Scientists have scoured cow rumens and termite guts for microbes that can efficiently break down plant cell walls for the production of next-generation biofuels, but some of the best microbial candidates actually may reside in the human lower intestine, researchers report. Their studyis the first to use biochemical approaches to confirm the hypothesis that microbes in the human gut can digest fiber.
Purdue Univ. researchers have discovered the structure of the enzyme that makes cellulose, a finding that could lead to easier ways of breaking down plant materials to make biofuels and other products and materials. The research also provides the most detailed glimpse to date of the complicated process by which cellulose is produced.
The liver provides critical functions, such as ridding the body of toxins, but its failure can be deadly, and there are few options for fixing it. A promising alternative in development is transplanting liver cells made using adult stem cells, but the only source identified until now has been bone marrow. Recently, scientists identified another, more convenient, source of adult stem cells that could be used for this purpose:tonsils.
Antarctic fish that manufacture their own "antifreeze" proteins to survive in the icy Southern Ocean also suffer an unfortunate side effect: The protein-bound ice crystals that accumulate inside their bodies resist melting even when temperatures warm. Ice that doesn't melt at its normal melting point is referred to as "superheated”, and the phenomenon was an unexpected discovery by scientists in Oregon and Illinois.
Achieving complete breakdown of plant biomass for energy conversion in industrialized bioreactors remains a complex challenge, but new research shows that termite fungus farmers solved this problem more than 30 million years ago. The new insight reveals that the great success of termite farmers as plant decomposers is due to division of labor.
Using an optical microstructure and gold nanoparticles, scientists have amplified the interaction of light with DNA to the extent that they can now track interactions between individual DNA molecule segments. In doing so, they have approached the limits of what is physically possible. This optical biosensor for single unlabelled molecules could also be a breakthrough in the development of biochips:
Each year, new strains of bacteria emerge that resist even the most powerful antibiotics, but scientists have discovered very few new classes of antibiotics in the past decade. Engineers have now turned a powerful new weapon on these superbugs. Using a gene-editing system that can disable any target gene, they have shown that they can selectively kill bacteria carrying harmful genes that confer antibiotic resistance or cause disease.
Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that may hold the key to healthy aging. This switch, which involves the enzyme telomerase, points to a way to encourage healthy cells to keep dividing and generating, for example, new lung or liver tissue, even in old age.
Biochemists in California have developed a program that predicts the placement of chemical marks that control the activity of genes based on sequences of DNA. By comparing sequences with and without epigenomic modification, the researchers identified DNA patterns associated with the changes. They call this novel analysis pipeline Epigram and have made both the program and the DNA motifs they identified openly available to other scientists.
There's some truth to the effectiveness of folk remedies, according to findings by a team from Detroit Medical Center. Dr. Sonal Saraiya and her colleagues in Michigan found that packing strips of cured pork in the nose of a child who suffers from uncontrollable, life-threatening nosebleeds can stop the hemorrhaging. The discovery won a 2014 Ig Nobel prize, the annual award for sometimes inane, but often practical, scientific discoveries.
For decades, researchers have tried to develop broadly effective vaccines to prevent the spread of illnesses such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. While limited progress has been made along these lines, there are still no licensed vaccinations available that can protect most people from these devastating diseases. So what are immunologists to do when vaccines just aren't working?
No matter how many times it’s demonstrated, it’s still hard to envision bacteria as social, communicating creatures. But by using a signaling system called “quorum sensing,” these single-celled organisms radically alter their behavior to suit their population. In short, some bacteria “know” how many of them are present, and act accordingly.
For years, neuroscientists have been trying to develop tools that would allow them to clearly view the brain's circuitry in action. To get this complete picture, neuroscientists are working to develop a range of new tools to study the brain. Researchers at Caltech have developed one such tool that provides a new way of mapping neural networks in a living organism.
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have devised a new antibiotic based on vancomycin that is powerfully effective against vancomycin-resistant strains of MRSA and other disease-causing bacteria. The new vancomycin analog appears to have not one but two distinct mechanisms of anti-microbial action, against which bacteria probably cannot evolve resistance quickly.
Fewer than half of all patients who are suspected of having a genetic disease actually receive a satisfactory diagnosis. To solve this problem, scientists have developed an innovative diagnostic procedure, called PhenIX, that combines the analysis of genetic irregularities with the patient's clinical presentation. The method involves a search for genes that cause disease and its related phenotypes to produce a short, testable list.
It's incredibly unlikely that Ebola would mutate to spread through the air, and the best way to make sure it doesn't is to stop the epidemic, a top government scientist told concerned lawmakers Wednesday. "A virus that doesn't replicate, doesn't mutate," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
Ever since Robert Hooke first described cells in 1665, scientists have been trying to figure out what goes on inside. One of the most exciting modern techniques involves injecting cells with synthetic genetic molecules that can passively report on the cell's behavior. A new computer model could not only improve the sensitivity and success of these synthetic molecules, but also make them easier to design in the first place.
The number of American men and women with big-bellied, apple-shaped figures—the most dangerous kind of obesity—has climbed at a startling rate over the past decade, according to a government study. People whose fat has settled mostly around their waistlines instead of in their hips, thighs, buttocks or all over are known to run a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and other obesity-related ailments.
Yale Univ. scientists are exploring uncharted genomic islands to study new chemistry between bacteria and their hosts, from invertebrates to humans. One such discovery is published in Chemistry & Biology. The findings describe a biological pathway that contains a hypothetical protein responsible for the formation of a rare, bicyclic sugar.
The American strategy on Ebola is two-pronged: step up desperately needed aid to West Africa and, in an unusual step, train U.S. doctors and nurses for volunteer duty in the outbreak zone. At home, the goal is to speed up medical research and put hospitals on alert should an infected traveler arrive.
A potential way to treat muscular dystrophy directly targets muscle repair instead of the underlying genetic defect that usually leads to the disease. Muscular dystrophies are a group of muscle diseases characterized by skeletal muscle wasting and weakness. Mutations in certain proteins, most commonly the protein dystrophin, cause muscular dystrophy in humans and also in mice.
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered a novel cause of glaucoma in an animal model, and related to their findings, are now developing an eye drop aimed at curing the disease. They believe their findings will be important to human glaucoma. A cure for glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., has been elusive because the basis of the disease is poorly understood.
The human brain is capable of a neural workaround that compensates for the buildup of beta-amyloid, a destructive protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study led by Univ. of California, Berkeley researchers. The findings could help explain how some older adults with beta-amyloid deposits in their brain retain normal cognitive function while others develop dementia.
Malaria threatens more than 40% of the world’s population and kills up to 1.2 million people worldwide each year. Many of these deaths happen in Sub-Saharan Africa in children under the age of five and pregnant woman. The estimates for clinical infection is somewhere between 300 to 500 million people each year, worldwide.
Sugar is a vital source of energy. Understanding just how sugar makes its way into the cell could lead to the design of better drugs for diabetes patients and an increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables farmers are able to grow. Stanford Univ. researchers have recently uncovered one of these "pathways” into the cell by piecing together proteins slightly wider than the diameter of a strand of spider silk.