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Epigenomics of Alzheimer’s disease progression

February 18, 2015 9:50 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Our susceptibility to disease depends both on the genes that we inherit from our parents and on our lifetime experiences. These two components—nature and nurture—seem to affect very different processes in the context of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published in Nature.

Voltage tester for beating cardiac cells

February 18, 2015 9:36 am | by ETH Zurich | News | Comments

Electrical impulses play an important role in cells of the human body. For example, neurons use these impulses to transmit information along their branches and the body also uses them to control the contraction of muscles. The impulses are generated when special channel proteins open in the outer envelope of the cells, allowing charged molecules (ions) to enter or exit the cell. These proteins are referred to as ion channels.

Paving the way for painkillers with fewer side effects

February 18, 2015 8:40 am | by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers have long sought alternatives to morphine that curb its side effects, including dependency, nausea and dizziness. Now, an experiment at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has supplied the most complete atomic-scale map of such a compound docked with a cellular receptor that regulates the body’s pain response and tolerance.

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Plants survive better through mass extinctions than animals

February 17, 2015 12:17 pm | by Univ. of Gothenburg | News | Comments

At least five mass extinction events have profoundly changed the history of life on Earth. But a new study led by researchers at the Univ. of Gothenburg shows that plants have been very resilient to those events. For over 400 million years, plants have played an essential role in almost all terrestrial environments and covered most of the world's surface.

Scientists shed light on controversial theory of protein structure

February 13, 2015 8:54 am | by Univ. of Bristol | News | Comments

A team of chemists, biochemists and mathematicians at the Univ. of Bristol have published a paper which explores how protein structures are stabilized. There are many forces that hold together the 3-D, functional structures of proteins. Despite considerable effort, understanding of these forces is still quite rudimentary.

Shedding light on structure of key cellular “gatekeeper”

February 13, 2015 8:22 am | by Jon Nalick, Caltech | News | Comments

Facing a challenge akin to solving a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle while blindfolded, and without touching the pieces, many structural biochemists thought it would be impossible to determine the atomic structure of a massive cellular machine called the nuclear pore complex, which is vital for cell survival. But after 10 years of attacking the problem, a team recently solved almost a third of the puzzle.

Cerebral palsy - it can be in your genes

February 12, 2015 11:29 am | by Univ. of Adelaide | News | Comments

An international research group led by a team at the University of Adelaide has made what they believe could be the biggest discovery into cerebral palsy in 20 years.                

Evolution of a natural gene network explored by Yale researchers

February 12, 2015 11:24 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists have extensive knowledge of how mutations of single genes during evolution can have a fitness cost or benefit for the host organism. However, genes are often embedded into complex regulatory networks. The role of these gene networks in evolution is less well understood. 

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Engineers put the “squeeze” on human stem cells

February 10, 2015 2:10 pm | by Ioana Patringenaru, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

After using optical tweezers to squeeze a tiny bead attached to the outside of a human stem cell, researchers now know how mechanical forces can trigger a key signaling pathway in the cells. The squeeze helps to release calcium ions stored inside the cells and opens up channels in the cell membrane that allow the ions to flow into the cells, according to the study led by Univ. of California, San Diego bioengineer Yingxiao Wang.

Serotonin-deficient brains more vulnerable to social stress

February 10, 2015 8:48 am | by Karl Bates, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

Mice genetically deficient in serotonin, a crucial brain chemical implicated in clinical depression, are more vulnerable than their normal littermates to social stressors, according to a Duke Univ. study. Following exposure to stress, the serotonin-deficient mice also did not respond to a standard antidepressant, fluoxetine (Prozac), which works by boosting serotonin transmission between neighboring neurons.

Forcing wounds to close

February 9, 2015 10:20 am | by Amal Naquiah, National Univ. of Singapore | News | Comments

A collaborative study led by scientists from the Mechanobiology Institute and the National Univ. of Singapore has revealed the mechanical forces that drive epithelial wound healing in the absence of cell supporting environment. This research was published in Nature Communications.

DNA strands on end of chromosomes hint when we will die

February 6, 2015 1:17 pm | by Todd Hollingshead, Brigham Young Univ. | News | Comments

Brigham Young Univ. biologist Jonathan Alder has a startling secret he doesn’t freely share: he knows when most of us are going to die. Okay, he doesn’t know exactly the day or time, but he has a pretty good idea, thanks to his research on tiny biological clocks attached to our chromosomes. These DNA end caps, called telomeres, are the great predictors of life expectancy: the shorter your telomeres, the shorter your lifespan.

Non-damaging x-ray technique unveils protein complex that uses sunlight to split water

February 6, 2015 10:32 am | by RIKEN | News | Comments

A more accurate view of the structure of the oxygen-evolving complex that splits water during photosynthesis is now in hand thanks to a study involving researchers from the RIKEN SPring-8 Center, Okayama Univ. and the Japan Science and Technology Agency. The new model of natural photosynthesis provides a blueprint for synthesizing water-splitting catalysts that mimic this natural process.

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Diamonds could help bring proteins into focus

February 6, 2015 7:40 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Proteins are the building blocks of all living things, and they exist in virtually unlimited varieties, most of whose highly complex structures have not yet been determined. Those structures could be key to developing new drugs or to understanding basic biological processes. But figuring out the arrangement of atoms in these complicated, folded molecules usually requires getting them to form crystals large enough to be observed in detail.

15-million-year-old mollusk protein found

February 5, 2015 10:33 am | by Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institute | News | Comments

A team of Carnegie Institute scientists have found “beautifully preserved” 15-million-year-old thin protein sheets in fossil shells from southern Maryland. The team collected samples from Calvert Cliffs, along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay, a popular fossil collecting area. They found fossilized shells of a snail-like mollusk called Ecphora that lived in the mid-Miocene era.

Pigeon power

February 5, 2015 7:50 am | by Sara Agnew, Univ. of Iowa | News | Comments

The more scientists study pigeons, the more they learn how their brains operate in ways not so different from our own. In a new study from the Univ. of Iowa, researchers found that pigeons can categorize and name both natural and manmade objects. These birds categorized 128 photographs into 16 categories, and they did so simultaneously.

Scientists call for antibody “bar code” system to follow Human Genome Project

February 4, 2015 4:05 pm | by Nancy Ambrosiano, Los Alamos National Laboratory | News | Comments

More than 100 researchers from around the world have collaborated to craft a request that could fundamentally alter how the antibodies used in research are identified, a project potentially on the scale of the now-completed Human Genome Project.

Microscopy technique allows mapping protein synthesis in living tissues, animals

February 4, 2015 3:06 pm | by Jessica Guenzel, Columbia Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers at Columbia Univ. have made a significant step toward visualizing complex protein metabolism in living systems with high resolution and minimum disturbance, a longstanding goal in the scientific community. In a recent study, the research team has reported a light microscopy method to image where the new proteins are produced and where the old proteins are degraded inside living tissues and animals.

How the brain ignores distractions

February 4, 2015 10:18 am | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

When we concentrate on something, we also engage in the unsung, parallel act of purposefully ignoring other things. A new study describes how the brain may achieve such “optimal inattention.” With this knowledge, scientists at Brown Univ. hope they can harness our power to ignore.

Record keeping helps bacteria’s immune system fight invaders

February 4, 2015 10:01 am | by SLAC Office of Communications | News | Comments

Bacteria have a sophisticated means of defending themselves, and they need it: more viruses infect bacteria than any other biological entity. Two experiments undertaken at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory provide new insight at the heart of bacterial adaptive defenses in a system called CRISPR, short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat.

Getting yeast to pump up the protein production

February 3, 2015 11:43 am | by Amanda Morris, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

From manufacturing life-saving biopharmaceuticals to producing energy-efficient biofuels, the cost-effective production of proteins will be essential to revolutionizing the future of health care and energy. For years, scientists have turned to yeast as a quick and inexpensive way to mass-produce proteins for a variety of useful products. Now Northwestern Univ. has found a way to gather more protein without making the yeast produce more.

How the brain controls robotic grasping tools

February 3, 2015 8:01 am | by Jeff Sossamon, Univ. of Missouri-Columbia | News | Comments

Grasping an object involves a complex network of brain functions. First, visual cues are processed in specialized areas of the brain. Then, other areas of the brain use these signals to control the hands to reach for and manipulate the desired object. New findings suggest that the cerebellum may play a critical role. Findings could lead to advancements in assistive technologies benefiting the disabled.

Biologists partner bacterium with nitrogen gas to produce more, cleaner bioethanol

February 3, 2015 7:56 am | by Stephen Chaplin, Indiana Univ. | News | Comments

Indiana Univ. biologists believe they have found a faster, cheaper and cleaner way to increase bioethanol production by using nitrogen gas, the most abundant gas in Earth’s atmosphere, in place of more costly industrial fertilizers. The discovery could save the industry millions of dollars and make cellulosic ethanol more competitive with corn ethanol and gasoline.

Cyanobacterium found in algae collection holds promise for biotech applications

February 2, 2015 10:53 am | by Diana Lutz, Washington Univ. in St. Louis | News | Comments

Cyanobacteria, bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis, are of considerable interest as bio-factories, organisms that could be harnessed to generate a range of industrially useful products. Part of their appeal is that they can grow on sunlight and carbon dioxide alone and thus could contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions and moving away from a petrochemical-based economy.

Walking on ice takes more than brains

February 2, 2015 7:54 am | by The Salk Institute | News | Comments

Walking across an icy parking lot in winter—and remaining upright—takes intense concentration. But a new discovery suggests that much of the balancing act that our bodies perform when faced with such a task happens unconsciously, thanks to a cluster of neurons in our spinal cord that function as a “mini-brain” to integrate sensory information and make the necessary adjustments to our muscles so that we don’t slip and fall.

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