Tiny Temperature Sensors!

TinyTempLuís Carlos first realized he might be able to make a nanothermometer while developing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) more than 15 years ago. His team observed that lanthanide ions in the diodes reacted to changes in temperature by reliably shifting the color they emitted.

Carlos, a nanomaterials scientist based at the University of Aveiro, recognized that these ions might have a destiny beyond simply supplying the color for LED lights or displays. So he and his colleagues submitted a paper demonstrating that lanthanide ions could be used as temperature sensors.

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What the Rat Brain Tells Us About Yours

MousePorsoltA little more than a decade ago, Mike Mendl developed a new test for gauging a laboratory rat’s level of happiness. Mendl, an animal welfare researcher in the veterinary school at the University of Bristol in England, was looking for an objective way to tell whether animals in captivity were suffering. Specifically, he wanted to be able to measure whether, and how much, disruptions in lab rats’ routines—being placed in an unfamiliar cage, say, or experiencing a change in the light/dark cycle of the room in which they were housed—were bumming them out. Continue reading “What the Rat Brain Tells Us About Yours”

Beyond the breath: Exploring sex differences in tuberculosis outside the lungs

tubercbrainAbout six miles off the coast of Haifa, a dozen meters deep in the Mediterranean Sea at the site of a submerged prehistoric village called Atlit Yam, researchers in 2008 reported finding the ancient remains of a woman and a one-year-old baby embedded in ocean mud1. The skeletons dated back 9,000 years, and both had bone lesions that, along with molecular analysis, revealed infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.


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Fermented Food as Microbial Test System

bacteriaIn a corner nook of Benjamin Wolfe’s fourth floor laboratory at Tufts University sit two grow-lit shelves of baby Napa cabbages, each individual plant enclosed in a clear plastic box that keeps it sterile. When they get a little older, Wolfe’s team will inoculate the leaves with different combinations of bacteria and watch the bugs grow. This spring, similar sterile Cruciferae will be transplanted to one of a handful of garden patches in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont, from which they will later be harvested, then chopped up and fermented—essentially, turned into sauerkraut—all in the name of science.

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The Shape-Shifting Army Inside Your Cells

darkproteome_1kStructure equals function: If there’s one thing we all learned about proteins in high school biology, that would be it. According to the textbook story of the cell, a protein’s three-dimensional shape determines what it does — drive chemical reactions, pass signals up and down the cell’s information superhighway, or maybe hang molecular tags onto DNA. For more than a century, biologists have thought that the proteins carrying out these functions are like rigid cogs in the cell’s machinery. Continue reading “The Shape-Shifting Army Inside Your Cells”

Prebiotics – gain prominence but remain poorly defined

f1-mediumWith the gut microbiome increasingly recognized as a major player in shaping human biology, probiotic treatments—introducing a few billion purportedly beneficial micro-organisms into human gut communities composed of trillions of microbes—are under intense investigation. Study designs and results have been a mixed bag, and the impact of probiotics remains unclear. Enter the probiotics’ conceptual cousin, prebiotics.

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What Will It Take To Find a Human Pheromone?

noseIn 1991, at a conference sponsored by a fragrance company called the Erox Corporation, two University of Utah scientists presented research on a tantalizing pair of chemical compounds provided by the company. They reported that in a few dozen human volunteers, the molecules androstadienone and estratetraenol activated the vomeronasal organ (VNO)—an olfactory organ that senses pheromones in many animals—in a sex-specific manner. The company patented these molecules as putative human pheromones. Continue reading “What Will It Take To Find a Human Pheromone?”

Fossilized cricket song brought to life in a work of art

eudenbach_jurassicwebThe height of the Jurassic period, some 165 million years ago, was the golden age of massive plant-eating dinosaurs. Other animals—such as small mammals and birds—also darted through conifer forests, which themselves were relatively new on the arboreal scene. But a study published four years ago in PNAS adds a new dimension to our knowledge about the fauna of that time: a sliver of soundscape.

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A Conversation with Amy Clippinger, PETA Scientist

amyclippingerThe relationship between animal rights organizations and the scientific community is often framed in adversarial terms. But over the past few years, organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have sought a place in the scientific dialogue, by promoting the scientific merits of devising alternatives to animal testing. With both the U.S. and Europe modernizing chemical testing legislation, the field of toxicology is especially ripe for new techniques.  Continue reading “A Conversation with Amy Clippinger, PETA Scientist”