Building blocks of memories seen in brains for the first time

Building blocks of memories seen in brains for the first time:

At last, we’ve seen what might be the primary building blocks of memories lighting up in the brains of mice.

We have cells in our brains – and so do rodents – that keep track of our location and the distances we’ve travelled. These neurons are also known to fire in sequence when a rat is resting, as if the animal is mentally retracing its path – a process that probably helps memories form, says Rosa Cossart at the Institut de Neurobiologie de la Méditerranée in Marseille, France.

But without a way of mapping the activity of a large number of these individual neurons, the pattern that these replaying neurons form in the brain has been unclear. Researchers have suspected for decades that the cells might fire together in small groups, but nobody could really look at them, says Cossart.

To get a look, Cossart and her team added a fluorescent protein to the neurons of four mice. This protein fluoresces the most when calcium ions flood into a cell – a sign that a neuron is actively firing. The team used this fluorescence to map neuron activity much more widely than previous techniques, using implanted electrodes, have been able to do.

Observing the activity of more than 1000 neurons per mouse, the team watched what happened when mice walked on a treadmill or stood still.

As expected, when the mice were running, the neurons that trace how far the animal has travelled fired in a sequential pattern, keeping track.

These same cells also lit up while the mice were resting, but in a strange pattern. As they reflected on their memories, the neurons fired in the same sequence as they had when the animals were running, but much faster. And rather than firing in turn individually, they fired together in sequential blocks that corresponded to particular fragments of a mouse’s run.

“We’ve been able to image the individual building-blocks of memory,” Cossart says, each one reflecting a chunk of the original episode that the mouse experienced.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading Building blocks of memories seen in brains for the first time

New sensor could help fight deadly bacterial infections

New sensor could help fight deadly bacterial infections:

Scientists have built a new sensor that can detect the potentially deadly E.coli bacteria in 15-20 minutes, much faster than traditional lab tests. E.coli can be transmitted in contaminated food and water, posing particular risks to children and the elderly. In the late spring of 2011 a serious outbreak of E.coli bacteria sickened thousands of people in Germany and killed more than 50.

A team of researchers from the Photonics Research Center at the University of Quebec in Outaouais, Canada, under direction of Professor Wojtek J. Bock and collaborators from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, have built a new sensor that can quickly and cost-effectively detect E.coli over a wide temperature range. The researchers describe the sensor in a paper in the journal Optics Letters.

“Using currently available technologies, which are mostly based on amplification of the sample, it takes several hours to days to detect the presence of bacteria. A fast and accurate detection alternative is, therefore, preferable over the existing technology,” said Saurabh Mani Tripathi, a physicist at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. Faster tests for the bacteria could lead to faster treatment of patients, as well as to cheaper and easier environmental monitoring, he said.

The new sensor uses bacteriophages—viruses that can naturally latch onto and kill bacteria. The viruses are bonded to the surface of an optical fiber and will grab E.coli bacteria from a sample and keep them attached. When a beam of light strikes the surface, the presence of E.coli shifts the wavelength in a telltale sign of bacterial contamination.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading New sensor could help fight deadly bacterial infections

Getting tomatoes to ripen without going soft

Targeting one gene helps keep the plant’s cell wall intact for longer. sci tech news Continue reading Getting tomatoes to ripen without going soft

Dolly’s aging heirs offer good news about cloned animals

Dolly’s aging heirs offer good news about cloned animals:

The heirs of Dolly the sheep are enjoying a healthy old age, proving cloned animals can live normal lives and offering reassurance to scientists hoping to use cloned cells in medicine.

Dolly, cloning’s poster child, was born in Scotland in 1996. She died prematurely in 2003, aged six, after developing osteoarthritis and a lung infection, raising concerns that cloned animals may age more quickly than normal offspring.

Now researchers have allayed those fears by reporting that 13 cloned sheep, including four genomic copies of Dolly, are still in good shape at between seven and nine years of age, or the equivalent of 60 to 70 in human years.

“Overall, the results are suggesting that these animals are remarkably healthy,” said Kevin Sinclair of the University of
Nottingham, whose team reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading Dolly’s aging heirs offer good news about cloned animals

Smart Stitches Send Data As They Heal Wounds

Smart Stitches Send Data As They Heal Wounds:

In the medicine world, stitches are the epitome of low-tech. You get cut, and just like a seamstress with a pair of ripped trousers, your doctor simply sews you up. But what if stitches did more than closed wounds? What if they could reveal how the healing was coming along?

That’s the promise of the “smart sutures” invented by a team of researchers led by engineers from Tufts University. Starting with thread that ranged from basic cotton to sophisticated synthetic, the researchers embedded electronics, microfluidics, and nano-scale sensors to create high-tech diagnostic sutures. The threads can collect diagnostic data such as tissue temperature, pH and glucose levels, and stress and strain, and even sense if an infection is coming on.

What’s more, these super-stitches can then wirelessly send the collected data to a smartphone or computer, potentially giving health professionals a realtime glimpse inside an injury. The smart threads could be used in more than just wounds, say the researchers. They could also be embedded in organs, orthopedic implants, and perhaps even knitted or embroidered into smart fabrics for other applications.

So far, the smart threads have only been tested on rats and in vitro. The research was published yesterday in the journal Microsystems and Nanoengineering.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading Smart Stitches Send Data As They Heal Wounds

Scientists created a cyborg stingray powered by the heart of a rat

Scientists created a cyborg stingray powered by the heart of a rat:

Researchers have developed a new kind of synthetic creature, using the heart cells of a rat to make a robotic stingray that follows light.

While the rat-ray hybrid certainly sounds like a bit of a Frankenstein mish-mash, it’s serious research that could help pave the way for a greater understanding of how hearts pump blood around the body – in addition to leading to new kinds of more sophisticated synthetic robots.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading Scientists created a cyborg stingray powered by the heart of a rat

We Can Now Tell a Person’s Age Range From Crime Scene Blood

We Can Now Tell a Person’s Age Range From Crime Scene Blood:

There might be a way to help nail down a crime suspect in old blood.

Chemists at the University at Albany, SUNY, have described a new method for quickly but accurately determining a person’s age range based only on a blood sample. The test could one day be used to help narrow down suspects in a crime scene investigation as easily as getting results from a glucose or pregnancy test.

“I hope it will change [and] accelerate the investigation, so you can know right away what is happening,” says Jan Halámek, co-author of the paper, which was published in May in Analytical Chemistry.

Traditional DNA analysis can take up to 72 hours and carries no reliable information about a person’s age. So Halámek and his team focused on levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP), an enzyme found in blood, to determine age.

In adolescence, active bone growth releases ALP, but when people reach adulthood, bone growth slows and ALP levels begin to plummet. This threshold is generally around age 17 for women and 18 for men. That means the method can help differentiate between juveniles and adults, groups who are treated differently by the legal system.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading We Can Now Tell a Person’s Age Range From Crime Scene Blood

New preclinical study indicates vaccine to prevent Zika infection in humans is feasible

New preclinical study indicates vaccine to prevent Zika infection in humans is feasible:

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and collaborators at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have completed a promising preclinical study of two Zika vaccine candidates that suggests that an effective human vaccine will be achievable. Findings from the study were published today in the journal Nature.

In the preclinical study, WRAIR and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center tested two Zika virus vaccine candidates: a DNA vaccine developed at Harvard based on a Zika virus strain isolated in Brazil, and a purified inactivated virus vaccine developed at WRAIR based on a Zika virus strain isolated in Puerto Rico.

The study showed that single shots of either vaccine candidate protected mice against subsequent Zika challenge. Both candidates were found to be safe and elicited an antibody response to Zika virus that correlated with protection. Further work with the DNA vaccine demonstrated that protection was solely due to antibodies raised by vaccination.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading New preclinical study indicates vaccine to prevent Zika infection in humans is feasible

Federal advisory committee greenlights first CRISPR clinical trial

Federal advisory committee greenlights first CRISPR clinical trial:

CRISPR, the genome-editing technology that has taken biomedical science by storm, is finally nearing human trials.

On 21 June, an advisory committee at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved a proposal to use CRISPR/Cas9 to help augment cancer therapies that rely on enlisting a patient’s T cells.

“Cell therapies [for cancer] are so promising but the majority of people who get these therapies have a disease that relapses,” says study leader Edward Stadtmauer, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Gene editing could improve such treatments and eliminate some of their vulnerabilities to cancer and the body’s immune system, he says.

This first trial is small and designed to test whether CRISPR is safe for use in people, rather than whether it cures cancer or not. It will be funded by a US$250 million immunotherapy foundation formed in April by former Facebook president Sean Parker. The trial itself does not yet have a budget. The University of Pennsylvania will manufacture the edited cells, and will recruit and treat patients along with centers in California and Texas.

The researchers will remove T cells from 18 patients with melanoma, sarcoma, or myeloma, and perform three CRISPR edits on them. One edit will insert a gene for a protein engineered to detect cancer cells and instruct the T cells to target them, and a second edit removes a natural T cell protein that could interfere with this process. The third is defensive: removing the gene for a protein that identifies the T cells as immune cells and preventing the cancer cells from disabling them. The researchers will then infuse the edited cells back into the patient.

Continue Reading.

Syndicated from Mind Blowing Science! Continue reading Federal advisory committee greenlights first CRISPR clinical trial