Genetics & Molecular Biology

The human body is a cross between a factory and a construction zone -- at least on the cellular level. Certain proteins act as project managers, which direct a wide variety of processes and determine the fate of the cell as a whole.

One group of proteins called the WD-repeat (WDR) family helps a cell choose which of the thousands of possible gene products it should manufacture. These WDR proteins fold into a three-dimensional structure resembling a doughnut -- an unusual shape that allows WDR proteins to act as stable platforms on which large protein complexes can assemble or disassemble.


Cystic fibrosis is an inherited, life-threatening disorder that damages the lungs and digestive system. It is most commonly caused by a mutation in the cystic fibrosis gene known as F508del. The disorder has no cure, and treatment typically consists of symptom management. Previous attempts to treat the disease through gene therapy have been unsuccessful.


When we think of genetically modified organisms, we usually picture the modern legal definition and a controversy related to how science can aid in herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, but there are other applications of such engineered plants, such as the incorporation of genes for specific nutrients.  Golden Rice is a famous example. Though it is protested by environmental groups, it has been shown to be able to help prevent blindness and death for millions of children.

A new paper suggests that similar bio-fortification of rice with a gene to produce more folate (vitamin B9) could significantly reduce the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defect conditions caused by deficiency of this nutrient.

Bees play an invaluable role in maintaining biodiversity and in pollinating the crops that feed the world, so it is essential to improve our understanding of their biology and to investigate how they respond to environmental threats. Despite their often slow and apparently bumbling flights from flower to flower, bumblebees are anything but lazy. With over 250 bumblebee species globally, these important insects perform the laborious task of pollinating flowers in both wild and agricultural settings. A large number of fruits and vegetables would be missing from our plates had a bumblebee not done its job. 


Centrioles - barrel-shaped structures inside cells- are made up of multiple proteins and since mutations in the proteins that make them up can cause a broad range of diseases, including developmental abnormalities, respiratory conditions, male sterility and cancer, they are the focus of a great deal of research


There may be more a natural way to reduce the use of pesticides but still save plants from attack -  by recreating a natural insect repellent based on smell.

Scientists from Cardiff University and Rothamsted Research have created tiny molecules which mirror a natural occurring smell known to repel insects by providing the enzyme ((S)-germacrene D synthase), which creates the smell, with alternative substrate molecules. 

The effectiveness of the smell or perfume to function as an insect repellent was tested and the team found that the smells repelled insects but in one case a reversal of behavior - an attractant - was observed which raises the prospect of being able to develop a trap-and-kill device. 


Stem cells cling to feeder cells as they grow in petri dishes and it has been thought that this attachment occurs because feeder cells serve as a support system, providing stems cells with essential nutrients.


A proof-of-concept study in mice showed it is possible to prevent transmission of mitochondrial disease to children without resorting to controversial cytoplasmic transfer - "three-parent" IVF.

Mitochondria are known as the powerhouse of the cell because they generate most of the cell's supply of energy. Each cell in the body contains anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 copies of mitochondrial DNA, which is exclusively transmitted through maternal inheritance. In most patients with mitochondrial disease, mutated and normal mitochondrial DNA molecules are mixed together in cells.


Tumor necrosis factor (TNF), an immune system regulatory protein that promotes inflammation, also helps regulate sensitivity to bitter taste, a finding which may provide a mechanism to explain the taste system abnormalities and decreased food intake that can be associated with infections, autoimmune disorders, and chronic inflammatory diseases. 

Because TNF is known to suppress food intake, the current study asked whether TNF affects food intake via the taste system. The findings are published online ahead of print in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.


Sweet potatoes, one of the most important food crops for human consumption, contain genes from the bacterium Agrobacterium but that was not done by scientists. The foreign DNA that turned sweet potatoes into a GMO was put there by nature.

The researchers discovered the foreign DNA sequences of Agrobacterium while searching the genome - this is the entire DNA-code - of sweet potato for viral diseases. Instead of contributing this peculiar finding to bacterial contamination of the plant samples, the researchers decided to study these sequences in more detail.