SCIENTISTS SHOW DRUG BREAKDOWN
University of North Carolina researchers are offering the first molecular explanation of how the body metabolizes and detoxifies cocaine and heroin. Dr. Matthew R. Redinbo, in the UNC School of Medicine's department of biochemistry and biophysics, says, "First, our results can be used to generate an efficient treatment for cocaine overdose. Second, the same system we describe can be engineered to detoxify chemical weapons, including sarin, soman, tabun and VX gases." The study presents the first crystal structure of the protein human carboxylesterase 1, or hCE1, a broad-spectrum bioscavenger found throughout the body and in human blood plasma. The hCE1 is responsible for metabolizing the first step of cocaine breakdown in the body and the first two steps of heroin breakdown.
MUSSELS COULD IMPROVE MEDICAL IMPLANTS
A coating developed from mussels -- by researchers at Northwestern University -- could help prevent life-threatening clogs and bacterial infections in medical implants. One side of the coating has a sticky glue, based on adhesive proteins secreted by mussels, and the other side has a repellant. The sticky side attaches to the surface of the implant and the repellant side prevents the build-up of cells and proteins that can ruin medical devices, such as cardiac stents, catheters and dialysis tubing. Mussels have a unique ability to attach to all types of surfaces. The foot produces the sticky glue, made up of a high concentration of amino acid dihydroxyphenylalanine, which has extraordinary strength. On top of this glue, researchers attached a well-known repellant molecule, polyethylene glycol -- which keeps away contaminants.
DENTIST CREATES COSMIC DRILL
The drill aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express, scheduled to reach the Red Planet in December, was designed by Chinese dentist called Dr. Ng. The drill will dig into the surface to take samples of the Martian rocks. The high-precision Micro End Effector was adapted by ESA engineers to make it lighter weight for space travel. The drill will roll over a small area of the selected rock, penetrate a small way into the rock and then collect an uncontaminated sample. Ng and his team also devised other tools for space, including one that easily grips small objects of any shape in a microgravity environment. The MIR Russian space station used the tool in 1995.
WATCHING SPERM MOVEMENT
Scientists at the Research Centre Jülich have observed what happens in the first milliseconds after a sperm comes into contact with the attractant secreted by the egg cell. Researchers need to understand the cellular signaling pathways involved to be able to create a male contraceptive. Egg cells release chemical attractants to attract sperm. The swimming behavior of sperm is controlled by a chemical stimulus -- chemotaxis. It had only been possible to observe how sperm react to the egg cell's chemical attractant after several seconds. The researchers mixed sea urchin sperm with an attractant, a short-chain protein that takes effect only after it has been photochemically modified by a UV flash. The scientists used the trick to determine the point in time after which the sperm are exposed to the attractant. At that point the protein binds to a receptor protein on the surface of the sperm, synthesizing a second messenger, cyclic GMP, which rises very rapidly and causes an ion channel to open and calcium ions to flow into the interior of the sperm cells.
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