New tricks to study the cell's trickiest proteins

Review by Abigail Stanton (MOL, G1)

The cell can be a chaotic place to work. Protein employees of all different types rush from room to room, delivering messages, building needed materials, and working together to keep the cell running smoothly. To learn how any one of these proteins does its job, researchers have to consider how they will structure their experiment to get the type of information that they need. One approach is observing the protein at work: what does it do on a normal day? How does it interact with its coworkers? Studying a protein in situ (in its original place) gives researchers the best sense of how the protein actually behaves. However, the complex environment of the cell can make it difficult to pick out the contributions of any one protein. To gain more detailed information, the researcher may need to sit the protein down for a one-on-one interview, purifying it away from the other components of the cell for in vitro (in a test tube) experiments. However, a protein’s behavior alone may be very different from how it acts surrounded by a crowd of molecules. To create the most useful experiment possible, researchers need to find ways to combine the context of in situ studies with the detail and experimental control of in vitro work. 

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Prince, perception and purple: The colorful world of wild hummingbirds

Review written by Jarome Ali (EEB, G4)

Who is the funkiest musician of all time, and why is it Prince? And what does this have to do with hummingbirds? 

Central to Prince’s aesthetic was his tasteful use of purple, so much so that Pantone Color Institute released a shade of purple in his honor. Prince was on to something. Purple is not just the color of royalty, but it is also unique among the colors we can see--it is nonspectral.

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Using Doppler radar to detect and track hidden objects

Review written by Aishwarya Mandyam (COS, G1)

The prevalence of self-driving or partially self-driving cars is increasingly within our sights. However, before these vehicles can make their mainstream debut, it’s important that consumers are ensured of their safety. In particular, these cars should be able to “see” and “act” like human drivers. As such, a self-driving car’s collision and error detection system must effectively reason about what it cannot see. A big concern with self-driving cars is the question of safety; we expect that a human driver has sufficient intuition to avoid pedestrians and stationary objects. Naturally, we would expect self-driving cars to exhibit the same level of caution for avoiding collisions. In a new paper out of Professor Felix Heide’s group in the Princeton COS department in collaboration with Mercedes Benz, Scheiner et al. introduce a method that uses Doppler radar to enable cars to see around corners. Scheiner et al.’s method to track hidden objects allows for a more effective error detection method that can make these vehicles better suited to operating in the real world where safety is a primary concern. 

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Unlocking the Key Mechanisms of Hepatitis B Infection

Cecilia Panfil (CHM, 2022) and Alexandra Libby (PNI, GS)

Worldwide, approximately 250 million people have tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus infects the liver, causing severe damage when left untreated, such as chronic infection, liver fibrosis, liver cancer and cirrhosis. The likelihood of an adverse outcome or chronic illness is higher if the disease is contracted in childhood. Transmission can occur either through birth (i.e., the mother was infected) or close contact (e.g., sexual incourse or needle sharing for injectable drugs)1. HBV is a significant global health problem; overall, it is estimated that 650,000 people die each year from HBV related illnesses2.    

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Infectious mosquitoes decode the unique smell of humans to pick their next meal

Review written by Olivia Duddy (MOL, G4)

Some mosquitoes are picky eaters. For example, females of the mosquito subspecies Aedes aegypti preferentially select humans over non-human animals as their blood host (only females mosquitoes bite). The consequence of Ae. aegypti’s preference for humans is its emergence as a global driver for the spread of infectious diseases like dengue, yellow fever, and Zika. So what attracts this mosquito so strongly to humans? Your smell. 

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Designing a molecular light switch

Review by Abigail Stanton (MOL, G1)

Living things are composed of an intricate set of chemical machinery, each piece refined over billions of years of evolution to perform the tasks required to grow, reproduce, act, and react. A principal challenge of biochemistry is understanding how each microscopic gear (or protein) works within the dynamic context of a larger machine (the cell and, eventually, the organism as a whole). To dissect these complex pathways, researchers need ways to interact with the cell. They need tools that act like molecular tweezers to remove pieces, to change them, and to turn mechanisms on and off. As our understanding of each component grows, our biochemical toolbox expands, allowing for even more biological discoveries, which in turn allows for the development of ever more sophisticated tools. 

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Adult neurogenesis' role in social memory function

Review written by Renee Waters (PSY, G2)

Have you ever wondered how you can recognize a familiar friend in a busy environment? Or maybe how you remember a person you’ve seen just once? Social memory is the ability to recognize familiar others and is an essential function across species, not only for safety but also to maintain stable structures in complex and dynamic social networks. Social memory is involved in hierarchy formation, and defense, as well as mate, offspring, and interspecies recognition. A region of the brain called the hippocampus has long been pinpointed for its role in learning and memory generally; however, great strides have been taken recently to understand its role in social memory more specifically. 

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A new algorithm is helping to decipher the language of morphogenesis

Review written by Sarah McFann (CBE, G5)

Language is ever-evolving. With each new generation, language structures such as word pronunciation, usage, and meaning mutate and change as they are passed imperfectly from parent to child. Similarly, bodies have the chance to evolve with every generation. Mutations in the germ line—eggs in females and sperm in males—give rise to the genetic variation that allows form and function to evolve. With each new germline mutation, the nucleotides that make up the genetic code are altered due to imperfect DNA replication. These mutations can code for changes to protein structures or protein amounts, altering the way bodies are constructed as they develop and the forms they take on along the way.

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Learning from our past: Using medical history to guide patient care

Review written by Kimberly Sabsay (LSI, GS)

The transition to a highly digitized society is well underway. Hospital data and medical charts are no exception. According to the CDC, over 85% of healthcare organizations have adopted Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems as of 2017. EHRs, while increasingly complex, could very well hold the secret to advancing patient care and diagnostics. EHRs contain medical history, medications, and test results, much like a regular health record, while also providing real-time information and tools to automate treatment plans. Predictive healthcare analytics are at our fingertips, and a novel statistical framework designed by researchers at Princeton University unlocks the massive potential of personalized, predictive, and real-time medical monitoring systems.

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Nematodes and reproductive aging with Dr. Nicole Templeman

Episode 1 of Princeton Insights: The Highlights

In this episode of The Highlights, we're joined by Nicole Templeman, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Victoria. As a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton, Templeman was part of molecular biology professor Coleen Murphy’s lab, where she studied reproductive aging. We discuss her most recent publication, which explores how inter-tissue communication affects rate of “age-related reproductive decline,” and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her lab.

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