While You Were at the Bench: Week 50

The Cassini orbiter has taken photos of a large river system on Saturn’s moon, Titan.  The European Space Agency and NASA have deduced the image shows flowing water, making this the first photographic evidence of a river system beyond Earth.

German researchers have discovered that to fold long strands of DNA into specific shapes (cylindrical, brick-like and cog-like) requires a specific constant temperature for each design.   This technique has reduced the folding time from days to minutes thus making the possibility of DNA nanotechnology realistic.

A group of chemists has successfully developed a non-toxic organic Lithium ion battery using purpurin to react electrochemically with lithium ions.  Extracted from the Madder root and commonly used as a dye in fabrics, purpurin showed similar charge/discharge properties of other conventional inorganic cathodes without the environmental concerns.

Developmental biologists generally agree that human limbs evolved from fish fins and now new research using zebrafish supports a genetic mechanism.  Researchers from Spain increased the activity of Hoxd13 at zebrafish fin tips, leading to the formation of rudimentary limb structures instead of fins.

New research based on the adhesive properties of mussels has led to the development of a bioadhesive gel that can adhere itself to the inside surface of blood vessels.  This bioadhesive gel could be injected into people with atherosclerosis to help prevent rupturing of blood vessels and subsequent blood clots leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have reprogrammed individual patients’ T cells with an HIV-derived lentiviral vector encoded to recognize CD19 proteins commonly expressed on tumor cells.  In a recent Phase 1 clinical trial, 9 out of 12 leukemia patients receiving the treatment are in remission.    On the downside, the T-virus has been created, which never works out well for citizens of Raccoon City.

Have a Great Weekend!

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While You Were at the Bench: Week 49

A small clinical trial has demonstrated that colorectal cancer can be detected in patients by analyzing the volatile organic compounds in their exhaled breath with up to 75% accuracy.  While further studies are required to improve the accuracy, this noninvasive screening method could be applied to detecting other types of cancers.

Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has reached the boundary of our solar system and could be the first craft to pass beyond our solar system in months to years.  Despite being 11 billion miles from Earth, Voyager 1 is still able to transmit scientific data albeit 17 minutes delayed.

I can see my house lights!  Click here to check out global composite night time images of Earth in stunning clarity.

Researchers in The Netherlands have discovered that maggot secretions degrade complement proteins thus preventing inflammatory responses thereby helping open sores and wounds to heal faster.  Unfortunately, a topical cream is several years away.

Using tunable plasmonic nanobubbles, researchers at Rice University were able to kill cancer cells while simultaneously performing gene transfer in healthy cells of the same sample.  This rapid procedure can help improve the safety and efficacy of cell and gene therapy or bone marrow transplantation.

First soil samples analyzed by Curiosity indicate water, sulfur, chlorine and carbon on the Red Planet’s surface.  While it is too early to claim organic compounds, the recent success has led NASA to announce another rover sent to Mars by 2020.  No word on sending a rover to Titan. Might it be because the ice is thicker than originally thought?

High levels of dichlorophenols typically found in herbacides and pesticides have been linked to food and other environmental allergens in 64.5% of the study participants.  By the way, did I mention that dichlorophenols are also used in water chlorination.

Extroversion may increase lifespan….at least in gorillas.  An 18 year longitudinal study of 283 captive gorillas has shown that those with high social, play, and curiosity behaviours were linked with increased survival.

Now go get out of the lab and Have a Great Weekend!

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While You Were at the Bench: Week 47

I hope everyone in the US had a great Thanksgiving.  I’ll keep this post short in case the Tryptophan is kicking in.

Over the past year, cancer researchers from Georgetown University have developed a technique to induce an indefinite proliferative state in primary mammalian epethelial cells without producing tumors that normally occur with embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells.  These conditionally reprogrammed cells (CRC’s) were designed for screening cancer therapies, but this technique for creating adult stem-like cells is ideal for regenerative medicine.

In a big step forward for optogenetics, scientists at MIT have developed a 3D array of thin microwaveguides for delivering light to discrete brain regions for activating specific neurons.  This design allows for the independent control of hundreds of light sources for researchers to better understand the activity of entire neuronal circuits.

Turns out green algae is the vampire of the plant kingdom.  This is the first known plant species that secretes enzymes to break down cellulose from neighboring plants and assimilate it as an energy source for continued survival.  Since a major process for biofuel production is cellulose breakdown, green algae can now be used to expedite this process.

By pharmacologically inhibiting eIF4E expression, researchers at McGill University were able to reverse social behavior deficits in a mouse model of autism spectrum disorder.  While the inhibitory drug used is too toxic for human use, it does open new avenues of therapeutic targets for treating Autism.

Did the 2.5 billion dollar Curiosity Rover hit pay dirt?  (Sorry, I’ve been watching too much discovery channel.)  NASA is going to hold a press conference in two weeks to discuss an exciting discovery regarding a sample of Martian soil.  Internet buzz suggests organic material, but NASA is staying mute on the subject for now.

Have a Great Weekend!  I’m off to stimulate the economy.

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How does the 2012 election change policies on science, space & technology?

Every election year brings about changes to the US Senate and House of Representatives.  But for scientists, it’s important to pay attention to the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  This committee presides over all federal, non-defense scientific research and development spending.  In other words, this committee has jurisdiction over NASA, DOE, NIH, NSF, and NOAA policy to make sure US tax dollars are being spent in accordance with committee views.  Despite the grand name, the committee actually has little power over how tax dollar are spent, which is decided by the Senate appropriations committee.  However, they do make important broad policy decisions and can conduct oversight hearings on the above mentioned agencies.

During this election year, let’s take a moment to reflect upon some of the current and outgoing members to this committee.  After all, 10 current members have either been defeated or are retiring.  That is almost a third of the committee and could lead to changes on how scientific policy is determined over the next couple of years.

Let’s start by bidding a glorious adieu to Congressman Todd Akin (R-Missouri) who lost his re-election campaign.  You might remember Congressman Akin’s recent viral comments on “legitimate rape” that he made on August 19, 2012.  I won’t subject our readers to his complete lack of human physiology, but if you’re interested in you can read it here.  If Congressman Akin is this clueless on 7th grade reproduction, I would hate to learn about his views on more complex scientific policy.  Thank you Missouri residents for driving US scientific policy forward one politician at a time.

Congressman Paul Broun (R-Georgia) who was unopposed in his recent re-election campaign is also a current member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  Congressman Broun believes that evolution, embryology and the big bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.”  These remarks actually prompted James Leebens-Mack, a plant biologists at the University of Georgia start a Facebook write-in campaign for Charles Darwin to run against Paul Broun.  Apparently being deceased for 130 years didn’t stop more than 4000 people from inking Darwin’s name against Congressman Broun in Dr. Leebens-Mack district.  Let’s hope Paul Broun will start paying attention to this portion of his constituents.

Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland), the second oldest member of the US House of Representatives, and one of the few with a doctoral degree, lost re-election this past week.  Congressman Bartlett often backed increased funding for basic research especially in the area of renewable energy.  We’ll be lucky if a like-minded individual fills this seat.

The committee will most likely be welcoming back physicist Bill Foster (D-Illinois) who recently won election in his district and subsequently ousted a current committee member, Judy Biggert.  Foster was a former member of this committee during his seven year stint as a Congressman.  Science support actually played a large role in this election campaign since Foster’s Congressional district included the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.

In addition, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is in the process of electing a new chair.  The current chair, Ralph M. Hall (R-Texas) has reached his term limit for committee chair.  With Republican majority in the US House of Representatives, three conservative members have shown interest in the position including Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (California), Lamar Smith (Texas), and James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin).  James Sensenbrenner was previously chair of this committee during the Clinton administration.  Unfortunately, all three have denied climate change, so don’t expect major recommendations for clean energy from this committee anytime soon.

Let us know how you think membership changes to this committee will reflect US science policy in the upcoming years.

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