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”

Exposure to pharmaceutical contaminants via vegetables

09416-notw7-fruitnvegcxdWith freshwater resources dwindling worldwide, the practice of using treated wastewater to irrigate crops is growing. But that practice might have a downside: In a new study, people who ate vegetables grown using such reclaimed water had increased urine levels of carbamazepine, an antiepileptic drug commonly detected in wastewater.

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Mutations as munitions: Neoantigen vaccines get a closer look as cancer treatment

nm0216-122-i1In 2010, the Dendreon company received the news it had been hoping for: the US Food and Drug Administration had approved its therapeutic cancer vaccine Provenge for prostate cancer. At the time of Provenge’s approval, the headlines hailed it as groundbreaking, and they noted a surge in the price of Dendreon’s stock as the company announced its $93,000 price tag for the therapy. But enthusiasm fizzled when the company later revealed that fewer people used the therapy than expected, and in November 2014 the company filed for bankruptcy. Continue reading “Mutations as munitions: Neoantigen vaccines get a closer look as cancer treatment”