Categories
GeekWire

Did life emerge from carbonate-rich lakes?

Mono Lake
Eastern California’s Mono Lake has no outflow, allowing salts to build up over time. The high salts in this carbonate-rich lake can grow into pillars. (Matthew Dillon Photo via Flickr / AAAS)

Where did life on Earth get its start? In a newly published study, researchers from the University of Washington argue that carbonate-rich lakes would have been the best place for life’s chemical building blocks to come together.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Chinese gene-editing scientist goes to prison

He Xiankui
Chinese researcher He Jiankui discusses his lab’s effort to produce babies whose genes have been altered to protect them from future HIV infection. (The He Lab via YouTube)

Chinese researcher He Jiankui, who stirred up a global controversy last year when he said his experiment produced twin baby girls with gene-edited traits, has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $430,000 fine, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Dog Aging Project aims to enlist 10,000 canines

Dog Aging Project
The organizers of the Dog Aging Project plan to use big-data tools to study canine health – and apply their findings to human health issues as well. (Dog Aging Project / UW / Texas A&M Photo)

Scientists are looking for 10,000 good dogs to take part in a 10-year effort aimed at tracking their health and identifying factors that can lengthen their lifespan.

The pets that are selected for the Dog Aging Project could come in for some scientific pampering, including genome sequencing and health assessments.

But that doesn’t mean the project’s organizers at the University of Washington, Texas A&M University and other research institutions are totally going to the dogs. The larger purpose of the campaign — and the reason it’s getting $15 million in direct funding from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health — is to pick up new clues about the aging process in humans.

Researchers can use dogs as a model for human health studies, just as they use lab mice, said project co-director Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the UW School of Medicine. And for this project’s purposes, pets bring an extra advantage.

“Unlike laboratory animals, they also share our environment,” he told GeekWire. “So we absolutely believe that, in that respect, pet dogs are going to be superior to laboratory models for understanding the aging process in humans, because we’re able to capture that environmental diversity.”

Kaeberlein and his colleagues have been ramping up the project for several years, but now they’re ready for prime time: The official launch comes today in Austin, Texas, at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America.

Dog owners can nominate their canines as candidates for study on DogAgingProject.org. The nomination process entails setting up a secure user portal and providing health and lifestyle information about their dogs. Participants will also be asked to share their pets’ veterinary medical records.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Allen Institute gives a boost to cell researchers

Samantha Morris in lab
Biomedical researcher Samantha Morris, shown here in her lab at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is one of the newly named Allen Distinguished Investigators. ““This award is enabling us to take a big risk in our arena by generating a completely new technology, one which will be useful to the scientific community. That’s really exciting for us,” she said. (Washington University in St. Louis Photo)

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of Seattle’s Allen Institute, is making a total of $7.5 million in awards to its latest class of five biomedical researchers.

The themes for this year’s Allen Distinguished Investigators focus on stem cell therapies and single-cell interactions in their native environments.

“The field of stem cell biology has the potential to change how we treat diseases by helping precision medicine, and there’s so much we still don’t understand about the interplay between cells in living tissues or organs,” Kathy Richmond, director of the Frontiers Group, said today in a news release.

“Our 2019 Allen Distinguished Investigators are pushing their fields in these two areas, through new technology development, probing pivotal interactions in the body that cause health to fail, and generating creative new stem cell models that will improve our understanding of different human diseases,” she said.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Biologists use AI to flesh out cell’s inner workings

3-D cell model
A 3-D view of human cells is color-coded to highlight substructures. (Allen Institute for Cell Science)

What happens when you cross cell biology with artificial intelligence? At the Allen Institute for Cell Science, the answer isn’t super-brainy microbes, but new computer models that can turn simple black-and-white pictures of live human cells into color-coded, 3-D visualizations filled with detail.

The online database, known as the Allen Integrated Cell, is now being made publicly available — and its creators say it could open up new windows into the workings of our cells.

“From a single, simple microscopy image, you could get this very high-contrast, integrated 3-D image where it’s very easy to see where all the separate structures are,” Molly Maleckar, director of modeling at the Seattle-based Allen Institute, told GeekWire.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How families will help shape the future of health

Future of Health panel
Panelists discuss the future of health during a Town Hall Seattle forum at the Institute for Systems Biology. From left: GeekWire’s Clare McGrane, the panel’s moderator; Leroy Hood of Providence St. Joseph Health; Howard Frumkin of the University of Washington School of Public Health; and John Aitchison of the Center for Infectious Disease Research. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

It’s no secret that a rising flood of data, from the results of sophisticated genetic tests to the vital signs recorded by your smartphone, is transforming the way we approach health and wellness. But one of the pioneers of that trend says big data could well shift the focus of the quest for wellness from the hospital to the home.

“I think the most powerful unit for scientific wellness is the family,” Leroy Hood, co-founder of Seattle’s Institute for Systems Biology and chief science officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, said during a March 7 forum on the future of health.

The forum was hosted by the Institute for System Biology’s headquarters as part of Town Hall Seattle’s science lecture series.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How are gut microbes connected to memory?

Bacteria and brain
Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are studying how bacteria in the gut can affect the brain’s memory function. (PNNL Illustration)

AUSTIN, Texas — Can probiotic bacteria play a role in how well your memory works? It’s too early to say for sure, but mouse studies have turned up some clues worth remembering.

Preliminary results suggest that giving mice the kinds of bacteria often found in dietary supplements have a beneficial effect on memory when it comes to navigating mazes or avoiding electrical shocks.

One such study, focusing on mazes and object-in-place recognition, was published last year. And researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., are seeing similarly beneficial effects on memory in preliminary results from their experiments.

PNNL’s Janet Jansson provided an advance look at her team’s yet-to-be-published findings here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

How mosquitoes associate scents with swats

Mosquito
A mosquito flies on the end of a tether during an experiment to study responses to a swat-like shock. (Kiley Riffell Photo via University of Washington)

Does it do any good to swat at a mosquito if you miss? Yes, according to a newly published study.

A novel experiment conducted primarily by biologists at the University of Washington found that mosquitoes seem to associate the shock of the swat with the swatter’s scent, and learn to stay away.

“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” senior author Jeff Riffell, a UW biology professor, said in a news release.

“Moreover, mosquitoes remember the trained odors for days,” he said.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Chinese team clones monkeys from fetal cells

Zhong Zhong
Zhong Zhong is a cloned monkey. (Chinese Academy of Sciences / Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo)bio

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai have produced identical primate clones using the same procedure that brought Dolly the sheep into the world more than two decades earlier.

The procedure, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell and replacing it with nuclear material from a body cell.

Chinese researchers described the experiment in a research paper published today by the journal Cell.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

Categories
GeekWire

Biologists sniff out another way to make methane

R. palustris
Rhodopseudomonas palustris, shown in this photomicrograph, is a type of bacteria that can use iron-only nitrogenase to convert nitrogen and carbon dioxide into methane as well as ammonia and hydrogen gas in a single enzymatic step. (UW / Harwood Lab)

Every year, microbes produce hundreds of millions of tons of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s more potent than carbon dioxide. Scientists had thought the job was done exclusively through methanogenesis. But in the journal Nature Microbiology, a research team led by the University of Washington’s Caroline Harwood lays out an alternate method that makes use of a backup enzyme called iron-only nitrogenase.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.