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Archive for the ‘Interesting Studies’ Category

Much-needed tool for neuroscience emerges after years of work

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-24-2014

Nearly a decade ago, the era of optogenetics was ushered in with the development of channelrhodopsins, light-activated ion channels that can, with the flick of a switch, instantaneously turn on neurons in which they are genetically expressed. What has lagged behind, however, is the ability to use light to inactivate neurons with an equal level of reliability and efficiency. Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) scientists have used an analysis of channelrhodopsin’s molecular structure to guide a series of genetic mutations to the ion channel that grant the power to silence neurons with an unprecedented level of control.

The new structurally engineered channel at last gives neuroscientists the tools to both activate and inactivate neurons in deep brain structures using dim pulses of externally projected light. Deisseroth and his colleagues published their findings April 25, 2014 in the journal Science. “We’re excited about this increased light sensitivity of inhibition in part because we think it will greatly enhance work in large-brained organisms like rats and primates,” he says.

First discovered in unicellular green algae in 2002, channelrhodopsins function as photoreceptors that guide the microorganisms’ movements in response to light. In a landmark 2005 study, Deisseroth and his colleagues described a method for expressing the light-sensitive proteins in mouse neurons. By shining a pulse of blue light on those neurons, the researchers showed they could reliably induce the ion channel at channelrhodopsin’s core to open up, allowing positively charged ions to rush into the cell and trigger action potentials. Channelrhodopsins have since been used in hundreds of research projects investigating the neurobiology of everything from cell dynamics to cognitive functions.

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Why Geneticists May Have to Learn Yet Another Language

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-17-2014

When talking about genetic abnormalities at the DNA level that occur when chromosomes swap, delete or add parts, there is an evolving communication gap both in the science and medical worlds, leading to inconsistencies in clinical and research reports.
Now a study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) proposes a new classification system that may standardize how structural chromosomal rearrangements are described. Known as Next-Gen Cytogenetic Nomenclature, it is a major contribution to the classification system to potentially revolutionize how cytogeneticists worldwide translate and communicate chromosomal abnormalities. The study will be published online April 17, 2014 in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

“As scientists we are moving the field of cytogenetics forward in the clinical space,” said Cynthia Morton, PhD, BWH director of Cytogenetics, senior study author. “We will be able to define chromosomal abnormalities and report them in a way that is integral to molecular methods entering clinical practice.”

According to the researchers, advances in next-generation sequencing methods and results from BWH’s Developmental Genome Anatomy Project (DGAP) revealed an assortment of genes disrupted and dysregulated in human development in over 100 cases. Given the wide variety of chromosomal abnormalities, the researchers recognized that more accurate and full descriptions of structural chromosomal rearrangements were needed.

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Scarless Wound Healing

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-10-2014

In early fetal development, skin wounds undergo regeneration and healing without scar formation. This mechanism of wound healing later disappears, but by studying the fetal stem cells capable of this scarless wound healing, researchers may be able to apply these mechanisms to develop cell-based approaches able to minimize scarring in adult wounds, as described in a Critical Review article published in Advances in Wound Care, a monthly publication from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers and an Official Journal of the Wound Healing Society. The article is available free on the Advances in Wound Care website.

Michael Longaker, Peter Lorenz, and co-authors from Stanford University School of Medicine and John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, describe a new stem cell that has been identified in fetal skin and blood that may have a role in scarless wound healing. In the article “The Role of Stem Cells During Scarless Skin Wound Healing,” the authors propose future directions for research to characterize the differences in wound healing mechanisms between fetal and adult skin-specific stem cells.

“This work comes from the pioneers in the field and delineates the opportunities towards scarless healing in adults,” says Editor-in-Chief Chandan K. Sen, PhD, Professor of Surgery and Director of the Comprehensive Wound Center and the Center for Regenerative Medicine and Cell-Based Therapies at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Columbus, OH.

Directing the World With Your Imagination

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-07-2014

New Study: Funding Science is Good for the US Economy

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 04-04-2014

University research is a key component of the US economic ecosystem, returning the investment through enormous public value and impact on employment, business, and manufacturing nationwide.

Using new data available to examine the short-term economic activity generated by science funding, researchers have for the first time been able to illuminate the breadth of the scientific workforce and the national impact of the research supply chain that is funded by federal grants.

Most of the workers supported by federal research funding are not university faculty members. In fact, fewer than one in five workers supported by federal funding are faculty researchers. The study, published this week in the journal Science, provides the first detailed information about the short-term economic impacts of federal research spending, the researchers said.

Using a new data set, the researchers also found that each university that receives funding spends those dollars throughout the United States – about 70 percent spent outside their home states – supporting companies both large and small.

The researchers conclude that federal funding has a wider impact than is often assumed. “The process of scientific research supports organizations and jobs in many of the high skill sectors of our economy,” the researchers wrote in Science.

The study was conducted by researchers from the American Institute of Research, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, University of Michigan, University of Chicago, and the Ohio State University. The data came from the STAR METRICS project, which is a partnership between federal science agencies and research institutions to document the outcomes of science investments to the public.

In this study, the researchers examined STAR METRICS data from nine universities – Michigan, Wisconsin-Madison, Minnesota, Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan State, Chicago and Indiana (all members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation consortium).

The universities in this study received about $7 billion in total research and development funding in 2012, and about 56 percent of that came from the federal government.

One key insight from the study was whose jobs were supported by federal funding. “Workers with many different skill levels are employed, and these are not primarily faculty,” the authors said.

Faculty members accounted for fewer than 20 percent of the people supported by federal funding. About one in three workers is either a graduate student or an undergraduate. One in three is either research staff or a staff scientist, and about one in ten is a post-doctoral fellow.

The study also sheds light on where universities spend the federal funding they receive. In 2012, almost $1 billion of research expenditures were spent with U.S. vendors and subcontractors.

Of those expenditures, 15 percent went to vendors in the university’s home county, 15 percent in the rest of the home state and the balance to vendors across the United States.

The researchers noted that universities bought goods and services from a wide range of contractors in a variety of industries: everything from test tubes to telescopes and microscopes to gene sequencing machines.

Many of the purchases came from large U.S companies. But as the researchers examined the websites of some of the tens of thousands of vendors, “we were struck by how many are small, niche, high-technology companies…” they wrote.

Noting the scope of the impact of scientific work being done across universities, co-author Roy Weiss, Deputy Provost for Research at the University of Chicago, said, “Research universities are dedicated to the discovery of new knowledge. This study reports the first cooperative endeavor by multiple universities to evaluate the benefit of government investment in research. In addition to making the world a better place by virtue of these discoveries, we now have data to support the overall benefits to society.”

“The main purpose of science funding isn’t as a jobs or stimulus program, but this study shows there are also major short-term economic benefits to science funding,” said Bruce Weinberg, co-author and professor of economics at Ohio State.

As Julia Lane, Senior Managing Economist at the American Institutes for Research and a lead researcher on the project, summarized, “This study provides evidence that while science is complicated, it is not magic. It is productive work. Scientific endeavors employ people. They use capital inputs. Related economic activity occurs immediately. Policy makers need to have an understanding of how science is produced when making resource allocation decisions, and this study provides that information in a reliable and current fashion.”

Thanks to the Committee on Institutional Cooperation for contributing this story.