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The Lead

Engineering new routes to biochemicals

June 26, 2015 6:51 am | by Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service | News | Comments

Living cells can make a vast range of products for us, but they don’t always do it in the most straightforward or efficient way. Shota Atsumi, a chemistry professor at the Univ. of California, Davis, aims to address that through “synthetic biology”: designing and building new biochemical pathways within living cells, based on existing pathways from other living things.

A new means to killing harmful bacteria

June 25, 2015 11:50 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

The global rise in antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to public health, damaging our...

Unpacking the mysteries of bacterial cell cycle regulation

June 22, 2015 12:50 pm | by Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst | News | Comments

As part of their long-term investigation of regulatory factors in the bacterial cell cycle,...

A protective shield for sensitive catalysts

June 15, 2015 10:23 am | by Ruhr-Univ. Bochum | News | Comments

An international research team has found a way of protecting sensitive catalysts from oxygen-...

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Setting the circadian clock

June 15, 2015 7:46 am | by Kat J. McAlpine, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering | Videos | Comments

Often referred to as the "body clock", circadian rhythm controls what time of day people are most alert, hungry, tired or physically primed due to a complex biological process that is not unique to humans. Circadian rhythms, which oscillate over a roughly 24–hr cycle in adaptation to the Earth's rotation, have been observed in most living things on the planet, and are responsible for regulating many aspects of organisms' functions.

The winner doesn't always take all

June 11, 2015 3:59 pm | News | Comments

Researchers have been able to only speculate as to why and how this strain diversity in the bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is maintained. One theory states that less competitive strains are retained in the population if they can occupy a niche of their own that the dominant bacteria cannot colonizes.

Common antibiotic may be the answer to multidrug-resistant bacterial infections

June 11, 2015 7:44 am | by Heather Buschman, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

Contrary to current medical dogma, researchers at Univ. of California, San Diego report the common antibiotic azithromycin kills many multidrug-resistant bacteria very effectively. The researchers believe the finding could prompt an immediate review of the current standard of care for patients with certain so-called “superbug” infections.

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Yeast protein network could provide insights into obesity

June 1, 2015 11:20 am | by Ker Than, Caltech | News | Comments

A team of biologists and a mathematician have identified and characterized a network composed of 94 proteins that work together to regulate fat storage in yeast. The findings, detailed in PLOS Computational Biology, suggest that yeast could serve as a valuable test organism for studying human obesity.

Diagnosing cancer with help from bacteria

May 28, 2015 11:31 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Univ. of California at San Diego have devised a new way to detect cancer that has spread to the liver, by enlisting help from probiotics, beneficial bacteria similar to those found in yogurt. Many types of cancer, including colon and pancreatic, tend to metastasize to the liver. The earlier doctors can find these tumors, the more likely that they can successfully treat them.

Bacteria cooperate to repair damaged siblings

May 22, 2015 8:17 am | by Chad Baldwin, Univ. of Wyoming | News | Comments

A Univ. of Wyoming faculty member led a research team that discovered a certain type of soil bacteria can use their social behavior of outer membrane exchange (OME) to repair damaged cells and improve the fitness of the bacteria population as a whole.

How microbes acquire electricity in making methane

May 18, 2015 10:57 am | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stanford Univ. scientists have solved a long-standing mystery about methanogens, unique microorganisms that transform electricity and carbon dioxide into methane. In a new study, the Stanford team demonstrates for the first time how methanogens obtain electrons from solid surfaces. The discovery could help scientists design electrodes for microbial "factories" that produce methane gas and other compounds sustainably.

Solving streptide from structure to biosynthesis

May 18, 2015 7:31 am | by Princeton Univ. | News | Comments

Bacteria speak to one another using peptide signals in a soundless language known as quorum sensing. In a step towards translating bacterial communications, researchers at Princeton Univ. have revealed the structure and biosynthesis of streptide, a peptide involved in the quorum sensing system common to many streptococci.

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Nanosponge-filled gel cleans up MRSA infections

May 18, 2015 7:23 am | by Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

Nanoengineers at the Univ. of California, San Diego developed a gel filled with toxin-absorbing nanosponges that could lead to an effective treatment for skin and wound infections caused by MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This "nanosponge-hydrogel" minimized the growth of skin lesions on mice infected with MRSA, without the use of antibiotics.

New target for anti-malaria drugs

May 14, 2015 9:06 am | by Helen Knight, MIT News correspondent | News | Comments

A new target for drug development in the fight against the deadly disease malaria has been discovered by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In a recently published paper, the researchers describe how they identified the drug target while studying the way in which the parasites Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis, and Plasmodium, which causes malaria, access vital nutrients from their host cells.

Using microbial communities to assess environmental contamination

May 13, 2015 7:58 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

First there were canaries in coal mines, now there are microbes at nuclear waste sites, oil spills and other contaminated environments. A multi-institutional team of more than 30 scientists has found that statistical analysis of DNA from natural microbial communities can be used to accurately identify environmental contaminants and serve as quantitative geochemical biosensors.

Molecular homing beacon redirects human antibodies

May 7, 2015 8:28 am | by Heather Buschman, Univ. of California, San Diego | Videos | Comments

With the threat of multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens growing, new ideas to treat infections are sorely needed. Researchers at Univ. of California, San Diego report preliminary success testing an entirely novel approach: tagging bacteria with a molecular “homing beacon” that attracts pre-existing antibodies to attack the pathogens.

Producing jet fuel compounds from fungus

May 6, 2015 7:36 am | by Tina Hilding, Washington State Univ. | News | Comments

Washington State Univ. researchers have found a way to make jet fuel from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil and rotting fruit. The researchers hope the process leads to economically viable production of aviation biofuels in the next five years. The researchers used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum, similar to those in aviation fuels.

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Key element in bacterial immune system discovered

April 20, 2015 7:53 am | by Univ. of Otago | News | Comments

A Univ. of Otago scientist is a member of an international research team that has made an important discovery about the workings of a bacterial immune system. The finding could lead to the development of tailor-made RNA-editing tools. RNA is the molecule that translates DNA's genetic instructions into the production of the proteins that are the building blocks of cells.

DNA data set is potent, accessible tool

April 15, 2015 7:52 am | by Ron Walli, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists focused on producing biofuels more efficiently have a new powerful data set to help them study the DNA of microbes that fuel bioconversion and other processes. In a recently published paper, researchers describe methods and results for sequencing the Clostridium autoethanogenum bacterium. These and other microorganisms play important roles in biofuels, agriculture, food production, the environment, health and disease.

Bacteria tracked feeding nitrogen to nutrient-starved plants

April 10, 2015 11:19 am | by Justin Eure, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

With rising populations and changing climate conditions, the need for resilient and reliable crops has never been greater. Nitrogen, an essential element for plant growth, is often woefully absent in heavily farmed land. Earth’s atmosphere offers an overabundance of nitrogen, but how can it be safely and sustainably transferred into the soil? Nitrogen-eating bacteria may be the answer.

Researchers develop computational model to simulate bacterial behavior

March 30, 2015 8:25 am | by Univ. of Notre Dame | News | Comments

Univ. of Notre Dame applied mathematician Mark Alber and environmental biotechnologist Robert Nerenberg have developed a new computational model that effectively simulates the mechanical behavior of biofilms. Their model may lead to new strategies for studying a range of issues from blood clots to waste treatment systems.

Brain tumor cells decimated by mitochondrial 'smart bomb'

March 24, 2015 10:25 am | by Houston Methodist | News | Comments

An experimental drug that attacks brain tumor tissue by crippling the cells' energy source called the mitochondria has passed early tests in animal models and human tissue cultures, say Houston Methodist scientists.

Mapping redox switches in cyanobacteria advances use as biofuel

March 20, 2015 8:19 am | by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory | News | Comments

Chemical reactions involving reduction and oxidation, or redox, play a key role in regulating photosynthesis in plants and metabolism in animals and humans, keeping things running on an even keel. Now, in a recently published study, a team of scientists shed light on the role redox plays in cyanobacteria, tiny organisms with the potential to produce a lot of energy.

A better way to study the stomach flu

March 17, 2015 7:52 am | by Jade Boyd, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Rice Univ. bioengineers are teaming with colleagues from Baylor College of Medicine and MD Anderson Cancer Center to apply the latest techniques in tissue engineering toward the study of one of the most common and deadly human illnesses: the stomach flu. The bacteria and viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis often come from contaminated food or water and result in cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Permafrost’s turn on the microbes

March 4, 2015 5:16 pm | by Mary Beckman, PNNL | News | Comments

As the Arctic warms, tons of carbon locked away in Arctic tundra will be transformed into the powerful greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane, but scientists know little about how that transition takes place. Now, scientists looking at microbes in different types of Arctic soil have a new picture of life in permafrost that reveals entirely new species and hints that subzero microbes might be active.

Experiment and theory unite in debate over microbial nanowires

March 4, 2015 11:12 am | by Janet Lathrop, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst | News | Comments

Scientific debate has been hot lately about whether microbial nanowires, the specialized electrical pili of the mud-dwelling anaerobic bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens, truly possess metallic-like conductivity as its discoverers claim. But now a Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst team says they settled the dispute between theoretical and experimental scientists by devising a combination of new experiments and better theoretical modeling.

Unlocking the key to immunological memory in bacteria

March 2, 2015 11:41 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

A powerful genome editing tool may soon become even more powerful. Researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have unlocked the key to how bacteria are able to “steal” genetic information from viruses and other foreign invaders for use in their own immunological memory system.

First detailed microscopy evidence of bacteria at the lower size limit of life

March 2, 2015 8:08 am | by Dan Krotz, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Scientists have captured the first detailed microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria that are believed to be about as small as life can get. The existence of ultra-small bacteria has been debated for two decades, but there hasn’t been a comprehensive electron microscopy and DNA-based description of the microbes until now.

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.

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