Watch: Google Earth for the Brain

23 October 2017

Google Earth for the brain. Cells finding a new purpose. And bacteria under stress. Welcome to this week’s special biomedical engineering edition of the Engineering360 news brief.

Google Earth for the Brain

If you think of brain imaging as being similar to the Google Earth app, you could say that neuroscientists already have a pretty good “satellite view” of the big picture, and a great “street view” of the tiny details. But the real action most likely happens at “navigation view,” where the brain’s neural networks are used to make computations. We haven’t had a good map at this level — until now. Using the most powerful X-ray beams in the country, a research team has created images of a mouse brain that reveals patterns that can be more easily understood. Their hope is to eventually link the different map views together. That way, they could start at navigation view to understand the context of a disease, then zoom in to street view to see what’s causing it. Learn more.

Cells Find New Purpose

Everything inside our bodies is made up of cells. As our cells develop, they differentiate into different organs with different functions. A new study led by two research institutions in Israel finds that the process of cell development is actually reversible — in other words, the clock can be turned back and cells can be repurposed to play completely different roles. Working with mice, scientists specifically looked at turning cells from different parts of the body into a type of cell needed for hearing. Their research could lead to a cure for deafness — and a host of other applications. Learn more.

Bacteria Under Stress

Finally, feeling stressed out? Well, so are the E. Coli bacteria being studied at the University of California San Diego. Researchers there have developed a new model to accurately predict how E. Coli responds to temperature changes and genetic mutations. The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of how cells react to environmental stress. That sort of knowledge would have applications in precision medicine, enabling patient-specific treatments to be developed for bacterial infections. The team next plans to study the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and staph. Learn more.

See you next week!

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