Planet Ark and Toyota are calling on all Australians to Get Outside and Grow and help make nature a part of our everyday lives where we live, learn, work and play. This year there're more ways to branch out and help.
Peter Phillips's insight:
National tree day Sun 27th July is a chance to get involved in tree planting in your own community. Do something for your environment.
By switching off a single gene, scientists have converted human gastrointestinal cells into insulin-producing cells, demonstrating in principle that a drug could retrain cells inside a person’s GI tract to produce insulin. The finding raises the possibility that cells lost in type 1 diabetes may be more easily replaced through the reeducation of existing cells than through the transplantation of new cells created from embryonic or adult stem cells. The new research was reported in the online issue of the journal Nature Communications.
"People have been talking about turning one cell into another for a long time, but until now we hadn't gotten to the point of creating a fully functional insulin-producing cell by the manipulation of a single target," said the study's senior author, Domenico Accili, MD, the Russell Berrie Foundation Professor of Diabetes (in Medicine) at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).
The finding raises the possibility that cells lost in type 1 diabetes may be more easily replaced through the reeducation of existing cells than through the transplantation of new cells created from embryonic or adult stem cells.
For nearly two decades, researchers have been trying to make surrogate insulin-producing cells for type 1 diabetes patients. In type 1 diabetes, the body's natural insulin-producing cells are destroyed by the immune system.
Although insulin-producing cells can now be made in the lab from stem cells, these cells do not yet have all the functions of naturally occurring pancreatic beta cells.
This has led some researchers to try instead to transform existing cells in a patient into insulin-producers. Previous work by Dr. Accili's lab had shown that mouse intestinal cells can be transformed into insulin-producing cells; the current Columbia study shows that this technique also works in human cells.
The Columbia researchers were able to teach human gut cells to make insulin in response to physiological circumstances by deactivating the cells' FOXO1 gene. Accili and postdoctoral fellow Ryotaro Bouchi first created a tissue model of the human intestine with human pluripotent stem cells. Through genetic engineering, they then deactivated any functioning FOXO1 inside the intestinal cells. After seven days, some of the cells started releasing insulin and, equally important, only in response to glucose.
The team had used a comparable approach in its earlier, mouse study. In the mice, insulin made by gut cells was released into the bloodstream, worked like normal insulin, and was able to nearly normalize blood glucose levels in otherwise diabetic mice: New Approach to Treating Type I Diabetes? Columbia Scientists Transform Gut Cells into Insulin Factories. That work, which was reported in 2012 in the journal Nature Genetics, has since received independent confirmation from another group.
Brilliant.org is an online hub for the world's most promising young minds to come together, connect, and see how they measure up against one another. Khim says she's already hearing that students are listing Brilliant on their college applications.
Peter Phillips's insight:
Targeting STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) and with its audience doubling every 8 weeks, Brilliant.org provides a dynamic benchmark for high achievers to challenge themselves against (each other), tapping into their competitive nature using game theory.
Some bird eggs have visual signatures that help them distinguish they own clutch from impostor cuckoo .
For most honest bird species, brood parasites like the cuckoo are no joke. These sneaky free-loaders comprise about one percent of all bird species. Sniffing out false eggs is serious business for many birds. Brood parasites plant eggs in unsuspecting nests and leave the duped foster parents to care for their chicks—usually to the deadly detriment of the foster parents' own babies.
Now, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Cambridge have discovered one way that bird parents likely keep an eye on their own eggs: with special visual signature. The researchers used the same kind of software that companies rely on for facial recognition and image stitching but applied that technology to hundreds of eggs of eight different parasitized bird species. They call the new program NaturePatternMatch.
The host birds, they found, have previously unrecognized egg "signatures"—essentially, secret visual cues that allow them to recognize their own among the imposters. The more intensely the bird species is targeted by cuckoos, the more complex and sophisticated their egg signatures. Some of the host birds, they found, produce exactly the same egg, whereas some show variation within their own clutch or between females within the same species. All of these methods, the team says, would likely be effective strategies for lessening the likelihood of being duped.
"The ability of Common Cuckoos to mimic the appearance of many of their hosts' eggs has been known for centuries," the researchers say in a statement. "The astonishing finding here is that hosts can fight back against cuckoo mimicry by evolving highly recognizable patterns on their own eggs, just like a bank might insert watermarks on its currency to deter counterfeiters."
Scientists create new strains of malaria mosquitoes that produce 95% male offspring, and can drive a rapid population crash in the laboratory.
Peter Phillips's insight:
Of course, there would need to be a sustained breeding and release of these mosquitoes into wild populations to make a difference. Females might eventually note the difference and find them sexually less attractive than their non meddled with mates: natural selection would select for females that could tell the difference. So all over in a few generations. Effective, but only in the short term.
Bacteria and viruses are behind most of the diseases we get hit by. It's nothing personal, it's just what they've got to do to survive. Viruses are simple creatures. So simple they don't eat, drink or breed — they're just a bunch of genes dressed up in a protein coat. They get by by invading living cells (like ours), hacking their software (the DNA) and turning them into their own personal virus-making factories. The by-products of this new line of work generally aren't good for the host cell, and often cause it to burst, spilling thousands of the freshly minted virus particles to find other cells to invade and enslave.
Multilingualism, why Australians should be, why most of the world is. Real stories from Australian schools.
Peter Phillips's insight:
Learning another language is seen as unnecessary in many schools, why when it is 'the' world language - because it improves conceptual, lateral and imaginative thinking. Further down the line, it opens far more career and study opportunities.
Imagine a hospital room, door handle or kitchen countertop that is free from bacteria—and not one drop of disinfectant or boiling water or dose of microwaves has been needed to zap the germs.
That is the idea behind a startling discovery made by scientists in Australia.
In a study published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, they described how a dragonfly led them to a nano-tech surface that physically slays bacteria.
The germ-killer is black silicon, a substance discovered accidentally in the 1990s and now viewed as a promising semiconductor material for solar panels.
Under an electron microscope, its surface is a forest of spikes just 500 nanometres (500 billionths of a metre) high that rip open the cell walls of any bacterium which comes into contact, the scientists found. It is the first time that any water-repellent surface has been found to have this physical quality as bactericide.
Last year, the team, led by Elena Ivanova at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, were stunned to find cicada wings were potent killers of Pseudomonas aeruginsoa—an opportunist germ that also infects humans and is becoming resistant to antibiotics.
Looking closely, they found that the answer lay not in any biochemical on the wing, but in regularly-spaced "nanopillars" on which bacteria were sliced to shreds as they settled on the surface. They took the discovery further by examining nanostructures studding the translucent forewings of a red-bodied Australian dragonfly called the wandering percher (Latin name Diplacodes bipunctata). It has spikes that are somewhat smaller than those on the black silicon—they are 240 nanometres high.
The dragonfly's wings and black silicon were put through their paces in a lab, and both were ruthlessly bactericidal. Smooth to the human touch, the surfaces destroyed two categories of bacteria, called Gram-negative and Gram-positive, as well as spores, the protective shell that coats certain times of dormant germs.
The three targeted bugs comprised P. aeruginosa, the notorious Staphylococcus aureus and the ultra-tough spore of Bacillus subtilis, a wide-ranging soil germ that is a cousin of anthrax. The killing rate was 450,000 bacterial cells per square centimetre per minute over the first three hours of exposure. This is 810 times the minimum dose needed to infect a person with S. aureus, and a whopping 77,400 times that of P. aeruginosa.
When I posted a video on how to make compost extractions, and later on how to make compost tea it awakened my interest in this lesser-known subset of composting
Peter Phillips's insight:
A refreshing overview on the subject of compost teas, including fact sheets and 'how to' videos. A spring activity to look forward to, compost teas are homemade liquid fertilisers which give plants a dose of healthy micro-organisms at the same time. Thank goodness the queensland version (which includes cane toads) is missing.