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Showing posts from 2015

Neuroscientists decode the brain activity of the worm

Head of a roundworm whose nerve cells have been genetically modified to glow under the microscope. Credit: Image courtesy of Research Institute of Molecular Pathology
Manuel Zimmer and his team at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) present new findings on the brain activity of the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. The scientists were able to show that brain cells (neurons), organized in a brain-wide network, albeit exerting different functions, coordinate with each other in a collective manner. They could also directly link these coordinated activities in the worm's brain to the processes that generate behavior. The results of the study are presented in the current issue of the journal Cell.

One of the major goals of neuroscience is to unravel how the brain functions in its entirety and how it generates behavior. The biggest challenge in solving this puzzle is represented by the sheer complexity of nervous systems. A mouse brain, for example, consists of millions o…

Deep-sea bacteria could help neutralize greenhouse gas!!

Deep-sea bacteria could help neutralize greenhouse gas. Credit: Image courtesy of University of Florida
A type of bacteria plucked from the bottom of the ocean could be put to work neutralizing large amounts of industrial carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, a group of University of Florida researchers has found.
Carbon dioxide, a major contributor to the buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases, can be captured and neutralized in a process known as sequestration. Most atmospheric carbon dioxide is produced from fossil fuel combustion, a waste known as flue gas. But converting the carbon dioxide into a harmless compound requires a durable, heat-tolerant enzyme. That’s where the bacterium studied by UF Health researchers comes into play. The bacterium -- Thiomicrospira crunogena -- produces carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme that helps remove carbon dioxide in organisms.

So what makes the deep-sea bacterium so attractive? It lives near hydrothermal vents, so the enzyme it produces is accu…

Probable Biomarker for Premature Death

This schematic summarizes an investigation of the biology of GlycA, a known biomarker for short-term mortality. They reveal GlycA's long-term behavior in apparently healthy patients: it is stable for >10 years and associated with chronic low-grade inflammation. Accordingly, GlycA predicts death from infection up to 14 years in the future. Credit: Ritchie et al./Cell Systems 2015
A single blood test could reveal whether an otherwise healthy person is unusually likely to die of pneumonia or sepsis within the next 14 years. Based on an analysis of 10,000 individuals, researchers have identified a molecular byproduct of inflammation, called GlycA, which seems to predict premature death due to infections.

The findings, published October 22 in Cell Systems, suggest that high GlycA levels in the blood indicate a state of chronic inflammation that may arise from low-level chronic infection or an overactive immune response. That inflammation damages the body, which likely renders individu…

Antioxidant use may promote spread of cancer

Picture source: dailymail.co.uk Metastasis, the process by which cancer cells disseminate from their primary site to other parts of the body, leads to the death of most cancer patients. New research suggests that when antioxidants were administered to lab mice, their cancer spread more quickly than in mice that did not get antioxidants.
A team of scientists at the Children's Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has made a discovery that suggests cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells, raising concerns about the use of dietary antioxidants by patients with cancer. The studies were conducted in specialized mice that had been transplanted with melanoma cells from patients. Prior studies had shown that the metastasis of human melanoma cells in these mice is predictive of their metastasis in patients.
Metastasis, the process by which cancer cells disseminate from their primary site to other parts of the body, leads to the death of most cancer patients. The …

Deep sea methane metabolizing organism discovered

The production and consumption of methane by microorganisms play a major role in the global carbon cycle. Although these processes can occur in a range of environments, from animal guts to the deep ocean, these metabolisms are confined to the Archaea. Evans et al. used metagenomics to assemble two nearly complete archaeal genomes from deep groundwater methanogens (see the Perspective by Lloyd). The two reconstructed genomes are members of the recently described Bathyarchaeota and not the phylum to which all previously known methane-metabolizing archaea belonged.

Textbooks on methane-metabolising organisms might have to be rewritten after researchers in a University of Queensland-led international project on 23 October announced the discovery of two new organisms.
Deputy Head of UQ's Australian Centre for Ecogenomics in the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences Associate Professor Gene Tyson said these new organisms played an unknown role in greenhouse gas emissions and con…

Cellular damage control system helps plants tough it out

Plants Naturally Recycle Chloroplasts
In plants, chloroplasts can accumulate high levels of toxic singlet oxygen, a reactive oxygen species formed during photosynthesis. In these cells, most of the chloroplasts (green organelles) and mitochondria (red organelles) appear healthy. However, the chloroplast in the top left of the image is being selectively degraded and is interacting with the central vacuole (blue). Salk scientists reveal how this strategy to degrade singlet oxygen-damaged chloroplasts may help a cell avoid any further oxidative damage during photosynthesis. Credit: Salk Institute As food demands rise to unprecedented levels, farmers are in a race against time to grow plants that can withstand environmental challenges--infestation, climate change and more. Now, new research at the Salk Institute, published in Science on October 23, 2015, reveals details into a fundamental mechanism of how plants manage their energy intake, which could potentially be harnessed to improve yi…

Gene therapy treats all muscles in the body in muscular dystrophy dogs

Human clinical trials are next step..
Source: www.healthcare.uiowa.edu
Muscular dystrophy, which affects approximately 250,000 people in the U.S., occurs when damaged muscle tissue is replaced with fibrous, fatty or bony tissue and loses function. For years, scientists have searched for a way to successfully treat the most common form of the disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), which primarily affects boys. Now, a team of University of Missouri researchers have successfully treated dogs with DMD and say that human clinical trials are being planned in the next few years.

"This is the most common muscle disease in boys, and there is currently no effective therapy," said Dongsheng Duan, the study leader and the Margaret Proctor Mulligan Professor in Medical Research at the MU School of Medicine. "This discovery took our research team more than 10 years, but we believe we are on the cusp of having a treatment for the disease."

Patients with Duchenne muscular dyst…

Study reveals how brain multitasks

Findings help explain how the brain pays attention to what;s important and how neural circuits may be 'broken' in attention-deficit disorders This is an image of a human brain. The thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) surrounds the thalamus (pictured in red, with a switchboard in the background). Credit: Courtesy of Michael Halassa
Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center say they have added to evidence that a shell-shaped region in the center of the mammalian brain, known as the thalamic reticular nucleus or TRN, is likely responsible for the ability to routinely and seamlessly multitask.
The process, they suggest, is done by individual TRN neurons that act like a "switchboard," continuously filtering sensory information and shifting more or less attention onto one sense -- like sight -- while relatively blocking out distracting information from other senses, including sound.
In their research in mice, described in the journal Nature online Oct. 21, the investigators sh…

Life on Earth likely started 4.1 billion years ago, much earlier than scientists thought

Evidence that early Earth was not dry and desolate
Fossil-like rock found in Australia contain hints of life from 4.1 billion years ago Photo: Bruce Watson/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) via AP
UCLA geochemists have found evidence that life likely existed on Earth at least 4.1 billion years ago -- 300 million years earlier than previous research suggested. The discovery indicates that life may have begun shortly after the planet formed 4.54 billion years ago.
Carbon in 4.1 billion year old zircon. Credit: Stanford/UCLA.
The research is published today in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Twenty years ago, this would have been heretical; finding evidence of life 3.8 billion years ago was shocking," said Mark Harrison, co-author of the research and a professor of geochemistry at UCLA.

"Life on Earth may have started almost instantaneously," added Harrison, a member of the National Academy of…

Camels test positive for respiratory virus (MERS) in Kenya

MERS-CoV particles as seen by negative stain electron microscopy. Virions contain characteristic club-like projections emanating from the viral membrane. Credit: Maureen Metcalfe/Cynthia Goldsmith/Azaibi Tamin 
A team of scientists surveyed 335 dromedary – single humped – camels from nine herds in Laikipia County, Kenya and found that 47% tested positive for MERS antibodies, showing they had been exposed to the virus.

A new study has found that nearly half of camels in parts of Kenya have been infected by the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and calls for further research into the role they might play in the transmission of this emerging disease to humans.

MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and there is currently no vaccine or specific treatment available. To date, it has infected 1,595 people in more than 20 countries and caused 571 deaths. Although the majority of human cases of MERS have been attributed to human-to-human infections, camels are…

Study challenges scientific principle about Alzheimer protein amyloid beta

Scientific Reports, a Nature group journal, has recently published results that challenge the findings of studies to date on the initial aggregates formed by amyloid beta, a protein closely associated with the onset and development of Alzheimer's disease. Globular shape that initial aggregates of amyloid beta protein adopt. Credit: N. Carulla, IRB Barcelona
Headed by Natàlia Carulla, a specialist in biomedical chemistry at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), the study focuses on the number of molecules and shape that this protein has when it begins to aggregate, a process that leads to the so-called Abeta fibrils, the main components of the plaques observed in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. "Comprehensive knowledge of the number of units and conformation of Abeta at the initial stages of aggregation is crucial for the design of drugs capable of breaking them up or preventing their formation," explains Natàlia Carulla.
The…

Investigators create complex kidney structures from human stem cells derived from adults

New technique offers model for studying disease, progress toward cell therapy Researchers modeled kidney development and injury in kidney organoids (shown here), demonstrating that the organoid culture system can be used to study mechanisms of human kidney development and toxicity. Credit: Ryuji Morizane, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) have established a highly efficient method for making kidney structures from stem cells that are derived from skin taken from patients. The kidney structures formed could be used to study abnormalities of kidney development, chronic kidney disease, the effects of toxic drugs, and be incorporated into bioengineered devices to treat patients with acute and chronic kidney injury. In the longer term, these methods could hasten progress toward replacing a damaged or diseased kidney with tissue derived from a patient's own cells. These results were publishe…

Larger brains do not lead to high IQs, new meta-analysis finds

Is brain size related to cognitive ability of humans? This question has captured the attention of scientists for more than a century. An international team of researchers provides no evidence for a causal role of brain size for IQ test performance. In a meta-analysis of data from more than 8000 participants, they show that associations between in vivo brain volume and IQ are small.

Brain scans (stock image). Credit: © nimon_t / Fotolia
As early as 1836, the German physiologist and anatomist Friedrich Tiedemann, in an article in the Philosophical Transactions, expressed his opinion that "there is undoubtedly a connection between the absolute size of the brain and the intellectual powers and functions of the mind." With the advent of brain imaging methods (e.g., MRI, PET), reliable assessments of in-vivo brain volume and investigations of its association with IQ are now possible.
Now, an international team of researchers, led by University of Vienna researchers Jakob Pietschnig…

Schizophrenia symptoms linked to features of brain's anatomy?

Roger Harris/Photo Researchers, ISM/Phototake Using advanced brain imaging, researchers have matched certain behavioral symptoms of schizophrenia to features of the brain's anatomy. The findings, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, could be a step toward improving diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia.
The study, available online in the journal NeuroImage, will appear in print Oct. 15.

"By looking at the brain's anatomy, we've shown there are distinct subgroups of patients with a schizophrenia diagnosis that correlates with symptoms," said senior investigator C. Robert Cloninger, MD, PhD, the Wallace Renard Professor of Psychiatry and a professor of genetics. "This gives us a new way of thinking about the disease. We know that not all patients with schizophrenia have the same issues, and this helps us understand why."

The researchers evaluated scans taken with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a technique called diffusion ten…

Engineers create artificial skin that can send pressure sensation to brain cell

Human finger touches robotic finger. The transparent plastic and black device on the golden "fingertip" is the skin-like sensor developed by Stanford engineers. This sensor can detect pressure and transmit that touch sensation to a nerve cell. The goal is to create artificial skin, studded with many such miniaturized sensors, to give prosthetic appendages some of the sensory capabilities of human skin. Credit: Bao Lab
Stanford engineers have created a plastic "skin" that can detect how hard it is being pressed and generate an electric signal to deliver this sensory input directly to a living brain cell. The work takes a big step toward adding a sense of touch to prosthetic limbs.
Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford, has spent a decade trying to develop a material that mimics skin's ability to flex and heal, while also serving as the sensor net that sends touch, temperature and pain signals to the brain. Ultimately she wants to create a fl…

Scientists produce clearest-ever images of enzyme that plays key roles in aging, cancer

Research on telomerase could lead to new strategies for treating disease An enzyme called telomerase plays a significant role in aging and most cancers, but until recently many aspects of the enzyme's structure could not be clearly seen.
This is a photograph of subunits of telomerase.  Credit: UCLA department of chemistry and biochemistry

The telomerase enzyme is known to play a significant role in aging and most cancers. Scientists have discovered several major new insights about this enzyme and they are now able to see the complex enzyme's sub-units in much sharper resolution than ever before.
Now, scientists from UCLA and UC Berkeley have produced images of telomerase in much higher resolution than ever before, giving them major new insights about the enzyme. Their findings, published online today by the journal Science, could ultimately lead to new directions for treating cancer and preventing premature aging.
"Many details we could only guess at before, we can now see …

Quantum physics meets genetic engineering

Researchers use engineered viruses to provide quantum-based enhancement of energy transport
Rendering of a virus used in the MIT experiments. The light-collecting centers, called chromophores, are in red, and chromophores that just absorbed a photon of light are glowing white. After the virus is modified to adjust the spacing between the chromophores, energy can jump from one set of chromophores to the next faster and more efficiently. Credit: Courtesy of the researchers and Lauren Alexa Kaye
Nature has had billions of years to perfect photosynthesis, which directly or indirectly supports virtually all life on Earth. In that time, the process has achieved almost 100 percent efficiency in transporting the energy of sunlight from receptors to reaction centers where it can be harnessed -- a performance vastly better than even the best solar cells.
One way plants achieve this efficiency is by making use of the exotic effects of quantum mechanics -- effects sometimes known as "quantum …

Antiviral compound provides full protection from Ebola virus in nonhuman primates

Rhesus monkeys were completely protected from the deadly Ebola virus when treated three days after infection with a compound that blocks the virus's ability to replicate. These encouraging preclinical results suggest the compound, known as GS-5734, should be further developed as a potential treatment, according to research findings. Picture source: www.globalresearch.ca
Travis Warren, Ph.D., a principal investigator at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), said the work is a result of the continuing collaboration between USAMRIID and Gilead Sciences of Foster City, Calif. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also contributed by performing initial screening of the Gilead Sciences compound library to find molecules with promising antiviral activity.
The initial work identified the precursor to GS-5734, a small-molecule antiviral agent, which led to the effort by Gilead and USAMRIID to further refine, develop and eva…