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From the College of Natural Sciences
Scientists Coax Proteins to Form Synthetic Structures with Method that Mimics Nature

Scientists Coax Proteins to Form Synthetic Structures with Method that Mimics Nature

As a proof of concept, a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin built tiny structures that resemble two doughnuts stacked on top of each other by applying electrical charges to specific spots on naturally occurring proteins. Credit: University of Texas at Austin.

Scientists have long dreamed of creating synthetic structures out of the same raw material that nature uses in living systems — proteins — believing such an advance would allow for the development of transformative nanomachines, for example, molecular cages that precisely deliver chemotherapy drugs to tumors or photosynthetic systems for harvesting energy from light. Now a team of biologists from The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan have invented a way to build synthetic structures from proteins, and just as in nature, the method is simple and could be used for a variety of purposes.

Bacteria Help Scientists Discover Human Cancer-Causing Proteins

Bacteria Help Scientists Discover Human Cancer-Causing Proteins

Researchers genetically modified E coli bacteria to fluoresce red when DNA was damaged. Then, they overexpressed each of the bacteria’s 4,000 genes individually and determined which proteins made bacteria glow red. With these bacterial proteins as a guide, they identified more than 100 analogous human proteins that are now implicated in DNA damage and initiation of cancer. Image credit: Jun Xia.

A team led by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor College of Medicine has applied an unconventional approach involving bacteria to discover human proteins that can lead to DNA damage and promote cancer. This could lead to new tests to identify people who are likely to develop cancer. Reported in the journal Cell, the study also proposes biological mechanisms by which these proteins can damage DNA, opening possibilities for future cancer treatments.

Two UT Scientists Part of Project to Detect ‘Life As We Don’t Know It’

Two UT Scientists Part of Project to Detect ‘Life As We Don’t Know It’

Eric Anslyn and Andrew Ellington.

A nearly $7 million grant from NASA is supporting research to develop approaches to detecting extraterrestrial life, and two University of Texas at Austin faculty are part of the interdisciplinary scientific team.

New Protein Sequencing Method Could Transform Biological Research

New Protein Sequencing Method Could Transform Biological Research

An ultra-sensitive new method for identifying the series of amino acids in individual proteins (a.k.a. protein sequencing) can accelerate research on biomarkers for cancer and other diseases. Credit: David Steadman/University of Texas at Austin.

A team of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin has demonstrated a new way to sequence proteins that is much more sensitive than existing technology, identifying individual protein molecules rather than requiring millions of molecules at a time. The advance could have a major impact in biomedical research, making it easier to reveal new biomarkers for the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases, as well as enhance our understanding of how healthy cells function.

Two Studies Shed Light on How Complex CRISPR Systems Work

Two Studies Shed Light on How Complex CRISPR Systems Work

In a pair of papers out this week, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin made new discoveries about a remarkable naturally occurring system known as CRISPR.

UT Austin Alum James Allison Awarded Nobel Prize

UT Austin Alum James Allison Awarded Nobel Prize

James P. Allison, a world-renowned pioneer of cancer immunotherapy, has been awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine jointly with Tasuku Honjo "for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation."

Scientists Discover Why Some Bacteria Turn Bad

Scientists Discover Why Some Bacteria Turn Bad

Enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) bacteria approach intestinal epithelial cells during human infection. When in close proximity to the host epithelium ETEC senses oxygen seeping (blue) from intestinal epithelial cells to increase expression of adhesins and secreted toxins (magenta). Image Credit: Brad Gilleland

Every year, millions of people have vacations and business trips ruined when they succumb to "traveler's diarrhea" during their journeys. A major cause of traveler's diarrhea is bacteria called Enterotoxigenic E. coli, or ETEC. A joint effort between scientists at the University of Georgia and the University of Texas at Austin has discovered what triggers ETEC to produce dangerous toxins in the body. They are using this information in an effort to develop a preventive vaccine for travelers.

Kenneth Johnson Named Fellow of Biophysical Society

Kenneth Johnson Named Fellow of Biophysical Society

Molecular Biosciences professor Kenneth Johnson has been named a 2019 Society Fellow of The Biophysical Society for his influential research and support of biophysics.

Advice from a Recent Grad, Since Recruited to a Top MD-PhD Program

Advice from a Recent Grad, Since Recruited to a Top MD-PhD Program

​Ryan Huizar, a recent UT Austin alum, is embarking on a new journey this fall at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine at one of the most competitive MD-PhD programs in the nation. The MD-PhD dual doctoral degree prepares students for careers as physician-scientists, balancing research and clinical care of patients.

Simple Test Detects Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes, Presence of Biopesticide

Simple Test Detects Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes, Presence of Biopesticide

The tool uses a smartphone camera, a small 3D-printed box and a simple chemical test to show whether a dead mosquito belongs to the Aedes aegypti species. Credit: Vivian Abagiu

A new diagnostic tool has been developed by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin that can easily, quickly and cheaply identify whether a mosquito belongs to the species that carries dangerous diseases such as Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya or yellow fever. It can also determine whether the bug has come into contact with a mosquito-control strategy known as Wolbachia.

New Cancer Treatment Uses Enzymes to Boost Immune System and Fight Back

New Cancer Treatment Uses Enzymes to Boost Immune System and Fight Back

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new approach to treating cancer using enzyme therapy.

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Cancer Agency Awards $2 Million to UT Austin to Recruit New Faculty Member

Cancer Agency Awards $2 Million to UT Austin to Recruit New Faculty Member

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has announced that Can Cenik has been awarded a $2 million Faculty Recruitment Grant. The program recruits emerging investigators pursuing their first faculty appointment who have the ability to make outstanding contributions to the field of cancer research.

How to Make the Gene-Editing Tool CRISPR Work Even Better

How to Make the Gene-Editing Tool CRISPR Work Even Better

Among the most significant scientific advances in recent years are the discovery and development of new ways to genetically modify living things using a fast and affordable technology called CRISPR. Now scientists at The University of Texas at Austin say they've identified an easy upgrade for the technology that would lead to more accurate gene editing with increased safety that could open the door for gene editing safe enough for use in humans.

Fighting Hepatitis C Virus, Using Clues from What Killed Bevo XIV

Fighting Hepatitis C Virus, Using Clues from What Killed Bevo XIV

And other adventures in animal viruses teaching us about human disease.

DNA Barcodes That Reliably Work: A Game-Changer for Biomedical Research

DNA Barcodes That Reliably Work: A Game-Changer for Biomedical Research

This illustration shows the most common structure of DNA found in a cell, called B-DNA. Credit: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In the same way that barcodes on your groceries help stores know what's in your cart, DNA barcodes help biologists attach genetic labels to biological molecules to do their own tracking during research, including of how a cancerous tumor evolves, how organs develop or which drug candidates actually work. Unfortunately with current methods, many DNA barcodes have a reliability problem much worse than your corner grocer's. They contain errors about 10 percent of the time, making interpreting data tricky and limiting the kinds of experiments that can be reliably done.