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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.

In This Issue... March 16, 2011

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Protein structure determination using an X-ray laser and nanocrystals. Credit: Petra Fromme, ASU.

Cool Image: New Technology Gleans Protein Structure from Nanocrystals

Petra Fromme • Arizona State University

A protein's three-dimensional structure can greatly aid research and drug development. But many proteins are too fragile or finicky to yield crystals big enough for X-ray crystallography. Now, researchers can avoid this problem by harnessing tiny nanocrystals. Blasted by ultra-brief pulses of an X-ray laser, the nanocrystals record a light-scatter pattern just before they vaporize. The technique even works for membrane proteins, which are attractive targets in the pharmaceutical industry and are difficult to crystallize. The work could impact fields ranging from medicine to clean energy. Read more... Link to external Web site
Within 30 minutes, the new firefly protein probe lights up a mouse (right). Credit: Chang group, Berkeley Lab.

Detecting Diseases by the Light of Fireflies

Christopher Chang • Berkeley Lab

One persistent challenge in understanding how diseases develop and respond to treatment is monitoring, in real time, the chemical changes that accompany an illness. Recently, basic researchers created a chemical probe using luciferin, the pigment that makes fireflies glow. The new probe tracks production of hydrogen peroxide in living mice. Overproduction of hydrogen peroxide is linked to inflammation and many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, neurodegeneration and heart disease. The new probe offers a way to track chemical responses in an animal over time. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: Within 30 minutes, the new firefly protein probe lights up a mouse (right). Credit: Chang group, Berkeley Lab. High res. image (JPG, 157KB)
Regions of DNA that move around the genome and are partly responsible for why humans differ so much from other primates. Credit: Jane Ades, NHGRI/NIH.

One Key to Human-Only Characteristics: "Jumping DNAs"

Yi Xing • University of Iowa

How can chimps and humans be 96% genetically identical, and yet differ in so many ways? One answer is a stretch of DNA called Alu, that can move around the genome. Alu elements, which are found in primates but no other mammals, can alter existing genes and can affect the speed of protein production. Because they tend to jump into genes that regulate thousands of other genes, they could have an enormous impact on the characteristics of an organism. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: Regions of DNA that move around the genome and are partly responsible for why humans differ so much from other primates. Credit: Jane Ades, NHGRI/NIH.
Part of the CusCBA pump, which helps E. coli bacteria resist antibiotic drugs. Credit: Edward Yu, Iowa State University, Ames Laboratory.

Piecing Together a Bacterial Pump

Edward Yu • Iowa State University

To the frustration of scientists, doctors and patients, bacteria sometimes evade the effects of antibiotics by pumping the drugs right back out. Structural biologists now have a molecular glimpse of part of one bacterial pump—a large, complicated protein called CusCBA. The structure, which includes two of the pump's three components, is a significant step toward understanding how the pump assembles and functions. This knowledge could lead to new ways to block the pump's activity and heighten bacterial sensitivity to antibiotics. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: Part of the CusCBA pump, which helps E. coli bacteria resist antibiotic drugs. Credit: Edward Yu, Iowa State University, Ames Laboratory. High res. image (JPG, 85KB)
The nearly microscopic water flea (Daphnia pulex) contains 8,000 more genes than humans. Credit: Jan Michels, Christian-Albrechts-Universitaet zu Kiel.

Animal with the Most Genes? A Water Flea

Michael Pfrender • University of Notre Dame

The animal with the most genes (so far) is the tiny crustacean Daphnia pulex (water flea). Nearly invisible to human eyes, Daphnia is intriguing in many ways—its genes turn on and off readily when its aquatic environment changes, one third of its genes are new to science and it can reproduce with or without males. It also has many genes in common with humans, suggesting it might make a good model organism to reveal how environmental pollutants affect people. Read more... Link to external Web site

Caption: The nearly microscopic water flea (Daphnia pulex) contains 8,000 more genes than humans. Credit: Jan Michels, Christian-Albrechts-Universitaet zu Kiel. High res. image (JPG, 318KB)


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This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011