Researchers operate lab-grown heart cells by remote control

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and their collaborators have developed a technique that allows them to speed up or slow down human heart cells growing in a dish on command — simply by shining a light on them and varying its intensity. The cells are grown on a material called graphene, which converts light into electricity, providing a more realistic environment than standard plastic or glass laboratory dishes.

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Earth & Climate 

What bacteria can teach us about combating atrazine contamination

Atrazine, a controversial herbicide introduced to agriculture in the 1950s, has been banned in the European Union but is widely used in the United States and Australia. In the decades that atrazine has been accumulating in agricultural fields, some bacteria in those soils have evolved the ability to take advantage of this nitrogen-rich compound, metabolizing it and using it to grow.

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The dark side of our genes — healthy aging in modern times

The transition to modernity — largely driven by the Industrial Revolution — provided us with easier access to food and clean water, with antibiotics, vaccines, and modern medicine. Yet modernity did not just bring fewer infectious diseases and longer life: it also created an environment radically different from the one we evolved in. Genes helpful in our evolutionary past may now predispose us to chronic disease — such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer — in old ages. In a paper published in the journal Nature Reviews Genetics an international team of five scientists collate the evidence for this mismatch between past evolutionary adaptation and our modern lives. They also ask whether natural selection linked to modernization might reduce globally the burden of some chronic diseases.

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Probiotics to protect bees from an infection associated with colony collapse disorder

Adding probiotics to bees’ food helps make them more resistant to nosemosis, a fungal infection associated with colony collapse disorder that has been observed in Europe and North America over the past 20 years. Probiotics can decrease the mortality rate of this infection in bees by up to 40%, report researchers at Université Laval in the most recent edition of Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

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Bizarre Things 

Researchers mimic comet moth’s silk fibers to make ‘air-conditioned’ fabric

Fabrics made from silkworm fibers have long been treasured for their beautiful luster and refreshing coolness. Columbia Engineering researchers have discovered that fibers produced by the caterpillars of a wild silk moth, the Madagascar comet moth (Argema mittrei), are far superior in terms of brilliance and cooling ability. Not only do the comet moth’s cocoon fibers have outstanding cooling properties, they also have exceptional capabilities for transmitting light signals and images.

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Weird World 

Keep the light off: A material with improved mechanical performance in the dark

Researchers found that zinc sulfide crystals were brittle under normal lighting conditions at room temperature, but highly plastic when deformed in complete darkness. Deformation of zinc sulfide crystals in the dark also narrowed their band gap, which controls electrical conductivity. The team’s findings showed the mechanical and electronic properties of inorganic semiconductors are sensitive to light, revealing a possible route to engineer the performance of inorganic semiconductors, which are important in electronics.

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Plants & Animals 

Researchers discover how body temperature wrecks potential dengue, Zika vaccine

A major route toward creating effective vaccines against dengue virus and Zika involves the E protein that covers the surface of each viral particle. If we could develop strong antibodies against this E protein, then that would be the crux of a formidable vaccine — based on the important fact that the 180 E proteins come in pairs. But creating such a vaccine has proven difficult for a number of reasons. Now UNC School of Medicine researchers have delineated the details of one major barrier to a promising vaccine. It’s something we all have — a natural body temperature of about 98.6 degrees. Previous studies in Aravinda de Silva’s lab have shown that humans create strong antibodies to the E protein on the virus surface, suggesting that a soluble version of the E protein (called sRecE) could make a good vaccine.

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Mind & Brain 

Microglia are key defenders against prion diseases

Prion diseases are slow degenerative brain diseases that occur in people and various other mammals. No vaccines or treatments are available, and these diseases are almost always fatal. Scientists have found little evidence of a protective immune response to prion infections. Further, microglia — brain cells usually involved in the first level of host defense against infections of the brain — have been thought to worsen these diseases by secreting toxic molecules that can damage nerve cells.

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