Computer engineer Andrew Cohen was designing software to use in high-performance graphics when he left industry for academia and decided to apply his work to a field where the stakes are somewhat higher.

Now, the assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM) is creating software that offers a completely novel approach to analyzing time-lapse images capturing live stem cell behaviors. It could lead to new stem cell-based therapies and also new research into causes of cancer, which involves cells that continuously self-renew.

Paul KHavari, MD, PhDby Krista Conger

Like as not, the recent holidays probably included some reminiscing about family history. There may even have been some remonstrations and recommendations from well-meaning elders to younger kin about their lives’ paths. It turns out stem cells have a similar need for long-term memory to help them know who they are and what they should become. Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have now identified a molecule involved in keeping skin stem cells on the straight and narrow.

“We’re starting to understand the molecular mechanism of cellular memory,” said Paul Khavari, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology. “How a stem cell remembers what it is, and why it might go astray.”

by Anne Trafton

Exploiting the recently discovered mechanism could allow biologists to develop disease treatments by shutting down specific genes.

Science and technology journalists pride themselves on the ability to explain complicated ideas in accessible ways, but there are some technical principles that we encounter so often in our reporting that paraphrasing them or writing around them begins to feel like missing a big part of the story. So in a new series of articles called "Explained," MIT News Office staff will explain some of the core ideas in the areas they cover, as reference points for future reporting on MIT research.

A chemical culprit responsible for the rapid, mysterious death of phytoplankton in the North Atlantic Ocean has been found by collaborating scientists at Rutgers University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).  This same chemical may hold unexpected promise in cancer research.

The team discovered a previously unknown lipid, or fatty compound, in a virus that has been attacking and killing Emiliania huxleyi, a phytoplankton that plays a major role in the global carbon cycle.

William StudierTracing the history, genetic makeup of workhorse laboratory bacteria

An international team of researchers from the United States, Korea, and France has sequenced and analyzed the genomes of two important laboratory strains of E. coli bacteria, one used to study evolution and the other to produce proteins for basic research or practical applications. The findings will help guide future research and will also open a window to a deeper understanding of classical research that is the foundation of our understanding of basic molecular biology and genetics.

The team, which includes two researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, published its results online on October 17, 2009, in three papers in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Casey HubertResults point to potential use of microbes in offshore oil and gas exploration

A team of scientists led by University of Calgary grad Casey Hubert, Phd, has detected high numbers of heat loving, or thermophilic, bacteria in subzero sediments in the Arctic Ocean off the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. The bacterial spores might provide a unique opportunity to trace seepages of fluids from hot sub-seafloor habitats, possibly pointing towards undiscovered offshore petroleum reservoirs.  These thermophiles exist in the Arctic Ocean sediment as spores—dormant forms that withstand adverse conditions for long periods, waiting for better times. Experimental incubations at 40 to 60 degrees Celsius revive the Arctic spores, which appear to have been transported from deeper hot spots.

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