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Scientists unravel the mystery of marine methane oxidation

November 13, 2012 10:39 am | News | Comments

Vast amounts of methane are stored under the ocean floor, and anaerobic oxidation of methane coupled to sulfate respiration prevents the release of this gas. Though discovered decades ago, the mechanism for how microorganisms performed this reaction has remained a mystery. According to recent findings, a single microorganism can do this on its own, and does not need to be carried out in collaboration with a bacterium as previously thought.

Fighting bacteria with mucus

November 9, 2012 9:28 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Slimy layers of bacterial growth, known as biofilms, pose a significant hazard in industrial and medical settings. Once established, biofilms are very difficult to remove, and a great deal of research has gone into figuring out how to prevent and eradicate them. Results from a recent study suggest a possible new source of protection against biofilm formation: polymers found in mucus.

Gene find turns soldier beetle defence into biotech opportunity

November 8, 2012 11:49 am | News | Comments

Soldier beetles have a potent predator defence system, which a research team in Australia discovered was powered by an exotic fatty acid called dihydromatricaria acid, or DHMA, which is one of a group called polyynes that have known anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties. Researchers have now found the three genes that combine to make this acid, opening a new way to synthesize this difficult-to-reproduce substance.

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How bacteria talk to each other and our cells

November 7, 2012 9:23 am | News | Comments

Bacteria can talk to each other via molecules they themselves produce. The phenomenon is called quorum sensing, and is important when an infection propagates. Now, researchers in Sweden are showing how bacteria control processes in human cells the same way.

A strange diet for methane-consuming microorganisms

November 6, 2012 12:36 pm | News | Comments

To keep cellular systems running all cells need fuel. For certain ocean-dwelling microorganisms, methane can be such a fuel. But researchers studying these creatures had previously assumed that the methane they consumed was used as a carbon source. However, recent studies have surprisingly shown that is not the case and will force scientists to reevaluate the microorganisms’ role in inactivating environmental methane.

New computational method for timing the Tree of Life

November 6, 2012 11:25 am | News | Comments

With its deeply embedded roots, sturdy trunk, and dense profusion of branches, the Tree of Life is a structure of nearly unfathomable complexity and beauty. While major strides have been made to establish the evolutionary hierarchy encompassing every living species, the project is still in its infancy. At Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, Sudhir Kumar has been filling in the Tree of Life by developing sophisticated methods and bioinformatics tools.

Computers “taught” to identify regulating gene sequences

November 5, 2012 4:56 pm | News | Comments

Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have succeeded in teaching computers how to identify commonalities in DNA sequences known to regulate gene activity, and to then use those commonalities to predict other regulatory regions throughout the genome. The tool is expected to help scientists better understand disease risk and cell development.    

New device could allow your heartbeat to power pacemaker

November 5, 2012 3:29 pm | News | Comments

An experimental device invented at the University of Michigan is able to convert energy from a beating heart, enough to provide electricity to power a pacemaker. The innovation, which relies on piezoelectricity, could eliminate the need for surgeries to replace pacemakers with depleted batteries.

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In-sync brain waves hold memory of objects just seen

November 5, 2012 11:38 am | News | Comments

The brain holds in mind what has just been seen by synchronizing brain waves in a working memory circuit, an animal study supported by the National Institutes of Health suggests. The more in-sync such electrical signals of neurons were in two key hubs of the circuit, the more those cells held the short-term memory of a just-seen object.

New study sheds light on how and when vision evolved

October 30, 2012 1:52 pm | News | Comments

Opsins, the light-sensitive proteins key to vision, may have evolved earlier and undergone fewer genetic changes than previously believed, according to a new study that used computer modelling to theorize the evolutionary developments of these structures. The analysis incorporated all available genomic information from all relevant animal lineages.

Why astronauts experience low blood pressure after return to Earth

October 25, 2012 2:09 pm | News | Comments

When astronauts return to Earth, their altitude isn't the only thing that drops—their blood pressure does too. New research that solves this biological mystery suggests that a major cause of low blood pressure in astronauts—particularly during standing—is the compromised ability of arteries and veins to constrict normally and return blood back to the heart.

Researchers uncover living power cables

October 25, 2012 1:59 pm | by Robert Perkins | News | Comments

A multinational research team has discovered filamentous bacteria that function as living power cables in order to transmit electrons thousands of cell lengths away. These cells are so tiny that they are invisible to the naked eye. And yet, under the right circumstances, they form a multicellular filament that can transmit electrons across a distance as large as 1 cm as part of the filament’s respiration and ingestion processes.

Scientists aim to analyze whole mouse brain under electron microscope

October 25, 2012 10:21 am | News | Comments

Researchers in Germany are working to build a “circuit diagram” of the mouse brain using an instrument normally confined to study small sample areas. Neurons and axons are tiny in diameter, and can only be studied using electron microscopy. But they can also be very long, making them difficult to map. A new technique, called “serial block face” scanning electron microscopy, gets around this problem.

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Study: Common flame retardant is an endocrine disruptor

October 25, 2012 9:19 am | News | Comments

Firemaster 550 is made up of four principal component chemicals and is used in polyurethane foam in a wide variety of products, ranging from mattresses to infant nursing pillows.  It was developed to replace a class of fire retardants being phased out of use because of concerns regarding their safety.

US scientists make embryos with 2 women, 1 man

October 24, 2012 1:39 pm | by MALCOLM RITTER - AP Science Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Scientists in the U.S. have created embryos with genes from one man and two women, using a provocative technique that someday could be used to prevent babies from inheriting certain rare incurable diseases. The researchers at Oregon Health & Sciences University said they are not using the...

Researchers gain new insights into membrane-assisted self-assembly

October 24, 2012 12:02 pm | News | Comments

Interest and research into self-assembly has accelerated in recent years, and much of this effort based on natural biological processes that involve proteins and capsids (complex protein structures). New research, using computational simulation techniques, is now showing how membranes influence and modify crucial biological self-assembly processes.

Lung mucus gel scaffold prevents nanoparticles from getting through

October 23, 2012 12:15 pm | News | Comments

Using optical tweezers, researches have unraveled the mechanics behind mucus gel scaffolding in human lungs. The natural structures inside our lungs, they have found prevents nanoparticle movement beyond pore boundaries, protecting us from nanoscale objects such as viruses and diesel soot. It was previously unclear the extent to which such nanoparticles were prevented from moving.

The minimal microbe

October 19, 2012 1:27 pm | News | Comments

To study microbes and the complex communities they form in the environment, Argonne National Laboratory and three other national laboratories are collaborating to build a research tool called the Systems Biology Knowledgebase, or KBase. KBase aims to help with current data issues facing systems biology, but its goal is larger than data integration. The team seeks to advance research in two broad, important areas: plants and microbes.

Neuroscientists find the molecular "when", "where" of memory formation

October 19, 2012 11:30 am | News | Comments

Neuroscientists from New York University and the University of California, Irvine have isolated the "when" and "where" of molecular activity that occurs in the formation of short-, intermediate-, and long-term memories. Their findings offer new insights into the molecular architecture of memory formation and, with it, a better roadmap for developing therapeutic interventions for related afflictions.

Water makes a “triple play” at membrane interfaces

October 19, 2012 9:26 am | News | Comments

Drugs that target cell function must pass through a tough gauntlet of membrane defenses. Working from the knowledge that thin water layers at the membrane surfaces play a big part in ion and small molecule transport, scientists using rapid-fire lasers in Japan have revealed that water molecules adopt three distinct local structures around model lipid monolayers. The finding could help drive drug development.

Researchers unveil molecular machine that initiates DNA transcription

October 19, 2012 9:05 am | News | Comments

A team of Rutgers University scientists has determined the 3D structure of the transcription initiation complex, the key intermediate in the process by which cells read out genetic information in DNA. Because the structure studied was from a bacteria, it helps our understanding of bacterial transcription regulation, and provides a starting point for developing new antibacterial agents that function by inhibiting bacterial transcription.

Calcium reveals connections between neurons

October 19, 2012 8:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists has developed a way to monitor how brain cells coordinate with each other to control specific behaviors, such as initiating movement or detecting an odor. The researchers' new imaging technique, based on the detection of calcium ions in neurons, could help them map the brain circuits that perform such functions.

A glance at the brain's circuit diagram

October 17, 2012 12:46 pm | News | Comments

The human brain consists of around 80 billion neurons, which form a tight-knit network that they use to exchange signals with each other. Understanding which neurons connect with each other could provide valuable information about how the brain works. A team of scientists in Germany has developed a method for decoding neural circuit diagrams. Using measurements of total neuronal activity, they can determine the probability that two neurons are connected with each other.

Researcher aims to understand strange secrets of magnetotactic bacteria

October 16, 2012 8:44 am | News | Comments

Magnetotactic bacteria are organisms which develop membrane-encapsulated nano-particles known as magnetosomes. Although these microbes were first discovered in 1975, the production of their magnetite crystals is still not fully understood. A researcher in the U.K. is now using computational simulation tools to discover how magnetosomes allow bacteria to orient themselves along the Earth’s magnetic field lines.

Researchers study formation of early cellular life

October 15, 2012 1:46 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at Penn State University have developed a chemical model that mimics a possible step in the formation of cellular life on Earth 4 billion years ago. Using large "macromolecules" called polymers, the scientists created primitive cell-like structures that they infused with RNA and demonstrated how the molecules would react chemically under conditions that might have been present on the early Earth.

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