Free flow

•December 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Flow cytometers guide fluorescently labeled cells one by one past a series of lasers and detectors in order to record their physical and molecular characteristics. Researchers using these techniques can survey tens or even hundreds of thousands of cells, garnering information that allows them not only to enumerate known cell types (such as CD4+ and CD8+ T cells) but also to identify novel subpopulations they may never have known were there. But data collection is only the first part of the story… Read more at The Scientist.

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Eight ways to clean a digital library

•November 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Adam Rocker didn’t expect the software that managed his digital reference library to flag up better ways he could be doing his research. But his electronic filing system of choice, ReadCube, periodically scans his library and suggests related papers, rather as some music-file-management programs highlight recommended tunes. And that feature, he says, has brought up some unexpected gems… Read more at Nature.

Making sense of our variation

•November 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Advertising campaigns notwithstanding, few people are under the illusion that diet soda is actually good for them. But for a rare group of individuals suffering from phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder affecting the body’s ability to process the amino acid phenylalanine, the drink can be downright devastating.

Phenylalanine is one of the building blocks of proteins, and if allowed to accumulate to high concentrations, as in the case of PKU, it can cause mental retardation in children, which is why newborns are routinely screened for the disease—and why cans of diet soda labeled, “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine.” … Read more at BioTechniques. (PDF)

Single-cell biology: The power of one

•November 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Pick a paper, any paper. If it involves the protein, nucleic acid, or metabolite content of bacterial or eukaryotic cells, there’s likely a section detailing how those cells were grown in culture. Cell culture is how researchers expand cells to harvest macromolecules or to interrogate their responses to changing conditions or chemical treatment. Inherent in such work is the assumption that all the cells in a dish are identical—by growing them in culture, the researcher is simply amplifying the signal. But that isn’t always true. Subtle differences at the molecular level can yield significant variation in cellular behavior, but until recently researchers had no way to probe that variability. Today, they do… Read more at Science. (PDF)

Single molecule biochemistry finds its stride

•October 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

There’s much to marvel at when it comes to viruses. But what University of California at Berkeley professor Carlos Bustamante chooses to study may at first not seem like one of them. Bustamante researches the seemingly mundane process of how virus particles are loaded with their nucleic acid payload, and for the better part of 15 years, he has been chipping away at the so-called ring ATPase assembly found at the base of a virus called bacteriophage phi29… Read more at BioTechniques. (PDF)

Top-down proteomics: Turning protein mass spec upside-down

•September 9, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Between alternative transcription start sites, alternative splicing, and post-translational modifications, a given gene may produce dozens of protein variants, each with a different biological activity. Teasing apart those structure-function relationships requires mapping specific variants to their associated biological functions, and the tool of the trade for doing so is mass spectrometry. But not just any mass spec will do. Researchers need a holistic view of protein structure, data that is lost with the popular “bottom-up” proteomics strategy. Powered by today’s ultrahigh-resolution, high massaccuracy mass specs, protein biochemists are increasingly turning bottom-up upside-down. Their new alternative: top-down proteomics… Read more at Science. (PDF)

Biomedical research: Drug hunters wanted

•August 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment

A newly approved class of anti-cholesterol medications could be the latest in a long line of ‘biopharmaceutical blockbusters’. These drugs not only produce big revenue for pharmaceutical companies, but also represent employment opportunities for early-career scientists who want to develop cutting-edge therapies. To get into the game, aspiring young researchers must tailor their training and skills to the industry… Read more at Nature.