Autopsy of a Transcriptome: Zombie Genes and the Non-Believers

Autopsy of a Transcriptome: Zombie Genes and the Non-Believers

What does it mean for our cells to be alive after we are no longer living? Some researchers believe they may have found a way to answer this question using genomics. Enter the thanatotranscriptome and the discovery of zombie genes, genes that “wake up” in our cells after we die. 

What’s notable about this paper is not the paradigm-shifting finding that zombie genes may exist, but that unbeknownst to the public, the scientific community actively retaliated against the supposition. 
 

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When Viruses and Carbon Nanotubes Collide: A Novel Approach to Cancer Imaging

When Viruses and Carbon Nanotubes Collide: A Novel Approach to Cancer Imaging

In innovative new work, researchers in the Bhatia and Belcher laboratories at MIT have developed a new tool to screen for small tumors that are embedded deep within tissues by combining a virus, carbon nanotubes, and a small molecule that specifically recognizes ovarian cancer cells.

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Bacterial Infection During Pregnancy May Lead to Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Image Credit:
Embryo week 9-10” by Lunar Caustic is licensed under CC by 2.0

Our immune systems have evolved to recognize certain foreign molecules that are similar in many species of bacteria, such as parts of the bacterial cell wall. Although these immune mechanisms are built to protect us from foreign invaders, the inflammation and cell proliferation that result from exposure to pathogenic bacteria can actually be detrimental to our health if excessive. In a new study, Humann and colleagues have demonstrated for the first time that bacterial cell wall components can cross a mother’s placenta into the developing fetal brain, where they are recognized by the fetus’s immune sensors. The resulting proliferation of fetal neurons can lead to developmental disorders in the fetal brain. This work has important implications for how we treat pregnant women with bacterial infections, as some antibiotics that work by rupturing bacterial cells are more likely to release these harmful components into the bloodstream, while other antibiotics that kill bacteria without lysing them may lead to less inappropriate inflammation and neuron proliferation in the unborn fetus.

- Jeff Maloy
Staff Writer, Signal to Noise Magazine

PhD Candidate, Microbiology



Reference:
Humann, J., et al. (2016). “Bacterial Peptidoglycan Transverses the Placenta to Induce Fetal Neuroproliferation and Aberrant Postnatal Behavior.” Cell Host & Microbe. 19(3): 388-399.

Gut Bacteria Play a Role in Recovery from Malnutrition

Malnutrition is a major cause of childhood mortality worldwide. Although we often tend to associate malnutrition with starvation, the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. In three recently published studies, researchers determined that certain gut bacteria are closely associated with malnourishment [1, 2, 3]. In one of these studies, Blanton et al. demonstrated that transplanting these bacteria from malnourished children into healthy mice caused those mice to exhibit symptoms of malnourishment despite eating the same diet as other healthy mice [1]. This groundbreaking work has given us a better understanding of why diet alone may not be enough to solve certain difficult cases of malnutrition.

 

References:

[1] Blanton, L. V. et al. Gut bacteria that prevent growth impairments transmitted by microbiota from malnourished children. Science 351, 10.1126/science.aad3311 (2016).

[2] Schwarzer, M. et al. Lactobacillus plantarum strain maintains growth of infant mice during chronic undernutrition. Science 351, 854-857 (2016).

[3] Charbonneau, M. R. et al. Sialylated Milk Oligosaccharides Promote Microbiota-Dependent Growth in Models of Infant Undernutrition. Cell 164, 859-871 (2016).

 

 

Across the Bench with Amanda Freise

Across the Bench with Amanda Freise

In the Wu Lab (part of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging at UCLA), researchers are working to find new ways to diagnose immune diseases by studying the way that disease develops in healthy tissues. The goal is to find painless, non-invasive ways to identify diseased cells in patients. I sat down with Amanda Freise, a graduate student researcher in the Wu Lab, to understand just how that works.

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Hard to Swallow: Outbreaks at Chipotle Restaurants Mimic Broader Patterns of Foodborne Illness in the United States

Hard to Swallow: Outbreaks at Chipotle Restaurants Mimic Broader Patterns of Foodborne Illness in the United States

It’s been a rough year for Chipotle Mexican Grill. Over the course of the past year, the fast food chain that has built its success on a local, non-GMO, “food with integrity” ethos has experienced a constant wave of foodborne illness at many of its locations nationwide. All told, more than 500 Chipotle customers were affected by foodborne illnesses in 6 months.

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