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Tasting light

January 30, 2015 4:21 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Human taste receptors are specialized to distinguish several distinct compounds: sugars taste sweet, salts taste salty, and acidic compounds taste sour. Now a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that the worm Caenorhabditis elegans has taken its powers of detection a step further: The worm can taste hydrogen peroxide, triggering it to stop eating the potentially dangerous substance.

Why do zebras have stripes?

January 30, 2015 8:53 am | by Stuart Wolpert, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | Videos | Comments

One of nature’s fascinating questions is how zebras got their stripes. A team of life scientists led by Univ. of California, Los Angeles has found at least part of the answer: The amount and intensity of striping can be best predicted by the temperature of the environment in which zebras live.

DNA nanoswitches reveal how life’s molecules connect

January 30, 2015 8:17 am | by Kat J. McAlpine, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering | News | Comments

A complex interplay of molecular components governs most aspects of biological sciences: healthy organism development, disease progression and drug efficacy are all dependent on the way life's molecules interact in the body. Understanding these biomolecular interactions is critical for the discovery of new therapeutics and diagnostics to treat diseases, but currently requires scientists to have access to expensive laboratory equipment.

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New clues about a brain protein with high affinity for valium

January 29, 2015 4:18 pm | by Karen McNulty Walsh, Brookhaven National Laboratory | News | Comments

Valium, one of the best known antianxiety drugs, produces its calming effects by binding with a particular protein in the brain. But the drug has an almost equally strong affinity for a completely different protein. Understanding this secondary interaction might offer clues about Valium's side effects and point the way to more effective drugs.

Genetically engineered antibodies show enhanced HIV-fighting abilities

January 29, 2015 4:06 pm | by Kimm Fesenmaier, Caltech | News | Comments

Capitalizing on a new insight into HIV's strategy for evading antibodies, Caltech researchers have developed antibody-based molecules that are more than 100 times better than our bodies' own defenses at binding to and neutralizing HIV, when tested in vitro. The work suggests a novel approach that could be used to engineer more effective HIV-fighting drugs.

Neutron beams reveal how two potential pieces of Parkinson’s puzzle fit

January 29, 2015 11:44 am | by Chad Boutin, NIST | News | Comments

To understand diseases like Parkinson’s, the tiniest of puzzles may hold big answers. That’s why a team including scientists from NIST have determined how two potentially key pieces of the Parkinson’s puzzle fit together, in an effort to reveal how the still poorly understood illness develops and affects its victims.

X-ray study reveals division of labor in cell health protein

January 29, 2015 11:24 am | by SLAC Office of Communications | News | Comments

Researchers working in part at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered that a key protein for cell health, which has recently been linked to diabetes, cancer and other diseases, can multitask by having two identical protein parts divide labor. The TH enzyme, short for transhydrogenase, is a crucial protein for most forms of life. In humans and other higher organisms, it works within mitochondria.

Why upper motor neurons degenerate in ALS

January 29, 2015 8:44 am | by Marla Paul, Northwestern Univ. | News | Comments

For the first time, scientists have revealed a mechanism underlying the cellular degeneration of upper motor neurons, a small group of neurons in the brain recently shown to play a major role in ALS pathology. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a fatal neuromuscular disorder marked by the degeneration of motor neurons, which causes muscle weakness and impaired speaking, swallowing and breathing that leads to paralysis and death.

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Ancient Israeli skull may document migration from Africa

January 28, 2015 1:17 pm | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

Long ago, humans left their evolutionary cradle in Africa and passed through the Middle East on their way to Europe. Now scientists have found the first fossil remains that appear to document that journey, a partial skull from an Israeli cave. The skull dates from around 55,000 years ago, fitting into the period when scientists had thought the migrants inhabited the area.

New mechanism unlocked for evolution of green fluorescent protein

January 28, 2015 10:51 am | by Jenny Green, Arizona State Univ. | News | Comments

A primary challenge in the biosciences is to understand the way major evolutionary changes in nature are accomplished. Sometimes the route turns out to be very simple. A group of scientists showed, for the first time, that a hinge migration mechanism, driven solely by long-range dynamic motions, can be the key for evolution of a green-to-red photoconvertible phenotype in a green fluorescent protein.

Ribose-seq identifies, locates ribonucleotides in genomic DNA

January 28, 2015 10:10 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Ribonucleotides, units of RNA, can become embedded in genomic DNA during processes such as DNA replication and repair, affecting the stability of the genome by contributing to DNA fragility and mutability. Scientists have known about the presence of ribonucleotides in DNA, but until now had not been able to determine exactly what they are and where they are located in the DNA sequences.

Man trumps dog: Earlier assumption about BPA exposure confirmed

January 28, 2015 8:18 am | by Mary Beckman, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory | News | Comments

Coating the mouth with BPA-containing food does not lead to higher than expected levels of BPA in blood, according to a new study. The study concludes that oral exposure does not create a risk for high exposures. BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is used to make some plastics and to seal canned food containers against bacterial contamination. Food, which picks up trace amounts of BPA from packaging, is the major source of human exposure.

Synthetic amino acid enables safe, new biotechnology solutions

January 26, 2015 12:13 pm | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists from Yale Univ. have devised a way to ensure genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be safely confined in the environment, overcoming a major obstacle to widespread use of GMOs in agriculture, energy production, waste management and medicine.

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Chemists find a way to unboil eggs

January 26, 2015 9:25 am | by Janet Wilson, Univ. of California, Irvine | News | Comments

Univ. of California, Irvine and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites, an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published in ChemBioChem.

How cancer turns good cells to the dark side

January 26, 2015 8:38 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Cancer uses a little-understood element of cell signaling to hijack the communication process and spread, according to Rice Univ. researchers. A new computational study by researchers at the Rice-based Center for Theoretical Biological Physics shows how cancer cells take advantage of the system by which cells communicate with their neighbors as they pass messages to “be like me” or “be not like me.”

Rare neurological disease shines light on health of essential nerve cells

January 23, 2015 8:35 am | by David Tennebaum, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | News | Comments

Ian Duncan is a Scotsman with the iron discipline and stamina of a competitive marathoner, triathlete and cross-country skier. As a neuroscientist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, he’s applied his tenacity to a rare genetic disorder. Known as Pelizaeus Merzbacher disease or PMD, it’s a devastating neurological condition that, in its most severe form, kills infants weeks after birth.

Pictured together for the first time: A chemokine and its receptor

January 23, 2015 8:12 am | by Heather Buschman, Univ. of California, San Diego | News | Comments

Researchers report the first crystal structure of the cellular receptor CXCR4 bound to an immune signaling protein called a chemokine. The structure, published in Science, answers longstanding questions about a molecular interaction that plays an important role in human development, immune responses, cancer metastasis and HIV infections.

Biological safety lock for genetically modified organisms

January 22, 2015 1:17 pm | by Stephanie Dutchen, Harvard Medical School | News | Comments

The creation of genetically modified and entirely synthetic organisms continues to generate excitement as well as worry. Such organisms are already churning out insulin and other drug ingredients, helping produce biofuels and teaching scientists about human disease. While the risks can be exaggerated to frightening effect, modified organisms do have the potential to upset natural ecosystems if they were to escape.

Researchers reveal how the mundane can be meaningful, remembered

January 22, 2015 11:36 am | by James Devitt, New York Univ. | News | Comments

It’s not surprising that our memories of highly emotional events, such as 9/11 or the birth of a child, are quite strong. But can these events change our memories of the past? In a study published in Nature, New York Univ. researchers report that emotional learning can lead to the strengthening of older memories.

New analysis explains collagen’s force

January 22, 2015 7:48 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Research combining experimental work and detailed molecular simulations has revealed, for the first time, the complex role that water plays in collagen. The new analysis reveals an important mechanism that had never been observed before: Adding even small amounts of water to, or removing water from, collagen in tendons can generate surprisingly strong forces, as much as 300 times stronger than the forces generated by muscles.

The ups and downs of the seemingly idle brain

January 21, 2015 9:24 am | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

Even in its quietest moments, the brain is never “off.” Instead, while under anesthesia, during slow-wave sleep, or even amid calm wakefulness, the brain’s cortex maintains a cycle of activity and quiet called “up” and “down” states. A new study by Brown Univ. neuroscientists probed deep into this somewhat mysterious cycle in mice, to learn more about how the mammalian brain accomplishes it.

Flu vaccine 23% effective

January 16, 2015 2:04 pm | by Mike Stobbe, AP Medical Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

As predicted, this year's flu vaccine is doing a pretty crummy job. It's only 23% effective, primarily because it doesn't include the bug that is making most people sick, according to a government study released today. That's one of the worst performances in the last decade, since U.S. health officials started routinely tracking how well vaccines work. In the best flu seasons, the vaccines were 50 to 60% effective.

New genetic clues found in fragile X syndrome

January 16, 2015 1:40 pm | by Julia Evangelou Strait, Senior Medical Sciences Writer, Washington Univ., St. Louis | News | Comments

Scientists have gained new insight into fragile X syndrome by studying the case of a person without the disorder, but with two of its classic symptoms. In patients with fragile X, a key gene is completely disabled, eliminating a protein that regulates electrical signals in the brain and causing a host of behavioral, neurological and physical symptoms.

New “triggered-release” mechanism could improve drug delivery

January 16, 2015 11:58 am | by Tom Frew, International Press Officer, Univ. of Warwick | News | Comments

More efficient medical treatments could be developed thanks to a new method for triggering the rearrangement of chemical particles. The new method, developed at the Univ. of Warwick, uses two “parent” nanoparticles that are designed to interact only when in proximity to each other and trigger the release of drug molecules contained within both.

Study details link between inflammation and cancer

January 16, 2015 9:28 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology reveals one reason why people who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases such as colitis have a higher risk of mutations that cause cancer. The researchers also found that exposure to DNA-damaging chemicals after a bout of inflammation boosts these mutations even more, further increasing cancer risk.

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