Posts about cell

Exploring Eukaryotic Cells

This webcast is packed with information on the makeup and function of eukaryotic cells, which are the type of cells found in animals. It is part of a interesting series of science webcasts by Crash Course. The webcast style might be a bit too hyperactive and flippant for some but the content is quite interesting and the videos they are are of similar style and quality so if you like this one you can subscribe to their channel. They offer quite a few webcasts on science but they also offer webcasts on history.

Related: Plants, Unikonts, Excavates and SARsHow Cells AgeMidichloria mitochondrii

Cool Animation of a Virus Invading a Person’s Body

Flu Attack! How A Virus Invades Your Body

First, some new viruses get caught in mucus and other fluids inside your body and are destroyed. Other viruses get expelled in coughs and sneezes. Second, lots of those new viruses are lemons. They don’t work that well. Some don’t have the right “keys” to invade healthy cells so they can’t spread the infection. And third, as the animation shows, your immune system is busy attacking the viruses whenever and wherever possible.

That is why most of the time, after a struggle (when you get a fever and need to lie down), your immune system rebounds, and, in time, so do you.

A health body with a strong immune system is able to fight off viruses, and other health issues more easily. Also when you body has run across a specific virus before it is ready to fight it. It has cataloged that virus and is on the look out for it and is prepared to produce specialized cells to attack it. The flu vaccinations you get are priming your body to be ready to attack if that virus is found. Those antibodies take about 2 weeks to build up in sufficient numbers to offer protection against the flu. Viruses are constantly mutating which helps them evade your detectors. This stuff is so amazing. And your body is just doing this stuff every day while you watch youtube or play basketball or…

Related: Antigen Shift in Influenza VirusesLearning How Viruses Evade the Immune SystemHow to Stay Healthy: Avoiding the Flu

Webcast of a T-cell Killing a Cancerous Cell

Very cool. Very good job by University of Cambridge to make this kind of material available openly online. I find this kind of video amazing. Every day you body has this going on all day long. How amazing.

This is what it looks like when cancer gets smacked down by a T cell

This was shot by University of Cambridge medical researcher Alex Ritter, and is 92 times faster than real time.

Cells of the immune system protect the body against pathogens. If cells in our bodies are infected by viruses, or become cancerous, then killer cells of the immune system identify and destroy the affected cells. Cytotoxic T cells are very precise and efficient killers. They are able to destroy infected or cancerous cells, without destroying healthy cells surrounding them.

Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsHow Cells AgeVideo showing malaria breaking into cellSynthetic Biologists Design a Gene that Forces Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide

Bacteria Living Inside Animals Cells

Interesting discussion on the bacteria living inside our cells. For example, many plants have bacteria that get inside the root system and then help fix nitrogen for the plant. Some sea slugs take the chloroplasts from algae they eat and incorporate it themselves, allowing them to get energy from light (photosynthesis): they become photosynthetic slugs.

Adults need science education more than kids do is also a good segment. And I agree strongly that we (as individuals and society) lose a great deal when we fail to help people enjoy learning about science during their whole lives.

I also like the usability of this widget above, where it lets you include the internal links easily into a video.

Related: Symbiotic relationship between ants and bacteriaBiologists Identified a New Way in Which Bacteria Hijack Healthy CellsUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsThe Economic Consequences of Investing in Science Education

Synthetic Biologists Design a Gene that Forces Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide

Killing a cancer cell from the inside out

To create their tumor-killing program, the researchers designed a logic circuit — a system that makes a decision based on multiple inputs. In this case, the circuit is made of genes that detect molecules specific to a type of cervical cancer cell. If the right molecules are present, the genes initiate production of a protein that stimulates apoptosis, or programmed cell death. If not, nothing happens.

Because the genes used to create the circuits can be easily swapped in and out, this approach could also yield new treatments or diagnostics for many other diseases, according to Ron Weiss, an MIT associate professor of biological engineering and one of the leaders of the research team. “This is a general technology for disease-state detection,” he says.

the researchers created a synthetic gene for a protein, called hBax, that promotes cell death. They designed the gene with two separate safeguards against the killing of healthy, non-HeLa cells: It can be turned off by high levels of microRNAs that are ordinarily low in HeLa, and can also be deactivated by low levels of microRNAs that are normally plentiful in HeLa. A single discrepancy from the target microRNA profile is enough to shut off production of the cell-death protein.

If all microRNA levels match up with the HeLa profile, the protein is produced and the cell dies. In any other cell, the protein never gets made, and the synthetic genes eventually break down.

More very cool research. It is exciting to see how much can be done when we invest in science and engineering research. Of course the path from initial research to implemented solutions is long and complex and often fails to deliver on the initial hopes. But some remarkable breakthroughs achieve spectacular results that we benefit from every day.

Related: Cancer VaccinesResearchers Find Switch That Allows Cancer Cells to SpreadGlobal Cancer Deaths to Double by 2030Cloned Immune Cells Clear Patient’s Cancer

MIT Scientists Find New Drug That Could Cure Nearly Any Viral Infection

New drug could cure nearly any viral infection

The drug works by targeting a type of RNA produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. “In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory‘s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology.

There are a handful of drugs that combat specific viruses, such as the protease inhibitors used to control HIV infection, but these are relatively few in number and susceptible to viral resistance.

Rider drew inspiration for his therapeutic agents, dubbed DRACOs (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers), from living cells’ own defense systems. When viruses infect a cell, they take over its cellular machinery for their own purpose — that is, creating more copies of the virus. During this process, the viruses create long strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which is not found in human or other animal cells.

As part of their natural defenses against viral infection, human cells have proteins that latch onto dsRNA, setting off a cascade of reactions that prevents the virus from replicating itself. However, many viruses can outsmart that system by blocking one of the steps further down the cascade.

Rider had the idea to combine a dsRNA-binding protein with another protein that induces cells to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell suicide) — launched, for example, when a cell determines it is en route to becoming cancerous. Therefore, when one end of the DRACO binds to dsRNA, it signals the other end of the DRACO to initiate cell suicide.

Combining those two elements is a “great idea” and a very novel approach, says Karla Kirkegaard, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. “Viruses are pretty good at developing resistance to things we try against them, but in this case, it’s hard to think of a simple path pathway to drug resistance,” she says.

Each DRACO also includes a “delivery tag,” taken from naturally occurring proteins, that allows it to cross cell membranes and enter any human or animal cell. However, if no dsRNA is present, DRACO leaves the cell unharmed.

Very cool stuff and potentially hugely beneficial. Just a reminder: this works against viruses – not bacteria (just as antibiotics do not work against viruses).

image showing the results of cultures treated with DRACO v. those not treated

Related: Science Explained: RNA Interference8 Percent of the Human Genome is Old Virus GenesVirus Engineered To Kill Deadly Brain Tumors
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Video showing malaria breaking into cell

Malaria caught on camera breaking and entering cell [the broken link has been removed]

The Plasmodium parasite responsible for malaria is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, and is thought to kill almost 1 million people worldwide each year.

Jake Baum at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues used transmission electron microscopy and 3D immuno-fluorescence microscopy to record a series of still images during the 30-second-long invasion, and combined them into a movie.

Related: Parasites in the Gut Help Develop a Healthy Immune SystemParasite Rex

Scientific Inquiry: Arsenic for Phosphorus in Bacteria Cells

As would be expected with significant new scientific claims, scientists are examining the evidence. On her blog, Rosie Redfield, who runs a microbiology research lab in the Life Sciences Centre at the University of British Columbia, disputes NASA’s recent claims. This is how science is suppose to work. Scientists provide evidence. Other scientists review the evidence, try to verify the claims with experiments of their own and the scientific inquiry process moves toward new knowledge.

Arsenic-associated bacteria (NASA’s claims)

NASA’s shameful analysis of the alleged bacteria in the Mars meteorite made me very suspicious of their microbiology, an attitude that’s only strengthened by my reading of this paper. Basically, it doesn’t present ANY convincing evidence that arsenic has been incorporated into DNA (or any other biological molecule).

The authors then grew some cells with radioactive arsenate (73-As) and no phosphate, washed and dissolved them, and used extraction with phenol and phenol:chloroform to separate the major macromolecules. The protein fraction at the interface between the organic and aqueous phases had about 10% of the arsenic label but, because the interface material is typically contaminated with liquid from the aqueous phase, this is not good evidence that the cells’ protein contained covalently-bound arsenate in place of phosphorus. About 75% of the arsenic label was in the ‘supernatant ‘fraction. The authors describe this fraction as DNA/RNA, but it also contains most of the small water-soluble molecules of the cell, so its high arsenic content is not evidence that the DNA and RNA contain arsenic in place of phosphorus. The authors use very indirect evidence to argue that the distribution of arsenic mirrors that expected for phosphate, but this argument depends on so many assumptions that it should be ignored.

I don’t know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they’re unscrupulously pushing NASA’s ‘There’s life in outer space!’ agenda. I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science’s editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.

New claims have to provide strong evidence. time will tell if this discovery is actually a discovery. It will be amazing if it is, so I am pulling for it. But the story will need to have much more confirmation before we can be certain.

Arsenate-based DNA: a big idea with big holes

The study published in Science has a number of flaws. In particular, one subtle but critical piece of evidence has been overlooked, and it demonstrates that the DNA in question actually has a phosphate – not an arsenate -backbone.

Wolfe-Simon et al. used a technique called nanoSIMS to analyze elemental concentrations of the agarose gel at the location of the DNA band. They determined that the part of the gel containing DNA also contained both arsenic and phosphorus. But what did they really analyze?

The answer is that the nanoSIMS determined the concentration of arsenic in the gel – not specifically in the DNA.

Finally, there’s a simple experiment that could resolve this debate: analyze the nucleotides directly. Show a mass spectrum of DNA sequences demonstrating that nucleotides contain arsenate instead of phosphate. This is a very simple experiment, and would be quite convincing – but it has not been performed.

Related: It’s not an arsenic-based life formMono Lake bacteria build their DNA using arsenicClose Encounters of the Media Kind

Changing Life as We Know It

Update: Independent researchers find no evidence for arsenic life in Mono Lake

NASA has made a discovery that changes our understanding of the very makeup of life itself on earth. I think my favorite scientific discipline name is astrobiology. NASA pursues a great deal of this research not just out in space but also looking at earth based life. Their astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.

photo of Felisa Wolfe-Simon

Felisa Wolfe-Simon processing mud from Mono Lake to inoculate media to grow microbes on arsenic.

Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells.

Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

Researchers conducting tests in the harsh, but beautiful (see photo), environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

“The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.” This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth.

In science such huge breakthroughs are not just excepted without debate, however, which is wise.

Thriving on Arsenic:

In other words, every experiment Wolfe-Simon performed pointed to the same conclusion: GFAJ-1 can substitute arsenic for phosphorus in its DNA. “I really have no idea what another explanation would be,” Wolfe-Simon says.

But Steven Benner, a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, FL, remains skeptical. If you “replace all the phosphates by arsenates,” in the backbone of DNA, he says, “every bond in that chain is going to hydrolyze [react with water and fall apart] with a half-life on the order of minutes, say 10 minutes.” So “if there is an arsenate equivalent of DNA in that bug, it has to be seriously stabilized” by some as-yet-unknown mechanism.

It is sure a great story if it is true though. Other scientists will examine more data and confirm or disprove the claims.

“We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we’ve found is a microbe doing something new — building parts of itself out of arsenic,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA Astrobiology Research Fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team’s lead scientist. “If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven’t seen yet?”
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Researchers Explain How Rotifers Thrive Despite Forgoing Sex

Bdelloid rotifers haven’t had sex for at least thirty million years. Most asexual animals are doomed to extinction. The excellent show, Science Friday, looks at the extraordinary adaptations that allow rotifers to thrive sex-free.

For millions of years, the rotifers have reproduced asexually, flying in the face of an idea known as the Red Queen Hypothesis, which states that without the advantage of sexual reproduction, more-rapidly evolving parasites and predators will eventually doom the asexual species. Now, the researchers studying the tiny organism say that its ability to dry up and blow away to greener pastures may have given the rotifers a hidden tactical edge in this evolutionary war.

The webcast provides a nice overview of the research. Every week Science Friday provides many such interesting reviews of recent scientific research.

What Are Rotifers?

Rotifers are small, mostly freshwater animals, and are amongst the smallest members of the Metazoa — that group of multicellular animals which includes humans, and whose bodies are organized into systems of organs.
Most rotifers are about 0.5mm in length or less, and their bodies have a total of around a thousand cells. This means that their organ systems are a greatly simplified distillation of the organ systems found in the bodies of the higher animals.

A typical rotifer might have a brain of perhaps fifteen cells with associated nerves and ganglia, a stomach of much the same number, an excretory system of only a dozen or so cells, and a similarly fundamental reproductive system. They have no circulatory system. It is an anomaly that despite their complexity, many rotifers are much smaller than common single-celled organisms whose world they share.

they are able to survive long periods — even perhaps hundreds of years — in a dried or frozen state, and will resume normal behaviour when rehydrated or thawed.
Secondly, they exhibit what biologists call cell constancy — they grow in size not by cell division, but by increase in the size of the cells which they already have.

Related: Bdelloid Rotifers Abandoned Sex 100 Million Years AgoFungus-gardening Ant Species Has Given Up Sex CompletelyAmazon Molly Fish are All Female50 Species of Diatoms

Web Gadget to View Cell Sizes to Scale

graphic of red blood cellImage of cell size gadget from University of Utah

The Genetic Science Learning Center, University of Utah has a nice web gadget that lets you zoom in on various cells to see how large they are compared to each other. Above see a red blood cell, x chromosome, baker’s yeast and (small) e-coli bacterium.

A red blood cell is 8 micron (micro-meter 1/1,000,000 of a meter). E coli is 1.8 microns. Influenza virus is 130 nanometers (1/1,000,000,000 a billionth of a meter). Hemoglobin is 6.5 nanometers. A water molecule is 275 picometers (1 trillionth of a meter).

Related: Red Blood Cell’s Amazing FlexibilityHemoglobin as ArtAtomic Force Microscopy Image of a MoleculeNanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer Chips