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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... August 18, 2011

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Cool Video: How Cilia Do the Wave

Zvonimir Dogic and Daniela Nicastro • Brandeis University

Thin, hair-like biological structures called cilia are tiny but mighty. Notice how they beat in synchronized, self-organized motion like an audience doing "the wave." Working together, cilia play essential roles in human health, such as sweeping debris from the lungs. But scientists haven't cracked the mechanism controlling how the structures beat in unison. Now researchers have created the first-ever artificial cilia using motor proteins, structural parts and a bundling compound. The models, which synchronize spontaneously, offer a new approach for studying cilia and other self-organizing processes. Video courtesy of Zvonimir Dogic. Read more... Link to external Website
Existing drugs can be put to new uses. Credit: Marina Sirota

New Uses for Old Drugs

Atul Butte • Stanford University

Developing a new drug and bringing it to market can take 15 years and cost over $1 billion. But new research shows that many medicines already on the market may have unexpected therapeutic uses. Using computers and public databases, researchers analyzed gene activity in diseased cells and in drug-treated cells. They looked for activity patterns that complemented each other, because therapies theoretically reverse activity in diseased cells. The study confirmed some known pairings and turned up new ones, like an anticonvulsant to treat Crohn's disease. Read more...

Caption: Existing drugs can be put to new uses. Credit: Marina Sirota High res. image (JPG, 41KB)
Arabidopsis. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Plants with Rhythm

Steve Kay • University of California, San Diego

A tiny plant called Arabidopsis thaliana just helped scientists unearth new clues about daily behavioral cycles called circadian rhythms. Investigating why Arabidopsis does its major stem-growing in the dark, researchers found that a trio of proteins—the "evening complex"—interacts in early evening to silence two genes that usually promote plant growth. When the complex's activity trails off a few hours before dawn, the plants start their nightly stem elongation. Often used as model organism, Arabidopsis can shed light on human processes, like cell division and embryonic development, that are governed by circadian rhythms. Read more...

Caption: Circadian rhythms regulate Arabidopsis stem growth. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
iRFP lights up this mouse's liver. Credit: Vladislav Verkhusha.

Lighting up Internal Organs

Vladislav Verkhusha • Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Colored fluorescent proteins from jellyfish and corals can give scientists a detailed look at cells and molecules, but using them to visualize organs in live mammals has been challenging. For instance, some proteins in the blood, like hemoglobin, absorb the visible light that standard glowing probes emit, masking their fluorescent colors. Using a bacterial protein, researchers have engineered a new fluorescent probe, dubbed iRFP, that emits near-infrared light. Since mammalian tissues are nearly transparent in this light, it's easy to peer inside of them. The nontoxic, noninvasive method with no radiation risk has great potential for whole-body imaging.

NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Center for Research Resources also supported this work.

Caption: iRFP lights up this mouse's liver. Credit: Vladislav Verkhusha.

HIV on the Brain George Hightower • University of California, San Diego
A Light on Life's Rhythms Cara Altimus • Johns Hopkins University

In the 10th anniversary issue of Findings, read about George Hightower, a graduate student in California who uses DNA sequencing to investigate HIV, especially how the virus attacks the human brain to affect some people's ability to think and remember. Also meet Cara Altimus, a Maryland neuroscientist who probes how light and darkness regulate the body's master clock, which could help illuminate the effects of sleep loss. Catch a glimpse into these scientists' busy lives outside the lab as well. Read more...

Caption: Findings cover.

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This page last reviewed on August 18, 2011