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Activation of a single neuron type can trigger eating

January 21, 2014 8:22 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Activation of a single type of neuron in the prefrontal cortex can spur a mouse to eat more—a finding that may pinpoint an elusive mechanism the human brain uses to regulate food intake. The decision to eat is fundamental to an animal’s survival and is regulated in part by evolutionary ancient metabolic processes shared by many animal species.

At arm’s length: Plasticity of depth judgment

January 21, 2014 8:12 am | by David Orenstein, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

We need to reach for things, so a connection between arm length and our ability to judge depth accurately may make sense. Given that we grow throughout childhood, it may also seem reasonable that such an optimal depth perception distance should be flexible enough to change with a lengthening arm. Recent research in the Journal of Neuroscience provides evidence for these ideas with surprising findings.

Scientists shed some light on biological “dark matter”

January 20, 2014 2:11 pm | News | Comments

Biologists have studied the functionality of a poorly understood category of genes which produce long non-coding RNA molecules rather than proteins. Some of these genes have been conserved throughout evolution, and are present in 11 species ranging from man to frog. The study, which tracked these genes, suggests that some of our genomes’ "dark matter" may play a role in the development and functioning of the most vital organs of our bodies.

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Speech means using both sides of our brain

January 20, 2014 1:26 pm | News | Comments

We use both sides of our brain for speech, a finding by researchers at New York Univ. and NYU Langone Medical Center that alters previous conceptions about neurological activity. The results, which appear in Nature, also offer insights into addressing speech-related inhibitions caused by stroke or injury and lay the groundwork for better rehabilitation methods.

Can sunlight lower your blood pressure?

January 20, 2014 12:58 pm | News | Comments

Exposing skin to sunlight may help to reduce blood pressure and, thus, cut the risk of heart attack and stroke, a recently published study suggests. Research carried out at the Univs. of Southampton and Edinburgh shows that sunlight alters levels of the small messenger molecule, nitric oxide (NO) in the skin and blood, reducing blood pressure.

Scientists investigate the fiber of our being

January 20, 2014 8:40 am | News | Comments

We are all aware of the health benefits of dietary fiber. But what is dietary fiber and how do we metabolize it? Research at the Univ. of York's Structural Biology Laboratory, in collaboration with groups in Canada, the U.S. and Sweden, has begun to uncover how our gut bacteria metabolize the complex dietary carbohydrates found in fruits and vegetables.

Preventing cell death from infection

January 20, 2014 8:25 am | News | Comments

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute have demonstrated the power of a new drug discovery technique, which allows them to find, relatively quickly and cheaply, antibodies that have a desired effect on cells. The TSRI scientists used the technique to discover two antibodies that protect human cells from a cold virus.

Reaction Biology, Cisbio Bioassays sign distribution agreement

January 20, 2014 8:08 am | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

Reaction Biology Corp. (RBC), a contract research organization providing early-stage drug discovery services, announced that it has signed an agreement for Cisbio Bioassays, a biotechnology company in the field of products and services for human in vitro diagnostics and pharmaceutical research, to distribute its epigenetic proteins.

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Tiny swimming bio-bots boldly go where no bot has swum before

January 20, 2014 8:00 am | News | Comments

The alien world of aquatic microorganisms just got new residents: synthetic self-propelled swimming bio-bots. A team of engineers has developed a class of tiny bio-hybrid machines that swim like sperm, the first synthetic structures that can traverse the viscous fluids of biological environments on their own.

Clever chemistry and a new class of antibiotics

January 17, 2014 12:51 pm | by Kevin Stacey, Brown Univ. | News | Comments

As concerns about bacterial resistance to antibiotics grow, researchers are racing to find new kinds of drugs to replace ones that are no longer effective. One promising new class of molecules called acyldepsipeptides, ADEPs, kills bacteria in a way that no marketed antibacterial drug does. Now, researchers have shown that giving the ADEPs more backbone can dramatically increase their biological potency.

Erasing traumatic memories

January 17, 2014 7:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition marked by severe anxiety stemming from a traumatic event such as a battle or violent attack. Many patients undergo psychotherapy. However, Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientists have now shown that they can extinguish well-established traumatic memories in mice by giving them a type of drug called an HDAC2 inhibitor.

Soil microbes alter DNA in response to warming

January 16, 2014 2:47 pm | News | Comments

Scientists studying grasslands in Oklahoma have discovered that an increase of 2 C in the air temperature above the soil creates significant changes to the microbial ecosystem underground. Compared to a control group with no warming, plants in the warmer plots grew faster and higher, which put more carbon into the soil. The microbial ecosystem responded by altering its DNA to enhance the ability to handle the excess carbon.

Early gene therapy trial for blindness promising

January 16, 2014 10:43 am | by MARIA CHENG - AP Medical Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

A small, preliminary study using gene therapy to treat a rare form of blindness is promising and could trigger similar efforts for other causes of vision loss, British doctors say. They studied just six patients. Of those, two have had dramatic improvements in their vision and none has reported any serious side effects. The study was only designed to test the treatment's safety, not its effectiveness.

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Project aims to produce liquid transportation fuel from methane

January 16, 2014 8:13 am | News | Comments

How’s this for innovative: A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory-led team hopes to engineer a new enzyme that efficiently converts methane to liquid transportation fuel. Methane is the main component of natural gas and biogas from wastewater treatments and landfills. Another source is stranded natural gas, which is currently flared or vented at remote oil fields, and which represents an enormous unused energy resource.

In the blink of an eye

January 16, 2014 7:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Imagine seeing a dozen pictures flash by in a fraction of a second. You might think it would be impossible to identify any images you see for such a short time. However, a team of neuroscientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 msec—the first evidence of such rapid processing speed.

Study dispels "obesity paradox" idea for diabetics

January 15, 2014 5:57 pm | by MARILYNN MARCHIONE - AP Chief Medical Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

The controversial notion that being overweight might actually be healthier for some people with diabetes seems to be a myth, researchers report. A major study finds there's no survival advantage to being large, and a disadvantage to being very large. More than 24 million Americans have diabetes, mostly Type 2, the kind that is on the rise because of obesity. About two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight, including one-third who are obese.

Key to Lyme disease’s locale may be found in a tick’s gut

January 15, 2014 4:28 pm | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

The prevalence of Lyme disease varies greatly between different locales throughout the Northeast, even though the deer ticks that transmit Lyme bacterium are common throughout the entire region. A new study by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine suggests an unusual explanation to the mystery: differences in the makeup of microbes in the guts of the ticks.

Hugging hemes help electrons hop

January 15, 2014 3:49 pm | News | Comments

Researchers simulating how certain bacteria run electrical current through tiny molecular wires have discovered a secret nature uses for electron travel. The results are key to understanding how the bacteria do chemistry in the ground, and will help researchers use them in microbial fuel cells, batteries or for turning waste into electricity.

Chemical signaling simulates exercise in cartilage cells

January 15, 2014 10:48 am | News | Comments

Cartilage is notoriously difficult to repair or grow, but researchers at Duke Medicine have taken a step toward understanding how to regenerate the connective tissue. By adding a chemical to cartilage cells, the chemical signals spurred new cartilage growth, mimicking the effects of physical activity. The findings point to an ion channel called TRPV4 as a potential target for new therapies to treat osteoarthritis or even regrow cartilage.

Unwanted side effect becomes advantage in photoacoustic imaging

January 15, 2014 9:55 am | News | Comments

Biomedical engineer Lihong Wang and researchers in his laboratory work with lasers used in photoacoustic imaging for early cancer detection and a close look at biological tissue. But sometimes there are limitations to what they can do; and as engineers, they work to find a way around those limitations. The team found a novel way to use an otherwise unwanted side effect of the lasers they use—the photo bleaching effect—to their advantage.

Bacterial syringe necessary for marine animal development

January 15, 2014 8:04 am | News | Comments

If you've ever slipped on a slimy wet rock at the beach, you have bacteria to thank. Those bacteria, nestled in a supportive extracellular matrix, form bacterial biofilms. For some marine organisms, these biofilms serve a vital purpose, flagging suitable homes for such organisms and actually aiding the transformation of larvae to adults. A new study is the first to describe a mechanism for this phenomenon.

Microbes swap for tiny goods in minuscule markets, researchers find

January 14, 2014 2:32 pm | News | Comments

A closer look at microbes reveals there is big business going on in their very small world, and sometimes we are part of the transaction. In a published report, an international team of researchers argue that microbes, like many animals, can evolve into savvy traders, selling high and buying low.

Turning up the heat on enzyme design

January 14, 2014 8:20 am | News | Comments

Without the help of enzymes, we couldn’t digest food or synthesize DNA: They make the right metabolic reactions happen at the right speed. But like Goldilocks, enzymes won’t tolerate conditions that are too hot or too cold. They typically function within a narrow temperature band. To give them greater range, and potentially more applications, a team of Yale Univ. engineers has developed a method for designing temperature-adaptive enzymes.

Scientists develop promising drug candidates for pain, addiction

January 14, 2014 8:07 am | News | Comments

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have described a pair of drug candidates that advance the search for new treatments for pain, addiction and other disorders. The two new drug scaffolds offer researchers novel tools that act on a demonstrated therapeutic target, the kappa opioid receptor (KOR), which is located on nerve cells and plays a role in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

How the immune system fights off malaria

January 14, 2014 7:47 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

The parasites that cause malaria are exquisitely adapted to the various hosts they infect; so studying the disease in mice doesn’t necessarily reveal information that could lead to drugs effective against human disease. Now, a team of researchers has developed a strain of mice that mimics most features of the human immune system and can be infected with the most common human form of the malaria parasite, known as Plasmodium falciparum.

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