Biology News

Two-lock box delivers cancer therapy Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 14:58

Rice University scientists have designed a tunable virus that works like a safe deposit box. It takes two keys to open it and release its therapeutic cargo. The Rice lab of bioengineer Junghae Suh has developed an adeno-associated virus (AAV) that unlocks only in the presence of two selected proteases, enzymes that cut up other proteins for disposal. Because certain proteases are elevated at tumor sites, the viruses can be designed to target and destroy the cancer cells.

With Self-Fumigation, Darwin’s Finches Combat Deadly Parasitic Flies Monday, May 5, 2014 - 11:00

Researchers have found a way to protect threatened Darwin's finches on the Galápagos Islands from deadly parasitic nest flies in a manner that's as simple as it is ingenious: by offering the birds insecticide-treated cotton for incorporation into their nests. The study, reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 5, shows that the birds will readily weave the protective fibers in. What's more, the researchers find that just one gram of treated cotton is enough to keep a nest essentially parasite-free.


Butterflies and bees drink from crocodile tears Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 09:20

We are warned to beware of ‘crocodile tears’ but in nature they apparently help satisfy the need of insects for essential minerals. When aquatic ecologist Carlos de la Rosa observed a butterfly (Dryas iulia) and a bee (Centris sp.) sipping tears from a crocodile (Caiman crocodilus) on the banks of the Río Puerto Viejo in northeastern Costa Rica, he captured the moment on film. The observation prompted Dr de la Rosa to ask why the insects might be behaving in this way. The answer is that they are probably seeking difficult-to-source minerals such as salt, as well as a boost of protein.

Neandertal demise due to interbreeding and assimilation rather than inferiority Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 16:00

The demise of Neandertals approximately 40,000 years ago has been routinely explained in terms of inferiority of Neandertals in both cultural traditions and cognitive capacity compared to modern humans (Homo sapiens). However, a new study suggests that the archaeological record does not support theories that the Neandertals were substantially inferior in areas such as weaponry, subsistence strategies, use of space, innovation capacity and use of technologies such as heat treatment.


Study identifies novel regulator of key gene expression in cancer Wednesday, April 30, 2014 - 11:51

Scientists at the Salk Institute have identified a key genetic switch linked to the development, progression and outcome of cancer, a finding that may lead to new targets for cancer therapies. The switch, a string of amino acids dubbed a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA), does not code for proteins like regular RNA. Instead, the scientists found, this particular lncRNA acts as an on/off switch for a key gene, COX-2, whose excessive activity is tied to inflammation and cancer.


Crabs are killing New England saltmarshes Monday, April 28, 2014 - 11:20

Two newly published studies by a team of Brown University researchers provide ample new evidence that the reason coastal saltmarshes are dying from Long Island to Cape Cod is that hungry crabs, left unchecked by a lack of predators, are eating the cordgrass.


Personalised medicine in space? Animal studies suggest some astronauts at risk for cognitive impairment Friday, April 25, 2014 - 10:48

A study on rats exposed to proton irradiation, simulating that experienced by astronauts on two-year planetary missions, indicates that some astronauts may be at risk of cognitive impairment. A substantial sub-group of the radiation-exposed rats displayed decreased accuracy, increased premature responding, increased attention lapses and slower reaction times in a rodent version of the human psychomotor vigilance test (PVT). This appears to be due to changes in the dopamine transporter system. The study, from researchers in Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is published in the current issue of the journal Radiation Research.


Researchers Build New "Off Switch" to Shut Down Neural Activity Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 13:23

Nearly a decade ago, the era of optogenetics was ushered in with the development of channelrhodopsins, light-activated ion channels that can, with the flick of a switch, instantaneously turn on neurons in which they are genetically expressed. What has lagged behind, however, is the ability to use light to inactivate neurons with an equal level of reliability and efficiency. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists have used an analysis of channelrhodopsin’s molecular structure to guide a series of genetic mutations to the ion channel that grant the power to silence neurons with an unprecedented level of control.