Genetics & Molecular Biology

Using single-molecule manipulation, researchers at Harvard University say they have uncovered a fundamental feedback mechanism that the body uses in regulating the clotting of blood. A new physical, quantitative, and predictive model of how the body works to respond to injury could improve treatment of bleeding disorders.

It also gives insight into how bleeding disorders, such as type 2A von Willebrand disease, disrupt this regulation system, potentially leading to new avenues for treatment and diagnosis.
One of the biggest recent breakthroughs in stem cell research is the ability to reprogram non-stem cells into stem cells using genetic engineering. The hitch with this technique is that genetic engineering like this can have side effects: stem cells produced in this way can turn into tumors in mice (and presumably humans, but we haven't tried that yet).

And thus researchers have been looking for ways to reprogram stem cells without genetic engineering. One promising way to do this is to use chemicals that can mimic the effects of the genes typically used for reprogramming. (The jargon for these genes is 'reprogramming factors' - who says technical jargon has to be opaque?)
Scientists in Portugal and France managed to follow the patterns of gene expression in food-poisoning bacteria Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) live during infection for the first time. The work about to be published in PLoS Pathogens shows how the bacterial genome shifts to better adapt to infection by activating genes involved in virulence and subversion of the host defences, as well as adaptation to the host conditions.
"The men are getting really angry and the women are a little too gleeful,” wrote New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin commenting on the overwhelming response she got for an article on a new study that found that men, too, may have a “biological clock” ticking when it comes to having what biologists would call “high quality” offspring.
FOXP2 may be the gene that makes us human - or so the hype goes. Hyped or not, FOXP2 is rightly a focus of intense research, since it is a gene that clearly has a major effect on human speech. Mutations in FOXP2 are responsible for some rare but strange language disorders, such as the inability to learn grammatical skills or make the proper mouth/facial movements to properly articulate words. 

Following on the heels of 'missing links' in the popular media earlier this month, you might expect that research on mice carrying a "humanized version" of a gene believed to influence speech and language will have references to cartoons and mice that talk.

In reality, it's nothing so outrageous but the research can still teach us about our evolutionary past - even if the mice don't speak.
In March, we took a critically acclaimed critical look at the genetics of superpowers in the X-Men movie franchise.  In addition to Cath Ennis's recommendation that Nature put a hard-working rugbyologist on the payroll doing movie reviews, Karl Haro von Mogel1 from Biofortified was kind enough to include our effluvia in the 29
I happened to get my hands on some interesting literature on pre-natal genetic screening, literature that amply reinforces my impression that clinical genetic testing is still in the dark ages.

Let's say you (or your wife/fiance/girlfriend) are pregnant, and you're interested in taking a blood test to see if your baby is going to develop a neural tube defect, like spina bifida. Should you take the test?

In this case, it's a no-risk test (unlike amniocentesis) that involves measuring a blood protein called AFP. Here's what the pamphlet I've got says:

- There is a 1:1000 chance that your baby will have spina bifida.
- The blood test can identify 80% of spina bifida cases.
Take a look at your dog. If you don't have a dog, then check this out:


Wikimedia commons.Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1. What dogs may look like.


It appears that some superbugs have evolved to develop the ability to manipulate the immune system - and that can be a good thing, say a team of researchers at The University of Western Ontario.

Some processes that reduce the lethal effects of toxins from superbugs allow humans and microbes to co-evolve, a discovery that may lead to novel alternatives to antibiotics that specifically target the toxic effects of these superbugs.