In two parallel projects, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have created new genomes inside the bacterium E. coli in ways that could open new possibilities for increasing flexibility, productivity and safety in biotechnology. In the first project, researchers created a novel genome, the first-ever entirely genomically recoded organism. They then greatly expanded genetic changes in the second project.
Human fingertips have several types of sensory neurons that are responsible for relaying touch signals to the central nervous system. Scientists have long believed these neurons followed a linear path to the brain with a "labeled-lines" structure. But new research on mouse whiskers reveals a surprise: At the fine scale, the sensory system's wiring diagram doesn't have a set pattern.
Researchers at Princeton Univ. have found that microRNAs, which are small bits of genetic material capable of repressing the expression of certain genes, may serve as both therapeutic targets and predictors of metastasis, or a cancer’s spread from its initial site to other parts of the body.
Previous studies had established an association between the activity of certain types of neurons and the phase of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). Scientists have now found the source of this causal relationship and have used optogenetics techniques to induce and modulate REM sleep in mice.
A team of researchers at Harvard Univ. has found a way to self-assemble complex structures out of gel “bricks” smaller than a grain of salt. The new method could help solve one of the major challenges in tissue engineering: creating injectable components that self-assemble into intricately structured, biocompatible scaffolds at an injury site to help regrow human tissues.
In the parallel universe of the microbiological world, there is a current superstar species of blue-green algae that, through its powers of photosynthesis and carbon dioxide fixation, or uptake, can produce (count ’em) ethanol, hydrogen, butanol, isobutanol and potentially biodiesel. Called Synechocystis 6803, it also has the potential to make commodity chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
By lowering the expression of a single gene, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have extended the average lifespan of a group of mice by about 20%—the equivalent of raising the average human lifespan by 16 years. The research team targeted a gene called mTOR, which is involved in metabolism and energy balance, and may be connected with the increased lifespan associated with caloric restriction.
Stem cell technology has long offered the hope of regenerating tissue to repair broken or damaged neural tissue. Findings from a team of Univ. of California, Davis investigators have brought this dream a step closer by developing a method to generate functioning brain cells that produce myelin, the fatty, insulating sheath essential to normal neural conduction.
Researchers in Switzerland have developed a “guide” that can be used to precisely predict the number of proteins a given gene will produce under varying conditions. Each gene has a segment of DNA at its beginning called a promoter, and the researchers generated more than 200 of them, integrated them into a yeast genome, and conducted comparative analysis that generated a model. This work will help biologists to engineer cells.
A team of chemists at Syracuse Univ. has used a temperature-sensitive polymer to regulate DNA interactions in both a DNA-mediated assembly system and a DNA-encoded drug-delivery system. Their findings may improve how nanomaterials self-assemble into functional devices and how anticancer drugs, including doxorubicin, are delivered into the body.
Rice Univ. researchers are making strides toward a set of rules to custom-design Lego-like viral capsid proteins for gene therapy. A recent paper details the team's use of computational and bioengineering methods to combine pieces of very different adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) to create new, benign viruses that can deliver DNA payloads to specific cells.
Some 60 years ago, a doctor in Baltimore removed cancer cells from a poor black patient named Henrietta Lacks without her knowledge or consent. Those cells eventually helped lead to a multitude of medical treatments and lay the groundwork for the multibillion-dollar biotech industry. Now, for the first time, the Lacks family has been given a say over at least some research involving her cells.
Researchers at Columbia Univ. Medical Center, working with their collaborators at the Hospital for Special Surgery, have created a fleet of molecular “robots” that can home in on specific human cells and mark them for drug therapy or destruction. The nanorobots—a collection of DNA molecules, some attached to antibodies—were designed to seek a specific set of human blood cells and attach a fluorescent tag to the cell surfaces.
Scientists who sparked an outcry by creating easier-to-spread versions of the bird flu want to try such experiments again using a worrisome new strain known as H7N9. Since it broke out in China in March, the bird flu strain has infected more than 130 people and killed 43. Researchers say that genetically engineering this virus in the lab could help track whether it's changing in the wild to become a bigger threat.
A team of scientists in South Korea have recently developed the most precise method ever used to accomplish a typically messy, clumsy process: inserting DNA into living cells. It combines two high-tech laboratory techniques and allows the researchers to precisely poke holes on the surface of a single cell with a high-powered femtosecond laser and then gently tug a piece of DNA through it using optical tweezers.
Two volunteer taste-testers in London got the unusual opportunity of sampling a stem-cell burger. Though it was reportedly short on taste, the burger represents five years of research. Made from meat grown in a laboratory from the stem cells of cattle, the the burger is part of an effort to help solve both the food crisis and climate change.
Many drugs such as agents for cancer or autoimmune diseases have nasty side effects because while they kill disease-causing cells, they also affect healthy cells. Now a new study has demonstrated a technique for developing more targeted drugs, by using molecular “robots” to hone in on more specific populations of cells.
Researchers at the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have used optogenetics techniques to implant false memories into mice, potentially illuminating the mechanisms underlying the human phenomenon of “recalling” experiences that never occurred.
Stem cells are key to the promise of regenerative medicine, but the formula for induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the cells that can be created from a patient’s own tissues, has limited variations. New research, however, says iPSCs are far more versatile than originally thought. For the first time, researchers have replace a gene once thought impossible to substitute, creating the potential for more flexible recipes.
A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have identified a mechanism that can prevent the normal prion protein from changing its molecular shape into the abnormal form responsible for neurodegenerative diseases. This finding offers new hope in the battle against a foe that until now has always proved fatal.
The ergodic theorem, proposed by mathematician George Birkhoff in 1931, holds that if you follow an individual particle over an infinite amount of time, it will go through all the states that are seen in an infinite population at an instant in time. Experiments by biochemists in California show for the first time that the ergodic theorem can be demonstrated by a collection of individual protein molecules.
The interior of a living cell is a crowded place, with proteins and other macromolecules packed tightly together. A team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon Univ. has approximated this molecular crowding in an artificial cellular system and found that tight quarters help the process of gene expression, especially when other conditions are less than ideal.
Jatropha, a plant variety that has been pursued as possible source for biofuel, has seeds with high oil content. But the oil's potential as a biofuel is limited because, for large-scale production, this shrub-like plant needs the same amount of care and resources as crop plants. By focusing on the plant’s drought response and using engineered genetics, the scientists have learned more about potentially improving the plant’s function.
By rerouting the metabolic pathway that makes fatty acids in E. coli bacteria, researchers at Harvard University have devised a new way to produce a gasoline-like biofuel. According to the scientists, who are tweaking metabolic pathways in bacteria, new lines of engineered bacteria can tailor-make key precursors of high-octane biofuels that could one day replace gasoline.
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.