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Scientists discover thriving colonies of microbes in ocean “plastisphere”

June 27, 2013 2:50 pm | News | Comments

In a recently published study, scientists say they have found a diverse multitude of microbes colonizing and thriving on flecks of plastic that have polluted the oceans—a vast new human-made flotilla of microbial communities that they have dubbed the “plastisphere.” Using scanning electron microscopy and gene sequencing techniques, they found at least 1,000 different types of bacterial cells, some of them new species yet to be identified.

High-resolution mapping technique uncovers brain’s circuit architecture

June 27, 2013 2:24 pm | News | Comments

The power of the brain lies in its trillions of intercellular connections, called synapses, which together form complex neural “networks.” While neuroscientists have long sought to map these complex connections, traditional techniques have yet to provide the desired resolution. Now, by using an innovative brain-tracing technique, scientists at the Gladstone Institutes and the Salk Institute have found a way to untangle these networks.

Researchers find zinc’s crucial pathway to the brain

June 27, 2013 12:41 pm | by Aviva Hope Rutkin, MBL | News | Comments

A new study in California shows that neural cells require zinc uptake through a membrane transporter referred to as ZIP12. If that route is closed, neuronal sprouting and growth are significantly impaired and is fatal for a developing embryo. The study highlights how parts of the brain maintain their delicate balance of zinc, an element required in minute but crucial doses.

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Water droplets prefer the soft touch

June 25, 2013 11:07 am | News | Comments

Researchers have found a way to drive water droplets along a flat surface without applying heat, chemicals, electricity or other forces: All that’s required is varying the stiffness of the surface in the desired direction. The droplets, it turns out, prefer the soft spots.

NMR advance brings proteins into the open

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

When working a cold case, smart investigators try something new. By taking a novel approach to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy—a blending of four techniques—scientists have been able to resolve a key interaction between two proteins that could never be observed before.

How fish swim

June 25, 2013 7:44 am | News | Comments

How do fish swim? It is a simple question, but there is no simple answer. Researchers at Northwestern Univ. have revealed some of the mechanical properties that allow fish to perform their complex movements. Their findings could provide insights in evolutionary biology and lead to an understanding of the neural control of movement and development of bio-inspired underwater vehicles.

One-way DNA

June 24, 2013 9:29 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologists have discovered a mechanism that allows cells to read their own DNA in the correct direction and prevents them from copying most of the so-called “junk DNA” that makes up long stretches of our genome.

When green algae run out of air

June 24, 2013 9:22 am | News | Comments

When green algae “can’t breathe”, they get rid of excess energy through the production of hydrogen. Findings by biologists in Europe show how cells notice this absence of oxygen. They need, scientists say, the messenger molecule nitric oxide and the protein hemoglobin, which is commonly known from red blood cells of humans.

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Bacterial DNA may integrate into human genome more readily in tumor tissue

June 24, 2013 8:19 am | News | Comments

Bacterial DNA may integrate into the human genome more readily in tumors than in normal human tissue, scientists have found. The researchers analyzed genomic sequencing data available from the Human Genome Project, the 1,000 Genomes Project and The Cancer Genome Atlas. They considered the phenomenon of lateral gene transfer, the transmission of genetic material between organisms in a manner other than traditional reproduction.

Bacterial DNA may integrate into human genome more readily in tumor tissue

June 21, 2013 10:57 am | News | Comments

After analyzing genomic sequencing data from the Human Genome Project and other sources, scientists in Maryland have found evidence that lateral gene transfer is possible from bacteria to the cells of the human body, known as human somatic cells. They also found that bacterial DNA was more likely to integrate in the genome in tumor samples than in normal, healthy somatic cells.

What do memories look like?

June 20, 2013 8:44 am | News | Comments

Oscar Wilde called memory “the diary that we all carry about with us.” Now a team of Univ. of Southern California scientists has developed a way to see where and how that diary is written. The team engineered microscopic probes that light up synapses in a living neuron in real time by attaching fluorescent markers onto synaptic proteins—all without affecting the neuron’s ability to function.

Underwater springs show how coral reefs respond to ocean acidification

June 17, 2013 7:06 pm | News | Comments

A recent study is the first to show that corals are not able to fully acclimate to low pH conditions in nature. The results are from a study of corals growing where underwater springs naturally lower the pH of seawater. The coral doesn’t die, but the acidity reduces the density of coral skeletons, making coral reefs more vulnerable to disruption and erosion.

Research paints new picture of “dinobird” feathers

June 14, 2013 10:49 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California have performed the first complete chemical analysis of feathers from Archaeopteryx, a famous fossil linking dinosaurs and birds. The new study, which revises understanding of the evolution of plumage, reveals that the feathers were patterned—light in color, with a dark edge and tip—rather than all black, as previously thought.

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Research identifies scent of melanoma

June 13, 2013 6:00 pm | News | Comments

Melanoma is a tumor that is responsible for approximately 75% of skin cancer deaths. According to new research, odors from human skin cells can be used to identify melanoma. The method, which uses gas chromatography and mass spectrometry techniques, takes advantage of the fact that human skin produces numerous airborne chemical molecules known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, many of which are odorous.

With brain-computer interface, tasks become as simple as waving a hand

June 11, 2013 6:07 pm | by Michelle Ma, University of Washington | News | Comments

Small electrodes placed on or inside the brain allow patients to interact with computers or control robotic limbs simply by thinking about how to execute those actions. Researchers have recently shown the brain can adapt to this brain-computer interface technology. Their work shows that it behaves much like it does when completing simple motor skills such as kicking a ball, typing, or waving a hand.

Scientists identify thousands of plant genes activated by ethylene gas

June 11, 2013 5:56 pm | News | Comments

Ways to ripen, or spoil, fruit have been known for thousands of years—as the Bible can attest—but now the genes underlying these phenomena of nature have been revealed. Researchers led by the Salk Institute have traced the thousands of genes in a plant that are activated once ethylene, a gas that acts as a plant growth hormone, is released. This study is the first such comprehensive genomic analysis of ethylene's biological trigger.

Micro-RNA plays role in wood formation

June 11, 2013 8:10 am | News | Comments

For more than a decade, scientists have suspected that hairpin-shaped chains of micro-RNA regulate wood formation inside plant cells. Now, scientists at North Carolina State Univ. have found the first example and mapped out key relationships that control the process. The research describes how one strand of micro-RNA reduced by more than 20% the formation of lignin, which gives wood its strength.

Why the shape of nanoparticles matters

June 10, 2013 4:13 pm | News | Comments

A new study involving researchers at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Center and the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that the shape of nanoparticles can enhance drug targeting. The study found that rod-shaped nanoparticles—or nanorods—as opposed to spherical nanoparticles, appear to adhere more effectively to the surface of endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels.

Early exposure to bisphenol A might damage the enamel of teeth

June 10, 2013 12:53 pm | News | Comments

Are teeth the latest victims of bisphenol A (BPA)? Yes, according to the conclusions of a team lead by researchers in France. They have shown that the teeth of rats treated with low daily doses of BPA could be damaged the chemical.

Making new cartilage from stem cells

June 10, 2013 11:20 am | by Evan Lerner, Univ. of Pennsylvania | News | Comments

Cartilage injuries have ended many athletes’ career, and the general wear-and-tear of the joint-cushioning tissue is something that almost everyone will endure as they age. Unfortunately, repairing cartilage remains difficult. Bioengineers are interested in finding innovative ways to grow new cartilage from a patient’s own stem cells. A new study from the Univ. of Pennsylvania brings such a treatment one step closer to reality.

Weapons testing data determines brain makes new neurons into adulthood

June 10, 2013 8:36 am | News | Comments

Using data derived from nuclear weapons testing of the 1950s and '60s, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have found that a small portion of the human brain involved in memory makes new neurons well into adulthood. The research may have profound impacts on human behavior and mental health.

Common gene known to cause inherited autism now linked to specific behaviors

June 4, 2013 8:54 am | News | Comments

The genetic malady known as Fragile X syndrome is the most common cause of inherited autism and intellectual disability. Brain scientists know the gene defect that causes the syndrome and understand the damage it does in misshaping the brain's synapses—the connections between neurons. But how this abnormal shaping of synapses translates into abnormal behavior is unclear. Now, researchers believe they know.

Are smartphones disrupting your sleep?

June 4, 2013 8:53 am | News | Comments

Smartphones and tablets can make for sleep-disrupting bedfellows. One cause is believed to be the bright light-emitting diodes that allow the use of mobile devices in dimly lit rooms; the light exposure can interfere with melatonin, a hormone that helps control the natural sleep-wake cycle. But there may be a way to check your mobile device in bed and still get a good night's sleep.

Biochemists develop new technology to transfer DNA into cells

June 3, 2013 1:34 pm | News | Comments

On any given day, Jason Atkins and Mohit Patel can be found toiling away inside a chemical biology laboratory at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. And they love every minute of it. The researchers recently developed new technology to transfer DNA into cells. The development is an inexpensive and non-toxic method to help DNA cross the cell membrane so that cells can be modified.

Russians find mammoth carcass with liquid blood

May 31, 2013 10:19 am | by Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press | News | Comments

A perfectly preserved woolly mammoth carcass with liquid blood has been found on a remote Arctic island, fueling hopes of cloning the Ice Age animal, Russian scientists said Thursday. The carcass was in such good shape because its lower part was stuck in pure ice, said Semyon Grigoryev, the head of the Mammoth Museum, who led the expedition into the Lyakhovsky Islands off the Siberian coast.

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