Science News: Week of February 20, 2011

weekly_newsOur weekly compilation of science news for the week of February 20, 2011.

Antifungal compound found on tropical seaweed has promising antimalarial properties: A group of chemical compounds used by a species of tropical seaweed to ward off fungus attacks may have promising antimalarial properties for humans. The compounds are part of a unique chemical signaling system that seaweeds use to battle enemies – and that may provide a wealth of potential new pharmaceutical compounds.

Entire T-cell receptor repertoire sequenced revealing extensive and unshared diversity: T-cell receptor diversity in blood samples from healthy individuals has been extensively cataloged for the first time in a study published online today in Genome Research (www.genome.org), setting the stage for a better understanding of infectious disease, cancer, and immune system disorders.

Iowa State, Ames Lab researchers describe the pump that bacteria use to resist drugs: A research team led by Edward Yu of Iowa State University and the Ames Laboratory has identified and described two parts of the three-part system that pumps toxins from bacteria and allows them to resist antibiotics. The discoveries are published in the Feb. 24 issue of the journal Nature. The paper describes the co-crystal structure of two parts of the three-part efflux pump that recognizes and removes heavy metal toxins from bacteria. A research team led by Yu – an Iowa State associate professor of physics and astronomy, of chemistry, of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory – is working to discover the assembled structure of the entire three-part efflux pump. Yu said a better understanding of how the three parts work together could help medical researchers find ways to restore the effectiveness of antibiotics.

Simpler way of making proteins could lead to new nanomedicine agents: Researchers have developed a simple method of making short protein chains with spiral structures that can also dissolve in water, two desirable traits not often found together. Such structures could have applications as building blocks for self-assembling nanostructures and as agents for drug and gene delivery.

Newborn heart muscle can grow back by itself, UT Southwestern researchers have found: In a promising science-fiction-meets-real-world juxtaposition, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have discovered that the mammalian newborn heart can heal itself completely. Researchers, working with mice, found that a portion of the heart removed during the first week after birth grew back wholly and correctly – as if nothing had happened. "This is an important step in our search for a cure for heart disease, the No. 1 killer in the developed world," said Dr. Hesham Sadek, assistant professor of internal medicine and senior author of the study available online in the Feb. 25 issue of Science. "We found that the heart of newborn mammals can fix itself; it just forgets how as it gets older. The challenge now is to find a way to remind the adult heart how to fix itself again."