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No More Need for Embryonic Stem Cells?

Harvesting human eggs and creating embryos for embryonic stem cells may soon become a thing of the past.  Nature Science Update reported that four teams have verified that normal skin cells in mice can be reprogrammed to act identically to embryonic stem cells.     The technique, called “induced pluripotent stem cell” (iPS), holds promise […]

Molecular Motors Move You

The realization that cells are filled with molecules that move like machines fascinates many people.  Students who grew up thinking of chemistry as bouncing molecules that did little more than link up and separate have a whole new paradigm to consider: molecules that walk, fold and unfold, spin and operate like ratchets, robots, wrenches and […]

Think Fast: News Briefs

Of the many news items that cross the CEH desk, many are noteworthy but go unreported due to lack of time.  Here are a few that deserve honorable mention lest they pass into oblivion. Cosmology: Dark future – Several sources like Science Now and Space.com commented on the dark future of the universe if cosmic acceleration […]

Details of Photosynthesis Coming to Light

New tools of science are unveiling the secrets of what was long a “black box” in biology: photosynthesis.  A paper in Nature last week1 described the structure of the plant PhotoSystem I complex (PSI) in near-atomic resolution.  Next day, a paper in Science2 described some of the protein interactions that occur when plants turn light […]

Fatty Acid Synthesis: A Machine with “High Degree of Architectural Complexity”

As Bruce Alberts said in 1998, the biology of the future was going to be the study of molecular machines: “the entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.”1  One of those machines is […]

Have Scientists Found the Secret of Aging?

There’s a tragic disease that speeds up aging.  Known as progeria (Huntington-Gilford progeria syndrome, HGPS), it is caused by a single point mutation in exon 11 of the NMLA gene.  Children afflicted with this disease look old beyond their years and often die at 13 of heart attack and stroke – essentially, of old age. […]

Cell Calcium Channel: Meet Me at the Gate

All cells use calcium ions for signalling.  The ions flow through specialized gates in the plasma membrane.  Inside the cell, receptors line the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a kind of subway system where finishing work on proteins is done.  How do the two get together?  They arrange a meeting.     Richard Lewis, writing in Nature,1 […]

Watch a Ribosome in Action

A remarkable article about a remarkable machine: that’s what Chemical and Engineering News has published about the ribosome, a molecular machine vital to everything alive in the world.  Stu Borman’s article lavishes praise on the details of this assembly-line factory that translates RNA into proteins.  He surveys the history of investigation into the ribosome’s secrets.  […]

OOL on the Rocks

An important survey of the origin-of-life (OOL) field has been published in Scientific American.  Robert Shapiro, a senior prize-winning chemist, cancer researcher, emeritus professor and author of books in the field, debunks the Miller experiment, the RNA World and other popular experiments as unrealistic dead ends.  Describing the wishful thinking of some researchers, he said, […]

Cells Perform Nanomagic

The cell is quicker than the eye of our best scientific instruments.  Biochemists and biophysicists are nearing closer to watching cellular magic tricks in real time but aren’t quite there yet.  They know it’s just a trick of the eye, but it sure is baffling how cellular machines pull off their most amazing feats.  Think, […]

Contingency and the Structure of Life’s Building Blocks

Some Yale scientists found they could construct protein-like molecules using amino acids of a type not found in living things.  They found that beta-amino acids can fold into shapes similar to the proteins made of alpha-amino acids used in living things.  Beta-amino acids have an extra carbon on the backbone.  “Yale chemists show that nature […]

Cells Perform Sporting Interactions

The components of living cells perform such acrobatic moving interactions, one would think they are having fun.  Here’s the news from the Wide World of Cellular Sports. Speedway:  A news release from Penn Medicine talks about how motor proteins step on the gas and the brakes in their motions around the cell.  The announcer from […]

Cell Quality Control Runs a Tight Ship

Without the surveillance and rapid response of quality control, cells would collapse and die.  Here are some recently-published examples of nanoheroes in action. Plant checkpoints:  Picture a child watching the wonder of a seedling breaking through the soil into the light for the first time.  Within hours, the ghostly-white stem turns green, and a day […]

Cell Membrane Has Ticket-Operated Turnstiles

Cells are like castles surrounded by walls.  A wall without gates, however, would prevent commerce and trap the inhabitants inside.  The cell has ingenious gates that control the flow of goods and services through its outer membrane under tight surveillance and quality control.  This controlled flow, as opposed to passive diffusion or osmosis, is termed […]

The Evolution of Electrical Engineering:  An Imaginary Tale

Nerves carry electrical impulses.  Ipso facto, they are subject to laws of physics concerning conductance, capacitance, and resistance.  Getting a signal from one end of an animal to the other in time can be a matter of life and death.  In order to maintain optimum levels of electrical conductivity to meet their lifestyle requirements, animals […]
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