Biosingularity

Archive for July 2009

Everyone knows that vitamins “from A to zinc” are important for good health. Now, a new research study in the August 2009 print issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology (http://www.jleukbio.org) suggests that zinc may be pointing the way to new therapeutic targets for fighting infections. Specifically, scientists from Florida found that zinc not only supports healthy immune function, but increases activation of the cells (T cells) responsible for destroying viruses and bacteria. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scientists from Scotland and Singapore have unraveled a mystery that has perplexed scientists since red wine was first discovered to have health benefits: how does resveratrol control inflammation? New research published in the August 2009 print issue of The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), not only explains resveratrol’s one-two punch on inflammation, but also show how it—or a derivative—can be used to treat potentially deadly inflammatory disease, such as appendicitis, peritonitis, and systemic sepsis. Read the rest of this entry »

Common and clumsy-looking, the blow fly is a true artist of flight. Suddenly changing direction, standing still in the air, spinning lightning-fast around its own axis, and making precise, pinpoint landings – all these maneuvers are simply a matter of course. Extremely quick eyesight helps to keep it from losing orientation as it races to and fro. Still, how does its tiny brain process the multiplicity of images and signals so rapidly and efficiently?

To get to the bottom of this, members of a Munich-based “excellence cluster” called Cognition for Technical Systems or CoTeSys have created an unusual research environment: a flight simulator for flies. Here they’re investigating what goes on in flies’ brains while they’re flying. Their goal is to put similar capabilities in human hands – for example, to aid in developing robots that can independently apprehend and learn from their surroundings.

Caption: Specific flight patterns are simulated by controlling optical flux fields presented to the fly.  Credit: Max-Planck Institute for Neurobiology

Caption: Specific flight patterns are simulated by controlling optical "flux fields" presented to the fly. Credit: Max-Planck Institute for Neurobiology

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The body’s nanomachines that read our genes don’t run as smoothly as previously thought, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, scientists.

When these nanoscale protein machines encounter obstacles as they move along the DNA, they stall, often for minutes, and even backtrack as they transcribe DNA that is tightly wound to fit inside the cell’s nucleus.

Caption: RNA polymerase II (blue) performs the first step of gene expression by moving along the cells DNA (gray) and transcribing it into messenger RNA (red). During this process, the polymerase encounters obstacles, such as nucleosomes, which tightly wrap the DNA around histone proteins (yellow) and prevent continued transcription. UC Berkeley researchers have developed methods to directly observe this process in real time.  Credit: Courtney Hodges & Lacra Bintu/UC Berkeley

Caption: RNA polymerase II (blue) performs the first step of gene expression by moving along the cell's DNA (gray) and transcribing it into messenger RNA (red). During this process, the polymerase encounters obstacles, such as nucleosomes, which tightly wrap the DNA around histone proteins (yellow) and prevent continued transcription. UC Berkeley researchers have developed methods to directly observe this process in real time. Credit: Courtney Hodges & Lacra Bintu/UC Berkeley

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Many experimental studies have found that physical exercise can improve cholesterol levels and subsequently decrease the risks of cardiovascular disease; however, few of these studies have included enough participant diversity to provide ethnic breakdowns. Now, a long-term study of over 8,700 middle-aged men and women provides race- and gender- specific data on the cholesterol effects of physical activity, with the interesting result that women, particularly African-American women, experience greater benefits as a result of exercise than men. Read the rest of this entry »

Scientists are closer to understanding how to grow replacement bones with stem cell technology, thanks to research published today in the journal Nature Materials.

Many scientists are currently trying to create bone-like materials, derived from stem cells, to implant into patients who have damaged or fractured bones, or who have had parts of diseased bones removed. The idea is that, ultimately, these bone-like materials could be inserted into cavities so that real bone could meld with it and repair the bone. Read the rest of this entry »

Whilst most studies of bacterial infection are done after the death of the infected organism, this system developed by scientists at the University of Bath and University of Exeter is the first to follow the progress of infection in real-time with living organisms.

Caption: Confocal microscope image showing insect immune cells (green) containing fluorescently labelled E.coli (red).  Credit: University of Bath

Caption: Confocal microscope image showing insect immune cells (green) containing fluorescently labelled E.coli (red). Credit: University of Bath

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It is widely known that the brain perceives information before it reaches a person’s awareness. But until now, there was little way to determine what specific mental tasks were taking place prior to the point of conscious awareness.

That has changed with the findings of scientists at Rutgers University in Newark and the University of California, Los Angeles who have developed a highly accurate way to peer into the brain to uncover a person’s mental state and what sort of information is being processed before it reaches awareness. With this new window into the brain, scientists now also are provided with the means of developing a more accurate model of the inner functions of the brain. Read the rest of this entry »

Experiencing chronic stress day after day can produce wear and tear on the body physically and mentally, and can have a detrimental effect on learning and emotion. However, acute stress — a short stressful incident — may enhance learning and memory.

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have shown, in trials using rodents as an animal model, that acute stress can produce a beneficial effect on learning and memory, through the effect of the stress hormone corticosterone (cortisol in humans) on the brain’s prefrontal cortex, a key region that controls learning and emotion.

Specifically, they demonstrated that acute stress increases transmission of the neurotransmitter glutamate and improves working memory. Read the rest of this entry »

Pictures paint concepts of a thousand words- now, for the first time, scientists studying the brain have worked out how words paint concepts in our minds.

Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, head of Bioengineering at the University of Leicester, led the study which concluded that, although processing of visual and auditory information occur along completely separate pathways, the visual and auditory processing routes converge to end up firing the same single neurons.

The results are important for understanding how perception and memory formation occurs. Read the rest of this entry »

In a study released online on July 22 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, researchers at Arizona State University and Princeton University show that ants can accomplish a task more rationally than our – multimodal, egg-headed, tool-using, bipedal, opposing-thumbed – selves.

Caption: Ants are more rational collective decision makers than humans.  Credit: Stephen Pratt/Arizona State University

Caption: Ants are more rational collective decision makers than humans. Credit: Stephen Pratt/Arizona State University

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The same mechanism that helps you detect bad-tasting and potentially poisonous foods may also play a role in protecting your airway from harmful substances, according to a study by scientists at the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine. The findings could help explain why injured lungs are susceptible to further damage.

Caption: This is a scanning electron microscopy image of cilia from mouse airway epithelia culture.  Credit: Thomas Moninger, University of Iowa

Caption: This is a scanning electron microscopy image of cilia from mouse airway epithelia culture. Credit: Thomas Moninger, University of Iowa

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US researchers have created ‘bacterial computers’ with the potential to solve complicated mathematics problems. The findings of the research demonstrate that computing in living cells is feasible, opening the door to a number of applications. The second-generation bacterial computers illustrate the feasibility of extending the approach to other computationally challenging math problems.

Scanning electron micrograph of E. coli bacteria. A rapidly growing colony can be programmed to act as a hugely powerful parallel computer. Photograph: Getty

Scanning electron micrograph of E. coli bacteria. A rapidly growing colony can be programmed to act as a hugely powerful parallel computer. Photograph: Getty

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Two new studies reveal a way to increase the body’s appetite for gobbling up the cancer stem cells responsible for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer with a particularly poor survival rate. The key is targeting a protein on the surface of those cells that sends a “don’t eat me” signal to the macrophage immune cells that serve as a first line of defense, according to the reports in the July 24th issue of the journalCell, a Cell Press publication.

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Placebos are a sham — usually mere sugar pills designed to represent “no treatment” in a clinical treatment study. The effectiveness of the actual medication is compared with the placebo to determine if the medication works.

And yet, for some people, the placebo works nearly as well as the medication. How well placebos work varies widely among individuals. Why that is so, and why they work at all, remains a mystery, thought to be based on some combination of biological and psychological factors. Read the rest of this entry »

Human cells are able to secrete a cancer-killing protein, scientists at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center have found.

Researchers led by Vivek Rangnekar, UK professor of radiation medicine, have determined that the tumor-suppressor protein Par-4, initially thought to be active only within cells expressing the Par-4 gene, is in fact secreted by most human and rodent cells and can target large numbers of cancer cells by binding to receptors on the cell surface.

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Two groups of scientists in China separately reported that they had created a new kind of mouse — grown entirely from a type of stem cell that originated from already mature cells, instead of from embryos. Researchers took skin cells from donor mice, reprogrammed them to revert back to an embryonic state, then programmed them again to develop into an entire mouse pup. Read the rest of this entry »

Although the AIDS virus (HIV-1) entered the human population through chimpanzees, scientists have long believed that chimpanzees don’t develop AIDS. But a new study from an international team, including University of Minnesota professors Anne Pusey and Michael Wilson, shows that chimpanzees infected with SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus), the precursor to HIV-1, do contract and die from AIDS. The discovery is published in the July 23 issue of Nature. Read the rest of this entry »

Using devices millionths of a meter in size, physicists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a technique to determine the mass of a single molecule, in real time.

Caption: This photo shows scanning electron micrographs showing one of the doubly-clamped beam NEMS devices used in these experiments. It is embedded in a nanofabricated three-terminal UHF bridge circuit.  Credit: Fabricated by Akshay Naik and Selim Hanay in the Roukes lab and the Kavli Nanoscience Institute/Caltech.

Caption: This photo shows scanning electron micrographs showing one of the doubly-clamped beam NEMS devices used in these experiments. It is embedded in a nanofabricated three-terminal UHF bridge circuit. Credit: Fabricated by Akshay Naik and Selim Hanay in the Roukes lab and the Kavli Nanoscience Institute/Caltech.

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Mice with a defective mitochondrial protein called MCLK1 produce elevated amounts of reactive oxygen when young; that should spell disaster, yet according to a study in this week’s JBC these mice actually age at a slower rate and live longer than normal mice. Read the rest of this entry »

A group of chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as tea, cocoa and red wine, could protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, a  dementia expert will tell scientists at a conference July 11.

Speaking at the British Pharmacological Society’s Summer Meeting in Edinburgh, Dr Robert Williams will argue that, while much more research needs to be done, there is mounting evidence that certain flavonoids – chemicals found in plants and food derived from plants – might provide therapeutic benefit for Alzheimer’s sufferers.

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Scientists in Atlantic Canada have found a gene that may play a role in skin aging. Researchers were investigating the genetic cause of a rare disorder known as cutis laxa type 2 (CL2), which causes skin on the hands, feet and face to be loose and older looking, as well as growth and developmental delays including effects on the brain. In the process, researchers found some interesting correlations with the synthesis of proline, a chemical associated with skin and joint health. Read the rest of this entry »

Engineers investigate using nanoparticles both as a preventative and a treatment for disease

The bottles contain nanoceria engineered with different, specific chemical properties required for biomedical applications.  Credit: Sudipta Seal, University of Central Florida

The bottles contain nanoceria engineered with different, specific chemical properties required for biomedical applications. Credit: Sudipta Seal, University of Central Florida

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Scientists at Duke University and the University of North Carolina have devised a chemical technique that promises to allow neuroscientists to discover the function of any population of neurons in an animal brain, and provide clues to treating and preventing brain disease.

With the technique they describe in the journal Neuron online on July 15, scientists will be able to noninvasively activate entire populations of individual types of neurons within a brain structure.
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Earlier this year, a scientific team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Broad Institute identified a class of RNA genes known as large intervening non-coding RNAs or “lincRNAs,” a discovery that has pushed the field forward in understanding the roles of these molecules in many biological processes, including stem cell pluripotency, cell cycle regulation, and the innate immune response.

But even as one question was being answered, another was close on its heels: What, exactly, were these mysterious molecules doing?

They now appear to have found an important clue. Described in the July 14 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the scientific team from BIDMC and the Broad Institute shows that lincRNAs – once dismissed as “genomic junk” – have a global role in genome regulation, ferrying proteins to assist their regulation at specific regions of the genome. Read the rest of this entry »

People’s early-life experience sticks with them into adulthood and may render them more susceptible to many of the chronic diseases of aging, according to a new UBC study. Read the rest of this entry »

Previously, only a few genes had been associated with the formation of metastases in colorectal cancer. Now, researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch and Charité – University Medicine Berlin, Germany, have identified 115 genes that are disregulated both in the primary tumor and in its metastases. In the future, their findings may help identify patients with aggressive tumors at an earlier stage (Gastroenterology 2009, doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2009.03.041).*

Caption: Previously, only a few genes had been associated with the formation of metastases in colorectal cancer. Now, researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch and Charité -- University Medicine Berlin, Germany, have identified 115 genes that are disregulated both in the primary tumor and in its metastases. Of the 115 genes the researchers identified, they focused on one gene in particular: BAMBI. They discovered that this gene is more active in metastatic tumors and metastases than in non-metastatic tumors.The gene bambi changes tumor cells in such a way that single cells break off from the primary tumor and spread to other body regions to form metastases. These are changed tumor cells, that have left the primary tumor. (in red: cytoskeleton; in blue: the cell nucleus).  Credit: Photo: Johannes Fritzmann/Copyright: MDC

Caption: Previously, only a few genes had been associated with the formation of metastases in colorectal cancer. Now, researchers of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch and Charité -- University Medicine Berlin, Germany, have identified 115 genes that are disregulated both in the primary tumor and in its metastases. Of the 115 genes the researchers identified, they focused on one gene in particular: BAMBI. They discovered that this gene is more active in metastatic tumors and metastases than in non-metastatic tumors.The gene bambi changes tumor cells in such a way that single cells break off from the primary tumor and spread to other body regions to form metastases. These are changed tumor cells, that have left the primary tumor. (in red: cytoskeleton; in blue: the cell nucleus). Credit: Photo: Johannes Fritzmann/Copyright: MDC

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The salamander is a superhero of regeneration, able to replace lost limbs, damaged lungs, sliced spinal cord — even bits of lopped-off brain.

But it turns out that remarkable ability isn’t so mysterious after all — suggesting that researchers could learn how to replicate it in people.

Scientists had long credited the diminutive amphibious creature’s outsized capabilities to “pluripotent” cells that, like human embryonic stem cells, have the uncanny ability to morph into whatever appendage, organ or tissue happens to be needed or due for a replacement.

But in a paper set to appear Thursday in the journal Nature, a team of seven researchers, including a University of Florida zoologist, debunks that notion. Based on experiments on genetically modified axolotl salamanders, the researchers show that cells from the salamander’s different tissues retain the “memory” of those tissues when they regenerate, contributing with few exceptions only to the same type of tissue from whence they came. Read the rest of this entry »

A human growth factor that stimulates blood stem cells to proliferate in the bone marrow reverses memory impairment in mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s disease, researchers at the University of South Florida and James A. Haley Hospital found. The granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (GCSF) significantly reduced levels of the brain-clogging protein beta amyloid deposited in excess in the brains of the Alzheimer’s mice, increased the production of new neurons and promoted nerve cell connections.

Caption: Microglia (in green) attack the beta amyloid (red) deposited in the brain of a GCSF-treated Alzheimers mouse.  Credit: Photo courtesy of University of South Florida

Caption: Microglia (in green) attack the beta amyloid (red) deposited in the brain of a GCSF-treated Alzheimer's mouse. Credit: Photo courtesy of University of South Florida

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