Scientists Develop Better Technique to Study Bacterial Swimming

CHICAGO – Scientists have come up with a new way to watch bacteria as they swim, which is expected to eventually help trap Escherichia coli bacteria and modify the microbes’ environment without hindering the way they move.

The new approach uses optical traps, microfluidic chambers and fluorescence to get an improved picture of how E. coli get around.

Yann Chemla, a professor of Physics at the University of Illinois, says that the microfluidic chambers provide a controlled environment in which the bacteria swim, and allow them to introduce specific stimuli – such as chemical attractants – to see if the microbes change direction in response to that stimulus.

Chemla, who jointly led the study with physics professor Ido Golding, further says that optical traps use lasers to confine individual cells without impeding their rotation or the movement of their flagella.

The researcher calls the optical traps “bacterial treadmills”.

According to the researchers, movement of the bacterial cell alters the light from the laser, and, thereby, help track its behaviour.

Fluorescent markers enhance visualization of the bacteria and their flagella under a microscope, say the researchers.

While earlier studies have been unable to follow individual bacterial cells moving in three dimensions for more than about 30 seconds, the new approach allows the researchers to track a single bacterium as it swims for up to an hour, and that is why it may offer a new look at questions that so far have been unanswerable.

“For example, some people have asked whether E. coli has a nose. Does it have a front and back?” Nature magazine quoted Golding as saying.

He and his colleagues have observed that while the bacterium can travel in either direction, most E.coli have “a pronounced preference” for one over the other.

The researchers found that after most tumbles, a bacterium usually continued swimming in the same general direction, but that about one in six tumbles caused it to change direction completely.

They were also able to quantify other features of bacterial swimming, such as changes in velocity and the time spent running and tumbling.

They hope that their novel method will allow scientists to address many more questions about this model organism.

“That’s the typical way biology moves forward. You develop a new measurement capability and then you can use that to go back and look at fundamental questions that people had been looking at but had no way of answering,” Golding said.

A research article describing the new technique has been published in the journal Nature Methods.

 

Protein that Repairs Alzheimer’s Brain Damage Identified

TRENTON – Scientists from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have identified a protein that can repair brain damage in Alzheimer’s patients.

They said that a protein called vimentin normally appears twice in a lifetime – when neurons in the brain are forming during the first years of life and, years later when the brain’s neurons are under siege from Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.

“Vimentin is expressed by neurons in regions of the brain where there is Alzheimer’s damage but not in undamaged areas of the brain,” said Dr Robert Nagele, a professor at UMDNJ and the study’s corresponding author.

“When the patient shows up at the doctor’s office with symptoms of cognitive impairment, the neurons have reached the point where they can no longer keep pace with the ever-increasing damage caused by Alzheimer’s,” he added.

While explaining the study results, Nagele likened neurons to a tree with long strands called dendrites branching off from the main part of the cell.

The dendrite branches are covered with 10,000 tiny “leaves” called synapses that allow neurons to communicate with each other. Vimentin is an essential protein for building the dendrite branches that support the synapses.

“A hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid deposits that gradually destroy the synapses and cause the collapse of dendrite branches,” he said.

“When the dendrites and synapses degenerate, the neuron releases vimentin in an attempt to re-grow the dendrite tree branches and synapses. It’s a rerun of the embryonic program that allowed the brain to develop in the early years of life,” Nagele added.

The researchers also reported some initial findings that indicated a similar damage response mechanism takes place following traumatic brain injury, suggesting the possibility that similar therapeutic agents could be developed to enhance repair both for sudden brain trauma and for progressive neurodegenerative diseases.

The findings are published in journal Brain Research.

Low Incomes Leads to Higher Mortality Rate In Prostate Cancer Patients

GENEVA – Prostate cancer patients who belong to low socio-economic status are more likely to die than patients with higher incomes, according to a new study from Swiss researchers.

The study’s findings indicate that poor prostate cancer patients receive worse care than their wealthier counterparts.

The researchers wanted to know how disparities affected prostate cancer mortality in Switzerland, a country with an extremely well developed health care system and where healthcare costs, medical coverage, and life expectancy are among the highest in the world,

Dr. Elisabetta Rapiti, of the University of Geneva, and her colleagues conducted a population-based study that included all residents of the region who were diagnosed with invasive prostate cancer between 1995 and 2005.

The analysis included 2,738 patients identified through the Geneva Cancer Registry.

The researchers found that as compared with patients of high socio-economic status, those of low socio-economic status were less likely to have their cancer detected by screening, had more advanced stages of cancer at diagnosis, and underwent fewer tests to characterize their cancer.

These patients were less likely to have their prostates removed and were more likely to be managed with watchful waiting, or careful monitoring.

Patients with low socio-economic status also had a 2-fold increased risk of dying from prostate cancer compared with patients of high socio-economic status.

“The increased mortality risk of patients of low socio-economic status is almost completely explained by delayed diagnosis, poor work-up, and less complete treatment, indicating inequitable use of the health care system,” said Rapiti.

The authors say lead time and length time biases linked to early detection through PSA screening may partially explain the survival advantage observed among high SES patients.

The study has been published in the latest issue of Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Bacteria Can Help Convert Waste to Power

Bacteria Can Help Convert Waste to Power

BOSTON – Bacteria that generate power could be used in microbial fuel cells to convert waste into electricity, according to the latest research.

University of Massachusetts (U-M) researchers isolated bacteria with large numbers of tiny projections called pili which transfer electrons to generate power in fuel cells, more efficiently than counterparts with a smooth surface.

The researchers isolated a strain of Geobacter sulfurreducens which they called KN400 that grew prolifically on the graphite anodes of fuel cells.

The bacteria formed a thick bio-film on the anode surface, which conducted electricity. The researchers found large quantities of pilin, a protein that makes the tiny fibres that conduct electricity through the sticky bio-film.

“The filaments form microscopic projections called pili that act as microbial nanowires,” said Derek Lovley, U-M professor. “Using this bacterial strain in a fuel cell to generate electricity would greatly increase the cell’s power output.”

Microbial fuel cells can be used in monitoring devices in environments where it is difficult to replace batteries if they fail but to be successful they need to have an efficient and long-lasting source of power.

Lovley described how KN400 might be used in sensors placed on the ocean floor to monitor migration of turtles.

These findings were reported at the Society for General Microbiology’s meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

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Functional ingredients

Almonds Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) Hydroxycitric acid
Amino acids Fibre Phaseolus vulgaris
Bitter orange Fish oils Probiotics
Caffeine Fucoxanthin Protein
Carnitine [ital]Garcinia cambogia[end ital] Pyruvate
Catechins Glucomannan 7-keto DHEA
Chitosan Green tea Slow carbs
Chromium [ital]Gymnema sylvestre[end ital] Vitamin D
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British Jail Staff Red-Faced after Inmates Get Drunk on Anti-Swine Flu Gel

British Jail Staff Red-Faced after Inmates Get Drunk on Anti-Swine Flu Gel

LONDON – Authorities at a British prison had to remove a hand gel meant to fight swine flu after inmates were found drunk on the alcoholic cleaner.

Recently, dispensers containing the liquid cleanser were installed to protect the prisoners at category C Verne Prison in Dorset against H1N1.

But instead of rubbing it into their hands, they started making illicit booze when they realised it contained alcohol, The Sun reports.

“The cleansers were to combat swine flu but as soon as they were put out the prisoners started taking the stuff. The canisters have now all been removed from the wings but I couldn’t quite believe it when they were put out in the first place,” a prison source said.

Prison staff got suspicious with a sudden rise in the number of tipsy convicts.

They got to know about the bizarre makeshift booze when one inmate became aggressive after downing the “hooch” and started a drunken fight with another.

“There was a fight after one of the prisoners got violent,” the paper quoted the source as saying.

The distilled gel was believed to have been mixed with fruit and water.

Andy Fear, of the Prison Officer’s Association, said: “Inmates have been incorrectly using the dispensers, for want of a better phrase.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “A prisoner at Her Majesty’s Prison The Verne showed signs of intoxication, the cause of which will be investigated. Antibacterial gel pumps have been removed.”

Novel Two-Step Chemical Process Makes Cancer Cells Glow Quickly, Safely

Novel Two-Step Chemical Process Makes Cancer Cells Glow Quickly, Safely

BOSTON – Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a two-step process that uses a chemical reaction to make live cancer cells light up quickly and safely.

This attains significance because scientists generally label cells with colored or glowing chemicals to observe how basic cellular activities differ between healthy and cancerous cells, but existing techniques are either too slow or too toxic to perform on live cells.

Under the novel process, chemically modified antibodies first home in on cancer cells, and then a chemical reaction called cycloaddition transfers a dye onto the antibody making the cancer cells glow when viewed through a microscope.

Philip Dawson, a member of Faculty of 1000 Biology and leading authority in chemistry and cell biology, reviewed a study and observed that the novel cycloaddition reaction is fast, very specific, and requires minimal manipulation of the cells.

He comments that, in combining antibody binding with the cycloaddition, “low signal-to-noise ratios are achieved”.

He points out that the new labeling technique could be used to track the location and activity of anti-cancer drugs, the location of cancer-specific proteins within the cell, or to visualize cancer cells inside a living organism.

Dawson concludes that cycloaddition will allow scientists to observe live cancer cells in the body, leading to a better understanding of cancer’s basic processes.

Gene That Controls Number of Brain Cells Identified

CHAROLETTE – Scientists from University of North Carolina have identified a gene that controls the number of cells composing brain.

Called GSK-3, the gene has been found to strike a balance between two key processes – proliferation, in which the cells multiply to provide plenty of starting materials, and differentiation, in which those materials evolve into functioning neurons.

If the stem cells proliferate too much, they could grow out of control and produce a tumour. If they proliferate too little, there may not be enough cells to become the billions of neurons of the brain.

The study showed that GSK-3 controls the signals that determine how many neurons actually end up composing the brain.

The novel findings may have significant implications for people suffering from neuropsychiatric illness like schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.

“I don’t believe anyone would have imagined that deleting GSK-3 would have such dramatic effects on neural stem cells,” Nature quoted senior study author Dr William D. Snider, professor of neurology and cell and molecular physiology, and director of the UNC Neuroscience Centre, as saying

“People will have to think carefully about whether giving a drug like lithium to children could have negative effects on the underlying structure of the nervous system,” he added.

During the study, the researchers genetically engineered mice to lack both forms of the GSK-3 gene, designated alpha and beta.

They further used a “conditional knock-out” strategy to remove GSK-3 at a specific time in the development of the mouse embryo, when a type of cell called a radial progenitor cell had just been formed.

“It was really quite striking,” said Snider.

“Without GSK-3, these neural stem cells just keep dividing and dividing and dividing. The entire developing brain fills up with these neural stem cells that never turn into mature neurons,” he added.

GSK-3 is known to coordinate signals for proliferation and differentiation within nerve cells through multiple “signalling pathways.”

They found that every one of the pathways that they studied went awry after deleting the GSK-3 gene.

The study has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

How Do Bacteria Subvert Healthy Cells?

ORLANDO – A microbiologist has uncovered an unknown mechanism that helps a deadly food-borne bacterium subvert healthy cells.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause pregnant women to lose their foetuses and can trigger meningitis fatalities among the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.

The bacterium has been linked to outbreaks traced to food processing plants in the US and Canada. Those cases in eight states were linked to people eating contaminated sliced turkey meat.

Scientists have long known that Listeria spreads from one human cell to another. Bacteria growing in one cell move fast enough to create a finger-like structure that protrudes from the cell and pushes into an adjacent cell. The bacteria then infects the adjacent cell.

Keith Ireton, microbiology professor at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and his team have discovered a previously unknown second process that gradually overwhelms the second cell’s ability to defend itself from infection.

The plasma membrane, or outer layer, of healthy human cells normally exhibits tension. Such tension might be expected to prevent Listeria from spreading to adjacent uninfected cells.

However, Ireton’s lab found that a Listeria protein called InlC appears to relieve tension at the plasma membrane in infected cells, making it easier for moving bacteria to deform the membrane and then spread into adjacent, healthy cells.

“Our discovery could have relevance for bacterial pathogens that cause Shigellosis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, as these bacteria resemble Listeria in their ability to move inside the host cell and spread,” Ireton says.

The report features in Nature Cell Biology.

Biofeedback is the Best Stress-Buster for Students


DES MOINES – Iowa State University has opened a Biofeedback Center for students to help them deal with stress.

Directed by Student Counseling Service staff psychologist Todd Pietruszka, the center is free and open to all ISU students.

The university is first of the three Regents’ universities to offer a biofeedback service to address students’ emotional needs.

The center has adopted technologies like video games and guided meditations to teach relaxation techniques, concentration skills and healthy coping responses.

It also teaches people to become aware of their physiological responses, while providing techniques like deep breathing, visualization or mindfulness, to consciously reset the body’s conditioned responses.

Pietruszka said: “Biofeedback is a fancy name. It really means getting information about your physical responses and using that information to take action.

“For example, when you take your temperature and find you have a fever, you might call the doctor.”

The compact room of the center has three massage recliners, each facing its own wall-mounted computer monitor.

Students begin with an orientation session that explains how to check out and use the equipment, and how to navigate the computer programs.

During a biofeedback session, the room is quiet and darkened as the students sit in the recliners wearing noise-cancelling headphones and fingertip sensors, which measure skin conductance and heart rate.

Three choices of computer software offer a variety of self-guided, interactive programs.

As students practice the relaxation techniques presented, they can watch real-time graphs of their physiological responses.

This information helps them identify the activities that work best for them. Once mastered, they can use the techniques whenever needed-before taking a test or giving a class presentation, for example.

Sessions last from 15 minutes to an hour or more.

Pietruszka said: “The training module teaches how to become aware of your body, how to use breathing, how to become mindful of your thoughts.

“As you practice and use the tools and get feedback, you can see what works for you.

“Biofeedback is really a way to have a coach. It basically lets you know when relaxation techniques are working.”

Iowa State’s Information Technology Services’ Computation Advisory Committee’s fund of 4,654 dollars helped establish the center.

Scientists Crack Brain’s Numerical Code

PARIS – Researchers have found that they can tell what number a person has just seen by observing and analyzing the pattern of brain activity.

These findings confirm the notion that numbers are encoded in the brain via detailed and specific activity patterns and open the door to more sophisticated exploration of a human’s high-level numerical abilities.

Although “number-tuned” neurons have been found in monkeys, scientists hadn’t managed before now to get any farther than particular brain regions in humans.

“It was not at all guaranteed that with functional imaging it would be possible to pick this up,” said Evelyn Eger of INSERM (Institut national de la sant et de la recherche mdicale) in France.

Researchers presented 10 study participants with either number symbols or dots while their brains were scanned with a MRI. They then devised a way of decoding the numbers or the number of dots people had observed.

Although the brain patterns corresponding to number symbols differed somewhat from those for the same number of objects, the numerosity of dot sets can be predicted above chance from the brain activation patterns evoked by digits, the researchers show. That doesn’t work the other way around, however.

At least for small numbers of dots, the researchers did find that the patterns change gradually in a way that reflects the ordered nature of the numbers — allowing one to conclude that six is between five and seven, for instance.

The methods used in the new study may ultimately help to unlock how the brain makes more sophisticated calculations, the researchers say, according to an INSERM release.

“With these codes, we are only beginning to access the most basic building blocks that symbolic math probably relies on,” Eger said.

These findings were published online in Current Biology.

Communicating With Nature Makes You More Caring

ROCHESTER – Paying attention to Mother Nature not only feels good, it also makes you a better person, says a new study.

The study has been published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“Stopping to experience our natural surroundings can have social as well as personal benefits,” says Richard Ryan, coauthor and professor of psychology, psychiatry and education at the University of Rochester.

While the salubrious effects of nature are well documented, from increasing happiness and physical health to lowering stress, this study shows that the benefits extend to a person’s values and actions.

Exposure to natural as opposed to man-made environments leads people to value community and close relationships and to be more generous with money, find Ryan and his team of researchers at the University of Rochester.

The paper includes four experiments in which 370 participants were exposed to either natural or man-made settings. Participants were encouraged to attend to their environments by noticing colors and textures and imagining sounds and smells.

In three of the studies, participants were shown a selection of four images on a 19 inch computer screen for two minutes each. Half of the subject viewed buildings, roads, and other cityscapes; the other half observed landscapes, lakes, and deserts. The urban and nature images were matched for color, complexity, layout, and lighting.

In a fourth study, participants were simply assigned at random to work in a lab with or without plants.

Participants then answered a questionnaire assessing the importance of four life aspirations: wealth and fame (”to be financially successful” and “to be admired by many people”) and connectedness and community (”to have deep enduring relationships” and “to work toward the betterment of society”).

Across all four studies, people exposed to natural elements rated close relationships and community higher than they had previously. The questionnaire also measured how immersed viewers were in their environments and found that the more deeply engaged subjects were with natural settings, the more they valued community and closeness. By contrast, the more intensely participants focused on artificial elements, the higher they rated wealth and fame.

To test generosity, two of the studies gave participants a 5-dollar prize with the instructions that the money could be kept or given to a second anonymous participant, who would then be given an additional 5-dollar. The second participant could choose to return the prize money or keep it. Thus, subjects had nothing to gain if they chose to trust the other participant, and risked losing their money.

The result revealed people who were in contact with nature were more willing to open their wallets and share. As with aspirations, the higher the immersion in nature, the more likely subjects were to be generous with their winnings.

Lead author Netta Weinstein says that the findings highlight the importance of creating green spaces in cities and have implication for planners and architects.

Citation for 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Excerpts from the citation awarding the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine to awarded to Americans Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak. The Karolinska Institute says the trio was honored for research that has implications for cancer and aging research.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to three scientists who have solved a major problem in biology: how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. The Nobel Laureates have shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes the telomeres — and in an enzyme that forms them — telomerase.

The long, threadlike DNA molecules that carry our genes are packed into chromosomes, the telomeres being the caps on their ends. Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation. Carol Greider and Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA. These discoveries explained how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase.

If the telomeres are shortened, cells age. Conversely, if telomerase activity is high, telomere length is maintained, and cellular senescence is delayed. This is the case in cancer cells, which can be considered to have eternal life. Certain inherited diseases, in contrast, are characterized by a defective telomerase, resulting in damaged cells. The award of the Nobel Prize recognizes the discovery of a fundamental mechanism in the cell, a discovery that has stimulated the development of new therapeutic strategies.

In conclusion, the discoveries by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak have added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies.

Flickering Bright Colors Likely To Trigger Epileptic Fits

LONDON – Certain flickering colors, especially red and blue in tandem, seem more likely to cause fits among epileptics, says a new study headed by a researcher of Indian origin.

Joydeep Bhattacharya at the Goldsmiths-University of London (GU-L) headed a team of researchers to probe the brain rhythms of photo-sensitivity.

In 1997, more than 700 children in Japan reportedly suffered an epileptic attack while watching an episode of a popular cartoon.

This was later diagnosed as a case of photosensitive epilepsy (a kind of epilepsy caused by visual stimulus) triggered by a specific segment of the cartoon containing a colourful flickering stimulus.

In 2007, the animated video footage promoting the 2012 London Olympics faced similar complaint from some viewers.

The researchers probed brain rhythms of photo-sensitivity among adult controls, an unmedicated patient suffering from photo-sensitive epilepsy, two age-matched controls, and another medicated patient.

Their results show that when perturbed by potentially epileptic-triggering stimulus, healthy human brain manages to maintain a chaotic state with a high degree of disorder, but an epileptic brain represents a highly ordered state which makes it prone to hyper-excitation.

Their study also found how, for example, red-blue flickering stimulus causes larger excitation than red-green or blue-green stimulus, says a GU-L release.

Obesity Spurs a Tide of Cancer in Europe

MANCHESTER – Obesity caused at least 124,000 new cancers last year in Europe, according to a new study.

The proportion of cases of new cancers were highest among women and in central European countries such as the Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

“As more people stop smoking and fewer women take hormone replacement therapy, it is possible that obesity may become the biggest attributable cause of cancer in women within the next decade,” said Andrew Renehan, who led the study.

Renehan, senior lecturer in cancer studies and surgery, University of Manchester, and colleagues in Britain, The Netherlands and Switzerland, created a model to estimate the proportion of cancers that could be attributed to excess body weight in 30 European countries.

Using data from the WHO and International Agency for Research on Cancer, they estimated that in 2002 there had been over 70,000 new cases of cancer attributable to excess body mass index (BMI, height to weight ratio), out of a total of nearly 2.2 million new diagnoses across the 30 European countries.

Researchers found these numbers increased to 124,050 in 2008. “These are very conservative estimates, and it’s quite likely that the numbers are, in fact, higher,” said Renehan.

The number of new cases of obesity-related oesophageal cancer was particularly high in Britain relative to the rest of Europe. “This country accounts for 54 percent of new cases across all 30 countries,” said Renehan.

“This may be due to synergistic interactions between smoking, alcohol, excess body weight and acid reflux – and is currently an area where research is required,” Renehen said, according to a Manchester university release.

Renehen presented these findings at the 15th congress of the European Cancer Organisation and the 34th congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology.

These findings are slated for publication in the International Journal of Cancer.

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