Dr. Carlo Croceby Sylvia Pagan Westphal

I clutch the seat as the Ferrari halts abruptly at an intersection, then purrs impatiently until the light changes. When it takes off, the roar feels oddly extravagant for the quiet streets of suburban Columbus, Ohio.

The driver is Carlo Croce, a 64-year-old Italian scientist with a big voice, disheveled curly hair and expressive dark eyes. He heads the Human Cancer Genetics Program at Ohio State University, and his silver Scaglietti Ferrari is a fitting symbol of his approach to science: grand, high-powered and, these days especially, sizzling hot.

Using high-speed cinematography, scientists at Cambridge University have discovered that individual algal cells can regulate the beating of their flagella in and out of synchrony in a manner that controls their swimming trajectories. Their research was published on the 24th July in the journal Science.

The researchers studied the unicellular organism Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which has two hair-like appendages known as flagella. The beating of flagella propels Chlamydomonas through the fluid and simultaneously makes it spin about an axis.

Susan Bender constantly tries new tricks to get her high school biology students hooked on science.  She requires the seniors in her research class at Jim Hill High School in urban Jackson, Mississippi, to don hospital scrubs before they come to class so they will take the subject seriously. She also pushes her students to participate in the science fair and spends many Saturdays at school helping them refine and polish their ambitious projects.

So when Bender heard that scientists at the nearby University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) were designing a high school biology curriculum focused on fire ants, she jumped at the chance to have her class participate. She thought the painfully familiar pests would help focus her students’ attention on science. “The ants may be the bane of our existence,” said Bender, pointing out that almost all of her students have felt the ants’ fiery stings. “But they might also be something from which we can benefit.”

by Monica Baker

MicroRNAs, along with transcription factors, produce homogenous iPS cell colonies from mouse fibroblasts

For the first time, microRNAs have been used to facilitate reprogramming. MicroRNAs — short stretches of nucleotides that can suppress translation of certain genes — are one of several strategies being pursued in the search for the best techniques to create induced pluripotent stem cells, a type of cell that behaves like embryonic stem cells but isn't derived from embryos and has vast implications for cell therapy, drug discovery and disease modelling. So far, all techniques to reprogram cells have required the insertion of pluripotency genes, which either directly alters a cell's DNA or creates the potential for the alteration to occur. Recently, several labs have made headway using small molecules instead of genes1. Now a team led by Robert Blelloch at the University of California, San Francisco shows that microRNAs are another potential tool for reprogramming without gene insertion2.

Monya Baker

Strategies for moving embryonic stem cells toward pancreatic or blood cells

Embryonic stem cells are, for most scientists, a means to an end. The cells themselves matter less than the cells they can produce, but making them differentiate into the desired quantities of particular cell types is easier said than done. That is especially true for tissues of the two inner germ layers, the endoderm (which forms most glands) and the mesoderm (which forms the muscles and cardiovascular system). Now, two new protocols promise more efficient ways to generate these tissues from embryonic stem cells.

by Monya Baker

Small molecules replace pluripotency gene and Wnt boosts self-renewal and reprogramming

A trio of recent papers shows that differentiated cells can be persuaded more easily into pluripotency or self-renewal by either adding small molecules or stimulating a signalling pathway found in most differentiating cells.

Following on from previous work in neural progenitor cells, researchers led by Sheng Ding of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, were able to reprogram mouse embryonic fibroblasts (cultured skin cells) using only two of the standard four pluripotency genes.

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