blog posts Researchers simulate behavior of living 'minimal cell' in three dimensions Jan 20, 2022 10:00 am722 views Scientists report that they have built a living “minimal cell” with a genome stripped down to its barest essentials – and a computer model of the cell that mirrors its behavior. By refining and testing their model, the scientists say they are developing a system that can predict how changes to the genomes, living conditions or physical characteristics of live cells will alter how they function. CRISPR-Cas13 targets proteins causing ALS, Huntington's disease in the mouse nervous system Jan 19, 2022 1:15 pm1435 views A new study by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers used a targeted CRISPR technique in the central nervous systems of mice to turn off production of mutant proteins that can cause ALS and Huntington’s disease. Rather than the popular DNA-editing CRISPR-Cas9 technique, the new approach uses CRISPR-Cas13, which can target mRNA – the messenger molecule that carries protein blueprints transcribed from DNA. The Illinois team developed Cas13 systems that could target and cut RNAs that code for the proteins that trigger ALS and Huntington’s disease, effectively silencing the genes without disturbing the cell’s DNA. Models predict optimal airplane seating for reduced viral transmission Dec 21, 2021 9:45 am2939 views As airline ticket sales have soared during the holiday season and the omicron variant causes surges of COVID-19 cases, a new University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign study may help passengers and airlines reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission by optimally seating passengers to minimize potential virus spread. Researchers used the most current data on aerosol spread on airplanes to calculate optimal seating assignments for common Boeing aircraft at different capacities. Study: Brain mechanisms involved in learning also drive social conformity Dec 21, 2021 8:00 am2823 views Some of the same brain systems known to play a role in learning from trial and error also are engaged when people conform to social norms, scientists report in a new study. The findings are important, the researchers said, because changing one’s behavior to align with one’s peers can contribute to community-building or – depending on the goals and values of the group – societal breakdown. Gene mutation leads to epileptic encephalopathy symptoms, neuron death in mice Dec 17, 2021 9:00 am787 views Mice with a genetic mutation seen in patients with epileptic encephalopathy, a severe form of congenital epilepsy, exhibit not only the seizure, developmental and behavioral symptoms of the disorder, but also neural degeneration and inflammation in the brain, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers found in a new study. The findings highlight the mutation as an important part of the disease’s pathology and a potential target for treatment. Atomic structure of antifungal drug confirms unusual mechanism, opens door to less-toxic derivatives Dec 9, 2021 10:15 am813 views Advanced molecular imaging technology has now mapped the structure of a drug widely used to treat fungal infections but whose workings have mystified researchers and physicians for nearly 70 years. In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the National Institutes of Health described in atomistic detail the structure of the drug amphotericin B, a powerful but toxic antifungal agent. Seeing the structure provides illumination in the researchers’ quest to formulate less-toxic AmB derivatives. Study: Fire hastens permafrost collapse in Arctic Alaska Dec 9, 2021 10:00 am790 views While climate change is the primary driver of permafrost degradation in Arctic Alaska, a new analysis of 70 years of data reveals that tundra fires are accelerating that decline, contributing disproportionately to a phenomenon known as “thermokarst,” the abrupt collapse of ice-rich permafrost as a result of thawing. Nonverbal social interactions – even with unfriendly avatars – boost cooperation, study finds Nov 30, 2021 6:45 am847 views Researchers used animated humanoid avatars to study how nonverbal cues influence people’s behavior. The research offers insight into the brain mechanisms that drive social and economic decision-making. Participants were more willing to cooperate with animated avatars than with static figures representing their negotiation partners, the study revealed. It also found – somewhat surprisingly – that people were more consistently willing to accept unfair offers from unfriendly avatars than from friendly ones. Water disinfection byproduct disrupts reproductive hormones, damages pituitary in female mice Nov 24, 2021 8:00 am627 views A byproduct formed during water disinfection disrupts hormones in the brain that regulate the female reproductive cycle in mice and also damages cells in the pituitary gland, a new study from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers found. The new study’s findings of the chemical’s effects on reproductive regulation in the brain complement previous work that found that it also disrupts function in and causes damage to ovary cells, indicating the chemical could impact the entire reproductive system. The researchers hope that the continued study of these effects can help establish a safe level of exposure to guide future regulations. Fraternizing vampire bats share 'social microbiomes' Nov 16, 2021 8:00 am364 views An unusual study of vampire bats reveals that their gut microbiomes become more similar the more often they engage in social behaviors with one another. Six Illinois scientists rank among world's most influential Nov 16, 2021 7:45 am14813 views Six faculty members at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have been named to the 2021 Clarivate Analytics Highly Cited Researchers list. PFAS exposure, high-fat diet drive prostate cells’ metabolism into pro-cancer state Nov 11, 2021 10:00 am1122 views Consuming a high-fat diet along with exposure to PFAS changes benign and malignant prostate cells, promoting rapid tumor growth, scientists at the University of Illinois found in mouse study. Scientists discover how antibiotics penetrate Gram-negative bacterial cell walls Nov 8, 2021 8:00 am1314 views Scientists have labored for decades to find antibiotics that work against Gram-negative bacteria, which cause some of the deadliest infections in hospital settings and are most likely to be resistant to treatment with existing antibiotics. In a study reported in the journal Chemical Science, researchers developed a new method to determine how antibiotics with specific chemical properties thread their way through tiny pores in the otherwise impenetrable cell envelopes of Gram-negative bacteria. New molecule targets, images and treats lung cancer tumors in mice Oct 25, 2021 10:00 am1011 views Lung cancer can be elusive to spot and difficult to treat, but University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researchers have developed a finely tuned molecular agent that can precisely target lung and other cancer cells for imaging and treatment. Scientists look beyond the individual brain to study the collective mind Oct 21, 2021 11:30 am1260 views In a new paper, scientists suggest that efforts to understand human cognition should expand beyond the study of individual brains. They call on neuroscientists to incorporate evidence from social science disciplines to better understand how people think. Study reconstructs 232-year history of prairie fire in Midwestern US Oct 19, 2021 10:30 am3166 views Researchers combed through thousands of historical documents for first-person accounts of fires occurring between 1673 and 1905 in the Midwestern tallgrass prairie. Their study is the first systematic analysis of the timing, causes and consequences of prairie fires in this part of the world. Team discovers invasive-native crayfish hybrids in Missouri Oct 8, 2021 1:00 am1490 views In a study of crayfish in the Current River in southeastern Missouri, researchers discovered – almost by chance – that the virile crayfish, Faxonius virilis, was interbreeding with a native crayfish, potentially altering the native’s genetics, life history and ecology. Reported in the journal Aquatic Invasions, the study highlights the difficulty of detecting some of the consequences of biological invasions, the researchers say. New analytical technique helps researchers spot subtle differences in subcellular chemistry Sep 30, 2021 11:15 am2714 views Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign can now rapidly isolate and chemically characterize individual organelles within cells. The new technique tests the limits of analytical chemistry and rapidly reveals the chemical composition of organelles that control biological growth, development and disease. Birds' eye size offers clues to coevolutionary arms race between brood parasites, hosts Sep 28, 2021 6:00 pm298 views Eye size likely plays a role in the contest between avian brood parasites – birds that lay their eggs in the nests of other species – and their hosts, who sometimes detect the foreign eggs and eject or abandon them, scientists report. DNA sensor quickly determines whether viruses are infectious Sep 22, 2021 1:00 pm2548 views A new sensor can detect not only whether a virus is present, but whether it’s infectious – an important distinction for containing viral spread. Researchers demonstrated the sensor, which integrates specially designed DNA fragments and nanopore sensing, with two key viruses that cause infections worldwide: the human adenovirus and the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies from original strain COVID-19 infection don't bind to variants, study finds Sep 17, 2021 8:30 am4850 views People infected with the original strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 early in the pandemic produced a consistent antibody response, making two main groups of antibodies to bind to the spike protein on the virus’s outer surface. However, those antibodies don’t bind well to newer variants, a new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found. Is the future of agriculture digital? Sep 10, 2021 8:00 am1005 views With colleagues at several institutions, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign crop sciences professor Stephen Moose will lead the development of a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems. With $25 million in newly announced funding, the center will create an Internet of Living Things to learn the intimate biological language of plants and their associated organisms. Moose spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about this new initiative. Avocados change belly fat distribution in women, controlled study finds Sep 3, 2021 9:00 am38224 views An avocado a day could help redistribute belly fat in women toward a healthier profile, according to a new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and collaborators. One hundred and five adults with overweight and obesity participated in a randomized controlled trial that provided one meal a day for 12 weeks. Women who consumed avocado as part of their daily meal had a reduction in deeper visceral abdominal fat. Paper: Use patent law to curb unethical human-genome editing Aug 30, 2021 10:30 am615 views Patent law could create an “ethical thicket” that discourages access to the medically and ethically dubious practice of heritable human-genome editing, said Jacob S. Sherkow, a professor of law at Illinois and bioethics expert. New imaging, machine-learning methods speed effort to reduce crops' need for water Aug 24, 2021 8:00 am1364 views Scientists have developed and deployed a series of new imaging and machine-learning tools to discover attributes that contribute to water-use efficiency in crop plants during photosynthesis and to reveal the genetic basis of variation in those traits. Light can trigger key signaling pathway for embryonic development, cancer Aug 17, 2021 12:45 pm3794 views Blue light is illuminating new understanding of a key signaling pathway in embryo development, tissue maintenance and cancer genesis. Illinois researchers developed a method that makes membrane-bound receptors reactive to light, triggering the Wnt pathway. Team develops bioprocess for converting plant materials into valuable chemicals Aug 17, 2021 9:00 am1310 views A team of scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign developed a bioprocess using engineered yeast that completely and efficiently converted plant matter consisting of acetate and xylose into high-value chemicals. Study: Domestic control of COVID-19 takes priority over international travel bans Aug 11, 2021 8:00 am812 views A new paper co-written by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign economist Yilan Xu says taming domestic transmission of COVID-19 ought to be prioritized over international travel bans. Study identifies molecule that stimulates muscle-building Aug 9, 2021 8:00 am2838 views In a randomized control study of 10 healthy young men, researchers compared how consuming the single amino acid leucine or its two-molecule equivalent, dileucine, influenced muscle-building and breakdown. They found that dileucine boosts the metabolic processes that drive muscle growth 42% more than free leucine does. Study offers insight into underlying causes of seizure disorder in babies Aug 3, 2021 7:00 am737 views Researchers report that infantile spasms, a rare but serious seizure disorder in babies, appear to be the result of a molecular pathway gone awry. In their study of a mouse model of the disorder, the researchers discovered that genetic mutations associated with the disease impair a pathway that is involved in building new synapses in the hippocampus, a brain region essential to learning and memory. What impact do the Olympics and mass-sporting events have on public health? Aug 2, 2021 8:15 am1532 views Attending high-profile and mass-participation sporting events may increase individuals’ physical activity levels and enhance their emotional well-being, according to Mikihiro Sato, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism. Paper: Some birds steal hair from living mammals Jul 29, 2021 6:15 pm1479 views A new paper in the journal Ecology documents an unusual behavior among titmice, chickadees and tits: A bird will land on an unsuspecting mammal and, cautiously and stealthily, pluck out some of its hair. Should the government implement a vaccine passport system? Jul 29, 2021 8:00 am2054 views Vaccine passports strike the right balance between letting life go on for the vaccinated while still being realistic about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, said Jacob S. Sherkow, a professor of law at Illinois and bioethics expert. Study tests microplasma against middle-ear infections Jul 29, 2021 8:00 am454 views In a new study, researchers explore the use of microplasma – a highly focused stream of chemically excited ions and molecules – as a noninvasive method for attacking the bacterial biofilms that resist antibiotic treatment in the middle ear. New approach eradicates breast cancer in mice Jul 21, 2021 1:00 pm23372 views A new approach to treating breast cancer kills 95-100% of cancer cells in mouse models of human estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers and their metastases in bone, brain, liver and lungs. The newly developed drug, called ErSO, quickly shrinks even large tumors to undetectable levels. How can the world prevent emerging infectious diseases, protect food security? Jul 20, 2021 8:45 am959 views According to a new report co-written by Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Valeria Trivellone, climate change, poverty, urbanization, land-use change and the exploitation of wildlife all contribute to the emergence of new infectious diseases, which, in turn, threaten global food security. Trivellone spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about how global authorities can tackle these intertwined challenges. 2020 deadlier than previous five years, even with COVID-19 numbers removed, study finds Jul 19, 2021 1:30 pm1913 views An upswing in death rates from non-COVID-19 causes in 2020 hit hard for men ages 15-64, according to a new study by computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson and internal medicine professor Janet Jokela. Frequent COVID-19 testing key to efficient, early detection, study finds Jun 30, 2021 8:30 am1882 views The chance of detecting the virus that causes COVID-19 increases with more frequent testing, no matter the type of test, a new study found. Both polymerase chain reaction and antigen tests, paired with rapid results reporting, can achieve 98% sensitivity if deployed at least every three days. How do July 4 celebrations affect wildlife? Jun 30, 2021 8:00 am2504 views Celebrating the nation’s Independence Day with fireworks is an enduring tradition, but fireworks can be a source of distress and danger to wildlife. Dr. Sam Sander, a clinical professor of zoo and wildlife medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about how fireworks affect wildlife and the environment, and how to minimize the risks. Consistent bedtime routines in infancy improve children's sleep habits through age 2 Jun 29, 2021 1:45 pm548 views Consistent bedtime routines and activities such as reading books beginning when infants are 3 months old promote better sleep habits through age 2, according to a study by researchers at the Family Resiliency Center. DNAzymes could outperform protein enzymes for genetic engineering Jun 24, 2021 8:15 am1324 views Move over, gene-editing proteins – there’s a smaller, cheaper, more specific genetic engineering tool on the block: DNAzymes – small DNA molecules that can function like protein enzymes. Researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a technique that, for the first time, allows DNAzymes to target and cut double-stranded DNA, overcoming a significant limitation of the technology. Cancer survivors' tongues less sensitive to tastes than those of healthy peers Jun 23, 2021 9:15 am919 views Head and neck cancer survivors' tongues are less sensitive to bitter, salty and sweet tastes, and this taste dysfunction lasts for years, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign scientists found in a new study. Combining three techniques boosts brain-imaging precision Jun 23, 2021 7:00 am923 views Researchers have developed a method to combine three brain-imaging techniques to more precisely capture the timing and location of brain responses to a stimulus. Cholesterol metabolite induces production of cancer-promoting vesicles Jun 9, 2021 8:00 am717 views Scientists report that a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism causes some cells to send out cancer-promoting signals to other cells. These signals are packaged in membrane-bound compartments called extracellular vesicles. Beneficial arthropods find winter sanctuary in uncultivated field edges, study finds Jun 3, 2021 8:00 am1065 views Many species of ground-dwelling beetles, ladybugs, hoverflies, damsel bugs, spiders and parasitic wasps kill and eat pest species that routinely plague farmers, including aphids and corn rootworm larvae and adults. But the beneficial arthropods that live in or near cropped lands also are susceptible to insecticides and other farming practices that erase biodiversity on the landscape. A new study reveals that beneficial arthropods are nearly twice as abundant and diverse in uncultivated field edges in the spring as they are in areas that are cropped – if those field edges are rich in an array of flowers and other broad-leaved plants and not just mowed grass. Geology helps map kidney stone formation from tiny to troublesome May 25, 2021 1:00 pm1673 views Advanced microscope technology and cutting-edge geological science are giving new perspectives to an old medical mystery: How do kidney stones form, why are some people more susceptible to them and can they be prevented? Study: Fluorescent light clarifies relationship between heat stress and crop yield May 24, 2021 9:15 am954 views Scientists report that it is possible to detect and predict heat damage in crops by measuring the fluorescent light signature of plant leaves experiencing heat stress. If collected via satellite, this fluorescent signal could support widespread monitoring of growth and crop yield under the heat stress of climate change, the researchers say. Portable, affordable, accurate, fast: Team invents new COVID-19 test May 18, 2021 4:00 am2042 views A new coronavirus test can get accurate results from a saliva sample in less than 30 minutes, researchers report in the journal Nature Communications. Many of the components of the hand-held device used in this technology can be 3D-printed, and the test can detect as little as one viral particle per 1-microliter drop of fluid. Intoxication brings strangers physically closer, study finds May 10, 2021 2:00 pm914 views In a study with pandemic-related implications, researchers report that strangers who consume alcohol together may keep their distance initially – but draw physically closer as they become intoxicated. No previous studies have tested the effects of alcohol consumption on social distance, the researchers say. They report the new findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Team builds better tool for assessing infant brain health Apr 29, 2021 12:00 am692 views Researchers have created a new, open-access tool that allows doctors and scientists to evaluate infant brain health by assessing the concentration of various chemical markers, called metabolites, in the brain. The tool compiled data from 140 infants to determine normal ranges for these metabolites.