An international team of scientists led by the University of Michigan has discovered a new type of photoreceptor—only the third to be found in animals—that is about 50 times more efficient at capturing light than the rhodopsin in the human eye.
The new receptor protein, LITE-1, was found among a family of taste receptors in invertebrates, and has unusual characteristics that suggest potential future applications ranging from sunscreen to scientific research tools, the team noted in findings published online Nov. 17 in the journal Cell.
“Our experiments also raise the intriguing possibility that it might be possible to genetically engineer other new types of photoreceptors,” said senior study author Shawn Xu, a faculty member of the U-M Life Sciences Institute, where his lab is located.
The LITE-1 receptor was discovered in the eyeless, millimeter-long roundworms known as nematodes, a common model organism in bioscience research.
“LITE-1 actually comes from a family of taste receptor proteins first discovered in insects,” said Xu, who is also a professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the U-M Medical School. “These, however, are not the same taste receptors as in mammals.”
Xu’s lab previously demonstrated that although they lack eyes, the worms will move away from flashes of light. The new research goes a step further, showing that LITE-1 directly absorbs light, rather than being an intermediary that senses chemicals produced by reactions involving light.
“Photoreceptors convert light into a signal that the body can use,” Xu said. “LITE-1 is unusual in that it is extremely efficient at absorbing both UV-A and UV-B light—10 to 100 times greater than the two other types found in the animal kingdom: opsins and cryptochromes. The next step is to better understand why it has these amazing properties.”
The genetic code of these receptor proteins is also very different from other types of photoreceptors found in plants, animals and microbes, Xu said.
Characterizing the current research as an “entry point,” the researchers said the discovery might prove useful in a variety of ways.
With further study, for example, it might be possible to develop LITE-1 into a sunscreen additive that absorbs harmful rays, or to further scientific research by fostering light sensitivity in new types of cells, the scientists wrote in the paper.
Several characteristics make LITE-1 unusual, Xu said.
Animal photoreceptors typically have two components: a base protein and a light-absorbing chromophore (a role played by retinal, or vitamin A, in human sight). When you break these photoreceptors apart, the chromophore still retains some of its functionality.
This is not the case for LITE-1. Breaking it apart, or “denaturing” it, completely stops its ability to absorb light, rather than just diminishing it—showing that it really is a different model, Xu said.
The researchers also determined that within the protein, having the amino acid tryptophan in two places was critical to its function.
When a nonlight-sensitive protein in the same family, GUR-3, was modified to add the corresponding tryptophan residues, it reacted strongly to ultraviolet light—with about a third the sensitivity to UV-B as LITE-1.
“This suggests scientists may be able to use similar techniques to genetically engineer other new photoreceptors,” Xu said.
Synthetic scaffold helps airways reach maturity
Researchers at the University of Michigan have transplanted lab-grown mini lungs into immunosuppressed mice where the structures were able to survive, grow and mature.
“In many ways, the transplanted mini lungs were indistinguishable from human adult tissue,” says senior study author Jason Spence, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the U-M Medical School.
The findings were published in eLife and described by authors as a potential new tool to study lung disease.
Respiratory diseases account for nearly 1 in 5 deaths worldwide, and lung cancer survival rates remain poor despite numerous therapeutic advances during the past 30 years. The numbers highlight the need for new, physiologically relevant models for translational lung research.
Lab-grown lungs can help because they provide a human model to screen drugs, understand gene function, generate transplantable tissue and study complex human diseases, such as asthma.
Lead study author Briana Dye, a graduate student in the U-M Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, used numerous signaling pathways involved with cell growth and organ formation to coax stem cells — the body’s master cells — to make the miniature lungs.
The researchers’ previous study showed mini lungs grown in a dish consisted of structures that exemplified both the airways that move air in and out of the body, known as bronchi, and the small lung sacs called alveoli, which are critical to gas exchange during breathing.
But to overcome the immature and disorganized structure, the researchers attempted to transplant the miniature lungs into mice, an approach that has been widely adopted in the stem cell field. Several initial strategies to transplant the mini lungs into mice were unsuccessful.
Working with Lonnie Shea, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, the team used a biodegradable scaffold, which had been developed for transplanting tissue into animals, to achieve successful transplantation of the mini lungs into mice.
The scaffold provided a stiff structure to help the airway reach maturity.
“In just eight weeks, the resulting transplanted tissue had impressive tube-shaped airway structures similar to the adult lung airways,” says Dye.
Researchers characterized the transplanted mini lungs as well-developed tissue that possessed a highly organized epithelial layer lining the lungs.
One drawback was that the alveolar cell types did not grow in the transplants. Still, several specialized lung cell types were present, including mucus-producing cells, multiciliated cells and stem cells found in the adult lung.
Researchers have engineered a material that could lead to a new generation of computing devices, packing in more computing power while consuming a fraction of the energy that today’s electronics require.
Known as a magnetoelectric multiferroic material, it combines electrical and magnetic properties at room temperature and relies on a phenomenon called “planar rumpling.”
The new material sandwiches together individual layers of atoms, producing a thin film with magnetic polarity that can be flipped from positive to negative or vice versa with small pulses of electricity. In the future, device-makers could use this property to store digital 0’s and 1’s, the binary backbone that underpins computing devices.
“Before this work, there was only one other room-temperature multiferroic whose magnetic properties could be controlled by electricity,” said John Heron, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, who worked on the material with researchers at Cornell University. “That electrical control is what excites electronics makers, so this is a huge step forward.”
Room-temperature multiferroics are a hotly pursued goal in the electronics field because they require much less power to read and write data than today’s semiconductor-based devices. In addition, their data doesn’t vanish when the power is shut off. Those properties could enable devices that require only brief pulses of electricity instead of the constant stream that’s needed for current electronics, using an estimated 100 times less energy.
“Electronics are the fastest-growing consumer of energy worldwide,” said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, associate laboratory director for energy technologies at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Today, about 5 percent of our total global energy consumption is spent on electronics, and that’s projected to grow to 40-50 percent by 2030 if we continue at the current pace and if there are no major advances in the field that lead to lower energy consumption.”
To create the new material, the researchers started with thin, atomically precise films of hexagonal lutetium iron oxide (LuFeO3), a material known to be a robust ferroelectric, but not strongly magnetic. Lutetium iron oxide consists of alternating monolayers of lutetium oxide and iron oxide. They then used a technique called molecular-beam epitaxy to add one extra monolayer of iron oxide to every 10 atomic repeats of the single-single monolayer pattern.
“We were essentially spray painting individual atoms of iron, lutetium and oxygen to achieve a new atomic structure that exhibits stronger magnetic properties,” said Darrell Schlom, a materials science and engineering professor at Cornell and senior author of a study on the work recently published in Nature.
The result was a new material that combines a phenomenon in lutetium oxide called “planar rumpling” with the magnetic properties of iron oxide to achieve multiferroic properties at room temperature.
Heron explains that the lutetium exhibits atomic-level displacements called rumples. Visible under an electron microscope, the rumples enhance the magnetism in the material, allowing it to persist at room temperature. The rumples can be moved by applying an electric field, and are enough to nudge the magnetic field in the neighboring layer of iron oxide from positive to negative or vice versa, creating a material whose magnetic properties can be controlled with electricity—a “magnetoelectric multiferroic.”
While Heron believes a viable multiferroic device is likely several years off, the work puts the field closer to its goal of devices that continue the computing industry’s speed improvements while consuming less power. This is essential if the electronics industry is to continue to advance according to Moore’s law, which predicts that the power of integrated circuits will double every year. This has proven true since the 1960s, but experts predict that current silicon-based technology may be approaching its limits.
Multiferroics – materials that exhibit both magnetic and electric order – are of interest for next-generation computing but difficult to create because the conditions conducive to each of those states are usually mutually exclusive. And in most multiferroics found to date, their respective properties emerge only at extremely low temperatures.
Two years ago, researchers in the labs of Darrell Schlom, the Herbert Fisk Johnson Professor of Industrial Chemistry in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Dan Ralph, the F.R. Newman Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with professor Ramamoorthy Ramesh at UC Berkeley, published a paper announcing a breakthrough in multiferroics involving the only known material in which magnetism can be controlled by applying an electric field at room temperature: the multiferroic bismuth ferrite.
Schlom’s group has partnered with David Muller and Craig Fennie, professors of applied and engineering physics, to take that research a step further: The researchers have combined two non-multiferroic materials, using the best attributes of both to create a new room-temperature multiferroic.
Their paper, “Atomically engineered ferroic layers yield a room-temperature magnetoelectric multiferroic,” was published – along with a companion News & Views piece – Sept. 22 in Nature. The lead authors are Julia Mundy, Ph.D. ’14, a former doctoral student working jointly with Muller and Schlom who’s now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley; Charles Brooks, Ph.D., a visiting scientist in the Schlom group; and Megan Holtz, a doctoral student in the Muller group.
The group engineered thin films of hexagonal lutetium iron oxide (LuFeO3), a material known to be a robust ferroelectric but not strongly magnetic. The LuFeO3 consists of alternating single monolayers of lutetium oxide and iron oxide, and differs from a strong ferrimagnetic oxide (LuFe2O4), which consists of alternating monolayers of lutetium oxide with double monolayers of iron oxide.
The researchers found, however, that they could combine these two materials at the atomic-scale to create a new compound that was not only multiferroic but had better properties that either of the individual constituents. In particular, they found they need to add just one extra monolayer of iron oxide to every 10 atomic repeats of the LuFeO3 to dramatically change the properties of the system.
That precision engineering was done via molecular-beam epitaxy (MBE), a specialty of the Schlom lab. A technique Schlom likens to “atomic spray painting,” MBE let the researchers design and assemble the two different materials in layers, a single atom at a time.
The combination of the two materials produced a strongly ferrimagnetic layer near room temperature. They then tested the new material at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) Advanced Light Source in collaboration with co-author Ramesh to show that the ferrimagnetic atoms followed the alignment of their ferroelectric neighbors when switched by an electric field.
“It was when our collaborators at LBNL demonstrated electrical control of magnetism in the material that we made that things got super exciting,” Schlom said. “Room-temperature multiferroics are exceedingly rare and only multiferroics that enable electrical control of magnetism are relevant to applications.”
In electronics devices, the advantages of multiferroics include their reversible polarization in response to low-power electric fields – as opposed to heat-generating and power-sapping electrical currents – and their ability to hold their polarized state without the need for continuous power. High-performance memory chips make use of ferroelectric or ferromagnetic materials.
“Our work shows that an entirely different mechanism is active in this new material,” Schlom said, “giving us hope for even better – higher-temperature and stronger – multiferroics for the future.”
An international team of researchers has developed a website at d-place.org to help answer long-standing questions about the forces that shaped human cultural diversity.
D-PLACE – the Database of Places, Language, Culture and Environment – is an expandable, open access database that brings together a dispersed body of information on the language, geography, culture and environment of more than 1,400 human societies. It comprises information mainly on pre-industrial societies that were described by ethnographers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The team’s paper on D-PLACE is published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Human cultural diversity is expressed in numerous ways: from the foods we eat and the houses we build, to our religious practices and political organisation, to who we marry and the types of games we teach our children,” said Kathryn Kirby, a postdoctoral fellow in the Departments of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Geography at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study. “Cultural practices vary across space and time, but the factors and processes that drive cultural change and shape patterns of diversity remain largely unknown.
“D-PLACE will enable a whole new generation of scholars to answer these long-standing questions about the forces that have shaped human cultural diversity.”
Co-author Fiona Jordan, senior lecturer in anthropology at the University of Bristol and one of the project leads said, “Comparative research is critical for understanding the processes behind cultural diversity. Over a century of anthropological research around the globe has given us a rich resource for understanding the diversity of humanity – but bringing different resources and datasets together has been a huge challenge in the past.
The University of Michigan (UM, U-M, UMich, or U of M), frequently referred to as simply Michigan, is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States.
It is the state’s oldest university and has two satellite campuses located in Flint and Dearborn. The university was founded in 1817 in Detroit as the Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania, about 20 years before the Michigan Territory officially became a state. What would become the university moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres (16 ha) of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university campus has expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 31 million gross square feet (712 acres or 2.38 km²), and has transformed its academic program from a strictly classical curriculum to one that includes science and research.
The university has very high research activity and its comprehensive graduate program offers doctoral degrees in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) as well as professional degrees in medicine, law, social work and dentistry. Michigan was one of the founding members of the Association of American Universities, and its body of living alumni (as of 2012) comprises more than 500,000.
The Latest Updated Research News:
University of Michigan research articles from Innovation Toronto
- Massive open-access database on human cultures created – July 11, 2016
- Spray-on coating could ice-proof airplanes, power lines, windshields – March 14, 2016
- Flexible circular polarization film may lead to phone-sized cancer detector – January 17, 2016
- Nano-shells deliver molecules that tell bone to repair itself – January 15, 2016
- Mapping the brain: Probes with tiny LEDs shed light on neural pathways – December 20, 2015
- Eye Drops Could Clear Up Cataracts Using Newly Identified Chemical – November 5, 2015
- Inspired by art, lightweight solar cells track the sun – September 10, 2015
- The pronoun ‘I’ is becoming obsolete – August 21, 2015
- Concrete cracks heal themselves – June 29, 2015
- Prosthetic Hands with a Sense of Touch? Breakthroughs in Providing ‘Sensory Feedback’ from Artificial Limbs – June 2, 2015
- Recycling nuclear waste – June 1, 2015
- Heat-conducting plastic developed at U-Michigan – November 28, 2014
- Scientists Restore Hearing in Noise-Deafened Mice, Pointing Way to New Therapies – October 21, 2014
- Computerized Surveillance System Quickly Detects Disease Outbreaks Among Preschoolers – October 13, 2014
- A breath reveals a hidden image in anti-counterfeit drug labels – August 9, 2014
- A new way to make laser-like beams using 250x less power – June 6, 2014
- Listening to bipolar disorder: Smartphone app detects mood swings via voice analysis – May 14, 2014
- Magnetic behavior discovery could advance nuclear fusion
- Baby’s life saved after 3D printed devices were implanted at U-M to restore his breathing
- The first room-temperature light detector that can sense the full infrared spectrum | infrared detectors
- Smartphone as mentor: How tech could change behavior
- U.S. Global Share of Research Spending Declines
- University of Michigan aims to put fleet of self-driving cars on the road by 2021
- Baby’s life saved with groundbreaking 3D printed device from University of Michigan that restored his breathing
- Liquid biopsy could improve cancer diagnosis and treatment
- U-M offers new early detection test for prostate cancer
- New laser-based tool could dramatically improve the accuracy of brain tumor surgery, researchers show
- Scanner Can Comb Through The Entire Internet in Less Than an Hour
- Time for tech transfer law to change?
- Microbial team turns corn stalks and leaves into better biofuel
- Gut reaction: Mice survive lethal doses of chemotherapy
- Elastic electronics: Stretchable gold conductor grows its own wires
- Solar power heads in a new direction: thinner
- Mighty Micropumps: Small But Powerful Vacuum Pumps Demonstrated
- New solar car from U-Michigan has sleek, asymmetrical design
- A new laser paradigm: An electrically injected polariton laser
- Extreme Miniaturization: 7 Devices, One Chip to Navigate without GPS
- New software could alleviate wireless traffic
- Light may recast copper as chemical industry ‘holy grail’
- After Newtown: A new use for a weapons-detecting radar?
- Better Eyes for Flying Robots
- ‘Paintable’ Electronics Paves Way for Cheaper Gadgets
- Early warning system provides four-month forecast of malaria epidemics in northwest India
- Could a computer on the police beat prevent violence?
- Achilles heel: Popular drug-carrying nanoparticles get trapped in bloodstream
- Liquid metal makes silicon crystals at record low temperatures
- A Material That Most Liquids Won’t Wet
- Hearing loss prevention drugs closer to reality thanks to new testing method from the University of Florida
- Super-fine sound beam could one day be an invisible scalpel
- To make old skin cells act young again, boost their surroundings, U-M scientists show
- Drug shows promise in prostate cancer spread to bone
- New device could allow your heartbeat to power pacemaker
- VIDEO: Biofuel breakthrough: Quick cook method turns algae into oil
- Human Embryonic Stem Cells Restore Gerbil Hearing
- World’s largest field test of connected vehicle technology gets underway in the U.S.
- No More Boring Resumes: Seelio Lets College Students Showcase Their Work & Helps Employers Find Them
- The Solar-Powered Dream Car That Just Won A 1,650-Mile Race
- Self-Examine For Skin Cancer With This Mobile App
- Global Warming: New Research Blames Economic Growth
- New glaucoma treatment signals breakthrough
- Zebrafish May Hold Key to Repairing Serious Eye Conditions
- Engineers Find Inspiration for New Materials in Piranha-Proof Armor
- Oral Cancer Expert Finds Unexpected Treatment Breakthrough From Raspberries and Old Breast Cancer Therapy
- Klingons take note – nanotubes could allow spaceships to disappear
- Harvesting energy from insects in quest to create tiny cyborg first responders
- Electric Car-Makers Plan to Cut the Cord
- Solar Pixels Boost Device Efficiency
- Smartphone Battery Life Could Dramatically Improve with New Invention
- The Best and the Brightest
- MABEL: the world’s fastest knee-equipped bipedal robot
- New Urine Test Shows Prostate Cancer Risk
- New system could make censorship of Internet sites virtually impossible
- Implant could wirelessly relay brain signals to paralyzed limbs
- Nanoparticles Enlisted to Impede Alzheimer’s-Inducing Brain Plaque
- Nanofiber spheres carry healing cells into cartilage wounds
- “optical battery” to generate solar power without solar cells
- Mapping Innovation
- New Nanoscale Electrical Phenomenon Discovered
- Keeping Tabs on the Infrastructure, Wirelessly
- Eye implant contains ‘world’s first’ millimeter-scale computing system
- Folding Plants Inspire Next Generation of Shape Shifting Robots
- New type of light-emitting material could rival existing OLEDs
- Computer Scientists Take Over Electronic Voting Machine With New Programming Technique
- Theoretical Breakthrough
- Tabletop X-ray device rivals world’s largest machines
- New manufacturing method gives shape to carbon nanotubes
- Syncronizer: A Chatroom Community With Twitter-Style Following
- How Laptops Can Enhance Learning in College Classrooms
- Scientific team creates molecular robot from DNA
- Pressure-cooking algae into a better biofuel
- Biosensor paper strip test for safe drinking water
- ‘Fish Technology’ Draws Renewable Energy From Slow Water Currents
- Advocating an Unusual Role for Trees
In surprise twist, story of how microbes produce methane ends with uncommon “radical”
Like the poet, microbes that make methane are taking chemists on a road less traveled: Of two competing ideas for how microbes make the main component of natural gas, the winning chemical reaction involves a molecule less favored by previous research, something called a methyl radical.
Reported today in the journal Science, the work is important for understanding not only how methane is made, but also how to make things from it.
“Methane is an interesting substance because it’s both a fossil fuel and a potentially renewable fuel that can come from microbes,” said study lead Stephen Ragsdale of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “In addition, detailed knowledge of the chemical steps involved in making methane could lead to major breakthroughs in designing energy efficient catalysts for converting methane into liquid fuels and other chemicals.”
This study demonstrates one of a very few known instances of nature using a highly reactive methyl radical in its biological machinations.
“We were totally surprised,” said computational chemist Simone Raugei, a coauthor at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “We thought we’d find evidence for other mechanisms.”
Compound Restores Transparency to Mouse Lenses, Human Lens Tissue
Through these experiments, said Gestwicki, “We are starting to understand the mechanism in detail. We know where compound 29 binds, and we are beginning to know exactly what it’s doing.” The team next tested compound 29 in an eye-drop formulation in mice carrying mutations that make them predisposed to cataracts.
Similar results were seen when compound 29 eye drops were applied in mice that naturally developed age-related cataracts, and also when the compound was applied to human lens tissue affected by cataracts that had been removed during surgery.
He has licensed the compound from U-M and Makley, a former graduate student and postdoctoral fellow in the Gestwicki laboratory, is founder and chief scientific officer of ViewPoint Therapeutics, a company that is actively developing compound 29 for human use.
In addition to compound 29’s potential for cataract treatment, the insights gained through the research could have broader applications, said Gestwicki, a member of UCSF’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases whose main research interest is dementia and related disorders.
The researchers claim the system, called Telex, would thwart Internet censorship and make it virtually impossible for a censoring government to block individual sites by essentially turning the entire web into a proxy server.
“We’re able to hide it in the cryptographic protocol so that you can’t even tell that the message is there.” The user’s request would then pass through routers at various ISPs, some of which would be Telex stations that would hold a private key that lets them recognize tagged connections from Telex clients.
Researchers say that sharp-edged nanoparticles can block neurodegenerative proteins that impede cognitive function.
The next challenge is making nanoparticles in this shape out of nontoxic materials.
Nanoparticles have been investigated in recent years as tools for defending the brain against neurotoxic proteins that may contribute to the onset of several different neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s disease. Such proteins, in particular amyloid-beta peptides, are thought to play a role depositing fibrous plaques on the brain that damage synapses(the contact points between neurons) and lead to a decline in cognitive capabilities.
During the onset of Alzheimer’s, amyloid beta collects in the brain centers that form new memories. As the disease progresses, these toxic protein fragments block neurotransmitters from reaching receptors on neurons. The promise of nanoparticles is that their capacity to mimic some biological functions as well as penetrate the blood–brain barrier will enable them to stop the growth of neuron-blocking fibrils better than drug compounds that might contain some variation of short peptides, antibodies or proteins—such as human serum albumin (HSA) protein. (There currently are no anti-Alzheimer’s drugs on the market.) Whereas such compounds have been shown to interfere with fibril formation, researchers are hoping that inorganic nanoparticles can do so more effectively.
Although the nanotech approach has great potential, the challenges are many, including finding a nanoparticle material that is effective yet also biocompatible and nontoxic. Another source of controversy: some nanoparticles that have been studied, including quantum dots and carbon nanotubes, seem to actually promote or accelerate fibrillation rather than prevent it.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor(U.M.) and South Korea’s Kyungpook National University claim to have resolved at least some of nanotech’s shortcomings in tackling amyloid-beta peptides. In a study published online last month in Angewandte Chemie International Edition the researchers describe inhibiting amyloid-beta fibrillation using cadmium telluride (CdTe) nanoparticles with a tetrahedral shape and negative charge.
“We decided to look at how inorganic materials can affect fibrillation of amyloid peptides, which are small proteinlike structures that form extended assemblies that look like nanofibers,” says Nicholas Kotov, a U.M. chemical engineering professor who led the study.
Whereas as these CdTe nanoparticles are not biocompatible and would be toxic in the body, the researchers chose them because they resemble in size, charge and behavior some of the proteins that have proved effective in blocking fibrillation.