Caltech Scientist Awarded $5 Million Grant for Plant Research

Elliot Meyerowitz, a plant genetics and developmental biology expert at Caltech, has been awarded one of 15 five-year, $5 million grants for fundamental plant science research from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Meyerowitz is an expert in the study of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant in the mustard family and a model organism for plant genetics and molecular biology studies.

 

From Pre-Gut Cells to Glory

For all animals, development begins with the embryo. It is here that uniform cells divide and diversify, and blueprints are laid for future structures, like skeletal and digestive systems. Although biologists have known for some time that signaling processes exist at this stage, there has not been a clear framework explanation of how it all comes together. Now, a research team at Caltech has outlined exactly how specific sets of cells in sea-urchin embryos differentiate to become the endoderm.

 

Learning to Tolerate Our Microbial Self

The human gut is filled with 100 trillion symbiotic bacteria which we blissfully live with, although they look very similar to infectious bacteria we react against. What decides whether we ignore—or fight? In the case of a common "friendly" gut bacterium, Bacteroides fragilis, Caltech researchers have discovered the surprising answer: The decision is not made by us, but by the bacteria, who co-opt cells of the immune system for our benefit—and theirs.

Caltech Biologist Recognized for Cellular Noise Research

Nearly ten years ago, Michael Elowitz, Caltech Bren Scholar and professor of biology, bioengineering, and applied physics, first amplified the idea that stochasticity—or noise—plays an important role in the process of gene expression. For his pioneering work, Elowitz has been named the winner of the 2011 Human Frontier Science Program Nakasone Award. 

 

Pamela Bjorkman Named Among Most Powerful Moms

When Working Mother magazine recently compiled its list of the Most Powerful Moms in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), it included Caltech's Pamela Bjorkman—a pioneer in the study of cell-surface recognition in the immune system, and a mother of two—among its 10 honorees. 

Caltech-Led Team Pinpoints Aggression Neurons in the Brain

Where does violence live in the brain? And where, precisely, does it lay down its biological roots? With the help of a new genetic tool that uses light to turn nerve cells on and off, a team led by researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has tracked down the specific location of the neurons that elicit attack behaviors in mice, and defined the relationship of those cells to the brain circuits that play a key role in mating behaviors.

Neurobiologists Find that Weak Electrical Fields in the Brain Help Neurons Fire Together

The brain—awake and sleeping—is awash in electrical activity, and not just from the individual pings of single neurons communicating with each other. In fact, the brain is enveloped in countless overlapping electric fields, generated by the neural circuits of scores of communicating neurons. The fields were once thought to be a 'bug' of sorts, occurring during neural communication. New work, however, suggests that the fields do much more—and that they may, in fact, represent an additional form of neural communication.

Why Do We Sleep?

While we can more or less abstain from some basic biological urges—for food, drink, and sex—we can’t do the same for sleep. At some point, no matter how much espresso we drink, we just crash. And every animal that’s been studied, from the fruit fly to the frog, also exhibits some sort of sleep-like behavior. But why do we—and the rest of the animal kingdom—sleep in the first place?

David Anderson, Christof Koch Named Allen Distinguished Investigators

Two Caltech researchers—David Anderson and Christof Koch—have been named by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation among the inaugural group of Allen Distinguished Investigators. The foundation's new program aims to advance important research in neuroscience and cellular engineering.

Caltech Scientists Describe the Delicate Balance in the Brain that Controls Fear

A research team led by scientists at Caltech has taken an important step toward understanding the neural circuitry of fear. In a paper published in this week's issue of the journal Nature, they describe a microcircuit in the amygdala that controls, or "gates," the outflow of fear from that region of the brain.

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