Bioengineers go retro to build a calculator from living cells

Posted 19 May 2013 by Akshat Rathi

Scientists in the US have developed a calculator from living cells, using old-fashioned analog programming. Their hope is that the technology could be used in the future to program cells to kill cancer. Researchers have previously built electronic circuits using living cells. They achieved this by forcing living cells to behave in binary (digital) systems. But this is not energy efficient. And many cells are required to implement simple functions that transistors, the basic units of electronic circuits which are... Read more

Sexual strategies: The numbers game

Posted 14 April 2013 by Akshat Rathi

In 1948 Angus John Bateman, an English geneticist, proposed that females invest more in producing and caring for their offspring than males because sperm are cheaper than eggs. Since then, however, many species, in particular egg-laying ones, have been found to violate what became known as Bateman's principle. Such role reversal has left evolutionary biologists baffled. Some suggeseted that species in which females lay eggs that are big compared to their bodies may need more time to recover after laying... Read more

Rain clouds: From dust to lawn

Posted 28 March 2013 by Akshat Rathi

Clouds turn to rain when water droplets and ice crystals that make them up get too big to resist the pull of Earth’s gravity. This is often caused by particles that disturb the maelstrom of droplets and crystals to become seeds around which cloud matter coalesces. Once this happens, the seeds grow rapidly and eventually fall to the ground. The seeds can be caused by the passage of exotic things like cosmic rays. More often, though, they are dust particles... Read more

Marine biology: Flea market

Posted 16 March 2013 by Akshat Rathi

A newly discovered virus may be the most abundant organism on the planet What is the commonest living thing on Earth? Until now, those in the know would probably have answered Pelagibacter ubique, the most successful member of a group of bacteria, called SAR11, that jointly constitute about a third of the single-celled organisms in the ocean. But this is not P. ubique’s only claim to fame, for unlike almost every other known cellular creature, it and its relatives have seemed to... Read more

Drug development: Teaching old pills new tricks

Posted 13 March 2013 by Akshat Rathi

Exploding research costs and falling sales: there seems to be no cure for the pharma industry’s two big afflictions. But it may have found a way to both cut costs and open up new markets: repurposing drugs already approved for treatment of one disease or those that failed to gain approval in the late stages of development. Alas, this is not as easy as it sounds—mostly for legal reasons. Finding new uses for old or failed drugs is on average... Read more

Cancer drugs: Refusing to die

Posted 7 March 2013 by Akshat Rathi

Suicide is a part of life. Whenever any of the 100 trillion or so cells that make up the human body malfunction, which happens all the time even in healthy tissue, they are programmed to provoke their own death. The mechanism hinges on a protein called TRAIL, which is produced by the damaged cell and binds to receptors on its surface, causing inflammation. That is a signal for the immune system to sweep in and, through a process called apoptosis,... Read more

Researchers ‘cure’ HIV infection in a baby

Posted 5 March 2013 by Akshat Rathi

On Sunday, U.S. researchers reported that a baby girl has been effectively cured of HIV infection with the use of standard antiretroviral drugs. This is an exciting development giving hope that AIDS, which is caused by HIV, may be cured in young children, but there are many steps to be taken before that can happen. In 2010 a girl, whose identity has not been revealed, was infected by HIV at birth because her mother was carrying the infection. Within 30... Read more

A submerged continent found

Posted 1 March 2013 by Akshat Rathi

There is a TLDR version for this post here. A group of scientists from Norway, Germany, South Africa and the U. K. have discovered a submerged continent in the Indian Ocean. Their measurements predict that the continent, which they have named Mauritia, lies under Mauritius and its broken chunks today extend more than 1000 km northwards till Seychelles. The discovery was sparked when they found crystals called zircons on Mauritian beaches. Zircons are resistant to erosion or chemical change and... Read more

Manipulation of biological clocks teaches an important lesson

Posted 17 February 2013 by Akshat Rathi

Evolution is a powerful force that optimises organisms to fit in their environment. But, in our attempts to understand life, biologists often stumble upon natural phenomena that leave them puzzled. According to a new study, solving one such puzzle has helped scientists understand why nature prefers to do things differently than humans would predict. Proteins, the gears of a cell’s machinery work, are made from combinations of the same 20 building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids get stitched... Read more

Chest X-rays are not effective at detecting TB infections

Posted 12 February 2013 by Akshat Rathi

When I immigrated to the UK as a student, I had to do something that I wasn't expecting. I had to carry with me a recent chest X-ray. I thought this was completely unnecessary. Why should I be exposed to X-rays for no good reason? Turned out that there was a reason. It was to stop the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in the UK. Immigrants from sub-Saharan African and the Indian subcontinent are more likely than other immigrants to be... Read more