Biomedical Beat - A monthly digest of research news from NIGMS

October 17, 2007

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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: Multicolor STORM

Multicolor STORM. Courtesy of chemist Xiaowei Zhuang of Harvard University.
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Last year, scientists developed an optical microscopy technique enabling them to clearly see individual molecules within cells. Now, they've taken the technique, abbreviated STORM, a step further. They've identified multicolored probes that let them peer into cells and clearly see multiple cellular components at the same time, such as these microtubules (green) and small hollows called clathrin-coated pits (red). Unlike conventional methods, the multicolor STORM technique produces a crisp and high resolution picture. A sharper view of how cellular components interact will likely help scientists answer some longstanding questions about cell biology. Courtesy of chemist Xiaowei Zhuang of Harvard University.

Full story (Link no longer available)
Zhuang lab home page
Article abstract (from the September 21, 2007, issue of Science)

No Vacation for Flu Virus

It's almost flu season, so keep washing your hands and get a flu shot. But no matter how well we prepare, the virus stays one step ahead. Researchers now think thatís because the flu virus doesn't vacation—it remains on duty throughout the year, traveling the globe and mixing with other strains. Penn State University biologist Edward Holmes analyzed the genomes of 900 influenza A virus samples from around the world and found similarities between viruses from the northern and southern hemispheres, suggesting regular viral traffic across the equator. Still unclear is where and when the virus evolves.

Scientists from NIHís National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Fogarty International Center also contributed to this work.

Full story
Holmes lab home page
Article (from the September 2007 issue of PLoS Pathogens) (no longer available)

Plant Autoimmunity Linked to Fertility

Three Arabidopsis plants: healthy parents (left and right) and failing hybrid offspring (center). Courtesy of Kirsten Bomblies.
Three Arabidopsis plants: healthy parents (left and right) and failing hybrid offspring (center). Courtesy of Kirsten Bomblies.
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(1.1 MB JPEG)

When a German colleague showed Jeffery Dangl, a plant immunologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, photos of his failing hybrid Arabidopsis thaliana plants, Dangl thought they might be dying from a hyperactive immune response. Intrigued by this observation, the two teamed together to generate 881 unique hybrid plants and found that a common set of immune response genes were turned on in the 2 percent of plants that died. The findings suggest that an immune system incompatibility can arise in certain hybrids, triggering an autoimmune response. Dangl speculates that similar incompatibilities might contribute to infertility in humans.

Full story
Dangl home page
Article abstract (from the September 2007 issue of PLoS Biology)

Computational Modeling Could Improve Antibody Drugs

Scientists have developed computational models that could improve the effectiveness of drugs based on antibodies. By calculating which molecular changes would cause the antibodies to bind more tightly to their targets, the models already have helped create a new version of an anticancer drug. After computationally analyzing hundreds of potential antibody modifications, the researchers—Bruce Tidor, K. Dane Wittrup, and graduate student Shaun Lippow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—selected a small number to test experimentally. They found that some changes improved antibody binding by more than 100-fold! The approach could speed the development of new drugs and enhance antibodies used as diagnostics and as research tools.

NIH's National Cancer Institute also supported this research.

Full story
Tidor lab home pages (1, 2)
Article abstract (from the September 23, 2007, issue of Nature Biotechnology)

NIGMS Grantees Garner 2007 Nobel Prize

Long-time NIGMS grantees Mario R. Capecchi of the University of Utah and Oliver Smithies of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill share the 2007 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Briton Sir Martin J. Evans for creating a now-indispensable gene-targeting method. The method enables scientists to reveal the role of genes by creating mice containing genes from other organisms and by "knocking out" normal genes with altered or defectives ones. The prize-winning work shows how basic research can reshape the research landscape and stimulate progress in the treatment and cure of disease. To date, NIGMS has supported the research of 64 Nobel Prize winners.

Statement from NIGMS director
NIGMS Nobelists

Computing Life

Cover image of Findings magazine September 2007 issue

While we use computer technology to e-mail friends and navigate city streets, scientists are using it to reveal new information about fundamental biological processes. With computing advances, they can search gene sequences for clues about diseases, simulate how infectious bugs might spread, and animate molecular activities in ways never before possible. You can learn more about how scientists are using computers to understand biology and medicine in NIGMSí latest free science education booklet, Computing Life. The Web version includes movies, podcasts, and other material available only online.

Order or view Computing Life
Other NIGMS publications