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Week in Review: April 22–26

Double helix celebrates 60; detecting calories without taste; bacteria vs. tumor; perceptual consciousness in babies

By | April 26, 2013

Celebrating 60 years of DNA

ISTOCK, COSMIN4000Yesterday (April 25) marked the 60th anniversary of the publication in Nature of three papers describing the structure of DNA. In celebration, we published a poster outlining the history of genetics and genomics, focusing on the last 10 years following the completion of the draft human genome sequence, and are running a series of webinars in which George Church and other leading scientists explore what’s left to be learned about the code of life. Also, check out this collection of recent genetics and genomics stories in The Scientist.

Detecting calories

WIKIMEDIA, TIIA MONTOFruit flies engineered to not taste sugar still show a preference for sugar water over plain water. Rats fed via catheters connected directly to the animals’ stomachs can still learn to prefer a liquid laced with caloric glucose over water. How do they do it? Researchers are currently on the hunt for a nutrient sensor that would allow these animals to sense calories without actually tasting them—a mechanism that might serve as an evolutionary failsafe to help animals choose more nutritious options when taste isn’t providing the appropriate clues.

Pitting bacteria against tumors

CDCResearchers equipped a strain of Listeria monocytogenes that naturally infects cancer cells with a radionuclide called Rhenium-188 that kills cells by releasing DNA-damaging radiation, and found that the supped-up bacterium decreased metastases by 90 percent over saline-injected mice. This new combination of tumor-attacking bacteria and radiation may be the perfect combo to slow or stall cancer growth and spread.

Knowing what you see

SOFIE GELSKOVFive-month-old babies know they’re seeing a face when they see it, according to new research that identified in babies a distinctive brain activity pattern associated with visual consciousness in adults. The results suggest for the first time that babies are perceptually conscious and may have implications for how young children learn. (For more on monitoring consciousness in adults, see last week’s story, “Measuring Consciousness.”)

Other news in life science:

Building a Better Network

NIH Director Francis Collins and colleagues announce plans to create a health-care research network to connect patients, doctors, and clinical researchers.

Families and Dogs Share Microbiota

Spouses, children, and canine companions spread commensal bacteria to one another.

Science Funding Criteria Challenged

Republican representatives question how the NSF reviews grants.

Bacteria Make Diesel Molecules

By engineering the genome of E. coli with genes from several sources, scientists have coaxed the microbe to produce diesel-like hydrocarbons.

Can CO2 Help Grow Rainforests?

Researchers in the Amazon are measuring how much carbon dioxide fertilizes the rainforest.

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