The Physics of Going Viral

Caltech researchers have been able, for the first time, to watch viruses infecting individual bacteria by transferring their DNA, and to measure the rate at which that transfer occurs. Shedding light on the early stages of infection by this type of virus—a bacteriophage—the scientists have determined that it is the cells targeted for infection, rather than the amount of genetic material within the viruses themselves, that dictate how quickly the bacteriophage's DNA is transferred.

Sarkis Mazmanian Discusses Benevolent Bacteria in Scientific American

There are trillions of bacteria living in our bodies, making up complex communities of microbes regulating processes like digestion and immunity. For Caltech biologist Sarkis Mazmanian, they also make up the focus of his research: understanding how the "good" bacteria promote human health. Featured in the cover story for the June issue of Scientific American, he makes a case for devoting more attention to the helpful bugs after years of scientific dedication to pathogens. 

Decoding Worm Lingo

All animals seem to have ways of exchanging information—monkeys vocalize complex messages, ants create scent trails to food, and fireflies light up their bellies to attract mates. Yet, despite the fact that nematodes, or roundworms, are among the most abundant animals on the planet, little is known about the way they network. Now, research led by California Institute of Technology (Caltech) biologists has shown that a wide range of nematodes communicate using a recently discovered class of chemical cues. 

Determining a Stem Cell's Fate

What happens to a stem cell at the molecular level that causes it to become one type of cell rather than another? In studies that mark a major step forward in our understanding of stem cells' fates, a team of Caltech researchers has traced the stepwise developmental process that ensures certain stem cells will become T cells—cells of the immune system that help destroy invading pathogens. 

Alexander Varshavsky Awarded Otto Warburg Medal

Alexander Varshavsky, Caltech's Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Professor of Cell Biology, has been awarded the Otto Warburg Medal of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM). The medal is considered to be the highest German award for biochemists and molecular biologists.


Do You Hear What I Hear?

In both animals and humans, vocal signals used for communication contain a wide array of different sounds that are determined by the vibrational frequencies of vocal cords. Knowing how the brain sorts out these different frequencies—which are called frequency-modulated (FM) sweeps—is believed to be essential to understanding many hearing-related behaviors, like speech. Now, a pair of biologists at Caltech has identified how and where the brain processes this type of sound signal.

Understanding Bacterial Sensors

Nearly all motile bacteria can sense and respond to their surroundings through a process called chemotaxis, which begins with proteins known as chemoreceptors. Now researchers at Caltech have built the first model that depicts precisely how chemoreceptors and the proteins around them are structured at the sensing tip of bacteria. Because chemotaxis plays a critical role in the first steps of bacterial infection, a better understanding of the process could pave the way for the development of new, more effective antibiotics.

Some Bacteria Attack Using Spring-loaded Poison Daggers

Bacteria have evolved different systems for secreting proteins. One, called a type VI secretion system, is found in about a quarter of all bacteria with two membranes. Despite being common, researchers have not understood how it works. Now a team, co-led by researchers at Caltech, has figured out the structure of the type VI secretion system apparatus and proposed how it might work—by shooting spring-loaded poison molecular daggers.

Caltech Researchers Develop Gene Therapy to Boost Brain Repair for Demyelinating Diseases

Our bodies are full of tiny superheroes—antibodies that fight foreign invaders, cells that regenerate, and structures that ensure our systems run smoothly. One such structure is myelin, a material that forms a protective cape around the axons of our nerve cells so that they can send signals quickly and efficiently. But myelin becomes damaged in demyelinating diseases like multiple sclerosis, leaving neurons without their sheaths. Researchers from Caltech now believe they have found a way to help the brain replace damaged myelin.

Two Caltech Researchers Receive Frontiers of Knowledge Award

For their work in information and communication technologies, and biomedicine, Carver Mead, Moore Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Applied Science, and Alexander Varshavsky, Smits Professor of Cell Biology, have been honored by the BBVA Foundation as recipients of 2011 Frontiers of Knowledge awards. 


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