Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

For most of us, managing our health means visiting a doctor. The more serious our concerns, the more specialized a medical expert we seek. Our bodies often feel like foreign and frightening lands, and we are happy to let someone with an MD serve as our tour guide. For most of us, our own DNA never makes it onto our personal reading list.

Biohackers are on a mission to change all that. These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.

In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.

via Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology? – Technology Review.

Scientists ferret out a key pathway for aging

For decades, scientists have been searching for the fundamental biological secrets of how eating less extends lifespan.

It has been well documented in species ranging from spiders to monkeys that a diet with consistently fewer calories can dramatically slow the process of aging and improve health in old age. But how a reduced diet acts at the most basic level to influence metabolism and physiology to blunt the age-related decline of tissues and cells has remained, for the most part, a mystery.

Now, writing in the current online issue (Nov. 18) of the journal Cell, a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and their colleagues describe a molecular pathway that is a key determinant of the aging process. The finding not only helps explain the cascade of events that contributes to aging, but also provides a rational basis for devising interventions, drugs that may retard aging and contribute to better health in old age. Continue reading “Scientists ferret out a key pathway for aging”

New study into bladder regeneration heralds organ replacement treatment

Researchers in the United States have developed a medical model for regenerating bladders using stem cells harvested from a patient’s own bone marrow. The research, published in STEM CELLS, is especially relevant for paediatric patients suffering from abnormally developed bladders, but also represents another step towards new organ replacement therapies.

The research, led by Dr Arun Sharma and Earl Cheng from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and Children’s Memorial Research Center, focused on bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) taken from the patient. Previously studies into the regenerative capacity of cells in bladders have focused on animal models, but these have translated poorly in clinical settings. Continue reading “New study into bladder regeneration heralds organ replacement treatment”

Silencing growth inhibitors could help recovery from brain injury

Silencing natural growth inhibitors may make it possible to regenerate nerves damaged by brain or spinal cord injury, finds a study from Children’s Hospital Boston. In a mouse study published in the November 7 issue of Science, researchers temporarily silenced genes that prevent mature neurons from regenerating, and caused them to recover and re-grow vigorously after damage. Continue reading “Silencing growth inhibitors could help recovery from brain injury”

New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers

A drug which was developed in Cambridge and initially designed to treat a form of leukaemia has also proven effective against combating the debilitating neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

The study, led by researchers from the University of Cambridge, has found that alemtuzumab not only stops MS from advancing in patients with early stage active relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) but may also restore lost function caused by the disease. The findings were published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Continue reading “New hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers”

Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes

A powerful antioxidant in green tea may prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, Medical College of Georgia researchers say.

Researchers were testing EGCG, green tea’s predominant antioxidant, in a laboratory mouse with type 1 diabetes and primary Sjogren’s syndrome, which damages moisture-producing glands, causing dry mouth and eyes. Continue reading “Green tea may delay onset of type 1 diabetes”

Gene therapy restores vision to mice with retinal degeneration

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have used gene therapy to restore useful vision to mice with degeneration of the light-sensing retinal rods and cones, a common cause of human blindness. Their report, appearing in the Oct. 14 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describes the effects of broadly expressing a light-sensitive protein in other neuronal cells found throughout the retina. Continue reading “Gene therapy restores vision to mice with retinal degeneration”

Computer model reveals cells’ inner workings

After spending years developing a computational model to help illuminate cell signaling pathways, a team of MIT researchers decided to see what would happen if they “broke” the model.

The results, reported in the Oct. 17 issue of the journal Cell, reveal new ways in which cells process chemical information and could indicate how to maximize the effectiveness of disease treatments such as chemotherapy. Continue reading “Computer model reveals cells’ inner workings”

Could Dr. House be replaced by a computer?

Scientists know that different normal and diseased tissues behave differently. But a method that tells them just how they do so may one day give medical science a new way to fight obesity, hypertension, diabetes and other dangerous disorders of the metabolism.

Until now, scientists had to rely on basic observations at the cellular level, since they lacked information about the metabolic processes of individual organs, such as the liver, heart and brain.

But a new computational approach developed by computer scientists Tomer Shlomi, Moran Cabili and Prof. Eytan Ruppin from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv University may help science gain a clearer overall picture of the metabolic processes in our different tissues. Continue reading “Could Dr. House be replaced by a computer?”

Border control: Study shows how proteins permit entry to a cell

The means by which proteins provide a ‘border control’ service, allowing cells to take up chemicals and substances from their surroundings, whilst keeping others out, is revealed in unprecedented molecular detail for the first time today (16 October) in Science Express. Continue reading “Border control: Study shows how proteins permit entry to a cell”

Waste from gut bacteria helps host control weight

A single molecule in the intestinal wall, activated by the waste products from gut bacteria, plays a large role in controlling whether the host animals are lean or fatty, a research team, including scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center, has found in a mouse study.

When activated, the molecule slows the movement of food through the intestine, allowing the animal to absorb more nutrients and thus gain weight. Without this signal, the animals weigh less. Continue reading “Waste from gut bacteria helps host control weight”

Study unlocks stem cell DNA secrets

In a groundbreaking study led by an eminent molecular biologist at Florida State University, researchers have discovered that as embryonic stem cells turn into different cell types, there are dramatic corresponding changes to the order in which DNA is replicated and reorganized.

The findings bridge a critical knowledge gap for stem cell biologists, enabling them to better understand the enormously complex process by which DNA is repackaged during differentiation — when embryonic stem cells, jacks of all cellular trades, lose their anything-goes attitude and become masters of specialized functions.

Continue reading “Study unlocks stem cell DNA secrets”

Fat-regenerating ‘stem cells’ found in mice

Researchers have identified stem cells with the capacity to build fat, according to a report in the October 17th issue of the journal Cell, a Cell Press publication. Although they have yet to show that the cells can renew themselves, transplants of the progenitor cells isolated from the fat tissue of normal mice can restore normal fat tissue in animals that are otherwise lacking it.

The findings may yield insight into the causes of obesity, a condition characterized by an increase in both the size and number of fat cells. Continue reading “Fat-regenerating ‘stem cells’ found in mice”

The role of stem cells in renewing the cornea

A group of researchers in Switzerland has published a study appearing in the Oct 1 advance online edition of the Journal Nature that shows how the cornea uses stem cells to repair itself.

Using mouse models they demonstrate that everyday wear and tear on the cornea is repaired from stem cells residing in the corneal epithelium, and that more serious repair jobs require the involvement of other stem cells that migrate from the limbus, a region between the cornea and the conjunctiva, the white part of the eye. Continue reading “The role of stem cells in renewing the cornea”

Biology in Pictures: Clot forming in artery

Clot forming in artery on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

Scientists identify a molecule that coordinates the movement of cells

Even cells commute. To get from their birthplace to their work site, they sequentially attach to and detach from an elaborate track of exceptionally strong proteins known as the extracellular matrix. Now, in research to appear in the October 3 issue of Cell, scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Rockefeller University show that a molecule, called ACF7, helps regulate and power this movement from the inside – findings that could have implications for understanding how cancer cells metastasize. Continue reading “Scientists identify a molecule that coordinates the movement of cells”

Newly discovered molecule promises better treatments for heart attacks, heart surgery

Scientists have discovered a compound that could lead to new treatments for heart attacks as well as methods to protect hearts during open heart surgery and other situations in which blood flow to the heart is interrupted.

In the process, the researchers uncovered cellular mechanisms that help explain how alcohol can protect against heart attack damage. In addition, they have uncovered a possible key to reducing chest pain and the heart attack damage among millions of people of East Asian descent who are genetically unable to respond to nitroglycerin and other cardiovascular treatments.
Continue reading “Newly discovered molecule promises better treatments for heart attacks, heart surgery”

Eating veggies could help with chronic lung disease

You know it’s good for you in other ways, but could eating your broccoli also help patients with chronic lung disease? It just might.

According to recent research from Johns Hopkins Medical School, a decrease in lung concentrations of NRF2-dependent antioxidants, key components of the lung’s defense system against inflammatory injury, is linked to the severity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in smokers. Broccoli is known to contain a compound that prevents the degradation of NFRP.
Continue reading “Eating veggies could help with chronic lung disease”

Biology in Pictures: “monster” cell – triple labeled

This is a “monster” culture cell – a huge mutant with two nuclei and one centrosome. A normal cell can be seen at the lower right.

“monster” cell – triple labeled on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

Learning Suffers If Brain Transcript Isn’t Transported Far Out To End Of Neurons

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center have solved a mystery that lies at the heart of human learning, and they say the solution may help explain some forms of mental retardation as well as provide clues to overall brain functioning. Continue reading “Learning Suffers If Brain Transcript Isn’t Transported Far Out To End Of Neurons”

Prevailing theory of aging challenged in worm study

Age may not be rust after all. Specific genetic instructions drive aging in worms, report researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Their discovery contradicts the prevailing theory that aging is a buildup of tissue damage akin to rust, and implies science might eventually halt or even reverse the ravages of age.
Continue reading “Prevailing theory of aging challenged in worm study”

A new cellular pathway linked to cancer

In the life of a cell, the response to DNA damage determines whether the cell is fated to pause and repair itself, commit suicide, or grow uncontrollably, a route leading to cancer. In a new study, published in the July 25th issue of Cell, scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center have identified a way that cells respond to DNA damage through a process that targets proteins for disposal. The finding points to a new pathway for the development of cancer and suggests a new way of sensitizing cancer cells to treatment.
Continue reading “A new cellular pathway linked to cancer”

Biology in Pictures: Microangiopathic Hemolytic Anemia

Morphology: Thrombocytopenia, 4+ schizocytes, 3+ spherocytes, 4+ polychromatophilic rbc.

Diagnosis: Disseminated carcinomatosis with DIC

DIC With Microangiopathic Hemolytic Anemia on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

Scientists have developed a new method for making biological ‘chips’

Protein chips – or ‘protein arrays’ as they are more commonly known – are objects such as slides that have proteins attached to them and allow important scientific data about the behaviour of proteins to be gathered.

Functional protein arrays could give scientists the ability to run tests on tens of thousands of different proteins simultaneously, observing how they interact with cells, other proteins, DNA and drugs.
Continue reading “Scientists have developed a new method for making biological ‘chips’”

Relearning process not always a ‘free lunch’

Researchers at Sheffield University and the University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom, have helped determine why relearning a few pieces of information may or may not easily cause a recollection of other associated, previously learned information. The key, they find, is in the way in which the learned information is forgotten. Details are published August 22nd in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.
Continue reading “Relearning process not always a ‘free lunch’”

Being a control freak aids dividing cells

Micromanagers may generate resentment in an office setting, but they get results in your body. New data indicate that a dividing cell takes micromanagement to the extreme, tagging more than 14,000 different sites on its proteins with phosphate, a molecule that typically serves as a signal for a variety of biological processes.

This preponderance of signals suggests that the cell may become a control freak during the division process, regulating each of its parts, no matter how obscure. It may take extreme measures to ensure that each “daughter” receives a full complement of cellular material. The new data—published online in PNAS—open unexplored frontiers to developmental biologists, cancer researchers, and others who study cell growth and proliferation.
Continue reading “Being a control freak aids dividing cells”

Researchers Unveil Near-complete Protein Catalog For Mitochondria

Imagine trying to figure out how your car’s power train works from just a few of its myriad components: It would be nearly impossible. Scientists have long faced a similar challenge in understanding cells’ tiny powerhouses — called “mitochondria” — from scant knowledge of their molecular parts.

Now, an international team of researchers has created the most comprehensive “parts list” to date for mitochondria, a compendium that includes nearly 1,100 proteins. By mining this critical resource, the researchers have already gained deep insights into the biological roles and evolutionary histories of several key proteins. In addition, this careful cataloging has identified a mutation in a novel protein-coding gene as the cause behind one devastating mitochondrial disease.
Continue reading “Researchers Unveil Near-complete Protein Catalog For Mitochondria”

Supercomputer explores biochemical landscape to find memory switches

Switches are a part of daily life, from snoozing your alarm, turning on the coffee maker, firing up your car engine, and so on until we turn off the lights at night. Researchers have now cataloged even more templates of possible switches within a living cell than we use throughout our day.

A colorful "map" of switches within cells was created by Naren Ramakrishnan at Virginia Tech and Upinder S. Bhalla at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India, using Virginia Tech’s SystemX supercomputer. Every little square in the picture is a "switch." The lines indicate the relationship between the switches.
A colorful "map" of switches within cells was created by Naren Ramakrishnan at Virginia Tech and Upinder S. Bhalla at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in India, using Virginia Tech’s SystemX supercomputer. Every little square in the picture is a "switch." The lines indicate the relationship between the switches.

Continue reading “Supercomputer explores biochemical landscape to find memory switches”

Biology enters ‘The Matrix’ through new computer language

Ever since the human genome was sequenced less than 10 years ago, researchers have been able to access a dizzying plethora of genomic information with a simple click of a mouse. This digitizing of genomic data—and its public access—is something that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier.
Continue reading “Biology enters ‘The Matrix’ through new computer language”

Excellent animation explaining the mechanism of RNAi technology

This superb animation from Youtube explains the RNA interference mechanism that recently won the Nobel prize for its discovery. The original video is from the journal Nature.

Hot peppers really do bring the heat

Chili peppers can do more than just make you feel hot, reports a study in the August 1 Journal of Biological Chemistry; the active chemical in peppers can directly induce thermogenesis, the process by which cells convert energy into heat.

Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that contributes to their spiciness; CPS stimulates a receptor found in sensory neurons, creating the heat sensation and subsequent reactions like redness and sweating. Continue reading “Hot peppers really do bring the heat”

When neurons fire up: Study sheds light on rhythms of the brain

In our brains, groups of neurons fire up simultaneously for just milliseconds at a time, in random rhythms, similar to twinkling lightning bugs in our backyards. New research from neuroscientists at Indiana University and the University of Montreal provides a model — a rhyme and reason — for this random synchronization.
Continue reading “When neurons fire up: Study sheds light on rhythms of the brain”

Researchers discover cell’s ‘quality control’ mechanism

Discovery may lead to new treatments for cystic fibrosis, other inherited diseases

Researchers in Japan and Canada have discovered a key component of the quality control mechanism that operates inside human cells – sometimes too well. The breakthrough has significant implications for the development of new treatments for cystic fibrosis (CF) and some other hereditary diseases, the researchers say. Their results were published July 25 in the journal Science.
Continue reading “Researchers discover cell’s ‘quality control’ mechanism”

First-Ever Recording of Blood Vessel Development During the Formation of an Organ

 

A new microscope system that can take 3-D pictures of an embryonic mouse organ over 24 to 48 hours has shown Duke Medical Center researchers the first glimpse of the formation of blood vessels during development.

Among other things, a team lead by cell biologist Blanche Capel, Ph.D., has found a previously unknown mechanism in the formation of blood vessels that may help scientists better understand how a tumor rallies a blood supply to its aid. Continue reading “First-Ever Recording of Blood Vessel Development During the Formation of an Organ”

Regulatory B Cells Do Exist – and could prevent allergies

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have uncovered definitive evidence that a small but potent subset of immune system B cells is able to regulate inflammation.

Using a new set of scientific tools to identify and count these cells, the team showed that these B cells can block contact hypersensitivity, the type of skin reactions that many people have when they brush against poison ivy. Continue reading “Regulatory B Cells Do Exist – and could prevent allergies”

Major Step Forward In Understanding How Memory Works

Our ability to remember the objects, places and people within our environment is essential for everyday life, although the importance of this is only fully appreciated when recognition memory beings to fail, as in Alzheimer’s disease.

By blocking certain mechanisms that control the way that nerve cells in the brain communicate, scientists from the University of Bristol have been able to prevent visual recognition memory in rats.

A single neuron (centre) in the perirhinal cortex which is involved in memory processes. (Credit: Photo by Andy Doherty) Continue reading “Major Step Forward In Understanding How Memory Works”

Researchers unmask proteins in telomerase, a substance that enables cancer

One of the more intriguing workhorses of the cell, a protein conglomerate called telomerase, has in its short history been implicated in some critical areas of medicine including cancer, aging and keeping stem cells healthy. With such a resume, telomerase has been the subject of avid interest by basic scientists and pharmaceutical companies alike, so you’d think at the very least people would know what it is.

Continue reading “Researchers unmask proteins in telomerase, a substance that enables cancer”

Scientists identify new longevity genes

Scientists at the University of Washington and other institutions have identified 25 genes regulating lifespan in two organisms separated by about 1.5 billion years in evolutionary change. At least 15 of those genes have very similar versions in humans, suggesting that scientists may be able to target those genes to help slow down the aging process and treat age-related conditions.

Continue reading “Scientists identify new longevity genes”

Fascinating split brain behavioral experiments

To reduce the severity of his seizures, Joe had the bridge between his left and right cerebral hemisphers (the corpus callosum) severed. As a result, his left and right brains no longer communicate through that pathway. This is an extraordinary insight into the machinary of the mind. Here’s what happens as a result:

Researchers make first direct observation of 3-D molecule folding in real time

All the crucial proteins in our bodies must fold into complex shapes to do their jobs. These snarled molecules grip other molecules to move them around, to speed up important chemical reactions or to grab onto our genes, turning them “on” and “off” to affect which proteins our cells make.
Continue reading “Researchers make first direct observation of 3-D molecule folding in real time”

What gives us fingertip dexterity?

In a novel experiment, a USC biomedical engineer examines the intricate circuitry between hand manipulation skills and specialized neural circuits in the brain

Quickly moving your fingertips to tap or press a surface is essential for everyday life to, say, pick up small objects, use a BlackBerry or an iPhone. But researchers at the University of Southern California say that this seemingly trivial action is the result of a complex neuro-motor-mechanical process orchestrated with precision timing by the brain, nervous system and muscles of the hand

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. Continue reading “What gives us fingertip dexterity?”

Researchers find trigger gene for muscle development

University of Oregon scientists say they have identified a gene that is the key switch that allows embryonic cells to form into muscles in zebrafish.oregonresear.jpg Continue reading “Researchers find trigger gene for muscle development”

JoVE: Youtube for scientists

I have been following JoVE is the Journal of Visualized Experiments, for some time. This very unique “video journal” focuses on publishing videos of experimental procedures in life sciences.

Today I learned JoVE may soon be indexed on Pubmed, which will give it a credibility of peer reviewed scientific journal. Apparently they have also signed agreement with established science publishing companies (Annual Reviews, Springer Protocols, Current Protocols) for joint protocol publication, as in this example.. I think this is extremely useful for scientists or those who want to see actual experiments done. It will be interesting to see how it develops and accepted in scientific community.

Aging gracefully requires taking out the trash

Suppressing a cellular cleanup-mechanism known as autophagy can accelerate the accumulation of protein aggregates that leads to neural degeneration. In an upcoming issue of Autophagy, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report for the first time that the opposite is true as well: Boosting autophagy in the nervous system of fruit flies prevented the age-dependent accumulation of cellular damage in neurons and promoted longevity.

 

Continue reading “Aging gracefully requires taking out the trash”

Researchers create mathematical model of fruit fly eyes

Many researchers have tried to create a mathematical model of how cells pack together to form tissue, but most models have many different complicated factors, and no model is universal.

Researchers at Northwestern University have now created a functional equation — using only two parameters — to show how cells pack together to create the eyes of Drosophila, better known as the fruit fly. They hope that the pared-down equation can be applied to different kinds of tissues, leading to advances in regenerative medicine.

Continue reading “Researchers create mathematical model of fruit fly eyes”

10-fold life span extension reported in simple organism

Biologists have created baker’s yeast capable of living to 800 in yeast years without apparent side effects. The basic but important discovery, achieved through a combination of dietary and genetic changes, brings science closer to controlling the survival and health of the unit of all living systems: the cell.
Continue reading “10-fold life span extension reported in simple organism”

Drug that targets cannabinoid receptors cuts appetite, burns more energy

The first clinical studies of an experimental drug have revealed that obese people who take it for 12 weeks lose weight, even at very low doses. Short-term studies also suggest that the drug, called taranabant—the second drug designed to fight obesity by blocking cannabinoid receptors in the brain—causes people to consume fewer calories and burn more, researchers report in the January issue of Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press. Cannabinoid receptors are responsible for the psychological effects of marijuana (Cannabis sativa), and natural “endocannabinoids” are important regulators of energy balance.

Continue reading “Drug that targets cannabinoid receptors cuts appetite, burns more energy”

New insight into factors that drive muscle-building stem cells

A report in the January issue of Cell Metabolism, a publication of Cell Press, provides new evidence explaining how stem cells known as satellite cells contribute to building muscles up in response to exercise. These findings could lead to treatments for reversing or improving the muscle loss that occurs in diseases such as cancer and AIDS as well as in the normal aging process, according to the researchers.

Continue reading “New insight into factors that drive muscle-building stem cells”