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How to See Living Machines

It sounds like something out of the Borg in Star Trek. Nano-sized robots self-assemble to form biological machines that do the work that keeps one alive. And yet something like this really does go on. Every cell in our body - be they flesh and blood, brain and everything in between - has identical DNA, the twisted staircase of nucleic acids uniquely coded to each organism. Complex assemblages that resemble molecular machines take pieces of DNA called genes and make a brain cell when needed, instead of, say, a bone cell. These molecular machines are so complex, yet so tiny, that scientists today are just starting to understand their structure and function using the latest microscopes and supercomputers. Biological molecular machines could lay the foundation for developing cures to diseases like cancer. How small can one see, and what will one find? Cryo-electron microscopy combined with supercomputer simulations have created the best model yet, with near atomic-level detail, of a vital molecular machine, the human pre-initiation complex (PIC). A science team from Northwestern University, Berkeley National Laboratory, Georgia State University, and UC Berkeley published their results on the PIC May 2016 in the journal Nature. Learn more at

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