Tardigrades, they are cute and cuddly — okay maybe not cuddly — but they have earned their nicknames, such as moss piglets or water bears. Mostly because they look like, well bears (although I don’t see a piglet personally). These guys are eight-legged microscopic animals that have long fascinated scientists for their ability to survive extremes of temperature, pressure, lack of oxygen, and even radiation exposure. Talk about a thrill seeker they can even survive in space, without a suit, where were humans when they were handing out those genes?
When most of us think maggots, we probably don’t think anything good, but maybe we should start. In a proof-of-concept study, researchers have shown that genetically engineered green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) larvae can produce and secrete a human growth factor – a molecule that helps promote cell growth and wound healing.
Last month, we spoke of our vision of the future of humanity here at the lab. It makes sense that humanity would one-day step away from the static, non-living computer constructs we have designed. Moving us instead towards an organic alternative, one that can be readily repaired, replaced, or changed. While we cannot pretend to know what the future may hold, a new discovery helps bolster the stance we presented.
Viruses that infect bacteria are among the most abundant life forms on Earth. Indeed, our oceans, soils and potentially even our bodies would be overrun with bacteria were it not for bacteria-eating viruses, called bacteriophages, that keep the microbial balance of ecological niches in check. Now, a new study suggests that bacteriophages made of RNA — a close chemical cousin of DNA — likely play a much larger role in shaping the bacterial makeup of worldwide habitats than previously recognized.
Alzheimer’s has been a losing battle, sure we can fight back with drugs, but that still just prolongs the inevitable. With that said we can all hope this research pans out, to something meaningful. In a cutting-edge treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, EPFL scientists have developed an implantable capsule that can turn the patient’s immune system against the disease. Even better, the implant is subdural, not intracranial.
In the microscopic life that thrives around coral reefs, researchers have discovered an interplay between viruses and microbes that defies conventional wisdom. As the density of microbes rises in an ecosystem, the number of viruses infecting those microbes rises with it. It has generally been assumed that this growing population of viruses, in turn, kills more and more microbes, keeping the microbial population in check. It’s a model known as “kill-the-winner” — the winners being the blooming microbial cells and the killers being the viruses (mostly bacteria-killing viruses known as bacteriophages) that infect them.
Without the discovery of antibiotics we could not — and most certainly would not — be living in the world we do today. It was a discovery that would save countless lives, while simultaneously compromising our future. From the use (and unfortunate misuse) of antibiotics, we gave rise to more virulent bacteria that have become resistant to more and more types of antibiotics.
When the first antibiotics became available 70 years ago, they were often described as miracles of human ingenuity, rather like plastics or bright permanent dyes, which were discovered at roughly the same time. Packaged in vials or pills, they seemed like our inventions rather a chance gift of evolution and one that evolution might also rescind.
To understand human behaviors, it is crucial to understand the motives behind them. So far, there was no direct way to identify motives. Simply observing behavior or eliciting explanations from individuals for their actions will not give reliable results as motives are considered to be private and people can be unwilling to unveil – or even be unaware of – their own motives.
The Zika virus infects a type of neural stem cell that gives rise to the brain’s cerebral cortex, Johns Hopkins and Florida State researchers have found. On laboratory dishes, these stem cells were found to be havens for viral reproduction, resulting in cell death and/or disruption of cell growth. While this study does not prove the direct link between Zika and microcephaly, it does pinpoint where the virus may be doing the most damage.
Our brain is home to different types of neurons, each with their own genetic signature that defines their function. These neurons are derived from progenitor cells, which are specialized stem cells that have the ability to divide to give rise to neurons. Neuroscientists have shed light on the mechanisms that allow progenitors to generate neurons.
You’ve probably seen news stories about the highly lauded, much-discussed genome editing system CRISPR/Cas9. But did you know the system was actually derived from bacteria, which use it to fight off foreign invaders such as viruses? It allows many bacteria to snip and store segments of DNA from an invading virus, which they can then use to “remember” and destroy DNA from similar invaders if they are encountered again. Recent work from a team of researchers including Carnegie’s Devaki Bhaya demonstrates that some bacteria also use the CRISPR/Cas system to snip and recognize segments of RNA, not just DNA.
Scientists at the University of Michigan have found evidence that some carbon nanomaterials can enter into immune cell membranes, seemingly going undetected by the cell’s built-in mechanisms for engulfing and disposing of foreign material, and then escape through some unidentified pathway.
Immune cells that normally help us fight off bacterial and viral infections may play a far greater role in Alzheimer’s disease than originally thought, according to University of California, Irvine neurobiologists with the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center and the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders.
Antibiotic resistance is becoming a common occurrence. Once isolated, more and more we are turning away from the traditional antibiotics to our so called “last line of defense” antibiotics to fight infections. Sadly, in a growing number of cases these antibiotics are having less of an effect. However, new research reveals the mechanism by which drug-resistant bacterial cells maintain a defensive barrier.
What helps her live longer might be harmful to him, according to a new study that may shed light on how and why organisms age. Analyzing years of previous research on dietary and pharmaceutical tests on flies and mice, researchers showed that aging interventions can have opposite effects on mortality rates in males versus females.
Sexual assault, personally, I hate the phrase. It sounds much more tame than rape and I think we should call it like it is, rape. Sure that might make a person’s skin crawl just slightly — and that is frankly the point. Rape is ugly, it’s evil, it leaves an indelible mark on a person and unfortunately a new study shows that it may be worse. Researchers have discovered that prepubescent female rodents paired with sexually experienced males had elevated levels of stress hormones, could not learn as well, and expressed reduced maternal behaviors needed to care for offspring.
Viruses are molecular thieves that take from their hosts under the cloak of darkness. But now a Virginia Tech scientist has found a way to not only track viral hijackers, but also potentially stop them from replicating. The discovery has broad ranging applications in stopping viral outbreaks such as Hepatitis C in humans and a number of viruses in plants and animals because it applies to many viruses in the largest category of viral classes — positive-strand RNA viruses.
A critical but vulnerable region in the brain appears to be the first place affected by late onset Alzheimer’s disease and may be more important for maintaining cognitive function in later life than previously appreciated, according to a new review of the scientific literature.
Using a sophisticated, custom-designed 3D printer, regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have proved that it is feasible to print living tissue structures to replace injured or diseased tissue in patients. Scientists said they printed ear, bone and muscle structures. When implanted in animals, the structures matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels.
Humans, like all social animals, have a fundamental need for contact with others. This deeply ingrained instinct helps us to survive; it’s much easier to find food, shelter, and other necessities with a group than alone. Deprived of human contact, most people become lonely and emotionally distressed.
Scientists at the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research and Center for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at UCLA have developed a new approach that could eventually be used to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The stem cell gene therapy could be applicable for 60 percent of people with Duchenne, which affects approximately 1 in 5,000 boys in the U.S. and is the most common fatal childhood genetic disease.
Underwater sound linked to human activity could alter the behaviour of seabed creatures that play a vital role in marine ecosystems, according to new research from the University of Southampton. The study found that exposure to sounds that resemble shipping traffic and offshore construction activities results in behavioural responses in certain invertebrate species that live in the marine sediment.
An international team of biologists has discovered how specialized enzymes remodel the extremely condensed genetic material in the nucleus of cells in order to control which genes can be used. It was known that the DNA in cells is wrapped around proteins in structures called nucleosomes that resemble beads on a string, which allow the genetic material to be folded and compacted into a structure called chromatin.
Immunotherapy to ameliorate neurodegeneration by targeting brain protein aggregates with antibodies is an area of intense investigation. A new study examines seemingly contradictory earlier results of targeting the prion protein and proposes a cautionary way forward to further test related therapeutic approaches.
UNSW Australia scientists have shown that complex human brain activity is governed by the same simple universal rule of nature that can explain other phenomena such as the beautiful sound of a finely crafted violin or the spots on a leopard. The UNSW team has identified a link between the distinctive patterns of brain function that occur at rest and the physical structure of people’s brains.
The immune system exercises constant vigilance to protect the body from external threats–including what we eat and drink. A careful balancing act plays out as digested food travels through the intestine. Immune cells must remain alert to protect against harmful pathogens like Salmonella, but their activity also needs to be tempered since an overreaction can lead to too much inflammation and permanent tissue damage.
Researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have discovered how to reverse the abnormal axonal development characteristic of CFEOM3, a congenital disease that affects the muscles that control eye movements. The work shows how creating a specific mutation rescued abnormal axonal growth in the developing mouse brain.
As we continue to shrink electronic components, top-down manufacturing methods begin to approach a physical limit at the nanoscale. Rather than continue to chip away at this limit, one solution of interest involves using the bottom-up self-assembly of molecular building blocks to build nanoscale devices.
A study by researchers at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) has identified a new mechanism through which hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) control both their own proliferation and the characteristics of the niche that houses them. This control is exercised by the protein E-Selectin Ligand-1 (ESL-1).
All it took was one mutation more than 600 million years ago. With that random act, a new protein function was born that helped our single-celled ancestor transition into an organized multicellular organism. That’s the scenario — done with some molecular time travel — that emerged from basic research in the lab of University of Oregon biochemist Ken Prehoda.
A central challenge in the field of metabolic engineering is the efficient identification of a metabolic pathway genotype that maximizes specific productivity over a robust range of process conditions. A review from researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI covers the challenges of optimizing specific productivity of metabolic pathways in cells and new advances in pathway creation and screening.
Princeton University researchers have captured among the first recordings of neural activity in nearly the entire brain of a free-moving animal. The three-dimensional recordings could provide scientists with a better understanding of how neurons coordinate action and perception in animals. The researchers reported a technique that allowed them to record 3-D footage of neural activity in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a worm species 1 millimeter long with a nervous system containing a mere 302 neurons.
We all love our sugar, especially during the holidays. Cookies, cake, and candy are simply irresistible. While sugar cravings are common, the physiological mechanisms that trigger our “sweet tooth” are not well defined.
Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. The name originates from the Greek ‘phagos’ which means ‘to devour’. Bacteriophages were discovered 100 years ago because of their ability to replicate in a pathogenic bacterium, kill it and thereby cure the patient. As a small spaceship landing on the moon, the microscopic particles land on the surface of the bacteria where they inject their deadly genetic material.
Rutgers scientists have uncovered biological pathways in the roundworm that provide insight into how tiny bubbles released by cells can have beneficial health effects, like promoting tissue repair, or may play a diabolical role and carry disease signals for cancer or neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
That man’s best friend has a conscience is what every owner would be willing to bet, without even thinking about it for a moment. This means that dogs have self-consciousness. But the problem in science is that ideas and assumptions must be demonstrated. It is not enough for someone to have an inkling of something for it to be considered a scientific fact. Self-awareness, or self-consciousness, has been studied mainly by examining the responses of animals and children to their reflection in the mirror.
Want to make a virus? It’s easy: combine one molecule of genomic nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA, and a handful of proteins, shake, and in a fraction of a second you’ll have a fully-formed virus. While that may sound like the worst infomercial ever, in many cases making a virus really is that simple. Viruses such as influenza spread so effectively, and as a result can be so deadly to their hosts, because of their ability to spontaneously self-assemble in large numbers.
A new, open-source software that can help track the embryonic development and movement of neuronal cells throughout the body of the worm, is now available to scientists.
A collaboration between researchers at the Babraham Institute and the University of Manchester has mapped the physical connections occurring in the genome to shed light on the parts of the genome involved in autoimmune diseases. Using a new technique, called Capture Hi-C, the team revealed novel insights into how changes in the genetic sequence have a biological effect and increase the risk of disease.
Research led by Dr. Keiji Tanimoto from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, has brought us closer to understanding the mechanisms underlying the phenomenon of genomic imprinting. In this intriguing event, one copy of a gene is ‘turned off’, or silenced, depending on whether it was derived from the mother or the father.
Stem cells that have been specifically developed for use as clinical therapies are fit for use in patients, an independent study of their genetic make-up suggests. The research – which focused on human embryonic stem cells – paves the way for clinical trials of cell therapies to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, age-related degeneration of the eyes and spinal cord injury.
Nearly 37 million people worldwide are living with HIV. When the virus destroys so many immune cells that the body can’t fight off infection, AIDS will develop. The disease took the lives of more than a million people last year.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have discovered a new way to create designer proteins that have the potential to transform biotechnology and personalized medicines.
Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists have reported measurements of dopamine release with unprecedented temporal precision in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. The measurements, collected during brain surgery as the conscious patients played an investment game, demonstrate how rapid dopamine release encodes information crucial for human choice.
Researchers at the University of Toronto examined fungi in the mucus of patients with cystic fibrosis and discovered how one particularly cunning fungal species has evolved to defend itself against neighbouring bacteria. A regular resident of our microbiome – and especially ubiquitous in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients -the Candida albicans fungus is an “opportunistic pathogen.”
Low levels of serotonin in the brain are known to play a role in depression and anxiety, and it is customary to treat these disorders with medications that increase the amount of this neurotransmitter. However, a new study carried out by researchers suggests that this approach may be too simple. It appears that neighboring serotonin-producing brainstem regions exert different and sometimes opposing effects on behavior.
Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) in Mainz have unraveled a complex regulatory mechanism that explains how a single gene can drive the formation of brain cells. The research is an important step towards a better understanding of how the brain develops. It also harbors potential for regenerative medicine.
The Wilson Center’s Synthetic Biology Project has released a short documentary on the growth of the do-it-yourself biology (DIYbio) movement as seen through a community DIYbio lab in Baltimore, Maryland.