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Researchers find potential brain switch for new behavior

May 21, 2013 12:49 pm | News | Comments

You're standing near an airport luggage carousel and your bag emerges on the conveyor belt, prompting you to spring into action. How does your brain make the shift from passively waiting to taking action when your bag appears? A new study from investigators at the University of Michigan and Eli Lilly may reveal the brain's "switch" for new behavior.

X-ray method shows how frog embryos could help thwart disease

May 20, 2013 9:25 am | News | Comments

An international team of scientists using a new X-ray method recorded the internal structure and cell movement inside a living frog embryo in greater detail than ever before. This result showcases a new method to advance biological research and the search for new treatments for genetic diseases.

RNA capable of catalyzing electron transfer on early Earth with iron's help

May 20, 2013 7:42 am | News | Comments

A new study shows how complex biochemical transformations may have been possible under conditions when life began on the early Earth. The study shows that RNA is capable of catalyzing electron transfer under conditions similar to those of the early Earth. Because electron transfer is involved in many biological processes, the study’s findings suggest that complex biochemical transformations may have been possible when life began.

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Stem cells recovered from cloned human embryos

May 16, 2013 12:38 pm | News | Comments

Scientists have finally recovered stem cells from cloned human embryos, a longstanding goal that could lead to new treatments for such illnesses as Parkinson's disease and diabetes. A prominent expert called the work a landmark, but noted that a different, simpler technique now under development may prove more useful.

Cells as living calculators

May 15, 2013 3:00 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have transformed bacterial cells into living calculators that can compute logarithms, divide, and take square roots, using three or fewer genetic parts. Inspired by how analog electronic circuits function, the researchers created synthetic computation circuits by combining existing genetic “parts,” or engineered genes, in novel ways.

Cells must use their brakes moderately for effective speed control

May 15, 2013 11:34 am | News | Comments

All living cells have a regulatory system similar to what can be found in today's smartphones. Just like our phones process a large amount of information that we feed them, cells continuously process information about their outer and inner environment. Researchers have recently modeled how cells regulate this processing function.

Secret of efficient photosynthesis is decoded

May 15, 2013 9:25 am | News | Comments

Purple bacteria are among Earth’s oldest organisms, and among its most efficient in turning sunlight into usable chemical energy. A new analysis to determine the reason for its light-harvesting prowess has revealed a ring-shaped molecule with an unusual ninefold symmetry. This symmetry accounts its efficiency, and for its mechanical durability and strength.

Study identifies key protein for cell death

May 14, 2013 10:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

When cells suffer too much DNA damage, they are usually forced to undergo programmed cell death, or apoptosis. However, cancer cells often ignore these signals, flourishing even after chemotherapy drugs have ravaged their DNA. A new finding may offer a way to overcome that resistance: A team has identified a key protein involved in an alternative death pathway known as programmed necrosis.

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Grammar errors? The brain detects them even when you are unaware

May 14, 2013 10:40 am | News | Comments

Your brain often works on autopilot when it comes to grammar. That theory has been around for years, but University of Oregon neuroscientists have captured elusive hard evidence that people indeed detect and process grammatical errors with no awareness of doing so.  

Carnivorous plant throws out "junk" DNA

May 13, 2013 1:12 pm | News | Comments

Genes make up about 2% of the human genome. The rest consists of a genetic material known as noncoding DNA, and scientists have spent years puzzling over why this material exists in such voluminous quantities. Now, a new study offers an unexpected insight: The large majority of noncoding DNA, which is abundant in many living things, may not actually be needed for complex life.

Regulator keeps vaccines at right temperature

May 10, 2013 12:04 pm | News | Comments

Rice University students have created a way to help health care workers track vaccines and keep them at a safe temperature. The SAFE Vaccine senior engineering design team assembled a device to regulate the temperature of any standard refrigerator to keep it within a range that’s safe for vaccines. Their invention also tracks vaccine stock, usage, and expiration dates and, as a result, takes a load of paperwork off the backs of nurses.

Bacteria organize according to "rich-get-richer" principle

May 10, 2013 11:16 am | News | Comments

Bacteria on a surface wander around and often organize into highly resilient communities known as biofilms. It turns out that they organize in a rich-get-richer pattern similar to the distribution of wealth in the U.S. economy, according to a new study.

Potential flu pandemic lurks

May 10, 2013 10:36 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In the summer of 1968, a new strain of influenza appeared in Hong Kong. This strain, known as H3N2, spread around the globe and eventually killed an estimated 1 million people. A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology reveals that there are many strains of H3N2 circulating in birds and pigs that are genetically similar to the 1968 strain and have the potential to generate a pandemic if they leap to humans.

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Surgeon: Stonewall Jackson death likely pneumonia

May 10, 2013 12:22 am | by BRETT ZONGKER - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

Historians and doctors have debated for decades what medical complications caused the death of legendary Confederate fighter Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, felled by friendly fire from his troops during the Civil War. Shot three times while returning from scouting enemy lines in the Virginia wilderness, Jackson was badly wounded in the left arm by one of the large bullets the night of May 2, 1863.

Cannibal tadpoles key to understanding digestive evolution

May 9, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

A carnivorous, cannibalistic tadpole may play a role in understanding the evolution and development of digestive organs, according to research from North Carolina State University. These findings may also shed light on universal rules of organ development that could lead to better diagnosis and prevention of intestinal birth defects.

“Marathon” mice and”'couch potato” mice reveal key to muscle fitness

May 8, 2013 12:09 pm | News | Comments

Researchers have identified MicroRNAs as the missing link between the two defining features of muscle fitness: fuel-burning and fiber-type switching. The team used two complementary mouse models—the "marathon mouse" and the "couch potato mouse"—to make the finding, which could provide a potential new target for interventions that boost fitness in people with chronic illness or injury.

Study looks at muscle adaptations in minimalist runners

May 7, 2013 11:22 am | by Fariss Samarrai, University of Virginia | News | Comments

Despite the perceived advantages of foot protection, some runners in recent years have returned to barefoot running, believing it is a more natural way to run and therefore less injurious to the feet and legs. The difference results in a different running stride, and it affects how the muscles of the legs and feet respond and develop. A new study attempts to explain exactly how the muscles respond to this change.

Divide and define: Clues to understanding how stem cells produce different cells

May 6, 2013 3:46 pm | News | Comments

The human body contains trillions of cells, all derived from a single cell. That single cell contains all the genetic information needed to develop into a human, and passes identical copies of that information to each new cell as it divides into the many diverse types of cells. If each cell is genetically identical, however, how does it grow to be a skin, blood, nerve, bone, or other type of cell?

Computer simulations reveal the energy landscape of ion channels

May 3, 2013 11:55 am | News | Comments

Ion channels are important drug targets. A team of researchers University of Vienna has investigated the opening and closing mechanisms of these channels, which represent large proteins with more than 400 amino acids. Their work for the first time calculates in atomic detail the full energy landscape of this protein.

Heart cells change stem cell behavior

May 3, 2013 9:57 am | News | Comments

Stem cells drawn from amniotic fluid show promise for tissue engineering, but it’s important to know what they can and cannot do. A new study by researchers at Rice University and Texas Children’s Hospital has shown that these stem cells can communicate with mature heart cells and form electrical couplings with each other similar to those found in heart tissue.

Study shows that individual brain cells track where we are, how we move

May 3, 2013 9:36 am | News | Comments

Leaving the house in the morning may seem simple, but with every move we make, our brains are working to create maps of the outside world that allow us to navigate and remember where we are. Ultimately, the brain constructs its own pinpoint geographical chart that is far more precise than anything you'd find on Google Maps. But just how neurons make these maps of space has fascinated scientists for decades. Until now.

Study uses Botox to find new wrinkle in brain communication

May 2, 2013 2:36 pm | News | Comments

National Institutes of Health researchers have used the popular anti-wrinkle agent Botox to discover a new and important role for a group of molecules that nerve cells use to quickly send messages. This novel role for the molecules, called SNARES, may be a missing piece that scientists have been searching for to fully understand how brain cells communicate under normal and disease conditions.

New imaging technique to visualize biometals and molecules

May 2, 2013 10:29 am | News | Comments

Metal elements and molecules interact in the body but visualizing them together has always been a challenge. Researchers from the RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies have developed a new molecular imaging technology that enables them to visualize biometals and biomolecules simultaneously in a live mouse. This new technology will enable researchers to study the complex interactions between metal elements and molecules.

Decoded: Molecular messages that tell cancer to spread

May 2, 2013 7:53 am | News | Comments

Cancer cells are wily, well-traveled adversaries, constantly side-stepping treatments to stop their spread. But, for the first time, scientists at the University of Michigan have decoded the molecular chatter that ramps certain cancer cells into overdrive and can cause tumors to metastasize throughout the body.

Printable “bionic” ear melds electronics and biology

May 1, 2013 5:39 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at Princeton University used off-the-shelf printing tools to create a functional ear that can "hear" radio frequencies far beyond the range of normal human capability.  Standard tissue engineering involves seeding types of cells onto a scaffold of a polymer material called a hydrogel. But this method is not useful for complex 3D shapes, which is why researchers turned to 3D printing methods.

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