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Horizon Discovery
Horizon Discovery

Week in Review: January 6–10

Bacterial genes aid tubeworm settling; pigmentation of ancient reptiles; nascent neurons and vertebrate development; exploring simple synapses; slug-inspired surgical glue

By | January 10, 2014

Bacteria contribute to tubeworm transition

COURTESY OF BRIAN NEDVEDA set of Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea genes associated with the transition of the marine tubeworm Hydroides elegans from a free-swimming larva to its sedentary state encodes components of structures that resemble the contractile tails of bacterial viruses, or phage. These tail-like structures help the animal make the switch, researchers showed in Science this week.

“This is a benchmark paper in biology,” said Margaret McFall-Ngai, a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the work. “For many, many decades people have been . . . trying to figure out how and why marine larvae settle where they do in the environment.”

Ancient reptilian melanosomes and pigmentation

STEFAN SØLBERGResearchers this week reported on traces of ancient melanosomes found in the skins of three fossilized marine reptiles. In a paper published in Nature, the team suggested that the approach they took could enable the reconstruction of color across a range of extinct taxa.

“The method is pretty fast and minimally destructive,” said Jakob Vinther from Bristol University, who was not involved in the study.

Neuronal precursors part ways

COURTESY OF RAMAN DASIn a Science paper published this week, researchers described the newly identified process of apical abscission, in which nascent neurons are partially dismantled and detached during early vertebrate development. From there, the neuronal pieces navigate to their new homes in the nervous system.

“Previously it was thought that [the neuronal precurors] just withdrew, taking the whole cell with it. And what we observed was actually there was an abscission event and the apical compartment of the cell was left behind,” study coauthor Kate Storey of the University of Dundee in the U.K. told The Scientist.

Synapses by proximity

FLICKR, BIODIVLIBRARYSome African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) neurons seem to synapse because of spatial proximity as opposed to cellular recognition, scientists reported in The Journal of Neuroscience this week. “These experiments suggest . . .  [that cells] just grow and synapse with anything, providing they grow in the right direction and the right broad path of the nervous system,” study coauthor Alan Roberts, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in the U.K. told The Scientist.

But not everyone is convinced. Commenting on the work, Joshua Sanes, a neuroscientist at Harvard University who was not involved in the study, said that while the new “evidence is strong,” in other neural wiring systems, such as in retina, “this rule unequivocally fails to explain actual patterns of connectivity.”  

Slug-inspired surgical glue

RANDAL MCKENZIE (MCKENZIE ILLUSTRATIONS)A bioengineer and a pediatric cardiac surgeon this week presented in Science Translational Medicine a nontoxic polymer that, when activated by light, can seal ruptured blood vessels and patch up holes in a pig heart. The researchers attempted to recreate some of the properties of slug, snail, and worm secretions when creating the new adhesive.

“Being able to work easily in a wet environment is a big deal and the flexibility [of the material] on a beating heart is really incredible,” said Jennifer Elisseeff, a biomedical engineer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, who was not involved in the work.

Other news in life science:

Common Lab Mice Differ
Related substrains of the Black 6 lab mouse carry key genetic polymorphisms, including one that has a dramatic effect on the rodents’ responses to cocaine.

Speaker Selection Bias
Including at least one woman when planning scientific symposia prompts the selection of more female speakers, a study shows.

UK Government Laments Tamiflu Secrets
A parliamentary committee says drugmakers have not disclosed enough data on the anti-influenza medicine.

Schizophrenia’s Jumping Genetics
Researchers find evidence that transposable elements, also known as jumping genes, may contribute to the development of the psychiatric disorder.

Dung Beetles Navigate by Sunlight
Shortly after demonstrating dung beetles’ ability to navigate by the stars, researchers in Sweden provide evidence that the insects can also use the sun to find their way.

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