Fever, ache, and the other miseries of influenza viral infection afflict 5−20 percent of the U.S. population each year. The "flu" is usually not life-threatening to the majority of its victims, but as the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 showed, flu viruses can evolve into lethal agents and spread worldwide. The ability of flu viruses to change continually through mutation and genetic swaps is the reason that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reformulates the flu vaccine each year, hoping to block the types and subtypes of influenza viruses that they believe are most likely to be in circulation.

Published in Live from ASCB 2013
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 00:00

What is Significant? Reevaluating the P-Value

You finished all your replicates, your data are entered into your favorite statistical software, and you've got your fingers crossed that the test reveals a P-value of less than 0.05. It reads 0.039 and you breathe a sigh of relief. Without that P-value, you would have been stuck with your null hypothesis—that terrible possibility that your observed effect was meaningless. Instead, with the P-value on your side, you're finally ready to publish a significant observation. That is, unless you show it to Valen Johnson, a statistics professor at Texas A&M University, who has just published an analysis in PNAS1 that indicates your data are not so convincing.

Published in ASCB Post

Remember that second-grade science project when you watched bean plants grow toward a light source? Little did you know, you were researching heliotropism. Tropism in plants is turning toward or away from a stimulus such as sunlight, gravity, or water. And now there's a new tropism to investigate, although not for second graders.

Published in ASCB Post

Like a kid hovering over an ant with a magnifying glass, you can easily fry a worm with a microscope. But if you could do it without zapping the subjects, long exposure imaging would be immensely helpful for studying a cell process like development in a living Caenorhabditis elegans embryo. In a pair of just published papers—one in Nature Biotechnology yesterday and another in Nature Methods on October 6—Hari Shroff, tenure-track investigator at the NIH, unveiled a pair of new microscopes that offer an alternative solution to the problem of light-blasted subjects.

Published in ASCB Post

Big discoveries can turn up in unexpected places, such as neurons of the Pacific electric ray, Torpedo californica. That was the start of Richard H. Scheller's path to the 2013 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which he received last week. Along with Thomas C. Südhof of Stanford University, Scheller won for their independent investigations into the regulatory mechanisms of neurotransmitter release.

Published in ASCB Post
Monday, 16 September 2013 00:00

TALENs Fix Problems in Cellular Powerhouses

Three-person in-vitro fertilization sounds like something out of science fiction—or pulp fiction—but until recently it was the only known technique to prevent women who have damaging mitochondrial DNA mutations from passing on life-threatening disorders to their babies. And it is illegal in the U.S (clinical trials required by the FDA have not been completed). Now researchers at the University of Miami have demonstrated a new strategy that could one day treat these disorders both in adult carriers and in their already born children.

Published in ASCB Post
Monday, 19 August 2013 00:00

The Other PIP2 in Endocytosis

Our bodies and our cells need specialized fats. Our cells eat through a process called endocytosis, which is critical for cells to take up nutrients from their environment. Embedded in the cell membrane, phosphoinositides are specialized lipids crucial during endocytosis and subsequent steps. They can be modified by protein kinases and phosphatases that alter their phosphorylation pattern in one of five places, indicated by the number(s) in the name. Thus was born the PIP family. PIP2, for example, is PtdIns(4,5)P2 phosphorylated in positions 4 and 5.

Published in ASCB Post

The NIH is building its portfolio in the emerging field of extracellular RNAs, known as exRNAs, with the announcement of $17 million in awards to support basic research aimed at understanding this newly discovered type of cell-to-cell interaction. NIH believes that exRNAs could play a role in numerous conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease. The Extracellular RNA Collaborative is a trans-NIH initiative, linking the efforts of five NIH institutes in pushing basic research into exRNAs.

Published in ASCB Post

The sun floods into the Physiology course break room at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) less than a block away from the narrow inlet between the mainland and Naushon Island that gives Woods Hole, MA, its name. Woods Hole is at the shoulder of Cape Cod, a popular summer vacation destination. In the harbor, vintage sailboats carry sunbathers, giant ferries take tourists to Martha's Vineyard, and the MBL work boat brings squid harvested from Vineyard Sound to neuroscience labs. But the 27 graduate students and postdocs who are enrolled in MBL's legendary Physiology course have little time for the sights. Instead, the students use the break room to refuel, analyze data, and argue about PALM vs. STORM or the latest on tropomyosin. Then it's back to the Physiology lab where the students live 16 hours a day for seven weeks. Asked about a famous beach up the road, a Physiology student sighed, "I've been there once."

Published in ASCB Post

For nearly 30 years, cell biologists have investigated—and argued about—how proteins move through an organelle that resembles stacks of pita bread, the Golgi apparatus. The Golgi, named for its discoverer, the great Italian microscopist, Camillo Golgi, is a series of protein processing and sorting compartments in which the pita pockets are called Golgi cisternae. The apparatus though works less like a bakery and more like a series of factory buildings where important accessories are added to proteins. Inside each factory building, specialized workers (enzymes) add different modifications and sort the cargo (proteins).

Published in ASCB Post
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