Science & Research

Science & Research Roundup: Oct. 8, 2014

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Science & Research Editors
Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Researchers increase speed of bone production by sorting fat

A team of Brown researchers, led by Hetal Marble GS, recently developed a new system for sorting fat tissue based on cells’ ability to become bone, according to a University press release. The team also applied to patent this new method.

Fat tissue cells are capable of turning into fat, cartilage or bone, and adeptness to become bone is marked by the expression of a gene called ALPL. Through a process of fluorescently marking cells expressing this gene and sorting the cells based on whether they glowed, the researchers were able to separate out the cells capable of becoming bone.

The new method, detailed in this month’s issue of the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy, sorted out more than double the number of cells with the potential to create bone than any previously developed method, according to the release.

Once sorted, these cells produced over twice as much of the tissue required for bones to solidify as unsorted cells and nearly four times as much bone-forming tissue as cells not expressing the ALPL gene.

“Approaches like this allow us to isolate all the cells that are capable of doing what we want,” Marble said in the release.

Despite the advancements, the current four-day long sorting process needs to be shortened significantly to be of practical use. One solution may be to sort the cells based on another gene that is expressed earlier in the sorting process than ALPL, said Eric Darling, assistant professor of molecular pharmacology, physiology and biotechnology and senior author of the paper, in the release.

The researchers said in the release that they hope their method will help decrease the time needed for bones to heal. “If you can take the patient into the (operating room), isolate a bunch of their cells, sort them and put them back in that’s ideally where we’d like to go with this,” Darling said in the release.

 

New research explains origins of the moon’s dark patch

The origin of a mysterious dark patch on the moon’s western face has been a source of contention among planetary scientists for some time. New research suggests that lava oozing from the center of the moon is responsible for the large indent.

Previously, many scientists believed that flying craters could have caused this deformity in the moon’s surface, according to the study, which was coauthored by Professor of Geological Sciences Jim Head and published this month in the journal Nature. Older research has shown that crater impact followed by pooling lava created some of the other hollowed-out basins on the moon.

But this large western patch — called Oceanus Procellarum — has particularly intrigued lunar scientists because it differs in appearance from the moon’s other dark areas, most of which are round. The rectangular shape of Oceanus Procellarum does not match the impact that craters would likely have made.

Using data from a NASA mission, the researchers were able to analyze the origins of the large western patch. Maria Zuber PhD ’86, vice president for research at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, led the NASA mission. In 2012, her team fired a spaceship into the moon’s orbit to collect data about the moon’s gravity.

“Everything we see suggests that internal forces were critical in the formation of Procellarum,” Head said in a University press release, explaining that the moon’s outer crust originally formed when molten magma that had once covered the whole moon cooled. Oceanus Procellarum likely cooled more slowly than other regions because it contains a large concentration of certain heat-producing radioactive elements, he said.

The recent study shows the remarkable way in which internal forces can completely change the appearance of a planet, Head said in the release.