Microbes Living in Tiny Water Droplets Help Break Down Oil It doesn’t take much to keep oil-consuming microbes happy and working. Researchers have discovered communities of microorganisms that live in the tiniest droplets of water suspended in natural tar lakes, where they actively break down oil from the inside out. These thriving microhabitats need very little water to support them, and they could be harnessed for cleaning up disastrous spills. The findings also open up the possibilities of life in harsh and extraterrestrial worlds. The work was published in Science this week. Researchers previously assumed that natural microbial oil degradation only occurred at the interface where water and oil meet: such as at the bottom of a tar pit where oil mixes with groundwater or at natural oil flows in the ocean (where oil flows up through networks of cracks).
Synthetic Biology Synthetic biology is the design and construction of biological devices and systems for useful purposes. It is an area of biological research and technology that combines biology and engineering, thus often overlapping with bioengineering and biomedical engineering. It encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies, and disciplines with a focus on engineering biology and biotechnology. The advance of synthetic biology relies on several key enabling technologies provided at ever increasing speed and lower cost. DNA sequencing, fabrication of genes, modeling how synthetic genes behave, and precisely measuring gene behavior are essential tools in synthetic biology.
The Body’s Ecosystem The human body is teeming with microbes—trillions of them. The commensal bacteria and fungi that live on and inside us outnumber our own cells 10-to-1, and the viruses that teem inside those cells and ours may add another order of magnitude. Genetic analyses of samples from different body regions have revealed the diverse and dynamic communities of microbes that inhabit not just the gut and areas directly exposed to the outside world, but also parts of the body that were long assumed to be microbe-free, such as the placenta, which turns out to harbor bacteria most closely akin to those in the mouth. The mouth microbiome is also suspected of influencing bacterial communities in the lungs. Researchers are also examining the basic biology of the microbiomes of the penis, the vagina, and the skin.
Getting Ready for Synthetic Biology Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, scientists have expanded their knowledge of how living cells work with new approaches including genomics, proteomics, and systems biology. Yet it is another development--the ability not only to understand but also to synthesize genes at a speed and cost unthinkable just a few years ago--that has spurred, arguably, the greatest paradigm shift in recent biology: Today, many scientists are not content merely to analyze and understand life. They want to create it. Synthetic biology, the synthesis of biological components and devices and the redesign or creation of new life forms, has enormous potential. John Glass, a senior microbiologist in the synthetic biology group at the J. Today, synthetic biology is still in its infancy.
This Microbe's Hair is Actually a Nanowire for Powering Itself When researchers first looked at the long tendrils grown by “electric bacteria” called Shewanella, they thought it was just common bacterial hair (or pili) for sensing surfaces and connecting to other bacteria. Now, an examination of their structure reveals that they’re actually nanowires that can conduct electricity. The work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. “The pili idea was the strongest hypothesis, but we were always cautious because the exact composition and structure were very elusive. Then we solved the experimental challenges and the hard data took us in a completely different direction. Outreach BioInteractive supports quality science education by providing educators with free resources focused on current research, to clarify important scientific concepts and instill in students a passion for and an understanding of the scientific process. As part of our outreach effort, we present our resources at dozens of workshops annually at educational institutions, professional development conferences, and professional society meetings. Past workshop topics include molecular genetics, AP biology, climate change, evolution, earth history, and infectious disease. BioInteractive Workshops Would you like to attend a BioInteractive workshop or professional development activity? View our events page to see where the BioInteractive team will be!
Are Your Bacteria Making You Fat? If you reach for that tasty piece of chocolate, even though you are trying to lose weight, are you doing it out of your own volition? Or are you actually being controlled by the bacteria in your gut? This is the question posed in BioEssays by Dr Carlo Maley of the University of California San Francisco.
Scientists Create Simple Artificial ‘Cell’ Capable Of Spontaneous Movement The cells that make up all living things are in constant interaction with their environment. Most cells perform complex chemical processes to ensure the cell and the organism remain healthy. Scientists have not yet been able to replicate a fully-functional synthetic cell, but it now appears they are off to a good start. A team of biophysicists have developed basic artificial vesicles capable of changing shape and moving spontaneously. The vesicles created in this study will be used in future design of increasingly-complex artificial cellular structures, capable of interacting with the environment and carrying out the same processes as a natural biological cell.
Teams — Institute of Systems & Synthetic Biology The MEGA team analyses how the topology of regulatory biological networks unfolds in time (dynamical studies) and space; this latter point being totally original. We also study links between transcription regulation and DNA replication and segregation, as well as the control of DNA replication by central carbon metabolism. On the topological level, three original methods have been developed: 1) detection of gene position regularities along chromosomes (Fig. 1); 2) numerical simulation of the folding of a chromosome bound to bi-valent clustering transcription factors (Fig. 2); 3) bioinformatics use of gene position and of gene promoter consensus sequences in order to predict transcriptional interaction maps. The results obtained change our view of nuclear functional organization, as well as of genome evolution and organization.