Biology and Biotech

For years, researchers viewed body fat as just a passive storage depot — it was there to hold all those excess calories we consume. And while we've been aware for quite some time that too much of this excess adipose tissue can lead to problematic changes in metabolism, blood sugar control and blood pressure, many thought it was only because of changes to other types of tissues.

Over the last decade or so, however, we've seen somewhat of a paradigm shift, with adipose tissue being acknowledged as a much more active participant in metabolism. For example, it's the source of the hormone leptin (fat as an endocrine organ, anyone?) which acts on the brain to signal satiety.

More recently, researchers have been delving into the mechanisms that adipose tissue uses to affect...

A company in Boston, MA, wants to change the way that vaccines are administered, and Bill and Melinda Gates are lending them a hand to make it a reality. 

Vaxess Technologies, Inc. received two grants from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, totaling $6 million dollars, to fund their innovative work in vaccine stabilization and delivery technologies. 

In vaccine administration, even with an incredibly effective vaccine, there are perpetual hurdles to overcome. One, for example, is the availability of syringes and needles. This was an issue just last year when, despite the long awaited arrival of the yellow fever...

The World Health Organization released their first ever report on the antibiotic resistant bacteria that are of the greatest global concern - the global priority pathogens list (global PPL).

The report was compiled by eight leading international experts in infectious disease, clinical microbiology, R&D, public health and infection control.  The team used both expert opinion and evidence-based data to choose the twelve most concerning antibiotic resistant bacteria. They also implemented a three-tiered ranking system, placing the bacteria into either 'critical', 'high' or 'medium' priority rankings. These classifications were based on several characteristics,...

Pest control and microbial disinfection protocols often utilize ultraviolet (UV) light. The reason is because UV light is extremely damaging to cells. Not only does it trigger the production of toxic compounds (such as reactive oxygen species), but it also causes weird structural changes in DNA (known as thymine dimers). The results are fatal.

UV light, however, is also dangerous to humans. So there is widespread interest in discovering light sources that can kill unwanted organisms while leaving humans unscathed. Farmers may be able to take advantage of the fact that fruit fly pupae are killed by blue light (wavelength = 467 nm), while public...

The winners of the 'Open Science Prize' are two scientists who developed an online tool that will use the changes, or mutations, that occur in viral genomes (DNA or RNA) to track an outbreak as it happens. 

Dr. Trevor Bedford from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Dr. Richard Neher of the University of Basel designed the tool to provide open access to a 'tracker' of how an epidemic is growing and spreading. They will receive $230,000 to make the platform a reality. 

Viruses mutate, or alter their genomic material, very quickly. In doing so, certain properties can change — such as how lethal they are or how easily they are spread. Knowing which changes are occurring and being able to have access to the information — as the virus spreads — will give the people...

For the last decade or two, people have been looking for something to attribute to the increase in the number of people with allergies and autoimmune diseases. A lot of ideas have been floated around - cell phones, vaccines, hand sanitizers or anything else that we use more now than we did 20 years ago. 

On that list is also the increase of births done by Cesarean section.

The hypothesis is that babies born by Cesarean have a different microbiome (or set of bacteria) on them than those born vaginally. And, that those bacteria that are first to establish themselves in the newborn impact the health of the baby for the rest of their life.  

The idea that has taken hold is that babies born by Cesarean section are missing exposure to important microbes because they do...

There is nothing like a good ole scientific debate about microbes to make my day. The one happening at the moment is as good as they get for one reason - good science is being done on both sides of the issue.

The hot topic of where a baby gets its bacteria (or microbiome) is scientific discourse at its best - and it's only going to get better as each side fills in their gaps and pushes the questions further. 

The debate will be presented in two articles - one for each side. Here, we present the landmark paper that established the original paradigm seven years ago. This work suggests that the route of delivery of a baby (vaginal vs. cesarean) determines which bacteria will colonize their bodies. The establishment of the microbiota dictates the amount, type and variety of...

Inserting a camera into the human body, to look around for trouble, used to be the thing of science fiction. But as well all know full well, today millions of Americans visit doctor's offices annually to have a colonoscopy performed. It's become routine, and the cancer-spotting procedure saves lives.

Now instead of envisioning a camera that fits inside a colon, imagine one that can slide and peer through a blood vessel.

While you're imagining that, researchers in Michigan are currently experimenting with this new technology that may someday be able to predict a stroke or heart attack before it occurs.

A team of doctors at Michigan Medicine, the medical school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, are using an incredibly small camera – it's called a scanning...

Although they don't generally make headlines, Vibrio cholerae infections wreak havoc in areas of the world with poor sanitation, causing millions of cases of cholera and over 100,000 deaths each year.

A cholera infection can range from mild to a severe diarrheal disease with profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting, rapid loss of fluids, dehydration, shock and death within a few hours. 

When these outbreaks occur, there is a rapid increase in the number of cases, and transmission is frequently seen among people sharing a household. Therefore, a drug that could quickly and easily be administered to people living in close proximity to a cholera outbreak, to contain the spread of the bacteria, would be incredibly useful in the fight against cholera. 

A team at...

Special bacteria-killing surfaces constitute a highly active area of research and development.

Strategies to construct them vary widely. One group has infused a slippery surface with molecules that disrupt bacterial communication. Others have shown that silver nanoparticle coatings can destroy bacteria. Yet another group used black silicon to create a surface that resembled a tiny "bed of nails" (nanopillars), which physically rip bacteria apart.

That latter example, which ...