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Week in Review: June 9–13

Ancient apoptotic pathway connects humans to coral; lab-grown, light-sensing retinal tissue; tracking cancer with synthetic phospholipids; diving deep into the lung microbiome

By | June 13, 2014

Coral, human share cell-death pathway

FLICKR, PAUL ASMAN AND JILL LENOBLEProteome data for the coral Acropora digitifera suggest that the species have more TNF receptor-ligand superfamily (TNFSF) members—central mediators of the death receptor pathway—than “any organism described thus far, including humans,” a team led by investigators at San Diego State University (SDSU) wrote in PNAS this week (June 9). When the researchers exposed corals to a human TNFSF called HuTNFα, the protein caused apoptotic blebbing and cell death, inducing bleaching. Similarly, the researchers found, exposure of immortalized human T cells to a coral TNFSF member, AdTNF1, resulted in more cell death. The SDSU-led team concluded that coral and humans have likely shared this TNF-induced apoptotic response pathway for more than 500 million years.

 “Corals are actually much more similar to humans than we ever thought,” Steven Quistad, lead author on the study, told The Scientist.

Light-sensing retina grown in vitro

X. ZHONG. C. GUTIERREZ AND M.V. CANTO-SOLERIn a significant step toward regenerating functional retinal tissue for therapeutic applications, scientists from Johns Hopkins University have grown in culture retinal tissue, complete with functional photoreceptor cells, from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Their work was published in Nature Communications this week (June 10).

“The major advance here is the ability to make retinal cells that can respond to light and that form into what appears to be remarkably proper orientation,” said Bruce Conklin, a senior investigator with the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease at the University of California, San Francisco, who was not involved with the study.

“This is a beautifully performed set of experiments to show that human iPSCs are capable of forming retinal cells that follow the expected developmental time course,” added Andrea Viczian, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, who also was not involved with the work.

Tracking cancer with synthetic PLEs

WEICHERT ET AL.Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the firm Cellectar Biosciences reported in Science Translational Medicine this week (June 11) the production of synthetic phospholipid ethers (PLEs), which they used to track tumors in both animal models and patients. These PLEs specifically accumulated in cancer cell membranes, allowing the researchers to pinpoint the exact locations of tumors.

“There’s a lot of clinical work that needs to be done to optimize the imaging and therapy parameters,” said Wisconsin’s John Kuo, who led the work.

Lung microbiome research ramps up

WIKIMEDIA, MARIANA RUIZ VILLARREALHuman lungs interact with environmental factors, including foreign microbes, nearly all the time, so it comes as no surprise that the lung microbiome is a dynamic community.

But lung microbiome research is still in its relative infancy. As Yvonne Huang from the University of California San Francisco Medical Center put it, “this field is where studies of gut microbiome were 10 to 15 years ago.”


Other news in life science:

BRAIN Initiative Asks for $4.5B
An advisory committee for the BRAIN Initiative says that to fully fund the goals of the neuroscience research program, taxpayers should fork over $4.5 billion.

Waning Ranks of Physician-Scientists
A National Institutes of Health working group warns that the number of clinicians trained as researchers could soon dwindle.

MERS Double Publication?
Two papers on the same Middle East respiratory syndrome victim hint at uncouth scientific competition and possible laboratory contamination, plus illuminate potential issues within the Saudi Arabian health ministry.

Snake Imitators Persist
A harmless snake in the Carolina Sandhills has been mimicking a poisonous species for decades, and has become a better imitator since the latter went extinct.

Fewer Female Mosquitoes, Less Malaria?
Genetic modification approach to control malaria-spreading mosquito populations incites conversations on the ethics of manmade extinction.

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