IN THIS ISSUE .
January 16, 2007
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Cool Image: Neural Tube Development
Proteins in the neural tissues of this zebrafish embryo direct
cells to line up and form the neural tube, which will become
the spinal cord and brain. Studies of zebrafish embryonic
development may help pinpoint the underlying cause of common
neural tube defects—such as spina bifida—which
occur in about 1 in 1,000 newborn children. Courtesy of Alexander
Schier, a molecular biologist at Harvard University.
Schier home page
Speeding Sepsis Diagnosis
Sepsis, commonly called blood poisoning or blood infection,
is among the top killers in the United States. This rapidly
progressing response to infection spreads through the body,
often causing organ failure and death within days. Early detection
and treatment can halt the spread of sepsis, but diagnosis
requires culturing blood or other body fluids and can take
several days. Now, surgeon J. Perren Cobb of Washington University
School of Medicine in St. Louis and his research team have
quickly and reliably diagnosed sepsis in mice using gene chip
technology that analyzes patterns of gene expression. If the
test works in humans, the technique could lead to the rapid
diagnosis of sepsis, possibly preventing thousands of deaths
Cobb lab home page
Article abstract (from the November 2006 issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons)
Mapping the Genes of a Malaria Parasite
Malaria clinic in Senegal. Courtesy of Wirth.
A team science project involving researchers from the United
States and western Africa has produced a detailed genetic
map of Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of
the parasites that cause malaria. Harvard geneticists Daniel
Hartl and Dyann Wirth (who is also with the Broad Institute
of MIT) are working with scientists in Senegal, where malaria
is endemic. The researchers collected and analyzed malaria
parasite DNA samples from varied geographic locations. They
discovered a surprising amount of genetic diversity in Plasmodium
falciparum, which may contribute to the parasite's
ability to develop resistance to malaria drugs. The research
promises to aid global malaria prevention and treatment efforts.
This work was also funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH.
Wirth lab home page (Harvard)
Article abstract (from the December 10, 2006, online issue of Nature Genetics)
Simulations Show DNA Flexibility
While the double helix of DNA appears stiff, new computer simulations show that short sections of the strand can bend, wiggle, and kink. Alexey Onufriev, the physicist and computer scientist at Virginia Tech who developed the simulations, used a cluster of processors from a supercomputer to demonstrate in atomic detail that strands of 147 base pairs, which is the length of vital DNA packages found inside living cells, are considerably more flexible than previously thought. Malleable DNA makes it easier for proteins to bind and unbind from DNA, allowing different cell types to regulate DNA differently. The finding leads to new questions about the steps of DNA bending and the mechanisms behind it.
Onufriev home page
Article abstract (from the December 2006 issue of the Biophysics Journal)
ATP Helps Immune Cell Find Its Target
A neutrophil-like cell migrating toward chemical signals given off by bacteria or inflamed tissues. Courtesy of Junger.
Immune cells called neutrophils detect and destroy microbial
invaders by following chemical signals given off by bacteria
and inflamed tissues. But exactly how neutrophils track these
chemical trails has been a mystery. New work led by immunologist
Wolfgang Junger and pharmacologist Paul Insel, both of the
University of California, San Diego, has revealed the identity
of a key navigator—ATP, the cell's main energy source.
The research shows that chemicals from the infection site
trigger neutrophils to release ATP, which then prompts the
cells to head toward the site. The team's discoveries could
lead to new ways to boost immune functioning and treat inflammatory
Junger home page
Insel home page
Article abstract (from the December 15, 2006, issue of Science)