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What could those three possibly have in common? Believe it or not, they all play the role of a lead action figure in kids video games. Hearing the latest edition of the german biotechnology news broadcast, I was surprised to learn that researchers at the Riedel-Kruse Lab in Stanford University have developed, what-they-call, Biotic Video Games, where the paramecium are controlled and maneuvered about via a joystick and managed to publish their findings in a research paper!

The device is basically composed of a fluid compartment, where the paramecium move around and roam about freely. I am sure you are wondering, exactly how BIG (small) IS a paramecium. Well, it is so small, making it actually difficult to observe by the naked eye. But no worries! They can be seen quite clearly on your screen, while you’re playing, thanks to the provided microscope camera, which is connected to electrodes and supplies you with a live feed, being superimposed on the flash game board onto your screen. The joystick is capable of creating a weak electric field, which influences the direction of their movement, as you wish.

Eight different games have been developed and given quite funny names, as Ciliaball, Pac-man and Pond Pong. For instance, in one game version, the player needs to move about the paramecium to score a soccer goal. To help you easier imagine this, take a look at this 3-part video.

As Riedel-Kruse put it, these games serve two ultimate goals: First, to awaken the scientific interest in those young kids and teenagers, hopefully motivating them to someday pursue a career, heading off in that direction. And after all, scientists can collect and analyze information about those tiny organisms, whilst playing with them.

So please do take a break and enjoy some time away with your paramecium 🙂

Image Source: Stanford University Schools of Medicine and Engineering Riedel-Kruse IH, Chung AM, Dura B, Hamilton AL, & Lee BC (2011). Design, engineering and utility of biotic games. Lab on a chip, 11 (1), 14-22 PMID: 21085736

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Infections in the teeth implants are dreaded, running a high risk of potentially affecting the jaw bones. It is actually not that uncommon. The overall number of performed teeth implantations in the US and Europe has doubled over the last decade, yet studies show that 10 percent of the implants are associated with problems, usually in the first year directly after the operation. To prevent any further deterioration, the implants sometimes have to be removed.

New methods are now being developed by researchers in the University of Zurich to keep inflammation-causing bacteria at bay. In their PLoS ONE article, they present their materials and methods, which have successfully eliminated 99% of the microbes after a 15-minute electrical treatment.

Conventional treatment methods of this sort of inflammation depend on the utilization of topical antibiotics, which is surely a burden for the patient. The aim of the study was to develop a non-invasive approach to efficiently fight off the bacteria, or, as the researchers phrase it in their paper, to develop “an in-situ decontamination of the dental implants”.

The whole idea is based on the process of water treatment, where sterile water is produced through electrolysis. In order to simulate the conditions in the jaw, an Escherichia coli bacterial film was coated onto the titanium implants, which were impregnated in a gelatinous preparation. In the experimental design, one implant functioned as the cathode and the other as the anode. The implants were subjected to a 15-minute-long electrical treatment, of an intensity ranging between 0 and 10 Milliampere. This artificially generated electrical field caused the hydroxyl ions of the water molecules to migrate to the cathode, and thus raising the pH. A color change of the indicators, used in the gelatin, prove that an alkaline environment predominates at the cathode. On the other hand, the pH value drops at the anode, forming an acidic milieu.

The numerous experimental models with various electrical intensities show that in cases, where an acidic ambience was produced around the implants, 99% of the bacteria died off after a 15-minute treatment. Therefore, the patient implants in the future will take up the role of the anode. A clip at the lip will be used as a cathode.

What at first glance might seem as a torture mechanism is in reality completely harmless. The minute amount of Milliampere, which is sufficient to conquer the bacteria, is hardly even perceived by the patient and would tops cause a mild muscle twitching.




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A 70-year-old man can enjoy the blessing of fatherhood to perfectly healthy children. That is practically a miracle quality-wise because the male gametes are being produced in huge amounts, 1000 per second to be exact. That amounts to about 30 billion a year. Each and every one of those sperms could potentially contribute by half to the formation of a human being. So how could this rapid production preserve and maintain the critical quality required? How could errors during the sperm production be avoided? Researchers have recently gained an insight into the molecular mechanism as released in the â€œï»żProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”.

During the sperm production, there is an automatic quality control process. This control mechanism is strengthened by a specific genetic addition, present in both humans and great apes. The triggering factor is comprised of parts of an endogenous retrovirus, incorporated in our genome. 15 million years ago, this viral DNA was presumably incorporated in the genetic makeup of one of our ancestors. A lucky coincidence? Perhaps, but the researchers claim it catched on during the process of evolution. The site of insertion of this viral DNA is close to a gene, responsible for the production of a crucial control factor.
The control factor, termed p63, drives faulty cells straight to their apoptosis. It imposes a strict quality control of the genome because even in cases of a slight damage to the DNA, the cells ultimately die. As a result, the passing on of a flawed genome to the next generation is prevented. Some cells definitely fall as victims in the process. In addition, this mechanism could protect against certain types of cancer as testicular carcinoma. They refer that, p63 represents a barrier to the formation of tumors in normal healthy tissues. In cases of testicular cancer, the administration of drugs, that restore the function of p63, could prove potentially useful in the near future.

Source: Pharmazeutische Zeitung and original PNAS paper (thanks to Mariam and Steve Moss for sharing)

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A simple online search for anti-microbial clothing and you are bound to come across an assortment of brand names, even Adidas, promoting their products, mostly sportswear. But are they really safe? To answer this question, researchers at the Hohenstein Institute tested the safety of such anti-bacterial textiles. The result: Even in cases of volunteers, who wore those clothing articles for an extended period of time, their skin flora was not affected.ï»ż

Over the last years, anti-microbial textiles have gained popularity. It started off in the medical sector in an approach to cut down on cross-infection between patients and to ensure the safety of the hospital staff. Recently, the industry has managed to find potential customers, those who are interested in sport and outdoor activities, looking for ways to control bad odours. The majority of these products, found on the market, are manufactured using anti-bacterial silver strands, which help in â€œï»żeliminating 99.9% of odour-causing bacteria” as one ad claims. ï»żFurthermore, one firm releases products to be used in cases of neurodermatitis. On their homepage, it is stated that, “our silver textiles provide a realistic alleviation of this agonizing skin disease” and are backed up by statements of health experts.

Despite the previous positive experiences concerning the implementation of silver, like in the purification of water, anti-bacterial clothing have raised a controversial discussion in the media. This encouraged researchers to run a 6-week-long experiment, in which 60 healthy volunteers participated. For the study, special T-shirts were manufactured, which conveyed antimicrobial activity on one side, yet a non-antibacterial placebo effect on the other. For confirmation that this model actually did exert an antibacterial effect, the T-shirts were tested in the laboratory using Staphylococcus aureus und Klebsiella pneumonia. The volunteers were instructed to wear the T-shirts for at least 8 hours each day during the course of 4 weeks. The researchers analyzed on a weekly basis several parameters concerning the skin flora. In all the participating volunteers, the skin flora, both before and after, were within the normal range. There were no threats of a skin pathogen at any time. Therefore, these clothes have been characterized as being harmless and it seems like, their market will continue to expand as more people appreciate the benefits of leading an active life style.

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Which hair colour a person possesses depends mainly on the proportional amount of two melanin pigments, mainly the black-brown pigment, known as eumelanin, and the blond-red pigment, known as pheomelanin. The assortment of hair colours present is a consequence of the numerous combination proportions of each pigment.

For quite some time now (since 1997), the gene responsible for the classic red-hair phenotype has been discovered. At that time, the research team was concerned with the MC1R gene on chromosome 16. Its role was the production of MC1R receptor, which assists in the conversion of pheomelanin to eumelanin. Individuals with two copies of the recessive gene, causing a mutation in the MC1R, are most likely to turn out red-headed due to the build-up of pheomelanin. However, since the other hair colours are controlled by a variety of genes, it was, until recently, a tough task to predict a person’s hair colour from strands of his/her DNA.

Now, researchers at the Erasmus University Rotterdam have released an article identifying 13 DNA markers, located on 11 genes, which can guide us to the prediction, with a fairly high accuracy, of an individual’s hair colour. “For our study, the authors utilized the DNA and the accompanying information regarding hair colour from hundreds of Europeans and analysed various genes, that were previously known to be involved with this trait”, pointed out Professor Manfred Kayser, who lead this study. The accuracy percentage is as high as 90% when it comes to black and red hair, but dropping down to 80% or more with blond or brown hair.

The further potential implications of the study will soon be applied to forensic investigations. Along with their previously published work regarding eye colour and height from the DNA, these researchers aim at forming a descriptive profile of previously unidentified individuals, whether victims or offenders.

Source: Scinexx

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Man or Machine? Bioinformaticians at McGill university are betting on man. They want to put, what was previously wasted, time on the internet into use. Thus, Phylo was created. That is the name of an online interactive game, aiming to solve the problem of multiple sequence alignments, one that has been agonizing researchers for some time now. The human mind is evolved in a way, that even computers supposedly can’t beat. We are capable of recognizing certain patterns and forming interrelations between them, a skill which numerous lines of codes can not easily accomplish.

So what to do? Once you open the link, go ahead and sign up, although it is possible to play as a guest. But hey, if I am taking time off to contribute to science, I want to be able to brag about it later on. 🙂 The creators of the game have formed a very comprehensive tutorial, explaining how the game works. They use down-to-earth terms and comparisons to simplify matters, so people from all walks of life can jump in as well.

The coloured blocks: Those symbolize the nucleotides. Correspondingly, there are four of them: Orange, Green, Blue, Purple. I wasn’t able to find exactly which colour codes for which nucleotide, something which particularly intrigued me, since purple blocks were scanty in my alignment.

Aim of the game: Our job is to align these blocks, as best as possible, so that the blocks’ colour in the first line are matching those in the second line. Matching blocks gives you a score of 1 point and mismatched ones deduct 1 point. This should be preferably done WITHOUT having to create gaps. They point out that gaps represent the mutations, which the sequences have incurred during evolution. In the easier stages, the sequences are provided on two lines, representing two different species. As it gets more difficult, more lines are provided and related together through a mini-phylogenetic tree, to allow you to pinpoint your priorities. Once you have reached the same score a computer had previously provided “par”, a star will blink to indicate that you are ready to move on, as the alignments are stored in a database for future use.

My experience: I stumbled upon a feature, where you can choose the type of sequences you want to work with. They are arranged according to disease, level ID, or simply random. I chose the blood and immune system disorders and was granted sequences, related to essential thrombocytopenia.

Statistics: At the end, I was provided with the following astonishing numbers. So far, 5344 users have submitted 70196 alignments for 2137 different levels. Personally, I think this number is quite surprising, since that many people are joining in since only November 29th, the date of the official launch.

Interested in more: In the “about” page, the following sentence is provided: “For more information about any one of these topics, click here“.

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The pursuit of renewable sources of energy just hit a crucial breakthrough. Since the stores of fossil fuel are diminishing as we speak, researchers are trying to exploit the machinery of microorganisms for the production of diverse chemical compounds, which can be consumed by themselves or later channeled into some form of combustible fuel. One major group of those compounds are alkanes, those saturated organic compounds abundantly found in gasolline.

The study started off when ten out of the eleven strains of Cyanobacteria, that were photoautotrophically cultured, produced forms of alkanes, mostly those with 15 & 17 carbons atoms “termed penatdecane and heptadecane respectively”. Logically, that indicates that the ‘alkane-producing gene’ is shared in all ten of them, yet absent in that unlucky 11th strain. So the search was launched.

Trying to pinpoint the gene responsible for the production of alkanes through using a method referred to as subtractive genome analysis, the study authors compared ten genomes of the alkane-producing strains to figure out which genes they have in common. Next, any of those shared genes was immediately eliminated if it had additionally showed up in the genome of the NON-alkane producing strain. Eventually, the researchers were left with 17 genes found in common and the function of 10 of them had already been previously assigned. Through careful scrutiny of the families to which proteins of those remaining 7 genes probably belong to, two of them particularly stood out, being likely participants in the pathway of the alkane synthesis.

And as always, there is no better way to test the hypothesis than to consult a microbiologist’s favorite lab microbe. To our pleasant surprise, extracts from the colonies of Escherichia coli engineered to express both genes did in fact contain alkanes. So, although we are still not fully aboard the track heading the way towards large scale production of alkanes using such microbes, this is definitely a gigantic leap in the right direction!

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“Get me more, mummy!” demands one youngster bacterium, pointing to the drops of antibiotic reaching the colony headquarters.

Come on! FOR REAL?

Sadly very true and it is not even that infrequent either! I only became aware of this after reading about a study, where researchers in HMS, led by Dr. George M. Church, collected soil samples in an experiment, attempting to search for more bio-diversity and were stunned to see that as they added antibiotics to these bacterial cultures, the bacteria didn’t seem to mind at all!

Unlike human beings, bacteria tend to like sharing. The more they share their strategic defenses, the more prosperity they end up living in. Again, to our dismay, such fear was translated into reality, as this has already extended to the pathogenic minorities of the bacterial world in a new study, published in January in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Scientists, in China, have stumbled upon a strain of tuberculosis-causing bacteria, called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, INCAPABLE of growing adequately in the absence of rifampicin. This is as ominous as such news can get.

This strain was discovered as physicians attempted to treat a TB-infected patient with a regimen which included rifampicin. Unexpectedly, his condition worsened and only upon the removal of rifampicin did he start feeling better, until eventually full recovery. Already, reports of multidrug-resistant TB “MDR” have been around for some time. Normally, the treatment course includes more than 1 drug to be able to effectively kill the bacteria. Apparently, the bacteria have found a way to get around that!

We can only wonder: which antibiotic is next?

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So you drive over to the lab to have your blood work? In the near future, that would totally be ‘old-school’. Even if you so much as consider making that journey, you have GOT to be tempted to please think again! Time has been proven, repeatedly, to be of the essence, both for the sake of the diagnosis & treatment and the patient’s quality of life. For instance, imagine the convenience it will provide for an HIV-infected patient, who is what a lab technician would probably call a regular customer, due to the regular follow-up tests needed to monitor the development and treatment. Through a $10 piece of hardware connected to your cell phone, you will have your medical test results ready on the go. All you’d have to do is insert a slide containing a drop or two of your blood and leave the rest of the work up to the chip, as demonstrated on a prototype. I will even bet that, those who choose not to use it, would be charged extra for lab work!!!

The Ozcan Research Group at UCLA will already begin their field tests in Africa concerning the new cell phone/microscope gadget. I had to see to believe. Aside from all the engineering & technological aspects, which I am sure are quite many, if this were to be actually implicated worldwide, the possibilities of its application are endless, including, but not necessarily limited to, pretty much all of the blood-borne diseases. For instance, malaria, which is fairly common in many African countries, can be instantly diagnosed. The hospital would get the patient’s blood picture, through the cellular networks for analysis by physicians and there you have it.

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On a Tuesday, the year 1995, Graham, a 57-year-old patient on the verge of congestive heart failure, received a call that a donor has been found. This donor committed suicide via a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After the successful transplant, Graham got in touch with the donor’s family, married his wife and after a whopping 12 years later, ï»ż kills himself through the same technique. In an interview held a couple of years after his marriage, he admitted to the reporter that after seeing the donor’s ex-wife, he felt as if he had already known her for years.

Ever since heart transplant surgeries were a success in 1967, scientists were skeptical about what is now referred to as, Cellular Memory Phenomenon.  This was provoked through the close observation of recipients, who repeatedly report bizarre distant memories and new personal preferences. Exactly how much can the cells of an organ, other than the brain, mainly the heart in this case, store memories? The Discovery Channel aired a documentary titled “Transplanting memories” where various experts gave their opinion on the matter.

If such phenomenon truly exists, where are these memories located inside the cells? Could it be the DNA? But this is sheltered inside the nucleus and remains entangled except when cellular division takes place. This makes its access difficult, but after all, it cannot be THAT difficult, otherwise mutagenic agents wouldn’t have succeeded.

Possibly proteins. Dr. Candace Pert stated that, since the brain and human organs are linked through a massive network of peptides. She said “I believe that memory can be accessed anywhere in the peptide/receptor network. For instance, a memory associated with food may be linked to the pancreas or liver, and such associations can be transplanted from one person to another.”

Source:  The Medical News

Image Source: Hiveworld

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