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Within tarantula venom, new hope for safe painkillers found

February 19, 2014 9:19 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Screening more than 100 spider toxins, Yale Univ. researchers identified a protein from the venom of the Peruvian green velvet tarantula that blunts activity in pain-transmitting neurons. The findings, reported in Current Biology, show the new screening method used by the scientists has the potential to search millions of different spider toxins for safe pain-killing drugs and therapies.

Uncovering the secrets of tularemia

February 18, 2014 8:26 am | by Stephen P Wampler, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Tularemia is endemic in the northeastern U.S., and is considered to be a risk to biosecurity, much like anthrax or smallpox, because it has already been weaponized in various regions of the world. A postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has recently described his work to uncover the secrets of the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever."

Hitchhiking vaccines boost immunity

February 18, 2014 8:04 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Many vaccines consist of a killed or disabled version of a virus. However, for certain diseases, this type of vaccine is ineffective, or just too risky. An alternative, safer approach is a vaccine made of small fragments of proteins produced by a disease-causing virus or bacterium. This has worked for some diseases, but in many cases these vaccines don’t provoke a strong enough response. Until now.

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Research reveals structure of key protein complex

February 13, 2014 1:04 pm | by Veronica Meade-Kelly, Broad Institute | News | Comments

Researchers have formed the first high-definition picture of the Cas9 complex, a key part of the CRISPR-Cas system used by scientists as a genome-editing tool to silence genes and probe the biology of cells. Their findingsare expected to help researchers refine and further engineer the tool to accelerate genomic research and bring the technology closer to use in the treatment of human genetic disease.

Solving an evolutionary puzzle

February 12, 2014 4:58 pm | News | Comments

For four decades, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals from nearby manufacturing plants flowed into New Bedford Harbor, creating one of the EPA’s largest Superfund cleanup sites. It’s also the site of an evolutionary puzzle: small Atlantic killifish are not only tolerating the toxic conditions in the harbor, they seem to be thriving there. In a new paper, researchers may have an explanation for their genetic resistance to PCBs.

Urban bees using plastic to build hives

February 12, 2014 10:59 am | News | Comments

Once the snow melts, the bee population will be back in business pollinating and making honey. A new study by scientists in Canada reveals that some these bees use bits of plastic bags and plastic building materials to construct their nests. The discovery reveals how urban bee populations have adapted to a human-dominated world.

How chronic stress leads to mental illness

February 12, 2014 8:05 am | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley Media Relations | News | Comments

Univ. of California, Berkeley researchers have shown that chronic stress generates long-term changes in the brain that may explain why people suffering chronic stress are prone to mental problems such as anxiety and mood disorders later in life. Their findings could lead to new therapies to reduce the risk of developing mental illness after stressful events.

Meditation helps pinpoint neurological difference between two types of love

February 11, 2014 10:12 am | by Karen N. Peart, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

These findings won’t appear on any Hallmark card, but romantic love tends to activate the same reward areas of the brain as cocaine, research has shown. Now Yale School of Medicine researchers studying meditators have found that a more selfless variety of love, a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others without expectation of reward, actually turns off the same reward areas that light up when lovers see each other.

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New advance in 3-D printing and tissue engineering technology

February 11, 2014 8:46 am | News | Comments

Researchers have introduced a unique microrobotic technique to assemble the components of complex materials, the foundation of tissue engineering and 3-D printing. Tissue engineering and 3-D printing have become vitally important to the future of medicine for many reasons. The shortage of available organs for transplantation, for example, leaves many patients on waiting lists for life-saving treatment.

Roots to shoots: Hormone transport in plants deciphered

February 11, 2014 8:32 am | News | Comments

Plant growth is orchestrated by a spectrum of signals from hormones within a plant. A major group of plant hormones called cytokinins originate in the roots of plants, and their journey to growth areas on the stem and in leaves stimulates plant development. Though these phytohormones have been identified in the past, the molecular mechanism responsible for their transportation within plants was previously poorly understood. Until now.

More Hope for a HIV-1 Vaccine

February 10, 2014 9:15 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | Articles | Comments

On the eve of the 25th World AIDS Day (December 2014), President Barack Obama expressed hope to our nation, proclaiming that an “AIDS-free generation is within our reach.” During his speech, Obama expressed how our nation has made significant strides toward strengthening scientific investments, building effective HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs and bringing together public and private stakeholders.

Method for delivering HIV-fighting antibodies proven promising

February 10, 2014 8:32 am | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

In 2011, biologists at Caltech demonstrated a highly effective method for delivering HIV-fighting antibodies to mice—a treatment that protected the mice from infection by a laboratory strain of HIV delivered intravenously. Now the researchers have shown that the same procedure is just as effective against a strain of HIV found in the real world, even when transmitted across mucosal surfaces.

Peering into the transit pore

February 10, 2014 7:50 am | News | Comments

The lipid-rich membranes of cells are largely impermeable to proteins, but evolution has provided a way through—in the form of transmembrane tunnels. A new study in Germany shows in unmatched detail what happens as proteins pass through such a pore.

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Shape-sifting: NIST categorizes bio-scaffold by characteristic cell shapes

February 10, 2014 7:49 am | News | Comments

Shape is thought to play an important role in the effectiveness of cells grown to repair or replace damaged tissue in the body. To help design new structures that enable cells to "shape up," researchers at NIST have come up with a way to measure, and more importantly, classify, the shapes cells tend to take in different environments.

Computer models help decode cells that sense light without seeing

February 10, 2014 7:47 am | News | Comments

For more than two years, researchers have been investigating melanopsin, a retina pigment capable of sensing light changes in the environment, informing the nervous system and synchronizing it with the day/night rhythm. They have found that this pigment is potentially more sensitive to light than its more famous counterpart rhodopsin, the pigment that allows night vision.

Social or stinky? New study reveals how animal defenses evolve

February 10, 2014 7:44 am | by Andy Fell, UC Davis | News | Comments

When people see a skunk, the reaction usually is “Eww,” but when they see a group of meerkats peering around, they often think “Aww.” Why some animals use noxious scents while others live in social groups to defend themselves against predators is the question that biologists in California have sought to answer through a comprehensive analysis of predator-prey interactions among carnivorous mammals and birds of prey.

New application of physics tools used in biology

February 10, 2014 7:43 am | by Anne M. Stark, Livermore Lab | News | Comments

A team of physicists have used statistical mechanics and mathematical modeling to shed light on something known as epigenetic memory, which allows an organism to create a biological memory of some variable condition, such as quality of nutrition or temperature. The model highlights the "engineering" challenge a cell must constantly face during molecular recognition.

Genome editing goes hi-fi

February 10, 2014 7:42 am | News | Comments

A one-letter change in the human genetic code can sometimes mean the difference between health and a serious disease. But replicating these tiny changes in human stem cells has proven challenging. Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes have found a way to efficiently edit the human genome one letter at a time, not only boosting researchers' ability to model human disease, but also paving the way for new therapies.

Advanced approach identifies new drug candidates from genome sequence

February 10, 2014 7:41 am | News | Comments

In research that could ultimately lead to many new medicines, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have developed a potentially general approach to design drugs from genome sequence. As a proof of principle, they identified a highly potent compound that causes cancer cells to attack themselves and die.

Optogenetic toolkit goes multicolor

February 10, 2014 7:39 am | News | Comments

Optogenetics allows scientists to control neurons’ electrical activity with light by engineering them to express light-sensitive proteins, called opsins. Most opsins respond to light in the blue-green range. Now, a team has discovered an opsin that is sensitive to red light, which allows researchers to independently control the activity of two populations of neurons at once, enabling much more complex studies of brain function.  

Targeted Healing of the Immune System

February 9, 2014 10:00 am | by Lindsay Hock, Managing Editor | Articles | Comments

In the U.S. about 12,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer a year. Out of these women, about 4,500 progress into invasive cervical cancer or the end stage of the disease. This leaves about 8,000 women a year in the U.S. that are cured through existing standard of care treatment: surgery or chemotherapy/radiation. However, chemotherapy/radiation have terrible side effects in some cases.

Key photosynthetic substance present on Earth before atmospheric oxygen

February 7, 2014 11:19 am | News | Comments

A team of researchers led by Virginia Tech and Univ. of California, Berkeley, scientists has discovered that a regulatory process that turns on photosynthesis in plants at daybreak likely developed on Earth in ancient, methane-producing microbes 2.5 billion years ago, long before oxygen became available. The research opens new scientific areas in the fields of evolutionary biology and microbiology.

Doctor diagnoses man with help from TV's "House"

February 7, 2014 11:08 am | by Maria Cheng - AP Medical Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

If you're unlucky enough to be stricken with a rare medical condition, you'd better hope your doctor watches the right television show. That was the lesson for one German man with severe heart failure and a puzzling mix of symptoms including fever, blindness, deafness and enlarged lymph nodes, which baffled doctors for months.

The clean, green gas of home

February 7, 2014 8:11 am | News | Comments

Rice Univ. synthetic biologist Ramon Gonzalez sees a near future in which Americans get enough clean transportation fuel from natural gas to help make the nation energy independent. As a program director with the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, he’s in a position to help make it happen.  

New insight into an emerging genome-editing tool

February 7, 2014 7:53 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have produced the first detailed look at the 3-D structure of the Cas9 enzyme and how it partners with guide RNA to interact with target DNA. The results should enhance Cas9’s value and versatility as a genome-editing tool.

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