The influence of epigenetics in breast cancer therapeutics

Author: Jessica McAnulty
Editors: Tricia Garay, Stephanie Hamilton, and Whit Froehlich

Most likely, you know of someone diagnosed with breast cancer, which affects 1 in 8 women in the United States. Some of the reasons this disease is so difficult to treat are the lack of targeted therapies (as there are different subtypes of breast cancer) and tumor resistance to treatment. Therefore, scientists are investigating novel therapies that act on a specific component of the cancer and/or prevent this resistance. One exciting therapy alters the expression of certain genes; a gene needs to be expressed, or “turned on”, in order for the cell to obtain information from the gene and produce a product. This therapy is a promising approach since cancers, such as hormone-sensitive breast cancer, are often due to genetic mutations that result in an increase in gene expression. It is thought that using this therapy to alter gene expression will reverse the breast tumor’s resistance to treatment.

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Microscopic Diversity: How and Why One Gene Creates Many Unique Proteins

Author: Jessica Cote

Editors: Zena Lapp, Christina Vallianatos, and Whit Froehlich

The Human Genome Project is one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in recent history— this international collaboration identified almost all of the ~20,500 genes in the human body, known collectively as the genome. Now that scientists know the details of these genes, they are better able to understand and treat human diseases associated with genetic factors. However, despite the immense effort put forth by over 30 research labs for 13 years (1990-2003), the information we gained from this project is limited. Genes serve as guidebooks for cells in the body to build proteins; genes themselves don’t perform the necessary cellular functions—proteins do. So, while scientists have now known the nitty-gritty of thousands of human genes for a while, the details of their protein products, known collectively as the proteome, are still quite puzzling.

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Methylated Memory

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: Nayiri Kaissarian, Patricia Garay, and Shweta Ramdas

If you saw a hippo on campus, you would remember it. But, would you expect that seeing such a pachyderm roaming on a university would alter the expression of your DNA? A recent study found that rats placed in an environment that tested their memory had alterations to their DNA, or epigenetic changes.

For a long while, we have generally known that neurons within the hippocampus of our brains are responsible for memory. The current model for memory storage is due to the plasticity of neuronal connections, but researchers have recently found that it also involves active changes at the genetic level. These changes come from external factors and are linked to retaining long-term memories, which has implications in stress-related learning and memory disorders.

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The After-Hours Life of a Protein

Author: Sarah Kearns

Editors: Zena Lapp, Jimmy Brancho, Noah Steinfeld

After you get home from work, perhaps after eating dinner, you may start working on other projects or hobbies. Humans aren’t the only ones that have a life after hours. Recently it’s been discovered that many proteins have roles in the cell outside of their main functions. This peculiar behavior led to the name ‘moonlighting,’ referencing individuals who have multiple jobs. A useful analogy might be a werewolf’s behavior under a full moon: being a person during the day, but a wolf at night.

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Trasplante de Órganos de Cerdos a Humanos Podría Ser Posible en el Futuro Gracias a la Ingeniera Genética

Escrita por Attabey Rodríguez Benitez y editado por Cristina Maria Rios.

¿Te imaginas un futuro en el que los humanos podamos recibir órganos de animales en lugar de esperar por un donante? Esto podría ser posible gracias a una investigación llevada a cabo por una colaboración internacional entre laboratorios de Harvard y China que resultó en una publicación en la revista científica Science.

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Ciencia y redes sociales: Como el “compartir de más” está ayudando al campo de la genética humana

Versión original en inglés escrita por Christina Vallianatos, traducida al español por Adrian Melo Carrillo y editado por Jean Carlos Rodriguez Diaz.

Vivimos en una época en la cual compartimos de más.  Desde tu mejor amigo compartiendo sus fotos artísticas de comida (#boozybrunch), hasta tu colega tuiteando en tiempo real su experiencia de parto (“¡Cesárea en 20 minutos!”), parece que constantemente nos enteramos de detalles íntimos de todo el mundo.

¿Qué pasaría si alguno de esos momentos en que compartimos demasiada información no fueran necesariamente “demasiada información”? ¿Y si estos momentos estuvieran de hecho ayudando a resolver una de los mayores dilemas en el campo de la genética humana: la identificación de genes causantes de enfermedades?

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Organ Transplantation from Pigs to Humans Could Be Possible, Thanks to Gene Editing

Author: Attabey Rodríguez Benítez

Editors: Sarah Kearns, Jimmy Brancho, and Whit Froehlich

Can you imagine a future where humans could receive organs from animals instead of having to wait for a donor? Well, this could be possible thanks to evidence from an international collaboration between labs in Harvard and China which resulted in a publication in the prestigious journal Science.

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Lo que quiere la nariz: ¿Por qué el olor a gasolina es irresistible para algunos?

For the first post in our Spanish series, The Language Bank* at the University of Michigan translated a post written by Shweta Ramdas: “What the Nose Wants: Why the Scent of Gasoline is Irresistible to Some.”

Por Shweta Ramdas 

Traducido por Joan Liu*

Editado por Yanaira Alonso

Hace acerca de un mes, le comenté a mis compañeros de laboratorio que el olor a la gasolina era un tanto irresistible y que había robado un marcador de pizarra de nuestro laboratorio para olerlo cuando me sentía frustrada con mi investigación. Esto tuvo dos resultados: ahora mis colaboradores de laboratorio se burlan de mí despiadadamente, y me di cuenta de que no todos se sienten atraídos a estos olores tanto como yo.

El último resultado fue una epifanía: pensaba que para todo el mundo el olor a gasolina era agradable. Entonces, ¿Por qué esto no es cierto? Como una genetista, por supuesto mi primer pensamiento fue que los genes deciden la preferencia.

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A mi compañero de laboratorio no le atrae el olor del marcador tanto como a mí.

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Placebos: Tricking the Brain, Targeting the Body

Author: Shweta Ramdas
Editors: Charles Lu, Whit Froehlich, and Scott Barolo

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Placebo or Nocebo?

Last year, when I pooh-poohed my mother’s alternative medicine regimen, she said, “But these actually work well for me, because I believe in them!” My mother had just outsmarted me with science.

The placebo effect is one of the most remarkable yet least understood phenomena in science. It is a favorable response of our body to a medically neutral treatment (sugar pills, anybody?): in other words, a placebo is a fake treatment that produces a very real response. This is attributed to a physical reaction stemming from a psychological response to the administration of therapy. You could say that a patient sometimes gets better anyway—how many times have we waited out the common cold—and you would be right. This natural return to the baseline which can happen is not considered the placebo effect, which is an improvement in response to a treatment.

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Where Do Genes Come From? Part 2: De novo Genes

Author: Bryan Moyers

Editors: Theresa Mau, Alex Taylor, and Kevin Boehnke

“The probability that a functional protein would appear de novo by random association of amino acids is practically zero.” ~ Francois Jacob, 1977

If you’ve ever gotten into arguments about evolution, you may have heard the argument that goes something like this: A new gene randomly forming is as improbable as a tornado blowing through a junkyard and assembling a working 747. The above quote by Francois Jacob shows that scientists have been pretty skeptical about this idea, too.

But something seeming unlikely doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. As we learned last time, most mutations are harmful, and most gene duplications are lost—but the rare times when they are beneficial, a new gene can have a huge effect on species survival.

So, is it possible that a protein-coding gene might form randomly? Continue reading “Where Do Genes Come From? Part 2: De novo Genes”