Scientific discoveries this week: 9/2/13

A research team recently developed a method for tracking cells through the use of fluorescent organic tracers which provide researchers with a non-invasive tool to track biological processes for long periods of time. The team created probes composed of a small number of molecules that aggregate. This aggregation means that the probes have more detectable fluorescence and less leakage than single-molecule probes. Furthermore, rather than the current “blink” this team’s tracers show steady fluorescence and do not contain heavy metals or ions that could pose a risk for living things. The new tracers also have greater chemical stability, and are examples of quantum dots due to the small number of molecules with optical characteristics that rely on quantum-mechanical effects. These tracers are technically called AIE (aggregation-induced emission) dots, and are assembled through a process that involves the synthesis of organic molecules and the use of the human immunodeficiency virus. According to researcher Liu, ” our AIE dots could track isolated human breast cancer cells in vitro for 10 to 12 generations.” He also added that “they outperform existing commercial inorganic quantum dots.”

South Pole (where IceCube Neutrino Observatory is) otherwise Delaware (where research was done)
The origin of cosmic rays in the universe has baffled scientists for decades. Recently a study using data from IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole revealed new information on how these high-energy particles composed of protons and atomic nuclei are produced. Cosmic rays are incredibly high energy and can damage electronics on Earth as well as human DNA. The rays are known to reach energies above 100 billion GeV. The study looked at the energy range from 106 GeV to 109 GeV because the researchers were interested in identifying cosmic rays that are produced in our Milky Way and those that are produced outside our galaxy. One known source of cosmic rays are supernovae but distant objects such as active galactic nuclei are believed to produce the highest energy particles in nature. The research could help determine if these sources actually produce cosmic rays and find other potential sources through analyzing the differences between “extragalactic” rays and ones produced in the Milky Way.

University of Notre Dame
This week a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame revealed that the major malaria vector in Africa, the Anopheles gambiae mosquito is able to smell human host odorants better at night. The researchers used an integrative approach to examine the mosquito’s ability to smell through the use of proteomic, sensory physiological, and behavioral techniques. They examined the role of odorant-binding proteins (OBPs) in the daily regulation of olfactory sensitivities in the mosquito. According to the team the OBPs in the insect antennae and mouthparts function to concentrate odorant molecules and assist in their transport to receptors. They then determined that there are higher concentrations of OBPs in the mosquito’s sensory organs at night than during the day leading to the conclusion that mosquitoes’ can “smell” use better at night. The study used mass spectrometry to quantify protein abundance and electroantennography to determine the response induced by host odorants at different times of the day. The work could change the way we look at protecting ourselves from these disease carrying pests.

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