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New sampling method allows scientists to observe cellular changes over time

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May 26 (UPI) — Scientists have developed a new method for sampling cells multiple times without causing permanent damage to the cell.

Most cell sampling and analysis methods, including genetic and protein sequencing, destroy the target cell. As a result, sampling results provide only a single snapshot.

Cells are complex and dynamic. Capturing their evolving behaviors and their reactions to outside stimuli requires more than a snapshot frozen in time.

The new method, called localized electroporation, uses mass spectrometry to sample and analyze enzymatic activity inside a cell without doing irreparable harm. The technique relies on what scientists dubbed the live cell analysis device, or LCAD. The device allows scientists to perform what is essentially a biopsy, but at nano scales on a single cell.

Localized electroporation and the LCAD, described Monday in the journal Small, could be used to study a variety of cellular behaviors and reactions. For example, the novel technique could be used to observe how cells respond to different cancer treatments.

“By exploiting advances in microfluidics and nanotechnology, localized electroporation can be employed to temporarily open small pores in the cell membrane enabling the transport of molecules into the cells or extraction of intracellular contents,” study co-author Horacio Espinosa, professor of manufacturing and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, said in a news release. “Since the method is minimally invasive to the cells, it can be repeated multiple times without their disruption.”

“Certain enzymes may be linked to disease pathways, such as certain types of cancers, and they may be the target of therapeutics,” said study co-author Milan Mrksich, Northwestern University vice president for research. “Using this platform, it is now possible to study how enzymatic activity varies between healthy cells and cells from a tumor biopsy.”

The technique could also be used to study how a cell’s enzymatic activity responds to different types of treatment.

Instead of lots of single snapshots, scientists will getting the equivalence of a motion picture of cellular changes, allowing researchers to study a variety of dynamic cellular processes, including cell differentiation, disease progression and drug response.

“We envision that this technique can be used in scenarios such as screening drugs or designing and optimizing treatment courses that can arrest disease progression in cells,” Espinosa said.

In addition to delicately and precisely extracting cellular material, the LCAD could be used to deliver new materials, like edited DNA or proteins, to a cell.

“We have used the same concept of localized electroporation to do CRISPR gene editing and we are now using machine learning to automate the process,” Espinosa said.



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Moon’s smallest shadows may be hiding tiny patches of water ice

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Oct. 26 (UPI) — Water ice may be more abundant on the moon’s surface than previously thought.

New research, published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, suggests tiny patches of ice may be hiding inside lunar shadows as a small as a penny.

“If you can imagine standing on the surface of the moon near one of its poles, you would see shadows all over the place,” Paul Hayne, an assistant professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado, said in a news release. “Many of those tiny shadows could be full of ice.”

Hayne and his colleagues suggest many of the moon’s smallest shadows are permanent. Scientists predict many of these darkened pockets of the lunar surface, or “cold traps,” haven’t been hit with a ray of sunlight in billions of years.

“If we’re right, water is going to be more accessible for drinking water, for rocket fuel, everything that NASA needs water for,” said Hayne.

For a bigger example of a cold trap, the study’s authors looked to Shackleton Crater, a massive depression on the moon’s southern pole. Because much of crater remains permanently darkened, temperatures inside the 13-mile-wide depression remain a steady minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit all year long.

“The temperatures are so low in cold traps that ice would behave like a rock,” Hayne said. “If water gets in there, it’s not going anywhere for a billion years.”

To see how common cold traps are, researchers collected a wealth of data on the contours of the lunar surface and used models to simulate what the moon looks like at small scales. Their analysis showed the lunar surface is a lot like a golf ball, covered in tiny dimples.

The models showed many of these tiny bumps, ridges and crests are capable of keeping small portions of the lunar surface in permanent shadow. Though simulations suggest most of the moon’s cold traps measure no more than a centimeter wide, they combine to create 7,000 square miles of permanent shadow.

Scientists can’t be sure that these tiny cold traps hold water ice. To find out, a lunar mission will be necessary.

The finding was announced the same day NASA confirmed water molecules on the sunlit surface of the moon.

The discovery, researchers said, needs to be confirmed — the atmosphere of the moon is so thin that water molecules should be quickly lost to space, so how they would remain on the surface is unknown.

But finding water resources will be essential to establishing a human presence on the moon, they said.

If the cold traps identified by Hayne and his colleagues do indeed hold water, and water molecules are found across the sunlit side of the moon, NASA may have more flexibility in where they can base their human missions.



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Accessible healthcare could help slow climate change, reverse biodiversity losses

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Oct. 26 (UPI) — To protect forests and vulnerable ecosystems, erect healthcare clinics. That’s what nonprofit organizers did in Indonesia, where deforestation rates in neighboring Gunung Palung National Park declined dramatically during the first 10 years of the clinic’s operation.

The affordable healthcare clinic was set up in 2007 by a pair of nonprofits, Alam Sehat Lestari and Health In Harmony. Prior to the arrival of the clinic, the forests of Gunung Palung were shrinking annually as a result of uncontrolled illegal logging.

To curb the losses, the clinic offered discounted services to villages that enacted community-wide logging reductions and other conservation-minded reforms.

Researchers described the clinic’s environmental and public health successes in a new paper, published Monday in the journal PNAS.

“This innovative model has clear global health implications,” study co-author Michele Barry, senior associate dean of global health at Stanford University and director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health, said in a news release. “Health and climate can and should be addressed in unison, and done in coordination with and respect for local communities.”

In addition to offering community-wide discounts pegged to reductions in logging, the clinic also provided healthcare services for barter, allowing villagers to pay with tree seedlings, handicrafts and labor.

Health data collected by the clinic revealed a significant drop in infectious and non-communicable diseases between 2007 and 2017. Satellite data showed that deforestation rates in the forests surrounding the clinic and villages receiving service declined 70 percent compared to control plots far from the clinic.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we started evaluating the program’s health and conservation impacts, but were continually amazed that the data suggested such a strong link between improvements in health care access and tropical forest conservation,” said lead study author Isabel Jones, recent recipient of a doctoral degree in biology from Stanford.

Researchers found that the biggest reductions in logging occurred surrounding the villages that used the healthcare clinic the most.

More than a third of protected forests around the globe are either owned, managed, used or occupied by indigenous groups and local communities, but conservation planning and regulatory decision rarely involves input from these communities.

The opposite was true in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, where nonprofit leaders met regularly with local villages to come up with a strategy for protecting the environment while also meeting the region’s public health needs.

Researchers suggest the clinic’s success can serve as a model for conservation and public health initiatives all over the world.

“The data support two important conclusions: human health is integral to the conservation of nature and vice versa, and we need to listen to the guidance of rainforest communities who know best how to live in balance with their forests,” said Monica Nirmala, the executive director of the clinic from 2014 to 2018 and current board member of Health In Harmony.



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Space companies use Earth-imaging satellites to combat climate change

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The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four astronauts is pictured approaching the International Space Station for docking on November 16, 2020. The trip from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida took 27 and a half hours. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo



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