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Synthetic biology for space exploration

November 10, 2014 9:27 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Does synthetic biology hold the key to manned space exploration of the moon and Mars? Berkeley Lab researchers have used synthetic biology to produce an inexpensive and reliable microbial-based alternative to the world’s most effective anti-malaria drug, and to develop clean, green and sustainable alternatives to gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. In the future, synthetic biology could also be used to make manned space missions more practical.

How human cells become immortal

November 10, 2014 8:35 am | by Dan Krotz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Every day, some of your cells stop dividing, and that’s a good thing. Cells that proliferate indefinitely are immortal, an essential early step in the development of most malignant tumors. Despite its importance in cancer, the process of cell immortalization is poorly understood. That’s because scientists have lacked a good way to study immortalization in human cells as it occurs during cancer progression.

First peek at how neurons multitask

November 10, 2014 8:01 am | by Laura Williams, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan have shown how a single neuron can perform multiple functions in a model organism, illuminating for the first time this fundamental biological mechanism and shedding light on the human brain. Investigators found that a neuron in C. elegans regulates both the speed and direction in which the worm moves.

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Synthetic biology for space exploration

November 6, 2014 3:13 pm | by Lynn Yarris, Berkeley Lab | News | Comments

Does synthetic biology hold the key to manned space exploration of the Moon and Mars? Berkeley Lab researchers have used synthetic biology to produce an inexpensive and reliable microbial-based alternative to the world’s most effective anti-malaria drug.

Getting to the root of plants’ natural sunscreen

November 5, 2014 8:18 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Plants bask in the sun and need its light to live, but they also coat themselves in a natural sunscreen like a sunbather on the beach, protecting themselves from damaging rays. A new study examined the properties and mechanics of the molecule plants use to absorb harmful ultraviolet-B radiation, and its SPF rating would be off the charts.

High-speed “label-free” imaging could reveal dangerous plaques

November 4, 2014 1:21 pm | by Emil Venere, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers are close to commercializing a new type of medical imaging technology that could diagnose cardiovascular disease by measuring ultrasound signals from molecules exposed to a fast-pulsing laser. The system takes precise 3-D images of plaques lining arteries and identifies deposits that are likely to rupture and cause heart attacks.

Distillers grains with calcium oxide improve cattle diets

November 4, 2014 8:08 am | by Darrin Pack, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Research by Purdue Univ. scientist Jon Schoonmaker and his colleagues has shown that small amounts of calcium oxide can neutralize the acid in distillers grains, a commonly used alternative to corn in many livestock feed mixes. The findings are good news for beef producers hoping to provide a more nutritious, better balanced diet to their animals while keeping their feed budgets manageable.

Running robots of future may learn from world’s best two-legged runners

November 3, 2014 10:49 am | by David Stauth, Oregon State Univ. | News | Comments

With an eye toward making better running robots, researchers have made surprising new findings about some of nature’s most energy-efficient bipeds—running birds. Although birds are designed primarily for flight, scientists have learned that species that predominately live on land and scurry around on the ground are also some of the most sophisticated runners of any two-legged land animals.

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Technique turns antibodies into highly tuned nanobodies

November 3, 2014 7:53 am | by Zach Veilleux, The Rockefeller Univ. | News | Comments

Antibodies, in charge of recognizing and homing in on molecular targets, are among the most useful tools in biology and medicine. Nanobodies—antibodies’ tiny cousins—can do the same tasks, for example marking molecules for research or flagging diseased cells for destruction. But, thanks to their comparative simplicity nanobodies offer the tantalizing prospect of being much easier to produce.

Lack of oxygen delayed the appearance of animals on Earth

November 1, 2014 6:46 pm | by Jim Shelton, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Geologists are letting the air out of a nagging mystery about the development of animal life on Earth. Scientists have long speculated as to why animal species didn’t flourish sooner, once sufficient oxygen covered the Earth’s surface.

Link seen between seizures and migraines in the brain

November 1, 2014 11:59 am | by A'ndrea Elyse Messer, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

Seizures and migraines have always been considered separate physiological events in the brain, but now a team of engineers and neuroscientists looking at the brain from a physics viewpoint discovered a link between these and related phenomena.

Researchers track ammonium source in open ocean

November 1, 2014 11:49 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

To understand the extent to which human activities are polluting Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, it’s important to distinguish human-made pollutants from compounds that occur naturally. A recent study co-authored by a Brown Univ. professor does just that for ammonium, a compound that is produced by human activities like agriculture, as well as by natural processes that occur in the ocean.

Decoding the emergence of metastatic cancer stem cells

November 1, 2014 11:15 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

In the first study of its kind, Rice Univ. researchers have mapped how information flows through the genetic circuits that cause cancer cells to become metastatic. The research reveals a common pattern in the decision-making that allows cancer cells to both migrate and form new tumors.

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Cell division, minus the cells

October 31, 2014 12:42 pm | by Elizabeth Cooney, Harvard Univ. | News | Comments

The process of cell division is central to life. The last stage, cytokinesis, when two daughter cells split from each other, has fascinated scientists but has been notoriously difficult to study. Now Harvard Medical School systems biologists report that they have reconstituted cytokinesis, complete with signals that direct molecular traffic, without the cell.

Heart-therapy researchers develop nanobullet drug delivery system

October 31, 2014 9:52 am | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. School of Medicine researchers have developed a new formula for delivering the therapeutic peptide apelin to heart tissue for treatment of hypertrophy, a hereditary disease commonly attributed to sudden death in athletes. The nanoscale delivery system, which dramatically increases the peptide’s stability, shows promise for treating heart disease in humans, the researchers said.

Making lab-grown tissues stronger

October 31, 2014 8:54 am | by Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service | News | Comments

Lab-grown tissues could one day provide new treatments for injuries and damage to the joints, including articular cartilage, tendons and ligaments. Cartilage, for example, is a hard material that caps the ends of bones and allows joints to work smoothly. Univ. of California, Davis biomedical engineers, exploring ways to toughen up engineered cartilage and keep natural tissues strong outside the body, report new developments.

Identifying the source of stem cells

October 30, 2014 3:14 pm | News | Comments

When most animals begin life, cells immediately begin accepting assignments to become a head, tail or a vital organ. However, mammalian cells become the protective placenta or to commit to forming the baby. It’s during this critical first step that research from Michigan State Univ. has revealed key discoveries. The results provide insights into where stem cells come from, and could advance research in regenerative medicine.

Making lab-grown tissues stronger

October 30, 2014 3:09 pm | News | Comments

Cartilage, for example, is a hard material that caps the ends of bones and allows joints to work smoothly, but engineered replacement tissue is, mechanically, far from native tissue. Researchers in California report the use of an enzyme that has greatly improved engineering cartilage built from cultures. It promotes cross-linking and makes the material stronger.

Heart’s own immune cells can help it heal

October 30, 2014 2:55 pm | by Julia Evangelou Strait, Washington Univ. in St. Louis | News | Comments

The heart holds its own pool of immune cells capable of helping it heal after injury, according to new research in mice at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. When the heart is injured, beneficial immune cells are often supplanted by bone marrow cells, which cause damaging inflammation. In a mouse model, researchers showed that blocking the bone marrow’s macrophages protects the organ’s beneficial pool of macrophages.

Are my muscular dystrophy drugs working?

October 30, 2014 8:25 am | by Mary Beckman, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory | News | Comments

People with muscular dystrophy could one day assess the effectiveness of their medication with the help of a smartphone-linked device, a new study in mice suggests. The study used a new method to process ultrasound imaging information that could lead to hand-held instruments that provide fast, convenient medical information.

Afingen uses precision method to enhance plants

October 30, 2014 8:17 am | by Julie Chao, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Imagine being able to precisely control specific tissues of a plant to enhance desired traits without affecting the plant’s overall function. Thus a rubber tree could be manipulated to produce more natural latex. Trees grown for wood could be made with higher lignin content, making for stronger yet lighter-weight lumber.

Tiny nanopores make big impact

October 30, 2014 8:05 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

A team led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists has created a new kind of ion channel consisting of short carbon nanotubes, which can be inserted into synthetic bilayers and live cell membranes to form tiny pores that transport water, protons, small ions and DNA. These carbon nanotube “porins” have significant implications for future health care and bioengineering applications.

Study: Cinematic experience governed by contextual clues, not screen size

October 29, 2014 1:12 pm | News | Comments

If the surroundings are designed to be sufficiently stimulating, even a simple computer screen is enough to generate an intense cinematic experience. After observing some 300 study subjects, researchers in Germany have concluded that the angle of viewing does not play a vital role in the cinematic experience. Instead, the presence of so-called contextual visual cues plays a greater role in actually drawing viewers into a movie.

Nano ruffles in brain matter

October 29, 2014 12:37 pm | News | Comments

An accumulation of amyloid-beta proteins deposits called plaques is known to cause Alzheimer’s disease. One aspect of this illness that has not received much attention is which role the structure of the brain environment plays. Researchers have discovered that macromolecules like astrocytes provide well-defined physical cues in the form of ruffles that have a crucial role in promoting healthy interactions between cells in the hippocampus.

Researchers prove mathematical models can predict cellular processes

October 29, 2014 9:33 am | News | Comments

A team led by Virginia Tech researchers studied cells found in breast and other types of connective tissue and discovered new information about cell transitions that take place during wound healing and cancer. They developed mathematical models to predict the dynamics of cell transitions, and by comparison gained new understanding of how a substance known as transforming growth factor triggers cell transformations.

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