If a genome is the blueprint for life, then the chief architects are tiny slices of genetic material that orchestrate how we are assembled and function, Yale University School of Medicine researchers report. The study pinpoints the molecular regulators of epigenetics—the process by which unchanging genes along our DNA are switched on and off at precisely right time and place.
On the front lines of our defenses against bacteria is the protein calprotectin, which "starves" invading pathogens of metal nutrients. Vanderbilt University investigators now report new insights to the workings of calprotectin—including a detailed structural view of how it binds the metal manganese. Their findings could guide efforts to develop novel antibacterials that limit a microbe's access to metals.
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.
In the search for renewable alternatives to gasoline, heavy alcohols such as isobutanol are promising candidates. Not only do they contain more energy than ethanol, but they are also more compatible with existing gasoline-based infrastructure. For isobutanol to become practical, however, scientists need a way to reliably produce huge quantities of it from renewable sources. Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineers and biologists have now devised a way to dramatically boost isobutanol production in yeast, which naturally make it in small amounts.
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.
The Lycurgus cup was created by the Romans in 400 A.D. Made of a dichroic glass, the famous cup exhibits different colors depending on whether or not light is passing through it; red when lit from behind and green when lit from in front. It is also the origin of inspiration for all contemporary nanoplasmonics research—the study of optical phenomena in the nanoscale vicinity of metal surfaces. Scientists have recently used these optical characteristics to create a novel, ultra-sensitive tool for chemical, DNA, and protein analysis.
Better cancer drugs that zero in on a tumor with fewer side effects. A universal flu vaccine that could fight every strain of influenza without needing a yearly shot. Research into potentially life-saving products like these will be delayed and newer discoveries shelved if Congress can't avert impending budget cuts that the director of the National Institutes of Health warns will have far-reaching effects.
A Stanford University study is the first to demonstrate that sophisticated, engineered light resonators can be inserted inside cells without damaging the host. The researchers say it marks a new age in which tiny lasers and light-emitting diodes yield new avenues in the study and influence of living cells.
Chemists at Boston College have designed a new class of catalysts triggered by the charge of a single proton, the team reports in Nature. The simple organic molecules offer a sustainable and highly efficient platform for chemical reactions that produce sets of molecules crucial to advances in medicine and the life sciences.
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.
Cancer researchers from Rice University suggest that a new man-made drug that’s already proven effective at killing cancer and drug-resistant bacteria could best deliver its knockout blow when used in combination with drugs made from naturally occurring toxins.
By thinking of cells as programmable robots, researchers at Rice University hope to someday direct how they grow into the tiny blood vessels that feed the brain and help people regain functions lost to stroke and disease. Rice bioengineer Amina Qutub and her colleagues simulate patterns of microvasculature cell growth and compare the results with real networks grown in their laboratory. Eventually, they want to develop the ability to control the way these networks develop.
Every great structure depends on specific mechanical properties to remain strong and reliable. Rigidity is of particular importance for maintaining the robust functionality of everything from colossal edifices to the tiniest of nanoscale structures. In biological nanostructures it has been difficult to measure this stiffness, which is essential to their properties and functions. But scientists at the California Institute of Technology have recently developed techniques for visualizing the behavior of biological nanostructures in both space and time, allowing them to directly measure stiffness and map its variation throughout the network.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers have created genetic circuits in bacterial cells that not only perform logic functions, but also remember the results, which are encoded in the cell’s DNA and passed on for dozens of generations.
“Zombie” mammalian cells that may function better after they die have been created by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico (UNM). The simple technique coats a cell with a silica solution to form a near-perfect replica of its structure. The process may simplify a wide variety of commercial fabrication processes from the nano- to macroscale.
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.
When Li Tan approached his colleagues at the University of Georgia with some unusual data he had collected, they initially seemed convinced that his experiment had become contaminated; what he was seeing simply didn't make any sense. Tan was examining some of the sugars, proteins, and polymers that make up plant cell walls, which provide the structural support and protection that allow plants to grow. Yet his samples contained a mixture of sugars that should not be present in the same structure.
By reproducing in the laboratory the complex interactions that cause human genes to turn on inside cells, Duke University bioengineers have created a system they believe can benefit gene therapy research and the burgeoning field of synthetic biology. This new approach should help basic scientists as they tease out the effects of "turning on" or "turning off" many different genes, as well as clinicians seeking to develop new gene-based therapies for human disease.
Beyond serving as the backbone of modern biology, DNA has come to be a molecule of great interest to engineers. That a DNA sequence will naturally bind only with a complementary sequence could make it part of a configurable, and potentially programmable, building material. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have now used DNA to make a crystal that can switch into a more stable configuration under the right temperature conditions, much like heat-treated steel.
To get a clear picture of what’s happening inside a cell, scientists need to know the locations of thousands of proteins and other molecules. Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists have now developed a technique that can tag all of the proteins in a particular region of a cell, allowing them to more accurately map those proteins.
Transposable elements are mobile strands of DNA that insert themselves into chromosomes with mostly harmful consequences. Cells try to keep them locked down, but in a new study, Brown University researchers report that aging cells lose their ability to maintain this control. The result may be a further decline in the health of senescent cells and of the aging bodies they compose.
A genetic variant commonly found in Chinese people may help explain why some got seriously ill with swine flu, a discovery scientists say could help pinpoint why flu viruses hit some populations particularly hard and change how they are treated. Less than one percent of Caucasians are thought to have the gene alteration, which has previously been linked to severe influenza. Yet about 25% of Chinese people have the gene variant, which is also common in Japanese and Korean people.
Researchers seeking to improve production of ethanol from woody crops have a new resource in the form of an extensive molecular map of poplar tree proteins, published by a team from the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers used genomic techniques to document the presence of significant numbers of living microorganisms—principally bacteria—in the middle and upper troposphere, that section of the atmosphere approximately four to six miles above the Earth's surface.
When researchers sequence the RNA of cancer cells, they can compare it to normal cells and see where there is more RNA. That can help lead them to the gene or protein that might be triggering the cancer. But other than spotting a few known instigators, what does it mean? Is there more RNA because it's synthesizing too quickly or because it's not degrading fast enough? What part of the biological equilibrium is off? After more than a decade of work, researchers have developed a technique to help answer those questions.