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DNA particles that mimic viruses hold promise as vaccines

DNA particles that mimic viruses hold promise as vaccines | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Using a virus-like delivery particle made from DNA, researchers from MIT and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard have created a vaccine that can induce a strong antibody response against SARS-CoV-2.

 

The vaccine, which has been tested in mice, consists of a DNA scaffold that carries many copies of a viral antigen. This type of vaccine, known as a particulate vaccine, mimics the structure of a virus. Most previous work on particulate vaccines has relied on protein scaffolds, but the proteins used in those vaccines tend to generate an unnecessary immune response that can distract the immune system from the target.

 

In the mouse study, the researchers found that the DNA scaffold does not induce an immune response, allowing the immune system to focus its antibody response on the target antigen. “DNA, we found in this work, does not elicit antibodies that may distract away from the protein of interest,” says Mark Bathe, an MIT professor of biological engineering. “What you can imagine is that your B cells and immune system are being fully trained by that target antigen, and that’s what you want — for your immune system to be laser-focused on the antigen of interest.”

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Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization

Unlimited, at-home coronavirus testing for your organization | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

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AI Unleashed: The Ongoing Artificial Intelligence Revolution and the Race to AGI

 

Speaker in Paris: Romain Huet, OpenAI, Head of Developer Experience

 

The Viva Technology or VivaTech conference is an annual startup and technology event held in Paris, France. It is the conference that accelerates innovation by connecting major corporations, tech leaders, startups, and investors to the world's biggest challenges.

 

VivaTech organizes the biggest startup and technology event in Europe every year, involving four electrifying days in Paris. It unites the rule-breaking entrepreneurs, tech-related disruptive topics, and the largest technology breakthroughs.

 

VivaTech, on its own, is a global community that involves thousands of investors, visionary startups, researchers, corporations, talent, media, and organizations. That's why the Viva Technology conference is the much-awaited and Europe's biggest technology and startup event.

 

The 2023 Viva Technology event was held in Paris from June 14 to 17. It involved over 150,000 attendees and thousands of exhibitors and startups. Many keynote speakers were present, including Emmanuel Macron (the President of the French Republic), Elon Musk (Head of SpaceX, Tesla, and X), Dan Schulman (president of PayPal), and many more.

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NASA Advances Six Innovative Tech Concepts to New Phase, Including a Lunar Railway System

NASA Advances Six Innovative Tech Concepts to New Phase, Including a Lunar Railway System | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) has selected six visionary concept studies for additional funding and development. Each study has already completed the initial NIAC phase, showing their futuristic ideas – like a lunar railway system and fluid-based telescopes – may provide fresh perspectives and approaches as NASA explores the unknown in space.

 

The NIAC Phase II conceptual studies will receive up to $600,000 to continue working over the next two years to address key remaining technical and budget hurdles and pave their development path forward. When Phase II is complete, these studies could advance to the final NIAC phase, earning additional funding and development consideration toward becoming a future aerospace mission.

 

“These diverse, science fiction-like concepts represent a fantastic class of Phase II studies,” said John Nelson, NIAC program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Our NIAC fellows never cease to amaze and inspire, and this class definitely gives NASA a lot to think about in terms of what’s possible in the future.” 

 

The six concepts chosen for 2024 NIAC Phase II awards are:

  • Fluidic Telescope (FLUTE): Enabling the Next Generation of Large Space Observatories would create a large optical observatory in space using fluidic shaping of ionic liquids. These in-space observatories could potentially help investigate NASA’s highest priority astrophysics targets, including Earth-like exoplanets, first-generation stars, and young galaxies. The FLUTE study is led by Edward Balaban from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
  • Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars is an innovative propulsion system that relies on using fission-generated packets of plasma for thrust. This innovative system could significantly reduce travel times between Earth and any destination in the solar system.  This study is led by Brianna Clements with Howe Industries in Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • The Great Observatory for Long Wavelengths (GO-LoW) could change the way NASA conducts astronomy. This mega constellation low-frequency radio telescope uses thousands of autonomous SmallSats capable of measuring the magnetic fields emitted from exoplanets and the cosmic dark ages. GO-LoW is led by Mary Knapp with MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Radioisotope Thermoradiative Cell Power Generator is investigating new in-space power sources, potentially operating at higher efficiencies than NASA legacy power generators. This technology could enable small exploration and science spacecraft in the future that are unable to carry bulky solar or nuclear power systems. This power generation concept study is from Stephen Polly at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
  • FLOAT: Flexible Levitation on a Track would be a lunar railway system, providing reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. This rail system could support daily operations of a sustainable lunar base as soon as the 2030s. Ethan Schaler leads FLOAT at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
  • ScienceCraft for Outer Planet Exploration distributes Quantum Dot-based sensors throughout the surface of a solar sail, enabling it to become an innovative imager. Quantum physics would allow NASA to take scientific measurements through studying how the dots absorb light. By leveraging the solar sail’s area, it allows lighter, more cost-effective spacecraft to carry imagers across the solar system. ScienceCraft is led by NASA’s Mahmooda Sultana at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

 

NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate funds the NIAC program, as it is responsible for developing the agency’s new cross-cutting technologies and capabilities to achieve its current and future missions.

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Google AI Could Soon Use a Person’s Cough to Diagnose a Disease

Google AI Could Soon Use a Person’s Cough to Diagnose a Disease | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Machine-learning system trained on millions of human audio clips shows promise for detecting COVID-19 and tuberculosis.  A team led by Google scientists has developed a machine-learning tool that can detect and monitor health conditions by evaluating noises such as coughing and breathing. The artificial intelligence (AI) system, trained on millions of audio clips of human sounds, might one day be used by physicians to diagnose diseases including COVID-19 and tuberculosis and to assess how well a person’s lungs are functioning. This is not the first time a research group has explored using sound as a biomarker for disease. The concept gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic, when scientists discovered that it was possible to detect the respiratory disease through a person’s cough.

 

What’s new about the Google system — called Health Acoustic Representations (HeAR) — is the massive data set that it was trained on, and the fact that it can be fine-tuned to perform multiple tasks. The researchers, who reported the tool earlier this month in a preprint1 that has not yet been peer reviewed, say it’s too early to tell whether HeAR will become a commercial product. For now, the plan is to give interested researchers access to the model so that they can use it in their own investigations. “Our goal as part of Google Research is to spur innovation in this nascent field,” says Sujay Kakarmath, a product manager at Google in New York City who worked on the project....

 

Preprint available here https://arxiv.org/pdf/2403.02522.pdf 


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Genomic SARS-CoV-2 Journey: from Alpha Variant to Omicron and its Sub-Variants 

Genomic SARS-CoV-2 Journey: from Alpha Variant to Omicron and its Sub-Variants  | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected hundreds of millions of individuals and caused more than six million deaths. The prolonged pandemic duration and the continual inter-individual transmissibility have contributed to the emergence of a wide variety of SARS-CoV-2 variants. Genomic surveillance and phylogenetic studies have shown that substantial mutations in crucial supersites of spike glycoprotein modulate the binding affinity of the evolved SARS-COV-2 lineages to ACE2 receptors and modify the binding of spike protein with neutralizing antibodies.

 

The immunological spike mutations have been associated with differential transmissibility, infectivity, and therapeutic efficacy of the vaccines and the immunological therapies among the new variants. This review highlights the diverse genetic mutations assimilated in various SARS-CoV-2 variants. The implications of the acquired mutations related to viral transmission, infectivity, and COVID-19 severity are discussed. This review also addresses the effectiveness of human neutralizing antibodies induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection or immunization and the therapeutic antibodies against the ascended variants.

 

Published March 30, 2024:

https://doi.org/10.1007/s15010-024-02223-y 


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DNA particles that mimic viruses hold promise as vaccines

DNA particles that mimic viruses hold promise as vaccines | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Using a virus-like delivery particle made from DNA, researchers from MIT and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard have created a vaccine that can induce a strong antibody response against SARS-CoV-2.

 

The vaccine, which has been tested in mice, consists of a DNA scaffold that carries many copies of a viral antigen. This type of vaccine, known as a particulate vaccine, mimics the structure of a virus. Most previous work on particulate vaccines has relied on protein scaffolds, but the proteins used in those vaccines tend to generate an unnecessary immune response that can distract the immune system from the target.

 

In the mouse study, the researchers found that the DNA scaffold does not induce an immune response, allowing the immune system to focus its antibody response on the target antigen. “DNA, we found in this work, does not elicit antibodies that may distract away from the protein of interest,” says Mark Bathe, an MIT professor of biological engineering. “What you can imagine is that your B cells and immune system are being fully trained by that target antigen, and that’s what you want — for your immune system to be laser-focused on the antigen of interest.”

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COVID-19 and Flu-Ravaged Lungs Could Be Repaired with mRNA Therapy

COVID-19 and Flu-Ravaged Lungs Could Be Repaired with mRNA Therapy | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 
Viral infection can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome that damages the lungs and is often lethal. Zhao et al. show that the TGF-β receptor 2 (TGF-βR2) is important for lung endothelial cells to recover after injury due to influenza virus or SARS-CoV-2 infection. The researchers used mice, human organoids, and human endothelial cells to demonstrate how TGF-βR2 interacts with VEGFA specifically in endothelial lung cells to promote tissue regeneration after viral injury. They also developed lung-targeted nanoparticles to deliver Vegfa mRNA to promote lung healing in mice lacking TGF-βR2. This study highlights the potential for targeting TGF-βR2 signaling in lung endothelial cells as a treatment for acute respiratory distress syndrome.
 
Disruption of pulmonary vascular homeostasis is a central feature of viral pneumonia, wherein endothelial cell (EC) death and subsequent angiogenic responses are critical determinants of the outcome of severe lung injury. A more granular understanding of the fundamental mechanisms driving reconstitution of lung endothelium is necessary to facilitate therapeutic vascular repair.
 
Now a team of scientists demonstrated that TGF-β signaling through TGF-βR2 (transforming growth factor–β receptor 2) is activated in pulmonary ECs upon influenza infection, and mice deficient in endothelial Tgfbr2 exhibited prolonged injury and diminished vascular repair. Loss of endothelial Tgfbr2 prevented autocrine Vegfa (vascular endothelial growth factor α) expression, reduced endothelial proliferation, and impaired renewal of aerocytes thought to be critical for alveolar gas exchange.
 
Angiogenic responses through TGF-βR2 were attributable to leucine-rich α-2-glycoprotein 1, a proangiogenic factor that counterbalances canonical angiostatic TGF-β signaling. Further, the scientists developed a lipid nanoparticle that targets the pulmonary endothelium, Lung-LNP (LuLNP). Delivery of Vegfa mRNA, a critical TGF-βR2 downstream effector, by LuLNPs improved the impaired regeneration phenotype of EC Tgfbr2 deficiency during influenza injury.
 
These studies defined a role for TGF-βR2 in lung endothelial repair and demonstrated efficacy of an efficient and safe endothelial-targeted LNP capable of delivering therapeutic mRNA cargo for vascular repair in influenza infection.

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Examining viruses that can help 'dial up' carbon capture in the sea

Examining viruses that can help 'dial up' carbon capture in the sea | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Armed with a catalog of hundreds of thousands of DNA and RNA virus species in the world's oceans, scientists are now zeroing in on the viruses most likely to combat climate change by helping trap carbon dioxide in seawater or, using similar techniques, different viruses that may prevent methane's escape from thawing Arctic soil.

 

By combining genomic sequencing data with artificial intelligence analysis, researchers have identified ocean-based viruses and assessed their genomes to find that they "steal" genes from other microbes or cells that process carbon in the sea. Mapping microbial metabolism genes, including those for underwater carbon metabolism, revealed 340 known metabolic pathways throughout the global oceans. Of these, 128 were also found in the genomes of ocean viruses.

 

"I was shocked that the number was that high," said Matthew Sullivan, professor of microbiology and director of the Center of Microbiome Science at The Ohio State University. Having mined this massive trove of data via advances in computation, the team has now revealed which viruses have a role in carbon metabolism and are using this information in newly developed community metabolic models to help predict how using viruses to engineer the ocean microbiome toward better carbon capture would look.

 

"The modeling is about how viruses may dial up or dial down microbial activity in the system," Sullivan said. "Community metabolic modeling is telling me the dream data point: which viruses are targeting the most important metabolic pathways, and that matters because it means they're good levers to pull on."

 
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Intuitive Machines launches first commercial moon mission  with SpaceX launch

Intuitive Machines launches first commercial moon mission  with SpaceX launch | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 
If fully successful, the IM-1 cargo mission would be the first U.S. lunar landing in more than 50 years.

 

  • Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander launched from Florida on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, beginning the IM-1 mission.
  • If fully successful, the IM-1 cargo mission would be the first U.S. lunar landing in more than 50 years.
  • The Intuitive Machines lander is expected to spend about eight days traveling to the moon before descending to the surface.

 

Intuitive Machines, Inc. is a diversified space company focused on space exploration. It is a provider and supplier of space products and services that enable sustained robotic and human exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Its products and services are offered through its four business units: Lunar Access Services, Orbital Services, Lunar Data Services and Space Products and Infrastructure. Its Orbital Services segment is designed to support satellites and stations in Earth and lunar orbits. Orbital Services consists of leveraging its technologies and government funds to establish a foothold in capturing the growing orbital services market. Lunar Data Services is designed to allow it to provide lunar network services to National Aeronautics and Space Administration and commercial clients. Space Products and Infrastructure includes propulsion systems, navigation systems, engineering services contracts, lunar mobility vehicles, power infrastructure, and human habitation systems.

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AI just gets it right - synthesizing graphene nearly defect-free

AI just gets it right - synthesizing graphene nearly defect-free | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Graphene has properties almost as if out of a picture book. It is simultaneously strong and flexible, it permeates water but filters gases, it is transparent like glass but at the same time conducts current better than a metal – and on top of it all, it is as thin as can be. Graphene consists just of a single layer of atoms. No surprise that interest in this wonder material (Nobel Prize 2010) explodes. Unfortunately, graphene displays all of these properties only when it is essentially defect free, and this is exactly what limits commercial production today.

Recently, highest-quality graphene films could be produced at copper catalysts. The gist was to melt the copper above 1100° degrees, so that the film growth occurs above the liquid metal surface. Yet, why these extreme conditions favor the formation of defect-free graphene is largely unknown. Not least the high temperatures and gas flows during growth hamper gaining the necessary atomic-level insights. Much hope is therefore placed on methods of AI/machine learning that can accelerate highest-accuracy quantum mechanical predictions to a level that allows so-called molecular dynamics simulations to correctly account for the high mobility of atoms at the liquid copper surface. Up to now, there is very little experience as to the reliability of these AI approaches though.

As an important benchmark, scientists at the Fritz Haber Institute (FHI) predicted the height of a growing graphene layer above the liquid copper catalyst using these novel approaches, and compared it against measurements from high-level synchrotron experiments achieved within a European consortium. The result is striking. The machines were right down to 10-11 m, or within less than one millionth the width of a hair. This high precision, called “sub-Ångstrøm“ in the jargon of the field, demonstrates the impressive capabilities of the novel AI approaches to acquire detailed insights into the microscopic growth process. “Our results nicely show the unprecedented possibilities”, summarizes the leader of the FHI-team Dr. Heenen proudly. “Intriguingly, the data on adsorption height suggest an essentially identical chemical interaction of graphene with solid and liquid copper. This renders the superior synthesis above the liquid metal surface even more mysterious.”

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Earendel, the most distant single star ever seen, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach us

Earendel, the most distant single star ever seen, whose light took 12.9 billion years to reach us | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

The Hubble Space Telescope identified its most distant single star to date, whose light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.

 

The most distant single star seen yet dates back to less than 1 billion years after the universe's birth in the Big Bang, and may shed light on the earliest stars in the cosmos, a new study finds.

 

The scientists nicknamed the star "Earendel," from an Old English word meaning "morning star" or "rising light." Earendel, whose technical designation is WHL0137-LS, is at least 50 times the mass of the sun and millions of times as bright.

 

This newfound star, detected by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, is so far away that its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, appearing to us as it was when the universe was about 900 million years old, just 7% of its current age. Until now, the most distant single star detected, discovered by Hubble in 2018, existed when the universe was about 4 billion years old, or 30% of its current age.

 

Normally, even a star as brilliant as Earendel would be impossible to see from Earth given the vast divide between the two. Previously, the smallest objects seen at such a great distance were clusters of stars embedded inside early galaxies.

Scientists detected Earendel with the help of a huge galaxy cluster, WHL0137-08, sitting between Earth and the newfound star. The gravitational pull of this enormous galaxy cluster warped the fabric of space and time, resulting in a powerful natural magnifying glass that greatly amplified the light from distant objects behind the galaxy, such as Earendel. This gravitational lensing has distorted the light from the galaxy hosting Earendel into a long crescent the researchers named the Sunrise Arc.

 

The rare way in which Earendel aligned with WHL0137-08 meant that the star appeared directly on, or extremely close to, a curve in spacetime that provided maximum brightening, causing Earendel to stand out from the general glow of its home galaxy. This effect is analogous to the rippled surface of a swimming pool creating patterns of bright light on the bottom of the pool on a sunny day — the ripples on the surface act as lenses and focus sunlight to maximum brightness on the pool floor.  Welch emphasized this is not the most distant object scientists have ever discovered. "Hubble has observed galaxies at greater distances," he explained. "However, we see the light from their millions of stars all blended together. This is the most distant object where we can identify light from an individual star."

 

He also noted this star was distant, but not old. "We see the star as it was 12.8 billion years ago, but that does not mean the star is 12.8 billion years old," Welch said. Instead, it's probably just a few million years old and never reached old age.  "Given its mass, it almost certainly has not survived to today, as more massive stars tend to burn through their fuel faster and thus explode, or collapse into black holes, sooner," he added of Earendel. "The oldest stars known would have formed at a similar time, but they are much less massive, so they have continued to shine until today."

Many details about Earendel remain uncertain, such as its mass, brightness, temperature and type. Scientists are not even sure yet if Earendel is one star or two — most stars of Earendel's mass usually do have a smaller, dimmer companion, and it's possible that Earendel is outshining its partner. Scientists intend to conduct followup observations with NASA's recently launched James Webb Space Telescope to analyze Earendel's infrared light and pin down many of its features. Such information in turn could help shed light on the first stars in the universe, which formed before the universe was filled with the heavy elements produced by successive generations of massive stars.

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Parallel molecular computation on digital data stored in DNA

 

The exponential accumulation of digital data is expected to outstrip magnetic and optical storage media.

 

DNA is an incredibly dense (up to 455 exabytes per gram, 6 orders of magnitude denser than magnetic or optical media) and stable (readable over millennia) digital storage medium (13). Storage and retrieval of up to gigabytes of digital information in the form of text, images, and movies have been successfully demonstrated. DNA’s essential biological role ensures that the technology for manipulating DNA will never succumb to obsolescence. However, performing computation on the stored data typically involves sequencing the DNA, electronically computing the desired transformation, and synthesizing new DNA. This expensive and slow loop limits the applicability of DNA storage to rarely accessed data (cold storage).
 
In contrast to traditional (passive) DNA storage, schemes for dynamic DNA storage allow access and modification of data without sequencing and/or synthesis. Upon binding to molecular probes, files can be accessed selectively (4) and modified through PCR amplification (5). Introducing or inhibiting binding of molecular probes with existing data barcodes can rename or delete files (6). Information encoded in the hybridization pattern of DNA can be written and erased (7) and can even undergo basic logic operations such as AND and OR (8) using strand displacement. By encoding information in the nicks of naturally occurring DNA [a.k.a. native DNA (9)], data can be modified through ligation or cleavage (10). With image similarities encoded in the binding affinities of DNA query probes and data, similarity searches on databases can be performed through DNA hybridization (1112). Although these advances allow information to be directly accessed and edited within the storage medium, they nevertheless demonstrate limited or no capacity for computation in DNA.
 
Conveniently, beyond its role as a storage medium, DNA has proved to be a programmable medium for computation, primarily via “strand displacement” reactions. With the understanding of the kinetics and thermodynamics of DNA strand displacement (1315), a variety of rationally designed molecular computing devices have been engineered. These include molecular implementations of logic circuits (1618), neural networks (1920), consensus algorithms (21), dynamical systems including oscillators (22), and cargo-sorting robots (23). Given the achievements of strand displacement systems and their inherent molecular parallelism, DNA computation schemes appear well suited to directly carry out computation on big data stored in DNA.
 
A research team now proposes a paradigm called SIMD||||DNA* (Single Instruction Multiple Data computation with DNA) which integrates DNA storage with in-memory computation by strand displacement. A preliminary version of the theoretical results appeared as a conference paper (25). Inspired by methods of storing information in the positions of nicks in double-stranded DNA (910), SIMD||||DNA encodes information in a multi-stranded DNA complex with a unique pattern of nicks and exposed single-stranded regions (a register). Although storage density is somewhat reduced (approximately a factor of 30), encoding information in nicks still achieves orders of magnitude higher density than magnetic and optical technologies. To manipulate information, an instruction (a set of strands) is applied in parallel to all registers which all share the same sequence space. The strand composition of a register changes when the applied instruction strands trigger strand displacement reactions within that register. Non-reacted instruction strands and reaction waste products are washed away via magnetic bead separation to prepare for the next instruction. Each instruction can change every bit on every register, yielding a high level of parallelism. These experiments routinely manipulated 10^101010 registers in parallel. DNA storage recovery studies suggest that, in principle, 10^8108 distinct register values can be stored in one such sample.
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When Kissing Involves Trigonometry: Circle Packing

When Kissing Involves Trigonometry: Circle Packing | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

How to pack circles inside circles and keeping track of the mathematics involved.

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Parasitoid Wasps Use Viruses as Biological Weapons

Parasitoid Wasps Use Viruses as Biological Weapons | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

To protect and rear their young, some insects have transformed wild viruses into tiny biological weapons. If you puncture the ovary of a wasp called Microplitis demolitor, viruses squirt out in vast quantities, shimmering like iridescent blue toothpaste. “It’s very beautiful, and just amazing that there’s so much virus made in there,” says Gaelen Burke, an entomologist at the University of Georgia. M. demolitor  is a parasite that lays its eggs in caterpillars, and the particles in its ovaries are “domesticated” viruses that have been tuned to persist harmlessly in wasps and serve their purposes. The virus particles are injected into the caterpillar through the wasp’s stinger, along with the wasp’s own eggs. The viruses then dump their contents into the caterpillar’s cells, delivering genes that are unlike those in a normal virus. Those genes suppress the caterpillar’s immune system and control its development, turning it into a harmless nursery for the wasp’s young.

 

The insect world is full of species of parasitic wasps that spend their infancy eating other insects alive. And for reasons that scientists don’t fully understand, they have repeatedly adopted and tamed wild, disease-causing viruses and turned them into biological weapons. Half a dozen examples already are described, and new research hints at many more. By studying viruses at different stages of domestication, researchers today are untangling how the process unfolds.


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AI could help to reveal yet undiscovered particles within data from the Large Hadron Collider

AI could help to reveal yet undiscovered particles within data from the Large Hadron Collider | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Scientists used a neural network, a type of brain-inspired machine learning algorithm, to sift through large volumes of particle collision data.

 

For over two decades, the ATLAS particle detector has recorded the highest energy particle collisions in the world within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Beams of protons are accelerated around the LHC at close to the speed of light, and upon their collision at ATLAS, they produce a cascade of new particles, resulting in over a billion particle interactions per second.

 

Particle physicists are tasked with mining this massive and growing store of collision data for evidence of undiscovered particles. In particular, they’re searching for particles not included in the Standard Model of particle physics, our current understanding of the universe’s makeup that scientists suspect is incomplete.

 

As part of the ATLAS collaboration, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and their colleagues recently used a machine learning approach called anomaly detection to analyze large volumes of ATLAS data. The method has never before been applied to data from a collider experiment. It has the potential to improve the efficiency of the collaboration’s search for something new. The collaboration involves scientists from 172 research organizations.

 

The team leveraged a brain-inspired type of machine learning algorithm called a neural network to search the data for abnormal features, or anomalies. The technique breaks from more traditional methods of searching for new physics. It is independent of — and therefore unconstrained by — the preconceptions of scientists.

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First AI outperforming international math olympiad gold medalist

 

Proving geometric theorems constitutes a hallmark of visual reasoning combining both intuitive and logical skills. Therefore, automated theorem proving of Olympiad-level geometry problems is considered a notable milestone in human-level automated reasoning. The introduction of AlphaGeometry, a neuro-symbolic model trained with 100 million synthetic samples, marked a major breakthrough. It solved 25 of 30 International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) problems whereas the reported baseline based on Wu’s method solved only ten.

 

In this paper, the IMO-AG-30 Challenge introduced with AlphaGeometry was revisited, and the researchers found that Wu’s method is surprisingly strong. Wu’s method alone can solve 15 problems, and some of them are not solved by any of the other methods. This leads to two key findings: (i) Combining Wu’s method with the classic synthetic methods of deductive databases and angle, ratio, and distance chasing solves 21 out of 30 methods by just using a CPU-only laptop with a time limit of 5 minutes per problem. Essentially, this classic method solves just 4 problems less than AlphaGeometry and establishes the first fully symbolic baseline, strong enough to rival the performance of an IMO silver medalist. (ii) Wu’s method even solves 2 of the 5 problems that AlphaGeometry failed to solve. Thus, by combining AlphaGeometry with Wu’s method a new state-of-the-art for automated theorem proving on IMO-AG-30, solving 27 out of 30 problems, the first AI method which outperforms an IMO gold medalist is finally achieved.

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Analysis of the Proteomic Atlas of SARS-CoV-2 Infected cells 

Analysis of the Proteomic Atlas of SARS-CoV-2 Infected cells  | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The COVID-19 pandemic was initiated by the rapid spread of a SARS-CoV-2 strain. Though mainly classified as a respiratory disease, SARS-CoV-2 infects multiple tissues throughout the human body, leading to a wide range of symptoms in patients. To better understand how SARS-CoV-2 affects the proteome from cells with different ontologies, this work generated an infectome atlas of 9 cell models, including cells from brain, blood, digestive system, and adipocyte tissue.

 

Our data shows that SARS-CoV-2 infection mainly trigger dysregulations on proteins related to cellular structure and energy metabolism. Despite these pivotal processes, heterogeneity of infection was also observed, highlighting many proteins and pathways uniquely dysregulated in one cell type or ontological group. These data have been made searchable online via a tool that will permit future submissions of proteomic data (https://reisdeoliveira.shinyapps.io/Infectome_App/) to enrich and expand this knowledgebase.

 

Published in Scientific Reports (March 28, 2024):

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-56328-3 


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NVIDIA Brings Generative AI to Millions, With Tensor Core GPUs, LLMs, Tools for RTX PCs and Workstations

NVIDIA Brings Generative AI to Millions, With Tensor Core GPUs, LLMs, Tools for RTX PCs and Workstations | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

NVIDIA recently announced GeForce RTX™ SUPER desktop GPUs for supercharged generative AI performance, new AI laptops from every top manufacturer, and new NVIDIA RTX™-accelerated AI software and tools for both developers and consumers.

 

Building on decades of PC leadership, with over 100 million of its RTX GPUs driving the AI PC era, NVIDIA is now offering these tools to enhance PC experiences with generative AI: NVIDIA TensorRT™ acceleration of the popular Stable Diffusion XL model for text-to-image workflows, NVIDIA RTX Remix with generative AI texture tools, NVIDIA ACE microservices and more games that use DLSS 3 technology with Frame Generation.

 

AI Workbench, a unified, easy-to-use toolkit for AI developers, will be available in beta later this month. In addition, NVIDIA TensorRT-LLM (TRT-LLM), an open-source library that accelerates and optimizes inference performance of the latest large language models (LLMs), now supports more pre-optimized models for PCs. Accelerated by TRT-LLM, Chat with RTX, an NVIDIA tech demo also releasing this month, allows AI enthusiasts to interact with their notes, documents and other content.

 

“Generative AI is the single most significant platform transition in computing history and will transform every industry, including gaming,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of NVIDIA. “With over 100 million RTX AI PCs and workstations, NVIDIA is a massive installed base for developers and gamers to enjoy the magic of generative AI.”

 

Running generative AI locally on a PC is critical for privacy, latency and cost-sensitive applications. It requires a large installed base of AI-ready systems, as well as the right developer tools to tune and optimize AI models for the PC platform. To meet these needs, NVIDIA is delivering innovations across its full technology stack, driving new experiences and building on the 500+ AI-enabled PC applications and games already accelerated by NVIDIA RTX technology.

 

This is NVIDIA's first and very important step towards the vision of "LLM as Operating System" - a locally running, heavily optimized AI assistant that can deeply integrate with all your local files, but at the same time preserving privacy. NVIDIA is going local even before OpenAI!

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Rare Retrovirus Genomic Insertion: Gibbon Ape Leukaemia Virus Integrates into New Guinea Rodent Genome

Rare Retrovirus Genomic Insertion: Gibbon Ape Leukaemia Virus Integrates into New Guinea Rodent Genome | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

Retroviruses are viruses that multiply by incorporating their genes into the genome of a host cell. If the infected cell is a germ cell, the retrovirus can then be passed on to the next generation as an “endogenous” retrovirus (ERV) and spread as part of the host genome in that host species. In vertebrates, ERVs are ubiquitous and sometimes make up 10 per cent of the host genome. However, most retrovirus integrations are very old, already degraded and therefore inactive – their initial impact on host health has been minimized by millions of years of evolution. A research team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has now discovered a recent case of retrovirus colonization in a rodent from New Guinea, the white-bellied mosaic-tailed rat. In a PNAS paper they describe this new model of virus integration. The observations on this process will help to improve our understanding how retroviruses rewrite host genomes.

Retroviruses, such as the pathogen responsible for AIDS (HIV-1), integrate into the genome of the host cells they infect during their life cycle. When this happens in the germline (egg cells or cells that produce sperm) of the host, the retrovirus can actually become a gene of the host itself. This process is apparently common, as up to 10 percent of the genomes of most vertebrates consist of the remnants of such ancient infections. One of the best studied models of this process is the koala retrovirus (KoRV), which is currently colonizing the koala genome. „What happens to the virus and the host during this process of genome colonization we do not know, as most such events occurred millions of years ago and we only see the leftover ‘fossils’ of the retrovirus”, says Prof Alex Greenwood, head of the Leibniz-IZW Department of Wildlife Diseases. “Nor do we know what the host suffered health-wise during the infection process. The koala retrovirus (KoRV) is one of the few models of this process that occurs in real time and where we can observe the effects of genome colonization on the host animal.”

There is now some evidence that KoRV-related viruses are circulating in rodents and bats in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. A group led by Greenwood and Dr Saba Mottaghinia, former PhD student in Greenwood’s department, analyzed 278 samples from seven bat and one rodent family endemic to Australia and New Guinea. They discovered a retrovirus that is currently colonizing the genome of an endemic rodent from New Guinea, the white-bellied mosaic-tailed rat (Melomys leucogaster). This is only the second example from the Australo-Papuan region, after KoRV, of a retrovirus that has colonized a genome while retaining a functional viral life cycle. The gibbon ape leukaemia viruses (GALV), a group of viruses discovered in gibbons and woolly monkeys at a research facility in Thailand in the 1960s, are very closely related to KoRV. This is a curious and surprising relationship, as there is a geographical barrier, known as the Wallace lineage, which separates the fauna of Southeast Asia from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia's fauna. However, there is evidence that the gibbons and woolly monkeys at the research facility in Thailand have been infected with viruses from Papua New Guinea. „The discovery of GALV-like viruses in rodents and bats in Indonesian and Australian rodents and bats from New Guinea suggests that these viruses, and possibly also KoRV, originated in New Guinea”, says Greenwood, who initiated the research project funded by the German Research Foundation.

The Leibniz-IZW team, together with scientists from the Charité, the Robert Koch Institute, the Max Delbrück Center, the University of Nicosia, California State University Fullerton, the South Australian Museum and Museum Victoria, examined 278 bat and rodent samples from Australia and New Guinea for KoRV and GALV-like viruses. They detected a GALV, the Woolly Monkey Virus (WMV) in a population of the white-bellied mosaic-tailed rat, an endemic rodent from New Guinea. In five of the rats from two New Guinea collection sites, WMV was integrated into the genome at the same location, indicating that it has spread as a gene and not by infection, i.e. it has become part of the genome. However, in other white-bellied mosaic-tailed rat populations the virus was absent – similar to KoRV in koalas, where all koalas in northern Australia have KoRV in their genome, whereas there are koalas in southern Australia that do not have intact KoRV. The virus, now called the “complete Melomys woolly monkey virus” (cMWMV), was able to infect cell lines, produce new viral progeny, was visible by electron microscopy as viral particles that detached from the cell membrane, and was even sensitive to the antiretroviral drug AZT.


„The virus has all the characteristics of an exogenous infectious retrovirus, but is endogenous. It is probably a very recent colonization event, much younger than KoRV", says Dr Saba Mottaghinia, the lead author of the paper. The results suggest that cMWMV is a new model for retroviral colonization of the host genome that occurs in real time, as in KoRV, and they also suggest that GALVs like WMV originated in the diverse fauna of New Guinea. The discoveries in New Guinea have certainly not been exhausted. “There are hundreds of mammalian species from this region that have not yet been studied, suggesting that many more viruses and models exist in this region”, says Greenwood.

 

Published in PNAS (Feb. 1, 2024):

https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2220392121


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Surgery in space: Tiny remotely operated robot completes first simulated procedure at the space station

Surgery in space: Tiny remotely operated robot completes first simulated procedure at the space station | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 
The first surgery demonstration in space performed by a robot — controlled by surgeons on Earth — has marked a technological milestone for long-term spaceflight.

 

The robot, known as spaceMIRA — which stands for Miniaturized In Vivo Robotic Assistant — performed several operations on simulated tissue at the orbiting laboratory while remotely operated by surgeons from approximately 250 miles (400 kilometers) below in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

The milestone is a step forward in developing technology that could have implications not just for successful long-term human space travel, where surgical emergencies could happen, but also for establishing access to medical care in remote areas on Earth.

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A star like a Matryoshka doll: New theory for gravastars as alternative to black holes

A star like a Matryoshka doll: New theory for gravastars as alternative to black holes | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

The interior of black holes remains a conundrum for science. In 1916, German physicist Karl Schwarzschild outlined a solution to Albert Einstein's equations of general relativity, in which the center of a black hole consists of a so-called singularity, a point at which space and time no longer exist. Here, the theory goes, all physical laws, including Einstein's general theory of relativity, no longer apply; the principle of causality is suspended.

 

This constitutes a great nuisance for science—after all, it means that no information can escape from a black hole beyond the so-called event horizon. This could be a reason why Schwarzschild's solution did not attract much attention outside the theoretical realm—that is, until the first candidate for a black hole was discovered in 1971, followed by the discovery of the black hole in the center of our Milky Way in the 2000s, and finally the first image of a black hole, captured by the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration in 2019.

 

In 2001, Pawel Mazur and Emil Mottola proposed a different solution to Einstein's field equations that led to objects that they called gravitational condensate stars, or gravastars. Contrary to black holes, gravastars have several advantages from a theoretical astrophysics perspective.

 

On the one hand, they are almost as compact as black holes and also exhibit a gravity at their surface that is essentially as strong as that of a black hole, hence resembling a black hole for all practical purposes. On the other hand, gravastars do not have an event horizon, that is, a boundary from within which no information can be sent out, and their core does not contain a singularity.

 

Instead, the center of a gravastar is made up of an exotic (dark) energy that exerts a negative pressure to the enormous gravitational force compressing the star. The surface of a gravastar is represented by a wafer-thin skin of ordinary matter, the thickness of which approaches zero.

 

Theoretical physicists Daniel Jampolski and Prof. Luciano Rezzolla of Goethe University Frankfurt have now presented a solution to the field equations of general relativity that describes the existence of a gravastar inside another gravastar. They have given this hypothetical celestial object the name "nestar" (from the English "nested"). The study is published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.

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OpenAI: Building an early warning system for LLM-aided biological threat creation

OpenAI: Building an early warning system for LLM-aided biological threat creation | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

As OpenAI and other model developers build more capable AI systems, the potential for both beneficial and harmful uses of AI will grow. One potentially harmful use, highlighted by researchers and policymakers, is the ability for AI systems to assist malicious actors in creating biological threats (e.g., see White House 2023Lovelace 2022Sandbrink 2023). In one discussed hypothetical example, a malicious actor might use a highly-capable model to develop a step-by-step protocol, troubleshoot wet-lab procedures, or even autonomously execute steps of the biothreat creation process when given access to tools like cloud labs (see Carter et al., 2023). However, assessing the viability of such hypothetical examples was limited by insufficient evaluations and data.

 

Following OpenAI's recently shared Preparedness Framework, they are developing methodologies to empirically evaluate these types of risks, in order to understand both where AI models are today and where they might be in the future. Now, OpenAI details a new evaluation which could help serve as one potential “tripwire” signaling the need for caution and further testing of biological misuse potential. This evaluation aims to measure whether models could meaningfully increase malicious actors’ access to dangerous information about biological threat creation, compared to the baseline of existing resources (i.e., the internet).

 

To evaluate this, OpenAI conducted a study with 100 human participants, comprising (a) 50 biology experts with PhDs and professional wet lab experience and (b) 50 student-level participants, with at least one university-level course in biology. Each group of participants was randomly assigned to either a control group, which only had access to the internet, or a treatment group, which had access to GPT-4 in addition to the internet. Each participant was then asked to complete a set of tasks covering aspects of the end-to-end process for biological threat creation.A[A]

 

 

Findings:

This study assessed uplifts in performance for participants with access to GPT-4 across five metrics (accuracy, completeness, innovation, time taken, and self-rated difficulty) and five stages in the biological threat creation process (ideation, acquisition, magnification, formulation, and release). They found mild uplifts in accuracy and completeness for those with access to the language model. Specifically, on a 10-point scale measuring accuracy of responses, they observed a mean score increase of 0.88 for experts and 0.25 for students compared to the internet-only baseline, and similar uplifts for completeness (0.82 for experts and 0.41 for students). However, the obtained effect sizes were not large enough to be statistically significant, and this study highlighted the need for more research around what performance thresholds indicate a meaningful increase in risk. Moreover, OpenAI notes that information access alone is insufficient to create a biological threat, and that this evaluation does not test for success in the physical construction of the threats.

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Experimental gene therapy allows deaf-born child to hear, clinical trial shows

Experimental gene therapy allows deaf-born child to hear, clinical trial shows | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

An experimental gene therapy has restored the hearing of a child who was born deaf, the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly said in a statement. The child, who was 11 years old at the time the therapy was administered, experienced restored hearing within 30 days of treatment, Eli Lilly said in a release. The child participating in the clinical study was the first individual in the U.S. to receive the therapy for a genetic form of hearing loss, the company said.

The gene therapy, AK-OTOF, is being developed for the treatment of hearing loss due to mutations in the otoferlin gene. added AK-OTOF to its portfolio through its , a genetic-medicine company focused on inner-ear conditions.

Doctors and scientists have been pursuing gene therapy for hearing loss for more than 20 years, and “these initial results show that it may restore hearing better than many thought possible,” Dr. John Germiller, director of clinical research in the otolaryngology department at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and principal investigator in the clinical trial, said in a statement.

The child’s hearing was restored across all tested frequencies and was within a normal range at some frequencies at 30 days after the treatment, Eli Lilly said.

Children with hearing problems due to otoferlin gene mutations are often born with profound hearing loss, but most of them have not had the genetic testing needed for a definitive diagnosis, Dr. Oliver Haag, head of otolaryngology at Sant Joan de Deu Hospital in Barcelona and an Akouos study investigator, said in a statement.

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Giant doubts about giant exomoons

Giant doubts about giant exomoons | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

In observations of the planets Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b from the Kepler and Hubble space telescopes, researchers had discovered traces of such moons for the first time. A new study now raises doubts about these previous claims. As scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the Sonnenberg Observatory, both in Germany, report in the journal Nature Astronomy, "planet-only" interpretations of the observations are more conclusive. For their analysis, the researchers used their newly developed computer algorithm Pandora, which facilitates and accelerates the search for exomoons. They also investigated what kind of exomoons can be found in principle in modern space-based astronomical observations. Their answer is quite shocking.

 

In our Solar System, the fact that a planet is orbited by one or more moons is rather the rule than the exception: apart from Mercury and Venus, all other planets have such companions; in the case of the gas giant Saturn researchers have found 140 natural satellites until today. Scientists therefore consider it likely that planets in distant star systems also harbor moons. So far, however, there has only been evidence of such exomoons in two cases: Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b. This low yield is not surprising. After all, distant satellites are naturally much smaller than their home worlds - and therefore much harder to find. And it is extremely time-consuming to comb through the observational data of thousands of exoplanets for evidence of moons.

To make the search easier and faster, the authors of the new study rely on a search algorithm they developed and optimized themselves for the search for exomoons.

 

They published their method last year and the algorithm is available to all researchers as open source code. When applied to the observational data from Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b, the results were astonishing. "We would have liked to confirm the discovery of exomoons around Kepler-1625b and Kepler-1708b," says first author of the new study, MPS scientist Dr. René Heller. "But unfortunately, our analyses show otherwise," he adds.

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FDA Considers First CRISPR Gene Editing Treatment that May Cure Sickle Cell

FDA Considers First CRISPR Gene Editing Treatment that May Cure Sickle Cell | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 

At age 45, Dr. Lakiea Bailey said, she was the oldest person with sickle cell anemia that she knew. The executive director of the nonprofit patient advocacy group the Sickle Cell Consortium was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at age 3. Because of it, she’s had heart problems, had her hips replaced, and experienced serious pain all her life. Bailey told the US Food and Drug Administration’s independent advisory committee that she believes a cutting-edge therapy that is currently under review offers the sickle cell community something many haven’t ever had before: hope. “Hope is on the horizon, and we are looking toward this hope for a change of the lives that we are living of excruciating pain,” Bailey told the FDA committee.

 

The independent committee is helping the FDA think through how it should evaluate a treatment called exa-cel that could potentially cure people of sickle cell disease, a painful and deadly disease with no universally successful treatment. This was an ongoing discussion with no vote or decision about the therapy, but the discussion likely moves the US one step closer to approving a groundbreaking new treatment that uses gene editing. If approved, exa-cel, made by Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals and the Swiss company CRISPR Therapeutics, would be the first FDA-approved treatment that uses genetic modification called CRISPR. CRISPR, or clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a technology researchers use to selectively modify DNA, the carrier of genetic information that the body uses to function and develop. The FDA said treatment for severe sickle cell is an “unmet medical need.”

 

When someone has sickle cell disease their red blood cells don’t function the way they should. Red blood cells are the helper cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues, which use this oxygen to produce energy. The process also generates waste in the form of carbon dioxide that the red blood cells take to the lungs to be exhaled out.

 

With sickle cell disease — also called sickle cell anemia — red blood cells take on a folded or sickle shape that can clog tiny blood vessels and cause progressive organ damage and pain, and can lead to organ failure. The sickle cells also die earlier than they should, which means the person is constantly short red blood cells. One person with sickle cell who testified said she had been hospitalized 100 times just last year. Median life expectancy is only 45 years. Sickle cell is rare, and it disproportionately impacts African Americans. About 100,000 people in the US are diagnosed with sickle cell and, of those, 20,000 have what’s considered severe disease. Up until now, the only real treatment has been a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. For stem cells, fewer than 20% of patients have an appropriately matched donor, the FDA said, and the transplants are risky and may not work. Sometimes a transplant can kill the patient. The new exa-cel treatment under FDA consideration can use the patient’s own stem cells. Doctors would alter them with CRISPR to fix the genetic problems that cause sickle cell, and then the altered stem cells are given back to the patient in a one-time infusion. In company studies, the treatment was considered safe, and it had a “highly positive benefit-risk for patients with severe sickle cell disease,” Dr. Stephanie Krogmeier, vice president for global regulatory affairs with Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated, told the panel. Thirty-nine of the 40 people tested with the treatment did not have a single vaso-occlusive crisis, which means the misshapen red blood cells block normal circulation and can cause moderate to severe pain. It’s the top reason patients with sickle cell go to the emergency room or are hospitalized. Before the treatment, patients experienced about four of these painful crises a year, resulting in about two weeks in the hospital. The FDA sought the independent panel’s advice, in part, because this would be the first time the FDA would approve a treatment that uses CRISPR technology, but Dr. Fyodor Urnov, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, reminded the committee CRISPR has been around for 30 years and, in that time, scientists have learned a lot about how to use it safely. “The technology is, in fact, ready for primetime,” Urnov said. With this kind of genetic editing, scientists could inadvertently make a change to a patient’s DNA that is off-target, and the therapy could harm the patient. The FDA wanted the experts’ advice so it could understand what criteria it should use to evaluate the treatment and determine how to evaluate long-term safety issues.

 

An FDA presentation to the panel suggested the agency may have some questions about the data. It called a lack of confirmatory testing “concerning.” It also noted the study’s small size. In a discussion of the company’s methodology, several panel experts said that they believed the data the companies have submitted for FDA approval were reasonable. Committee member Dr. Gil Wolfe, a distinguished professor in the department of neurology at University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said he liked that the company promised to monitor patients for 15 years to see if there were any problems down the road. He said, generally, it was “exciting” to see how many patients have been treated and how positive the results have been so far. As far as any concern for what’s called “off-target effects,” meaning the potential unwanted or adverse alterations to the genome that could accidentally happen in this process and cause cancer or other problems down the road, Dr. Daniel Bauer, principal investigator and staff physician at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, told the panel the risk is “relatively small.” Wolfe thought the depth of analysis the companies used should be good enough to detect any potential problems down the road. “We want to be careful to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Wolfe said. “At some point, you have to just try things out.” “I think, in this case, that there’s a huge unmet need for individuals with sickle cell disease, and it’s important we think about how we can advance therapies that could potentially help them, and I certainly think this is one of them,” Wolfe added. Asked by the committee how he would advise patients how to evaluate the risks with this treatment, Bauer said he would be honest that there is some uncertainty, but most of the human genome is non-coding, meaning it doesn’t provide instructions to the cells to act a certain way. “It might be that many places in the human genome can tolerate an off-target edit and not have a functional consequence,” Bauer told the committee. In other words, if they made an editing error, it might not matter, and may not harm the patient. “My guess is it’s a relatively small risk in the scheme of this risk benefit. But it’s new, it’s unknown,” Bauer said. “We need to be humble and open to learning from these brave patients participating.” The FDA is expected to make an approval decision by December 8, 2023.


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Brain cells control how fast you eat — and when you stop

Brain cells control how fast you eat — and when you stop | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
 
 

Scientists found the cells in mice — and say they could lead to a better understanding of human appetite.

 

Brain cells that control how quickly mice eat, and when they stop, have been identified. The findings, published in Nature1, could lead to a better understanding of human appetite, the researchers say.

 

Nerves in the gut, called vagal nerves, had already been shown to sense how much mice have eaten and what nutrients they have consumed2. The vagal nerves use electrical signals to pass this information to a small region in the brainstem that is thought to influence when mice, and humans, stop eating. This region, called the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract, contains prolactin-releasing hormone neurons (PRLH) and GCG neurons. But, until now, studies have involved filling the guts of anaesthetized mice with liquid food, making it unclear how these neurons regulate appetite when mice are awake.

 

To answer this question, physiologist Zachary Knight at the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues implanted a light sensor in the brains of mice that had been genetically modified so that the PRLH neurons released a fluorescent signal when activated by electrical signals transmitted along neurons from elsewhere in the body. Knight and his team infused a liquid food called Ensure — which contains a mixture of fat, protein, sugar, vitamins and minerals — into the guts of these mice. Over a ten-minute period, the neurons became increasingly activated as more of the food was infused. This activity peaked a few minutes after the infusion ended. By contrast, the PRLH neurons did not activate when the team infused saline solution into the mice’s guts.

 

When the team allowed the mice to freely eat liquid food, the PRLH neurons activated within seconds of the animals starting to lick the food, but deactivated when they stopped licking. This showed that PRLH neurons respond differently, depending on whether signals are coming from the mouth or the gut, and suggests that signals from the mouth override those from the gut, says Knight. By using a laser to activate PRLH neurons in mice that were eating freely, the researchers could reduce how quickly the mice ate.

 

Further experiments showed that PRLH neurons did not activate during feeding in mice that lacked most of their ability to taste sweetness, suggesting that taste activated the neurons. The researchers also found that GCG neurons are activated by signals from the gut, and control when mice stop eating. “The signals from the mouth are controlling how fast you eat, and the signals from the gut are controlling how much you eat,” says Knight.

 

“I’m extremely impressed by this paper,” says neuroscientist Chen Ran at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. The work provides original insights on how taste regulates appetite, he says. The findings probably apply to humans, too, Ran adds, because these neural circuits tend to be well conserved across both species.

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