Blinking ‘genetic clocks’ synchronized by researchers


Last year, researchers at UCSD genetically engineered bacteria to keep track of time by turning on and off fluorescent proteins within their cells. Scientists now report another step toward the construction of a programmable genetic sensor by synchronizing these bacterial “genetic clocks” to blink in unison. They also engineered the bacterial genes to alter their blinking rates when environmental conditions change. With future development, cellular sensors might have application monitoring temperature and detecting pollutants in the environment.

The latest advance is detailed in the journal Nature. News release with a video link showing the blinking genetic clocks at

Studying med students

Interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) — such as massage, yoga, herbal medicine and acupuncture — has increased in the United States in recent years. However, information about these therapies is not yet widely integrated into medical school education.

In the largest national survey of its kind, researchers from UCLA and the UCSD School of Medicine measured medical students’ attitudes and beliefs about CAM. A 30-question survey sent to 126 medical schools nationwide elicited 1,770 completed surveys from a pool of about 68,000 medical students (a 3 percent response rate). Of those responding, 84 percent indicate that CAM contains beliefs, ideas and therapies from which conventional medicine could benefit.

While the current results offer valuable insight into medical students’ perceptions of CAM, given the low response rate, researchers plan future studies to further refine the study tool. The findings appear in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. More information on survey results at

Herpes overrides defenses

Cells have evolved proteins that act as “security guards” constantly vigilant for signs of viral DNA in order to prevent infection. The herpes simplex virus (HSV), however, manages to override the cell’s damage response in order to prevent its own DNA from being recognized. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Research report a single viral protein (ICP0) as the culprit.

ICP0 attaches markers to DNA security guards that instruct the cell to get rid of the very proteins designed to protect it. With these proteins out of the way, cellular function is subverted into producing scores of copies of the virus. Furthermore, the loss of the DNA security guards dismantles other aspects of the host cell’s defense system.

The findings are slated for publication in The EMBO Journal. News release at

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.