cell biology

The microscope makers

A small community of scientists has taken a do-it-yourself approach to microscopy: when the right tool for the job doesn’t exist, make it.

While pursuing a bioengineering PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Wesley Legant ran into a frustrating roadblock: he had ideas, but the equipment to carry them out didn’t yet exist.

With an interest in cell mechanics and motility, Legant was developing tools to measure the forces that cells exert on their environment. He embedded fluorescent beads in the material surrounding a growing mammalian cell so that as the cell moved, it would deform the material, moving the beads. By measuring how much the beads moved, Legant could calculate the forces exerted by the cell. Still, he had difficulty getting accurate data. “The tools were successful, but I was quickly coming up against limitations in available microscopes,” he says. Read more in Nature.

Physiology or Medicine Nobel Goes to Discovery of Cell’s Recycling Process

Yoshinori Ohsumi revealed workings of autophagy, a routine biological process implicated in many diseases.

The 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine has been awarded to Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi of the Tokyo Institute for Technology for his discovery of how cells break down and recycle their own proteins and organelles, a process called “autophagy.” Read more in Inside Science.

The changing colour of fat

The different functions of white, brown and beige fat might yield new targets in the fight against obesity and metabolic disease.

When you think of fat in the human body, you might picture a homogenous, white substance, much like a block of lard. But researchers are learning that the role of fat in metabolism changes depending on where it is in the body, and even on the type of fat cell. Soon these differences could be harnessed to fight metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity. Read more in Nature.