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Molecular & Cell Biology

Category: Molecular & Cell Biology

A molecule that enables strong communication between our brain and muscles appears to also aid essential communication between our neurons, scientists report.

When you look very close up at a butterfly wing, you can see this patchwork map of lattices with slightly different orientations (colors added to illustrate the domains).
Scientists used X-rays to discover what creates one butterfly effect: how the microscopic structures on the insect's wings reflect light to appear as brilliant colors to the eye.

A bacterial colony showing individual cells undergoing transposable element events, resulting in blue fluorescence.
"Jumping genes" are ubiquitous. Every domain of life hosts these sequences of DNA that can "jump" from one position to another along a chromosome; in fact, nearly half the human genome is made up of jumping genes. Depending on their specific excision and insertion points, jumping genes can interrupt or trigger gene expression, driving genetic mutation and contributing to cell diversification. Since their discovery in the 1940s, researchers have been able to study the behavior of these jumping genes, generally known as transposons or transposable elements (TE), primarily through indirect methods that infer individual activity from bulk results. However, such techniques are not sensitive enough to determine precisely how or why the transposons jump, and what factors trigger their activity.

Biologically speaking, we carry the outside world within us. The food we ingest each day and the trillions of microbes that inhabit our guts pose a constant risk of infection--and all that separates us from these foreign entities is a delicate boundary made of a single layer of cells.

Northwestern Medicine and University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) scientists have identified a gene that causes severe glaucoma in children. The finding, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, validates a similar discovery made by the scientists in mice two years ago and suggests a target for future therapies to treat the devastating eye disease that currently has no cure.

Johan Flygare and Sandra Capellera.
Eight days. That's how long it takes for skin cells to reprogram into red blood cells. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, together with colleagues at Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona, have successfully identified the four genetic keys that unlock the genetic code of skin cells and reprogram them to start producing red blood cells instead.

For a long time dismissed as "junk DNA", we now know that also the regions between the genes fulfil vital functions. Mutations in those DNA regions can severely impair development in humans and may lead to serious diseases later in life. Until now, however, regulatory DNA regions have been hard to find. Scientists around Prof. Julien Gagneur, Professor for Computational Biology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Prof. Patrick Cramer at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen have now developed a method to find regulatory DNA regions which are active and controlling genes.

New identification of a gene involved in the fracture healing process could lead to the development of new therapeutic treatments for difficult-to-heal injuries.

New research by Steven Laviolette's research team at Western University is contributing to a better understanding of the ways opiate-class drugs modify brain circuits to drive the addiction cycle. Using rodent models of opiate addiction, Dr. Laviolette's research has shown that opiates affect pathways of associative memory formation in multiple ways, both at the level of anatomy (connections between neurons) and at the molecular levels (how molecules inside the brain affect these connections). The identification of these opiate-induced changes offers the best hope for developing more effective pharmacological targets and therapies to prevent or reverse the effect of opiate exposure and addiction. These results were presented at the 10th Annual Canadian Neuroscience Meeting, taking place May 29 to June 1 2016, in Toronto, Canada.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham are a step closer to understanding the role of the gene BRCA1. Changes in this gene are associated with a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Just as members of an orchestra need a conductor to stay on tempo, neurons in the brain need well-timed waves of activity to organize memories across time. In the hippocampus--the brain's memory center--temporal ordering of the neural code is important for building a mental map of where you've been, where you are, and where you are going. Published on May 30 in Nature Neuroscience, research from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan has pinpointed how the neurons that represent space in mice stay in time.

Tailor-made ratiometric sensors make baker's yeast cells light up green, as Georgia Tech scientists use it to track the movements of the essential toxin heme.
A pinch of poison is good for a body, at least if it's heme.

Stylized graphic of SEC-SAXS data (with cyan cross-section showing the elution profile and magenta cross-section showing scattering profile) and the structure of the activated phenylalanine hydroxylase
Using a powerful combination of techniques from biophysics to mathematics, researchers have revealed new insights into the mechanism of a liver enzyme that is critical for human health. The enzyme, phenylalanine hydroxylase, turns the essential amino acid phenylalanine -- found in eggs, beef and many other foods and as an additive in diet soda -- into tyrosine, a precursor for multiple important neurotransmitters.

A new study from MIT neuroscientists reveals that a gene mutation associated with autism plays a critical role in the formation and maturation of synapses -- the connections that allow neurons to communicate with each other.

Unlike aspirin, bone marrow doesn't come with a neatly printed label with dosage instructions. However, a new study published in Cell Reports provides clues about how the dose of transplanted bone marrow might affect patients undergoing this risky procedure, frequently used to treat cancer and blood diseases.

These are DNA double-strand breaks, introduced by ionizing radiation or other mechanisms, are repaired rapidly and precisely in normal cells (right pathway). In contrast, compromised Tel1 activation with inefficient end...
A group of researchers at Osaka University found that if DNA damage response (DDR) does not work when DNA is damaged by radiation, proteins which should be removed remain instead, and a loss of genetic information can be incited, which, when repaired incorrectly, will lead to the tumor formation.

Voltage-gated calcium channels open in unison, rather than independently, to allow calcium ions into and activate excitable cells such as neurons and muscle cells, researchers with UC Davis Health System and the University of Washington have found.

Retroviral DNAs integrate into host genomes, but their expression is normally repressed by cellular defense mechanisms. As an Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich team now shows, when these measures fail, accumulation of viral proteins may trigger programmed cell death.

Verrucosispora maris, the bacteria in which the enzyme was found.
Scientists at the Universities of Bristol and Newcastle have uncovered the secret of the 'Mona Lisa of chemical reactions' - in a bacterium that lives at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

A new study finds that the more than 90,000 species of mushrooms, molds, yeasts and other fungi found everywhere in the soil, water and air may owe their abilities to grow, spread, and even cause disease to an opportunistic virus they caught more than a billion years ago.

This is a tomographical slice of a budding yeast cell defective in condensin function (ycg1-2). The division septum advances on incompletely segregated chromosomes.
The cells in our bodies are constantly dividing. From embryonic development to adult life, cell division is necessary for tissue growth and renewal. During division, cells must duplicate their genetic material (or DNA) and ensure identical copies are passed along to the daughter cells. The entire process must work perfectly. If not, the next generation of cells will not have the genetic material necessary to function properly. Their role becomes especially relevant in situations in which cells proliferate rapidly, like embryonic development or tumor proliferation.

This is a snapping turtle.
The sex of many reptile species is set by temperature. New research reported in the journal GENETICS identifies the first gene associated with temperature-dependent sex determination in any reptile. Variation at this gene in snapping turtles contributes to geographic differences in the way sex ratio is influenced by temperature. Understanding the genetics of sex determination could help predict how reptiles will evolve in response to climate change.

A 3-D rendering of a fluorescence image maps the piconewton forces applied by T cells. The height and color indicates the magnitude of the applied force.
T cells, the security guards of the immune system, use a kind of mechanical "handshake" to test whether a cell they encounter is a friend or foe, a new study finds.

RNA polymerase II (Pol II), a key enzyme in our gene expression, is responsible for transcribing DNA into messenger RNA. Errors in transcription can cause deleterious effect upon repeated translation of erroneous mRNA into protein. Transcription infidelity may result in aging and human diseases such as cancer. During transcription, Pol II can detect the mis-incorporated RNA and backtrack to correct errors to ensure that each messenger RNA created will match with template DNA. However, it remains largely a mystery how Pol II controls the fidelity of gene transcription.

A microscope about the size of a penny is giving scientists a new window into the everyday activity of cells within the spinal cord. The innovative technology revealed that astrocytes--cells in the nervous system that do not conduct electrical signals and were traditionally viewed as merely supportive--unexpectedly react to intense sensation.

Scientists from Princeton University and Uppsala University in Sweden have identified a specific gene that within a year helped spur a permanent physical change in a finch species in response to a drought-induced food shortage. The findings provide a genetic basis for natural selection that, when combined with observational data, could serve as a comprehensive model of evolution.

A new study from the group of Holger Gerhardt (VIB/KU Leuven/Cancer Research UK/ MDC/BIH Berlin) in collaboration with Katie Bentley's Lab (Cancer Research UK/BIDMC-Harvard Medical School) addresses a long standing question in the wider field of developmental biology and tissue patterning in general, and in the vascular biology field in particular: 'What are the fundamental mechanisms controlling size and shape of tubular organ systems'. Whereas the most obvious way to grow a tube in size would be to add more building blocks (by proliferating cells) to enlarge its circumference, or to increase the size of the building blocks (the cells, hypertrophy), an alternative way would be to rearrange existing building blocks. Benedetta Ubezio, Raquel Blanco and colleagues under the direction of Holger Gerhardt and Katie Bentley now show that cell rearrangement is the way blood vessels switch from making new branches to increasing the size of a branch. The researchers also found that this switch is triggered by synchronization of cells under the influence of increasing levels of the growth factor VEGFA.

This is a skeletal preparation of a late stage skate embryo.
Latest analysis shows that human limbs share a genetic programme with the gills of cartilaginous fishes such as sharks and skates, providing evidence to support a century-old theory on the origin of limbs that had been widely discounted.

If genes form the body's blueprint, then the layer of epigenetics decides which parts of the plan get built. Unfortunately, many cancers hijack epigenetics to modulate the expression of genes, thus promoting cancer growth and survival. A team of researchers led by Tatiana Kutateladze, PhD, University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator and professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and Brian Strahl, PhD, professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, published a breakthrough report in the journal Nature Chemical Biology describing the essential role of YEATS domain proteins in reading epigenetic marks that regulate gene expression, DNA damage response, and other vital DNA-dependent cellular processes. This newly discovered player in epigenetic regulation is closely related to known cancer promoters, including the bromodomain proteins, a handful of which are targeted in current human clinical trials.

Scientists from Penn Medicine and other institutions unlock a mystery about 'long non-coding RNAs'.
A new genetic clue discovered by a team co-led by a researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania is shedding light on the functions of the mysterious "long non-coding RNAs" (lncRNAs). These molecules are transcribed from genes and are often abundant in cells, yet they do not code for proteins. Their functions have been almost entirely unknown--and in recent years have attracted much research and debate.

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