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Visualizing biological networks in 4D

February 11, 2013 8:42 am | News | Comments

Every great structure depends on specific mechanical properties to remain strong and reliable. Rigidity is of particular importance for maintaining the robust functionality of everything from colossal edifices to the tiniest of nanoscale structures. In biological nanostructures it has been difficult to measure this stiffness, which is essential to their properties and functions. But scientists at the California Institute of Technology have recently developed techniques for visualizing the behavior of biological nanostructures in both space and time, allowing them to directly measure stiffness and map its variation throughout the network.

Old drug may point way to new treatments for diabetes, obesity

February 11, 2013 8:25 am | News | Comments

Researchers at the University of Michigan's Life Sciences Institute have found that amlexanox, an off-patent drug currently prescribed for the treatment of asthma and other uses, also reverses obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver in mice.

Nitrogen from pollution, natural sources causes growth of toxic algae

February 8, 2013 7:56 am | News | Comments

Researchers recently found that nitrogen entering the ocean—whether through natural processes or pollution—boosts the growth and toxicity of a group of phytoplankton that can cause the human illness “amnesic shellfish poisoning”. Commonly found in marine waters off the North American West Coast, these diatoms produce a potent toxin called domoic acid. When these phytoplankton grow rapidly into massive blooms, high concentrations of domoic acid put human health at risk if it accumulates in shellfish.

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Scientists solve mercury mystery

February 7, 2013 3:41 pm | News | Comments

By identifying two genes required for transforming inorganic into organic mercury, which is far more toxic, scientists today have taken a significant step toward protecting human health. The question of how methylmercury, an organic form of mercury, is produced by natural processes in the environment has stumped scientists for decades, but a team led by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has solved the puzzle.

Sensing the light, but not to see

February 7, 2013 10:54 am | by Diana Kenney, Marine Biology Laboratory | News | Comments

Slender, limbless, and primitive, lancelets are not exciting animals. But one such animal, amphioxus, appeared on the cover of a scientific journal recently because of the melanopsin-producing cells that Marine Biology Laboratory researchers found in this otherwise simple chordate. The light-sensing cells of amphioxus, they discovered, may be the ”missing link“ between the visual cells of invertebrates and the circadian receptors in our own eyes.

Understanding microbes blowing in the wind

February 7, 2013 8:37 am | by Dennis O'Brien | News | Comments

With help from a wind tunnel and the latest DNA technology, U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists are shedding light on the travel patterns of microbes in soils carried off by strong winds. The work has implications for soil health and could lead to management practices that minimize the damage to soils caused by wind erosion.

When the cell’s two genomes collide

February 6, 2013 12:17 pm | News | Comments

Plant and animal cells contain two genomes: one in the nucleus and one in the mitochondria. When mutations occur in each, they can become incompatible, leading to disease. To increase understanding of such illnesses, scientists at Brown University and Indiana University have traced one example in fruit flies down to the individual errant nucleotides and the mechanism by which the flies become sick.   

Insect drives robot to track down smells

February 6, 2013 10:31 am | News | Comments

A small, two-wheeled robot has been driven by a male silkmoth to track down the sex pheromone usually given off by a female mate. The robot has been used to characterize the silkmoth’s tracking behaviors and it is hoped that these can be applied to other autonomous robots so they can track down smells, and the subsequent sources, of environmental spills and leaks when fitted with highly sensitive sensors.

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Bioengineers recreate natural complex gene regulation

February 4, 2013 10:21 am | News | Comments

By reproducing in the laboratory the complex interactions that cause human genes to turn on inside cells, Duke University bioengineers have created a system they believe can benefit gene therapy research and the burgeoning field of synthetic biology. This new approach should help basic scientists as they tease out the effects of "turning on" or "turning off" many different genes, as well as clinicians seeking to develop new gene-based therapies for human disease.

Study raises questions about long-held theories of human evolution

February 1, 2013 10:54 am | News | Comments

What came first: the bipedal human ancestor or the grassland encroaching on the forest? A new analysis of the past 12 million years' of vegetation change in the cradle of humanity is challenging long-held beliefs about the world in which our ancestors took shape—and, by extension, the impact it had on them.

Researchers synthesize first biologically effective perfume

February 1, 2013 9:17 am | News | Comments

Although several hundred different forms of the immune genes exist in humans, individuals only have a few variants which co-determine their typical body odor, their individual “scent”. Scientists in Germany have succeeded in explaining the chemical nature of this individual scent. They have also synthesized it and have tested its effectiveness on people. The results show how perfumes that are completely effective biologically can be produced synthetically without resorting to animal products.

Mapping the living cell

January 31, 2013 2:52 pm | News | Comments

To get a clear picture of what’s happening inside a cell, scientists need to know the locations of thousands of proteins and other molecules. Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have now developed a technique that can tag all of the proteins in a particular region of a cell, allowing them to more accurately map those proteins.

Synthetic biology method dramatically cuts down “manufacturing” time

January 31, 2013 12:13 pm | News | Comments

Scientists in the U.K. have reported that they have developed a method that cuts down the time it takes to make new “parts” for microscopic biological factories from two days to only six hours. The technique does away with the need to re-engineer a cell’s DNA every time a new part is needed. The researchers say their research brings them another step closer to a new kind of industrial revolution, where parts for these biological factories could be mass-produced.

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Secret of scent lies in molecular vibrations

January 30, 2013 4:25 pm | News | Comments

In a study designed to find out how smell is written into a molecule’s structure, scientists in England tested whether changing how a molecule vibrates on a nanoscale changes its smell. They found that molecular vibrations, rather than molecular shape, give substances their distinct smell.

Enzymes may represent new genre of “intelligent” miniature motors

January 30, 2013 11:16 am | News | Comments

The basis of natural biological motors essential to life are enzymes—proteins that jump-start chemical reactions. Scientists long have wondered whether a single enzyme molecule, the smallest machine that could possibly exist, might be able to generate enough force to cause its own movement in a specific direction. A recent publication offers positive evidence for this possibility from recent experiments.

In-brain monitoring shows memory network

January 30, 2013 10:50 am | News | Comments

Working with patients with electrodes implanted in their brains, researchers in California and Texas have shown for the first time that areas of the brain work together at the same time to recall memories. The unique approach promises new insights into how we remember details of time and place.   

Aging cells lose their grip on DNA rogues

January 30, 2013 10:25 am | News | Comments

Transposable elements are mobile strands of DNA that insert themselves into chromosomes with mostly harmful consequences. Cells try to keep them locked down, but in a new study, Brown University researchers report that aging cells lose their ability to maintain this control. The result may be a further decline in the health of senescent cells and of the aging bodies they compose.

Poor sleep in old age prevents the brain from storing memories

January 28, 2013 5:06 pm | by Yasmin Anwar, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

The connection between poor sleep, memory loss and brain deterioration as we grow older has been elusive. But for the first time, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have found a link between these hallmark maladies of old age. Their discovery opens the door to boosting the quality of sleep in elderly people to improve memory.

EU science projects win up to billion euros each

January 28, 2013 8:16 am | News | Comments

Two science projects—one to map the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary properties of the carbon-based material graphene—were declared the winners Monday of an EU technologies contest and will receive up to €1 billion ($1.35 billion) each over the next 10 years.

Maglev tissues could speed toxicity tests

January 25, 2013 7:55 am | News | Comments

In a development that could lead to faster and more effective toxicity tests for airborne chemicals, scientists from Rice University and the Rice spinoff company Nano3D Biosciences have used magnetic levitation to grow some of the most realistic lung tissue ever produced in a laboratory.

Computer scientists develop new way to study molecular networks

January 24, 2013 2:15 pm | News | Comments

Computer scientists at Virginia Tech developed a new approach to address the shortcomings in the computational analysis of the multiple ways interactions can occur within cells. Their work may lead to further understanding of the interactions between molecules.

Some carbon nanotubes deplete beneficial microbes in certain soils

January 24, 2013 1:53 pm | News | Comments

Some types of carbon nanotubes used for strengthening plastics and other materials may have an adverse effect on soil microbiology and soil microbial processes, a Purdue University study shows. Specifically, these raw, non-functionalized single-walled carbon nanotubes were shown to damage the active microbiology in low-organic soil.

Cells “flock” to heal wounds

January 24, 2013 9:54 am | News | Comments

Like flocks of birds, cells coordinate their motions as they race to cover and ultimately heal wounds to the skin. How that happens is a little less of a mystery today. Researchers once thought only the cells at the edge of a growing patch of wounded skin were actively moving while dividing cells passively filled in the middle. But that's only part of the picture. A Rice University team has discovered that the process works much more efficiently if highly activated cells in every part of the patch exert force as they pull their neighbors along.

Researchers map emotional intelligence in the brain

January 23, 2013 11:16 am | News | Comments

A new study of 152 Vietnam veterans with combat-related brain injuries offers the first detailed map of the brain regions that contribute to emotional intelligence—the ability to process emotional information and navigate the social world.

U.S. government scientists say retire most research chimps

January 23, 2013 10:31 am | by Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press | News | Comments

The National Institutes of Health Council of Councils Working Group on Tuesday approved a to retire all but 50 of hundreds of chimpanzees kept for federally funded research. The chimps would be sent to a national sanctuary, and no return to breeding them for research would take place. The proposal also calls for major cuts in grants to study chimps in laboratories.

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