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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... July 21, 2011

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Screenshot from the beating bleeding video

Cool Video: Beating Bleeding

James Morrissey, Chad Rienstra and Emad Tajkhorshid • University of Illinois

When you cut your finger, there's more going on than bleeding. After an injury, cells rupture and blood clotting proteins rush in. Up close, the proteins look like tangled webs. They cling on tightly to a special fatty molecule called PS with the help of another fatty molecule called PE. This activity eventually stops blood from dripping out of your finger. Scientists know that the interaction between the clotting protein in purple and fatty molecules in green is key to making blood congeal at a wound site, but they haven't been certain why. Using computer models, researchers found that PE molecules stick their fatty middles weakly onto clotting proteins. This leaves space for PS molecules to grip more strongly. Notice how this interaction has pulled the protein deeper into the fatty layer. Understanding these dynamics could help create new drugs to regulate clotting. Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute also supported this work.
When caspases act, dying cells glow green. Credit: Jeanne Hardy, UMass Amherst.

A Reporter for Apoptosis

Jeanne Hardy • University of Massachusetts Amherst

When mutated, damaged or old cells don't die off properly, problems like cancer and auto-immune diseases can result. Seeing how apoptosis (programmed cell death) works could help scientists identify the molecular events that cause both normal and diseased cells to die. Researchers have developed an apoptosis "reporter" that tracks the actions of caspases, molecular scissors that cut key proteins to kill cells. The group used green florescent protein and attached a small protein tail to keep it dark. When caspases are active, they chop the tail off and give scientists a glowing green view of cell death.
Read more... (Link no longer available)

Caption: When caspases act, dying cells glow green. Credit: Jeanne Hardy, UMass Amherst. High res. image (JPG, 24KB)
This chip helps measure density of single cells. Credit: Manalis Lab.

Cell Density Detective

Scott Manalis • MIT

Cells change density, or the ratio of mass to volume, during important processes like apoptosis and disease. But until recently, scientists have had no way to measure the density of a living cell with meaningful accuracy. A new technique uses a device that changes vibration frequency in response to the mass of a cell being pumped, in liquid, through a micro-channel. By weighing each cell in two fluids of different density, scientists now can calculate the volume and density of that cell. The sensitive and quick technique could help researchers identify diseased cells and screen potential drugs.
Read more... Link to external Web site

NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also supported this work.

Caption: This chip helps measure density of single cells. Credit: Manalis Lab. Watch video Link to external Web site
Embryonic cells (green) at the base of the esophagus (red). Credit: McKeon Lab.

Embyronic Origins of Some Cancer Cells

Frank McKeon • Harvard Medical School

Chronic acid reflux can trigger intestine-like tissue to grow in the esophagus, a condition called Barrett's esophagus that often leads to cancer. New research points to a small group of previously overlooked embryonic cells as potential culprits for the condition. Using mouse models and human studies, scientists have shown that cells at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach multiply when acid damages the esophagus. Therapies that target these cells are a promising direction for new research.

NIH's National Cancer Institute also supported this work.

Caption: Embryonic cells (green) at the base of the esophagus (red). Credit: McKeon Lab. High res. image (JPG, 17KB)
Virtual dragons help students learn genetics. Credit: Stephanie Dziezyk, University of Maine.

Dragons Breathe Fire into Genetics

Randy Smith • Jackson Laboratory

Science educators are using an unusual (and scaly) virtual tool to teach genetics in high schools: Web-based video games that feature dragon-like creatures called drakes whose genes represent the ways traits and diseases are inherited in real life. In one game, drake scale color is modeled after mouse coat color, and disease genes are modeled after a human metabolic condition called PKU. At each level of the game, students have to predict or trace traits back to succeed. As educators have found, the interactive games are an effective way to engage students in science. Read more...

Caption: Virtual dragons help students learn genetics. Credit: Stephanie Dziezyk, University of Maine.


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This page last reviewed on July 21, 2011