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Artificial cells help scientists study molecular crowding, gene expression

July 16, 2013 9:06 am | News | Comments

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.

Drought response identified in potential biofuel plant

July 15, 2013 10:39 pm | by Hannah Y Cheng, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

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.

High-octane bacteria could ease pain at the pump

June 25, 2013 1:28 pm | News | Comments

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.

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When green algae run out of air

June 24, 2013 9:22 am | News | Comments

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.

Modified wheat appears to be isolated

June 14, 2013 5:50 pm | by MARY CLARE JALONICK - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

The Agriculture Dept. says it has no indications that genetically modified wheat found in the western state of Oregon last month has spread beyond the field in which it was found. No genetically engineered wheat has been approved for U.S. farming, and the department is investigating how the engineered wheat got in the field.

New method mass produces high-quality DNA

June 3, 2013 9:55 am | News | Comments

A new method of manufacturing short, single-stranded DNA molecules uses enzymatic production methods to create a system that not only improves the quality of the manufactured oligonucleotides but that also makes it possible to scale up production using bacteria in order to produce large amounts of DNA copies cheaply.

Computational study tracks E. coli cells’ regulatory mechanisms

May 22, 2013 8:58 am | News | Comments

Environment is not the only factor in shaping cell regulatory patterns—and it might not even be the primary factor, according to a new Rice University study that looks at how cells’ protein networks relate to a bacteria’s genome. When environmental factors are eliminated from an evolutionary model, the researchers say, mutations and genetic drift can give rise to the patterns that appear.

DNA-guided assembly yields ribbon-like nanostructures

May 16, 2013 12:20 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered that DNA "linker" strands coax nano-sized rods to line up in way unlike any other spontaneous arrangement of rod-shaped objects. The arrangement—with the rods forming "rungs" on ladder-like ribbons linked by multiple DNA strands—results from the collective interactions of the flexible DNA tethers and may be unique to the nanoscale.

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Building protocells from inorganic nanoparticles

May 10, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

Cells are the basic unit of life and are separated from the outside world by a thin organic membrane. A major function of this membrane is to allow certain molecules to enter or leave the cell whilst other molecules are blocked from the cell interior. This allows metabolic processes to take place. Controlling membrane permeability is therefore a key challenge when building artificial cells in the form of enclosed chemical systems.

Engineers build living patch for damaged hearts

May 7, 2013 7:56 am | News | Comments

Duke University biomedical engineers have grown 3D human heart muscle that acts just like natural tissue. This advancement could be important in serving as a platform for testing new heart disease medicines. The “heart patch” grown in the laboratory from human cells overcomes two major obstacles facing cell-based therapies—the patch conducts electricity at about the same speed as natural heart cells and it “squeezes” appropriately.

Scientists build a living patch for damaged hearts

May 6, 2013 12:24 pm | News | Comments

Duke University biomedical engineers have grown three-dimensional human heart muscle that acts just like natural tissue. The "heart patch" grown in the laboratory from human cells overcomes two major obstacles facing cell-based therapies—the patch conducts electricity at about the same speed as natural heart cells and it "squeezes" appropriately.  

Heart cells change stem cell behavior

May 3, 2013 9:57 am | News | Comments

Stem cells drawn from amniotic fluid show promise for tissue engineering, but it’s important to know what they can and cannot do. A new study by researchers at Rice University and Texas Children’s Hospital has shown that these stem cells can communicate with mature heart cells and form electrical couplings with each other similar to those found in heart tissue.

Study: Synthetic biology research community has grown significantly

May 1, 2013 10:02 am | News | Comments

Researchers at the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars have recently reported that the number of private and public entities conducting research in synthetic biology worldwide grew significantly between 2009 and 2013. Their findings, which include more than 500 organizations, are tracked on an interactive online map.

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Researchers turn skin cells directly into the cells that insulate neurons

April 15, 2013 1:00 pm | News | Comments

Stanford University School of Medicine scientists have succeeded in transforming skin cells directly into oligodendrocyte precursor cells, the cells that wrap nerve cells in the insulating myelin sheaths that help nerve signals propagate. The research was done in mice and rats, but if the approach also works with human cells, it could eventually lead to cell therapies for a variety of diseases of the nervous system.

Ordinary skin cells morphed into functional brain cells

April 15, 2013 12:11 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine have discovered a technique that directly converts skin cells to the type of brain cells destroyed in patients with multiple sclerosis and other so-called myelin disorders. This breakthrough now enables "on demand" production of myelinating cells, which provide a vital sheath of insulation that protects neurons and enables the delivery of brain impulses to the rest of the body.

Overcoming barriers to medical use of microrockets and micromotors

April 11, 2013 2:13 am | News | Comments

An advance in micromotor technology akin to the invention of cars that fuel themselves from the pavement or air, rather than gasoline or batteries, is opening the door to broad new medical and industrial uses for these tiny devices, scientists said here today. Their update on development of the motors—so small that thousands would fit inside this "o"—was part of the American Chemical Society national meeting.

Researchers engineer “protein switch” to dissect role of cancer's key players

April 10, 2013 12:45 pm | News | Comments

Scientists at the Uniersity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have "rationally rewired" some of the cell's smallest components to create proteins that can be switched on or off by command. These "protein switches" can be used to interrogate the inner workings of each cell, helping scientists uncover the molecular mechanisms of human health and disease.  

Recruiting engineered cells to work for warfighters

April 10, 2013 12:22 pm | News | Comments

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) this week launched a collaborative initiative with university researchers focused on synthetic, or engineered, cells—part of a larger effort to use the smallest units of life to help Sailors and Marines execute their missions. ONR currently has multiple ongoing projects in the field of synthetic biology.

Exploring the ethics of resurrecting extinct species

April 8, 2013 6:09 pm | by Thomas Sumner and Bjorn Carey, Stanford University | News | Comments

At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption. Stanford University law professor Hank Greely has recently identified the ethical landmines of this new concept of de-extinction.

Innovative method to treat Alzheimer's in mice

April 5, 2013 4:57 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute report that they successfully used a virus vector to restore the expression of a brain protein and improve cognitive functions, in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. Because it is impossible to deliver genes directly to the brain without surgery, the researchers injected the virus in the left ventricle of the heart, as this provides a direct route to the brain.

Building better blood vessels could advance tissue engineering

April 5, 2013 8:00 am | News | Comments

One of the major obstacles to growing new organs—replacement hearts, lungs, and kidneys—is the difficulty researchers face in building blood vessels that keep the tissues alive, but new findings from the University of Michigan could help overcome this roadblock.

Researchers find new way for plants to pass traits to next generation

March 26, 2013 12:50 pm | by Emily Caldwell, Ohio State University | News | Comments

Scientists have shown that an enzyme in corn responsible for reading information from DNA can prompt unexpected changes in gene activity—an example of epigenetics that breaks accepted rules of genetic behavior. Though some evidence has suggested that epigenetic changes can bypass DNA’s influence to carry on from one generation to the next, this is the first study to show that this epigenetic heritability can be subject to selective breeding.

Researchers discover third type of motor found in nature

March 20, 2013 3:21 pm | News | Comments

Scientists have cracked a 35-year-old mystery about the workings of a revolving molecular motor that is now serving as a model for development of a futuristic genre of synthetic nanomotors that pump therapeutic DNA, RNA, or drugs into individual diseased cells. Their report reveals the mechanisms of these nanomotors in a bacteria-killing virus—and a new way to move DNA through cells

Synthesized DNA catalysts do the work of protein enzymes

March 19, 2013 3:37 pm | News | Comments

Ideally, researchers would like to be able to design and build new catalysts from scratch that can do exactly what they want. However, designing—or even modifying—protein enzymes is a very difficult task. Illinois chemists have overcome the issues with size and complexity by using an artificially synthesized DNA sequence to do a protein’s job, creating opportunities for DNA to find work in more areas of biology, chemistry and medicine than ever before

Scientists use DNA to create nano-encrypted Morse code

March 12, 2013 3:17 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have devised a dynamic and reversible way to assemble nanoscale structures and have used it to encrypt a Morse code message. The team started with a template of DNA origami―multiple strands of DNA woven into a tile. They “wrote” their message in the DNA template by attaching biotin-bound DNA strands to specific locations on the tiles that would light up as dots or dashes. 

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