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Kin Recognition in Arabidopsis

Posted on Mar 14, 2018 in Blog


Arabidopsis thaliana

Plants are smarter than most people give them credit for. Darwin hypothesized that plants had cells dedicated to controlling root growth, like a brain. Darwin’s initial thoughts were published in 1880, but it took until the 1990’s for scientists to actually make headway in confirming that theory. Scientists first discovered that plants’ roots can determine whether roots are their own or not in a 1996 study using the desert shrub Ambrosia dumosa. They found that the roots would stop growing when they encountered the roots of other plants from the same population, but they wouldn’t stop growing then they encountered their own roots.

While researchers observed that plants could control their root growth based on whether they encountered foreign roots, they did not have an idea of what biological mechanism controlled that response. In 2010, a study observing Arabidopsis thaliana looked to test whether chemicals secreted by plant roots could be the signal controlling root growth. Roots secrete many different chemicals such as phenols, flavonoids, sugars, organic acids, amino acids and proteins. These compounds are collectively referred to as the root exudate. Researchers suspected that roots might be able to detect the presence of these compounds in the soil to figure out when they are near roots that aren’t their own.

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Searching for a Vaccine for Type 1 Diabetes

Posted on Feb 14, 2018 in Blog

A blue circle is the international symbol for diabetes

Diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas becomes unable to regulate the amount of the hormone insulin in the bloodstream. Without insulin, the body is unable to control the amount of glucose in the body (i.e. blood sugar). High levels of blood sugar, referred to as hyperglycemia, can damage the body’s tissues and be fatal if untreated. In fact, diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the US, responsible for 2.9% of the total deaths in the county. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 2 diabetes is much more common and represents about 90% of all cases. Type 2 diabetes is usually caused by obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise, and is often preventable with healthy lifestyle choices. On the other hand, development of type 1 diabetes is not related to diet or lifestyle at all, is not currently preventable, and the exact cause is not currently known.

What is known is that the rates of type 1 diabetes have been growing rapidly in the last hundred years. Since the mid-20th century, the global rate of diagnosis of the disease has been rising by 3-5% per year, with an estimated 1-3 million people in the US afflicted. In the last few decades the incidence rate has jumped massively – from 1998-2010 it rose by 40%. This massive increase in such a short period of time suggests that the cause is somehow related to environmental factors, since genetic factors change too slowly and wouldn’t be responsible for such a large change in that short of the time frame.

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Prions and Memory in Drosophila

Posted on Jan 9, 2018 in Blog

prionPrions are proteins that can fold in multiple, structurally distinct ways. These folds can be transferred to other prions, and this propagation results in diseases that act like bacterial infections. In addition to scrapie and CJD (a human disease that causes brain tissue to rapidly decay, leaving the brain with a sponge-like texture), prions are also suspected as the cause of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, a.k.a. “mad cow disease”). However, more and more research has been turning up other possible effects and uses of prion-like folding proteins. In fact, we’ve written about the topic before, discussing how plants might track time for flowering and other environment-dependent processes using prions.

One discovery in the realm of folding proteins came in 2016 from the Stowers Center for Medical Research in Kansas City. Their research was focused on studying memory formation in Drosophila fruit flies. The researchers were looking at the function of a protein called Orb2. They found that when male flies were given a drug to make Orb2 inactive, the flies became much worse at forming certain memories. The researchers tested the flies by measuring how long it took them to give up courtship of females after the females had expressed no interest in mating. The flies with Orb2 disabled were bad at remembering when they had been rejected, and continued courting long after they should have learned that their attempts were useless.

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Using Protein Purifiers in Chromatography Refigerators

Posted on Dec 18, 2017 in Blog

Chromatography Refrigerator

A 3D Schematic of our CT52SD Chromatography refrigerator

Since the 1960’s, High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) has been used to separate, identify, and quantify components in mixtures. The mixture to be analyzed is pushed through a column containing a packing material (the stationary phase, usually silica or alumina) by a solution (the mobile phase) under pressure. Typical solutions can include water, alcohol, acetonitrile, or hexane. As the mixture moves through the column, different compounds within the sample are attracted to the stationary phase or mobile phase to varying degrees. Compounds that are more attracted to the stationary phase tend to move through the column slowly, as they tend to “stick” to the packing material. The compounds that are more attracted to the mobile phase will move through the column much more quickly as they are carried by the solution. Since the constituent compounds from the mixture move through the column at different rates, individual compounds can be identified and separated based on when they exit the column.

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Selfish DNA in C. elegans

Posted on Dec 8, 2017 in Blog

Genes are the driver for all developmental functions. These strips of DNA code for everything required for biological life to function. The human genome totals over 20,000 protein-coding genes, and there are estimated to be over 5 million protein-coding genes across all life on earth. The first gene was sequenced in the early 1970’s, and since then researchers have been continuously marching onward to study genes in many different plants and animals.

Recently, biologists at UCLA were studying the development of C. elegans, cross-breeding the normal laboratory strain of the worm with a wild Hawaiian strain. In their analysis, they noticed that the wild strain was missing several genes compared to the lab strain. The noticeable genes that were missing included 2 genes named sup-35 and pha-1. Pha-1 was a particularly surprising omission from the genome, since it was thought to be crucial to the development of C. elegans’ digestive tract. Previous studies had shown that when pha-1 is disabled, the digestive tract develops deformed, leaving the worms unable to properly digest food, which leads to death.

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