Genetics & Molecular Biology

A new study in Biological Chemistry suggests that Vitamin D, readily available in supplements or cod liver oil, may counter the effects of Crohn's disease.

Researchers from McGill University and the Université de Montréal found that Vitamin D acts directly on the beta defensin 2 gene, which encodes an antimicrobial peptide, and the NOD2 gene that alerts cells to the presence of invading microbes. Both Beta-defensin and NOD2 have been linked to Crohn's disease. If NOD2 is deficient or defective, it cannot combat invaders in the intestinal tract.
Photosynthesizing sea slugs take 'you are what you eat' to an extreme: by eating photosynthesizing algae, these "solar-powered" sea slugs are able to live off photosynthesis for months. How does this work? Is this just a straightforward case of symbiosis between algae and sea slugs?

It turns out that this is not a case of symbiosis: this is a case of the amazing and ubiquitous power of viruses to dramatically reshape the genetic landscape.

Cheap, powerful sequencing has enabled scientists to sample the viral world like never before. Our understanding of marine viruses, in particular, has exploded as researchers have sequenced whatever they can find in samples of seawater.

I've lamented multiple times the negative influence on scientific culture of some trends in the use of computational tools to analyze large datasets, particularly in biology.

Over at Nobel Intent, John Timmer brings up another issue related to computational models of complex phenomena: reproducibility:
Nature has put up some free pieces on syntehtic and systems biology on their Synthetic Systems Biology Web Focus. Unfortunately they haven't made it all free, but you can go read this one: Five hard truths for Synthetic Biology.

The conclusion? Complex biological systems are hard to deal with:
Biologists know that Chaperonins ensure proteins are folded properly to carry out their assigned roles in cells, and according to a new letter published in Nature, they may also know how these molecular chaperones function.

In the new study of archaea (single-celled organisms without nuclei to enclose their genetic information), researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Stanford University in California discovered how the Group II chaperonins close and open folding chambers to initate the folding event and to release the functional protein to the cell.
 Iowa State University researchers say they have discovered how the Ebola Virus is able to elude the immune response of host cells that it invades. The problem has stumped scientists for many years, and in a new study published in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the Iowa team says that host cells can't recognize and respond to the virus because of a dirty little trick it plays.

When most viruses invade cells, they begin producing RNA in order to replicate. In response,  the healthy host cells activate anti-viral defenses that halt replication and eventually help clear the viral infections
Reporting in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, an international team of researchers has determined the structure of 14α-Demethylase (14DM), an enzyme essential to the survival of the protozoan parasites that cause sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. They say this new information provides the first up-close look at the busy enzyme and, perhaps more importantly, shows how one compound in particular prevents it from conducting business as usual.

The team chose to attack the parasite's enzyme known as 14DM because it has a counterpart in fungi, which cause athlete's foot and ringworm, and such fungal infections are commonly treated with drugs that prevent 14DM from making ergosterol, a sterol required for membrane synthesis.
What will geneticists and molecular cell biologists be doing in 2020? 10 years ago, genomic technologies like DNA microarrays were just beginning to change the way molecular biologists worked, and the draft sequence of the human genome was a year from publication. Over the next decade, genomics, in the form of high-throughput tools, and large sequence databases, completely transformed the day-to-day work of just about everyone in the basic biomedical sciences.
Cancer-initiating cells that launch glioblastoma multiforme, the most
lethal type of brain tumor, also suppress an immune system attack on
the disease, scientists from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson
Cancer Center report in a paper featured on the cover of the Jan. 15
issue of Clinical Cancer Research.(1)

Glioblastoma Muliforme