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Week in Review: January 27–31

Stimulus-triggered pluripotency; antioxidants speed lung tumor growth; the importance of seminal vesicles; how a plant pathogen jumps hosts

By | January 31, 2014

Stimulating pluripotency

HARUKO OBOKATAResearchers from Japan presented a new approach for transforming differentiated cells into a pluripotent state, based on exposure to environmental stimuli as opposed to genetic manipulation, in two papers published in Nature this week (January 29).

“It’s pretty unexpected,” Rudolph Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, told The Scientist. “There’s no genetic manipulation, just some culture conditions, stress, to induce these changes. I think that’s quite remarkable.”

More harm than good

WIKIPEDIA, RAGESOSSIn a mouse model of lung cancer, scientists have shown how two antioxidants, vitamin E and N-acetylcysteine, can fuel tumor growth, helping to explain the results of an array of human clinical trials. The work was published in Science Translational Medicine this week (January 29). “If we give extra antioxidants in the diet, we’re helping the tumor to reduce radicals that would otherwise block its growth,” explained Martin Bergo from the University of Gothenburg, who led the research.

Semen matters

PNAS, DOI/10.1073/PNAS.1305609111While male mice lacking seminal vesicles have reduced fertility, they can still father offspring, although their sons exhibit signs of insulin resistance and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome. That’s the conclusion of a January 27 PNAS study led by investigators from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Cornell University’s Susan Suarez, who was not involved in the work, noted that these results in mice could have implications for human in vitro fertilization (IVF). Since the first IVF procedure was performed, she said, scientists had largely “lost interest in semen, because, after all, they could make babies in a dish without any seminal plasma. . . . All you needed was a sperm, and not a very good one at that. But this [study] helps to turn around that lack of interest.”

Host-jumping tradeoff

COURTESY OF SOPHIEN KAMOUNA single amino acid change in an effector protein that binds and inhibits a plant protease defense helps the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora infestans infect a new plant species. Researchers from The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, U.K., published their findings in Science this week (January 30).

“It’s a very strong paper in the sense that it’s clearly connecting the biochemistry to evolution in general,” molecular plant pathologist Edgar Huitema from the University of Dundee told The Scientist. “This is one of the first examples where you see on the biochemical level how evolution has impacted on plant-microbe interactions.”

Culture Friday:

Review: “Green Porno”
Isabella Rossellini explores nature’s kinky side in a one-woman show.

Science Cartoonist Doesn’t Draw “Funny Style”
Sidney Harris communicates science with minimal line work.

Other news in life science:

Science in the State of the Union
President Barack Obama gave a nod to research in this week’s address. But was it enough for science advocates?

NIH Tackles Irreproducibility
The federal agency speaks out about how to improve the quality of scientific research.

Inner Neanderthal
Two studies demonstrate the extent of Neanderthal DNA that persists in modern human genomes.

The HHMI Bump
A new study shows a slight citation benefit to authors recently awarded investigator status from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Gamers Solve RNA Structures
An online competition gives citizen scientists a chance to design RNA molecules to generate a target structure.

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