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Liquid DNA behind virus attacks

October 6, 2014 11:48 am | News | Comments

According to two recent studies, viruses can convert their DNA from solid to fluid form, explaining how viruses manage to eject DNA into the cells of their victims. The researchers in one study, which focused on herpes infections, say the discovery was surprising: No one was previously aware of the “phase transition” from solid to fluid form in virus DNA.

A protein approach to halve and to whole

October 6, 2014 8:12 am | by Mike Williams, Rice Univ. | News | Comments

Rice Univ. scientists have developed a plug-and-play approach to detect interactions between proteins they say could greatly improve understanding of basic biological functions. The Rice team, in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine, split and added sticky tags to fluorescent proteins that become biosensors when inserted into living cells.

First pictures of BRCA2 protein show how it works to repair DNA

October 6, 2014 8:07 am | by Sam Wong, Imperial College London | News | Comments

Mutations in the gene that encodes BRCA2 are well known for raising the risk of breast cancer and other cancers. Although the protein was known to be involved in DNA repair, its shape and mechanism have been unclear, making it impossible to target with therapies. Researchers in the U.K. purified the protein and used electron microscopy to reveal its structure and how it interacts with other proteins and DNA.

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NIH awards UC Berkeley $7.2 million to advance brain initiative

October 2, 2014 8:28 am | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

The National Institutes of Health this week announced its first research grants through President Barack Obama’s BRAIN Initiative, including three awards to the Univ. of California, Berkeley, totaling nearly $7.2 million over three years. The projects are among 58 funded in this initial wave of NIH grants, involving 100 researchers and a total of $46 million in fiscal year 2014 dollars alone.

Agilent to collaborate with Univ. of Toronto on metabolomics solutions

October 2, 2014 7:57 am | News | Comments

A collaboration has been announced between Agilent Technologies and the Univ. of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research to produce a comprehensive metabolomics multiple-reaction monitoring library and methodology, using Agilent’s Infinity 1290 UHPLC, 6460 triple quadrupole mass spectrometry system, and MassHunter Software. The goal is to accelerate quantification of hundreds of metabolically important compounds.

Gene mutation may lead to development of new cancer drugs

October 1, 2014 8:52 am | by Laura Bailey, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

The discovery of a gene mutation that causes a rare premature aging disease could lead to the development of drugs that block the rapid, unstoppable cell division that makes cancer so deadly. Scientists at the Univ. of Michigan recently discovered a protein mutation that causes the devastating disease dyskeratosis congenita, in which precious hematopoietic stem cells can't regenerate and make new blood.

Drug delivery capsule may replace injections

October 1, 2014 8:22 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Given a choice, most patients would prefer to take a drug orally instead of getting an injection. Unfortunately, many drugs, can’t be given as a pill because they get broken down in the stomach before they can be absorbed. To help overcome that obstacle, researchers have devised a novel drug capsule coated with tiny needles that can inject drugs directly into the lining of the stomach after swallowed.

New discovery approach accelerates identification of potential cancer treatments

September 30, 2014 9:50 am | by Laura Williams, Univ. of Michigan | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Michigan have described a new approach to discovering potential cancer treatments that requires a fraction of the time needed for more traditional methods. They used the platform to identify a novel antibody that is undergoing further investigation as a potential treatment for breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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At the interface of math and science

September 30, 2014 8:09 am | by Julie Cohen, UC Santa Barbara | News | Comments

Univ. of California, Santa Barbara’s Paul Atzberger, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and in mechanical engineering, often works in areas where mathematics plays an ever more important role in the discovery and development of new ideas. Most recently he has developed new mathematical approaches to gain insights into how proteins move around within lipid bilayer membranes.

Automated sorting through metagenomes

September 30, 2014 8:05 am | by Lynn Yarris, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory | News | Comments

Microbes have an amazing ability to feed on plant biomass and convert it into other chemical products. Tapping into this talent has the potential to revolutionize energy, medicine, environmental remediation and many other fields. The success of this effort hinges in part on metagenomics, the emerging technology that enables researchers to read all the individual genomes of a sample microbial community at once.

Fat molecules influence form, function of key photosynthesis protein

September 30, 2014 7:48 am | by Elizabeth K. Gardner, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

A mysterious space within a protein critical to photosynthesis is filled with fat molecules that influence both the protein’s architecture and electrical properties, according to two recent studies. Researchers studied the atomic structure of, and electrical interactions within, the cytochrome bf complex, a protein complex central to the transport of electrons within membranes of a plant cell, a critical step in photosynthesis.

High-speed drug screen

September 30, 2014 7:37 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have devised a way to rapidly test hundreds of different drug-delivery vehicles in living animals, making it easier to discover promising new ways to deliver a class of drugs called biologics, which includes antibodies, peptides, RNA and DNA, to human patients.

Biologists find early sign of cancer

September 29, 2014 11:10 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Years before they show any other signs of disease, pancreatic cancer patients have very high levels of certain amino acids in their bloodstream, according to a new study. This finding, which suggests that muscle tissue is broken down in the disease’s earliest stages, could offer new insights into developing early diagnostics for pancreatic cancer, which kills about 40,000 Americans every year.

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Unlocking enzyme synthesis of rare sugars to create drugs with fewer side effects

September 29, 2014 8:57 am | by Katie Bethea, Oak Ridge National Laboratory | News | Comments

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory team has unlocked the enzymatic synthesis process of rare sugars, which are useful in developing drugs with low side effects. In a recently published paper, the team reported the pioneering use of neutron and x-ray crystallography and HPC to study how the enzyme D-xylose isomerase, or XI, can cause a biochemical reaction in natural sugar to produce rare sugars.

Green light for clever algae

September 29, 2014 8:46 am | by Meike Drießen, Ruhr Univ. Bochum | News | Comments

Cryptophytes, complex single-cell algae that make up a lot of the ocean's phytoplankton, have, in the course of evolution, adapted their light-harvesting mechanisms to their environment and have thus become capable of utilizing green light. Researchers in Germany have recently been the first ones to reveal similarities and differences in the assembly of this light-harvesting machinery compared to cyanobacteria and red algae.

Protein “map” could lead to potent new cancer drugs

September 26, 2014 8:55 am | News | Comments

Chemists in the U.K. have gained fresh insights into how a disease-causing enzyme makes changes to proteins and how it can be stopped. The scientists hope their findings will help them to design drugs that could target the enzyme, known as N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), and potentially lead to new treatments for cancer and inflammatory conditions.

Platelets modulate clotting behavior by “feeling” their surroundings

September 25, 2014 8:31 am | by John Toon, Georgia Institute of Technology | News | Comments

Platelets, the tiny cell fragments whose job it is to stop bleeding, are very simple. They don’t have a cell nucleus. But they can “feel” the physical environment around them, researchers at Emory Univ. and Georgia Tech have discovered. Platelets respond to surfaces with greater stiffness by increasing their stickiness, the degree to which they “turn on” other platelets and other components of the clotting system, the researchers found.

Search for better biofuels microbes leads to the human gut

September 25, 2014 8:14 am | by Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | News | Comments

Scientists have scoured cow rumens and termite guts for microbes that can efficiently break down plant cell walls for the production of next-generation biofuels, but some of the best microbial candidates actually may reside in the human lower intestine, researchers report. Their studyis the first to use biochemical approaches to confirm the hypothesis that microbes in the human gut can digest fiber.

Researchers uncover structure of enzyme that makes plant cellulose

September 25, 2014 8:06 am | by Natalie van Hoose, Purdue Univ. | News | Comments

Purdue Univ. researchers have discovered the structure of the enzyme that makes cellulose, a finding that could lead to easier ways of breaking down plant materials to make biofuels and other products and materials. The research also provides the most detailed glimpse to date of the complicated process by which cellulose is produced.

Chemists recruit anthrax to deliver cancer drugs

September 25, 2014 7:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Bacillus anthracis bacteria have very efficient machinery for injecting toxic proteins into cells, leading to the potentially deadly infection known as anthrax. A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers has now hijacked that delivery system for a different purpose: administering cancer drugs.

Antifreeze proteins in Antarctic fish prevent both freezing and melting

September 24, 2014 8:48 am | News | Comments

Antarctic fish that manufacture their own "antifreeze" proteins to survive in the icy Southern Ocean also suffer an unfortunate side effect: The protein-bound ice crystals that accumulate inside their bodies resist melting even when temperatures warm. Ice that doesn't melt at its normal melting point is referred to as "superheated”, and the phenomenon was an unexpected discovery by scientists in Oregon and Illinois.

A molecule in an optical whispering gallery

September 23, 2014 9:19 am | News | Comments

Using an optical microstructure and gold nanoparticles, scientists have amplified the interaction of light with DNA to the extent that they can now track interactions between individual DNA molecule segments. In doing so, they have approached the limits of what is physically possible. This optical biosensor for single unlabelled molecules could also be a breakthrough in the development of biochips:

Battling superbugs

September 23, 2014 9:13 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT | News | Comments

Each year, new strains of bacteria emerge that resist even the most powerful antibiotics, but scientists have discovered very few new classes of antibiotics in the past decade. Engineers have now turned a powerful new weapon on these superbugs. Using a gene-editing system that can disable any target gene, they have shown that they can selectively kill bacteria carrying harmful genes that confer antibiotic resistance or cause disease.

Bioengineers develop a toolkit for designing better synthetic molecules

September 23, 2014 9:10 am | by Bjorn Carey, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Synthetic molecules hold great potential for revealing key processes that occur in cells, but the trial-and-error approach to their design has limited their effectiveness. Christina Smolke at Stanford Univ. has introduced a new computer model that could provide better blueprints for building synthetic genetic tools.

Scientists discover an on/off switch for aging cells

September 22, 2014 10:20 am | News | Comments

Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered an on-and-off “switch” in cells that may hold the key to healthy aging. This switch, which involves the enzyme telomerase, points to a way to encourage healthy cells to keep dividing and generating, for example, new lung or liver tissue, even in old age.

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