Biosciences

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On an unrelated note, the latest food supplement was discontinued

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How peckish penguins find their food 

Animals have used the same technique to search for food that’s in short supply for at least 50 million years, a BBSRC-funded study suggests.

Creatures including penguins search for food using a mathematical pattern of movement called a Lévy walk. It might sound complex, but it is a random search strategy made up of small steps and a few larger steps. Although a Lévy walk is random, it’s the most efficient way to find food when it’s scarce.

Finding food in a timely fashion could be a matter of life or death. Choose the wrong direction and it could be curtains. But moving in a random search pattern is mathematically the best way to find isolated food. 

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Image credit: Christopher Michel

Stay tuned for more (biological) festivities…

Microsoft wants to store data in synthetic DNA to replace hard drives

Tech startup Twist Bioscience announced it is embarking on a new initiative to ultimately help Microsoft store digital data in synthetic DNA. Microsoft has purchased 10 million long oligonucleotides from Twist Bioscience with the ambition of encoding vast amounts of data in the synthetic DNA. Synthetic DNA data storage is superior to current storage methods in these two ways.

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Back with a Vengeance: The Trouble with Defeating Diseases
SOURCE: The University of Texas- Austin 

Millions of people use antibacterial soap daily in order to stay healthy.  This, it turns out, may actually do much more harm than good by contributing to the spread of drug-resistant disease.

Products made using triclosan — a common antibiotic found in everything from hand soap to cleaning wipes to toys — are among University of Texas microbiologist Marvin Whiteley‘s biggest pet peeves. “The problem with that antibiotic is that it’s really not that active against a lot of the bugs you’d hope it would be,” says Whiteley, a professor of molecular biosciences.

But it’s not triclosan’s ineffectiveness that bugs Whiteley. It’s that it weakens other antibiotics. “Bacteria that are susceptible to triclosan become resistant to it, but they also become resistant to antibiotics you might get at the doctor’s office. So you’re proliferating antibiotic resistance,” he warns. “We’re putting millions of pounds of this stuff into the environment.”

(via Back with a Vengeance: The Trouble with Defeating Diseases « Know)

TOP IMAGE Scanning electron micrograph showing Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells (false-colored green) confined within a bacterial “lobster” trap, allowing researchers to study how communities of bacteria interact and develop infections.

BOTTOM IMAGE  Depiction of the antibiotic resistance determinant New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1) after its inactivation of the drug methicillin.

New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1 (NDM-1) is an enzyme that makes bacteria resistant to a broad range of antibiotics. These include the antibiotics of the carbapenem family, which are a mainstay for the treatment of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. 

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Did you know reindeers’ eyes change colour with Arctic seasons?

Researchers have discovered the eyes of Arctic reindeer change colour through the seasons from gold to blue (see top image), adapting to extreme changes of light levels in their environment and helping detect predators.

The BBSRC-funded team from UCL (University College London), and the University of Tromsø, Norway, showed that the colour change helps reindeer to see better in the continuous daylight of summer and continuous darkness of Arctic winters, by changing the sensitivity of the retina to light.

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Top image copyright: Glen Jeffery 

Bottom image copyright: Erling Nordoy 

A promising technique for making brain tumors glow so they’ll be easier for surgeons to remove is now being tested in cancer patients.

Eighteen months ago, Shots first told readers about tumor paint, an experimental substance derived from scorpion venom. Inject tumor paint into a patient’s vein, and it will actually cross the blood-brain barrier and find its way to a brain tumor. Shine near-infrared light on a tumor coated with tumor paint, and the tumor will glow.

Now, after successful tests on dogs, surgeons have used tumor paint on a about a half dozen patients with brain tumors.

Doctors Test Tumor Paint In People

Photo Courtesy of Blaze Bioscience

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Amazing images reveal how kidneys develop

These incredible images have revealed insights into how the kidney develops from a tiny cluster of cells into a complex organ.

The time-lapse pictures of growing mouse kidneys are helping scientists to understand the early stages of development in mammals.

They identified a key molecule called beta-catenin that instructs cells to form specialised structures within the kidney. These structures – called nephrons –are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood to generate urine.

If nephrons don’t work properly, it can cause a wide range of health problems — from abnormal water and salt loss, to dangerously high blood pressure. The findings will help scientists to grow nephrons in the lab that can be used to study how kidneys function.

Using the time-lapse technique also means that the same mice can be studied over time, at different developmental stages. This significantly reduces the number of animals needed for this type of research.

The research was funded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research.

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Images credit: Dr Nils Lindstromm University of Edinburgh

vimeo

Scientist shows bacteria could control robots

Warren Ruder, assistant professor of biological systems engineering in both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering, has Virginia Tech has developed a mathematical model that proves that robots can run off a bacterial brain.

“Basically we were trying to find out from the mathematical model if we could build a living microbiome on a nonliving host and control the host through the microbiome. We found that robots may indeed be able to have working brains.”

[read more] [paper]

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Phylos Bioscience startup made a 3-D interactive map of almost 1,000 marijuana strains

On Wednesday, Oregon startup Phylos Bioscience is releasing Galaxy online in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History. Described on its website as “a 3-D visualization of the cannabis world,” Galaxy looks like outer space, since the closer strains are to each other, the more alike they are, and vice versa. Here’s how it was made.

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World Oceans Day is the UN-recognized day of ocean celebration and action, and has taken place every June 8th since its proposal in 1992 at the Earth Summit. The theme for this year? Healthy oceans, healthy planet. 

In honor of World Oceans Day, enjoy this selection of articles from BioScience:

  1. Dynamic Ocean Management: Identifying the Critical Ingredients of Dynamic Approaches to Ocean Resource Management
  2. Icefield-to-Ocean Linkages across the Northern Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest Ecosystem
  3. Reconsidering Ocean Calamities
  4. Ocean Acidification 2.0: Managing our Changing Coastal Ocean Chemistry
  5. Improving Ocean Management through the Use of Ecological Principles and Integrated Ecosystem Assessments
  6. Questioning the Rise of Gelatinous Zooplankton in the World’s Oceans
  7. Will the Oceans Help Feed Humanity?

Image Credit: “Ocean Colours 1” by TassieEye. CC BY NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr.

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The secrets of cell development

Amazingly, all the cells in our body have exactly the same DNA and yet still manage to be completely different and carry out different jobs, from pumping our hearts to fighting off infections!

We have epigenetic marks to thank for this. Epigenetic marks (special molecules that attach at certain areas of the DNA) control how a DNA sequence is read and provide a mechanism for cell memory, without affecting the DNA sequence itself. These marks allow cells to interpret the uniform genetic information in different ways, by switching different genes on or off. The marks also help cells to remember which genes should be on and off and they can also pass this information onto other cells during cell division.

Without these epigenetic mechanisms cells would lose their identity, and to some extent that is what happens in diseases like cancer.

BBSRC-funded Professor Wolf Reik and Dr Fatima Santos, from the University Of Cambridge and The Babraham Institute, are studying stem cells, like the cells above, to find out more about epigenetic information: research which is providing us with new approaches to improve the potential of stem cells for regenerative medicine.

Copyright: Dr Fatima Santos

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