The Cell’s Mailroom

Yeast cell showing two mature, or “late” endosomes that are filled with small vesicles.

This illustration of the inside of a yeast cell shows two mature, or “late” endosomes (green-ringed structures) that are filled with small vesicles (red bubbles). Endosomes are cellular containers that can carry many types of cargo, including cellular waste, which they typically dump into vacuoles (orange). Credit: Matthew West and Greg Odorizzi, University of Colorado, Boulder.

In large offices, mailroom workers read the labels on incoming letters and packages to sort and deliver them and dispose of junk mail. In cells, these tasks—as well as importing food and other materials—fall to small cellular sacs called endosomes. Acting as mailroom staff, endosomes sort and deliver nutrients and building blocks, like amino acids, fat and sugars, to their proper destinations, and send cellular junk, like damaged proteins, to trash processors, such as vacuoles or lysosomes. Continue reading

A World Without Pain

In an immersive virtual reality environment called “Snow World,” burn patients distract themselves from their pain by tossing snow balls, building snowmen and interacting with penguins. Credit: Ari Hollander and Howard Rose, copyright Hunter Hoffman, UW, www.vrpain.com Exit icon.

You glide across an icy canyon where you meet smiling snowmen, waddling penguins and a glistening river that winds forever. You toss snowballs, hear them smash against igloos, then watch them explode in vibrant colors.

Back in the real world, a dentist digs around your mouth to remove an impacted tooth, a procedure that really, really hurts. Could experiencing a “virtual” world distract you from the pain? NIGMS grantees David Patterson Exit icon and Hunter Hoffman Exit icon show it can.

Patterson, a psychologist at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, and Hoffman, a UW cognitive psychologist, helped create the virtual reality program “Snow World” in an effort to reduce excessive pain experienced by burn patients. However, the researchers expect Snow World to help alleviate all kinds of pain, including pain experienced during dental procedures. Continue reading

Cool Images: An Independence Day-Inspired Collection

In case you missed the fireworks this weekend, we’ve put together a collection of firework-like images from basic research studies.

Viral Electricity
Viral Electricity Image
This patriotic Koosh ball is an adeno-associated virus. Most people will come into contact with the virus at some point in their lives, and they’ll probably never know it. Even though it doesn’t cause disease—in fact, because it doesn’t cause disease—this virus is scientifically important. Researchers hope to harness the virus’ ability to enter cells and hijack genes and to use it to to deliver gene therapy. This image, created with the software DelPhi, shows which parts of the virus are positively charged (blue) and which parts are negatively charged (red). The charge of a molecule—like the charge of this virus—influences the way it behaves. In addition to helping researchers understand how viruses might enter cells, images like this one could help them understand how molecules interact with each other as well as drugs.

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