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Gizmorama - July 19, 2017

Good Morning,

Want to turn muscle into fat? There's an antennae for that. No, really?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Study: Mini cellular antennae helps turn muscle into fat --*

No matter how much you diet and hit the gym, muscle cells turn to fat as the body ages. Toned bods inevitably become flabby. Blame it on the cilia.

New research shows the tiny cellular antennae plays a key role in the muscle-to-fat transformation process. While the realization is unlikely to unlock the fountain of youth, it could help scientists develop new types of regenerative therapies.

The growing amounts of fat cells interspersed with muscle cells helps explain why humans become weaker as they age.

"The frailty of age is a huge biomedical problem," Dr. Jeremy Reiter, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, said in a news release. "This study helps pave the way to learn how muscles normally age, and provides a new way to possibly improve muscle repair."

Until recently, cilia were mostly ignored by researchers. Most scientists believed the tiny tentacle-like appendages extending from the surface of cells served no real function. Over the last decades, scientists have been taking a closer look at primary cilia.

The rigid appendages are found on the surfaces of all types of cells, and the latest research suggests they act like antennae, sensing and translating all kinds of observational data -- light, temperature, salinity, gravity. The cilia's transmission abilities are used by a variety of cell-signaling pathways.

In a previous study, UCSF researchers found injured muscles tend to generate a large number of fibro/adipogenic progenitors, or FAPs, fat-forming cells that live alongside muscle cells. These fat cells are more likely to host primary cilia.

Researchers hypothesized cilia play an important role in the formation of fat cells.

In the latest experiments, researchers tested their hypothesis by studying muscle injuries in mouse models in which scientists blocked the ability of FAPs to form cilia. Researchers measured lower concentrations of fat cells in the mouse models. Mice with both acute muscle injuries and chronic muscle injuries showed greater rates of muscle generation when less cilia were formed.

Simply by blocking the formation of cilia on FAPs, researchers were able to heal the muscles of a mouse with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Further analysis showed cilia-free FAPs triggered a so-called hedgehog signaling pathway, a pathway key to cell formation and generation. The pathway encouraged a higher muscle-to-fat ratio in mouse muscle. Scientists determined that the protein TIMP3 was key in this process, and were able to trigger the fat-killing pathway using batimastat, a molecule that mimics the effects of TIMP3.

"Now for the first time we have a handle on the cell type that turns muscle into fat, and we have a handle on the signaling pathway that controls the conversion," said Daniel Kopinke, a postdoctoral fellow in the Reiter lab. "Maybe one day we could use this knowledge to improve muscle function."

Researchers detailed their latest findings this week in the journal Cell.

*-- Flourine lends white graphene new qualities --*

With just a bit of fluorine, white graphene becomes a wide-bandgap semiconductor with magnetic properties. The new material could be used in electronics designed to perform under extreme conditions.

White graphene is a two-dimensional atomic sheet of hexagonal boron nitride. Its hexagonal structure is similar to that of regular graphene, but the atomic layer is made up of boron nitride, a combination of boron and nitrogen atoms, instead of carbon.

Although graphene is more chemically and electrically stable than graphene, allowing it to function under more extreme circumstances, like in space.

But the material is typically employed as an insulator, not a semi-conductor.

"Boron nitride is a stable insulator and commercially very useful as a protective coating, even in cosmetics, because it absorbs ultraviolet light," Pulickel Ajayan, a material scientist at Rice University, said in a news release. "There has been a lot of effort to try to modify its electronic structure, but we didn't think it could become both a semiconductor and a magnetic material."

By adding a small amount of fluorine, scientists at Rice were able to decrease white graphene's bandgap enough to turn the material into a semiconductor. Bandgap describes the amount of energy required to generate an electric current.

"We saw that the gap decreases at about 5 percent fluorination," said Rice postdoctoral researcher Chandra Sekhar Tiwary.

"Controlling the precise fluorination is something we need to work on," Tiwary said. "We can get ranges but we don't have perfect control yet. Because the material is atomically thin, one atom less or more changes quite a bit."

Scientists hope further tests will enable them to fine tune the fluorination.

Surprisingly, researchers also found the addition of fluorine altered the spin of electrons in the material's nitrogen atoms, lending white graphene magnetic properties.

"We see angle-oriented spins, which are very unconventional for 2-D materials," said Rice graduate student Sruthi Radhakrishnan.

Researchers described the new material in the journal Science Advances.

Scientists in England recently used white graphene to create a tiny, low-energy sensor.


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