From extending lifespan to bolstering the immune system, the drug’s effects are only just beginning to be understood.
Protein appears to protect stressed neurons; vitamin A’s lifelong effects on immunity; stem cells influenced by substrates; supercharged photosynthesis through nanotechnology
March 21, 2014|
WIKIMEDIA, NEPHRONThe protein REST, a transcription factor that represses neuron-specific genes during embryogenesis, may be a key regulator of neuronal stress and could help stave off neurodegeneration, researchers from Harvard Medical School reported in Nature this week (March 19). Bruce Yankner and his colleagues identified strong associations between REST and response to neuronal stressors in C. elegans, mice, and humans.
“This work establishes REST as a regulator protein we have to pay a lot of attention to in the context of neurodegeneration,” said Susan Lindquist, a molecular biologist at the MIT Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, who was not involved in the work.
WIKIMEDIA, KAIBARA87Stem cells seem to “remember” the surfaces on which they were cultured, according to a study published in Nature Materials on March 16. Scientists from the University of Colorado and their colleagues found that progenitor cells grown on a firm substrate are more likely to differentiate into a bone-cell lineage, whereas cells cultured on softer surfaces are equally likely to become bone or fat cells.
The work “shows some correlations between the stiffness of gels to which these human mesenchymal stem cells were adhered and certain markers of cell commitment,” MIT’s Krystyn Van Vliet, who did not participate in the research, told The Scientist.
WIKIMEDIA, JYNTOThe offspring of pregnant mice raised on a low-vitamin A diet developed smaller lymph nodes than did animals exposed to higher levels of the nutrient in utero, and these animals showed impaired immunity as adults, a team led by researchers at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisboa, Portugal, showed in Nature this week (March 19).
“This paper shows . . . maternal diet [can] influence how the organs of the immune system, and therefore the functioning of the immune system . . . develop,” said immunologist Tom Cupedo from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, who was not involved in the work.
JUAN PABLO GIRALDO AND NICOLE M. IVERSONMIT’s Michael Strano and his colleagues have boosted the photosynthetic activity of plants by implanting carbon nanotubes in their chloroplasts. Their proof-of-principle “plant nanobionics” study was published March 16 in Nature Materials.
“The idea is to merge nanomaterials with living plants to enhance their native functions and to give them non-native functions,” Strano told The Scientist.
“A lot of work is needed to make this approach applicable in the real world,” said Purdue University’s Jong Hyun Choi, who was not involved in the research. “But this work points in a direction that no one has shown before.”
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