Researchers have remotely activated genes inside living animals, a proof of concept that could one day lead to medical procedures in which patients’ genes are triggered on demand.
The work, in which a team used radio waves to switch on engineered insulin-producing genes in mice, is published today in Science1.
Jeffrey Friedman, a molecular geneticist at the Rockefeller University in New York and lead author of the study, says that in the short term, the results will lead to better tools to allow scientists to manipulate cells non-invasively. But with refinement, he thinks, clinical applications could also be possible.
Drug-smuggling nanoparticles could be the latest recruits in the fight againstcancer. The first results from early-stage trials show that cancer drugs couriered by nanoparticles may reduce the size of tumours in humans.
Researchers from BIND Biosciences in Boston filled nanoparticles with the cancer drug docetaxel and injected them into the blood of 17 people who had cancers that are normally resistant to the drug. Forty-two days later, two of the volunteers’ tumours had shrunk in size significantly, and the rest of the volunteers’ tumours had not grown.
Printed-on-demand robots might be a reality before the end of the decade if a US-based project achieves its goals.
Researchers aim to build a desktop technology that would allow an average person to design and print a machine within 24 hours.
The team says that making it easier to create specialised robots could have a “profound impact on society”.
The effort is being funded by a $10m (£6.3m) grant from the National Science Foundation.
The Virginia-based organisation described the move as a “game changing investment”.
"It has the potential to democratise and personalise automation to meet the needs of individual users - whether for search and rescue workers in remote areas of the world or educators in classrooms around the US - possibilities for social impact abound," said spokeswoman Lisa-Joy Zgorski.
Exposure to germs in childhood is thought to help strengthen the immune system and protect children from developing allergies and asthma, but the pathways by which this occurs have been unclear. Now, researchers have identified a mechanism in mice that may explain the role of exposure to microbes in the development of asthma and ulcerative colitis, a common form of inflammatory bowel disease.
In a study published online today in Science1, the researchers show that in mice, exposure to microbes in early life can reduce the body’s inventory of invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells, which help to fight infection but can also turn on the body, causing a range of disorders such as asthma or inflammatory bowel disease.
The study supports the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which contends that such auto-immune diseases are more common in the developed world where the prevalence of antibiotics and antibacterials reduce children’s exposure to microbes.
“We as a species are not exposed to the same germs that we were exposed to in the past,” says study co-author Dennis Kasper, a microbiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
A RELATIVELY new field, called interpersonal neurobiology, draws its vigor from one of the great discoveries of our era: that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.
All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.
Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.
Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.
We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.
But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.
As the most social apes, we inhabit a mirror-world in which every important relationship, whether with spouse, friend or child, shapes the brain, which in turn shapes our relationships.
Scripps Research Institute scientists and their colleagues have successfully harnessed neurons in mouse brains, allowing them to at least partially control a specific memory. Though just an initial step, the researchers hope such work will eventually lead to better understanding of how memories form in the brain, and possibly even to ways to weaken harmful thoughts for those with conditions such as schizophrenia and post traumatic stress disorder.
The results are reported in the March 23, 2012 issue of the journal Science.
Researchers have known for decades that stimulating various regions of the brain can trigger behaviors and even memories. But understanding the way these brain functions develop and occur normally—effectively how we become who we are—has been a much more complex goal.
"The question we’re ultimately interested in is: How does the activity of the brain represent the world?" said Scripps Research neuroscientist Mark Mayford, who led the new study. "Understanding all this will help us understand what goes wrong in situations where you have inappropriate perceptions. It can also tell us where the brain changes with learning."
The team is now making progress toward more precise control that will allow the scientists to turn one memory on and off at will so effectively that a mouse will in fact perceive itself to be in Box A when it’s in Box B.
Four-year-old Angela Irizarry was born with a single pumping chamber in her heart, a potentially lethal defect. To fix the problem, Angela is growing a new blood vessel in her body in an experimental treatment that could advance the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine. Doctors at Yale University here implanted in Angela’s chest in August a bioabsorbable tube that is designed to dissolve over time. The tube was seeded with cells, including stem cells, that had been harvested from Angela’s bone marrow. Since then, the doctors say, the tube has disappeared, leaving in its place a conduit produced by Angela’s cells that functions like a normal blood vessel.
Scientists have long been captivated by the ability of animals such as salamanders and starfish to regrow body parts lost to injury. It was long assumed that developmental forces that create a human being in the womb are lost at birth. But recent advances in stem-cell research and tissue engineering suggest that regenerative forces can be reawakened with strategically implanted stem cells and other tissue.
This notion is fueling research at many academic laboratories and dozens of start-up companies where scientists are hoping to identify effective ways to treat maladies including heart muscle damaged from heart attacks, paralysis due to spinal cord injuries and poor-functioning kidneys and bladders.
No need to be stingy with spices. Research from Penn State finds heavily spiced meals — think chicken curry with lots of turmeric, or desserts rich in cinnamon and cloves — may do the heart good.
"Elevated triglycerides are a risk factor for heart disease," explains researcher Sheila West.
Her study found that a spicy meal helps cut levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in the blood — even when the meal is rich in oily sauces and high in fat.
It’s good news for those of us who love a rich curry made with lots of turmeric or bold amounts of garlic and oregano. During the study, they used a blend that included these spices, as well as paprika, rosemary and ginger.
The vast majority of humans are “born believers”, naturally inclined to find religious claims and explanations attractive and easily acquired, and to attain fluency in using them. This attraction to religion is an evolutionary by-product of our ordinary cognitive equipment, and while it tells us nothing about the truth or otherwise of religious claims it does help us see religion in an interesting new light.
As soon as they are born, babies start to try to make sense of the world around them. As they do so, their minds show regular tendencies. From birth children show certain predilections in what they pay attention to and what they are inclined to think.
One of the most important of these is to recognise the difference between ordinary physical objects and “agents” - things that can act upon their surroundings. Babies know that balls and books must be contacted in order to move, but agents such as people and animals can move by themselves.
Because of our highly social nature we pay special attention to agents. We are strongly attracted to explanations of events in terms of agent action - particularly events that are not readily explained in terms of ordinary causation.
This hair-trigger agent reasoning and a natural propensity to look for agents in the world around us are part of the building blocks for belief in gods. Once coupled with some other cognitive tendencies, such as the search for purpose, they make children highly receptive to religion.
It is important to note that this concept of religion deviates from theological beliefs. Children are born believers not of Christianity, Islam or any other theology but of what I call “natural religion”. They have strong natural tendencies toward religion, but these tendencies do not inevitably propel them towards any one religious belief.
Instead, the way our minds solve problems generates a god-shaped conceptual space waiting to be filled by the details of the culture into which they are born.
Findings from a first-of-its-kind study by Indiana University researchers confirm anecdotal evidence that exercise — absent sex or fantasies — can lead to female orgasm.
While the findings are new, reports of this phenomenon, sometimes called “coregasm” because of its association with exercises for core abdominal muscles, have circulated in the media for years, said Debby Herbenick, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in IU’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In addition to being a researcher, Herbenick is a widely read advice columnist and book author.
"The most common exercises associated with exercise-induced orgasm were abdominal exercises, climbing poles or ropes, biking/spinning and weight lifting," Herbenick said. "These data are interesting because they suggest that orgasm is not necessarily a sexual event, and they may also teach us more about the bodily processes underlying women’s experiences of orgasm."
Researchers at Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) have created nanoparticles which could release drugs directly from the cells’ interior. The technology, which has been named “nanopills,” was licensed to the firm Janus Developments of the Barcelona Scientific Park, which verified its tolerance by administering it in vivo.
UAB researchers developed a new vehicle to release proteins with therapeutic effects. This is known as “bacteria-inclusion bodies,” stable insoluble nanoparticles which normally are found in recombinant bacteria. Even though these inclusion bodies traditionally have been an obstacle in the industrial production of soluble enzymes and biodrugs, they were recently recognised as having large amounts of functional proteins with direct values in industrial and biomedical applications.
Humans have been changing the planet ever since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens began altering the land—and the plants and animals growing on it—rather than simply living as hunters and gatherers. Agriculture enabled humans to proliferate and literally changed the face of the planet; today 38% of the earth’s ice-free land has been cleared and cultivated for farming. But it wasn’t until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 that human growth and its impact on the environment began to explode, and that’s the moment when many scientists believe the Anthropocene truly began.
Since then our ranks have ballooned from 1 billion to 7 billion, a rate of reproduction that biologist E.O. Wilson has characterized as “more bacterial than primate.” Today the total human biomass is a hundred times as great as that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the earth.
Of course, humans have been effectively geoengineering the planet for centuries. We were just doing it unconsciously, as a by-product of our relentless expansion. Humans aren’t even the first species to create change on a planetary scale. The earth’s atmosphere is oxygenated because cyanobacteria helped produce that gas more than 2 billion years ago. But even though cyanobacteria weren’t conscious of what they were doing, we are, or at least we should be. Our ability to comprehend the full extent of the human impact on earth puts us in a unique position as planetary gardeners, a responsibility we have no choice but to take on. We have been lucky for much of our species’ existence, blessed by the comfortably warm climate of the Holocene, able to spread our growing numbers across a seemingly limitless planet.
But that age is over, replaced by the uncertainty of the Anthropocene, whether geologists decide to formally call it that or not. We’ll decide whether human beings continue to thrive or flame out, taking the planet down along the way. It may be an unhappy reality, because there’s no guarantee that the Anthropocene—crowded with billions of human beings—will be as conducive to life as the past 12,000 years have been.
Despite a century of research, memory encoding in the brain has remained mysterious. Neuronal synaptic connection strengths are involved, but synaptic components are short-lived while memories last lifetimes. This suggests synaptic information is encoded and hard-wired at a deeper, finer-grained molecular scale.
In an article in the March 8 issue of the journal PLoS Computational Biology, physicists Travis Craddock and Jack Tuszynski of the University of Alberta, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff of the University of Arizona demonstrate a plausible mechanism for encoding synaptic memory in microtubules, major components of the structural cytoskeleton within neurons.
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