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Decoding the structure of bone

April 17, 2013 8:40 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The bones that support our bodies are made of remarkably complex arrangements of materials—so much so that decoding the precise structure responsible for their great strength and resilience has eluded scientists’ best efforts for decades. But now, a team of researchers has finally unraveled the structure of bone with almost atom-by-atom precision.

Researchers find out why some stress is good for you

April 17, 2013 7:19 am | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

Much research has demonstrated that chronic stress elevates levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones, which impairs memory. And stress is associated with a lot of other physical ailments. But less is known about the effects of acute stress, and studies have been conflicting. Recent work shows that intense, short-lived stress causes the proliferation of new neurons, improving mental performance.

Scientists learn what makes nerve cells so strong

April 16, 2013 11:05 am | News | Comments

How do nerve cells—which can each be up to three feet long in humans—keep from rupturing or falling apart? Recent research reports that axons, the long, cable-like projections on neurons, are made stronger by a unique modification of the common molecular building block of the cell skeleton. The finding may help guide the search for treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

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Bad decisions arise from faulty information, not faulty brain circuits

April 16, 2013 8:11 am | News | Comments

Making choices involves the evaluation of an accumulation of facts. If a wrong choice is made, Princeton University researchers have recently found, the problem may lie in the facts, or information, rather than the brain's decision-making process. The researchers report that erroneous decisions tend to arise from errors, or "noise," in the information coming into the brain.

Researchers turn skin cells directly into the cells that insulate neurons

April 15, 2013 1:00 pm | News | Comments

Stanford University School of Medicine scientists have succeeded in transforming skin cells directly into oligodendrocyte precursor cells, the cells that wrap nerve cells in the insulating myelin sheaths that help nerve signals propagate. The research was done in mice and rats, but if the approach also works with human cells, it could eventually lead to cell therapies for a variety of diseases of the nervous system.

A new case in China adds unknowns to bird flu

April 15, 2013 11:59 am | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

A new case of bird flu in China's capital, a 4-year-old boy who displayed no symptoms, is adding to the unknowns about the latest outbreak that has caused 63 confirmed cases and 14 deaths, health officials said Monday. The boy, who tested positive for the H7N9 virus, is considered a carrier of the strain and has been placed under observation to see if he develops symptoms, health authorities said.

Scientists map elusive 3D structure of telomerase enzyme

April 12, 2013 9:30 am | News | Comments

Like finally seeing all the gears of a watch and how they work together, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Berkeley have, for the first time ever, solved the puzzle of how the various components of an entire telomerase enzyme complex fit together and function in a 3D structure.

DNA discoverer's letter sells for $5.3 million, a record

April 11, 2013 2:46 am | by Ula Ilnytzky, Associated Press | News | Comments

A letter that scientist Francis Crick wrote to his son about his Nobel Prize-winning DNA discovery was sold to anonymous buyer at a New York City auction on Wednesday for a record-breaking $5.3 million. The price, which far exceeded the $1 million pre-sale estimate, was a record for a letter sold at auction, eclipsing an Abraham Lincoln letter that sold in April 2008 for $3.4 million including commission.

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Spring cleaning in your brain: Stem cell research shows how important it is

April 11, 2013 2:30 am | News | Comments

Deep inside your brain, a legion of stem cells lies ready to turn into new brain and nerve cells whenever and wherever you need them most. But what happens to the garbage within cells that keeps them in a stem-cell state. Years of mouse research has allowed researchers at the University of Michigan to discover how autophagy keeps neural stem cells ready to replace damaged brain and nerve cells.

Researchers engineer “protein switch” to dissect role of cancer's key players

April 10, 2013 12:45 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at the Uniersity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have "rationally rewired" some of the cell's smallest components to create proteins that can be switched on or off by command. These "protein switches" can be used to interrogate the inner workings of each cell, helping scientists uncover the molecular mechanisms of human health and disease.  

Recruiting engineered cells to work for warfighters

April 10, 2013 12:22 pm | News | Comments

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) this week launched a collaborative initiative with university researchers focused on synthetic, or engineered, cells—part of a larger effort to use the smallest units of life to help Sailors and Marines execute their missions. ONR currently has multiple ongoing projects in the field of synthetic biology.

Newly discovered blood protein solves 60-year-old riddle

April 9, 2013 5:21 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered a new protein that controls the presence of the Vel blood group antigen on our red blood cells. The discovery makes it possible to use simple DNA testing to find blood donors for patients who lack the Vel antigen and need a blood transfusion. This is significant because there is a global shortage of Vel-negative blood

Exploring the ethics of resurrecting extinct species

April 8, 2013 6:09 pm | by Thomas Sumner and Bjorn Carey, Stanford University | News | Comments

At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption. Stanford University law professor Hank Greely has recently identified the ethical landmines of this new concept of de-extinction.

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Research shows Gulf of Mexico resilient after spill

April 8, 2013 5:54 pm | News | Comments

The Gulf of Mexico may have a much greater natural ability to self-clean oil spills than previously believed, according to Terry Hazen, University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor's Chair for Environmental Biotechnology. Hazen’s research team used a powerful new approach for identifying microbes in the environment to discover previously unknown and naturally occurring bacteria that consume and break down crude oil.

Innovative method to treat Alzheimer's in mice

April 5, 2013 4:57 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute report that they successfully used a virus vector to restore the expression of a brain protein and improve cognitive functions, in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Because it is impossible to deliver genes directly to the brain without surgery, the researchers injected the virus in the left ventricle of the heart, as this provides a direct route to the brain.

How to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment

April 5, 2013 10:41 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

New research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may allow scientists to develop a test that can predict the severity of side effects of some common chemotherapy agents in individual patients, allowing doctors to tailor treatments to minimize the damage. The study focused on powerful cancer drugs known as alkylating agents, which damage DNA by attaching molecules containing carbon atoms to it. Found in tobacco smoke and in byproducts of fuel combustion, these compounds can actually cause cancer. However, because they can kill tumor cells, very reactive alkylating agents are also used to treat cancer.

Building better blood vessels could advance tissue engineering

April 5, 2013 8:00 am | News | Comments

One of the major obstacles to growing new organs—replacement hearts, lungs, and kidneys—is the difficulty researchers face in building blood vessels that keep the tissues alive, but new findings from the University of Michigan could help overcome this roadblock.

Obama proposes $100M for brain mapping project

April 2, 2013 12:35 pm | by Nedra Pickler, Associated Press | News | Comments

President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked Congress to spend $100 million next year on a new project to map the human brain in hopes of eventually finding cures for disorders like Alzheimer's, epilepsy and traumatic injuries. The BRAIN Initiative, he said, could create jobs and eventually lead to answers to ailments including Parkinson's and autism and help reverse the effect of a stroke.

3D scaffolds a new tool to fight cancer

April 1, 2013 4:16 pm | News | Comments

Porous polymer scaffolds fabricated to support the growth of biological tissue for implantation may hold the potential to greatly accelerate the development of cancer therapeutics. Researchers at Rice University, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Mount Sinai Medical Center reported that 3D scaffolds used to culture Ewing's sarcoma cells were effective at mimicking the environment in which such tumors develop.

Crucial step in human DNA replication observed using fluorescent tags

April 1, 2013 3:17 pm | News | Comments

For the first time, an elusive step in the process of human DNA replication has been demystified by scientists at Penn State University. According to senior author Stephen J. Benkovic, the scientists "discovered how a key step in human DNA replication is performed."

Scientists get inside look at how AIDS virus grooms its assault team

April 1, 2013 1:20 pm | News | Comments

A new study by a team of scientists defines previously unknown properties of transmitted HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS. The viruses that successfully pass from a chronically infected person to a new individual are both remarkably resistant to a powerful initial human immune-response mechanism, and they are blanketed in a greater amount of envelope protein that helps them access and enter host cells.

Team finds protein that increases inflammation, and agents that block it

April 1, 2013 12:23 pm | News | Comments

Pneumonia and other infections sometimes provoke an inflammatory response from the body that is more detrimental than the disease-causing bacteria. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine discovered a new biological pathway of innate immunity that ramps up inflammation and then identified agents that can block it, leading to increased survival and improved lung function in animal models of pneumonia.

Scientists identify brain's molecular memory switch

March 28, 2013 10:06 am | News | Comments

Our ability to learn and form memories is due to an increase in synaptic communication called Long Term Potentiation. Although researchers have observed this chemical process in action, the question of what triggers this process has remained. Now, using a common fruit fly, scientists have identified a key molecule responsible for triggering this “molecular memory switch” in our brain linked to our formation of long-term memories.

Computer simulations yields clues to cell interactions

March 22, 2013 2:20 pm | News | Comments

Cell interact with their surroundings using proteins called integrin, which reside in a cell’s outer plasma membrane. Despite their importance—good and bad—scientists don’t exactly know how integrins work. Scientists have yet to obtain the entire crystal structure of integrin within the plasma membrane, so a computer model of integrin that reveals its molecular dynamics has been developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers.

Bacterial byproduct offers route to avoiding antibiotic resistance

March 22, 2013 8:43 am | News | Comments

As public health officials sound the alarm about the global spread of drug-resistant bacteria, researchers are working to develop more effective antibiotics to counter this dangerous trend. Now, results from a team including a Princeton University scientist offer a possible solution that uses the bacteria's own byproducts to destroy them.

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