Remember that second-grade science project when you watched bean plants grow toward a light source? Little did you know, you were researching heliotropism. Tropism in plants is turning toward or away from a stimulus such as sunlight, gravity, or water. And now there's a new tropism to investigate, although not for second graders.

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Like a kid hovering over an ant with a magnifying glass, you can easily fry a worm with a microscope. But if you could do it without zapping the subjects, long exposure imaging would be immensely helpful for studying a cell process like development in a living Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. In a pair of just published papers—one in Nature Biotechnology yesterday and another in Nature Methods on October 6—Hari Shroff, tenure-track investigator at the NIH, unveiled a pair of new microscopes that offer an alternative solution to the problem of light-blasted subjects.

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Big discoveries can turn up in unexpected places, such as neurons of the Pacific electric ray, Torpedo californica. That was the start of Richard H. Scheller's path to the 2013 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which he received last week. Along with Thomas C. Südhof of Stanford University, Scheller won for their independent investigations into the regulatory mechanisms of neurotransmitter release.

Published in ASCB Post
Monday, 16 September 2013 00:00

TALENs Fix Problems in Cellular Powerhouses

Three-person in-vitro fertilization sounds like something out of science fiction—or pulp fiction—but until recently it was the only known technique to prevent women who have damaging mitochondrial DNA mutations from passing on life-threatening disorders to their babies. And it is illegal in the U.S (clinical trials required by the FDA have not been completed). Now researchers at the University of Miami have demonstrated a new strategy that could one day treat these disorders both in adult carriers and in their already born children.

Published in ASCB Post
Monday, 19 August 2013 00:00

The Other PIP2 in Endocytosis

Our bodies and our cells need specialized fats. Our cells eat through a process called endocytosis, which is critical for cells to take up nutrients from their environment. Embedded in the cell membrane, phosphoinositides are specialized lipids crucial during endocytosis and subsequent steps. They can be modified by protein kinases and phosphatases that alter their phosphorylation pattern in one of five places, indicated by the number(s) in the name. Thus was born the PIP family. PIP2, for example, is PtdIns(4,5)P2 phosphorylated in positions 4 and 5.

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The NIH is building its portfolio in the emerging field of extracellular RNAs, known as exRNAs, with the announcement of $17 million in awards to support basic research aimed at understanding this newly discovered type of cell-to-cell interaction. NIH believes that exRNAs could play a role in numerous conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. The Extracellular RNA Collaborative is a trans-NIH initiative, linking the efforts of five NIH institutes in pushing basic research into exRNAs.

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The sun floods into the Physiology course break room at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) less than a block away from the narrow inlet between the mainland and Naushon Island that gives Woods Hole, MA, its name. Woods Hole is at the shoulder of Cape Cod, a popular summer vacation destination. In the harbor, vintage sailboats carry sunbathers, giant ferries take tourists to Martha's Vineyard, and the MBL work boat brings squid harvested from Vineyard Sound to neuroscience labs. But the 27 graduate students and postdocs who are enrolled in MBL's legendary Physiology course have little time for the sights. Instead, the students use the break room to refuel, analyze data, and argue about PALM vs. STORM or the latest on tropomyosin. Then it's back to the Physiology lab where the students live 16 hours a day for seven weeks. Asked about a famous beach up the road, a Physiology student sighed, "I've been there once."

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For nearly 30 years, cell biologists have investigated—and argued about—how proteins move through an organelle that resembles stacks of pita bread, the Golgi apparatus. The Golgi, named for its discoverer, the great Italian microscopist, Camillo Golgi, is a series of protein processing and sorting compartments in which the pita pockets are called Golgi cisternae. The apparatus though works less like a bakery and more like a series of factory buildings where important accessories are added to proteins. Inside each factory building, specialized workers (enzymes) add different modifications and sort the cargo (proteins).

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The name "Sonic hedgehog" may conjure up images of Sega's blue videogame character, tumbling across a screen and collecting gold rings, but its namesake, the human gene Sonic hedgehog, encodes a protein (SHH) whose role in the body is anything but light entertainment.

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Under a microscope in Ghana, deadly pathogens look beautiful. Little squiggles of green and blue highlight the cell nuclei of trypanosomes, the protozoa responsible for African sleeping sickness. For the past two weeks, 26 West African students learned skills and techniques that will help them conduct research on these and other infectious pathogens. The courses took place June 17- June 29, 2013, at the University of Ghana, a few miles outside Accra.

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