The marriage of biology and physics in the field of biophysics is, to the man on the street, still a relatively new term. With the advancement of technology through the 20th and 21st century, never before has biophysics been more important to the study of life science.
This week saw the 59th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society in Baltimore, Maryland, which was attended by over 6,000 researchers. As you would expect, some fascinating and insightful work was presented. Here are a few choice topics that caught my eye.
[caption id="attachment_283" align="alignright" width="300"] E. coli under scanning electron microscope. Photo credit: Janice Haney Carr/CDC.[/caption]
Protein control on the single-cell level in bacteria
Single cells of E. coli were imaged over time to see how proteins were localised within the small confines of the bacterial cell. Researchers found that proteins could be found in different parts of the cell at certain times, concluding that individual cells could regulate where and when some proteins could be. They have published a database of their findings online, dubbed the "localizome" here: http://mtshasta.phys.washington.edu/localizome/
Virtual virus - simulating the seasonal 'flu
Scientists at the University of Oxford have built a detailed model of the influenza A virion from a wealth of experimental data. They believe their simulated virus structure behaves like the real thing and that various scenarios can be tested on the molecular structure of its membrane will help researchers discover how the virus survives in the wild, and even novel ways to combat its spread.
Designer drugs screen for toxicity first
Researcher from Weil Cornell Medical College have come up with a screen that can test drug toxicity early in development. They developed a screen looking at membrane protein disruption, and found that toxic drugs tended to have a knock-on effect in disrupting membrane proteins. This discovery has the potential of saving time and money in drug development.
Stopping cell death in heart attacks and strokes
Damage to cells in heart attacks and strokes is caused by a lack of oxygen, resulting in cells shutting down and dying. Now it seems the small protein humanin, found in mitochondria, can stop the cells immediately entering the death/shutdown phase when the air runs out. This discovery could lead to new treatments of stroke victims and cardiac arrests.
Bacterial "sight" - sensitivity and stickiness
Bacteria use single molecules to "feel" the environment around their cell bodies, research reveals. By using specialised equipment - a tension gauged tether - researchers found that bacterial cells are ultra-sensitive to strongly anchored molecules during the adhesion process, selecting the best place to stick themselves on a surface so they don't fall off.
For a full run down of the itinerary and a list of presenters, please see the Biophysical Society website.