Biomedical Beat - A monthly digest of research news from NIGMS

IN THIS ISSUE . . .
March 19, 2008

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The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), one of the National Institutes of Health, supports all research featured in this digest. Although only the lead scientists are named, coworkers and other collaborators also contributed to the findings. To read additional news items, visit NIGMS News. To check out free NIGMS publications, go to the order form.

Cool Image: Mapping Human Genetic Variation

Courtesy of geneticist Noah Rosenberg and graphic designer Martin Soave, University of Michigan.
High res. image
(984 KB JPG)

This map paints a colorful portrait of human genetic variation around the world. Researchers analyzed the DNA of 485 people and tinted the genetic types in different colors to produce one of the most detailed maps of its kind ever made. The map shows that genetic variation decreases with increasing distance from Africa, which supports the idea that humans originated in Africa, spread to the Middle East, then to Asia and Europe, and finally to the Americas. The data also offers a rich resource that scientists could use to pinpoint the genetic basis of diseases prevalent in diverse populations. Courtesy of geneticist Noah Rosenberg and graphic designer Martin Soave, University of Michigan.

NIH’s National Institute on Aging and National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities also supported this work.

Full story
Rosenberg lab home page (link is no longer available)
Article abstract (from the February 21 issue of Nature)

Golden Staph Stripped of Color and Virulence

Researchers may have a new lead for developing drugs to treat staph infections. Staph bacterium produces a golden pigment that allows it to skirt our immune systems. Noticing similarities between this bacterial pigment production and human cholesterol production, chemist Eric Oldfield of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and others wondered if cholesterol-lowering agents could turn off pigment production, generating less pathogenic bacteria. After a series of studies confirming their hypothesis, the researchers found that a compound previously tested in clinical trials as a cholesterol-lowering agent nearly wiped out the staph population in infected mice. The next question: Will this approach work in humans?

NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also supported this work.

Full story
Oldfield lab home page
Article abstract (from the February 14 online issue of Science)

Movie Helps Explain Key Property of Blood Clots

Fibrinogen movie. Courtesy of Eric Lee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fibrinogen movie. Courtesy of Eric Lee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Note: You may need to download the free Quicktime player to view the movie.

Blood clots stop bleeding, but they also can cause heart attacks and strokes. Now, a team led by computational biophysicist Klaus Schulten of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has revealed how a blood protein can give clots their lifesaving and life-threatening abilities. The researchers combined experimental and computational methods to animate fibrinogen, a protein that forms the elastic fibers that enable clots to withstand the force of blood pressure. The simulation shows that the protein, through a series of events, stretches up to three times its length. Adjusting this elasticity could improve how we manage healthful and harmful clots.

NIH’s National Center for Research Resources also supported this work.

Full story
Schulten home page
Article abstract (from the February 21 online issue of Structure)

Enzyme Study Reveals New Drug Targets for Cancer, Other Diseases

Genes get lots of glory, but the proteins that control them are just as important to our health. Scientists now know more about the structure and function of a key gene-regulating protein called p300/CBP—mutant versions of this protein are linked to a variety of diseases. The research was led by pharmacologist Philip Cole of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and structural biologist Ronen Marmorstein of the Wistar Institute. The work could provide new avenues to design drugs aimed at cancer, diabetes, HIV, and heart disease.

Full story
Cole lab home page
Marmorstein lab home page
Article abstract (from the February 14 issue of Nature)

Dr. Data and Mastering Stem Cells

Cover image of Findings magazine March 2008 issueHow do you know a disease? By its symptoms, causes, or medicines used to treat it? What about DNA—could studying genes switched on by certain diseases hold important clues? In the March 2008 issue of Findings, find out how physician-scientist Atul Butte of Stanford University is using his computer to define and hopefully treat diseases in an entirely new way. Keep reading, and you’ll discover how biologist Peggy Goodell of the Baylor College of Medicine is searching for stem cell secrets—and having a lot of fun along the way. This issue also features multimedia extras, including a video interview, online puzzles, and animations.

Dr. Data
Mastering Stem Cells
Butte home page
Goodell home page
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