This image of flowers visited by a bird is made of DNA, the molecule that provides the genetic instructions for making living organisms. It shows the latest capability of a technique called DNA origami to precisely twist and fold DNA into complex arrangements, which might find future use in biomedical applications.Continue reading “Cool Image: DNA Origami”
Tag: Cool Tools/Techniques
Bacteria hold a vast reservoir of compounds with therapeutic potential. They use these compounds, known as secondary metabolites, to protect themselves against their enemies. We use them in many antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and other treatments.
Scientists interested in developing new medicines have no shortage of places to look for secondary metabolites. There are an estimated 120,000 to 150,000 bacterial species on Earth. Each species is capable of producing hundreds of secondary metabolites, but often only under specific ecological conditions. The challenge for researchers is figuring out how to coax the bacteria to produce these compounds.
Now, Brian Bachmann and John McLean of Vanderbilt University and their teams have shown that by creating “fight clubs” where bacteria compete with one another, they can trigger the bacteria to make a wide diversity of molecules, including secondary metabolites. Continue reading “Bacterial ‘Fight Clubs’ and the Search for New Medicines”
Last month, we shared some facts about the microbes that inhabit us. Here’s another: From head to toe, our skin bacteria coexist with chemicals in hygiene products, fibers from clothes and proteins shed by dead or dying skin cells.
These images highlight the complex composition of our body’s largest organ. They show the association between microbial diversity (top images) and skin chemistry (middle images). The different colors note the abundance of a certain bacterium or molecule—red is high, and blue is low. The skin maps remind NIH Director Francis Collins of a 60’s rock album cover. Continue reading “Mapping Our Skin’s Microbes and Molecules”
- Go to http://fred.publichealth.
- Select “Get Started”
- Pick a state and city
- Play both simulations
To help the public better understand how measles can spread, a team of infectious disease computer modelers at the University of Pittsburgh has launched a free, mobile-friendly tool that lets users simulate measles outbreaks in cities across the country.
The tool is part of the Pitt team’s Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics, or FRED, that it previously developed to simulate flu epidemics. FRED is based on anonymized U.S. census data that captures demographic and geographic distributions of different communities. It also incorporates details about the simulated disease, such as how contagious it is.
One of the items on biomedical researchers’ “to-do” list is devising noninvasive ways to control the activity of specific genes or cells in order to study what those genes or cells do and, ultimately, to treat a range of human diseases and disorders.
A team of scientists recently reported progress on a new, noninvasive system that could remotely and rapidly control biological targets in living animals. The system can be activated remotely using either low-frequency radio waves or a magnetic field. Similar radio wave technology operates automatic garage-door openers and remote control car keys and is used in medicine to control electronic pacemakers noninvasively. Magnetic fields are used to activate sensors in burglar alarm systems and to turn your laptop to hibernate mode when the cover is closed. Continue reading “Remotely and Noninvasively Controlling Genes and Cells in Living Animals”
If you’re a fan of the reality TV show Shark Tank, you tune in to watch aspiring entrepreneurs present their ideas and try to get one of the investors to help develop and market the products. Afterward, you might start to think about what you could invent.
Maureen L. Mulvihill has never watched the show, but she lives it every day. She is co-founder, president and CEO of Actuated Medical, Inc. (AMI), a Pennsylvania-based company that develops specialized medical devices. The devices include a system for unclogging feeding tubes, motors that assist MRI-related procedures and needles that gently draw blood.
AMI’s products rely on the same motion-control technologies that allow a quartz watch to keep time, a microphone to project sound and even a telescope to focus on a distant object in a sky. In general, the devices are portable, affordable and unobtrusive, making them appealing to doctors and patients.
Mulvihill, who’s trained in an area of engineering called materials science, says, “I’m really focused on how to translate technologies into ways that help people.” Continue reading “Meet Maureen L. Mulvihill”
It’s not every day that we log into Facebook and Twitter to see conversations about denaturing proteins and the possibility of reducing biotechnology costs, but that changed last week when a story about “unboiling” eggs became a trending topic.
Since NIGMS partially funded the research advance that led to the media scramble, we asked our scientific expert Jean Chin to tell us more about it.
What’s the advance?
Gregory Weiss of the University of California, Irvine, and his collaborators have designed a device that basically unties proteins that have been tangled together. Continue reading “Untangling a Trending Topic”
It’s not unusual for the standard dose of a drug to work well for one person but be less effective for another. One reason for such differences is that individuals can break down drugs at different rates, leading to different concentrations of drugs and of their breakdown products (metabolites) in the bloodstream. A promising new process called slug-flow microextraction could make it faster, easier and more affordable to regularly monitor drug metabolites so that medication dosages could be tailored to each patient’s needs, an approach known as personalized medicine. This technique could also allow researchers to better monitor people’s responses to new drug treatments during clinical trials. Continue reading “New Streamlined Technique for Processing Biological Samples”
E. coli bacteria help us digest our food, produce vitamin K and have served as a model organism in research for decades. Now, they might one day be harnessed as environmental or medical sensors and long-term data storage devices .
MIT researchers Timothy Lu and Fahim Farzadfard modified the DNA of E. coli cells so that the cells could be deployed to detect a signal (for example, a small molecule, a drug or the presence of light) in their surroundings. To create the modified E. coli, the scientists inserted into the bacteria a custom-designed genetic tool.
When exposed to the specified signal, the tool triggers a series of biochemical processes that work together to introduce a single mutation at a specific site in the E. coli’s DNA. This genetic change serves to record exposure to the signal, and it’s passed on to subsequent generations of bacteria, providing a continued record of exposure to the signal. In essence, the modified bacteria act like a hard drive, storing biochemical memory for long periods of time. The memory can be retrieved by sequencing the bacteria or through a number of other laboratory techniques. Continue reading “E. Coli Bacteria as Medical Sensors and Hard Drives?”
Like snapping Lego blocks together to build a fanciful space station, scientists have developed a new way to assemble a microfluidics system, a sophisticated laboratory tool for manipulating small volumes of fluids.
Microfluidics systems are used by scientists to perform tasks as diverse as DNA analysis, microbe detection and disease diagnosis. Traditionally, they have been slow and expensive to produce, as each individual “lab on a chip” had to be built from scratch in a special facility.
Now, researchers including Noah Malmstadt of the University of Southern California have harnessed 3-D printing technology to create a faster, cheaper, easier-to-use system . The team first identified the smallest functional pieces of a microfluidics system. Each of these pieces performs one simple task like detecting the size of fluid droplets or mixing two fluids together. After 3-D printing individual components, the team showed that they could be snapped together by hand into a working system in a matter of hours. The individual pieces can be pulled apart and re-assembled as needed before use in an actual experiment, which was impossible with the traditional microfluidics systems.
The researchers have created eight block-like components so far. They hope to start an online community where scientists will share designs for additional components in an open-source database, helping to speed further development of the technology.
This work was funded in part by NIH under grant R01GM093279.