Scientific Earth Conscientious

Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity; for if man's power is increased, the checks that restrain him from abusing it must be strengthened (Madame de Stael)

Archive for February, 2013

Newly discovered plant structure may lead to improved biofuel processing

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on February 5, 2013

Debra Mohnen, left, is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and a member of UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. Li Tan is an assistant research scientist with the CCRC.

Debra Mohnen, left, is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and a member of UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. Li Tan is an assistant research scientist with the CCRC.

Athens, Ga. – When Li Tan approached his colleagues at the University of Georgia with some unusual data he had collected, they initially seemed convinced that his experiment had become contaminated; what he was seeing simply didn’t make any sense.

Tan was examining some of the sugars, proteins and polymers that make up plant cell walls, which provide the structural support and protection that allow plants to grow. Yet his samples contained a mixture of sugars that should not be present in the same structure.

However, Tan was convinced that his samples were pure so he and Debra Mohnen, who heads the lab, met again to pore over the data. They came to realize that there were hints in the data of a connection between two different types of cell wall glycans (sugars) and a specific cell wall protein known as arabinogalactan protein. This connection is not known to exist and does not conform to the commonly held scientific definitions of plant cell wall structure.

But Tan and Mohnen, who both work as part of the BioEnergy Science Center, one of three U.S. Department of Energy-funded research centers, were persistent, and they, along with an interdisciplinary team of chemists, molecular biologists and plant experts at UGA, began searching for answers. What they found could redefine our understanding of basic plant biology, and it may lead to significant improvements in the growth and processing of biofuel crops.

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Exposure to pesticides in food, air and water increases risk of type 2 diabetes

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on February 5, 2013

From left to right, some of the researchers at the University of Granada laboratory: Juan Pedro Arrebola, Francisco Artacho and María Fernández

From left to right, some of the researchers at the University of Granada laboratory: Juan Pedro Arrebola, Francisco Artacho and María Fernández

A study led by the University of Granada reveals that there is a direct relationship between the presence of Persistent Organic Pollutants in the body and the development of type 2 diabetes, regardless of the patient’s age, gender or body mass index.

A study conducted at the University of Granada has revealed that there is a direct relationship between exposure to pesticides (Persistent Organic Pollutants, CPOs) in food, air and water and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in adults, regardless of age, gender and body mass index. These substances tend to concentrate in body fat, and they might be one of the reasons why obese people are more likely to develop diabetes, since the more fat the higher the COP concentrations in the body.

In a paper recently published in the journal Environmental Research, researchers demonstrate that people with higher concentrations of DDE –the main metabolite in the pesticide DDT– are four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than other people. In addition, the risk of type 2 diabetes is also associated with exposure to β-HCH (beta-Hexachlorocyclohexane), which is present in the formula of the pesticide Lindano.

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University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers reveal mechanism to halt cancer cell growth, discover potential therapy

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on February 4, 2013

Dr. Bennett Van Houten

Dr. Bennett Van Houten

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers have uncovered a technique to halt the growth of cancer cells, a discovery that led them to a potential new anti-cancer therapy.

When deprived of a key protein, some cancer cells are unable to properly divide, a finding described in the cover story of the February issue of the Journal of Cell Science. This research is supported in part by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“This is the first time anyone has explained how altering this protein at a key stage in cell reproduction can stop cancer growth,” said Bennett Van Houten, Ph.D., the Richard M. Cyert Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at UPCI and senior author of the research paper. “Our hope is that this discovery will spur the development of a new type of cancer drug that targets this process and could work synergistically with existing drugs.”

All cells have a network of mitochondria, which are tiny structures inside cells that are essential for energy production and metabolism. Dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1) helps mitochondria undergo fission, a process by which they split themselves into two new mitochondria.

In breast or lung cancer cells made to be deficient in Drp1, the researchers observed a huge network of highly fused mitochondria. These cancer cells appear to have stalled during a stage in cell division called G2/M. Unable to divide into new cells, the cancer growth stops. Those cells that do try to divide literally tear their chromosomes apart, causing more stress for the cell.

The cover of the Journal of Cell Science includes a colorful image of a breast cancer cell deficient in Drp1 that is stuck during the process of separating its chromosomes into two identical sets to be divided among two new cells. Lead author Wei Qian, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Van Houten’s laboratory, captured the image using a confocal microscope at Pitt’s Center for Biologic Imaging run by Simon Watkins, Ph.D., a co-author of this study.

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Scientists at the Monell Center have identified the location and certain genetic characteristics of taste stem cells on the tongue. Identification of progenitors may someday help treat clinical taste dysfunction

Posted by Scientific Earth Conscientious on February 4, 2013

Scanning electron microscopy image illustrates the dorsal view of an E15.5 embryonic tongue and papilla types. Black arrowheads point to fungiform papillae on the anterior oral tongue; black arrow points to the single circumvallate papilla in the back. White arrowhead at the tip points to the median furrow. The straight line marks the orientation for sectioning in the sagittal plane. B: H and E stained sagittal section of an E15.5 tongue to illustrate the orientation for all images of tongue sections. Black arrowheads point to fungiform papillae. Scale bars: 250 μm.

Scanning electron microscopy image illustrates the dorsal view of an E15.5 embryonic tongue and papilla types. Black arrowheads point to fungiform papillae on the anterior oral tongue; black arrow points to the single circumvallate papilla in the back. White arrowhead at the tip points to the median furrow. The straight line marks the orientation for sectioning in the sagittal plane. B: H and E stained sagittal section of an E15.5 tongue to illustrate the orientation for all images of tongue sections. Black arrowheads point to fungiform papillae. Scale bars: 250 μm.

Scientists at the Monell Center have identified the location and certain genetic characteristics of taste stem cells on the tongue. The findings will facilitate techniques to grow and manipulate new functional taste cells for both clinical and research purposes.

“Cancer patients who have taste loss following radiation to the head and neck and elderly individuals with diminished taste function are just two populations who could benefit from the ability to activate adult taste stem cells,” said Robert Margolskee, M.D., Ph.D., a molecular neurobiologist at Monell who is one of the study’s authors.

Taste cells are located in clusters called taste buds, which in turn are found in papillae, the raised bumps visible on the tongue’s surface.

Two types of taste cells contain chemical receptors that initiate perception of sweet, bitter, umami, salty, and sour taste qualities. A third type appears to serve as a supporting cell.

A remarkable characteristic of these sensory cells is that they regularly regenerate. All three taste cell types undergo frequent turnover, with an average lifespan of 10-16 days. As such, new taste cells must constantly be regenerated to replace cells that have died.

For decades, taste scientists have attempted to identify the stem or progenitor cells that spawn the different taste receptor cells. The elusive challenge also sought to establish whether one or several progenitors are involved and where they are located, whether in or near the taste bud.

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