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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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Watch live: NASA chief to lay out budget needs to send astronauts to moon

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Sept. 23 (UPI) — Congress will hear testimony Wednesday from NASA about its budget needs as the space agency argues for full funding to carry out plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2024.

NASA Administrator James Bridenstine will appear before a Senate appropriations subcommittee to discuss the agency’s fiscal 2021 budget.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EDT and will be streamed live.

NASA said in a report Monday it needs $28 billion for the first phase of its Artemis lunar program through fiscal 2025.

That figure includes $16.2 billion to develop, test and launch new-generation moon lander vehicles that will carry astronauts to the surface of the moon, as well as $7.6 billion for Boeing Space Launch System rockets, ground systems and Lockheed Martin Orion crew capsules.

The Senate has yet to pass a bill to fund NASA and an appropriations bill passed by the House in July provided the agency with $625 million for the development of a new moon lander, well short of the $3.2 billion Bridenstine said was “critically important” to the project on Monday.

“If we go to March without the $3.2 billion, it becomes more difficult,” he said. “We’re still within the realm of possibility because we do have our work underway right now.”

NASA said in August the cost for its SLS moon rocket, shown here in an artist’s conception, has swelled 30% to more than $9 billion. Image courtesy NASA

Bridenstine added that plans to send astronauts to the moon would remain on track if the funds are appropriated by Christmas, but added that NASA would still move forward with its moon plans even if the funding was delayed.

“Speed is still of the essence and sustainability follows speed,” he said. “If they keep delaying the funding, we [still] will go to the moon at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The 2024 timeline is four years sooner than NASA had originally planned, following a challenge by Vice President Mike Pence.

“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the moon is well within America’s reach,” Bridenstine said. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture.”

No human has been on the lunar surface since Apollo 17 left in late 1972, but NASA is planning this time to send the first woman to walk on the moon.

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Apple recalls shipment of iPhone 6 Plus due to photo glitch

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CUPERTINO, Calif., Aug. 23 (UPI) — Apple has recalled a shipment of its iPhone 6 Plus due to a technological glitch that produces blurry photos in the device’s camera, the company announced.

The recall affects a small number of iPhone 6 Plus devices, Apple said in a statement, which have demonstrated a glitch in the iSight camera.

Apple said it’s “a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry.”

Apple created a web page where users can enter their phone’s serial number to determine if they are affected by the recall.

The iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus were released last September.



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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.



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