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Week in Review: November 4–8

Infant immune systems suppressed; why tissues are tough to freeze; silencing one gene causes secondary effects; estrogen’s role in drug-resistant breast cancer

By | November 8, 2013

Weak for a reason

WIKIMEDIA, ERNEST FNewborns have infamously weak immune systems, which make them susceptible to various infections. According to a new mouse study, though, having a dampened immune response can be a good thing—it helps let beneficial bacteria colonize. Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center showed in Nature this week that CD71+ cells actively suppress immune responses in newborn mice.

“This more intricate regulation of immune responses makes more sense than immaturity, because it allows a protective response to be mounted if needed,” study coauthor Sing Sing Way told The Scientist.

Cramped quarters hamper cryopreservation

ADAM HIGGINS AND JENS KARLSSONCompared with single cells, tissue samples are notoriously difficult to freeze. Researchers from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and the University of Oregon this week showed that tight junctions between cells are to blame for intracellular ice formation (IIF), which can severely damage frozen tissues.

John Bischof, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist that this finding “has important implications in explaining ice formation and the ensuing injury in tissues, a poorly understood phenomenon in cryobiology and regenerative medicine research.”

Knock down one, affect another

FLICKR, ZEISS MICROSCOPYInvestigators from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, have found that silencing a single gene can cause profound secondary mutations in the yeast genome. Their observations were published in Molecular Cell this week.

Stanford University’s Michael Snyder, who was not involved in the work, said the work shows that “a very large number of knockouts have a secondary mutation—much higher than I would have guessed.”

The authors noted that their results could extend beyond yeast, and called for additional scrutiny of genetic knockout investigations.

Drug spares noncancer cells

STONY BROOK UNIVERSITYResearchers from Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, this week announced the development of a new approach to modify cell-killing agents so that they selectively target cancer cells, while avoiding healthy cells. The technique, which involves adding an acetylated lysine residue to a toxic, represents “a clever way of ensuring the anticancer drug activates only in designated tumors by targeting two distinctive enzymes overexpressed in cancer cells,” Johns Hopkins’ Seulki Lee, who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist.

Mutations behind breast cancer drug resistance

WIKIPEDIA, BOGHOG2Two independent groups pinpointed ESR1 mutations as a key component of breast cancer resistance to hormonal therapies like tamoxifen and fulvestrant in Nature Genetics this week.

Baylor College of Medicine’s Suzanne Fuqua told The Scientist she had “spent my career generating data to convince my fellow researchers of the existence of these mutations and their important role in breast cancer evolution.” Of these two studies, she added: “It’s exciting that my original work has been confirmed by others, and won’t be viewed as an outlier.”

Other news in life science:

Prominent Geneticist Dies
Leonard Herzenberg, who helped to develop the first fluorescence-activated cell sorter, has passed away at age 81.

Awarding Science Defense Again
David Nutt wins the second John Maddox Prize for promoting science despite opposition.

Nutrition Studies Under More Scrutiny
A new analysis suggests that nutrition researchers sometimes overstate their findings.

HIV Structural Studies Undermine Prior Work
New research on the structure of the surface protein the virus uses to infiltrate human cells clashes with an earlier paper’s findings, causing some scientists to call for a retraction.

Troubled Grant Giver Can Resume
Texas lawmakers lifted a ban on a taxpayer-funded research organization to dole out grants.

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