Chemical Engineers Boost Bacteria’s Productivity

MIT chemical engineers have designed a novel genetic switch that allows them to dramatically boost bacteria’s production of useful chemicals by shutting down competing metabolic pathways in the cells.

“The challenge is to engineer a system where we get enough growth to have a productive microbial ‘ chemical factory’ but not so much that we can’ t channel enough of the sugars into a pathway to make large quantities of our target molecules,”says Kristala Prather, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT.

In a paper appearing in the Feb. 13 issue of Nature Biotechnology, the researchers showed that they could significantly enhance the yield of glucaric acid, a chemical that is a precursor to products such as nylons and detergents. This genetic switch could also be easily swapped into bacteria that generate other products, the researchers say.

“We can engineer microbial cells to produce many different chemicals from simple sugars, but the cells would rather use those sugars to grow and reproduce. The challenge is to engineer a system where we get enough growth to have a productive microbial ‘chemical factory’ but not so much that we can’t channel enough of the sugars into a pathway to make large quantities of our target molecules,” says Kristala Prather, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.

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How Dragonfish Open Their Fearsome Mouths So Wide

How Dragonfish Open Their Fearsome Mouths So Wide

Barbeled dragonfish — predatory fish with long, dark bodies that inhabit the deep sea — are unnerving to look at. Their name refers to glowing barbell-shaped lures that dangle from their oversize lower jaws and attract unsuspecting prey in the cold, dark ocean depths. Those jaws, studded with prominent, sharp teeth, can swing wide enough to gulp down large fish whole — even prey larger than the swallower.

And a new study has discovered one of the secrets to their exceptional gape — a specialized head joint that is unique to dragonfish. Read more

New Technique Uses Immune Cells to Deliver Anti-Cancer Drugs

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Some researchers are working to discover new, safer ways to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to tumors without damaging healthy cells. Others are finding ways to boost the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. Researchers at Penn State have combined the two approaches by taking biodegradable polymer nanoparticles encapsulated with cancer-fighting drugs and incorporating them into immune cells to create a smart, targeted system to attack cancers of specific types.

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Our Closest Worm Kin Regrow Body Parts

Our closest worm kin regrow body parts, raising hopes of regeneration in humans

What if humans could regrow an amputated arm or leg, or completely restore nervous system function after a spinal cord injury?

A new study of one of our closest invertebrate relatives, the acorn worm, reveals that this feat might one day be possible. Acorn worms burrow in the sand around coral reefs, but their ancestral relationship to chordates means they have a genetic makeup and body plan surprisingly similar to ours.

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Each Animal Species Hosts a Unique Microbial Community and Benefits

Each animal species hosts a unique microbial community and benefits from it

Each animal species hosts its own, unique community of microbes that can significantly improve its health and fitness.

That is the implication of a laboratory study that investigated four different animal groups and their associated microbiota. The research found that each species within the group has a distinctive microbial community.

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The Forest Through the Fog

The atmosphere within Northern California’s coast redwood forests is humid, the air pungent and loamy, smelling at once like the sea and earth. This olfactory fusion is appropriate; scientists have discovered that redwood forests thrive on a sea-sourced fog that carries nutrient-rich coastal ocean water. However, uncovering the numerous processes that make it possible for the sea to nourish the trees requires novel approaches and multiple disciplines to uncover.

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New, Complex Call Recorded in Mariana Trench Believed to Be From Baleen whale

New, Complex Call Recorded in Mariana Trench Believed to Be From Baleen whale

A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

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Newly Proposed Reference Datasets Improve Weather Satellite Data Quality

Summary: Researchers have proposed in-orbit reference datasets for calibrating weather satellites. A recent presentation demonstrated that using these references reduced errors in microwave and infrared weather satellites to fractions of a degree Celsius.

“Traffic and weather, together on the hour!” blasts your local radio station, while your smartphone knows the weather halfway across the world. A network of satellites whizzing around Earth collecting mountains of data makes such constant and wide-ranging access to accurate weather forecasts possible. Just one satellite, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R that launched in 2016, can collect 3.5 terabytes of weather data per day.

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Hummingbirds See Motion in an Unexpected Way

Hummingbirds See Motion in an Unexpected Way

Summary: Have you ever imagined what the world must look like to hummingbirds as they zoom about at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour? According to new evidence on the way the hummingbird brain processes visual signals you can’t. That’s because a key area of the hummingbird’s brain processes motion in a unique and unexpected way.

Have you ever imagined what the world must look like to hummingbirds as they zoom about at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour? According to new evidence on the way the hummingbird brain processes visual signals reported in Current Biology on January 5, you can’t. That’s because a key area of the hummingbird’s brain processes motion in a unique and unexpected way.

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Think Chicken: Think Intelligent, Caring & Complex

Review looks at studies on chicken intelligence, social development and emotions

Suummary: Chickens are not as clueless or ‘bird-brained’ as people believe them to be. They have distinct personalities and can outmaneuver one another. They know their place in the pecking order, and can reason by deduction, which is an ability that humans develop by the age of seven. Chicken intelligence is therefore unnecessarily underestimated and overshadowed by other avian groups.

Chickens are not as clueless or “bird-brained” as people believe them to be. They have distinct personalities and can outmaneuver one another. They know their place in the pecking order, and can reason by deduction, which is an ability that humans develop by the age of seven. Chicken intelligence is therefore unnecessarily underestimated and overshadowed by other avian groups. So says Lori Marino, senior scientist for The Someone Project, a joint venture of Farm Sanctuary and the Kimmela Center in the USA, who reviewed the latest research about the psychology, behavior and emotions of the world’s most abundant domestic animal. Her review is published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.

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