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From the College of Natural Sciences
How Amphibious Plants Rewired a Gas Exchange Pathway to Survive in Water

How Amphibious Plants Rewired a Gas Exchange Pathway to Survive in Water

Just as humans cannot breathe underwater, the tiny pores of plants can't exchange air underwater.

When grown on land, the amphibious plant Rorippa aquatica produces pores called stomata (left); but grown in water, it does not. Credit: Shuka Ikematsu.
McLellan Wins Major Awards from Welch Foundation, National Academy

McLellan Wins Major Awards from Welch Foundation, National Academy

Jason McLellan, a structural biologist at The University of Texas at Austin, is being honored today with the announcement of two highly prestigious awards—the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Award in Molecular Biology and the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research from the Welch Foundation.

How a CRISPR Protein Might Yield New Tests for Many Viruses

How a CRISPR Protein Might Yield New Tests for Many Viruses

In this illustration based on cryo-electron microscope images, a Cas12a2 protein unzips a DNA double helix, allowing it to cut the single strands of DNA (blue and green). Credit: Jack Bravo/University of Texas at Austin

In a first for the genetic toolset known as CRISPR, a recently discovered protein has been found to act as a kind of multipurpose self-destruct system for bacteria, capable of degrading single-stranded RNA, single-stranded DNA and double-stranded DNA. With its abilities to target so many types of genetic material, the discovery holds potential for the development of new inexpensive and highly sensitive at-home diagnostic tests for a wide range of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, influenza, Ebola and Zika, according to the authors of a new study in the journal Nature.

Dense Bacterial Populations Create Mutant Breeding Grounds for Antibiotic Resistance

Dense Bacterial Populations Create Mutant Breeding Grounds for Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a global health threat and killed an estimated 1.27 million people in 2019. The overuse of antibiotic medication is often blamed for creating these deadly pathogens, but now scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have found a new contributor: bacterial swarms that create ideal breeding grounds to evolve antibiotic resistance, even in the absence of antibiotics. The scientists' findings suggest a potential chink in bacteria's armor that could offer new ways of reducing antibiotic-resistant infections by using a combination of already existing drugs.

Students Win Big at International Synthetic Biology Competition

Students Win Big at International Synthetic Biology Competition

A team of 12 undergraduate students at UT Austin received top awards at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, including placing in the top 10 overall in the undergraduate category—the only team from the U.S. to do so.

New Research Advances Fight Against Human Metapneumovirus

New Research Advances Fight Against Human Metapneumovirus

Human metapneumovirus (hMPV), a virus that infects the upper and lower respiratory systems—leading to bronchitis and pneumonia in some patients—could soon meet its medical match. A scientific team in Texas, in collaboration with biotech companies, has made recent breakthroughs in understanding the virus, and their efforts could lead to everything from the first-ever vaccines against hMPV to new, highly effective therapeutics.

Potential New Drug Target Could Boost Effectiveness of Chemotherapy Drugs

Potential New Drug Target Could Boost Effectiveness of Chemotherapy Drugs

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a large family of reverse transcriptases (RTs)—enzymes that are found in all organisms and have been extensively studied for more than 50 years—have the previously unsuspected ability to repair DNA damage. The discovery makes them a potential new drug target that might be exploited to block cancer cells from developing resistance to radiation and chemotherapy drugs. The findings were published today in the journal Cell.

Enzymes in a large family called group II intron-like RTs have 3D structures that are remarkably similar, which suggests they share the ability to help repair double-strand DNA breaks. This image is a superposition of two of these enzymes: G2L4 and GsI-IIC RT. Their shared (or conserved) structures are in alternating green and gray. Credit: University of Texas at Austin.
New Era at UT Austin Begins for Famous Long-Term Evolution Experiment

New Era at UT Austin Begins for Famous Long-Term Evolution Experiment

Jeff Barrick, director of the Long-Term Evolution Experiment, examines a dish of E.coli bacteria from the LTEE. Credit: Nolan Zunk/University of Texas at Austin.
The Long-Term Evolution Experiment began back when a dozen eggs cost 65 cents, the film Rain Man topped the box office and George Michael's song "Faith" ruled the pop charts. The bacteria central to this long-running experiment—descendants of E. coli that were plucked from the wild and have spent some 75,000 generations in captivity—now live on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
Scientists Hijack Bacteria To Ease Drug Manufacturing

Scientists Hijack Bacteria To Ease Drug Manufacturing

For more affordable, sustainable drug options than we have today, the medication we take to treat high blood pressure, pain or memory loss may one day come from engineered bacteria, cultured in a vat like yogurt. And thanks to a new bacterial tool developed by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin, the process of improving drug manufacturing in bacterial cells may be coming sooner than we thought.

Jason McLellan Named Finalist for Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

Jason McLellan Named Finalist for Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

University of Texas at Austin molecular biosciences professor Jason McLellan was selected as a finalist for the 2022 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists.

Lauren Ehrlich Named among The Alcalde’s Texas 10

Lauren Ehrlich Named among The Alcalde’s Texas 10

Lauren Ehrlich, associate professor of molecular biosciences, has been named one of the Texas 10 by The Alcalde, the University of Texas at Austin alumni magazine. Alumni nominate professors who inspired them and went above and beyond for their students.

Plastic-eating Enzyme Could Eliminate Billions of Tons of Landfill Waste

Plastic-eating Enzyme Could Eliminate Billions of Tons of Landfill Waste

An enzyme variant created by engineers and scientists at The University of Texas at Austin can break down environment-throttling plastics that typically take centuries to degrade in just a matter of hours to days.

Live Cell Imaging Reveals New Clues About Processes Linked to Birth Defects

Live Cell Imaging Reveals New Clues About Processes Linked to Birth Defects

John Wallingford, professor of molecular biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, and his team used a process called live cell imaging to make observations about how a developing embryo transforms from its early ball shape into a more elongated shape with a distinct head and rear. Disruptions to this process in human embryos can lead to birth defects.

UT Biologist Awarded Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

UT Biologist Awarded Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship

John Wallingford, professor of molecular biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has been awarded a fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

New Vaccine Advances Could Help Against More Viral Illnesses

New Vaccine Advances Could Help Against More Viral Illnesses

Ching-Lin Hsieh and Jason McLellan are among the UT Austin scientists who have engineered a protein of the human metapneumovirus for use in vaccines. Credit: Vivian Abagiu

Some of the same researchers at The University of Texas at Austin who created a key to all coronavirus vaccines used in the U.S. have made a similar advance against the human metapneumovirus (hMPV), one of a handful of remaining respiratory viruses for which there is currently no vaccine.