Biosingularity

Archive for December 2006

A classic science-fiction scene shows a person wearing a metal skullcap with electrodes sticking out to detect the person’s thoughts. Another sci-fi movie standard depicts robots doing humans’ bidding. Now the two are combined, and in real life: University of Washington researchers can control the movement of a humanoid robot with signals from a human brain.

Rajesh Rao, associate professor of computer science and engineering, and his students have demonstrated that an individual can “order” a robot to move to specific locations and pick up specific objects merely by generating the proper brain waves that reflect the individual’s instructions.
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A type of nutrient found in vegetables like spinach and lettuce may be Mother Nature’s way of keeping blood pressure in check.

A small new study published at New England Journal of Medicine suggests the nitrates in many vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, or beetroot, may keep blood vessels healthy and lower blood pressure.

Read rest of the story at WebMD.

If a zebrafish loses a chunk of its tail fin, it’ll grow back within a week. Like lizards, newts, and frogs, a zebrafish can replace surprisingly complex body parts. A tail fin, for example, has many different types of cells and is a very intricate structure. It is the fish version of an arm or leg.

The question of how cold-blooded animals re-grow missing tails and other appendages has fascinated veterinary and medical scientists. They also wonder if people, and other warm-blooded animals that evolved from these simpler creatures, might still have untapped regenerative powers hidden in their genes.
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A two-step process appears to regulate cell fate decisions for many types of developing cells, according to researchers from the University of Chicago.

This finding sheds light on a puzzling behavior. For some differentiating stem cells, the first step leads not to a final decision but to a new choice. In response to the initial chemical signal, these cells take on the genetic signatures of two different cell types. It often requires a second signal for them to commit to a single cellular identity.

In the Aug. 25 2006 issue of Cell, the researchers, working with hematopoietic stem cells, which give rise to the many types of blood cells, show how “pioneer transcription factors” trigger the first step, pushing these stem cells towards this mixed lineage, midway between two related cell types — in this case between a macrophage and a neutrophil.
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The accumulation of genetic damage in our cells is a major contributor to how we age, according to a study being published today in the journal Nature by an international group of researchers. The study found that mice completely lacking a critical gene for repairing damaged DNA grow old rapidly and have physical, genetic and hormonal profiles very similar to mice that grow old naturally. Furthermore, the premature aging symptoms of the mice led to the discovery of a new type of human progeria, a rare inherited disease in which affected individuals age rapidly and die prematurely.
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Stem cells grew, multiplied and differentiated into brain cells on a new three-dimensional scaffold of tiny protein fragments designed to be more like a living body than any other cell culture system.

An MIT engineer and Italian colleagues will report the invention-which may one day replace the ubiquitous Petri dish for growing cells-in the Dec. 27th issue of the PLoS ONE. Shuguang Zhang, associate director of MIT’s Center for Biomedical Engineering, is a pioneer in coaxing tiny fragments of amino acids called self-assembling peptides to organize themselves into useful structures. Working with visiting graduate student Fabrizio Gelain from Milan, Zhang created a designer scaffold from a network of protein nanofibers, each 5,000 times thinner than a human hair and containing pores up to 20,000 times smaller than the eye of a needle.

The researchers were able to grow a healthy colony of adult mouse stem cells on the three-dimensional scaffold without the drawbacks of two-dimensional systems.
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Until now, online scientific journals have been little more than electronic versions of the printed copy. Today, that all changes with the launch of PLoS ONE, which publishes primary research from all areas of science and employs both pre- and post-publication peer review to maximize the impact of every report it publishes. PLoS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the open access publisher whose goal is to make the world’s scientific and medical literature a public resource.
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When a cell has to destroy any of its organelles or protein aggregates, it envelops them in a membrane, forming an autophagosome, and then moves them to another compartment, the lysosome, for digestion. Two years ago, Rockefeller University assistant professor Christian Münz showed that this process, called autophagy, sensitizes cells for recognition by the immune system’s helper T cells. But he didn’t know how often this pathway is used or how efficient it is. Now, a new study published online today in the journal Immunity goes a long way toward addressing these questions and shows that the pathway is so common that it could be a valuable new way of boosting vaccine efficacy.

DCs
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A gene variation that helps people live to a ripe old age also appears to preserve memory and thinking power, US work suggests. The “longevity” gene alters the size of fatty cholesterol particles in the blood, making them bigger than normal.

This stops them causing the fatty build up in blood vessels that is linked with brain impairment, and deadly strokes and heart attacks, Neurology reports.
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It is widely hoped that neural stem cells will eventually be useful for replacing nerves damaged by degenerative diseases like Alzheimer disease and multiple sclerosis. But there may also be another use for such stem cells–delivering anti-cancer drugs to cancer cells.

A Perspective article in PLoS Medicine, by Professor Riccardo Fodder, discusses a new study in mice, published in the launch issue of PLoS ONE (www.plosone.org), that showed that neural stem cells could be used to help deliver anti-cancer drugs to metastatic cancer cells.
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After a little break I am back to posting new exciting discoveries and advances in biological systems.

Biosingularity now hosts more than 300 stories, some of which are major breakthroughs, since its inception about one year ago.

The acceleration of technology predicts that there will be many more advances this year and these will continue to give hope for a much better future for all of us.

I wish everyone a healthy and happy new year.

Waiting a day or more to get lab results back from the doctor’s office soon could become a thing of a past. Using nanotechnology, a team of University of Georgia researchers has developed a diagnostic test that can detect viruses as diverse as influenza, HIV and RSV in 60 seconds or less.

In addition to saving time, the technique – which is detailed in the November issue of the journal Nano Letters – could save lives by rapidly detecting a naturally occurring disease outbreak or bioterrorism attack.
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A Pittsburgh-based research team has created and used an innovative ink-jet system to print “bio-ink” patterns that direct muscle-derived stem cells from adult mice to differentiate into both muscle cells and bone cells. The results, which could revolutionize the design of replacement body tissues, will be presented Sunday, Dec. 10 at the 46th annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Diego.

This report is the first describing a system that can pattern the formation of multiple cell types within the same vessel from a single population of adult stem cells. The new preclinical advance in the field of regenerative medicine could one day benefit millions of people whose tissues are damaged from a variety of conditions, including fatal genetic diseases like Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), wear and tear associated with aging joints, accidental trauma, and joint deterioration due to autoimmune disorders.
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An organelle called the nucleolus resides deep within the cell nucleus and performs one of the cell’s most critical functions: it manufactures ribosomes, the molecular machines that convert the genetic information carried by messenger RNA into proteins that do the work of life.

Gary Karpen and Jamy Peng, researchers in the Life Sciences Division of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have now discovered two pathways that regulate the organization of the nucleolus and other features of nuclear architecture, maintaining genome stability in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.
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When you dial 911 you expect rescuers to pull up at your front door, unload and get busy—not park the truck down the street and eat donuts. It’s the same for a cell—just before it divides, it recruits protein complexes that repair breakage that may have occurred along the linear DNA chains making up your 46 chromosomes. Without repair, damage caused by smoking, chemical mutagens, or radiation might be passed on to the next generation.

However, in 2005, investigators at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies observed that before cell division some of these cellular paramedics inexplicably idle at undamaged chromosome ends, known as telomeres. Apparently the telomeres’ disheveled appearance —resembling that of broken DNA strands—raises a red flag.

Now, in a study published in the Nov. 17 issue of Cell, that same team led by Jan Karlseder, Ph.D, Hearst Endowment Assistant Professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, reveals why those repair crews are parked at the ends of chromosomes and in doing so answer fundamental questions about how chromosomal stability is maintained.
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The gene, called GATA-3, is in a family of genes that guides development of stem cells into mature cells. University of California, San Francisco researchers have now found that GATA-3 is also required for mature mammary cells to remain mature in the adult. In research focusing on mice mammary glands, they found that without GATA-3, mature cells revert to a less specialized, “undifferentiated” state characteristic of aggressive cancer.

The new finding suggests that this gene may play a key role in the development of breast cancer, the scientists report in the December 1 issue of the journal CELL.
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Scientists from Johns Hopkins and from the University of Milan have effectively proven that they can inhibit lethal human brain cancers in mice using a protein that selectively induces positive changes in the activity of cells that behave like cancer stem cells. The report is published this week in Nature.
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Computers and liquids are not very compatible, as many a careless coffee-drinking laptop owner has discovered. But a new breakthrough by researchers at the California Institute of Technology could result in future logic circuits that literally work in a test tube–or even in the human body.

In the current issue of the journal Science, a Caltech group led by computer scientist Erik Winfree reports that they have created DNA logic circuits that work in salt water, similar to an intracellular environment. Such circuits could lead to a biochemical microcontroller, of sorts, for biological cells and other complex chemical systems. The lead author of the paper is Georg Seelig, a postdoctoral scholar in Winfree’s lab.
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In order to find out how one of the world’s most devastating diseases overcomes state-of-the-art drugs, scientists led by Dr. Vineet KewalRamani at National Cancer Institute (NCI) are biohacking and re-engineering the HIV virus. Dr. KewalRamani and his collegues have combined pieces of HIV and another virus to create a deadly new hybrid—a tenacious little microbe that knows all the tricks of its parent pathogens. Discovering where, and how, HIV hides in the body will be a critical step towards a cure for the disease—or at least a better treatment.

hiv-microscopy-big.jpg
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A study from the University of Chicago has been getting a lot of press attention lately. They found that your chances of living to 100 may depend on how young your mother was when she gave birth to you with chances doubled if mom was under 25. The reports do not give the explanation why.

Dr. Steven Palter, a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, has written in his blog docinthemachine about an interesting theory of reproductive aging and human longevity. The findings are based on data presented in recent American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting by Dr. Keefe of U. Florida on the telemore and its role in reproductive aging.

Read rest of this interesting story at docinthemachine blog.

The ebb and flow of such autoimmune diseases as multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis has long been a perplexing mystery. But new findings from the Stanford University School of Medicine bring scientists closer to solving the puzzle, identifying a molecule that appears to play a central role in relapses.
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