This week in science – April 2

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

New dwarf planet discovered within our solar system

With the discovery that the outer solar system might be home to dozens of dwarf planets, the solar map might become much more complicated. Peter Clark/Flickr Commons

With the discovery that the outer solar system might be home to dozens of dwarf planets, the solar map might become much more complicated. Peter Clark/Flickr Commons

Astronomers have discovered a new dwarf planet within our solar system that has an orbit further out than anything previously found.

Dwarf planets are essentially solar objects large enough to be affected by gravity but not large enough to clear the space around them, such as Pluto and Sedna (the previous record holder for farthest planet).

The new planet, VP113, never orbits closer than 12 billion kilometers from our sun. This new discovery, along with the existence of Sedna, has convinced astronomers that there may be many more dwarf planets in our outer solar system.

“We’re pretty confident now that Sedna’s not unique,” Chad Trujillo, lead author of the study, said in an interview with Nature. “There could be hundreds of thousands, if not more. We don’t really know.”

Find out more: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/

New breakthrough in biological engineering

Scientists have created a synthetic replacement for one of the chromosomes in yeast that is able to be successfully passed through generations.

Yeast cells have 16 chromosomes and a nucleus, making it the first time chromosomes have been synthetically created for something other than simple organisms like bacteria.

The team redesigned the chromosome, resulting in a chromosome with over 40,000 fewer base pairs of DNA than the original chromosome. The team did this by removing redundant and “junk” DNA that is known to not code for any proteins.

“We have taught it a few tricks by inserting some special widgets into its chromosome,” Jef Boeke, who led the international team, said in an interview with the BBC. “What’s really exciting about it is the extent to which we have changed the sequence and still come out with a happy healthy yeast at the end.”

One of the new tricks that’s been inserted is a chemical switch attached to the chromosome that allows for easier genetic manipulation. The hope is to make it easier for yeast to be adapted for other industrial processes.

Find out more: http://www.bbc.com/news/

New home test for colon cancer

An FDA advisory panel approved home colon cancer test that may prove an alternative to invasive examinations. A Healthier Michigan/Flickr Commons

An FDA advisory panel approved home colon cancer test that may prove an alternative to invasive examinations. A Healthier Michigan/Flickr Commons

An at-home, non-invasive test for colon cancer has received unanimous approval from an FDA advisory panel.

The test involves using a collection kit to take a stool sample at home and then shipping the sample to a lab for testing. This test has been found to be 94 per cent effective in detecting the early stages of cancer.

Regular screening for colon cancer is important as it can reduce mortality rates by 60 per cent in adults over 50 if the cancer is detected early.

This test could serve to be a non-invasive alternative for those who prefer to not have a colonoscopy, a rather invasive screening method.

Find out more: http://www.cbsnews.com/