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Researchers Discover New Ebola-Fighting Antibodies in Blood of Outbreak Survivor

Researchers Discover New Ebola-Fighting Antibodies in Blood of Outbreak Survivor | Amazing Science |

A research team that included scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has identified a new group of powerful antibodies to fight Ebola virus. The antibodies, isolated from the blood of a survivor of the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the largest panel reported to date, could guide the development of a vaccine or therapeutic against Ebola. The new study also revealed a previously unknown site of vulnerability in the structure of the deadly virus.

“Our Science paper describes the first in-depth view into the human antibody response to Ebola virus,” said team leader Laura Walker, senior scientist at Adimab, LLC, and an alumna of TSRI’s PhD program. “Within weeks of receiving a blood sample from a survivor of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, we were able to isolate and characterize over 300 monoclonal antibodies that reacted with the Ebola virus surface glycoprotein.”

Studies at TSRI and other institutions have shown that Ebola virus has several weak points in its structure where antibodies can target and neutralize the virus. However, the immune system typically needs a long period of trial and error to produce the right antibodies against these sites, so researchers have been working with only a small library of anti-Ebola options. Despite this limited library, researchers have had some success in designing antibody “cocktails” that target several weak points at once. One treatment in development, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.’s ZMappTM, is a cocktail of three mouse antibodies modified to resemble human antibodies. This treatment was successful in primate trials and used as an experimental human treatment in the 2014 outbreak.

With ZMapp showing promise, researchers are searching for additional antibodies to fight Ebola. “These types of antibodies could be developed into different types of antibody cocktails or therapeutics, in addition to advancing vaccine design,” said Ward.

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RNA modification discovery suggests new code for control of gene expression

RNA modification discovery suggests new code for control of gene expression | Amazing Science |

A new cellular signal discovered by a team of scientists at the University of Chicago and Tel Aviv University provides a promising new lever in the control of gene expression. The study, published online Feb. 10 in the journal Nature, describes a small chemical modification that can significantly boost the conversion of genes to proteins. Together with other recent findings, the discovery enriches a critical new dimension to the “Central Dogma” of molecular biology: the epitranscriptome. “This discovery further opens the window on a whole new world of biology for us to explore,” said Chuan He, the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and senior author of the study. “These modifications have a major impact on almost every biological process.”

The central dogma of molecular biology describes the cellular pathway where genetic information from DNA is copied into temporary RNA “transcripts,” which provide the recipe for the production of proteins. Since Francis Crick first postulated the theory in 1956, scientists have discovered a multitude of modifications to DNA and proteins that regulate this process.

Only recently, however, have scientists focused on investigating dynamic modifications that specifically target the RNA step. In 2011, He’s group discovered the first RNA demethylase that reverses the most prevalent mRNA methylation N6-methyladenosine, or m6A, implying that the addition and removal of the methyl group could dramatically affect these messengers and impact the outcome of gene expression, as also seen for DNA and histones.

Subsequently, scientists discovered that the dynamic and reversible methylation of m6A dramatically controlled the metabolism and function of most cellular messenger RNA, and thus, the production of proteins.

In the new Nature study, researchers from UChicago and Tel Aviv University describe a second functional mRNA methylation, N1-methyladenosine, or m1A. Like m6A, the small modification is evolutionarily conserved and common, and present in humans, rodents and yeast, the authors found. But its location and effect on gene expression reflect a new form of epitranscriptome control and suggest an even larger cellular “control panel.”

“The discovery of m1A is extremely important, not only because of its own potential in affecting biological processes, but also because it validates the hypothesis that there is not just one functional modification,” He said. “There could be multiple modifications at different sites where each may carry a distinct message to control the fate and function of mRNA.”

The researchers estimated that m1A was present on transcripts of more than one out of three expressed human genes. Methylated genes exhibited enhanced translation compared to unmethlyated genes, producing protein levels nearly twice as high in all cell types. This increase suggests that m1A, like m6A, may be a mechanism by which cells rapidly boost the expression of hundreds or thousands of specific genes, perhaps during important processes such as cell division, differentiation or under stress.

“mRNA is the perfect place to regulate gene expression, because they can code information from transcription and directly impact translation; you can add a consensus sequence to a group of genes and use a modification of the sequence to readily control several hundred transcripts simultaneously,” He said. “If you want to rapidly change the expression of several hundred or a thousand genes, this offers the best way.”

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Baldness and thinning hair are due to aging DNA and elimination of follicle stem cells

Baldness and thinning hair are due to aging DNA and elimination of follicle stem cells | Amazing Science |

Stem cells enable normal cell homeostasis, but they also exist in a quiescent state, ready to proliferate and differentiate after tissue damage. Now, two studies reveal features of stem cells in the hair follicle, an epithelial mini-organ of the skin that is responsible for hair growth and recycling.

During aging, most organs in mammals become smaller (miniaturize) or thinner, and their functions and regenerative capability also decline. Histologically, tissue atrophy and fibrosis are observed in many aged organs. Yet the exact mechanisms for the architectural and functional decline are unknown. Indeed, areas that are as yet underexplored include the dynamics of the constituent cells and their cellular fate, as well as determination of whether aged or damaged cells accumulate or are eliminated in tissues and organs during the aging process.

Organismal aging has been explained by various theories—such as reactive oxygen species, cellular senescence, telomere erosion, and altered metabolism—but not from the viewpoint of cellular and tissue dynamics. Stem cell systems sustain cellular and tissue turnover in most mammalian organs, but it has been difficult to experimentally test the precise fate of somatic stem cells, the cellular pool for tissues and organs. This has limited our understanding of the mechanisms of aging of tissues and organs and the existence of an aging program in mammalian organs. The hair follicle (HF) is an epithelial mini-organ of the skin that sustains cyclic hair regrowth over repeated hair cycles. Hair thinning (senescent baldness) is one of the most typical signs of aging in many long-lived mammals and is often prematurely induced by genomic instability, as in progeroid syndromes.

Wang et al. now found that the Foxc1 transcription factor is induced in activated hair follicle stem cells, which in turn promote Nfatc1 and BMP signaling, to reinforce quiescence.

Matsumura et al. analyzed hair follicle stem cells during aging. They identified type XVII collagen (COL17A1) as key to hair thinning. DNA damage-induced depletion of COL17A1 triggered cell differentiation resulting in the shedding of epidermal keratinocytes from the skin surface. These changes then caused hair follicle shrinkage and hair loss.

Science, this issue p. 559, p. 613;

see also p. 10.1126/science.aad4395

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Cyanobacteria see like tiny little eyeballs

Cyanobacteria see like tiny little eyeballs | Amazing Science |
Biologists discover how bacteria sense light and move towards it: the entire single-cell organism focuses light like a tiny eyeball.

Cyanobacteria, including the Synechocystis species used in the study, are an ancient and abundant lifeform. They live in water and get their energy from photosynthesis - which explains their enthusiasm for bright light. "It has a way of detecting where the light is; we know that because of the direction that it moves. But we were puzzled about this because the cells are very, very small," said study co-author Conrad Mullineaux, from Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers used a laser beam to probe exactly how such focused light affected the bugs' behavior. With the laser beam trained steadily on the centre of a dish, the team shone a bigger, separate light on the Synechocystis cells from one side. This drew the little critters across the surface in the usual way, pulling themselves towards the light with tiny tentacles. The usual bright "image" of the light was visible, focused on their trailing side. But the moment any of the bugs strayed into the laser beam, there was an abrupt about-face. "When they hit it, they bounced off it," Prof Mullineaux said. "As soon as the laser was hitting one side of the cell, the cells moved away. They switched direction."

In other words, bright light focused on one side of the bacterium definitely does drive it to run the other way - which under normal circumstances takes it towards the source of the light. In fact, because some amount of light is hitting the cell from all around, the team says that each microbe will have a "360-degree image" of its surroundings focused on the inside of its cell membrane. That image is very fuzzy - with a resolution of about 21 degrees, compared to the 0.02-degree precision of our eyes - but it is enough for photoreceptor molecules, embedded in the cell membrane, to guide the bug's movement.

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Twenty-four new beetle species discovered in Australian rain forests

Twenty-four new beetle species discovered in Australian rain forests | Amazing Science |

As many as twenty-four new species from Australian rainforests are added to the weevil genus Trigonopterus. Museum scientists Dr. Alexander Riedel, State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe, Germany, and Rene Tanzler, Zoological State Collection Munich, Germany, have first discovered them among unidentified specimens in different beetle collections. The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Australia is well known for its extensive deserts and savanna habitats. However, a great number of native Australian species are restricted to the wet tropical forests along the east coast of northern Queensland. These forests are also the home of the recent discoveries.

Most of the weevil species now recognised as new have already been collected in the 80s and 90s of the past century. Since then they had been resting in museum collections until German researcher Alexander Riedel had the opportunity to study them.

“Usually a delay of decades or even centuries occurs between the encounter of a new species in the field and its thorough scientific study and formal naming,” he explains. “This is due to the small number of experts who focus on species discovery,” he elaborates. “There are millions of unidentified insect specimens stored in collections around the world but only few people have the training necessary to identify those of special interest.”

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How specialized enzymes remodel condensed chromatin in order to control genes

How specialized enzymes remodel condensed chromatin in order to control genes | Amazing Science |

An international team of biologists has discovered how specialized enzymes remodel the extremely condensed genetic material in the nucleus of cells in order to control which genes can be used. The discovery will be published in the print edition of the journal Nature on Feb. 4, 2016.

It was known that the DNA in cells is wrapped around proteins in structures called nucleosomes that resemble beads on a string, which allow the genetic material to be folded and compacted into a structure called chromatin. "We knew that the compaction into chromatin makes genes inaccessible to the cellular machinery necessary for gene expression, and we also knew that enzymes opened up the chromatin to specify which genes were accessible and could be expressed in a cell, but until now, we didn't know the mechanism by which these enzymes functioned," said B. Franklin Pugh, Evan Pugh Professor, Willaman Chair in Molecular Biology, and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State University and one of the two corresponding authors of the paper along with Matthieu Gérard of the University of Paris-Sud in France.

The discovery was achieved by an international collaboration of scientists from the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission in France (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives), the National Center for Scientific Research in France (Centre national de la recherche scientifique), the University of Paris-Sud in France, Southern Medical University in Guangzhou in China, and Penn State University in the United States.

The researchers first mapped the location of several "chromatin-remodeller enzymes" across the entire genome of the embryonic stem cells of the mouse. The mapping showed that remodeller enzymes bind to particular nucleosomes "beads" at the sites along the wrapped-up DNA that are located just before the gene sequence begins. These sites are important because they are the location where the process of expressing genes begins -- where other proteins required for gene expression team up for the process of turning a gene on.

The researchers then tested how the chromatin-remodeller enzymes impact gene expression by reducing the amount of each of these enzymes in embryonic stem cells. The scientists found that some chromatin-remodeller enzymes promote gene expression, some repress gene expression, and some can do both.

"The correct expression of genes is necessary to define the identity and function of different types of cells in the course of embryonic development and adult life," said Pugh. "Chromatin-remodeller enzymes help each cell type accurately express the proper set of genes by allowing or blocking access to the critical section of DNA at the beginning of genes."

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WHO Extremely Alarmed by Zika, Cases Could Reach 4 Million

WHO Extremely Alarmed by Zika, Cases Could Reach 4 Million | Amazing Science |

From October 2015 to January 2016, there were almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. Before then, there were just 150 cases per year. The suspected culprit is a mosquito-borne virus called Zika. Officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have suggested that women delay becoming pregnant. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to postpone travel to countries where Zika is active. Zika virus was first detected in Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 in a rhesus monkey, and again in 1948 in the mosquito Aedes africanus, which is the forest relative of Aedes aegyptiAedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus can both spread Zika. Sexual transmission between people has also been reported.

The World Health Organization says it is likely that the virus will spread, as the mosquitoes that carry the virus are found in almost every country in the Americas. Zika virus was discovered almost 70 years ago, but wasn’t associated with outbreaks until 2007.

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects the Zika virus, which is spreading through the Americas, to affect between three million and four million people, a disease expert said recently. The WHO's director-general said the spread of the mosquito-borne disease had gone from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.

Marcos Espinal, an infectious disease expert at the WHO's Americas regional office, said: "We can expect 3 to 4 million cases of Zika virus disease". He gave no time frame. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the organization's will convene an emergency committee on Monday to help determine the level of the international response to an outbreak of the virus spreading from Brazil that is believed to be linked to severe birth defects.

"The level of alarm is extremely high," Chan told WHO executive board members at a meeting in Geneva. "As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the (Americas) region."

Brazil's Health Ministry said in November 2015 that Zika was linked to a fetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last week, more than 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1-2 percent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.

Leonardo Wild's curator insight, February 3, 8:24 AM

Of course WHO would. Not much when it comes to drugs that have negative side effects, though, not necessarily blatant death, but certainly can destroy lives. That, though, is a taboo subject ever since Pasteur came on the scene.

8A Saumya's curator insight, February 10, 2:34 AM

                       This article is about the disease Zika virus .Zika was first detected in 1947 in a rhesus monkey. The world health organization says that it is going to spread in every country.There is no vaccine or treatment for this disease. Zika virus causes fever, rash, joint pain and bloodshot eyes in about 20 per cent of the people.It is a common disease in Africa as well as Asia. Zika virus was discovered almost 70 years ago, but wasn't associated with outbreaks until 2007. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.In this disease the head of a new born baby become more shorter compared to another new born baby. 

                   From this article I learned that their are lots of diseases going on in Africa.People in Africa struggles a lot with harmful diseases like Zika virus which doesn't have any vaccine or treatment.I also get to know that lot people are struggling their with diseases caused like dengue and  malaria and chicken guinea.I also learned this is because of dirty water,pollution and maybe lack of resources.I could also guess they need some more facilities like hospital,school and at least food from everyone.This tells me that how struggling and hard it would be to live in Africa.  





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Lab-bred corals have successfully reproduced in the wild for the first time

Lab-bred corals have successfully reproduced in the wild for the first time | Amazing Science |

For the first time ever, lab-grown Caribbean corals have integrated with wild populations and successfully reproduced, representing the first good news we’ve heard since the world plunged itself into the third global bleaching eventin recorded history.

Scientists have predicted that the damage stemming from this event will affect 38 percent of the planet’s reefs, with 12,000 square kilometres expected to die out with the next 12 months. An estimated 80 percent of all Caribbean coralshave already disappeared over the last four decades.

In an effort to address this particularly beleagured population, scientists from the international conservation group SECORE (which stands for SExual COral REproduction) have been breeding baby corals in the lab to seed out into the wild.

"In 2011, offspring of the critically endangered elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) were reared from gametes collected in the field and were outplanted to a reef one year later," said Valerie Chamberland, a coral reef ecologist a SECORE.

Now, just a few years later, the team is seeing the (very exciting) fruits of their labour. "In four years, these branching corals have grown to a size of a soccer ball and reproduced, simultaneously with their natural population, in September 2015," says Chamberland. "This event marks the first ever successful rearing of a threatened Caribbean coral species to its reproductive age."

Elkhorn coral is one of the most distinctive species you’ll come across, and this makes it vital to the Caribbean reef it inhabits. Its huge, branching shape - elkhorns grow 5 to 10 cm per year and often reach a diameter of 3.7 metres - not only protects the shore from storm damage, but provides a spacious home for other marine life, such as lobsters and parrotfish.

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Males without any Y chromosome genes can father offspring after assisted reproduction

Males without any Y chromosome genes can father offspring after assisted reproduction | Amazing Science |

At least in the case of mice.

The Y chromosome is a symbol of maleness, present only in males and encoding genes important for male reproduction. But a new study has shown that live mouse progeny can be generated with assisted reproduction using germ cells from males which do not have any Y chromosome genes. This discovery adds a new light to discussions on Y chromosome gene function and evolution. It supports the hypothesis that Y chromosome genes can be replaced by that encoded on other chromosomes.

Two years ago, the University of Hawaii (UH) team led by Monika A. Ward, Professor at the Institute for Biogenesis Research, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawai'i, demonstrated that only two genes of the Y chromosome, the testis determinant factor Sry and the spermatogonial proliferation factor Eif2s3y, were needed for male mice to sire offspring with assisted fertilization. Now, the same team, with a collaborating researcher from France, Michael Mitchell (INSERM, Marseille), took a step further and produced males completely devoid of the entire Y chromosome.

In this new study scheduled for online publication in the journal Science on Jan. 29, 2016, Ward and her UH colleagues describe how they generated the "No Y" males, and define the ability of these males to produce gametes and sire offspring.

The UH researchers first replaced the Y chromosome gene Sry with its homologue and direct target encoded on chromosome 11, Sox9. In normal situation, Sry activates Sox9, and this initiates a cascade of molecular events that ultimately allow an XY fetus to develop into a male. The researchers used transgenic technology to activate Sox9 in the absence of Sry.

Next, they replaced the second essential Y chromosome gene, Eif2s3y, with its X chromosome encoded homologue, Eif2s3x. Eif2s3y and Eif2s3x belong to the same gene family and are very similar in sequence. The researchers speculated that these two genes may play similar roles, and it is a global dosage of both that matters. They transgenically overexpressed Eif2s3x, increasing dose of the X gene beyond that provided normally by X and Y. Under these conditions, Eif2s3x took over the function of Eif2s3y in initiating spermatogenesis.

Finally, Ward's team replaced Sry and Eif2s3y simultaneously, and created XOSox9,Eif2s3x males that had no Y chromosome DNA. Mice lacking all Y chromosome genes developed testes populated with male germ cells. Round spermatids were harvested and a technique called round spermatid injection (ROSI) was used to successfully fertilize oocytes. When the developed embryos where transferred to female mouse surrogate mothers, live offspring were born.

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The genome of the seagrass Zostera marina reveals angiosperm adaptation to the sea

The genome of the seagrass Zostera marina reveals angiosperm adaptation to the sea | Amazing Science |

Seagrasses colonized the sea1 on at least three independent occasions to form the basis of one of the most productive and widespread coastal ecosystems on the planet2. A group of scientists now report the genome of Zostera marina (L.), the first marine angiosperm to be fully sequenced. This reveals unique insights into the genomic losses and gains involved in achieving the structural and physiological adaptations required for its marine lifestyle, arguably the most severe habitat shift ever accomplished by flowering plants. Key angiosperm innovations that were lost include the entire repertoire of stomatal genes3, genes involved in the synthesis of terpenoids and ethylene signalling, and genes for ultraviolet protection and phytochromes for far-red sensing. Seagrasses have also regained functions enabling them to adjust to full salinity. Their cell walls contain all of the polysaccharides typical of land plants, but also contain polyanionic, low-methylated pectins and sulfated galactans, a feature shared with the cell walls of all macroalgae4 and that is important for ion homoeostasis, nutrient uptake and O2/CO2 exchange through leaf epidermal cells.

The Z. marina genome resource will markedly advance a wide range of functional ecological studies from adaptation of marine ecosystems under climate warming56, to unravelling the mechanisms of osmoregulation under high salinities that may further inform our understanding of the evolution of salt tolerance in crop plants7.

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Venus Flytraps Counts the Prey's Movements

Venus Flytraps Counts the Prey's Movements | Amazing Science |

If you accidentally get transformed into a fly, and get caught in a Venus flytrap, here is some valuable advice: Don’t panic. “If you just sit there and wait, the next morning, the trap will open and you can leave,” says Ranier Hedrich from the University of Würzburg. “It you panic, you induce a deadly cycle of disintegration.”

Hedrich and others have found that the Venus flytrap can count the number of times that its victims touch the sensory hairs on its leaves. One touch does nothing. Two closes the trap. Three primes the trap for digestion. And five,according to Hedrich’s latest study, triggers the production of digestive enzymes—and more touches mean more enzymes. The plant apportions its digestive efforts according to the struggles of its prey. And the fly, by fighting for its life, tells the plant to start killing it, and how vigorously to do so.

The Venus flytrap has captivated scientists for centuries, perhaps because of how un-plant-like it is. It captures and eats animals. Its leaves look unnervingly like fang-lined mouths. It moves quickly, with each of its traps closing shut in a tenth of a second. It has, on occasion, a fantastic singing voice. It is, as Charles Darwin said, “one of the most wonderful [plants] in the world.” To understand his admiration, it helps to slow things down, and see exactly what happens when the flytrap traps.


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No sex required: Gene trigger for asexual reproduction discovered

No sex required: Gene trigger for asexual reproduction discovered | Amazing Science |

When a sperm and an egg cell merge a new life begins. This is the case in humans and in animals, but in principle also in plants. A German-Israeli team led by the biologists Professor Ralf Reski from Freiburg and Professor Nir Ohad from Tel-Aviv has discovered a gene trigger in the moss Physcomitrella patens which leads to offspring without fertilization. The researchers assume that this mechanism is conserved in evolution and holds the key to answer fundamental questions in biology. The study is published in the journal Nature Plants.

"Just like humans and animals, mosses possess egg cells and motile sperm. That is why they are particularly well-suited to answer fundamental questions in biology," Reski says. After fusion of sperm and egg cell, a network of genes is activated. That leads to the development of an embryo which grows into a new living being. Until now it was unclear whether a central genetic switch for this gene activation exists. In their latest publication the team describes the gene BELL1 as a master regulator for the formation of embryos and their development in Physcomitrella. After the researchers activated this gene in the plants by genetic engineering, embryos developed spontaneously on a specific cell type. These embryos grew to fully functional moss sporophytes. These spore capsules could even form spores, which grew into new moss plants. Thus, the team identified BELL1 as a master regulator for embryo development in mosses.

The protein encoded by this gene belongs to the class of so-called homeobox transcription factors. Similar homeotic genes are also present in humans and animals, where they also control pivotal developmental processes. Whether a congener of BELL1 is a master regulator of embryo development in humans is not yet known. "Our results are important beyond mosses," Reski says. "On the one hand they can explain how algae developed into land plants and thus shaped our current ecosystems. Secondly, they may help to revive the concept of genetic master regulators in the development of plants, animals and humans." Ohad explains, "Moreover, our results may help to modernize agriculture through the creation of genetically identical offspring from high-yielding crop plants. In seed plants such offsprings are formed by parthenogenesis or apomixis."

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Bio-Powered Chips Might One Day Fit Inside Cells

Bio-Powered Chips Might One Day Fit Inside Cells | Amazing Science |

For the first time, researchers have developed a microchip that is powered by the same energy-rich molecules that fuel living cells, researchers say. Thisadvance could one day lead to devices that are implanted within cells and harvest biological energy to operate.

The molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) stores chemical energy and is used inside cells to ferry energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed. The new microchip relies on enzymes known as sodium-potassium ATPases. These molecules break down ATP to release energy the enzymes use to pump sodium and potassium ions across membranes, generating an electrical potential during the process.

“Ion pumps are electronics-like components in living systems,” says study senior author Ken Shepard, an electrical engineer at Columbia University in New York. Shepard and his colleagues detailed their findings in the 7 December edition of the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers embedded sodium-potassium ATPases taken from pig brains in artificial fatty membranes. There were more than 2 million of these molecules active per square millimeter of the membranes, about 5 percent of the density naturally occurring in mammalian nerve fibers.

In the presence of ATP, these ion pumps generated 78 millivolts. A “biocell” of two membranes provides enough of a voltage to operate a CMOS integrated circuit. The ion pumps have a chemical-to-electrical energy conversion efficiency of of 14.9 percent.

“These ion pumps generated an electrical field that we harnessed to power a solid-state system,” Shepard says.

Since ATP is only really found within cells and not in the bloodstream, Shepard cautions that this new system is not a way to power conventional implantable medical devices such as pacemakers.

“However, such a system might power an implant small enough to sit inside a cell,” Shepard says. “Solid-state materials are already used in nanoparticles for various therapeutic and imaging purposes in the body, but those are all just passive materials. Our idea is to make something that would have the ability to compute and act, to make decisions and then actuate in some way.”

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Scientists uncover the key role of a single gene on how groups of animals diverge

Scientists uncover the key role of a single gene on how groups of animals diverge | Amazing Science |

A study by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University has uncovered the key role played by a single gene in how groups of animals diverge to form new species. The study, published today in the journal Nature, restored fertility to the normally-infertile offspring of two subspecies of mice, by replacing part of the Prdm9 gene with the equivalent human version. Despite the nearly 150 million years of evolution separating mice and humans, these 'humanized' mice were completely fertile.

New animal species form when groups of animals become isolated and as a result, begin to separate through evolution (a process known as speciation). When these isolated populations meet later, they might be able to breed with each other, but the male offspring are often infertile. Horses and donkeys are an example of such speciation: they can interbreed, but their offspring, mules, are infertile.

'Our work studied similar infertility in hybrid house mice, whose two parents come from different subspecies found in Western and Eastern Europe', says Dr Ben Davies from the Nuffield Department of Medicine, the first author on the study. These two sub-species are therefore on the verge of splitting into two entirely different species, since like mules, their offspring are infertile.

Dr Davies and his colleagues studied the Prdm9  gene: this gene is already known to have a role in infertility in mice from different species, and  is in fact the only known speciation gene in mammals. However, how speciation might link up to infertility was unknown.

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Turning the Volume of Gene Expression Up and Down

Turning the Volume of Gene Expression Up and Down | Amazing Science |

Gene expression can be turned on and off like a switch, or it can be finely adjusted, as with a volume control knob. Dr Garth Ilsley, research scientist in Prof. Nicholas Luscombe’s unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), has developed a mathematical model that shows how to predictably tune gene expression. This was validated experimentally using a technique for adjusting gene expression in fruit fly embryos pioneered by Dr Justin Crocker in the group of Dr David Stern at Janelia Research Campus in the U.S. This study, published in Nature Genetics, has important implications in cellular and developmental biology, with potential applications in stem cell reprogramming and regenerative medicine.

Transcription factors are proteins that bind to special regions of DNA called enhancers, so as to regulate gene expression. Some transcription factors activate gene expression, while others repress it. Gene expression level is like the volume of a radio; some transcription factors turn the volume up, while others turn it down. Scientists have investigated how activation and repression work and how to predict the level of gene expression. In the same way, by turning the volume knob of a radio, it is possible to know how loud or soft the music will be and to regulate it—except that, in this case, each transcription factor has its own volume knob all acting on the same speaker. The challenge is to understand how they all work together to produce the right volume.

Dr Ilsley applied a new mathematical model that does not require information about the number and position of transcription factors binding to the enhancer, which would be like knowing the inner workings of the radio. Instead, the model correctly predicts the final volume only by knowing how the volume knobs are turned. These predictions were tested experimentally using artificial transcription factors that activate and repress gene expression with different strengths.

Scientists worked with fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) early stage embryos. The mathematical model shows that expression of genes that determine segmentation of the fruit fly body from head to tail is tunable. Experimental results match the model’s prediction, showing that artificial activators and repressors can increase and decrease gene expression gradually in a way that is controllable and reproducible. This is like attaching yet another volume knob to the radio and finding that it works in concert with the existing knobs. Beyond gene expression level, the model was also able to predict in which location in the embryo, for example ventral or dorsal, the gene would be expressed. “It was our dream to bring model and experiment together,” enthuses Dr Ilsley.

This study also shows that enhancers can acquire new activators and repressors quite flexibly. “You can bring in foreign transcription factors and the enhancers still work. The enhancers we looked at are not brittle at all. This is evolutionarily important, because it shows how enhancer activity can be adjusted gradually and remain working in changing contexts,” points out Dr Ilsley. “Each activator and repressor is like a generic component that takes part in the overall tuning of gene expression. Many possible combinations of natural or artificially engineered transcription factors can produce identical enhancer activities,” explains Dr Ilsley.

“We are moving away from having to use an on/off model of gene expression to understand how cell types are specified. Advances in quantitative biology at the single-cell level, like quantitative imaging and RNA sequencing, together with mathematical models, now give biologists the tools they need to delve into the intricacies of gene expression tuning and to predictably manipulate the cell,” concludes Dr Ilsley.

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Tick genome reveals secrets of a successful bloodsucker

Tick genome reveals secrets of a successful bloodsucker | Amazing Science |

With tenacity befitting their subject, an international team of nearly 100 researchers toiled for a decade and overcame tough technical challenges to decipher the genome of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis)The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, contributed primary support to the research, which appears in the online, open-access journal Nature Communications.

“Ticks spread more different kinds of infectious microbes to people and animals than any other arthropod group,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “The spiral-shaped bacterium that causes Lyme disease is perhaps the best known microbe transmitted by ticks; however, ticks also transmit infectious agents that cause human babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tick-borne encephalitis and other diseases. The newly assembled genome provides insight into what makes ticks such effective disease vectors and may generate new ways to lessen their impact on human and animal health.”

Catherine A. Hill, Ph.D., of Purdue University, headed the team of investigators. Aside from the logistical challenges of coordinating activities of dozens of workers across many time zones, the researchers’ focus was a creature that is extremely difficult to maintain and that lives a long time — up to two years in the wild and nine months in the lab, Dr. Hill noted. Ixodes ticks have three blood-feeding life stages, and during each one, they feed on a different vertebrate animal. During feeding, ticks ingest blood for hours or days at a time. After mating, adult female ticks rapidly imbibe a large blood meal during which they expand hugely. “Because genes may switch on or off depending on the life stage of the tick, we needed to culture and collect ticks at each stage for analysis. This was not easy to do,” said Dr. Hill.

Another challenge was the sheer size of the tick genome — some 2.1 billion DNA base pairs — and expansive regions where sequences are repeated. “The degree of DNA repetition — approximately 70 percent of the total — made assembling the full genome in the correct order very difficult,” Dr. Hill said. In the end, the team determined the order and sequence of about two-thirds of the total genome. “We determined the sequence for 20,486 protein-coding genes,” she said, “of which 20 percent may be unique to ticks. Those tick-specific genes are like guideposts that say ‘start here’ as we look for new ways to counter infectious ticks.”

Although the latest research represents just a first look at the tick genome, the scientists have already identified genes and protein families that shed light on why Ixodes ticks succeed so well as parasites and hint at the reasons they excel at spreading pathogens, Dr. Hill noted. For example, compared with other blood-feeders, ticks have many more proteins devoted to consuming, concentrating and detoxifying their iron-containing food. Although mosquitoes — which quickly siphon up relatively small amounts of blood through a tube-like mouthpiece — have several proteins dedicated to blood digestion, ticks have many more proteins involved in this process. Other genes code for proteins that help ticks concentrate the blood and rapidly excrete excess water that accompanies large blood meals. Still other genes allow ticks to quickly expand their stiff outer coats to accommodate a 100-fold increase in total body size during blood feeding.

Other peculiarities of the tick’s lifestyle reflected in the genome include genes associated with the multifaceted sensory systems that the parasite uses when “questing” for a host during each of its separate blood-feeding stages. Compared with mosquitoes, ticks appear to have fewer genes used to detect hosts, and, unlike a mosquito’s “smell” receptors, ticks may use “taste” receptors to locate their food sources. Each of the newly identified proteins is a potential target for new, tick-specific interventions, explained Dr. Hill. “The genome gives us a code book to the inner workings of ticks. With it, we can now begin to hack their system and write a counter-script against them.”

In an effort to explain variations in Lyme disease prevalence across the United States, the team also examined genetic diversity within and among I. scapularis populations gathered from five states in the Northeast and Midwest and three in the South. Some have speculated that ticks in the Northeast and Midwest spread the bacteria that cause Lyme disease more easily than those in the South, or that the two populations perhaps comprise separate species. The genetic analysis showed that there is only one species of I. scapularis, said Dr. Hill, but subtle genetic differences were detected, and these may help explain some of the variance in the ability of populations to transmit disease and, therefore, affect disease prevalence.

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Gloop from the deep sea: The unusual secretions of the hagfish

Gloop from the deep sea: The unusual secretions of the hagfish | Amazing Science |

ETH scientists are researching the unusual secretions of the hagfish. Over the next three years, the researchers will try to find out how this natural hydrogel can be harnessed for human use.

This animal has done everything right. It has been around for 300 million years, outlived the dinosaurs and survived the catastrophic meteorite impact, warm phases and glacial periods. Even today, it continues to populate the sea at depths where it eats carrion and hunts prey. The Atlantic hagfish (Myxine glutinosa) is not really attractive at first glance. In fact, most people probably consider it quite disgusting. Nevertheless, the hagfish – or rather its slime – has caught the attention of a group of ETH researchers at the Laboratory of Food Process Engineering.

The slime of the hagfish is an extraordinary defense mechanism. When a hagfish is attacked by a predator, it secretes a glandular exudate that gels within a split second and forms a massive slime mass – even in cold water. This slime immobilizes vast amounts of water, forming a dilute, viscous and cohesive network. Fish attempting to attack the hagfish may then suffocate on the slime and thus let go of the hagfish.

Preliminary research quickly revealed to the scientists that there had been little examination of the structure of the slime and how it is formed and secreted. The scientific community knows that the natural hydrogel produced by the hagfish has two main components: 15- to 30-cm-long protein threads and mucin, which sits between the threads and makes the slime “slimy”. The protein threads have properties similar to spider silk. According to Kuster, the threads are extremely tear-resistant and elastic, though only when moist.

The slime consists of almost 100 % water and contains just 0.004 % gelling agent. In other words, the weight ratio of gelling agent to water is 26,000-fold, which is over 200 times more than in conventional animal gelatine. Furthermore, very little energy is required for the gelling process.

The ETH researchers were especially fascinated by the fact that the protein filaments have the form of a sphere measuring 150 micrometers in diameter while still in the glands, but once they are part of the slime they extend to threads of several centimeters in length. How the threads unwind from the sphere is not yet understood in depth. "The way the threads coil within the cells is highly specialized and very unusual," says Böni.

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Ravens might possess a Theory of Mind, say scientists

Ravens might possess a Theory of Mind, say scientists | Amazing Science |
A new study of ravens' behavior when they think they're being 'spied on' suggests they possess building blocks of humans' own ability to interpret others' thoughts, hopes, and fears.

Recent studies purported to demonstrate that chimpanzees, monkeys and corvids possess a basic Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states like seeing to others. However, these studies remain controversial because they share a common confound: the conspecific’s line of gaze, which could serve as an associative cue. Here, we show that ravens Corvus corax take into account the visual access of others, even when they cannot see a conspecific.

Specifically, we find that ravens guard their caches against discovery in response to the sounds of conspecifics when a peephole is open but not when it is closed. Our results suggest that ravens can generalize from their own perceptual experience to infer the possibility of being seen. These findings confirm and unite previous work, providing strong evidence that ravens are more than mere behavior-readers.

Ravens do spy on each other, it turns out, and they can infer when other birds are snooping on them. New findings, released Tuesday in a study inNature Communications, highlight just how sophisticated – and human-like – ravens' cognitive abilities are.

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Same Switches Program Taste and Smell in Fruit Flies

Same Switches Program Taste and Smell in Fruit Flies | Amazing Science |

A new study sheds light on how fruit flies get their keen sense of smell.

Duke University biologist Pelin Volkan and colleagues have identified a set of genetic control switches that interact early in a fly’s development to generate dozens of types of olfactory neurons, specialized nerve cells for smell. 

The same gene network also plays a role in programming the fly neurons responsible for taste, the researchers report in the journal PLOS Genetics.

The findings do more than merely explain how a household pest distinguishes rotting vegetables from ripening fruit, the authors say. The research could be a key to understanding how the nervous systems of other animals -- including humans, whose brains have billions of neurons -- produce such a dazzling array of cell types from a modest number of genes.

Fruit flies rely on their keen sense of smell to tell the difference between good food and bad, safety and danger, potential mates and those off-limits. The tiny insects perceive this wide range of chemical cues through a diverse set of olfactory sensory neurons along their antennae. More than 2000 such neurons are organized into 50 types, each of which transmits information to a specific region of the fly’s poppy seed-sized brain.

“Each neuron type detects a very specific range of odors,” Volkan said. Certain odors from fermenting fruit, for example, activate one class of neurons, and carbon dioxide activates another.

Volkan is interested in how the many types of smell neurons come to be as a fruit fly develops from egg to an adult.  Smell neurons begin as identical precursor cells, immature cells that have not yet “decided” which type of nerve cell they will become. All precursor cells have the same DNA, and how they produce one neuron type versus another was unknown.

One way to get many types of cells or proteins from the same genetic starting material is by mixing and matching different parts of one gene to produce multiple gene readouts, a phenomenon known as alternative splicing. The team’s results point to another strategy, however: using the same genes in different combinations, or “combinatorial coding.”

By tweaking different fly genes and counting how many neuron types were produced as the flies matured, the team identified a network of five genes that work together like coordinated control switches to guide the precursor cells’ transformation to mature neurons. The genes regulate each other’s activity, interacting in unique combinations to set each precursor cell on a distinct path by turning on different olfactory receptors in each cell.

The researchers found that manipulating the network had similar effects in the legs, which flies use not only to walk but also to taste. “The same basic toolkit gives rise to diverse types of neurons in completely different tissues,” said Volkan, who is also a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.

Via Integrated DNA Technologies
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Antarctic fungi survive Martian conditions on the International Space Station

Antarctic fungi survive Martian conditions on the International Space Station | Amazing Science |

European scientists have gathered tiny fungi that take shelter in Antarctic rocks and sent them to the International Space Station. After 18 months on board in conditions similar to those on Mars, more than 60% of their cells remained intact, with stable DNA. The results provide new information for the search for life on the red planet. Lichens from the Sierra de Gredos (Spain) and the Alps (Austria) also travelled into space for the same experiment.

The McMurdo Dry Valleys, located in the Antarctic Victoria Land, are considered to be the most similar earthly equivalent to Mars. They make up one of the driest and most hostile environments on our planet, where strong winds scour away even snow and ice. Only so-called cryptoendolithic microorganisms, capable of surviving in cracks in rocks, and certain lichens can withstand such harsh climatological conditions.

A few years ago a team of European researchers travelled to these remote valleys to collect samples of two species of cryptoendolithic fungi: Cryomyces antarcticus and Cryomyces minteri. The aim was to send them to the International Space Station (ISS) for them to be subjected to Martian conditions and space to observe their responses.

The tiny fungi were placed in cells (1.4 centimeters in diameter) on a platform for experiments known as EXPOSE-E, developed by the European Space Agency to withstand extreme environments. The platform was sent in the Space Shuttle Atlantis to the ISS and placed outside the Columbus module with the help of an astronaut from the team led by Belgian Frank de Winne.

For 18 months half of the Antarctic fungi were exposed to Mars-like conditions. More specifically, this is an atmosphere with 95% CO2, 1.6% argon, 0.15% oxygen, 2.7% nitrogen and 370 parts per million of H2O; and a pressure of 1,000 pascals. Through optical filters, samples were subjected to ultra-violet radiation as if on Mars (higher than 200 nanometers) and others to lower radiation, including separate control samples.

“The most relevant outcome was that more than 60% of the cells of the endolithic communities studied remained intact after ‘exposure to Mars’, or rather, the stability of their cellular DNA was still high,” highlights Rosa de la Torre Noetzel from Spain’s National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA), co-researcher on the project.

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World’s Smallest Snail Found: Acmella nana

World’s Smallest Snail Found: Acmella nana | Amazing Science |

A tiny snail shell with a diameter of 0.028 inches (0.7 mm) was found on the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo by a group of scientists from the Netherlands along with another 47 new snail species of greatly varying sizes.

Some of the 48 species described by Dr Jaap Vermeulen and his colleagues from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden are widespread in Borneo and had been familiar to scientists for decades. Yet, they had not got round to naming them until now. One of them is the world’s smallest snail, named Acmella nana (nanus means ‘dwarf’ in Latin).

The species has a shell of merely 0.020 – 0.024 inches (0.5 – 0.6 mm) width and 0.024 – 0.031 inches (0.6 – 0.79) mm height. The previous holder of the title, Angustopila dominikae from the Chinese province of Guangxi, discovered earlier this year, measured just 0.032 and 0.035 inches (0.80 and 0.89 mm) respectively.

Some of the new species are very rare. There are seven new species that can only be found on the 13,435 foot (4,095 m) high Mount Kinabalu. Another example, Diplommatina tylocheilos, only lives at the entrance of the hardly accessible Loloposon Cave in Mount Trusmadi. “The new information tells us more about isolated, or endemic, species such as the new record-holder,” Dr Vermeulen and co-authors said.

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Dual RNA-seq unveils noncoding RNA functions in host–pathogen interactions

Dual RNA-seq unveils noncoding RNA functions in host–pathogen interactions | Amazing Science |

Bacteria express many small RNAs for which the regulatory roles in pathogenesis have remained poorly understood due to a paucity of robust phenotypes in standard virulence assays.

A team of scientists now applies 'dual RNA-seq' to simultaneously profile RNA expression in the pathogen Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium and its eukaryotic host cell during infection, to reveal the role of bacterial riboregulators. Among several bacterial small RNAs (sRNAs) discovered to function in the infection process, the researchers identify an sRNA (termed PinT) which temporally controls the expression of both invasion-associated effectors and virulence genes required for intracellular survival of the pathogen, and which also alters the expression of both coding and non-coding transcripts of the host. These findings are a proof-of-principle for the utility of this high-throughput screen to uncover potentially novel pathogenic strategies that are important during infection.

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Shedding Light on Genetic Switches During Spine Development

Shedding Light on Genetic Switches During Spine Development | Amazing Science |

A new study by basic science researchers in the Department of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology at New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD) sought to understand how gene expression is initiated in the notochord, the evolutionary and developmental precursor of the backbone. The notochord is an axial structure that provides support and patterning signals essential for development in all chordate embryos, including humans.

“A main challenge of modern biology is to understand how specific constellations of genes are switched on in different cells to give rise to distinct tissues,” says lead author Dr. Anna Di Gregorio, associate professor in the Department of Basic Science and Craniofacial Biology at NYUCD.

The study, “Brachyury, Foxa2 and the cis-Regulatory Origins of the Notochord,” published December 18, 2015, in PLOS Genetics, analyzes the regions of DNA that switch on gene expression in the notochord, called notochord cis-regulatory modules (CRMs, also known as enhancers). The paper presents a systematic analysis of CRMs that share the distinctive property of turning on gene expression in the notochord.

Dr. Di Gregorio and her team used as a model system a marine organism called Ciona (commonly known as “sea squirt”), because it possesses a tractable notochord and a simplified genome, where CRMs can be found faster and more easily. Dr. Di Gregorio notes that systematic studies of CRMs are difficult and time-consuming in humans (and most other chordates), and notochord CRMs have yet to be characterized in humans. Over the past decade using Ciona, the lab has amassed a collection of 34 fully characterized notochord CRMs, the largest in any chordate animal.

In this latest study, the team characterized 14 Ciona notochord CRMs, isolated the minimal sequences necessary for their function, and then tested whether these minimal sequences could be used to predict related notochord CRMs within the whole Ciona genome. Additionally, they evaluated the evolutionary conservation of CRM sequences between two Cionaspecies, and compared the structure of the Ciona notochord CRMs to the few fully characterized notochord CRMs identified in other chordates, such as mice and zebrafish.

“While we were analyzing the CRMs of Ciona, we discovered that they are similar to notochord CRMs that had been previously identified in vertebrates,” said Dr. Di Gregorio. “This finding is significant because it indicates that this research is not limited to Ciona but extends to other chordates, and most likely humans.”

During human development, the notochord is first necessary for the formation of the nervous system and various structures. Later during development, the notochord becomes part of the spine, where it forms a necessary cushion between the vertebrae. The cushy notochord remnants, and the rings that support them, are the structures that can slip (herniate) and cause back pain. While it is known that numerous genes are expressed in the notochord, it is still unclear what turns on gene expression in this particular structure, and how.

The study elucidated that the notochord CRMs contain various DNA sequences that are bound by a particular class of regulatory proteins, called transcription factors. Specific transcription factors bind the CRMs and turn on gene expression in the notochord. “Despite the differences in the composition of notochord CRMs seen between species--and within the same species—binding sites for two transcription factors, Brachyury and Foxa2, emerged as recurrent hallmarks of notochord CRMs from sea squirts to mice, notes Dr. Di Gregorio. “The present study reports that these transcription factors can work synergistically with each other, but can also ignite notochord gene expression while working either alone or in combination with additional transcription factors of various other families, such as AP1, Sp1/Klf, bHLH, and others.”

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Transgenic mosquito ready to join Brazil's war on Zika virus

Transgenic mosquito ready to join Brazil's war on Zika virus | Amazing Science |
A genetically modified mosquito has helped reduce the proliferation of mosquitoes spreading Zika and other dangerous viruses in Brazil, its developers said on Tuesday.

The self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito was developed by Oxitec, the UK-subsidiary of U.S. synthetic biology company Intrexon. The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring will die before reaching adulthood and being able to reproduce.

Oxitec, which produces the mosquitoes in Campinas, announced it will build a second facility in nearby Piracicaba, Sao Paulo state, following strong results there in controlling the population of the Aedes vector that also carries the dengue virus.

Zika virus, first detected in Africa in the 1940’s, was unknown in the Americas until last year when it appeared in northeastern Brazil. The virus has quickly spread through Latin America.

Brazilian health authorities have linked the Zika outbreak to a surge in the number of babies born with unusually small heads, a damaging neurological condition called microcephaly.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory last week warning pregnant women to avoid 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America affected by the virus.

With Brazil’s rainy season underway, authorities are scrambling to fight the seasonal surge in mosquito populations.

Two weeks ahead of Carnival celebrations, a highlight of Brazil’s tourism calendar, officials want to stem international concern about the virus. They also want to reassure travelers who plan to attend the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which causes mild fever and rash.

Oxitec said its proprietary OX513A mosquito succeeded in reducing wild larvae of the Aedes mosquito by 82 percent in a neighborhood of Piracicaba, where 25 million of the transgenic insects were released between April and November. Authorities reported a big drop in dengue cases in the area.

“This is a powerful and versatile tool that can dramatically reduce the levels of infestation, which is the core of Brazil’s prevention strategy right now,” said Oxitec business development director in Brazil, Glen Slade.
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Water Bears Revived By Scientists After Being Frozen For 30 Years

Water Bears Revived By Scientists After Being Frozen For 30 Years | Amazing Science |

An unusual animal has thrilled scientists with its mind-boggling ability to survive after being frozen for more than three decades. Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are famously indestructable microscopic critters, and Japanese scientists at the National Institute of Polar Research made the stunning discovery that they were able to stay alive after experiencing a 30 year deep freeze.

According to the study, published in Cryobiology Magazine, two of the micro-animals and one of its eggs were found on moss gathered at the Japanese research station in Antarctica in November 1983. The creatures were later transported to Japan and kept in a freezer at a temperature of minus 4 degrees. The researchers thawed them out and provided moisture in May 2014. After a few days, the tiny animals were observed to be revived, marking the "longest recorded cryptobiotic duration of survival for tardigrades as animals or eggs."
While one of the specimens died after 20 days, the other survived the endeavor and reproduced shortly after its revival, laying 19 eggs. The revived egg was also able to hatch and later went on to reproduce successfully.

Via CineversityTV
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