The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Friday Science Review: September 16, 2011

Novel Genetically Encoded Calcium Indicators

University of Alberta ♦ Hokkaido University ♦ Kyushu University

Published in Science, September 8, 2011

Calcium transport is critical to normal physiology having an essential role in processes like neural communication and muscle contraction. As a result, the element has been at the centre of a large body of physiological research. Over the years researchers have attempted to trace calcium to monitor physiological reactions, such as neurotransmitter release from neurons or the contraction of cardiac cells. Fluorescent indicator proteins are one means in which to do this. When calcium is present in a system that contains a fluorescent indicator it becomes bound to the indicator causing it to emit a characteristic energy that can be observed using fluorescence microscopy. Although this technology has been around for decades, continuing advances in microscopy have placed new fluorescent indicators in demand. Researchers at the University of Alberta have constructed not just one, but a cassette, of calcium reporters for research use. This cassette is composed of indicators that fluoresce in one of three colours — blue, green, or red; a step up from previous indicators that could only weakly fluoresce in a green hue. These novel proteins are expected to advance our understanding of calcium’s contribution to physiology and allow researchers to complete experiments that were previously impractical to approach.

At the Interface

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital ♦ University of Toronto ♦ University of Pittsburgh ♦ Hospital for Sick Children

Published in PLoS ONE, September 7, 2011

Brain computer interface (BCI) technology may one day revolutionize the way humans control devices. Researchers are currently investigating BCIs as a means to translate mental thought to signals that can control external devices. If commercialized, the technology could be useful in areas such as virtual reality, wheelchair control, and speech in individuals that lack muscle control. Several different modalities have been developed to register thought, including electroencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and magnetoencephalography. However, these methods still have shortcomings that limit their practicality. A technique known as transcranial Doppler ultrasound (TCD), which measures cerebral blood flow velocity in the brain, has shown promise as a new paradigm for BCI systems. Using TCD, researchers were able to measure changes in the velocity of cerebral blood flow in response to a word generation task and a mental rotation task. The system was able to decipher between the two with high accuracy suggesting that TCD could one day be useful for the more complex tasks that BCI will demand.

Also checkout this review on the use of encapsulation technology for applying biofertilizers and biocontrol agents, and this review on extracting polyphenols from plants for analysis in the lab; both papers published in Critical Reviews in Biotechnology.

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