Stories tagged Cells

Jan
28
2011

ocean micro-plastic: These samples were collected from the surface water of the North Pacific Ocean by the SUPER expedition in 2008.
ocean micro-plastic: These samples were collected from the surface water of the North Pacific Ocean by the SUPER expedition in 2008.Courtesy C-MORE
Who hasn’t heard that plastic in the ocean is trouble?

  • Plastic has been found clogging the stomachs of dead albatross and other ocean birds.
  • Plastic ropes and traps have entangled marine life, causing more death.
  • As a long-lasting chemical, plastic floating in the ocean provides long-distance rafts that may move aggressive alien marine life to new areas.
  • Plastic may provide a “sticky” surface where toxins can accumulate, becoming a concentrated source of poison for marine consumers.
  • A "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has been reported to be an "island the size of Texas" floating in the North Pacific Ocean...but is this really true? Continue reading to find out!

Yep, plastic in the ocean is bad news; so let’s put scientific energy into studying and solving the problem.

manta trawl: The trawl is hoisted above the stern deck of the RV Kilo Moana.
manta trawl: The trawl is hoisted above the stern deck of the RV Kilo Moana.Courtesy C-MORE
In 2008 C-MORE, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research & Education headquartered at the University of Hawai`i, with assistance from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, embarked on an oceanographic expedition aboard the RV Kilo Moana, which means "oceanographer" in Hawaiian. The goal of the expedition, dubbed SUPER (Survey of Underwater Plastic and Ecosystem Response Cruise), was to measure the amount of micro-plastic in the ocean. In addition, oceanographers took samples to study microbes and seawater chemistry associated with the ocean plastic. The Kilo Moana sailed right through the area known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” between Hawai`i and California.

Early results: there was no garbage patch/island. Once in a while something like a barnacle-covered plastic buoy would float past the ship, but mostly the ocean looked really clean and empty of any kind of marine debris.

manta trawl: The net is being pulled slowly through the ocean's surface water.
manta trawl: The net is being pulled slowly through the ocean's surface water.Courtesy C-MORE
But wait! Scientists looked closer and were amazed. Every single one of the more than a dozen manta trawls, filtering the surface seawater for an hour and a half each, brought up pieces of micro-plastic! Some were as small as 0.2 millimeter, mixed among zooplankton!

Other expeditions have reported similar results (for example, Scripps Institution of Oceanography's 2009 SEAPLEX expedition and Sea Education Association's North Atlantic Expedition 2010): no Texas-size garbage patches, but plenty of plastic marine debris to worry about. The data seem to show that most of the plastic is in the form of small pieces spread throughout upper levels of water at some locations around the world's ocean. In these areas, the ocean is like a dilute soup of plastic.

Dr. White: examining the results of a manta tow
Dr. White: examining the results of a manta towCourtesy C-MORE
C-MORE researcher Dr. Angelicque (Angel) White, assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State University (OSU) was a scientist on board the SUPER expedition. In recent interviews, (for example: the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Seadiscovery.com) Dr. White cautions us to view the complex plastic marine debris problem accurately. Furthermore, new results will soon be published by C-MORE about microbial diversity and activity on plastic pieces.

In the meantime, as Dr. White says, “…let’s keep working on eliminating plastics from the ocean so one day we can say the worst it ever became was a dilute soup, not islands. “

Plastic in the ocean is trouble. How can you be part of the solution?

Jan
17
2011

This Wednesday evening kicks off a super-exciting four-part NOVA series about nanotechnology called Making Stuff. Each episode focuses on one general concept: stronger, smaller, cleaner, smarter. We could just squeal.

Spider Web +
Spider Web +Courtesy National Science Foundation

I was honored to get a sneak-preview of the first episode, Making Stuff: Stronger in San Francisco in October, and found myself in some crazy conversations afterward about bioengineering and media ethics. You see, scientists have, uh, installed spider silk-making genes into goats, thereby making the goat milk spinnable into spider silk. The Making Stuff episode covers this, then ends by showing the host happily drinking a glass of milk, and we’re left wondering if it's actually the spider-silk-milk that he’s downing without a care in the world.

Baby Goat =
Baby Goat =Courtesy National Science Foundation

2020 Science, the blog of Andrew Maynard, scientist, science policy guru, and Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, kindly takes the conversation beyond “ew!” to “responsible?” Andrew was also in the room for the special preview, and raised far more eloquent concerns than I (I’m sorry – I’m still stuck on the spiders…ew), and then blogged about them. And then got substantive responses, including one from Making Stuff’s producer, Chris Schmidt. All a fascinating read.

Andrew, being the smart, informed fellow that he is, pointed out that this whole spidergoat concept is old news. Bioengineered Spider Silk
Bioengineered Spider SilkCourtesy National Science Foundation
No less icky and/or creepy I would add, but still old news. Can’t wait until the Making Stuff episode that delves into the topic on Wednesday? Take a peek at the short video put together by the National Science Foundation.

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 .
______________________
*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.