News in a nutshell
New microbe species discovered in Antarctica; the NIH readies for a government shutdown; dinosaur lice
This week's news includes dozens of new microbe species discovered in Antarctica, the NIH's hush-hush plan for surviving the impending government shutdown, the creation of genetically modified cows that make milk that's more similar to human breast milk, the trick that coaxes bone marrow stem cells into skin wound repair, and the discovery that lice may have plagued feathered dinosaurs more than 100 million years ago.
A frozen microbe Eden
|Image: Wikimedia commons, Vincent van Zeijst
Researchers combing the icy expanses of Antarctica have turned up more than 200 new species of microbes capable of living in extreme conditions. Along with numerous species that can survive temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius, Chilean researchers from the Biosciences Foundation in Santiago also discovered organisms that can tolerate extreme pHs, ones that can live in high salt concentrations, and even one microbe that can live comfortably at 95 degrees C.
The team also found a previously undiscovered species of Deinococcus -- a group of ultra tough bacteria -- that can withstand 5,000 times the gamma ray exposure than can be tolerated by any other known organisms. The bacteria's impressive vigor has scientists theorizing that the microbe may have evolved somewhere other than our planet since such high levels of radiation have never occurred on Earth. "We wish to determine which mechanisms this microorganism possesses in order to protect itself from the effects of radiation, as well as conceive their potential applications," biochemist Jenny Blamey, one of the scientists who participated in the research, linkurl:told Nature
The NIH's emergency shutdown plan
With US legislators bickering over cuts to the country's federal budget and a shutdown of all non-essential government functions looming, the National Institutes of Health is preparing for the worst. Though details are sketchy, linkurlaccording to Science
Insider,;http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/04/nihs-secret-plans-for-a-government.html the NIH has made lists of intramural employees at all of its 27 institutes and centers who would be exempted from the shutdown to make sure that vital roles, such as patient care and experimental animal and cell culture maintenance, would continue.
Moo juice, just like mom used to make
|Image: Wikimedia commons|
Scientists in China have created dairy cows that produce milk that contains an enzyme found in human breast milk. Reporting linkurl:their findings;http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0017593 in a March issue of PLoS ONE
, researchers from the China Agricultural University and collaborators at Beijing GenProtein Biotechnology Company claim to have inserted a gene for lysozyme, a bactericidal protein that protects human infants from microbial infections, into the genome of Holstein cattle through somatic cell nuclear transfer. The cloned cows expressed the recombinant human enzyme in their milk. linkurl:According to The Telegraph
,;http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/geneticmodification/8423536/Genetically-modified-cows-produce-human-milk.html the researchers had already successfully created cows that could produce the protein lactoferrin, which boosts immune cell numbers in human babies.
How stem cells help wounds heal
British and Japanese researchers claim to have identified the chemical that signals stem cells from bone marrow to travel to wound sites on skin where they initiate repair processes. Called high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), the compound serves as a "Save Our Skin signal," as contributor John McGrath, from King's College London, linkurl:told the BBC
.;http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12956636 Reporting linkurl:their finding;http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/03/30/1016753108 in this week's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, McGrath and his coauthors suggest that a drug that mimics HMGB1 could one day be used in regenerative medicine to help wounds heal more quickly.
Dinosaurs may have been the first animal hosts of lice. An international team of scientists has suggested that many lineages of the ectoparasitic insects extend back to the time when dinosaurs began to evolve into more bird-like forms. Using molecular dating techniques, University of Illinois ornithologist Kevin Johnson and colleagues traced some lice lines back to the early to mid Cretaceous, more than 115 million years ago. linkurl:The findings,;http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2011/04/01/rsbl.2011.0105.short?rss=1 reported online at Biology Letters
, also suggest that birds and mammals began to diversify before dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. linkurl:(Hat tip to Wired
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Skin wounds trigger tumors;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57987/
[14th February 2011]*linkurl:Arsenic supports life?;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/57851/
[2nd December 2010]*linkurl:New energy source for microbes;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57688/
[15th September 2010]*linkurl:What's in your milk?;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/home/43585/