Week in Review: July 14–18

Converting heart muscle to pacemaker cells in pigs; alternative splicing and the human proteome; questioning a reported yogurt mold-illness link; H. pylori swiftly find mouse stomach injuries

By | July 18, 2014

Biological pacemakers in pigs

WIKIMEDIA, GUIDO GERDINGA team led by investigators at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, California, has devised a way to temporarily turn pig heart muscle into pacemaker cells, opening up the possibility of using this transcription factor-driven approach in patients who—perhaps because of an infection—must have their electronic pacemakers removed. The work was published in Science Translational Medicine this week (July 16).

“This is an exciting preclinical advance that makes the prospect of a biological pacemaker closer to reality,” said Jonathan Epstein, a professor of cardiovascular research at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the study.

Alternative splicing adds to proteome complexity

WIKIMEDIA, FREDERIC DARDELInvestigating the 20-gene family of aminoacyl tRNA synthetases (AARSs), researchers from the Scripps Research Institute and their colleagues have found nearly 250 protein splice variants, many of which had previously gone undetected. The team reported its results in Science this week (July 17).

“This is an interesting finding and fits into the existing paradigm that, in many cases, a single gene is processed in various ways to have alternative functions,” said Steven Brenner, a computational genomics researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the work.

Experts question yogurt mold-illness connection

MBIO, SOO CHAN LEE ET AL.Microbiologists and food safety experts this week (July 15) highlighted some potential shortcomings in a July 8 mBio paper that blamed a virulent subspecies of Mucor circinelloides for consumer-reported illnesses stemming from a September 2013 yogurt recall in the U.S.

“To say that it’s [M. circinelloides f. circinelloides] definitely a foodborne pathogen based on this [data] is a bit premature,” Hassan Gourama from Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the work told The Scientist.

The team behind the M. circinelloides f. circinelloides analysis published earlier this month, which received substantial media coverage, only tested a single sample of consumer-submitted product. And that’s just one of the potential issues raised by experts in interviews with The Scientist.

Overall, Purdue University’s Haley Oliver, who was not involved in the work, said that “one sample from yogurt, without a clinical isolate from the couple in Texas, has limits, epidemiologically.”

H. pylori home in on stomach injuries

WIKIPEDIA, CDCResearchers showed in PLOS Pathogens this week (July 17) that Helicobacter pylori efficiently navigate to sites of injury within the mouse stomach, where they can do additional damage to the digestive organ.

The study, said microbiologist Manuel Amieva of Stanford University who was not involved with the work, “is a very nice example of how very basic bacterial properties—such as their abilities to swim or sense where they’re going—can have really important effects in disease.”

Other news in life science:

A Multi-Cancer Diagnostic?
Researchers report an ability to detect several types of cancer in blood samples based on signatures of immune response, but some are skeptical about the utility of such a test.

Government Cracks Down on Biosecurity
After a string of incidents leading to lab closures and a moratorium on the transfer of select agents, US labs are reassessing safety threats within their own walls.

Award-Winning Chemist Dies
Carlos Barbas III, a renowned organic chemist whose research helped in drug development, passed away at age 49.

Human Brain Project Addresses Detractors
Officials behind the European brain mapping effort take preliminary steps to tackle concerns voiced about the project.

STEM Graduates Branch Out
Most science, technology, engineering, and math degree-holders seek jobs unrelated to their academic disciplines, according to a report.

Books on the Beagle
An online reconstruction makes the library from Darwin’s famed ship more accessible.

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