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Week in Review, March 18-22

Venom-based drugs for pain; microbes in the deep ocean; altruistic, suicidal bacteria; a call for open access; clinical sequencing; the newest genomes

By | March 22, 2013

Therapeutic toxins

A Caribbean sun anemone (Stichodactyla helianthus)FLICKR, OMAR SPENCE PHOTOGRAPHYResearchers are mining venom from snakes, spiders, and other poisonous creatures for drug candidates to treat autoimmune diseases and pain. So far, only a handful of venom-derived drugs, most of which target the cardiovascular system, have received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. Now, advances in proteomics and transcriptomics are allowing researchers to screen the hundreds of thousands of venom compounds for therapeutic potential.

 

Microbes, microbes, everywhere

The JOIDES Resolution drilling vesselIODP-USIOTwo studies this week found microbial life deep below the Earth’s surface. Researchers measuring oxygen uptake in the deepest known spot in the ocean, the Mariana Trench, found signs of an active microbial community. Despite pressures 1,000 times greater than at sea level, the microbes were metabolizing organic matter faster than organisms at a shallower site nearby. Meanwhile, an independent group found evidence of chemosynthetic microbial life below 300–400 meters of basalt rock, 265 meters of sediment, and 2.6 kilometers of ocean off the coast of British Columbia.

Taking one for the team

Colonies of altruistic and selfish E. coliDOMINIK REFARDTCertain strains of Escherichia coli can, upon infection with a deadly virus, help save their communities by committing suicide to prevent viral spread. And, according to a study published this week in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, such altruistic tendencies can evolve even when the population contains distantly related individuals that benefit from the martyrs’ deaths.

 

 

Spread the word

WIKIMEDIA, VMENKOVA graduate student from the Philippines urges researchers to take the open-access movement into their own hands by submitting their work to open-access repositories. Not only would this expand the articles’ reach into the developing world where institutions often cannot supply their researchers with access to pay-walled content, it would also increase the visibility, audience, and impact of the research.

 

Clinical genomics is here

FLICKR, ALEX PROIMOSRichard Resnick, CEO of genomic software company GenomeQuest, argues that next-generation sequencing diagnostics are not science fiction, but rather science fact. Some tests have already been implemented in a clinic setting, and more are on the immediate horizon.

 

 

Genome roundup

HeLa cellsFLICKR, GE HEALTHCAREThe latest edition of our regular Genome Digest includes the sequences for a pair of bats that yield clues about the evolution of flight and the flying mammals’ role as disease reservoirs, an analysis of the popular HeLa cell line that questions its use as a model for human physiology, a red alga that appears to have gotten much of its genome through horizontal gene transfer from prokaryotic organisms, and more.

 

And other news in life-science:

Giant Squid Are a Single Species

Arciteuthis from disparate locations around the world are genetically similar.

UK May Allow Mitochondrial Replacement

The country’s fertility regulator reported that the technique has “broad support.”

HIV Remission for 14 Patients

The virus was largely stomped out in adults who started treatment soon after infection.

AstraZeneca Downsizing R&D Staff

Positions for 1,600 scientists at the pharmaceutical company will be eliminated globally.

March Methods Madness

Thomson Reuters launches Metrics Mania, which will pit universities against each other, not on the basketball court, but in the scientific literature.

Reviving an Extinct Pigeon

The passenger pigeon was hunted to extinction 99 years ago, but researchers are planning to use DNA from museum specimens to bring the bird back to life.

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