News in a nutshell
How infections lead to Parkinson's; early freshwater ecosystems; marine life census lessons
This week's news includes a possible mechanism of how infections can lead to Parkinson's disease, the discovery of the earliest freshwater ecosystems to date, lessons from the Census for Marine Life, a national plan for saving bats from white-nose syndrome, stem cells not involved in zebrafish regeneration of limbs, and bacteria and a squid launched into space.
Pathogens linked to Parkinson's
| Paralysis in hands of a Parkinson's patient|
Image: National Library of Medicine
Although pathogens have long been suspected to play a role in the neurodegeneration of Parkinson's and related diseases(see our linkurl:December 2010 feature),;http://www.the-scientist.com/2010/12/1/40/1/ very little is understood about the mechanics of the process. Specifically, scientists have been at a loss to explain what kills the dopamine-producing neurons in a region in the mid-brain that's important for movement -- resulting in motor problems such as tremors and paralysis. But last Sunday, researchers working with mice reported in __Nature Neuroscience__ that high levels of interferon-γ, a pro-inflammatory cytokine secreted as part of the body's normal response to infection, can selectively damage this region of the brain. The results provide strong evidence that infections or other factors that result in chronic brain inflammation, and thus high levels of interferon-γ, "can predispose one to Parkinsonism or even cause it outright," said last author of the paper Todd Golde, in a linkurl:press release.;http://news.health.ufl.edu/2011/16411/colleges/college-of-medicine/%E2%80%98friendly-fire%E2%80%99-may-be-at-the-root-of-parkinson-like-diseases/
Early freshwater life
Tiny fossil tracks embedded in a California rock formation that was once part of an ancient river may be evidence that freshwater ecosystems arose around 100 million years earlier than what is generally believed. The existing fossil record dates the evolution of freshwater ecosystems to around 435 million years ago, according to linkurl:ScienceNow.;http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/05/come-on-in-the-waters-fresh.html?ref=hp
Before then, the oceans were virtually the only hubs for life. But this new set of fossils, found in rocks dating between 520 and 542 million years, suggests entire communities of organisms were already thriving in lakes and rivers at this time
Lessons from the marine census
Now that the ten-year effort to take stock of the diversity of life in the oceans came to a triumphant end late last year, researchers involved in the Census for Marine Life are reflecting on the project's shortcomings. Of main concern
| School master snapper |
Ayesha Cantrell | Dreamstime.com
is the future of the project, which cost around $635 million, now that the funding has ended, stressing the lack of "procedures for bringing forward new leaders to continue the projects," linkurl:Nature;http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110517/full/news.2011.299.html
reports. The review was commissioned by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the main funder of the census, and will be presented in draft form today (May 19).
National plan save bats
In light of the looming threat of extinction of North American bat populations brought on by the lethal and rapidly spreading disease known as white nose syndrome, the linkurl:US Fish and Wildlife Service;http://www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome/ unveiled this week a national plan for coordinating efforts for combatting the disease at the local, state, and federal level. Among the various goals of the plan are to offer guidance to the various agencies addressing the problem, facilitate resource sharing, standardize data collection, and provide strategies for the eradication of the disease which has killed more than a million bats since 2006.
How zebrafish regrow limbs
Because of their ability to differentiate into any cell type, stem cells have been thought to play an important role in limb regeneration processes. But new research has found that in zebrafishes that have lost their fins, the regrowing of the limb is carried out instead by an assortment of already differentiated cell types that are induced to proliferate. "This is evidence that we can't necessarily do regenerative medicine by plopping in generalized stem cells," said one of the researchers, Stephen L. Johnson, in a linkurl:press release.;http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110516121427.htm "The key may be to induce the cells that are already there to grow again."
Extremophiles explore galaxy
| Bobtail squid |
Image: Nick Hobgood, Wikipedia
This past Monday, the __Endeavor__ space shuttle was launched into space carrying six astronauts, brand new equipment for studying the universe and... a bobtail squid and a pack of extremophile bacteria. According to linkurl:Wired,;http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/05/squid-microbes-endeavour/
the unlikely science experiment is part of the The Planetary Society's Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE), which aims to test how well the extremophiles can survive the low-oxygen, low-pressure, and high-radiation conditions of outer space. The project also seeks to confirm or debunk the hypothesis that life on Earth came from the surface of other planets via meteorites. And as for the squid, researchers are interested in monitoring the beneficial bacteria hitching a ride in the cephalopod, in light of previous research that has found that bacteria turn more virulent when exposed to the extreme conditions of outer space.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Old open air voyagers;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/58114/
[13th April 2011] *linkurl:Equations that spell disaster;http://www.the-scientist.com/2010/12/1/40/1/
[December 2010] *linkurl:Bats at risk of extinction;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57608/
[5th August 2010]