Sunday, July 06, 2008

Science Sunday: Wrap-up of recent advancements in science from EurekAlert!

Texas A&M researchers develop tool to study complex clusters of genes
Texas A&M University researchers have developed a computational tool that will help scientists more accurately study complex units of clustered genes, called operons, in bacteria.

Synthetic molecules emulate enzyme behavior for the first time
When chemists want to produce a lot of a substance -- such as a newly designed drug -- they often turn to catalysts, molecules that speed chemical reactions. Many jobs require highly specialized catalysts, and finding one in just the right shape to connect with certain molecules can be difficult. Natural catalysts, such as enzymes in the human body that help us digest food, get around this problem by shape-shifting to suit the task at hand.

Study shows quantum dots can penetrate skin through minor abrasions
Researchers at North Carolina State University have found that quantum dot nanoparticles can penetrate the skin if there is an abrasion, providing insight into potential workplace concerns for healthcare workers or individuals involved in the manufacturing of quantum dots or doing research on potential biomedical applications of the tiny nanoparticles.

Atomic tug of war
A new form of energy-transfer processes, reported today in Nature may have implications for the study of reactions going on in the atmosphere, and even for those occurring in the body.

Gene directs stem cells to build the heart
Researchers have shown that they can put mouse embryonic stem cells to work building the heart, potentially moving medicine a significant step closer to a new generation of heart disease treatments that use human stem cells. Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report in Cell Stem Cell that the Mesp1 gene locks mouse embryonic stem cells into becoming heart parts and gets them moving to the area where the heart forms.

Discovery explains how cold sore virus hides during inactive phase
Now that Duke University Medical Center scientists have figured out how the virus that causes cold sores hides out, they may have a way to wake it up and kill it.

Worms do calculus to find meals or avoid unpleasantness
Thanks to salt and hot chili peppers, researchers have found a calculus-computing center that tells a roundworm to go forward toward dinner or turn to broaden the search. It's a computational mechanism, they say, that is similar to what drives hungry college students to a pizza.

Some fundamental interactions of matter found to be fundamentally different than thought
When an atom collides with a molecule, traditional wisdom said the atom had to strike one end of the molecule hard to deliver energy to it. People thought a glancing blow from an atom would be useless in terms of energy transfer, but that turns out not to be the case. "We have a new understanding of how energy can be transferred in collisions at the molecular scale," said Richard Zare, of Stanford University.

The body's own 'cannabis (marijuana)' is good for the skin
Scientists from Hungary, Germany and the UK have discovered that our own body not only makes chemical compounds similar to the active ingredient in marijuana, but these play an important part in maintaining healthy skin. This finding on "endocannabinoids" just published online in, and scheduled for the October 2008 print issue of, the FASEB Journal could lead to new drugs that treat skin conditions ranging from acne to dry skin, and even skin-related tumors.

Cancer cells revert to normal at specific signal threshold, Stanford researchers find
Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine report that lowering levels of one cancer signal under a specific threshold reverses this process in mice, returning tumor cells to their normal, healthy state.

Super atoms turn the periodic table upside down
Researchers at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands have developed a technique for generating atom clusters made from silver and other metals. Surprisingly enough, these so-called super atoms (clusters of 13 silver atoms, for example) behave in the same way as individual atoms and have opened up a whole new branch of chemistry. A full account can be read in the new edition of TU Delft magazine Delft Outlook.

Discovery of gene mechanism could bring about new ways to treat metastatic cancer
Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Massey Cancer Center researchers have uncovered how a gene, melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24), induces a bystander effect that kills cancer cells not directly receiving mda-7/IL-24 without harming healthy ones, a discovery that could lead to new therapeutic strategies to fight metastatic disease.

New discovery a step towards better diabetes treatment
In today's issue of the prestigious journal Cell Metabolism Uppsala scientists are presenting new findings that shed light on the processes that determine the release of the blood sugar-lowering hormone insulin. The discovery is based on the development of image analysis methods that make possible the detailed study of events immediately inside the plasma membrane of the insulin-secreting cells.

Life-extending protein can also have damaging effects on brain cells
Proteins widely believed to protect against aging can actually cause oxidative damage in mammalian brain cells, according to a new report in the July Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press. The findings suggest that the proteins can have both proaging and protective functions, depending on the circumstances, the researchers said.

Death, division or cancer? Newly discovered checkpoint process holds the line in cell division
Researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, have discovered a novel biochemical activity involved in controlling cell division, which they've called the mitotic checkpoint factor 2. While the proteins involved in MCF2 remain to be determined, their findings offer insight into a fundamental question of biology, which may also help to increase the efficiency of cancer drugs like gemcitabine or paclitaxel.

'Hibernation-on-demand' drug significantly improves survival after extreme blood loss
For the first time, researchers have demonstrated that the administration of minute amounts of inhaled or intravenous hydrogen sulfide, or H2S -- the molecule that gives rotten eggs their sulfurous stench -- significantly improves survival from extreme blood loss in rats.

Small protein may have big role in making more bone and less fat
A small protein may have a big role in helping you make more bone and less fat, researchers say.

Stanford researchers find way to predict IVF success
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have identified a method that can predict with 70 percent accuracy whether a woman undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment will become pregnant.

Relaxation response can influence expression of stress-related genes
How could a single, non-pharmacological intervention help patients deal with disorders ranging from high blood pressure, to pain syndromes, to infertility, to rheumatoid arthritis? That question may have been answered by a study finding that eliciting the relaxation response -- a physiologic state of deep rest -- influences the activation patterns of genes associated with the body's response to stress.

Metals shape up with a little help from friends
For 5,000 years the only way to shape metal has been by the "heat and beat" technique. Even with modern nanotechnology, metalworking involves carving metals with electron beams or etching them with acid.

New electrostatic-based DNA microarray technique could revolutionize medical diagnostics
Berkeley Lab researchers have invented a technique in which DNA assays -- the key to personalized medicine -- canbe read and evaluated with no need of elaborate chemical labeling or sophisticated instrumentation. Based on electrostatic repulsion that yields images visible to the naked eye, the technique could revolutionize the use of DNA microarrays for both research and diagnostics.

Physicists create millimeter-sized 'Bohr atom'
Nearly a century after Danish physicist Niels Bohr offered his planet-like model of the hydrogen atom, a Rice University-led team of physicists has created giant, millimeter-sized atoms that resemble it more closely than any other experimental realization yet achieved. The research is available online in Physical Review Letters. The team used lasers and electric fields to coax potassium atoms into a precise configuration with one point-like, "localized" electron orbiting far from the nucleus.

MIT researchers tug at molecules with optical tweezers
MIT researchers have developed a novel technique to measure the strength of the bonds between two protein molecules important in cell machinery: gently tugging them apart with light beams.

Bacterial resistance is futile against wound-cleaning laser
A laser-activated antimicrobial offers hope for new treatments of bacterial infections, even those that are resistant to current drugs. Research published today in the open access journal BMC Microbiology describes the use of a dye, indocyanine green, which produces bacteria-killing chemicals when lit by a specific kind of laser light.

New map IDs the core of the human brain
An international team of researchers has created the first complete high-resolution map of how millions of neural fibers in the human cerebral cortex connect and communicate. Their groundbreaking work identified a single network core, or hub, that may be key to the workings of both hemispheres of the brain.

NYU, Rutgers study shows how using mental strategies can alter the brain's reward circuitry
The cognitive strategies humans use to regulate emotions can determine both neurological and physiological responses to potential rewards, a team of New York University and Rutgers University neuroscientists has discovered. The findings, reported in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, shed light on how the regulation of emotions may influence decision making.

Bee disease a mystery
Scientists are one step closer to understanding the recent demise of billions of honey bees after making an important discovery about the transmission of a common bee virus. Deformed wing virus is passed between adult bees and to their developing brood by a parasitic mite called Varroa destructor when it feeds. However, research published in the July issue of the Journal of General Virology suggests that the virus does not replicate in Varroa, highlighting the need for further investigation.

'Smart' materials get smarter with ability to better control shape and size
(University of Texas at Austin) A dynamic way to alter the shape and size of microscopic three-dimensional structures built out of proteins has been developed by biological chemist Jason Shear and his former graduate student Bryan Kaehr at the University of Texas at Austin.


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