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Flip of a single molecular switch makes an old brain young

March 6, 2013 3:38 pm | News | Comments

Scientists have long known that the young and old brains are very different. Adolescent brains are more malleable or plastic. The flip of a single molecular switch helps create the mature neuronal connections that allow the brain to bridge the gap between adolescent impressionability and adult stability. Now Yale School of Medicine researchers have reversed the process, recreating a youthful brain that facilitated both learning and healing in the adult mouse.

Biochemists gain insight into cell division

March 5, 2013 4:34 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, including assistant professor Peter Chien, recently gained new insight into how protein synthesis and degradation help to regulate the delicate ballet of cell division. In particular, they reveal how two proteins shelter each other in “mutually assured cleanup” to insure that division goes smoothly and safely.

Scientists engineer bacterial live wires

February 28, 2013 1:09 pm | News | Comments

Just like electronics, living cells use electrons for energy and information transfer. But cell membranes have thus far prevented us from “plugging” in cells to our computers. To get around this barrier that tightly controls charge balance, a research group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry has engineered <em>E. coli</em> as a testbed for cellular-electrode communication. They have now demonstrated that these bacterial strains can generate measurable current at an anode.

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“Fat worms” inch scientists toward better biofuel production

February 26, 2013 10:00 am | News | Comments

Researchers at Michigan State University have used use an algae gene involved in oil production to engineer a plant that stores lipids or vegetable oil in its leaves—an uncommon occurrence for most plants. To confirm that the improved plants were more nutritious and contained more energy, the research team fed them to caterpillar larvae. The larvae that were fed oily leaves from the enhanced plants gained more weight than worms that ate regular leaves.

Artificial platelets could treat injured soldiers on the battlefield

February 19, 2013 9:04 am | News | Comments

When it comes to healing the terrible wounds of war, success may hinge on the first blood clot—the one that begins forming on the battlefield right after an injury. Researchers exploring the complex stream of cellular signals produced by the body in response to a traumatic injury believe the initial response—formation of a blood clot—may control subsequent healing. Using that information, they're developing new biomaterials, including artificial blood platelets laced with regulatory chemicals that could be included in an injector device the size of an iPhone.

Avoiding virus dangers in “domesticating” wild plants for biofuel use

February 15, 2013 11:36 am | News | Comments

According to Michigan State University plant biologist Carolyn Malmstrom, when we start combining the qualities of different types of plants into one, there can be unanticipated results. In the domestication of wild plants for bioenergy, for example, long-lived plants are being selected for fast growth like annuals. In contrast, perennial plants in nature grow slower, but are usually better equipped to fight off invading viruses. When wild-growing perennials do get infected they can serve as reservoirs for viruses.

Researchers discover how a microbial biorefinery regulates genes

February 15, 2013 11:17 am | News | Comments

Digesting lignin, a highly stable polymer that accounts for up to a third of biomass, is a limiting step to producing a variety of biofuels. Researchers at Brown have figured out the microscopic chemical switch that allows Streptomyces bacteria to get to work, breaking lignin down into its constituent parts.

Engineers use light to control cell clustering

February 13, 2013 11:07 am | News | Comments

A new study from engineers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, pairs light and genetics to give researchers a powerful new tool for manipulating cells. The optogenetics breakthrough shows how blue light can be used as a switch to prompt targeted proteins to accumulate into large clusters. This clustering, or oligomerization, is commonly employed by nature to turn on or turn off specific signaling pathways used in cells’ complex system of communications.

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Researchers develop molecular “calcium sponge” to tackle heart failure

February 11, 2013 9:47 am | News | Comments

Calcium plays a major role in orchestrating normal heart pump function. The condition known as diastolic heart failure occurs when the calcium signaling process is slowed, preventing the heart from relaxing. Scientists in Minnesota have utilized molecular genetic engineering to optimize heart performance in models of diastolic heart failure by creating an optimized protein that can aid in high-speed relaxation similar to fast twitching muscles.

When the cell’s two genomes collide

February 6, 2013 12:17 pm | News | Comments

Plant and animal cells contain two genomes: one in the nucleus and one in the mitochondria. When mutations occur in each, they can become incompatible, leading to disease. To increase understanding of such illnesses, scientists at Brown University and Indiana University have traced one example in fruit flies down to the individual errant nucleotides and the mechanism by which the flies become sick.   

Synthetic biology method dramatically cuts down “manufacturing” time

January 31, 2013 12:13 pm | News | Comments

Scientists in the U.K. have reported that they have developed a method that cuts down the time it takes to make new “parts” for microscopic biological factories from two days to only six hours. The technique does away with the need to re-engineer a cell’s DNA every time a new part is needed. The researchers say their research brings them another step closer to a new kind of industrial revolution, where parts for these biological factories could be mass-produced.

Maglev tissues could speed toxicity tests

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

In a development that could lead to faster and more effective toxicity tests for airborne chemicals, scientists from Rice University and the Rice spinoff company Nano3D Biosciences have used magnetic levitation to grow some of the most realistic lung tissue ever produced in a laboratory.

Study: Digital information can be stored in DNA

January 24, 2013 11:42 am | by Malcolm Ritter, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Using genetic material as their medium, researchers reported Wednesday that they had stored all 154 Shakespeare sonnets, a photo, a scientific paper, and a 26-second sound clip from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. That all fit in a barely visible bit of DNA in a test tube.

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Molecular forces are key to proper cell division

January 21, 2013 5:09 pm | News | Comments

The purpose of cell division is to evenly distribute the genome between two daughter cells. But this process is highly prone to interaction errors between chromosomes and spindles. Studies led by cell biologist Thomas Maresca at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are revealing new details about a molecular surveillance system that helps detect and correct errors in cell division that can lead to cell death or human diseases

One form of neuron turned into another in brain

January 21, 2013 9:53 am | News | Comments

The principle of direct lineage reprogramming of differentiated cells within the body was first proven by Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) co-director Doug Melton and colleagues five years ago, when they reprogrammed exocrine pancreatic cells directly into insulin producing beta cells. Now, the same scientists have proven that neurons, too, can change their mind

A light switch inside the brain

January 18, 2013 11:06 am | News | Comments

Scientists in Germany and Switzerland have developed an implant that is able to genetically modify specific nerve cells, control them with light stimuli, and measure their electrical activity all at the same time. This new tool relies on an innovative genetic technique that forces nerve cells to change their activity by shining light of different colors onto them.

A new way to build collagen scaffolds

December 28, 2012 12:51 pm | News | Comments

Tufts University School of Engineering researchers have developed a novel method for fabricating collagen structures that maintains the collagen's natural strength and fiber structure, making it useful for a number of biomedical applications.

New calculations solve an old problem with DNA

December 21, 2012 12:37 pm | News | Comments

It has been known since the 1970s that excessive salt causes DNA to reverse its twist, from a right-handed spiral to a left-handed one. The complexity of the DNA molecule has prevented a theoretical explanation which correctly predicts the amount of salt to do this. In a recent publication, however, researchers achieved new accuracy in the ability to measure energy differences between states of molecules, thus predicting which states will be observed.

New approach destroys disease-associated RNAs in cells

December 20, 2012 8:01 pm | News | Comments

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have developed a way to alter the function of RNA in living cells by designing molecules that recognize and disable RNA targets. As a proof of principle, the team designed a molecule that disabled the RNA causing myotonic dystrophy. This small molecule is cell-permeable, offering benefits over traditional methods of targeting RNAs for degradation.

Heart cells beat in bioscaffold for babies

December 12, 2012 11:01 am | News | Comments

A painstaking effort to create a biocompatible patch to heal infant hearts is paying off at Rice University and Texas Children’s Hospital. The proof is in a petri dish in Jeffrey Jacot's laboratory, where a small slab of gelatinous material beats with the rhythm of a living heart.

Measuring the nanoworld: Rulers made of DNA

December 11, 2012 12:15 pm | News | Comments

It has recently been possible to resolve biological structures down to the molecular scale with light microscopy, termed super-resolution microscopy. However, there have been limits to the technique. So far, it has been difficult to distinguish between sample-specific and microscope-specific error sources if the images were blurry. Researchers in Germany have recently resolved this issue.

Gene-altered mosquitoes could be used vs. dengue

December 6, 2012 9:26 am | by Jennifer Kay, Associated Press | News | Comments

Mosquito control officials in the Florida Keys are waiting for the federal government to sign off on an experiment that would release hundreds of thousands of genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce the risk of dengue fever in the tourist town of Key West. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it would be the first such experiment in the U.S. Some residents, however, are worried about the risks.

Fast-growing fish may never wind up on your plate

December 5, 2012 10:45 am | by Matthew Perrone, AP Health Writer | News | Comments

After weathering concerns about everything from the safety of humans eating the salmon to their impact on the environment, Aquabounty was in a position to become the world's first company to sell fish whose DNA has been altered to speed up growth. But after positive feedback from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2010, the agency still has not approved the fish and the company could soon run out of money.

The precise engineering of 3D brain tissues

November 30, 2012 9:54 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Borrowing from microfabrication techniques used in the semiconductor industry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University engineers have developed a simple and inexpensive way to create 3D brain tissues in a laboratory dish. The new technique yields tissue constructs that closely mimic the cellular composition of those in the living brain, allowing scientists to study how neurons form connections and to predict how cells from individual patients might respond to different drugs.

Garbage bug may help lower the cost of biofuel

November 30, 2012 8:57 am | News | Comments

One reason that biofuels are expensive to make is that the organisms used to ferment the biomass cannot make effective use of hemicellulose, the next most abundant cell wall component after cellulose. However, a microbe found in the garbage dump of a canning plant in 1993 may hold the right enzymes for the job. Researchers are now working on isolating the gene cluster responsible for this ability.

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