to truly understand their process, you would want to see how and when all those different tools are used. In genetics, you can think of an organism’s genome as [...]

Cancer immunotherapy

Download pdf version. What it is: Using the immune system to fight cancer Doctors have had ways to kill cancerous tumors for a long time. They can remove cancers through surgery; they can kill them with radiation or chemotherapy. The weakness of these treatments is that it is very hard to recognize and target every [...]

Directed evolution

Download pdf version. What it is: Let biology do the engineering Imagine being asked to improve an incredibly complex machine, one so complex that you don’t completely understand its inner workings. You would have to start by tinkering with some trial and error. But the chance of succeeding with this approach would be extremely low [...]

Animal cloning

Download pdf version. What it is: Making a genetic copy of an organism In 1996, scientists announced the birth of Dolly the sheep. Dolly was the first mammal to be born that was an identical genetic copy of an adult organism – she was a clone. The news made headlines worldwide as people argued we [...]

RNA Interference (RNAi)

Download pdf version. What it is: There's more than one way to turn off a gene For a cell to develop and function, it is essential that it can turn specific genes on or off at different times. Normally, we think of turning a DNA sequence into a protein as a fairly linear process – [...]

Droplet Digital PCR

Download pdf version. What it is: Counting the needles in your haystack When PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) was invented in the 1980s, it revolutionized biology. With tiny amounts of DNA, scientists could make billions of copies of a particular sequence that they were interested in, and with those billions of copies do all sorts of [...]

Personal genetic ancestry testing

Download pdf version. What it is: Using your DNA to track where your ancestors are from You’ve certainly seen the ads; spit in a tube, put it in the mail, and find out who you are and where you are from. For people interested in their ancestry, the promise of a precise breakdown of what [...]

Nanopore sequencing

Download pdf version. What it is: Sequencing without base pairing The goal of DNA sequencing is to determine the exact order of nucleotides, adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C), in a DNA molecule. The difficulty is that DNA is far too small to visualize directly. Since DNA sequencing was first invented in [...]

Codon recoding

Download pdf version. What it is: Making the genetic code a little less universal Imagine that you are an explorer traveling from your homeland to uncharted territories long ago. Now imagine that every new person you meet in these distant lands, from sea-faring cultures on one side of the world to jungle tribes on the [...]

Synthetic life: The minimal genome

Download pdf version. What it is: Creating life from scratch? Creating life where none previously existed has been the stuff of science fiction since Victor Frankenstein. The field of synthetic biology tries to make designing original life forms a scientific reality. Scientists designing synthetic life have several interests, ranging from studying life’s origins to engineering [...]

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Download pdf version. What it is: Giving organisms the traits we desire The crops that farmers grow today look very different from the wild counterparts from which they are descended. Corn, for example, is descended from a wild grass. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, collard greens, savoy, and kohlrabi are all descended from a [...]

Gene Drive

Download pdf version. What it is: Cheating genetic probability  Normally, when you flip a coin there is a 50:50 chance of getting heads or tails. But there are ways to cheat. You could use a biased coin: one that is weighted, or even a coin where both sides are heads. When an organism reproduces sexually, [...]

Synthetic biology

Download pdf version. What it is: Engineered biological components Synthetic biology lies at the intersection of biology and engineering. One way to define synthetic biology is as ”the use of engineering principles to design and assemble biological components,” in other words, the artificial design of biological objects or living organisms using standardized rules. But this [...]

Cell-free Fetal DNA Screening (cffDNA)

Download pdf version. What it is: Non-invasive prenatal genetic testing New research has discovered that it is possible to obtain genetic information prenatally directly from the mother’s blood, without disrupting the developing fetus or placenta. These tests can detect fetal DNA (cffDNA) directly in the mother’s blood as early as 7 weeks into pregnancy. They [...]