Sep 222015
The scientists combined data from a variety of techniques to better understand how rats – and humans – age. Image credits: Brandon Toyama.

Age may seem like a straightforward measurement: the number of years, months, days since you were born. But for cells in different parts of your body, age can mean very different things.

Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Salk Institute and the University of California at Berkeley, both in the USA, have now measured and compared just how ageing affects rats’ liver and brain cells. In a study published online today in Cell Systems, they were able to tease out general ageing processes from those that are specific to each of these organs. Continue reading »

Sep 112015
Tschira Jugendakademie 2015

Labcoats, micropipettes, hot blocks and a thermocycler – these were just some of the things ten eager researchers between the age of 11 and 17 could call their own for a day.

The students were participants of a summer school run by the “Tschira Jugendakademie” (a project of the “Klaus Tschira Foundation”) and were – for one of their projects – hosted by the European Learning Laboratory for the Life Sciences (ELLS) at EMBL.

The event centred around the hereditary disease haemochromatosis – a condition which increases the level of iron stored in the body manifold and may lead to symptoms such as fatigue, diabetes, and liver or heart failure if untreated. The genetic basis of the disease is a tiny change in the DNA sequence of affected people – a point mutation on chromosome 6.

After an introduction to the topic, the young researchers started their own experiments at the Training Labs of the EMBL Advanced Training Centre. In a series of experimental steps, they used restriction enzymes (molecular scissors which cut DNA of a certain sequence) to analyse the DNA of three fictitious people in order to identify the person(s) suffering from haemochromatosis.

The ELLS team greatly enjoyed introducing this lively and enthusiastic group to the science of genetic disorders and wishes the participants a successful start to the new school year.

Jul 242015
Celebrating 20 years of International Summer Science School Heidelberg

Summer! Summer! Summer of Science! This week has been an intense first introductory week of learning and working together with the students of the International Summer Science School Heidelberg (ISH). In its 20th year the ISH welcomes again talented students from four continents which are staying in Heidelberg to gain exclusive insights into a variety of research more
Jul 202015
Iron regulators join war on pathogens

Proteins responsible for controlling levels of iron in the body also play an important role in combatting infection, according to a study published last week in Cell Host & Microbe. Humans – along with all living organisms, including pathogens – need iron to survive: invading organisms try to highjack it from their hosts in order more
Jul 092015
The genome in the cloud

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001, technological advances have made sequencing genomes much easier, quicker and cheaper, fuelling an explosion in sequencing projects. Today, genomics is well into the era of ‘big data’, with genomics datasets often containing hundreds of terabytes (1014 bytes) of information.

The rise of big genomic data offers many scientific opportunities, but also creates new problems, as Jan Korbel, Group Leader in the Genome Biology Unit EMBL Heidelberg, describes in a new commentary paper authored with an international team of scientists and published today in Nature. more
Jun 162015
Dancing with the cells

Cells ‘dance’ as they draw together during early embryo development

In a nutshell:

New method used to map all tensions of a developing embryo in space and time
Key stage of embryo development controlled by contraction of cells
Cells within an 8-cell embryo shown to ‘dance’ to the same rhythm
The same kind of contraction that fires our muscles also controls a key stage of mammalian embryo development, according to a new study published in Nature Cell Biology. The research, conducted at EMBL Heidelberg, measured and mapped how cells in very early stage embryos bond tightly together. The scientists also discovered a cellular behaviour that hadn’t been observed before: cells in the embryo ‘dance’, each one making the same rhythmic movement.

The focus of the study was a stage of development known as compaction, which takes place when the embryo has eight cells. Compaction changes the embryo from a loosely attached group of cells to a closely bonded single entity. During compaction – which takes around 10 hours – the cells change shape to create the overall form of the embryo, increasing the area of contact between them.

Using a new method, the researchers were able to measure the forces required to change the shape of the cells as compaction progressed. Being able to chart the tension within the embryo without destroying it meant they were able to investigate which cellular process was the main driver behind the compaction process. more
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