Stories tagged Cells

Dec
09
2010

Surveying Microbes at Sea
Surveying Microbes at SeaCourtesy C-MORE
There are microbes…and then there are micro-microbes. Oceanographers on C-MORE’s BiG RAPA oceanographic expedition are finding bacteria the size of one-one-millionth of a meter in the oligotrophic (low nutrient), open-ocean of the Southeast Pacific, far from the productive waters off the coast of Chile. But that’s not all; some scientists are looking for the even smaller marine viruses in gallons of filtered seawater. Meet some of these micro-microbes in these video reports:
Prochlorococcus
ProchlorococcusCourtesy Dr. Anne Thompson, MIT

  • Microbe Diversity, Part 1: Prochlorococcus, the most common bacterium in the world’s oceans; nitrogen-fixing bacteria that provide a usable form of nitrogen “fertilizer” for other photosynthesizers
  • Microbe Diversity, Part 2: picophytoeukaryotes with different colored pigments; viruses, which are parasites on other living things

Yes indeed, microbial oceanographers are taking home quite a collection from the South Pacific Ocean. In less than a week the good ship RV Melville will arrive at Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and scientists will step onto land for the first time in almost a month. They and their oceanographic samples will return to C-MORE laboratories around the U.S. The oceanographers are also returning with new hypotheses buzzing around in their heads. Now it’s time for them to take the next step in the Scientific Method: data analysis!

Nov
26
2010

surveying microbes at sea
surveying microbes at seaCourtesy C-MORE
Dr. Dan Repeta from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is C-MORE’s Chief Scientist on the BiG RAPA expedition, which is conducting research off the coast of Chile. Dr. Repeta and his team of scientists are sampling the underwater microbial environment using a variety of instruments, including a water collector called a CTD (see educational resource below). Two interesting results have turned up in the CTD data:

  1. chlorophyll -- The greatest amount of the green pigment, representing floating microscopic plants in the sea known as phytoplankton, was found about 30 meters below the sea surface. (That's where oceanographers expect the most chlorophyll. Perhaps phytoplankton living at that depth must produce more chlorophyll in order to capture the lower light intensities, just like leaves are usually darker green if they're growing on a land plant in the shade). However, a surprise awaited oceanographers at 60 meters. At that depth, they discovered an unusual “secondary, deeper chlorophyll max," something not seen many other places in the world.
  2. Oxygen -- This gas enters the ocean primarily at the surface, from the air and also from phytoplankton photosynthesis. Bacteria and other heterotrophs consume the O2 as they metabolize. Therefore, oxygen is expected to decrease with depth. At BiG RAPA's Station 1 oxygen not only fell; it fell all the way to near zero.

Dr. Angel White and the CTD
Dr. Angel White and the CTDCourtesy Eric Grabowski, C-MORE
"Sea It Live" in some BiG RAPA videos. Join Dr. Angel White from Oregon State University as she demonstrates the CTD rosette. Then join Dr. Repeta for his Chief Scientist Station 1 Update .
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*Educational resource = C-MORE Science Kit Ocean Conveyor Belt's Powerpoint, "Lesson 3: Using Data to Explore Ocean Processes "

Nov
19
2010

Glowing Trees
Glowing TreesCourtesy This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 09:48, 21 July 2008 (UTC) by Manoillon (talk). On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Bioluminescence. Think fireflies. Or anglerfish. Or your friendly neighborhood boulevard tree. Wha? Yep. Recently the Royal Society of Chemistry published (and gave their royal thumbs-up to) Dr. Yen-Hsun Wu’s paper in which he describes eliminating the need for energy-sapping streetlights by injecting trees with gold nanoshells.

According to inhabitat (design will save the world):

By implanting the gold nanoparticles into the leaves of the Bacopa caroliniana plants, the scientists were able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission. Under a high wavelength of ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles were able to produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission in the surrounding chlorophyll.

Popular Science is just as psyched:

This ingenious triple threat of an idea could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, cut electricity costs and reduce light pollution, without sacrificing the safety that streetlights bring.

Creepy? Cool? You decide.

Nov
17
2010

All Abooooooard!  Microbes Set Sail
All Abooooooard! Microbes Set SailCourtesy C-MORE
Well, yeah, that’s right. Microbes don’t smile, and they sure don’t command an oceanographic ship. However, there are lots of microbes in the sea; in fact, they account for most of the total marine biomass. With that in mind, there’s no question about microbes being fundamental to the functioning and health of the oceans.

UNOLS ship, the RV Melville
UNOLS ship, the RV MelvilleCourtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Scientists from C-MORE (Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education) and the Universidad de Concepción, Chile have organized an expedition to one of the most sparsely sampled oceanic regions on the planet…the southeast Pacific Ocean. The expedition’s official name is BiG RAPA (Biogeochemical Gradients: Role in Arranging Planktonic Assemblages). It departed from Chile on November 17 on the research ship Melville and will travel almost due west, ending at Rapa Nui (Easter Island) on December 14.

BiG RAPA expedition’s multi-media, interactive Sea It Live website
BiG RAPA expedition’s multi-media, interactive Sea It Live websiteCourtesy C-MORE
Oceanographers will conduct studies on a microbial community that exists in a very curious environment. The Melville will travel from the nutrient-rich coastal waters off Chile into the low-nutrient area known as the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The SPSG is the most oligotrophic, or nutrient-poor, of all sub-tropical gyres. What kind of microbes can live in such an impoverished area? How do they do it? Join the BiG RAPA’s Sea It Live Tracker and find out!

Nov
12
2010

Gold. Pretty, pretty, cancer-annihilating gold. Wait, what? Yep, you read that right. Gold nanoshells are proving themselves mighty effective at killing cancer .

So here’s the process in an overly-simplified nut(nano?)shell –

1. Gold nanoshells are injected into the body.
2. The shells travel the bloodstream and seep into the tumor via the leaky blood vessels that feed it (your other blood vessels are nice and tightly woven).
3. The shiny new gold-nanoshell-infused-tumor is heated with infrared light (the same light that powers your remote controls at home) for about twenty minutes.
4. The gold-nanoshell-infused-tumor gets cooked to a dead crisp, while your healthy cells remain intact and healthy.

Great news if you’re a lab rat and you’re looking to stick around for more experiments since, so far, their studies with lab rats have been 100% effective in killing the cancer.

Also great news (mostly) if you’re a human and you’re looking for a possible cure for cancer that doesn’t involve getting horrendously sick from chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Why “mostly?” Well, because there are Gold Nugget
Gold NuggetCourtesy United States Geological Survey
few questions that ought to be asked:

1. What happens to the rest of the gold nanoshells that don’t make it to the tumor? Are they absorbed by the body? Are they processed by the liver and then passed?
2. If they’re passed through the body via the liver, what happens to them once they’re in our waste-water treatment facilities?
3. What affect do they have on the environment?
4. If the treated water makes it back to our drinking water – will we be consuming gold nanoshells without our knowledge? What then?

It’s very easy to get all rah-rah-sis-boom-bah! about exciting new cancer treatments because we all want it so badly. But it’s also important to ask the difficult questions upfront, so that we’re not facing any nasty surprises down the road (asbestos, anyone?). Meanwhile, I’ll be quietly flying my gold nanoshell flag. Go, fight, win!

Nov
12
2010

a paver, or stone tile, representing ocean microbes
a paver, or stone tile, representing ocean microbesCourtesy B. Mayer
Who hasn’t heard about the very great scientific and social problems of global warming and ocean acidification? As microbiologist Louis Pasteur noted more than a century ago, “The very great is accomplished by the very small.” Part of the answer to these very great problems can be accomplished by understanding the very small: ocean microbes, living things that are less than a hundredth of the thickness of a human hair.

Our effort to understand the very small in the ocean has just taken a big step. C-MORE Hale (Hawaiian language for “house,” pronounced hah-lay) was officially dedicated in a ceremony that took place on October 25, 2010. C-MORE, or the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research & Education, is all about studying ocean microbes. Scientists at C-MORE are looking into microorganisms at the genomic, DNA level and all the way up to the biome level where microbes recycle elements in ocean ecosystems.

Headquartered at the University of Hawai`i, C-MORE’s interdisciplinary team includes scientists, engineers and educators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Oregon State University, University of California – Santa Cruz and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. As a National Science Foundation center, C-MORE is a dynamic “think tank” community of researchers, educators and students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, including native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander.

C-MORE Hale, with stone tiles
C-MORE Hale, with stone tilesCourtesy B. Mayer
C-MORE Hale will be equipped completely and ready for scientists to put on their lab coats and get to work in January 2011. For now, e komo mai! (welcome!) Imagine yourself walking along this sidewalk leading to C-MORE Hale. Stop for a moment to look at the round pavers; they depict ocean microbes first discovered by 19th century zoologists on the worldwide HMS Challenger expedition. Step past these unique designs and take a tour of the brand-new building!

Oct
15
2010
It's Friday, so it's time for a new Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
Today,
"Reporting in the journal Science, Paul Kubes and colleagues filmed immune cells called neutrophils finding their way to a mouse's wounded liver. The researchers wanted to understand how neutrophils find injuries when bacteria aren't around to signal the damage."
Oct
03
2010

Human embryonic stem cell differentiation: A: Cell colonies that are not yet differentiated. B: Nerve cell
Human embryonic stem cell differentiation: A: Cell colonies that are not yet differentiated. B: Nerve cellCourtesy Nissim Benvenisty

Another step toward living forever

Stem cells have the potential to become almost any type of body part. I believe they will soon be used to rejuvenate, repair, or rebuild body parts. Look at our past Science Buzz posts about stem cells. Bad knees or hips? Inject some stem cells to rebuild the cartilage. Stem cells also can repair cut spinal cords, damaged eyes, diseased brains, or help a diabetic's pancreas make insulin.

A new, better way to make stem cells

Up until now, the stem cells created by reprogramming adult skin cells still had bits and pieces remaining that were not safe enough for human applications.
"Now stem cell researcher Derrick Rossi of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues have developed a way to reprogram cells using synthetic RNA molecules." (Science Magazine) The technique is also twice as fast and 100% more efficient. The team calls its cells RiPS cells, for RNA induced Pluripotent Cells.

Learn more about RNA induced Pluripotent Cells

The new technique, is published online in the journal, Cell Stem Cell.

Sep
10
2010

Dear Tooth Fairy: You can't handle the tooth! (At least not if a new research idea becomes popular)
Dear Tooth Fairy: You can't handle the tooth! (At least not if a new research idea becomes popular)Courtesy Rev Dan Catt
A new study just published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry says our third molars - aka wisdom teeth - could serve as an excellent source for stem cells. Rather than yanking them out and discarding them (often under our pillows), the molars could be kept as a repository of stem cells for our own use in regenerative medicine. The Japanese study, which was led by Yasuaki Oda, states cloned cells derived from wisdom teeth closely resemble embryonic stem cells.

It sounds like wise use of what's otherwise considered medical waste, but don't be surprised if the Tooth Fairies' Union says it bites.

Aug
22
2010

Fermentation of Straw
Fermentation of StrawCourtesy Martinonline

Beet wine

As a youngster, I watched my mom make wine from beet juice. She put yeast on a piece of toast and floated it in a crock full of beet juice. A few weeks later I discovered the effects of intoxification when I sneaked too many sips.

Making a stronger brew

Alcoholic drinks like beer or wine and biofuels like ethanol or iso-butanol are manufactured by adding yeast to a liquid mixture containing sugar. Yeast will die, though, when the alcohol content is too high. If yeast could be modified to withstand a higher alcohol content, the alcohol yield from fermentation would be higher. This would make biofuel production more economical.

Gene modified yeast should make biofuel production more economical

A University of Illinois reseach paper in August 20 issue of the Journal of Biotechnology describes how an overexpression of certain genes effected alcohol yields. "One strain in which INO1 was overexpressed elicited an increase of more than 70 percent for ethanol volume and more than 340 percent for ethanol tolerance when compared to the control strain".

Yong-Su Jin and colleages from the University of Illinois metabolic engineer, worked with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the microbe most often used in making ethanol, to identify four genes (MSN2, DOG1, HAL1, and INO1) that improve tolerance to ethanol and iso-butanol when they are overexpressed.
Further study of these genes should increase alcohol tolerance even further, and that will translate into cost savings and greater efficiency during biofuel production. U of Illinois press release