Phages in mucus aid immune system by killing invading bacteria.
…animal mucus — whether from humans, fish or corals — is loaded with bacteria-killing viruses called phages. These protect their hosts from infection by destroying incoming bacteria. In return, the phages are exposed to a steady torrent of microbes in which to reproduce.
Nanowerk LLC Nanotechnology technique controls blood sugar in diabetics for days at a time Nanowerk LLC (Nanowerk News) In a promising development for diabetes treatment, researchers have developed a network of nanoscale particles that can be…
UCT professor wins international award for TB work Health24.com I’ve trained so many young scientists - and this award is for them.” Mizrahi plans to use most of the prize money on hiring senior researchers who are able to bring new skills to the…
Technology can turn our entire lives into learning experiences via “socialstructed learning,” an aggregation of microlearning experiences drawn from a rich ecology of content and driven not by grades but by social and intrinsic rewards, suggests Marina Gorbis, Executive Director at the Institute for the Future.
“Today’s obsession with MOOCs is a reminder of the old forecasting paradigm: In the early stages of technology introduction we try to fit new technologies into existing social structures in ways that have become familiar to us,” she says.
What if we could access historical, artistic, demographic, environmental, architectural, and other kinds of information embedded in the real world via augmented reality devices?
“This is exactly what a project from USC and UCLA called HyperCities is doing: layering historical information on the actual city terrain. As you walk around with your cell phone, you can point to a site and see what it looked like a century ago, who lived there, what the environment was like.
“The Smithsonian’s free iPhone and iPad app, Leafsnap, responds when you take a photo of a tree leaf by instantly searching a growing library of leaf images amassed by the Smithsonian Institution.
“We are moving away from the model in which learning is organized around stable, usually hierarchical institutions (schools, colleges, universities) . … Replacing that model is a new system in which learning is best conceived of as a flow, where learning resources are not scarce but widely available, opportunities for learning are abundant, and learners increasingly have the ability to autonomously dip into and out of continuous learning flows.”
Neuroscientists at Howard Hughes Medical Institute have mapped the activity of nearly all the neurons in a vertebrate brain at cellular resolution, with signficant implications for neuroscience research and projects like the proposed Brain Activity Map (BAM).
Fast volumetric imaging of the larval zebrafish brain with light-sheet microscopy (credit: Misha B Ahrens, Philipp J Keller/Nature Methods)
The researchers used high-speed light sheet microscopy to image the activity of 80% of the neurons in the brain (which is composed of ~100,000 neurons) of a fish larva at 0.8 Hz (an image every 1.3 seconds), with single-cell resolution.
This represents the first technology that achieves whole brain imaging of a vertebrate brain at cellular resolution with speeds that approximate neural activity patterns and behavior, as Nature Methodsmethagora blog noted.
The authors saw correlated activity patterns at the cellular level that spanned large areas of the brain — pointing to the existence of broadly distributed functional circuits.
The next steps will be to determine the causal role that these circuits play in behavior — something that will require improvements in the methods for 3D optogenetics, the blog said. Obtaining the detailed anatomical map of these circuits will also be key to understand the brain’s organization at its deepest level.
When it comes to harboring viruses deadly to humans, bats are grand champions. The flying mammals are the reservoir for everything from rabies (100% deadly) to Ebola. Now, scientists have found a new virus hosted by bats, one that doesn’t seem to be able to cause disease in other animals. The discovery may provide clues to what enables some viruses to cause severe disease.
The new Cedar virus is named after the little town of Cedar Grove in Queensland, Australia, where it was found in 2009. Australian scientists discovered it in the urine from bat colonies while screening for the Hendra virus. Hendra and its close viral cousin Nipah are henipaviruses that kill between 40% and 100% of all the animals and humans they infect, making them among the most deadly viruses known. In the laboratory, the team found that Cedar virus could infect ferrets and guinea pigs—the animals produced infection-fighting antibodies to the virus. However, mysteriously they did not become clinically ill at all. What’s more, there are no recorded cases in humans.
A genetic analysis revealed that the Cedar virus is also a henipavirus—but with one major key difference: Unlike other henipaviruses, the Cedar virus does not produce what is called a “V protein”. The V protein gives the Hendra and Nipah viruses the ability to evade the human immune system, making them deadly to most hosts. By comparing the lethal and benign henipaviruses, “We may gain insights into what makes Hendra so dangerous,” says molecular virologist Glenn Marsh of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.
The team’s focus on the V protein is “intriguing, and deserves to be followed up,” says Benhur Lee, a microbiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine. Marsh says his team plans to conduct follow up experiments. “Using genetic engineering it may be possible to modify the virus so it does produce the V protein or alternatively put the gene from Hendra virus into Cedar virus and see if that makes the virus pathogenic.” Lee warns, however, that even if the V gene does help make henipaviruses so dangerous, it’s probably not the only gene responsible.
Baile Zhang, an assistant professor of physics at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, has used the light-bending qualities of calcite - a cheap and abundant mineral that is a form of calcium carbonate - to create the first macroscopic invisibility cloak. Zhang originally came up with the technology in 2010. This short video clip is similar to what he recently demonstrated on stage at TED2013. He is placing a piece of calcite over a rolled-up Post-it note submerged in oil, making the pink tube appear to disappear. This research has applications in imaging, communication, and defense.
The 2013 Academy Awards were, as always, as much about making appearances as about making films, as red carpet watchers noted fashion trends and faux pas. Both Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts wore Armani, although fortunately not the same dress. And Best Supporting Actress Anne Hathaway switched from Valentino to a controversial pale pink Prada at the last minute because her original dress looked too much like someone else’s. Of course, no actress would be caught dead wearing the same style 2 years in a row. A new study of ancient beaded jewelry from a South African cave finds that ancient humans were no different, avoiding outdated styles as early as 75,000 years ago.
Personal ornaments, often in the form of beads worn as necklaces or bracelets, are considered by archaeologists as a key sign of sophisticated symbolic behavior, communicating either membership in a group or individual identity. Such ornaments are ubiquitous in so-called Upper Paleolithic sites in Europe beginning about 40,000 years ago, where they were made from many different materials—animal and human teeth, bone and ivory, stone, and mollusk shells—and often varied widely among regions and sites.
Even more ancient personal ornaments go back to at least 100,000 years ago in Africa and the Near East. But this earlier jewelry seems less variable and was nearly always made from mollusk shells. So some archaeologists have questioned whether these earlier ornaments played the same symbolic roles as the later ones, or even whether they were made by humans at all.
In a new study in press at the Journal of Human Evolution, a team led by archaeologist Marian Vanhaeren of the University of Bordeaux in France claims to have found evidence of a relatively sudden shift in the way that shell beads were strung. The beads were found at Blombos Cave in South Africa in archaeological layers dated between 75,000 and 72,000 years ago, during a time period marked by four distinct layers of artifacts called the Still Bay tradition. This tradition includes bone awls and sophisticated stone spear points and knives, as well as beads from jewelry: sixty-eight specimens of the southern African tick shell, Nassarius kraussianus, most found clustered together and thought to be part of individual necklaces or bracelets. All the shells are perforated with a single hole, and the team’s microscopic studies—as well as experiments with shells of the same species collected near the site—have suggested that they were punctured with a finely tipped bone point.
If there was a thing you could do for your child that would decrease his or her chances of being obese, suffering from asthma, or developing type 1 diabetes later in life - and that’s just a start - how hard would you try to do it? Well, there is a thing. And that thing is protecting the little one’s gut bacteria, right from day one.
A decade ago, the tequila industry was pummelled by plant diseases. Rex Dalton meets the scientists working to keep the blue agave diverse enough to survive.
For centuries, artisans working in the adobe haciendas of Mexico’s rural valleys have followed tradition to make the powerful spirit tequila. Copying age-old indigenous techniques, they distilled the liquor from sweet juice cooked out of the fat stems of a local succulent, the blue agave (Agave tequilana Weber, var. But in recent years, tequila makers have had to bring the latest science to the agricultural process to save both the industry and the culture it supports. Some of the oldest and biggest producers are employing scientists, building high-tech laboratories and funding academic research on the blue agave so that researchers from biochemists to geneticists can scrutinize this little-understood plant. The shift began nearly a decade ago, when disease and pests wiped out much of Mexico’s crop of blue agave. The plants are grown in expansive ranches, as a single agave takes years to reach maturity for harvest. But those huge monocultural crops, planted to slake the worldwide thirst for tequila, are also an ideal place for disease to spread. Tequila was nearly destroyed by its own popularity.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Thursday approved the first retinal implant for use in the United States. The FDA’s green light for Second Sight’s Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System gives hope to those blinded by a rare genetic eye condition called advanced retinitis pigmentosa, which damages the light-sensitive cells that line the retina.
For Second Sight, FDA approval follows more than 20 years of development, two clinical trials and more than $200 million in funding—half from the National Eye Institute, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, and the rest from private investors. The Argus II has been approved for use in Europe since 2011 and implanted in 30 clinical-trial patients since 2007. The FDA’s Ophthalmic Devices Advisory Panel in September 2012 voted unanimously to recommend approval.
The Argus II includes a small video camera, a transmitter mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, a video processing unit and a 60-electrode implanted retinal prosthesis that replaces the function of degenerated cells in the retina, the membrane lining the inside of the eye. Although it does not fully restore vision, this setup can improve a patient’s ability to perceive images and movement, using the video processing unit to transform images from the video camera into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to the retinal prosthesis.
Retinitis pigmentosa—which affects about one in 4,000 people in the US and about 1.5 million people worldwide—kills the retina’s photoreceptors, the rod and cone cells that convert light into electrical signals transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain’s visual cortex for processing. Second Sight plans to adapt its technology to someday assist people afflicted with age-related macular degeneration, a similar but more common disease.
This might be a new way to get a shot. Funded in part by the NIH, this vaccine patch  is coated in a thin film that literally melts into the skin when the patch is applied. The film contains DNA, rather than protein, which is absorbed by the skin cells and triggers an immune reaction. It seems to be effective in animal models. DNA vaccines are attractive because they may not require refrigeration like typical protein vaccines and can be stably stored for weeks. And, though this patch looks spiky, the length of the needles can be adjusted so that they don’t reach the skin layers that contain nerves. Thus: no pain at all.
 Polymer multilayer tattooing for enhanced DNA vaccination. Demuth PC, Min Y, Huang B, Kramer JA, Miller AD, Barouch DH, Hammond PT, Irvine DJ. Nat Mater. 2013 Jan 27.
Free biology talks by the world’s leading scientists. Our mission is to produce a library of outstanding science lectures. We will add 15-20 seminars per year in a wide-range of biology topics. Access, through web streaming or download, is completely free-of-charge. Also check out our iBioMagazine channel, where you can watch ~10 minute talks about the human-side of science.
What is more emblematic of our science than the Gram stain? Since its invention 130 years ago, it has been in frequent and continuous use. It conveniently places most bacteria into one of two groups, the Gram-positives or the Gram-negatives.
Storing perishable foods at cold temperatures may slow their demise, but eventually spoilage still sets in. What makes some foods perishable is their ability to provide food and shelter for various species bacteria and fungi. While you’re flipping through recipe books to plan your next meal, these microorganisms are already eating the ingredients. They’re quite tiny, of course, so at first you don’t notice that you’re sharing your food…
Stiff supergel mimics cell scaffolding and melts when cooled.
Take one kilogram of polyisocyanide polymer. Sprinkle liberally across an Olympic swimming pool. Warm gently. Within minutes, your jelly is ready. Serves 25 million. Alan Rowan, a materials chemist at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, is describing the properties of a remarkable polymer developed in his lab and unveiled today inNature. He has not actually run the swimming-pool experiment, but he sounds as if he would love to give it a try. When it comes to forming gels, he says excitedly, his polymer is “probably the best in the world — an order of magnitude better than anything else”.
But it offers much more than record-breaking dessert portions: it is the first synthetic polymer that can match the rigidity found in many biological polymers, says Margaret Gardel, a biophysicist at the University of Chicago, Illinois, who wrote a News and Views article to accompany the publication. “Nearly all biopolymers, like DNA or collagen, have some inherent rigidity,” she explains; synthetic polymers, by contrast, tend to be extremely floppy. Rowan’s polymer strands have a helical backbone with thousands of short peptides jutting out from the sides, each carrying long tails made of repeating carbon and oxygen chains. Nitrogen and hydrogen atoms in neighbouring peptides bond to each other to give the backbone rigidity, and the carbon and oxygen tails readily grab water molecules, making the polymer extremely soluble.
Once the polymer is dissolved, warming it causes the tails to squeeze water molecules away and form links with neighbouring polymer strands. Above a certain temperature, the solution transforms into a gel in seconds as the strands self-assemble into bundles roughly 10 nanometres wide. As with the biopolymers in a living cell, or the fibres in a rope, the bundling stiffens the whole structure. “The nanoscale mechanism is the same as at the macroscale,” says Rowan.
Researchers already knew that bundling was important in strengthening biopolymers. But Rowan’s team has measured the stiffness of individual strands and of the bundles, and has shown the relationship between the two. “Now that we understand the principles, we can start making gels at even lower concentrations,” predicts Rowan.
Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine have figured out intimate details of how the hepatitis C virus takes over an invaded cell, a breakthrough that could point to way for new treatments for the virus.
While legions of medical researchers have been looking to understand the genetic basis of disease and how mutations may affect human health, a group of biomedical researchers at UC Santa Barbara is studying the metabolism of cells and their…