For the third year running, the Israeli winner of the L’Oréal-UNESCO “Women in Science” prize has gone on to take the winning title for all of Europe. Dr. Osnat Zomer-Penn, who was one of three Israelis chosen to compete in the finals, received the European award in a ceremony at the Sorbonne in Paris on Thursday.
For such a robot to work, it would need to be smaller than a human cell, yet sophisticated enough to communicate with them. To achieve this, the researchers needed to create a computer that is based on the body’s own building blocks – DNA.
The Weizmann Institute scientists were able to create a genetic device that operates autonomously inside bacterial cells. Despite this being a major breakthrough, the researchers still have a way to go in order to apply this technology for nanobots that operate inside human cells, which are more complex than their bacterial counterparts.
Many diseases in the human body cause some genes to be modified inside the cells. The microscopic device “scans” the cell to see if all genes in it are expressed as they should be, since a malfunctioning molecule will cause a disruption in gene-expression. For instance, cells affected by cancer express a malfunction in genes related to cell-growth, causing them to expand rapidly and creating tumors.
Making damaged cells self-destruct
The device is pre-programmed with information about the cell and if the information it finds inside the cell matches its programming, it creates a protein that emits green light. The researchers, Prof. Ehud Shapiro and Dr. Tom Ran of the Biological Chemistry and Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Departments, say that in the future, the light emitting protein could be replaced with one that can cause cells to self-destruct if the cell is diagnosed as damaged.
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It’s Valentine’s Day and many couples will declare trust and respect to one another as a sign of love. But according to a new Israeli study, the secret to long-lasting love stories is found in our brains. And it’s a hormone called oxytocin.
Bar-Ilan University’s Psychology Professor Ruth Feldman found that couples who stay together have higher levels of oxytocin in their blood when they first pair up than couples who ultimately break up.
Oxytocin is a hormone that has been linked to sexual reproduction, maternal bonding and anxiety.
Feldman spent years studying the hormone’s role in the mother–child bond. She called on Cupid to aim his arrow at the brain and decided to compare oxytocin levels in new lovers and singles.
“The increase in oxytocin during the period of falling in love was the highest that we ever found,” Feldman reported.
The study looked at 60 couples. Levels of oxytocin were measured through a simple blood test. Couples with the highest levels of the hormone were still together six months after the start of the study. Feldman reported that they were also more touchy feely to each other.
“These findings suggest that [oxytocin] in the first months of romantic love may serve as an index of relationship duration,” wrote the researchers.
The study was published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Israeli researchers say they have discovered one of the ways that breast cancer cells turn on their aggressive cancerous behavior. This means that it will be possible to detect breast cancer earlier and decide on the most effective treatment.
“We found a short version of a known enzyme which is actually reprogramming the cell to behave like a cancer cell,” Dr. Rotem Karni of the Hebrew University Institute of Medical Research Israel-Canada told The Media Line. “We identified the molecular mechanism which activates a pathway of transmission of information that is sent to the cell.”
The short version has fewer genes than the longer version of the enzyme. The research is expected to help with both early detection of breast cancer and follow-up treatment of malignant growths.
“This is fantastic news, because the earlier we can detect breast cancer in patients, the earlier we can potentially begin treating it,” Fern Reiss, author of the new book, The Breast Cancer Checklist: The Only Guide for What to Do Before, During, and After Breast Cancer Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiation, told The Media Line.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one out of eight women will get breast cancer at some point in her life. The chances increase based on age, genetic history, weight and reproductive history.
Karni says that the short version of the enzyme, which encourages cancerous cell growth, responds well to certain drugs that have already been approved by the FDA. He says the current research also has long-term implications.
“Once we know how the short form of the enzyme is generated, we can actually block or reverse it,” he said. “We can already do this in the lab and we are developing ways to do it in the body.”
In contrast, the long form of this same enzyme acts as a tumor suppressor which protects normal cells from becoming cancerous. Karni says they are also looking at ways to turn the short form, which is dangerous, into the long form of the enzyme.
He says the main advantage now is in diagnostics by helping doctors decide whether chemotherapy or surgery is needed. He has worked on the project for three years, and his team is continuing to collaborate with drug companies in both the and .
Breast cancer survival rates have improved dramatically in recent years. Currently, 10-year survival rates are 85-90 percent. When caught early, 98 percent of women survive for at least five years. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer among women, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers.
Jewish women have a one in 7.5 chance of developing the disease, while Arab women have a one in 14 chance. The most common form of breast cancer is invasive carcinoma. According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer rates are the fifth-highest in the Western world.
Karni says the research he is doing at is personal as well as scientific.
“I think that every person knows many people around them who are either directly affected by cancer or have relatives who are sick,” he said. “It’s very rewarding in terms of knowing that these findings are important and can contribute to treatment.”
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.medialine.org
Two science projects — one to map the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary properties of the carbon-based material graphene — have won an EU contest to receive up to 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion) in funding each over the next decade.
The EU’s Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS) is expected to award the grant to the two winning projects at a ceremony to be held today (Monday) in Brussels, Belgium. Twenty-one groups of researchers competed for the prize, six of them reached the competition’s final stage, yet only two were awarded the grant, to be paid out over ten years.
“European’s position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas,” European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement Monday.
The Human Brain Project aspires to meet one of the biggest challenges of modern science: understanding the human brain and creating the most accurate model of the human brain to date. The Human Brain Project seeks to aggregate information about the brain and its functions in an effort to develop treatment for neurological diseases, help test new drugs and model supercomputing techniques on the brain.
The project first came about during an initiative called the Blue Brain Project that began in May 2005 and was led by brain researcher Professor Henry Markram at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland. Markram, who completed his doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, is also heading up the current project.
His partners include more than 80 researchers from universities and research institutes throughout Europe and elsewhere. Israelis from the Weizmann Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are also taking part in the project, whose total budget is estimated at 1.19 billion euros.
An additional aspect of the project aims to create a database of all 560 known neurological diseases that will be accessible to physicians and researchers. These include Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s and epilepsy, as well as psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and sleep disorders. The researchers plan to keep the public informed about new discoveries by cooperating with science museums throughout Europe, and the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem.
The other winning project, called “Graphene-CA: Graphene Science and Technology for Information and Communications Technologies and Beyond,” will investigate the properties of graphene, which conducts electricity better than copper, is at least 100 times stronger than steel and is believed to be the future of nanotechnology.
Led by physicist Jari Kinaret of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the graphene researchers, which also include Israelis, hope to use it to develop nano-materials – and ultimately nano-robots capable of producing energy and transmitting data from inside the human body.
A male’s genome contains information that can help scientists guess his surname, American and Israeli researchers have discovered. The findings have serious implications for data privacy; intelligence services around the world are bound to be interested.
In the study published in the journal Science, researchers have developed a formula for an algorithm that can discover men’s surnames by looking at the Y chromosome, the male chromosome. The Y chromosome, which is transmitted from father to son from generation to generation, includes markers called short tandem repeats, which form a kind of fingerprint.
The researchers, headed by Dr. Yaniv Erlich of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, fed 40 markers into a computer and compared them to Y-chromosome sequences on websites. In the United States, there are companies that show people’s genome sequences derived from saliva samples; this makes it possible to determine a person’s origins and locate relatives around the world.
“Even though there isn’t a unified database of all genetic sequences on the Internet, comparing a subject’s Y chromosome with information from existing databases could help locate his family,” says Israeli team member Eran Halperin, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology.
In addition to the Whitehead Institute, the research was carried out by experts at Harvard, MIT and the International Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, California.
The researchers and doctoral student David Golan of Tel Aviv University’s statistics department developed the formula for the algorithm, which was tested on 911 men in the United States. The numbers were compared to Internet databases containing genetic sequences of 135,000 men with the most common surnames in the United States, most of them of European origin. The algorithm identified the surname 12 percent of the time, a success rate it later boosted to 18 percent.
The researchers, for example, applied the algorithm to the genome sequence of American geneticist Craig Venter, the head of a research institute in San Diego who was one of the first to sequence the human genome.
In the U.S.-Israeli experiment, the algorithm identified the Venter surname, and after crossing the data with other discoveries, figured out his age. Knowing that he lives in California, the researchers showed that only one other person in the state shares the unique spots on his chromosomes.
The researchers also scanned Y chromosomes of 10 residents of Utah, without knowing their last names; the algorithm helped them figure out the surnames of five of them, all of them Mormons.
“The identification technique could have a number of useful applications such as locating relatives and identifying corpses in natural disasters,” says Halperin. “But the research also reveals a fundamental problem: If a person publishes his genome on the Internet, even when this is done anonymously, his identity is pretty much exposed.”
Halperin adds that the ability to find a surname is based only on the Y chromosome, one of the body’s 46 chromosomes. The study also raises questions about sharing genetic information from various sources.
“We take a positive view of sharing genetic information on public databases – with permission, of course,” says Halperin. “Sharing information is essential to science, and there are many advantages to users of these services. But it’s important that all organizations involved in the data sharing be aware of the possible exposure and weigh their decisions accordingly.”
Erlich adds: “The obvious conclusion from the study is that biometrics can produce unexpected situations. We believe legislators must proceed with great caution when they plan such databases.”