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Museum of Natural History

Museum of Natural History | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is a fabulous resource in Washington D.C., but now this museum available virtually.  Teachers can now bring the museums to the classroom with these fantastic Smithsonian virtual tours.   

 

Tags: biogeography, virtual tours, environment, ecology, historical, physical.


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Scientists Discover Potent Antibiotic, A Potential Weapon Against a Range of Diseases

Scientists Discover Potent Antibiotic, A Potential Weapon Against a Range of Diseases | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Scientists have discovered a powerful new antibiotic they say can kill an array of germs without the bugs easily becoming resistant to it, a potential weapon against a range of diseases.


The discovery is a rare—and much-needed—breakthrough in the quest for new antibiotics to overcome the problem of growing resistance to existing drugs. While the new compound was shown to be safe and effective in mice, scientists need to determine whether this is the case for people.


The discovery of the new class of antibiotic, called teixobactin, was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. It was uncovered by screening 10,000 bacterial strains from soil. Teixobactin will be investigated further in animals before being tested in people.

If all goes well, “we’ll be in clinical trials two years from now,” said Kim Lewis, a professorat Northeastern University in Boston and lead author of the study. Human trials could take two to three years, he added.


Because of widespread and indiscriminate use of antibiotics, bacteria in recent years have acquired mutations and new genes that render them more resistant to drugs. At the same time, antibiotic research at pharmaceutical companies stalled. This dual problem—the rise of resistant bacterial strains and the lack of new antibiotics—threatens to undermine many advances of modern medicine. Infections are becoming harder to control; standard treatments are less effective; illness and hospital stays are getting longer; and there are more deaths from infection.

 
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New 'cyborg' spinal implant attaches directly to the spine and could help paralysed to walk again

New 'cyborg' spinal implant attaches directly to the spine and could help paralysed to walk again | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Paralysed patients have been given new hope of recovery after rats with severe spinal injuries walked again through a ‘groundbreaking’ new cyborg-style implant. In technology which could have come straight out of a science fiction novel or Hollwood movie, French scientists have created a thin prosthetic ribbon, embedded with electrodes, which lies along the spinal cord and delivers electrical impulses and drugs.

The prosthetic, described by British experts as ‘quite remarkable’, is soft enough to bend with tissue surrounding the backbone to avoid discomfort.


Paralysed rats who were fitted with the implant were able to walk on their own again after just a few weeks of training. Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are hoping to move to clinical trials in humans soon. They believe that a device could last 10 years in humans before needing to be replaced. 


The implant, called ‘e-Dura’, is so effective because it mimics the soft tissue around the spine – known as the dura mater – so that the body does not reject its presence. “Our e-Dura implant can remain for a long period of time on the spinal cord or cortex,” said Professor Stéphanie Lacour.


“This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury.” Previous experiments had shown that chemicals and electrodes implanted in the spine could take on the role of the brain and stimulate nerves, causing the rats' legs to move involuntarily when they were placed on a treadmill.


However the new gadget is flexible and stretchy enough that it can be placed directly onto the spinal cord. It closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses and drugs which activate cells. The implant is made of silicon and covered with gold electric conducting tracks that can be pulled and stretched. The electrodes are made of silicon and platinum microbeads which can also bend in any direction without breaking.



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Most MS Patients Who Received Stem Cell Transplants Are Still in Remission Years Later

Most MS Patients Who Received Stem Cell Transplants Are Still in Remission Years Later | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Most of the multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who took part in the cutting-edge stem cell study HALT-MS are still in remission years later. The phase 2 study has demonstrated impressive results by rebuilding the immune system using a patient’s own stem cells.


Studying 24 study volunteers who underwent stem cell transplants between 2006 and 2010, Dr. Richard A. Nash of the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute in Denver and his colleagues recently published their findings in JAMA Neurology. Researchers found that more than 86 percent of the patients remained relapse free after three years, and nearly 91 percent showed no sign of disease progression.


The goal was to reboot the patients’ immune systems. The researchers gauged success based on how long the patients remained relapse-free. The study involved patients with relapsing-remitting MS whose disease did not respond to at least one FDA-approved disease-modifying drug. Patients also had to score between 3.0 and 5.5 on the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS), a set of tests to measure walking, cognition, dexterity, and quality of life in MS patients. People who fall into this range typically have mild to moderate disability.


 

Patients were given high-dose immunosuppressive therapy, or HDIT, to erase their native immune system. Then, researchers reintroduced blood-forming stem cells that had been harvested from the patients’ own blood.

 

“On average patients were hospitalized for three to four weeks,” said Nash in an interview with Healthline. That allowed enough time for the immune system to regenerate so patients could safely return home. “Patients are immunosuppressed, so they are on prophylactic antimicrobial medications. They are also educated regarding how to reduce the risk of infections after transplant,” explained Nash.


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‘Text neck’ is becoming an ‘epidemic’ and could wreck your spine

‘Text neck’ is becoming an ‘epidemic’ and could wreck your spine | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

The human head weighs about a dozen pounds. But as the neck bends forward and down, the weight on the cervical spine begins to increase. At a 15-degree angle, this weight is about 27 pounds, at 30 degrees it’s 40 pounds, at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds, and at 60 degrees it’s 60 pounds.


That’s the burden that comes with staring at a smartphone — the way millions do for hours every day, according to research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine. The study will appear next month in Surgical Technology International. Over time, researchers say, this poor posture, sometimes called “text neck,” can lead to early wear-and-tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery.


“It is an epidemic or, at least, it’s very common,” Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, told The Washington Post. “Just look around you, everyone has their heads down.”


Can’t grasp the significance of 60 pounds? Imagine carrying an 8-year-old around your neck several hours per day. Smartphone users spend an average of two to four hours per day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking social media sites. That’s 700 to 1,400 hours per year people are putting stress on their spines, according to the research. And high-schoolers might be the worst. They could conceivably spend an additional 5,000 hours in this position, Hansraj said.


“The problem is really profound in young people,” he said. “With this excessive stress in the neck, we might start seeing young people needing spine care. I would really like to see parents showing more guidance.”


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Miloš Bajčetić's curator insight, January 13, 1:38 AM

Hansraj gave smartphone users tips to avoid pain:

 

- Look down at your device with your eyes. No need to bend your neck.

 

- Exercise: Move your head from left to right several times. Use your hands to provide resistance and push your head against them, first forward and then backward. Stand in a doorway with your arms extended and push your chest forward to strengthen “the muscles of good posture,” Hansraj said.

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Algae deliver hydrogen at a 5 times higher efficiency

Algae deliver hydrogen at a 5 times higher efficiency | WWWBiology | Scoop.it
Hydrogen as a regenerative fuel produced in gigantic water tanks full of algae, which need nothing more than sunlight to produce the promising green energy carrier: a great idea in theory, but one that fails due to the vast amount of space required for the production process. Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Energy Conversion and Coal Research) in Mülheim an der Ruhr, and from the research group Photobiotechnology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have now discovered a way of increasing the efficiency of hydrogen production in microalgae by a factor of five. If the algae can generate the fuel more efficiently, it can be produced in a smaller area and in quantities suitable for practical use. This approach also dispenses with the need for rare and expensive precious metals, which are used to split the energy-rich gas is technically from water.
Living organisms need electrons in many places, as they use them to form chemical compounds. Algae and other organisms which carry out photosynthesis release electrons from water with the help of sunlight and then distribute them in the cell. The ferrous protein PETF is responsible for this: It transports the electrons in particular to ferredoxin-NADP+ oxidoreductase (FNR), so that NADPH is formed and carbohydrates are finally synthesised from carbon dioxide. The production of hydrogen through hydrogenases is among the many other processes, for which PETF provides the necessary electrons.
Hydrogenases are very efficient enzymes that contain a unique active centre comprising six iron atoms, where the electrons supplied by PETF are bound to protons. Molecular hydrogen is produced in this way.

With the help of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, on which magnetic resonance imaging in medicine is also based, the scientists working with Sigrun Rumpel, a post doc at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion in Mülheim, investigated the components of PETF – or more precisely amino acids – that interact with the hydrogenase and those that interact with FNR. It emerged that only two amino acids of PETF are important for binding FNR. When the researchers modified these two amino acids and the enzyme FNR, PETF was no longer able to bind FNR as efficiently. Thus, the enzyme transferred less electrons to FNR and more to the hydrogenase. In this way, the scientists increased the hydrogen production by a factor of five.


“For a technically feasible hydrogen production with the help of algae, its efficiency must be increased by a factor of 10 to 100 compared to the natural process,” says Sigrun Rumpel. “Through the targeted modification of PETF and FNR we have taken a step towards achieving this objective.” Up to now, the production of hydrogen from renewable energy carriers involved the electrolytic splitting of water. Expensive and rare precious metals like platinum are currently required for this purpose. Sigrun Rumpel and other researchers are therefore working on finding a way of enabling algae to efficiently produce the fuel. Microalgae produce the gas naturally, but in very small volumes. Thus, if cars were to be powered one day using hydrogen rather than petrol or diesel, to come anywhere near covering Germany’s fuel requirements, gigantic areas with tanks full of algal cultures would have to be set up.


“These results represent a path to the economically-viable regenerative production of fuels with the help of microalgae,” says Sigrun Rumpel. The change of electron transfer pathways could further improve hydrogen production in future. The researchers therefore now want to combine different modifications with each other.


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World first: Man paralyzed from the chest down walks again after cell transplant from his nasal cavity

World first: Man paralyzed from the chest down walks again after cell transplant from his nasal cavity | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

A paralysed man has been able to walk again after a pioneering therapy that involved transplanting cells from his nasal cavity into his spinal cord. Darek Fidyka, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a knife attack in 2010, can now walk using a frame. The treatment, a world first, was carried out by surgeons in Poland in collaboration with scientists in London.


Details of the research are published in the journal Cell Transplantation. BBC One's Panorama program had unique access to the project and spent a year charting the patient's rehabilitation. Darek Fidyka, 40, from Poland, was paralyzed after being stabbed repeatedly in the back in the 2010 attack. He said walking again - with the support of a frame - was "an incredible feeling", adding: "When you can't feel almost half your body, you are helpless, but when it starts coming back it's like you were born again."


Prof Geoff Raisman, chair of neural regeneration at University College London's Institute of Neurology, led the UK research team. He said what had been achieved was "more impressive than man walking on the moon".


 

The treatment used olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) - specialist cells that form part of the sense of smell. OECs act as pathway cells that enable nerve fibers in the olfactory system to be continually renewed. In the first of two operations, surgeons removed one of the patient's olfactory bulbs and grew the cells in culture. Two weeks later they transplanted the OECs into the spinal cord, which had been cut through in the knife attack apart from a thin strip of scar tissue on the right. They had just a drop of material to work with - about 500,000 cells. About 100 micro-injections of OECs were made above and below the injury.


Four thin strips of nerve tissue were taken from the patient's ankle and placed across an 8mm (0.3in) gap on the left side of the cord.

 

The scientists believe the OECs provided a pathway to enable fibers above and below the injury to reconnect, using the nerve grafts to bridge the gap in the cord.


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Tarantula toxin is used to report electrical activity inside live cells

Tarantula toxin is used to report electrical activity inside live cells | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Crucial experiments to develop a novel probe of cellular electrical activity were conducted in the Neurobiology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in 2013. Now, that optical probe, which combines a tarantula toxin with a fluorescent compound, is introduced in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The lead authors of the paper are Drew C. Tilley of UC-Davis and the late Kenneth Eum, a Ph.D. candidate at UC-Davis and teaching assistant in the MBL Neurobiology course. The probe takes advantage of the potent ability of tarantula toxin to bind to electrically active cells, such as neurons, while the cells are in a resting state. The team discovered that a trace amount of toxin combined with a fluorescent compound would bind to a specific subset of voltage-activated proteins (Kv2-type potassium ion channels) in live cells. The probe lights up cell surfaces with this ion channel, and the fluorescent signal dims when the channel is activated by electrical signals.

 

This is the first time that researchers have been able to visually observe these ion channels "turning on" without first genetically modifying them. All that is required is a means to detect probe location, suggesting that related probes could potentially one day be used to map neural activity in the human brain.


"This is a demonstration, a prototype probe. But the promise is that we could use it to measure the activity state of the electrical system in an organism that has not been genetically compromised," says senior author Jon Sack, an assistant professor in the departments of Physiology and Membrane Biology at UC-Davis. Sack is a faculty member in the MBL Neurobiology course.


Since the probe binds selectively to one of the many different kinds of ion channels, it can help scientists disentangle the function of those specific channels in neuronal signaling. This can, in turn, lead to the identification of drug targets for neurological diseases and disorders.


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Brain barrier opened for first time to treat cancer

Brain barrier opened for first time to treat cancer | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

For the first time, doctors have opened and closed the brain's protector – the blood-brain barrier – on demand. The breakthrough will allow drugs to reach diseased areas of the brain that are otherwise out of bounds. Ultimately, it could make it easier to treat conditions such as Alzheimer's and brain cancer.


The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a sheath of cells that wraps around blood vessels (in black) throughout the brain. It protects precious brain tissue from toxins in the bloodstream, but it is a major obstacle for treating brain disorders because it also blocks the passage of drugs.


Several teams have opened the barrier in animals to sneak drugs through. Now Michael Canney at Paris-based medical start-up CarThera, and his colleagues have managed it in people using an ultrasound brain implant and an injection of microbubbles.

When ultrasound waves meet microbubbles in the blood, they make the bubbles vibrate. This pushes apart the cells of the BBB.


With surgeon Alexandre Carpentier at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, Canney tested the approach in people with a recurrence of glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain tumour. People with this cancer have surgery to remove the tumours and then chemotherapy drugs, such as Carboplatin, are used to try to kill any remaining tumour cells. Tumours make the BBB leaky, allowing in a tiny amount of chemo drugs: if more could get through, their impact would be greater, says Canney.


The team tested the idea on four patients by implanting an ultrasound transducer through a hole already made in their skulls during tumour-removal surgery. They were then given an injection of microbubbles and had the transducer switched on for 2 minutes. This sent low-intensity pulses of ultrasound into a region of the brain just 10 millimetres by 4 mm. Canney reckons this makes the BBB in this region more permeable for about 6 hours. In this time window, each person received normal chemotherapy.


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Warwick Raverty's curator insight, October 22, 2014 7:48 PM

Hope at last for people with inoperable brain tumours!

Nicole Masureik's curator insight, October 23, 2014 2:41 AM

What an amazing advance! This could open doors for all sorts of things. However, there is so much about the functioning of the brain that we don't understand, that we will need to watch the long term effects carefully.

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Rats! NYC rats infected with at least 18 new viruses, but no bubonic plague bacteria found

Rats! NYC rats infected with at least 18 new viruses, but no bubonic plague bacteria found | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Rats: some people enjoy their company as pets, to many others, they are virulent pests that helped the spread of the bubonic plague ("black death") in Medieval Europe. For New Yorkers, they are just one of many interesting local daily sights on the subway tracks and platforms. I can tell you from experience (source: I live in New York City) that they often seem healthier and in better spirits than many of the humans that call this fair city home. Yet it turns out some of them are carrying a surprising number of previously undocumented viruses, according to the results of a study of the Big Apple's rodents published today in the journal mBio and reported by The New York Times.

 

Specifically, scientists captured 133 rats from traps set in five locations around New York City, euthanized them, then took genetic samples of the bacteria and viral specimens found in their tissues and excretions (saliva, feces, etc). The scientists found lots of viruses, not surprisingly. But while many of the bacteria detected were expected — including e. coli and salmonella — the scientists also found at 18 completely new viruses. None of these new viruses have been found in humans, at least not yet, but two of them are structurally similar to Hepatitis C, which does occur in people and raises the risk of liver scarring and cancer. While there's no immediate cause for alarm, the scientists note that that the spread of these new viruses from rats to humans could theoretically already be occurring and is possible in the future, and are advocating for more comprehensive disease monitoring in humans. Something to think about the next time you're waiting for the downtown F train.


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New technique allows scientists to identify populations of rare mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow

New technique allows scientists to identify populations of rare mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Deep within the bone marrow resides a type of cells known as mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). These immature cells can differentiate into cells that produce bone, cartilage, fat, or muscle — a trait that scientists have tried to exploit for tissue repair.


In a new study that should make it easier to develop such stem-cell-based therapies, a team of researchers from MIT and the Singapore-MIT Alliance in Research and Technology (SMART) has identified three physical characteristics of MSCs that can distinguish them from other immature cells found in the bone marrow. Based on this information, they plan to create devices that could rapidly isolate MSCs, making it easier to generate enough stem cells to treat patients.


Until now, there has been no good way to separate MSCs from bone marrow cells that have already begun to differentiate into other cell types, but share the same molecules on the cell surface. This may be one reason why research results vary among labs, and why stem-cell treatments now in clinical trials are not as effective as they could be, says Krystyn Van Vliet, an MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering and biological engineering and a senior author of the paper, which appears in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.


“Some of the cells that you’re putting in and calling stem cells are producing a beneficial therapeutic outcome, but many of the cells that you’re putting in are not,” Van Vliet says. “Our approach provides a way to purify or highly enrich for the stem cells in that population. You can now find the needles in the haystack and use them for human therapy.”


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Madagascar's bark spider (Caerostris darwini) makes up to 82 feet large orb nets, 10 x stronger than Kevlar

Madagascar's bark spider (Caerostris darwini) makes up to 82 feet large orb nets, 10 x stronger than Kevlar | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

The web of the Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini), can span some square feet (2.8 square meters) and is attached to each riverbank by anchor threads as long as 82 feet (25 meters).


Scientists have found the toughest material made by life yet — the silk of a spider whose giant webs span rivers, streams and even lakes. Spider silks were already the toughest known biomaterials, able to absorb massive amounts of energy before breaking. However, researchers have now revealed the Darwin's bark spider (Caerostris darwini) has the toughest silk ever seen — more than twice as tough as any previously described silk, and more than 10 times stronger than Kevlar.


Although scientists have investigated silks from 20-to-30 species of spiders before, most of these were chosen haphazardly — for instance, from researchers' backyards. There are over 40,000 species of spiders and each spider can produce up to seven different kinds of silk. Thus, more than 99.99 percent of spider silks are yet to be explored.


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PLOS Pathogens: The Secreted Peptide PIP1 Amplifies Immunity through Receptor-Like Kinase 7 (2014)

PLOS Pathogens: The Secreted Peptide PIP1 Amplifies Immunity through Receptor-Like Kinase 7 (2014) | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

In plants, innate immune responses are initiated by plasma membrane-located pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) upon recognition of elicitors, including exogenous pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and endogenous damage-associated molecular patterns (DAMPs). Arabidopsis thaliana produces more than 1000 secreted peptide candidates, but it has yet to be established whether any of these act as elicitors. Here we identified an A. thaliana gene family encoding precursors of PAMP-induced secreted peptides (prePIPs) through an in-silicoapproach. The expression of some members of the family, including prePIP1 and prePIP2, is induced by a variety of pathogens and elicitors. Subcellular localization and proteolytic processing analyses demonstrated that the prePIP1 product is secreted into extracellular spaces where it is cleaved at the C-terminus. Overexpression of prePIP1 and prePIP2, or exogenous application of PIP1 and PIP2 synthetic peptides corresponding to the C-terminal conserved regions in prePIP1 and prePIP2, enhanced immune responses and pathogen resistance in A. thaliana. Genetic and biochemical analyses suggested that the receptor-like kinase 7 (RLK7) functions as a receptor of PIP1. Once perceived by RLK7, PIP1 initiates overlapping and distinct immune signaling responses together with the DAMP PEP1. PIP1 and PEP1 cooperate in amplifying the immune responses triggered by the PAMP flagellin. Collectively, these studies provide significant insights into immune modulation by Arabidopsis endogenous secreted peptides.


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PLOS Pathogens: Adaptive Prediction As a Strategy in Microbial Infections (2014)

PLOS Pathogens: Adaptive Prediction As a Strategy in Microbial Infections (2014) | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Microorganisms need to sense and respond to constantly changing microenvironments, and adapt their transcriptome, proteome, and metabolism accordingly to survive [1]. However, microbes sometimes react in a way which does not make immediate biological sense in light of the current environment—for example, by up-regulating an iron acquisition system in times of metal abundance. The reason for this seemingly nonsensical behavior can lie in the microbe's ability to predict a coming change in conditions by cues from the current environment. If the microbe (pre-)adapts accordingly, it will increase its fitness and chances of survival under subsequent selection pressures—a concept known as adaptive prediction.


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The best images from 2014 in BMC Evolutionary Biology

The best images from 2014 in BMC Evolutionary Biology | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Continuing the look back at the best of BMC Evolutionary Biology in 2014, here BMC showcases 12 images that caught their eye over the last 12 months.

Ground plan of wing patterns in Nymphalinae butterflies. From Suzuki et al. “Gradual and contingent evolutionary emergence of leaf mimicry in butterfly wing patterns”

Fossilised leaves of Bauhinia wenshanensis. From Meng et al. “New biogeographic insight intoBauhinia s.l. (Leguminosae): integration from fossil records and molecular analyses”

 

Sectioned bone elements of ostrich dinosaurs. From Cullen et al. “Osteohistological variation in growth marks and osteocyte lacunar density in a theropod dinosaur”

 

Phylogenetic tree of Tenebrionidae beetles and close relatives. From Kergoat et al. “Cretaceous environmental changes led to high extinction rates in a hyperdiverse beetle family”


And more...


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New approach may lead to inhalable vaccines for influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis

New approach may lead to inhalable vaccines for influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have uncovered a novel approach to creating inhalable vaccines using nanoparticles that shows promise for targeting lung-specific diseases, such as influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis.


The work, led by Cathy Fromen and Gregory Robbins, members of the DeSimone and Ting labs (see below), reveals that a particle’s surface charge plays a key role in eliciting immune responses in the lung. Using the Particle Replication in Nonwetting Templates (PRINT) technology invented in the DeSimone lab, Fromen and Robbins were able to specifically modify the surface charge of protein-loaded particles while avoiding disruption of other particle features, demonstrating PRINT’s unique ability to modify particle attributes independently from one another.


When delivered through the lung, particles with a positive surface charge were shown to induce antibody responses both locally in the lung and systemically in the body. In contrast, negatively charged particles of the same composition led to weaker, and in some cases undetectable, immune responses, suggesting that particle charge is an important consideration for pulmonary vaccination.


A paper describing the work, “Controlled analysis of nanoparticle charge on mucosal and systemic antibody responses following pulmonary immunization,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec. 29. The findings also have broad public health implications for improving the accessibility of vaccines. An inhalable vaccine may eliminate the need for refrigeration, which can not only improve shelf life, but also enable distribution of vaccines to low-resource areas, including many developing countries where there is significant need for better access to vaccines.


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Monkeys can learn to recognize themselves in the mirror

Monkeys can learn to recognize themselves in the mirror | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Unlike humans and great apes, rhesus monkeys don't realize when they look in a mirror that it is their own face looking back at them. But, according to a report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on January 8, that doesn't mean they can't learn. What's more, once rhesus monkeys in the study developed mirror self-recognition, they continued to use mirrors spontaneously to explore parts of their bodies they normally don't see.

 

The discovery in monkeys sheds light on the neural basis of self-awareness in humans and other animals. "Our findings suggest that the monkey brain has the basic 'hardware' [for mirror self-recognition], but they need appropriate training to acquire the 'software' to achieve self-recognition," says Neng Gong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


In earlier studies, scientists had offered monkeys mirrors of different sizes and shapes for years, even beginning at a young age, Gong explains. While the monkeys could learn to use the mirrors as tools for observing other objects, they never showed any signs of self-recognition. When researchers marked the monkeys' faces and presented them with mirrors, they didn't touch or examine the spot or show any other self-directed behaviors in front of those mirrors in the way that even a very young person would do.


In the new study, Gong and his colleagues tried something else. They sat the monkeys in front of a mirror and shined a mildly irritating laser light on the monkeys' faces. After 2 to 5 weeks of the training, those monkeys had learned to touch face areas marked by a spot they couldn't feel in front of a mirror. They also noticed virtual face marks in mirroring video images on a screen. They had learned to pass the standard mark test for mirror self-recognition.


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Lin28A Accelerates Wound Healing, Hair Regrowth, and Turns Back The Aging Clock A Little

Lin28A Accelerates Wound Healing, Hair Regrowth, and Turns Back The Aging Clock A Little | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

For centuries, biologists have wondered why an organism’s capacity for tissue repair and wound healing tends to decline as it gets older. The new study, which is published in the journal Cell, submits that this strange phenomenon may be the result of Lin28a – a gene whose protein product plays a crucial role in the early growth and development of a wide variety of animals. According to senior author George Daley, our gradual loss of regenerative powers may be symptomatic of a decline in Lin28a protein levels.


"It sounds like science fiction, but Lin28a could be part of a healing cocktail that gives adults the superior tissue repair seen in juvenile animals," he said in a press release.


To investigate the “fountain-of-youth” gene, the researchers reactivated it in adult mice. They found that the Lin28a protein accelerated the regeneration of cartilage, bone, and mesenchyme in a variety of injury models. Intriguingly, the gene also promoted faster regrowth of hair by stimulating anagen in the test subject’s hair follicles. Daley and his colleagues believe that Lin28a achieves these rejuvenating effects by stimulating metabolic processes otherwise associated with an organism’s embryo stage.


Study author Shyh-Chang Ng believes that the “fountain-of-youth” gene could be integrated into a number of different therapies. "We were surprised that what was previously believed to be a mundane cellular 'housekeeping' function would be so important for tissue repair," he told reporters. "One of our experiments showed that bypassing Lin28a and directly activating mitochondrial metabolism with a small-molecule compound also had the effect of enhancing wound healing, suggesting that it could be possible to use drugs to promote tissue repair in humans."


The current study is the latest in a growing series of inquiries into regeneration – a fascinating biological phenomenon that is observed across the entire evolutionary spectrum of organisms. Earlier this year, researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics showed that a single knocked-out gene allows planarian flatworms to regenerate their head and brain. A more recent study describes a so-called bio patch thatpromotes and sustains local bone growth in weakened and damaged areas. Like the current study, these research efforts remind us that when it comes to biotechnology and medicine, the line between science fiction and reality is not always clear.  

 
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UCSC Ebola genome browser now online to aid researchers' response to crisis

UCSC Ebola genome browser now online to aid researchers' response to crisis | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute late Tuesday (September 30) released a new Ebola genome browser to assist global efforts to develop a vaccine and antiserum to help stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

The team led by University of California, Santa Cruz researcher Jim Kent worked around the clock for the past week, communicating with international partners to gather and present the most current data. The Ebola virus browser aligns five strains of Ebola with two strains of the related Marburg virus. Within these strains, Kent and other members of the UC Santa Cruz Genome Browser team have aligned 148 individual viral genomes, including 102 from the current West Africa outbreak.

UC Santa Cruz has established the UCSC Ebola Genome Portal, with links to the new Ebola genome browser as well as links to all the relevant scientific literature on the virus. 

“Ebola has been one of my biggest fears ever since I learned about it in my first microbiology class in 1997," said Kent, who 14 years ago created the first working draft of the human genome.  "We need a heroic worldwide effort to contain Ebola. Making an informatics resource like the genome browser for Ebola researchers is the least we could do.”

Scientists around the world can access the open-source browser to compare genetic changes in the virus genome and areas where it remains the same. The browser allows scientists and researchers from drug companies, other universities, and governments to study the virus and its genomic changes as they seek a solution to halt the epidemic. 


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Bio-Inspired ‘Nano-Cocoons’ Offer Targeted Drug Delivery Against Cancer Cells

Bio-Inspired ‘Nano-Cocoons’ Offer Targeted Drug Delivery Against Cancer Cells | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Biomedical engineering researchers have developed a drug delivery system consisting of nanoscale “cocoons” made of DNA that target cancer cells and trick the cells into absorbing the cocoon before unleashing anticancer drugs. The work was done by researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


“This drug delivery system is DNA-based, which means it is biocompatible and less toxic to patients than systems that use synthetic materials,” says Dr. Zhen Gu, senior author of a paper on the work and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC Chapel Hill.


“This technique also specifically targets cancer cells, can carry a large drug load and releases the drugs very quickly once inside the cancer cell,” Gu says. “In addition, because we used self-assembling DNA techniques, it is relatively easy to manufacture,” says Wujin Sun, lead author of the paper and a Ph.D. student in Gu’s lab.


Each nano-cocoon is made of a single strand of DNA that self-assembles into what looks like a cocoon, or ball of yarn, that measures 150 nanometers across. The core of the nano-cocoon contains the anticancer drug doxorubicin (DOX) and a protein called DNase. The DNase, an enzyme that would normally cut up the DNA cocoon, is coated in a thin polymer that traps the DNase like a sword in a sheath.


The surface of the nano-cocoon is studded with folic acid ligands. When the nano-cocoon encounters a cancer cell, the ligands bind the nano-cocoon to receptors on the surface of the cell – causing the cell to suck in the nano-cocoon.


Once inside the cancer cell, the cell’s acidic environment destroys the polymer sheath containing the DNase. Freed from its sheath, the DNase rapidly slices through the DNA cocoon, spilling DOX into the cancer cell and killing it.



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Bacteria Make Drug-Like Molecules in Humans: Over 14,000 biosynthetic Gene Clusters for Small Molecules Identified

Bacteria Make Drug-Like Molecules in Humans: Over 14,000 biosynthetic Gene Clusters for Small Molecules Identified | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Small molecules encoded by biosynthetic gene clusters are widely used in the clinic and constitute much of the chemical language of interspecies interactions. In a recent study, researchers used a systematic approach to identify more than 3,000 small-molecule biosynthetic gene clusters in the genomes of human-associated bacteria. As reported in Cell, they discovered that biosynthetic gene clusters for thiopeptides—a class of antibiotics—are widely distributed in the genomes of the human microbiota.


“This study shows for the first time that our microbiota—the good microbes that live with humans—produce drug-like molecules to protect us from pathogens,” said lead study author Mohamed Donia of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). “For a long time, scientists used to go to remote and exotic places to find bacteria that produce novel chemical entities with drug-like properties. Who knew we could find similar ones in our own bodies?”


Donia and his collaborators used an algorithm they recently developed to systematically analyze about 2,400 reference genomes of the human microbiota from various body sites. They detected more than 14,000 biosynthetic gene clusters for a broad range of small-molecule classes. Reasoning that the products of these gene clusters are most likely to mediate conserved microbe-host and microbe-microbe interactions, they set out to identify the subset of gene clusters commonly found in healthy individuals by analyzing 752 metagenomic samples from the National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project.


Remarkably, nearly all of these gene clusters had never before been studied or even described, illustrating how little is known about their small-molecule products. “We need to study every single one of these molecules and understand what they are doing,” Donia said. “We have published the list of the small molecule-encoding genes that we identified, and we are reaching out to the scientific community to help us characterize them.”


Thiopeptides are perhaps the most interesting of these molecules because they have potent antibacterial activity against Gram-positive species. Currently, one semisynthetic member of this class is undergoing clinical trials for treating bacterial infections. But according to the authors, no thiopeptide biosynthetic gene cluster or small-molecule product from the human microbiome had ever been experimentally characterized. Surprisingly, their analysis revealed thiopeptide-like biosynthetic gene clusters in isolates from every human body site.

 

Donia and his collaborators went on to purify and solve the structure of a thiopeptide named lactocillin, which showed potent antibacterial activity against a range of Gram-positive vaginal pathogens. By analyzing human metatranscriptomic sequencing data, they showed that lactocillin and other thiopeptide biosynthetic gene clusters were expressed in vivo, suggesting a potential role in mediating microbe-microbe interactions.


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Shang Zhuo's curator insight, October 25, 2014 9:04 AM

We can find antibiotics from our own body! It is really fascinating news. Perhaps the microbiota in our gut is a good source of bioactive molecules but is ignored by scientists for a long time.

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From decisions to disorders: how neuroscience is changing what we know about ourselves

From decisions to disorders: how neuroscience is changing what we know about ourselves | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

People have wanted to understand our motivations, thoughts and behaviors since the ancient Greeks inscribed “know thyself” on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. And understanding the brain’s place in health and disease is one of this century’s greatest challenges – take Alzheimer’s, dementia and depression for example.


There are many exciting contributions from neuroscience that have given insight into our thoughts and actions. Three neuroscientists have just been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for their discoveries of cells that act as a positioning system in the brain – in other words, the mechanism that allows us to navigate spaces using spatial information and memory at a cellular level.


There are many exciting contributions from neuroscience that have given insight into our thoughts and actions. For example, the neural basis of how we make fast and slow decisions and decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. There is also an understanding how the brain is affected by stress and how these stresses might switch our brains into habit mode, for example operating on “automatic pilot” and forgetting to carry out planned tasks, or the opposite goal-directed system, which would see you going out of your usual routine, for example, popping into a different supermarket to get special ingredients for a recipe.


Disruption in the balance between the two is evident in neuro-psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, and recent evidence suggests that lower grey matter volumes in the brain can bias towards habit formation. Neuroscience is also demonstrating commonalities in disorders of compulsivity, methamphetamine abuse and obese subjects with eating disorders.


Neuroscience can challenge previously accepted views. For example, major abnormalities in dopamine function were thought the main cause of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, recent work suggests that the main cause of the disorder may instead be associated with structural differences in grey matter in the brain.


What neuroscience has made evidently clear is that changes in the brain cause changes in your thinking and actions, but the relationship is two-way. Environmental stressors, including psychological and substance abuse, can also change the brain. We also now know our brains continue developing into late adolescence or early young adulthood, it is not surprising that these environmental influences are particularly potent in a number of disorders during childhood and adolescence including autism.



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Oceans experiencing largest sea level rise in 6,000 years, study says

Oceans experiencing largest sea level rise in 6,000 years, study says | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

There are two main forces that can drive sea levels higher. One is something called thermal expansion, which involves the expansion of ocean water as it warms. The other is an influx of additional water, ushered into the sea by melting ice sheets and glaciers. Scientists have long concluded that sea levels are rising. Just look at Miami. Or the Maldives. They’ve also discerned that major ice sheets are melting at a faster clip than previously understood.

 

What has been less clear, however, is whether the development is recent or not. Over the last several thousands of years, has the ocean risen and fallen and risen again? A new study, just published in PNAS, suggests that the ocean has been surprisingly static since 4,000 B.C..

 

But that changed 150 years ago. Reconstructing 35,000 years of sea fluctuations, the study, which researchers say is the most comprehensive of its kind, found that the oceans are experiencing greater sea rise than at any time over the last 6,000 years. “What we see in the tide gauges, we don’t see in the past record, so there’s something going on today that’s wasn’t going on before,” lead author Kurt Lambeck, a professor at Australian National University, told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. “I think that is clearly the impact of rising temperatures.”

 

How much has the sea risen over the past century and a half? A lot. And it’s surging faster than ever. “There is robust evidence that sea levels have risen as a result of climate change,” Australian government research has found. “Over the last century, global average sea level rose by 1.7 mm [0.067 inches] per year, in recent years (between 1993 and 2010), this rate has increased to 3.2 mm [0.126 inches] per year.” In all, the sea has risen roughly 20 centimeters since the start of the 20th century. “The rate of sea level rise over the last century is unusually high in the context of the last 2,000 years,” the Australian report added.


But it’s not just the last 2,000 years. It’s the last 6,000 years, according to this recent study. And now, the rising sea levels over the last 100 years, is “beyond dispute,” Lambeck explained.


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NERONYC's curator insight, October 19, 2014 6:04 PM

Preserve our invironment

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What Happens After Someone Survives Ebola?

What Happens After Someone Survives Ebola? | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

While most of the recent coverage of the ongoing Ebola outbreak has focused on rising death tolls and a few infected U.S. citizens, other segments of the population have passed mostly unnoticed from the harsh glare of the media spotlight: Survivors, and those who are seemingly immune to Ebola.


People who survive Ebola can lead normal lives post-recovery, though occasionally they can suffer inflammatory conditions of the joints afterwards, according to CBS. Recovery times can vary, and so can the amount of time it takes for the virus to clear out of the system.


The World Health Organization found that the virus can reside in semen for up to seven weeks after recovery. Survivors are generally assumed to be immune to the particular strain they are infected by, and are able to help tend to others infected with the same strain. What isn't clear is whether or not a person is immune to other strains of Ebola, or if their immunity will last.


As with most viral infections, patients who recover from Ebola end up with Ebola-fighting antibodies in their blood, making their blood a valuable (if controversial) treatment option for others who catch the infection. Kent Brantly, one of the most recognizable Ebola survivors, has donated more than a gallon of his blood to other patients. The plasma of his blood, which contains the antibodies, is separated out from the red blood cells, creating what’s known as a convalescent serum, which can then be given to a patient as a transfusion. The hope is that the antibodies in the serum will boost the patient’s immune response, attacking the virus, and allowing the body to recover.


But this treatment method, like all Ebola treatment methods, is far from ideal. To start with, scientists aren't even sure if it works. In addition, the serum can only be donated to people with a compatible blood type to the donor, and it’s unclear how long the immunity would last. Adding to the confusion, there are several different strains of Ebola, and there’s no guarantee that once someone has recovered from one strain of Ebola they are immune to others.


When Nancy Writebol, one of the survivors of Ebola who was whisked back to Atlanta soon after contracting the virus, was asked by Science Magazine if she would consider going back, she said: “I’ve done some reading on that and talked to doctors at Emory about that. My doctors at Emory are not sure how long immunity would last. It’s not been studied. I’ve read that even if a survivor was willing and able to help with the care for Ebola patients, because there are so many strains of Ebola, it would still be very wise and necessary to operate in PPEs and not just assume you’re immune.”


People who survived the disease are of particular interest to researchers, such as those working on the ZMapp drug, who hope that they can synthesize antibodies in the hopes of creating a cure.


But even less understood than the survivors are the people who were infected with Ebola but never developed any symptoms. After outbreaks in Uganda in the late 1990’s, scientists tested the blood of several people who were in close contact with Ebola patients, and found a number of them had markers in their blood indicating they carried the disease, but they were totally asymptomatic—they managed to completely avoid the horrifying symptoms of the disease.


In a letter in the Lancet this week, researchers look into the existence of these asymptomatic patients, and hope that identifying people who are naturally immune could help contain the outbreak as scientists work on developing a treatment. A 2010 study published by the French research organization IRD found that as much as 15.3 percent of Gabon's population could be immune to Ebola.


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Invasive plant wins competition against its native cousin

Invasive plant wins competition against its native cousin | WWWBiology | Scoop.it
Because of its aggressive behavior and its harmful effects, the invasive prairie plant Lespedeza cuneata has been added to several noxious weed lists.

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New Phytologist: Special Issue: Plants interacting with other organisms (October 2014)

New Phytologist: Special Issue: Plants interacting with other organisms (October 2014) | WWWBiology | Scoop.it

Editorial

 

Plant interactions with other organisms: molecules, ecology and evolution

 

Commentary

 

Different shades of JAZ during plant growth and defense

 

Nutrient supply differentially alters the dynamics of co-infecting phytoviruses

 

Letters

 

From shade avoidance responses to plant performance at vegetation level: using virtual plant modelling as a tool
F. J. Bongers, J. B. Evers, N. P. R. Anten & R. Pierik

 

Review

 

Magical mystery tour: MLO proteins in plant immunity and beyond
J. Acevedo-Garcia, S. Kusch & R. Panstruga

 

The squeeze cell hypothesis for the activation of jasmonate synthesis in response to wounding

E. E. Farmer, D. Gasperini & I. F. Acosta

 

Lipochitooligosaccharide recognition: an ancient story
Y. Liang, K. Tóth, Y. Cao, K. Tanaka, C. Espinoza & G. Stacey

 

Herbivore-induced plant volatiles: targets, perception and unanswered questions
M. Heil

 

There’s no place like home? An exploration of the mechanisms behind plant litter–decomposer affinity in terrestrial ecosystems
A. T. Austin, L. Vivanco, A. González-Arzac & L. I. Pérez

 

Insect herbivore-associated organisms affect plant responses to herbivory
F. Zhu, E. H. Poelman & M. Dicke

 

When mutualism goes bad: density- dependent impacts of introduced bees on plant reproduction
M. A. Aizen, C. L. Morales, D. P. Vázquez, L. A. Garibaldi, A. Sáez & L. D. Harder

 

Insect and pathogen attack and resistance in maize and its wild ancestors, the teosintes
E. S. de Lange, D. Balmer, B. Mauch-Mani & T. C. J. Turlings

 

Full papers

 

Linking phytochrome to plant immunity: low red : far-red ratios increase Arabidopsis susceptibility to Botrytis cinerea by reducing the biosynthesis of indolic glucosinolates and camalexin
M. D. Cargnel, P. V. Demkura & C. L. Ballaré

 

To grow or defend? Low red : far-red ratios reduce jasmonate sensitivity in Arabidopsis seedlings by promoting DELLA degradation and increasing JAZ10 stability
M. Leone, M. M. Keller, I. Cerrudo & C. L. Ballaré

 

β-Glucosidase BGLU42 is a MYB72-dependent key regulator of rhizobacteria-induced systemic resistance and modulates iron deficiency responses in Arabidopsis roots
C. Zamioudis, J. Hanson & C. M. J. Pieterse

 

Deciphering the language of plant communication: volatile chemotypes of sagebrush
R. Karban, W. C. Wetzel, K. Shiojiri, S. Ishizaki, S. R. Ramirez & J. D. Blande

 

The context dependence of beneficiary feedback effects on benefactors in plant facilitation
C. Schöb, R. M. Callaway, F. Anthelme, R. W. Brooker, L. A. Cavieres, Z. Kikvidze, C. J. Lortie, R. Michalet, F. I. Pugnaire, S. Xiao, B. H. Cranston, M-C. García, N. R. Hupp, L. D. Llambí, E. Lingua, A. M. Reid, L. Zhao & B. J. Butterfield

 

Herbivore-mediated material fluxes in a northern deciduous forest under elevated carbon dioxide and ozone concentrations
T. D. Meehan, J. J. Couture, A. E. Bennett & R. L. Lindroth

 

Are plant–soil feedback responses explained by plant traits?
C. Baxendale, K. H. Orwin, F. Poly, T. Pommier & R. D. Bardgett

 

Environmental nutrient supply alters prevalence and weakens competitive interactions among coinfecting viruses
C. Lacroix, E. W. Seabloom & E. T. Borer


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