Biosingularity

Archive for March 2007

Autistic children are able to interpret the mental state of others by looking at their eyes, contrary to previous research, a new University of Nottingham study has found.

In findings that contradict previous studies, psychologists found that autistic children can ‘read’ a stranger’s mental state based on that person’s eyes. Autistic children have long been thought to be poor at interpreting people’s mental states based on facial expressions, especially expressions around the eyes.
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Researchers at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease (GICD) announced they have identified a critical genetic factor in the control of many aspects of heart form and function. As reported in the journal Cell, scientists in the lab of Deepak Srivastava, MD, have successfully deleted a genetic factor, called a microRNA, in animal models to understand the role it plays in cardiovascular differentiation and development.
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DNA-wrapped single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) shorter than about 200 nanometers readily enter into human lung cells and so may pose an increased risk to health, according to scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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Nanotube length threshold: NIST experiments using human lung cells demonstrate that DNA-wrapped single-walled carbon nanotubes longer than about 200 nanometers are excluded from cells, while shorter lengths are able to penetrate the cell interior (dark lines in the fluorescence image above).Credit: NIST
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Investigators reported today that torcetrapib, a drug that substantially raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or HDL (the “good” cholesterol), did not slow the progression of plaque buildup in the coronary arteries as measured using an ultrasound probe (IVUS). All development of this drug was terminated on December 2, 2006 after the safety board monitoring a separate large clinical outcomes trial reported that torcetrapib increased the risk of death and other adverse cardiovascular outcomes.
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I feel the future of biological research in the U.S. is now in grave danger. NIH has been the jewel of American innovation in medicine and biological research. The health of most people are affected by the research done through NIH grants. Rapid advance in medical research is also the best way to save the trillions of dollars spent every year on health care. If current trends of stagnant NIH funding is not reversed soon, the U.S. will begin not only to lose its lead in biomedical research but this will also cost countless lives that will not be saved on time.

Read this news article in the recent of issue of the Scientist: “The “stagnated” budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), now entering its 4th straight year of flat-funding, is creating a “looming crisis” that is forcing scientists to downsize labs and abandon innovative work, and alienating the next generation of young researchers, a panel of university officials and senior researchers told Congress yesterday (March 19). “

Another brief commentary is at the Scientific American site.

A compound found in blueberries shows promise of preventing colon cancer in animals, according to a joint study by scientists at Rutgers University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The compound, pterostilbene, is a potent antioxidant that could be developed into a pill with the potential for fewer side effects than some commercial drugs that are currently used to prevent the disease. Colon cancer is considered the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, the researchers say.
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Some 40 years after the release of the classic science fiction movie Fantastic Voyage, researchers in the NanoRobotics Laboratory of École Polytechnique de Montréal’s Department of Computer Engineering and Institute of Biomedical Engineering have achieved a major technological breakthrough in the field of medical robotics. They have succeeded for the first time in guiding, in vivo and via computer control, a microdevice inside an artery, at a speed of 10 centimetres a second.
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A newly discovered small molecule called IQ-1 plays a key role in preventing embryonic stem cells from differentiating into one or more specific cell types, allowing them to instead continue growing and dividing indefinitely, according to research performed by a team of scientists who have recently joined the stem-cell research efforts at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.
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Scientists’ inability to follow the whereabouts of cells injected into the human body has long been a major drawback in developing effective medical therapies. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins have developed a promising new technique for noninvasively tracking where living cells go after they are put into the body. The new technique, which uses genetically encoded cells producing a natural contrast that can be viewed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), appears much more effective than present methods used to detect injected biomaterials.
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Chemists are currently able to synthetically produce almost any compound, but they must typically resort to expensive, complex processes that can require dozens of individual steps. Such natural product syntheses have traditionally relied on the ubiquitous use of “protecting groups,” which are extra compounds chemists use to shield reactive portions of a molecule during specific stages of a synthesis scheme. The protecting groups are eventually cleaved chemically to expose the reactive portion during later chemical reactions to complete a product’s synthesis. Each protecting group used adds at least two steps to a synthesis, and the groups themselves have reactivity of their own that must be controlled to prevent adverse reactions.
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Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and their colleagues have found that mice simply expressing a human light receptor in addition to their own can acquire new color vision, a sign that the brain can adapt far more rapidly to new sensory information than anticipated.

This work, appearing March 23 in Science, also suggests that when the first ancestral primate inherited a new type of photoreceptor more than 40 million years ago, it probably experienced immediate color enhancement, which may have allowed this trait to spread quickly.
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Science fiction, computer games, anime… cyborgs are everywhere. Transhumanists are philosophers who believe that one day, cybernetic upgrades will be so powerful, elegant, and inexpensive that everyone will want them. Michael Anissimov lists ten fascinating major upgrades that he thinks will be adopted by 2050 in his blog.

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Image credit: Edot-studios.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have constructed the first complete computer model of human metabolism. Available free on the Web, the model is a major step forward in the fledging field of systems biology, and it will help researchers uncover new drug pathways and understand the molecular basis of cancer and other diseases.

Read rest of this story on Technology Review site.

Caloric Restriction in non-obese people translates into less oxidative damage in muscle cells, according to a new study by scientists at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. As oxidative damage has been linked to aging, this could explain how limiting calorie intake without malnutrition extends life span.

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Civitarese and colleagues found that indeed fewer calories can improve whole body metabolism in conjunction with an increase in SIRT1 gene expression in skeletal muscle. These results raise the possibility that SIRT1 may contribute to more efficient metabolism, less oxidative stress, and increase longevity in humans as it does in lower organism. (Credit: Image courtesy of Public Library of Science)
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Including more copper in your everyday diet could be good for your heart, according to scientists at the University of Louisville Medical Center and the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center. Their studies show that giving copper supplements to mice eased the stress on their over-worked hearts by preventing heart enlargement. The study will be published online on March 5th in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.
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Critical portions of the brain in those who are obese don’t really know they are overweight, researchers have reported in the March issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, published by Cell Press. These findings in obese mice show that a sensor in the brain that normally detects a critical fat hormone—causing a cascade of events that keeps energy balance in check—fails to engage. Meanwhile, the rest of the metabolic pathway remains ready to respond.
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MIT researchers have created an inexpensive method to screen for millions of different biomolecules (DNA, proteins, etc.) in a single sample-a technology that could make possible the development of low-cost clinical bedside diagnostics.

The work, based on tiny customizable particles, could also be used for disease monitoring, drug discovery or genetic profiling. Even though the particles are thinner than the width of a human hair, each is equipped with a barcoded ID and one or more probe regions that turn fluorescent when they detect specific targets in a test sample.
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A group of European researchers has developed a spinal cord model of the salamander and implemented it in a novel amphibious salamander-like robot. The robot changes its speed and gait in response to simple electrical signals, suggesting that the distributed neural system in the spinal cord holds the key to vertebrates’ complex locomotor capabilities.

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This is an outstanding 3D animation of HIV replication cycle. I especially loved the entry part, which is like watching a science fiction movie.

The animation is fairly accurate representation of what we know about the this viruses life cycle today, except the part on entry of viral DNA into nucleus. Based on our current knowledge, import of viral DNA into nucleus is not dependent on integrase but other viral and host proteins that are still elusive. Integrase is however necessary for the integration of virus DNA into host genome.

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The world’s first direct electrical link between nerve cells and photovoltaic nanoparticle films has been achieved by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) and the University of Michigan. The development opens the door to applying the unique properties of nanoparticles to a wide variety of light-stimulated nerve-signaling devices — including the possible development of a nanoparticle-based artificial retina.

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Scientists at Forsyth may have moved one step closer to regenerating human spinal cord tissue by artificially inducing a frog tadpole to re-grow its tail at a stage in its development when it is normally impossible. Using a variety of methods including a kind of gene therapy, the scientists altered the electrical properties of cells thus inducing regeneration. This discovery may provide clues about how bioelectricity can be used to help humans regenerate.
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Eating whole-grain breakfast cereals seven or more times per week was associated with a lower risk of heart failure, according to an analysis of the observational Physicians’ Health Study. Researchers presented findings of the study today at the American Heart Association’s 47th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention. For the present study, breakfast cereals that contain at least 25 percent oat or bran content were classified as whole grain cereals.
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Neuroscientists at MIT have developed a computer model that mimics the human vision system to accurately detect and recognize objects in a busy street scene, such as cars and motorcycles.

Such biologically inspired vision systems could soon be used in surveillance systems, or in smart sensors that can warn drivers of pedestrians and other obstacles. It may also help in the development of so-called visual search engines.

Read rest of the story on Technology Review site.

Researchers have long said they won’t be able to understand the brain until they can put together a “wiring diagram” – a map of how billions of neurons are interconnected. Now, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have jumped what many believe to be a major hurdle to preparing that chart: identifying all of the connections to a single neuron.

In the March 1 issue of the journal Neuron, the researchers describe how they modified the deadly rabies virus, turning it into a tool that can cross the synaptic space of a targeted nerve cell just once to identify all the neurons to which it is directly connected.
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Drinking a nice warm cup of green tea has long been touted for its healthful benefits, both real and anecdotal. But now researchers have found that a component of green tea, combined with low doses of a COX-2 inhibitor, could slow the spread of human prostate cancer.

In the March 1 issue of Clinical Cancer Research, researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison demonstrate that low doses of the COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib, administered with a green tea polyphenol called pigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), can slow the growth of human prostate cancer. Their experiments were performed in cell cultures and in a mouse model for the disease.
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Drinking a little alcohol every day, especially wine, may be associated with an increase in life expectancy. That’s the conclusion of Dutch researchers who reported the findings of their study today at the American Heart Association’s 47th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

The researchers found that a light intake of alcohol (on average less than one glass per day) was associated with a lower rate of cardiovascular death and death from all causes. When compared to spirits and beer, consumption of small amounts of wine, about a half a glass a day, was associated with the lowest levels of all-cause and cardiovascular deaths. Alcohol treatment may be necessary to reduce the rate of cardiovascular death due to consumption.
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