Week in Review: November 11–15

Combating bacterial persistence; ancient canine evolution; T cells and transplants; sharing omics data and code

By | November 15, 2013

Targeting bacterial persisters

FLICKR, NIAIDNortheastern University’s Kim Lewis and his colleagues have eradicated biofilm infections in vitro and in a mouse model with ADEP4—a derivative of the drug acyldepsipeptide—and showed that the compound activates a protease in persistent bacteria that causes them to self-digest. The team’s work was appeared in Nature this week (November 13).

“From a treatment perspective or a translational research perspective, [this study is] probably one of the most profoundly important advances that I’ve seen in the field for more than a decade,” Drexel University College of Medicine’s Garth Ehrlich, who did not participate in the research, told The Scientist. “This is really transformative.”

Daniel Wozniak from Ohio State University, who was also not involved in the work, echoed these sentiments. He said the work represents an “important advance in therapeutics against persistent infections.”

Ancient DNA questions canine origins

WIKIMEDIA, MARTIN MECNAROWSKIOn the basis of sequence data from dozens of dogs and wolves, including 18 ancient fossils, researchers at the University of Turku in Finland propose that domestic dogs evolved from a group of wolves that interacted with European hunter-gatherers between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. Their work was published in Science this week (November 14).

The new analysis builds on two previous origin stories—one suggesting domesticated dogs emerged around 10,000 years ago during the Agricultural Revolution, the other implying that wolves and dogs split in Asia around 32,000 years ago. Compared with those before it, though, this study “includes really old material from a wide range of sites,” Gregor Larson from Durham University in the U.K., who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist.

Regulatory T cells promote tolerance

WIKIMEDIA, AXELBOLDTWhile the drug cyclophosphamidedestroys many immune cells, it spares regulatory T cells (Tregs), which promote tolerance of foreign tissue, explaining how the compound protects against the development of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after procedures like bone marrow transplants. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, published their results in Science Translational Medicine this week (November 13).

“How the low incidence of graft-versus-host disease could occur through post-transplant cyclophosphamide was a mystery, and I think . . . there is now a plausible mechanism,” the University of Miami’s Krishna Komanduri, who was not involved in the study, told The Scientist.

Reproducibility and the omics

FLICKR, MCKAYSAVAGEThe inability to reproduce scientific findings is a pervasive problem that touches nearly every discipline. But because of their reliance on huge data sets and massive computational power, omics studies can be particularly difficult to confirm independently.

To combat the issue, Sage Bionetworks has launched a platform for omics researchers to track their work as they go. The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Pan-Cancer project is but one group using the platform, called Synapse, to help its members reproduce one another’s results. “[Synapse] was indeed the connecting data framework that held the entire project together,” said Josh Stuart, professor of biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who is part of TCGA’s Pan-Cancer work.

Stephen Friend, Sage co-founder, director, and president, told The Scientist that his organization’s platform “provides a framework for the science to be extended upon, instead of publication as a finite endpoint for research.”

Other news in life science:

Adding Insult to Injury
The US government shutdown further hampered a research enterprise already struggling because of the sequester.

H6N1 Can Affect Humans
Taiwanese scientists confirm the first person to have been infected by the H6N1 strain of avian flu.

Preprints Galore
The research community sees the launch of a new life science-centric preprint server this week.

Felid Fossils
Paleontologists discover the oldest evidence yet suggesting that big cats originated in Asia.

Depression Speeds Aging
Cells in the bodies of depressed people appear older and contain chromosomes with shorter telomeres.

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