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Twin copies of gene pair up in embryonic stem cells at critical moment in differentiation

March 6, 2015 8:45 am | by Peter Tarr, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory | News | Comments

Imagine a pair of twins that everyone believed to be estranged, who turn out to be closer than anyone knew. A genetic version of this heartwarming tale might be taking place in our cells. We and other mammals have two copies of each gene, one from each parent. Each copy, or "allele," was thought to remain physically apart from the other in the cell nucleus, but a new study finds that alleles can and do pair up in mammalian cells.

Plants use water wisely—mostly

March 5, 2015 8:49 am | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Plants trade water for carbon: Every liter of water that they extract from the soil allows them to take up a few more grams of carbon from the atmosphere to use in growth. A new global study, led by Australian researchers and published in Nature Climate Change, shows that plants trade their water wisely, with different plant species having different trading strategies depending on how much it costs them to obtain their water.

Metabolic path to improved biofuel production

March 4, 2015 4:27 pm | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Researchers with the Energy Biosciences Institute have found a way to increase the production of fuels and other chemicals from biomass fermented by yeast. By introducing new metabolic pathways into the yeast, they enable the microbes to efficiently ferment cellulose and hemicellulose, the two major families of sugar found in the plant cell wall, without the need of environmentally harsh pre-treatments or expensive enzyme cocktails.

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Fossil jaw sheds light on turning point in human evolution

March 4, 2015 3:09 pm | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

A fragment of jawbone found in Ethiopia is the oldest known fossil from an evolutionary tree branch that eventually led to modern humans, scientist reported Wednesday. The fossil comes from very close to the time that our branch split away from more ape-like ancestors best known for the fossil skeleton Lucy. So it gives a rare glimpse of what very early members of our branch looked like.

Neuroscientists identify new way brain areas communicate

March 4, 2015 11:04 am | by Shilo Rea, Carnegie Mellon Univ. | News | Comments

Carnegie Mellon Univ. neuroscientists have identified a new pathway by which several brain areas communicate within the brain’s striatum. The findings illustrate structural and functional connections that allow the brain to use reinforcement learning to make spatial decisions, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal, orbitofrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex.

DNA supports human migration theory

March 3, 2015 3:55 pm | by Associated Press | News | Comments

A wave of migrants from the eastern fringes of Europe some 4,500 years ago left their trace in the DNA—and possibly the languages—of modern Europeans, according to a new study. Scientists discovered evidence of this Stone Age migration by analyzing the DNA of 69 people who lived across Europe between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago.

NREL refines method to convert lignin to nylon precursor

March 3, 2015 11:50 am | by National Renewable Energy Laboratory | News | Comments

A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory demonstrates the conversion of lignin-derived compounds to adipic acid, an important industrial dicarboxylic acid produced for its use as a precursor to nylon. The demonstration is an important step toward the goal of garnering more uses from lignin, which could be crucial for the economic success of the biofuels industry.

Giant virus revealed in 3-D using x-ray laser

March 3, 2015 8:31 am | by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory | News | Comments

For the first time, researchers have produced a 3-D image revealing part of the inner structure of an intact, infectious virus, using a unique x-ray laser at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The virus, called Mimivirus, is in a curious class of “giant viruses” discovered just over a decade ago.

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Genetics reveals where emperor penguins survived the last ice age

March 2, 2015 9:00 am | by Univ. of Southampton | News | Comments

A study of how climate change has affected emperor penguins over the last 30,000 years found that only three populations may have survived during the last ice age, and that the Ross Sea in Antarctica was likely the refuge for one of these populations.

Untangling DNA with a droplet of water, pipet and polymer

February 27, 2015 11:42 am | by KU Leuven | News | Comments

Researchers have long sought an efficient way to untangle DNA in order to study its structure under a microscope. Now, chemists and engineers at KU Leuven have devised a strikingly simple and effective solution: They inject genetic material into a droplet of water and use a pipet tip to drag it over a glass plate covered with a sticky polymer.

“Ecosystem services” help assess ocean energy development

February 27, 2015 7:47 am | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

With many projects under development in coastal regions such as New England, tidal power seems poised to join other U.S. commercial power sources. A new study finds that little is known of the impacts that tidal power projects may have on coastal environments and the people who depend on them, but that the perspective of “ecosystem services” could provide a promising framework for evaluating impacts.

Study maps extroversion types in brain’s anatomy

February 26, 2015 12:43 pm | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Everyday experience and psychological studies alike tell us there are two different types of extroverts: The gregarious “people-persons” and the ambitious “go-getters”. A new study shows that these overlapping yet distinct personalities have commensurately overlapping yet distinct signatures in the anatomy of the brain.

A mollusk of a different stripe

February 26, 2015 10:59 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

The blue-rayed limpet is a tiny mollusk that lives in kelp beds along the coasts of Norway, Iceland, the U.K., Portugal and the Canary Islands. These diminutive organisms might escape notice entirely, if not for a very conspicuous feature: bright blue dotted lines that run in parallel along the length of their translucent shells. Depending on the angle at which light hits, a limpet’s shell can flash brilliantly even in murky water.

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Can an HIV drug beat strep throat, flesh-eating bacteria?

February 25, 2015 8:44 am | by American Chemical Society | News | Comments

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, scientists are looking for innovative ways to combat bacterial infections. The pathogen that causes conditions from strep throat to flesh-eating disease is among them, but scientists have now found a tool that could help them fight it: a drug approved to treat HIV. Their work, appearing in ACS Chemical Biology, could someday lead to new treatments.

Graphene shows potential as anticancer therapeutic strategy

February 25, 2015 8:11 am | by Jamie Brown, Univ. of Manchester | News | Comments

Univ. of Manchester scientists have used graphene to target and neutralize cancer stem cells while not harming other cells. This new development opens up the possibility of preventing or treating a broad range of cancers, using a non-toxic material.

How eyelash length keeps eyes healthy

February 25, 2015 7:53 am | by Jason Maderer, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

It started with a trip to the basement of the American Museum of Natural History in New York to inspect preserved animal hides. Later, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers built a wind tunnel about 2 ft tall, complete with a makeshift eye. By putting both steps together, the team discovered that 22 species of mammals are the same: their eyelash length is one-third the width of their eye.

Pretreatment could cut biofuel costs by 30% or more

February 24, 2015 2:43 pm | by Sean Nealon, Univ. of California, Riverside | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of California, Riverside have invented a novel pretreatment technology that could cut the cost of biofuels production by about 30% or more by dramatically reducing the amount of enzymes needed to breakdown the raw materials that form biofuels.

Renewable energy obtained from wastewater

February 24, 2015 10:41 am | by Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona | News | Comments

Currently, there are treatments in which wastewater can flow out to the river or sea without causing any environmental problems. These technologies however entail high energy costs, mainly in aeration and pumping, and an elevated economic cost in treating the sludge left over from the treatment process.

Long-term nitrogen fertilizer use disrupts plant-microbe mutualisms

February 24, 2015 7:56 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor, Univ. of Illinois | News | Comments

When exposed to nitrogen fertilizer over a period of years, nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia evolve to become less beneficial to legumes, researchers report in a new study. These findings, reported in Evolution, may be of little interest to farmers, who generally grow only one type of plant and can always add more fertilizer to boost plant growth.

How brain waves guide memory formation

February 23, 2015 12:11 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Our brains generate a constant hum of activity: As neurons fire, they produce brain waves that oscillate at different frequencies. Long thought to be merely a byproduct of neuron activity, recent studies suggest that these waves may play a critical role in communication between different parts of the brain. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists adds to that evidence.

Motor proteins prefer slow, steady movement

February 23, 2015 10:43 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

It takes at least two motor proteins to tango, according to Rice Univ. scientists who discovered the workhorses that move cargo in cells are highly sensitive to the proximity of their peers. The study suggests that the collective behavior of motor proteins like kinesins keeps cellular transport systems robust by favoring slow and steady over maximum movement.

Virus-cutting enzyme helps bacteria remember a threat

February 20, 2015 12:33 pm | by Wynne Parry, Rockefeller Univ. | News | Comments

Bacteria may not have brains, but they do have memories, at least when it comes to viruses that attack them. Many bacteria have a molecular immune system which allows these microbes to capture and retain pieces of viral DNA that they have encountered in the past, in order to recognize and destroy it when it shows up again.

Researchers find surprising trigger of new brain cell growth

February 20, 2015 11:52 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists have discovered that the human brain can produce new neurons, but exactly how those cells are produced and what purpose they serve are not well understood. Now a study by Yale Univ. researchers shows that key developmental factors that control the formation of blood vessels are also necessary for activating brain stem cells.

New insight into fragile protein linked to cancer, autism

February 20, 2015 11:05 am | by American Chemical Society | News | Comments

In recent years, scientists have found a surprising a connection between some people with autism and certain cancer patients: They have mutations in the same gene, one that codes for a protein critical for normal cellular health. Now scientists have reported in Biochemistry that the defects reduce the activity and stability of the protein. Their findings could someday help lead to new treatments for both sets of patients.

Evolving a bigger brain with human DNA

February 20, 2015 10:54 am | by Karl Bates, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

The size of the human brain expanded dramatically during the course of evolution, imparting us with unique capabilities to use abstract language and do complex math. But how did the human brain get larger than that of our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, if almost all of our genes are the same?

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