Amazon Cloud helps advance molecular research


Understanding the interaction of proteins and enzymes is key to discovering and advancing treatments for diseases. Unfortunately, conventional light microscopes cannot clearly show objects as small as single molecules and electron microscopy cannot be effectively used with living cells.

A mathematically based technique called Photoactivated Localization Microscopy (PALM) helps solve this problem, but it takes hours and often days to crunch all the numbers required to produce one usable image.

To make PALM more practical as a research tool, Salk Institute investigators have turned to the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, which provides access to supercomputing via the Internet allowing massive computing tasks to be distributed over banks of computers. The team wrote computer code that allows the upload and processing of PALM images using Amazon Cloud. Depending on the size of the data set, this method can save over a week’s worth of time and makes single-molecule microscopy available to more laboratories.

The “how-to” paper appears in the journal Nature Methods. More information at

Inexpensive method marks cells

Chemists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have found an easier way to perform one of the most fundamental tasks in molecular biology. The new method allows scientists to add a marker to certain cells, so that these cells may be easily located and/or selected out from a larger cell population.

The technique makes use of the tight binding of two proteins that are cheaply obtainable but are not found in human or other mammalian cells. As such, it has advantages over existing, more costly and cumbersome cell-marking techniques; the best known of which employs a green fluorescent protein from a jellyfish.

In addition to use as a laboratory tool, the TSRI team is also investigating a potential use for the new cell marking in living animals, for example, to track the fates of selected cell types throughout an animal’s lifespan.

The technique is described in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition. News release at

Huntington’s disease finding is named ‘a top science story’

A potential therapy to treat Huntington’s disease and similar neurodegenerative conditions was named by


magazine as one of the top 100 science stories of 2012.

The UC San Diego School of Medicine study identified a pair of proteins that clear away misfolded proteins that accumulate in the brains of Huntington’s disease (HD) patients. The findings, published in July 2012, explain a fundamental aspect of how HD wreaks havoc within cells and provides “clear, therapeutic opportunities,” according to researchers.

More than 30,000 Americans have HD, which is characterized by progressive deterioration of involuntary movement control, cognitive decline and psychological problems. Currently, there are no effective treatments currently to either cure the disease or slow its progression.

The findings appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine. News release at