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DNA “cage” could improve nanopore technology

February 10, 2015 10:51 am | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Despite having a diameter tens of thousands of times smaller than a human hair, nanopores could be the next big thing in DNA sequencing. By zipping DNA molecules through these tiny holes, scientists hope to one day read off genetic sequences in the blink of an eye. Now, researchers from Brown Univ. have taken the potential of nanopore technology one step further.

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.

Controlling genes with light

February 9, 2015 11:57 am | by Ken Kingery, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

Duke Univ. researchers have devised a method to activate genes in any specific location or pattern in a lab dish with the flip of a light switch by crossing a bacterium’s viral defense system with a flower’s response to sunlight. With the ability to use light to activate genes in specific locations, researchers can better study genes’ functions.

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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.

What autism can teach us about brain cancer

February 9, 2015 9:34 am | by Catherine Kolf, Johns Hopkins Univ. | News | Comments

Applying lessons learned from autism to brain cancer, researchers at The Johns Hopkins Univ. have discovered why elevated levels of the protein NHE9 add to the lethality of the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. Their discovery suggests that drugs designed to target NHE9 could help to successfully fight the deadly disease.

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.

New source of cells for modeling malaria

February 6, 2015 9:40 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In 2008, the World Health Organization announced a global effort to eradicate malaria, which kills about 800,000 people every year. As part of that goal, scientists are trying to develop new drugs that target the malaria parasite during the stage when it infects the human liver, which is crucial because some strains of malaria can lie dormant in the liver for several years before flaring up.

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.

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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.

Bioengineered miniature structures could prevent heart failure

February 4, 2015 4:10 pm | by Medical College of Wisconsin | News | Comments

The delivery of tiny biodegradable microstructures to heart tissue damaged by heart attack may help repair the tissue and prevent future heart failure. A team led by cardiovascular researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin bioengineered the microstructures to be the same size, shape and stiffness as adult heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, with the goal of releasing biologically active peptides that act as cardioprotective agents.

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.

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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.

Splash down

February 4, 2015 8:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Farmers have long noted a correlation between rainstorms and disease outbreaks among plants. Fungal parasites known as “rust” can grow particularly rampant following rain events, eating away at the leaves of wheat and potentially depleting crop harvests. While historical weather records suggest rainfall may scatter rust and other pathogens throughout a plant population, the mechanism by which this occurs has not been explored, until now.

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.

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.

Why moderate drinking might be healthy for some

February 2, 2015 10:00 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Moderate consumption of alcohol has been associated with health benefits in some, but not all, studies. Researchers at the Yale Univ. School of Medicine may have found an explanation, in part, for why non-smokers might benefit from a glass of wine.

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.

In a role reversal, RNAs proofread themselves

February 2, 2015 7:42 am | by Jaclyn Jansen, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory | News | Comments

Building a protein is a lot like a game of telephone: information is passed along from one messenger to another, creating the potential for errors every step of the way. There are separate, specialized enzymatic machines that proofread at each step, ensuring that the instructions encoded in our DNA are faithfully translated into proteins.

Complex environments push “brain” evolution

February 2, 2015 7:31 am | by Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Little animations trying to master a computer game are teaching neuroscience researchers how the brain evolves when faced with difficult tasks. Neuroscientists have programmed animated critters that they call "animats." The critters have a rudimentary neural system made of eight nodes: two sensors, two motors and four internal computers that coordinate sensation, movement and memory.

Tasting light

January 30, 2015 4:21 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Human taste receptors are specialized to distinguish several distinct compounds: sugars taste sweet, salts taste salty, and acidic compounds taste sour. Now a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that the worm Caenorhabditis elegans has taken its powers of detection a step further: The worm can taste hydrogen peroxide, triggering it to stop eating the potentially dangerous substance.

Why do zebras have stripes?

January 30, 2015 8:53 am | by Stuart Wolpert, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | Videos | Comments

One of nature’s fascinating questions is how zebras got their stripes. A team of life scientists led by Univ. of California, Los Angeles has found at least part of the answer: The amount and intensity of striping can be best predicted by the temperature of the environment in which zebras live.

DNA nanoswitches reveal how life’s molecules connect

January 30, 2015 8:17 am | by Kat J. McAlpine, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering | News | Comments

A complex interplay of molecular components governs most aspects of biological sciences: healthy organism development, disease progression and drug efficacy are all dependent on the way life's molecules interact in the body. Understanding these biomolecular interactions is critical for the discovery of new therapeutics and diagnostics to treat diseases, but currently requires scientists to have access to expensive laboratory equipment.

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