Scientists create protein 'superglue' from flesh-eating bacteria that could help detect cancer

The terms ‘flesh-eating bacteria’ and ‘good news’ do not normally go together, but a group of researchers from the University of Oxford believe they have engineered a protein from flesh-eating bacteria that acts as a molecular ‘superglue’ and could be used to help detect cancer cells.

Mark Howarth and his team genetically engineered the glue from a protein, FbaB, that helps Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes) bacteria infect cells. S. pyogenes is one of the microbes that can cause the rare necrotizing fasciitis, a soft tissue infection, in which the bacteria can cause gangrene, tissue death, systemic disease and toxic shock.

The team split FbaB into two parts, a larger protein and a smaller protein subunit, called a peptide. Using an abbreviation of S. pyogenes, the small peptide was named “Spy Tag” and the larger protein “Spy Catcher.” The gluing action occurs when Spy Tag and Spy Catcher meet.  The two quickly lock together by forming a strong chemical bond. Spy Catcher and Spy Tag can be attached to the millions of proteins in the human body and other living things, thus gluing proteins together.

Speaking at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans Dr Howarth has  said: “We’ve turned the tables and put one kind of flesh-eating bacterium to good use. We have engineered one of its proteins into a molecular superglue that adheres so tightly that the set-up we used to measure the strength actually broke. It resists high and low temperatures, acids and other harsh conditions and seals quickly.

“With this material we can lock proteins together in ways that could underpin better diagnostic tests — for early detection of cancer cells circulating in the blood, for instance. There are many uses in research, such as probing how the forces inside cells change the biochemistry and affect health and disease.”

A future use of the technology would be to test for circulating tumor cells or CTCs, cells which tumors shed into the bloodstream where they act to help spread the cancer to other parts of the body. Detecting CTCs has the potential to help early diagnosis of cancer from samples of blood rather than by biopsies. Detection could also help in determining when new treatments are required to try and stop the cancer from spreading.

The system can glue proteins together at any point on the protein, allowing “many different ways to label proteins and gives us new approaches to assemble proteins together for diagnostic tests,” Dr Howarth said.

The research team are working with Isis Innovation, the University of Oxford’s technology transfer company, to find potential partners to bring the Spy system to the market.

Chris Stevenson

Source: The Independent

Khaled Falhoot

Tiny Wireless Device Shines Light On Mouse Brain, Generating Reward

Using a miniature electronic device implanted in the brain, scientists have tapped into the internal reward system of mice, prodding neurons to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure.

The researchers, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, developed tiny devices, containing light emitting diodes (LEDs) the size of individual neurons. The devices activate brain cells with light. The scientists report their findings April 12 in the journal Science.

"This strategy should allow us to identify and map brain circuits involved in complex behaviors related to sleep, depression, addiction and anxiety," says co-principal investigator Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology at Washington University. "Understanding which populations of neurons are involved in these complex behaviors may allow us to target specific brain cells that malfunction in depression, pain, addiction and other disorders."

For the study, Washington University neuroscientists teamed with engineers at the University of Illinois to design microscale (LED) devices thinner than a human hair. This was the first application of the devices in optogenetics, an area of neuroscience that uses light to stimulate targeted pathways in the brain. The scientists implanted them into the brains of mice that had been genetically engineered so that some of their brain cells could be activated and controlled with light.

"We used the LED devices to activate networks of brain cells that are influenced by the things you would find rewarding in life, like sex or chocolate," says co-first author Jordan G. McCall, a neuroscience graduate student in Washington University's Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. "When the brain cells were activated to release dopamine, the mice quickly learned to poke their noses through the hole even though they didn't receive any food as a reward. They also developed an associated preference for the area near the hole, and they tended to hang around that part of the maze."

The researchers believe the LED implants may be useful in other types of neuroscience studies or may even be applied to different organs. Related devices already are being used to stimulate peripheral nerves for pain management. Other devices with LEDs of multiple colors may be able to activate and control several neural circuits at once. In addition to the tiny LEDs, the devices also carry miniaturized sensors for detecting temperature and electrical activity within the brain.

Bruchas and his colleagues already have begun other studies of mice, using the LED devices to manipulate neural circuits that are involved in social behaviors. This could help scientists better understand what goes on in the brain in disorders such as depression and anxiety.

"We believe these devices will allow us to study complex stress and social interaction behaviors," Bruchas explains. "This technology enables us to map neural circuits with respect to things like stress and pain much more effectively."

Source: science magazine

B.N

Dead Star Warps Light of Companion Red Star, Astronomers Say

NASA's Kepler space telescope, in concert with Cornell-led measurements of stars' ultraviolet activity, has observed the effects of a dead star bending the light of its companion red star.

The findings are among the first detections of this effect -- a result predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity -- in binary, or double, star systems.

The dead star, also called a white dwarf, is the burnt-out core of what used to be a star like our sun. It is locked in an orbiting dance with its partner, a small "red dwarf" star. While the tiny white dwarf is physically smaller than the red dwarf, it is more massive. When the white dwarf passed in front of its star, its gravity caused the starlight to observably bend and brighten.

"This white dwarf is about the size of Earth but the mass of the sun," said Phil Muirhead, Ph.D. '11, of the California Institute of Technology and lead author of the findings to be published April 20 in the Astrophysical Journal, titled "Characterizing the cool KOIs: A mutually eclipsing post-common envelope binary."

"It's so hefty that the red dwarf, though larger in physical size, is circling around the white dwarf," Muirhead continued.

The research team used Cornell-led ultraviolet measurements of the star called (Kepler Object of Interest) KOI-256 taken by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), a NASA space telescope operated by Caltech. The GALEX observations were conducted by Cornell researchers Jamie Lloyd, associate professor of astronomy and of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Kevin Covey, former postdoctoral associate now at Lowell Observatory; and Lucianne Walkowicz of Princeton University and Evgenya Shkolnik of Lowell Observatory.

Still in early phases and for which Cornell students are now being recruited by Lloyd, the GALEX program measures ultraviolet activity in all the stars in the Kepler field of view -- an indicator of potential habitability for planets.

Graduate student and co-author Jim Fuller also did a theoretical analysis of the star system in the context of its future and past evolutions.

The red dwarf orbits the white dwarf in just 1.4 days. This orbital period is so short that the stars must have previously undergone a "common-envelope" phase in which the red dwarf orbited within the outer layers of the star that formed the white dwarf, Fuller explained.

Moreover, the short orbital period means the red dwarf's days are numbered: In a few billion years, the intense gravity of the white dwarf will strip material off the red dwarf, forming a hot accretion disk of in-falling material around the white dwarf.

"This system is especially exciting because it allows us to accurately characterize the peaceful state of these systems before the violent mass-transfer phase begins," Fuller said.

 

Kepler's primary job is to scan stars in search of orbiting planets. As the planets pass by, they block the starlight by miniscule amounts, which Kepler's sensitive detectors can see.

So far, Kepler has identified more than 2,700 planet candidates. Still ongoing is the mission's search for planets similar to Earth in size and temperature that orbit a star like our sun. Ultimately, Kepler will reveal how common Earth-size planets are in the Milky Way galaxy.

To learn more about this particular star system, Muirhead and colleagues also used the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego. Using a technique called radial velocity, they discovered that the red dwarf was wobbling around like a spinning top. The wobble was too big to be from the tug of a planet. That's when they knew they were looking at a massive white dwarf passing behind the red dwarf, rather than a gas giant passing in front.

One of the consequences of Einstein's theory of general relativity is that gravity bends light. Astronomers regularly observe this phenomenon, often called gravitational lensing, which has been used to discover new planets and hunt for free-floating planets.

In this new study, scientists used gravitational lensing to determine the mass of the white dwarf. By combining this information with all the data they acquired, they were able to accurately measure the mass of the red dwarf and the physical sizes of both stars.

Source story:Science Daily

N.H.Khidr

Universe older than thought

Planck space telescope shows the most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background.

The universe is 100 million years older than thought, according to the best-ever map of the oldest light in space.

Europe’s Planck space observatory looked back at the afterglow of the Big Bang, and those results have now added about 80 million years to the universe's age, putting it at 13.81 billion years old, according to Voice of Russia, SPACE.com

The adjustment also means space and time are expanding slightly slower than scientists thought.

These discoveries come from a new all-sky map of ancient cosmic light by the Planck probe, which has measured what's called the cosmic microwave background in greater detail than ever before.

R.S

Apple apologizes to Chinese consumers

Apple apologised to Chinese consumers after government media attacked its repair policies for two weeks in a campaign that reeked of economic nationalism.

A statement Apple posted in Chinese on its website said the complaints had prompted "deep reflection" and persuaded the company of the need to revamp its repair policies, boost communication with Chinese consumers and strengthen oversight of authorised resellers.

State broadcaster CCTV and the ruling party's flagship newspaper, People's Daily, had led the charge against the American company.

They accused Apple of arrogance, greed and "throwing its weight around" and portrayed it as just the latest Western company to exploit the Chinese consumer.

The attacks quickly backfired, though, and were mocked by the increasingly sophisticated Chinese consumers who revere Apple and its products. State-run media also inadvertently revived complaints over shoddy service by Chinese companies.

Nonetheless, Apple responded with an apology from CEO Tim Cook.

"We've come to understand through this process that because of our poor communication, some have come to feel that Apple's attitude is arrogant and that we don't care about or value feedback from the consumer," his Chinese statement said.

"For the concerns and misunderstandings passed on to the consumer, we express our sincere apologies."

Although Apple enjoys strong support from Chinese consumers, the vehemence of the attacks and the importance of the Chinese market appeared to have persuaded the company to smooth its relations with Chinese consumers and authorities.

The People's Daily newspaper ran an editorial last Wednesday headlined: "Strike down Apple's incomparable arrogance."

It wrote: "Here we have the Western person's sense of superiority making mischief.

"If there's no risk in offending the Chinese consumer, and it also makes for lower overheads, then why not?"

Chinese observers accused People's Daily of gross hypocrisy and pointed out that the newspaper had maintained a stony silence when Chinese companies were implicated over food safety, pollution and other scandals.

Meanwhile, CCTV was shamed when it emerged that celebrities had been recruited to blast the company on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, in what had been billed as a grassroots campaign.

Popular business magazine Caijing said its readers identified a long list of abusers, including state banks that lend to those with political connections while leaving ordinary savers with low rates on deposits.

A government oil company that sets gas prices and other rates as it sees fit, and state telecom providers notorious for their lack of customer service were also criticised.

Source: Associated press

B.N

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