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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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Can Plants “Hear” Dangerous Vibrations?

Posted on Nov 3, 2017 in Blog

pieris rapae caterpillarStudying the effects that the vibrations from sound waves have on plants is not a new area of science. For decades, scientists have been studying the effects of music on the growth and germination of various plants. Some studies show a correlation with plant growth and exposure to music, while some studies show that there is no correlation. Whether or not music influences the development of plants, music has such a wide range of vibration frequencies and amplitudes that it is not a useful stimulus for designing detailed experiments. For a better understanding of how plants respond to vibratory stimuli, a different approach was necessary.

Many of these past studies were focused on how plants responded to human-related sounds and vibrations. However, this doesn’t help us understand how plants process vibrations within their habitat. In recent years, scientists have started to look at how plants may respond to vibrations in nature. One of the questions scientists have been considering is this: can plants distinguish between vibrations that would be dangerous, such as the chewing of herbivorous insects, and vibrations that are harmless, like the blowing of the wind? This is what a 2014 study from the University of Missouri attempted to find out.

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Fertility and Germline Stem Cell Transplants in Mice

Posted on Sep 15, 2017 in Blog

lab mouseFor many couples, conceiving a child can be a long and difficult process. The CDC estimates that 6.7% of married women aged 15-44 are infertile, meaning that they have not been able to get pregnant in over 12 months of attempting.  Further, 12.1% of women aged 15-44 have impaired fecundity, meaning that they have physical difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to live birth.

Causes of these fertility issues can include serious medical issues such as early menopause or chemo-induced infertility. One of the dream treatments for these conditions involves using germline stem cells. Germline stem cells are the precursors to both eggs and sperm. Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that women are born with a certain number of germline stem cells that all convert into eggs before she is born. However, there is now some evidence that germline stem cells may be able to be introduced to the body and be coaxed into developing into eggs.

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