IN THIS ISSUE .
April 16, 2008
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With the launch of a new NIGMS gallery featuring scientific images, we couldn’t pick just one as this month’s “Cool Image.” So, we chose a quartet: a bacterium that causes Lyme disease (top left), a sea urchin embryo (top right), a crystal of a cow protein (bottom left), and the light-sensing structures of a fruit fly retina (bottom right). Together, they represent the beauty and breadth of basic biomedical research. Images courtesy of Tina Carvalho, University of Hawaii at Manoa; George von Dassow, University of Washington; Alex McPherson, University of California, Irvine; and Hermann Steller, Rockefeller University.
Being obese or overweight can change how our bodies use insulin, a hormone that helps keep blood sugar at appropriate levels. At first, overeating increases insulin production, yet later triggers insulin resistance and high blood sugar. These set the stage for many diabetes-associated complications. Now, molecular biologist Marc Montminy of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has found how high blood sugar levels trip the molecular switch that insulin typically uses to control blood sugar. With more experiments, Montminy hopes to find new ways to help insulin get the body’s blood sugar levels under control.
For a mosquito to pass malaria from one person to another, the parasite that causes the disease must sexually reproduce in the mosquito's gut. Scientists have known that much for years. Now, a team of researchers led by cell biologist William Snell at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has found that blocking a newly characterized step in this reproductive process prevented mosquitoes from becoming infective. This discovery could lead to a vaccine that prevents malaria from spreading.
Only a few hundred genes are unique to us and apes. Despite the distinct contributions some of these genes no doubt make, scientists know little about their functions. A team of cell biologists led by Philip Stahl of Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine has now uncovered the function of one of these genes, TBC1D3. The researchers found that TBC1D3 uses two strategies to make cells grow faster: It keeps growth factor receptors active and turns on a growth-promoting protein. These findings affirm earlier results linking TBC1D3 to cancer and could offer insight into human physiology, particularly our bodies’ intricate control of key cellular processes.