Seeking social genes

In order understand the evolution of complex societies, researchers are sequencing the genomes of social insects. The most recent data, published this week in the Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, come from several sp…

Learning the language of bacteria

MADISON — Bacteria are among the simplest organisms in nature, but many of them can still talk to each other, using a chemical “language” that is critical to the process of infection. Sending and receiving chemical signals allows bacteria to mind…

Cell membranes behave like cornstarch and water

Mix two parts cornstarch and one part water. Swirl your fingers in it slowly and the mixture is a smoothly flowing liquid. Punch it quickly with your fist and you meet a rubbery solid — so solid you can jump up and down on a vat of it.
It t…

Pheromones Create a 'Chemical Image' in the Brain

For the first time, researchers have eavesdropped on the brains of mice as they go about the normal behaviors of detecting the subtle chemical signals called pheromones from other animals. The researchers have discovered that the animals’ pheromone-processing machinery in the brain forms, in essence, a specific “pheromonal image” of another animal. Such an “image” of another animal’s sex, identity, social standing and female reproductive status governs a range of mating, fighting, maternal-infant bonding and other behaviors. The scientists said that the specificity they discovered in the neurons that process pheromonal signals is akin to the “face neurons” in the visual areas of primate brains that are specifically triggered by facial features of other animals.

Another job discovered for a master metabolic off-switch

Researchers have discovered that an important cellular “off-switch” that desensitizes receptors on the cell surface also regulates a second deactivation mechanism that had not been suspected before. Their finding that the off-switch, known as beta-arrestin, operates in two distinct ways may hint at a broader set of regulatory roles for the molecule.

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