Researchers of the ISREC Institute at the School of Life Sciences, EPFL, have deciphered the mechanism whereby some microRNAs are retained in the cell while others are secreted and delivered to neighboring cells.
“It’s quite amazing,” says evolutionary biologist Matthew Hahn of Indiana University, Bloomington, who wasn’t connected to the study. “It means that the same genes can carry out the same functions after 1 billion years of divergence.”
Scientists have known for years that humans share molecular similarities with the microorganisms that help make our bread and beer. Our genome contains counterparts to one-third of yeast genes. And on average, the amino acid sequences of comparable yeast and human proteins overlap by 32%.
One example of shared genes piqued the interest of systems biologist Edward Marcotte of the University of Texas, Austin, and colleagues. Yeasts are single-celled and bloodless, yet they carry genes that orchestrate the growth of new blood vessels in vertebrates. In yeast, these genes help cells respond to stress. “That got us questioning the extent to which the yeast and human genes are doing the same thing,” Marcotte says.
A dramatic video has captured the behavior of cytotoxic T cells – the body’s ‘serial killers’ – as they hunt down and eliminate cancer cells before moving on to their next target.
In a study published today in the journal Immunity, a collaboration of researchers from the UK and the USA, led by Professor Gillian Griffiths at the University of Cambridge, describe how specialised members of our white blood cells known as cytotoxic T cells destroy tumour cells and virally-infected cells. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, the research team, with funding from the Wellcome Trust, has captured the process on film.
“Inside all of us lurks an army of serial killers whose primary function is to kill again and again,” explains Professor Griffiths, Director of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. “These cells patrol our bodies, identifying and destroying virally infected and cancer cells and they do so with remarkable precision and efficiency.”
There are billions of T cells within our blood – one teaspoon full of blood alone is believed to have around 5 million T cells, each measuring around 10 micrometres in length, about a tenth the width of a human hair. Each cell is engaged in the ferocious and unrelenting battle to keep us healthy. The cells, seen in the video as orange or green amorphous ‘blobs’ move around rapidly, investigating their environment as they travel.
When a cytotoxic T cell finds an infected cell or, in the case of the film, a cancer cell (blue), membrane protrusions rapidly explore the surface of the cell, checking for tell-tale signs that this is an uninvited guest. The T cell binds to the cancer cell and injects poisonous proteins known as cytotoxins (red) down special pathways called microtubules to the interface between the T cell and the cancer cell, before puncturing the surface of the cancer cell and delivering its deadly cargo.
In a new blow for the "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, scientists have detected new evidence of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.
Today, driven by ongoing technological innovations, the exploration of the “nanoverse,” as the realm of the minuscule is often termed, continues to gather pace. One of the field’s greatest pioneers is Paul Falkowski, a biological oceanographer who has spent much of his scientific career working at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and biology. His book Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable focuses on one of the most astonishing discoveries of the twentieth century—that our cells are comprised of a series of highly sophisticated “little engines” or nanomachines that carry out life’s vital functions. It is a work full of surprises, arguing for example that all of life’s most important innovations were in existence by around 3.5 billion years ago—less than a billion years after Earth formed, and a period at which our planet was largely hostile to living things. How such mind-bending complexity could have evolved at such an early stage, and in such a hostile environment, has forced a fundamental reconsideration of the origins of life itself.
At a personal level, Falkowski’s work is also challenging. We are used to thinking of ourselves as composed of billions of cells, but Falkowski points out that we also consist of trillions of electrochemical machines that somehow coordinate their intricate activities in ways that allow our bodies and minds to function with the required reliability and precision. As we contemplate the evolution and maintenance of this complexity, wonder grows to near incredulity.
Like other multicellular creatures, plants must coordinate activity among many different types of cells and tissues. Messages, demands, warnings and alerts shuttle among cells near and far. These messages determine what jobs cells take on and how they work together to build and maintain tissues and organs. A team of researchers has identified a mechanism that some plant cells use to receive complex and contradictory messages from their neighbors.
In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.
That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.
“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?,’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?,’ now we can approach this mechanistically – because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, a professor in U.Va.’s Department of Neuroscience and director of U.Va.’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia. “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions."
He added, “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role. [It’s] hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a [neurological] disease with an immune component.”
For over six decades, scientists have speculated about the existence of plasma structures that reside in the magnetosphere’s inner layers. Researchers in Australia have now created 3D images of these tubes for the very first time, proving they’re quite real.
For generations, humans have looked out at the night sky and wondered if they were alone in the universe. With the discovery of other planets in our Solar System, the true extent of the Milky Way galaxy, and other galaxies beyond our own, this question has only deepened and become more profound.
The findings, published in separate papers in this week's Nature, resolve a long-standing debate about the origins of these stellar explosions, and how they are used to measure cosmic distances across the universe.
"Thermonuclear supernovae explosions appear to be uniform, and we can use that uniformity as measuring sticks to figure out the size of the universe," says Dr Brad Tucker of the Australian National University's Mount Stromlo Observatory, an author on one of the two papers reporting on the phenomena.
Thermonuclear supernovae -- sometimes referred to as type 1a supernovae -- involve the explosive destruction of a white dwarf in a close binary orbit with another star.
"However, we've kind of had this dirty little secret going on, in that we really don't know what the companion star is," says Tucker.
The science behind a rapid paradigm shift When the first human genome was decoded, popular thinking went: "If we know the genes, we know the person." Today, barely 15 years later, science is in the middle of an exciting new area of research, which...
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