Fold and Unfold

Animation of GFP unfolding

For the most part of biology, it is form that follows function. Proteins are a perfect example of this -- they are made of a sequence of amino acids (the protein building units), which are synthesized by the ribosome. Once synthesized, the long strings of amino acids fold up into a particular 3D shape or conformational state. Proteins take less than a thousandth of a second to attain their preferred conformational state (called “native state”) that -- if nothing goes wrong -- ends up being the same for a given sequence. This process is called protein folding. Explaining how a protein finds its folding preference out of all possible ways in such a short time is a longstanding problem in biology.

Sticky light switches: Should I stay or should I go?

“One day it's fine and next it's…” red? Microscopic algae depend on photosynthesis, so they follow light. Previous research has shown that their swimming is directed towards white light but not to red light. New work shows that light-activated stickiness allows microscopic algae to switch between different movement methods.

Dividing Liquid Droplets as Protocells

In the beginning there was... what, exactly? Uncovering the origins of life is a notoriously difficult problem. When a researcher looks at a cell today, they sees the highly-polished end product of millennia of evolution-driven engineering. In today’s paper, David Zwicker, Rabea Seyboldt, and their colleagues construct a relatively simple theoretical model for how liquid droplets can behave in remarkably life-life ways.

Knotty DNA

Try taking out your earphones from your pocket and, in all probability, you’ll find knots and entanglements between the ends. As it turns out, this knotting effect is not limited to macroscopic objects, but occurs on the nanoscale as well. A DNA molecule that carries the genetic information of a living organism is actually a long string-like polymer, so you can imagine that it would also get tangled up just like the cords of your earphones. In today’s paper, Calin Plesa and his colleagues at TU Delft are able to observe and measure these knots in DNA strands and uncover behaviour which has not been observed before.

Termite Climate Control

Termites are among nature’s most spectacular builders, constructing mounds that can reach heights of several meters. Relative to the size of their bodies, these structures are considerably larger than the tallest skyscrapers constructed by humans [1]. Surprisingly, in many termite species, individual termites don’t spend much time in these mounds. Instead, they live in an underground network of tunnels and chambers that can be home to millions of individual insects. But, if not to live in them, why do termites build such intricate and gigantic above-ground structures [2]?