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From the College of Natural Sciences
Ancient Microbes Folded their DNA Similarly to Modern Life Forms

Ancient Microbes Folded their DNA Similarly to Modern Life Forms

Archaea wrap their DNA (yellow) around proteins called histones (blue). The wrapped structure bears an uncanny resemblance to the eukaryotic nucleosome, a bundle of eight histone proteins with DNA spooled around it. But unlike eukaryotes, archaea wind their DNA around just one histone protein, and form a long, twisting structure called a superhelix. Credit: Francesca Mattiroli

As life evolved on Earth, from simple one-celled microbes to complex plants, animals and humans, their DNA grew. And that created a problem: how do you pack more and more DNA into roughly the same-sized cellular compartment? Life's solution: fold it up into a ball. Reporting in the August 10 edition of the journal Science, researchers have discovered that microbes called archaea started folding their DNA in a way very similar to that of modern plants and animals, long before complex life evolved.

New Technique Enables Safer Gene-Editing Therapy Using CRISPR

New Technique Enables Safer Gene-Editing Therapy Using CRISPR

A CRISPR protein targets specific sections of DNA and cuts them. Scientists have turned this natural defense mechanism in bacteria into a tool for gene editing. Illustration: Jenna Luecke and David Steadman/Univ. of Texas at Austin.

Scientists from The University of Texas at Austin took an important step toward safer gene-editing cures for life-threatening disorders, from cancer to HIV to Huntington's disease, by developing a technique that can spot editing mistakes a popular tool known as CRISPR makes to an individual's genome. The research appears today in the journal Cell.

First Step Taken Toward Epigenetically Modified Cotton

First Step Taken Toward Epigenetically Modified Cotton

A partly harvested cotton field. This photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo credit: Kimberly Vardeman.

With prices down and weather patterns unpredictable, these are tough times for America's cotton farmers, but new research led by Z. Jeffrey Chen at The University of Texas at Austin might offer a break for the industry. He and a team have taken the first step toward a new way of breeding heartier, more productive cotton through a process called epigenetic modification.

Zhang Named Professor of the Year

Zhang Named Professor of the Year

Students have selected Jessie Zhang, an associate professor of molecular biosciences, as The University of Texas at Austin's Professor of the Year. 

International Synthetic Biology Team to Create an Ancient Cell

International Synthetic Biology Team to Create an Ancient Cell

With funding from the highly competitive Human Frontier Science Program, an international team including The University of Texas at Austin's Andrew Ellington plans to unravel billions of years of evolution to create an ancient version of a cell. 

Fight Cancer, She Must

Fight Cancer, She Must

Robed in tie-dye lab coat, graduate student Norah Ashoura meticulously guides her pipette while explaining what Star Wars has to do with the innovative research into cancer treatments coming from the George Georgiou lab group.

Image and video credits: Christian Benavides
Genetic Signatures Reveal Environment Where Bacteria Evolved

Genetic Signatures Reveal Environment Where Bacteria Evolved

Just as the fossil record reveals clues about the conditions in which prehistoric animals and plants once lived, newly discovered genetic signatures in bacterial evolution may one day allow hospitals, doctors and scientists to know more about the environment where a bacterial infection originated.

Enzyme Safely Starves Cancer Cells in Preclinical Study

Enzyme Safely Starves Cancer Cells in Preclinical Study

A research team led by scientists at The University of Texas Austin has engineered an enzyme that safely treats prostate and breast cancer in animals and also lengthens the lifespan of models that develop chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The new treatment and results from preclinical trials are described in a paper published in the Nov. 21 issue of Nature Medicine.

DNA Repair Findings Shed Light on Pathways Affecting Cancer Progression

DNA Repair Findings Shed Light on Pathways Affecting Cancer Progression

For healthy cells to become cancerous cells, they have to lose several systems that regulate healthy function such as cell growth and division and DNA repair. New findings from University of Texas at Austin researchers about how one such regulatory system works could aid in efforts to develop personalized treatments for cancer.

Flu Vaccine’s Effectiveness Can Be Improved, New Findings Suggest

Flu Vaccine’s Effectiveness Can Be Improved, New Findings Suggest

Via CDC/ Judy Schmidt. Credit: James Gathany.

A team of engineers and scientists at The University of Texas at Austin is reporting new findings on how the influenza vaccine produces antibodies that protect against disease, research that suggests that the conventional flu vaccine can be improved. The findings were reported in the journal Nature Medicine on Nov. 7.

A Trio of Flu Studies Point the Way to Better Treatment and Prevention

A Trio of Flu Studies Point the Way to Better Treatment and Prevention

As we head into flu season, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin are announcing the results of three flu studies: One suggests a possible new target for drugs to combat the flu; another study forecasts how effective this year's flu vaccine might be; and a third looks at ways to improve the process of identifying flu strains in the wild and thus improve how strains are selected for inclusion in each year's vaccine.

New Faculty, New Technology to Strengthen Disease Research at UT Austin

New Faculty, New Technology to Strengthen Disease Research at UT Austin

A $2 million recruitment grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has paved the way for The University of Texas at Austin to welcome a scientist experienced in cutting-edge molecular biology technologies that are used to study disease and DNA repair.

Bacteria Show Capacity for Rapid, Beneficial Mutations

Bacteria Show Capacity for Rapid, Beneficial Mutations

Scientists studying how microbes evolve have long assumed that nearly all new genetic mutations get passed down at a predictable pace and usually without either helping or hurting the microbe in adapting to its environment. In a new study published in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers studying tens of thousands of generations of E. coli bacteria report that most new genetic mutations that were passed down were actually beneficial and occurred at much more variable rates than previously thought.

Cross-respiration Between Oral Bacteria Leads to Worse Infections

Cross-respiration Between Oral Bacteria Leads to Worse Infections

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere have determined that two bacterial species commonly found in the human mouth and in abscesses, cooperate to make the pathogenic bacterium, Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, more infectious. Key to the cooperation is that the harmless partner provides the pathogen with an oxygen-rich environment that helps it flourish.

Fix for 3-Billion-Year-Old Genetic Error Could Dramatically Improve Genetic Sequencing

Fix for 3-Billion-Year-Old Genetic Error Could Dramatically Improve Genetic Sequencing

Visual representation of laboratory manipulation RNA in water droplets; Jared Ellefson

For 3 billion years, one of the major carriers of information needed for life, RNA, has had a glitch that creates errors when making copies of genetic information. Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a fix that allows RNA to accurately proofread for the first time.