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From the College of Natural Sciences
Potential New Drug Target Could Boost Effectiveness of Chemotherapy Drugs

Potential New Drug Target Could Boost Effectiveness of Chemotherapy Drugs

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a large family of reverse transcriptases (RTs)—enzymes that are found in all organisms and have been extensively studied for more than 50 years—have the previously unsuspected ability to repair DNA damage. The discovery makes them a potential new drug target that might be exploited to block cancer cells from developing resistance to radiation and chemotherapy drugs. The findings were published today in the journal Cell.

Enzymes in a large family called group II intron-like RTs have 3D structures that are remarkably similar, which suggests they share the ability to help repair double-strand DNA breaks. This image is a superposition of two of these enzymes: G2L4 and GsI-IIC RT. Their shared (or conserved) structures are in alternating green and gray. Credit: University of Texas at Austin.
Virus Discovery Offers Clues About Origins of Complex Life

Virus Discovery Offers Clues About Origins of Complex Life

Eukaryotic cells. Credit: iStock.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin report in Nature Microbiology the first discovery of viruses infecting a group of microbes that may include the ancestors of all complex life. The discovery offers tantalizing clues about the origins of complex life and suggests new directions for exploring the hypothesis that viruses were essential to the evolution of humans and other complex life forms.

UT Biologist Awarded Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

UT Biologist Awarded Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

John Wallingford, professor of molecular biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded a fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Gene Editing Gets Safer Thanks to Redesigned Protein

Gene Editing Gets Safer Thanks to Redesigned Protein

UT Austin researchers were surprised to discover that when Cas9 encounters a mismatch in a certain part of the DNA (red and green), instead of giving up and moving on, it has a finger-like structure (cyan) that swoops in and holds on to the DNA, making it act as if it were the correct sequence. Credit: Jack Bravo/University of Texas at Austin.

One of the grand challenges with using CRISPR-based gene editing on humans is that the molecular machinery sometimes makes changes to the wrong section of a host's genome, creating the possibility that an attempt to repair a genetic mutation in one spot in the genome could accidentally create a dangerous new mutation in another.

Potential New Gene Editing Tools Uncovered

Potential New Gene Editing Tools Uncovered

Scientists have found over a thousand versions of a natural gene editor in bacteria, which could lead to better gene editing tools to treat diseases. Image courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute.

Few developments have rocked the biotechnology world or generated as much buzz as the discovery of CRISPR-Cas systems, a breakthrough in gene editing recognized in 2020 with a Nobel Prize. But these systems that naturally occur in bacteria are limited because they can make only small tweaks to genes. In recent years, scientists discovered a different system in bacteria that might lead to even more powerful methods for gene editing, given its unique ability to insert genes or whole sections of DNA in a genome.

New Model Reveals How Chromosomes Get Packed Up

New Model Reveals How Chromosomes Get Packed Up

To scrunch a chromosome (green), a condensin molecule opens and closes like a pair of fingers (light blue) connected by a hinge (dark blue).

One of the most astounding feats of nature is happening right now in cells throughout your body: noodle-like molecules called chromosomes, which carry part of your genetic blueprints and are about two inches (5 centimeters) long when fully stretched out, get stuffed into the cell's nucleus, which is at least 5,000 times smaller, with plenty of room for a bunch of other chromosomes. 

As Cryo-EM Capabilities Expand, Cool Science at UT Gets a Boost

As Cryo-EM Capabilities Expand, Cool Science at UT Gets a Boost

David Taylor with the Glacios cryo-EM. Photo credit: Vivian Abagiu.

Imagine biological and chemical imaging tools so advanced that they are able to show the molecular details of a virus as it attaches to and enters cells, or the alignment of vanishingly tiny crystals at an atomic level so as to lend insights for new solar energy technology.

Coronavirus Mutation May Have Made It More Contagious

Coronavirus Mutation May Have Made It More Contagious

The number of virus strains present in each zip code in Houston during the second wave of COVID-19 cases in summer 2020. Number of strains is represented by a spectrum of colors from blue (0 strains) to red (50 strains). Credit: Houston Methodist/University of Texas at Austin.

A study involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious. According to the paper published in the peer-reviewed journal mBIO, that mutation, called D614G, is located in the spike protein that pries open our cells for viral entry. It's the largest peer-reviewed study of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences in one metropolitan region of the U.S. to date.

Is Coronavirus Mutating Amid its Rapid U.S. Spread?

Is Coronavirus Mutating Amid its Rapid U.S. Spread?

A new study, currently awaiting peer review and involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston, finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious. According to the paper posted this week to the preprint server medRxiv, that mutation, called D614G, was also implicated in an earlier study in the UK in possibly making the virus easier to spread. The Washington Post was among several outlets reporting the findings this week.

Genomes Assembled from Five Cotton Species Could Lead to Better Varieties

Genomes Assembled from Five Cotton Species Could Lead to Better Varieties

Researchers assembled the genomes of five cotton varieties, revealing their evolutionary history and new insights for breeding. Flower images by Atsumi Ando (UT Austin) and field of cotton by James Frelichowskin (USDA-ARS, College Station).

Cotton producers in Texas, elsewhere in the US and around the world are looking for new varieties that can better withstand droughts, pests and pathogens, yet yield higher-quality fibers for the textile industry.