Mapping Beyond the Genome
Maria Anderson | Jun 20, 2004 | 2 min read
1. What's the next level of mapping?With the human genome sequenced, researchers are charting other cell components. The transcriptome describes all the transcriptional units, coding and noncoding, in the genome. The proteome comprises all proteins made by a cell, while the localizome identifies where each peptide resides. These maps vary depending on a cell's age, type, and condition. The glycome and the lipidome map two other classes of biomolecules, carbohydrates and lipids, respectively.2. H
The Basics of Biotechnology
Sam Jaffe | Jun 6, 2004 | 2 min read
What does 'bio-technology' mean?The term comes from Fernando Silva da Bioteqnolojo, a 16th century venture capitalist who sold shares in the Fountain of Youth to Madrid laborers. Not buying it? Okay, biotechnology is a term that first appeared in the 1970s to describe the use of biological techniques for creating commercially useful products, mostly protein-based pharmaceuticals. One of the first successful biotech companies, Genentech, found a way to produce insulin using vats filled with anaer
Deadly Selections
Maria Anderson | May 23, 2004 | 2 min read
1. What's so select about select agents?Various US agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, deemed more than 80 types of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins as "select agents" after Sept. 11, 2001. These hazardous substances, biological and chemical, were chosen for their threat to the health of humans, animals, and plants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowed scientists to comment on the proposed list and made appropriate changes before finalizin
Maria Anderson | May 9, 2004 | 2 min read
1. 'Tis the season – What are allergies?They result from the immune system overreacting to foreign particles like pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and food proteins. An initial encounter prompts the body to produce antibodies against the particle, or allergen. When a person is exposed again, the allergen triggers the antibodies to bind mast cells, and they release other inflammatory agents such as histamine and leukotrienes, which cause the runny noses, coughing, and watery eyes, collective
Science and the Golden Years
Maria Anderson | Apr 25, 2004 | 2 min read
1. What does it mean to age?More than just annual birthday parties, wrinkles, and gray hairs, aging has two main components: primary aging, which is the natural process of senescence; and secondary aging, due to age-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and macular degeneration.2. What's responsible for aging in humans?Outside of gender (see next question) only 25% of lifespan variability is due to genetics; the rest depends on behavior and the
Digging through the Data
Maria Anderson | Apr 11, 2004 | 2 min read
1. Which databases get a lot of traffic?The three largest International DNA databases are the European Bioinformatics Institute's (EBI) EMBL, the US National Center for Biotechnology Information's (NCBI) GenBank, and the DNA Data Bank of Japan. They rank at the top of the list for traffic, followed by the EBI's Swiss Prot, a protein sequence database, and EnsEMBL, EBI's annotated metazoan genome browser. Filling out the toolbox are the model organism databases (MODs), including WormBase and FlyB
A Powerful Tool in the Silencing Trade
Maria Anderson | Mar 28, 2004 | 2 min read
1. What is this powerful tool?Courtesy of Sirna TherapeuticsRNA interference (RNAi) is a type of posttranscriptional genetic regulation that occurs naturally in the cytoplasm to protect the cell against excess and foreign RNAs. Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), an unusual type of nucleic acid encoded in viral genomes and transposable elements, triggers a process that regulates gene expression without touching the genome.2. What do we know about it?Scientists know that RNAi protects the cell against v
A Talk on the Motor Side
Maria Anderson | Mar 14, 2004 | 2 min read
1. What is a molecular motor?Tom Sephton, http://www.funhousefilms.comIt's any protein that uses chemical energy, specifically ATP hydrolysis, to produce physical force.2. How many types of motors are there?Proteins that transport molecules and vesicles along the cytoskeleton; enzymes involved in DNA strand separation and replication, such as helicases, gyrases, and topoisomerases; and ATPases that move ions and large organic molecules across membrances are all motor proteins. Their genes have t
IP for the PI
Maria Anderson | Mar 1, 2004 | 2 min read
What is intellectual property?It's any product of the human mind that has commercial value. This can include literary works or a concept for a new tool; for life scientists, this may mean a lab technique or a new small molecule. The courts protect intellectual property with patents and copyrights.If I'm listed as the inventor on a patent, does that mean I own it?No, in most cases the inventor's institution – be it a private company, university, or government-run organization – keeps
Waking, and Blooming, in Rhythm
Maria Anderson | Feb 15, 2004 | 2 min read
What are circadian rhythms?These timing systems dictate when plants will bloom, force people to fall asleep at their desks, urge birds to fly south, and influence a host of other activities. While circadian rhythms run on a 24-hour clock, others also exist, including tidal, lunar, and annual rhythms.Which organisms have them?A lot; from bread molds to humans. Well-studied rhythms include those in cyanobacteria, the bread mold Neurospora crassa, rice, Arabidopsis, fruit flies, mice, Syrian hamste
Regeneration, the Great Comeback
Mignon Fogarty | Feb 1, 2004 | 2 min read
Which animals can regenerate?Figure 1This ability is widespread in the animal kingdom, but its distribution is spotty. Salamanders are the best-known regenerators, but cockroaches can regrow legs, Drosophila can renew discs, deer regain antlers, and humans can regenerate fingertips, if the wound is not sutured.What do regenerating systems have in common?In such systems a wound forms a blastema, a recognizable clump of proliferating cells that gives rise to the new structure. The distal tip of th
The Ant: A Most Successful Insect
Maria Anderson | Jan 18, 2004 | 2 min read
How do ants differ from other social insects?Bees, wasps, and ants belong to the order Hymenoptera. Bees feed on flowers; wasps hunt other insects; ants "feed on a whole variety of things," from flowers to dead animals, says University of Georgia entomologist Ken Ross. Morphology also differs: worker bees and wasps with different jobs are all the same size, but the sizes of worker ants vary according to their role in the colony.What are some differences among ants?With more than 11,000 known spe
The Headline Grabbers
Maria Anderson | Dec 14, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | The Headline Grabbers This year's science newsmakers, besides comparative genomics and systems biology, include ... McSequence Remarkably, scientists completed the genomic sequence of the coronavirus responsible for the SARS pandemic less than two months after it was first identified. "We never had a disease [that] was so much into the public news," says Bhagirath Singh, scientific director of the Canadian Institute for Health Research's Institute of Infection and Immunity. He
Bacteria Tough Cookies
Maria Anderson | Dec 1, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime| Bacteria--109 Tough Cookies Courtesy of CDC Is there any place where bacteria can't be found? Pick an environment, a temperature, an elevation, a climate, and a bacterial species calls it home. Scientists have found bacteria in every exotic habitat in the biosphere, says Thomas Whittam, a microbiologist at Michigan State University, East Lansing. Why are they so ubiquitous? One ecosystem can't supply enough resources for the more than 109 bacterial species1 that exist, so t
Birds in Biology: A Chronology
Maria Anderson | Nov 16, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | Birds in Biology: A Chronology 1835 Charles Darwin first surveyed the now famous finches of the Galapagos Islands, but not until a decade later did he fully understand the implications of his observations and incorporate them into his theory of speciation by natural selection. Since then researchers, including David Lack and Peter and Rosemary Grant, have flocked to the hallowed islands to study competition, evolution, and speciation. 1911 Peyton Rous discovered the first oncog
The Myriad Definitions of Self
Maria Anderson | Nov 2, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | The Myriad Definitions of Self Courtesy of Larry H. Anderson The Biological Basis For each of the genome's thousands of genes, multiple alleles exist. No two people have the same combination of alleles, so each individual's genotype is unique. DNA, found in each cell, is both a genetic fingerprint and a genealogical record. It determines the phenotype--sex, blood type, hair and eye color, susceptibility to disease, and other features--that contributes to an individual's sense of
It's All in the Translation
Maria Anderson | Oct 19, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | It's All in the Translation Those who voted in the Best Places survey (see How They Measure Up: Scientific Institutions) live in many different towns. And while they may wear, eat, or do similar things, one would never know it by listening to them ... Tightening Bunnyhugs, Snapping Suspenders The men at Purdue University wear undershirts, called vests by those at the University of Manchester. While suspenders on men might be fine at Purdue, men at Manchester would never attach the
Tissue Engineering Trends
Aileen Constans | Oct 5, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | Tissue Engineering Trends What is tissue engineering? It's the use of engineering and life sciences principles and methods to obtain a basic understanding of structure-function relationships in novel and pathological mammalian tissues and using biological substitutes to restore, maintain, and improve function. What's new? Researchers have developed products and therapies that include a combination of living cells and biomaterials to repair or replace diseased or damaged tissue.
Diming Out Dimerization
Maria Anderson | Sep 21, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | Diming Out Dimerization What is dimerization? It is a process where two molecules of similar chemical composition come together to form a single polymer known as a dimer. Where does dimerization occur? It happens throughout the cell. For example, dimers form in the cell membrane, where tyrosine-kinase receptors reside, and in the cytosol that contains microtubules composed of tubulin. In the nucleus, hormone receptors, acting as transcription factors, form dimers to increase st
Getting Tidy: Protein Folding
Philip Hunter | Sep 7, 2003 | 3 min read
5-Prime | Getting Tidy: Protein Folding What is protein folding? It is the process by which proteins acquire their functional, preordained, three-dimensional structure after they emerge, as linear polymers of amino acids, from the ribosome. Who discovered it? In the 1940s, Linus Pauling and Robert Corey elucidated the a-helix and the b-sheet, which are considered the two fundamental building blocks of all protein secondary structures. In the early 1970s, Christian Anfinsen showed that a