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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... December 16, 2010

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Cool Images: Our Gift to You!

Looking for a holiday treat? Feast your eyes on the colorful images and videos in the Biomedical Beat cool image gallery. From snapping neurons and blinking bacteria to brilliant probes and glowing salamanders, you'll find something for every appetite. As always, the images are freely downloadable for educational purposes.

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Periwinkle plants might make new drugs. Credit: Patrick Gillooly.

Genetically Engineering Plants to Produce New Drugs

Sarah O'Connor • MIT

The periwinkle plant is the source of the anticancer drug vinblastine. After a genetic makeover, it could also be the source of improved medicines that contain potentially performance-boosting chemical elements like chlorine or bromine. Although the plant doesn't normally utilize these elements, some bacteria do. Scientists are upgrading the plant's biochemical pathways by adding genes from these bacteria. The resulting periwinkle cells can produce vinblastine laced with chlorine or bromine-or potentially hundreds of other variations, any of which may turn out to be a new, improved medication.
Read more... Link to external Website

Caption: Periwinkle plants might make new drugs. Credit: Patrick Gillooly. High res. image (JPG, 415KB)
Enzyme helps reduce free radical production in mitochondria. Credit: Nicolle Rager, NSF.

How Fewer Calories Can Extend Life

John M. Denu • University of Wisconsin-Madison

For years, researchers have known that consuming fewer calories can slow the aging process and improve health in mammals. New research reveals how reduced caloric intake can also slow the deterioration of tissues and cells. Scientists found that mice on restricted diets had increased levels of Sirt3, an enzyme that influences cell fate and physiology. The amped up levels reduced damage caused by free radicals associated with age-related hearing loss. These findings give insight into the causes of aging and could lead to drugs that improve health in the elderly.

NIH's National Institute on Aging also supported this work.

Caption: Enzyme helps reduce free radical production in mitochondria. Credit: Nicolle Rager, NSF. High res. image (JPG, 19.9KB)
View Video: A male fly attacking a genetically altered female

'Transforming' Fruit Fly Behavior

Edward Kravitz • Harvard Medical School

Like most animals, fruit flies behave differently toward males and females. When a male fly meets a female, he courts her. But when he encounters another male-a potential competitor-he puts up a fight. By manipulating a gene called transformer, researchers have uncovered the triggers for these sex-specific responses: In addition to the expected role played by pheromones, behavioral patterns associated with each sex are also important. Unraveling this decision-making process in flies could help reveal how other animals, including humans, make complex decisions governing behavior.
Read more... Link to external Website

Caption: A male fly attacking a genetically altered female.
These lipid droplets store fat in the cells of the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta. Courtesy: Estela Arrese.

‘Debut of Inside Life Science Series

Healthy diets involve watching how much fatty food we eat, but our bodies need a certain amount of fat to perform critical tasks such as storing energy, insulating us and helping to control basic metabolism. Learn more about the vital roles of fat in the first installment of Inside Life Science, a new series on the NIGMS Web site that will also appear on And in the coming months, you’ll discover even more on what scientists have found—and are finding—about fundamental life processes happening inside our bodies. Read more...

Caption: The first article in the new series discusses the healthy role of fats in the body.

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This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011