Transcend Biology and Eat More Broccoli
Neuroscience is making important advances toward mapping brain circuits, as shown in news released last week by the Francis Crick Institute and Caltech.
"We're obviously working at a really small scale, but as the brain is made up of repeating units, we can learn a lot about how the brain works as a computational machine by studying it at this level,” said Andreas Schaefer, research leader at the Francis Crick Institute. “Now that we have a tool of mapping these tiny units, we can start to interfere with specific cell types to see how they directly control behavior and sensory processing."
“Our technique not only allows us to create a wiring diagram of the brain, but also to genetically modify the function of neurons in a brain circuit,” said Caltech research professor Carlos Lois.
To learn about even more visionary neuroscience, I recommend that you attend (online or in a SF Bay Area location to be announced) a public workshop titled “Transcending Biology: Reverse Engineering the Brain,” hosted by the nonprofit Carboncopies.
In less high-tech but equally important news, scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) are using engineered bacteria and broccoli against colorectal cancer. "One exciting aspect of our strategy is that it just capitalizes on our lifestyle, potentially transforming our normal diet into a sustainable, low-cost therapeutic regimen,” said a NUS scientist. “We hope that our strategy can be a useful complement to current cancer therapies."
"Mothers are right after all, eating vegetables is important," added a collaborator.
Accurate mapping of brain microcircuits. Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have developed a new technique to map electrical circuits in the brain far more comprehensively than ever before. The new technique enabled the scientists to map out all 250 cells that make up a microcircuit in part of a mouse brain that processes smell, something that has never been achieved before. A research paper published in Nature Communications describes how the scientists developed nanoengineered microelectrodes and charged dyes to stain cells without damaging them. Unlike methods that use viral vectors, they could stain up to 100% of the cells in the microcircuit they were investigating.
Mapping brain wiring diagram by tracing the flow of information across synapses. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed new technology that permits seeing which neurons are talking to which other neurons in live fruit flies. The new method for mapping brain wiring by tracing the flow of information across synapses, called TRACT (Transneuronal Control of Transcription), is described in a study published in eLIFE. Using genetically engineered Drosophila fruit flies, TRACT allows researchers to observe which neurons are "talking" and which neurons are "listening" by prompting the connected neurons to produce glowing proteins.
Artificial cardiac muscle patches could permit treating heart attacks. Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have tested human cardiac-muscle patches created in the lab on laboratory animals with a clinically relevant approach, showing that the patches significantly improved recovery from heart attack injury. The scientists are persuaded that the test results, published in Circulation, represent a step toward treating human heart attacks by suturing cardiac-muscle patches over an area of dead heart muscle in order to reduce the pathology that often leads to heart failure.
Functioning human muscle grown from stem cells. Biomedical engineers at Duke University have grown functioning human skeletal muscle from stem cells. The research results, published in Nature Communications, describe how pluripotent stem cells have been grown while being flooded with a molecule called Pax7, which signals the cells to start becoming muscle. According to the engineers, the ability to start from cellular scratch using non-muscle tissue will allow scientists to grow far more muscle cells, provide an easier path to genome editing and cellular therapies, and develop individually tailored models of rare muscle diseases for drug discovery and basic biology studies.
3D printing soft biological tissues. Researchers at Imperial College London have developed a new method for 3D-printing soft biological tissues, which could be used for tissue regeneration and replica organs. The new technique, described in a study published in Scientific Reports, is able to create structures that are soft enough to mimic the mechanical properties of organs such as the brain and lungs. The scientists used solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) to rapidly cool a hydrogel ink as it is extruded from a 3D printer. According to the researchers, this technique could open new ways to grow stem cells and permit creating replica body parts or even whole organs.
Engineered bacteria and broccoli against colorectal cancer. Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, have found a way to turn a humble cocktail of bacteria and vegetables into a targeted system that seeks out and kills colorectal cancer cells. The study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, describes how the researchers engineered E. coli Nissle, a harmless type of bacteria found in the gut, into a probiotic that attached to the surface of colorectal cancer cells and secreted an enzyme to convert a substance found in cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli) into a potent anticancer agent. The scientists envision that these probiotics could be used as cancer prevention, and to clean up the cancer cells remaining after surgical removal of tumors.
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