The Scientist Infographics: Editor’s Picks of 2019

This year’s most beautiful illustrations covered topics including the molecular underpinnings of Parkinson’s disease and strategies for tracking marine organisms around the world’s oceans.

Dec 18, 2019
Jef Akst

CAR T cell therapy for solid tumors 

© LAURIE O'KEEFE

Modifying patients’ own T cells to carry chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) has helped treat a handful of blood cancers with unprecedented success. But the approach has faced obstacles in being translated to solid tumors, from an immune-suppressing microenvironment to the challenge of accessing a thick mass of cells.


Blood biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease

LISA CLARK

To better recognize and follow Alzheimer’s disease in patients, researchers are looking for markers in the blood that could signal the presence of related pathologies. The field is hopeful that better biomarkers could support the identification of patients early in their disease, which could in turn enable the discovery of treatments to stave off cognitive decline.


Exosomes defend plants against disease

© MESA SCHUMACHER

Vesicles that are released into the apoplast between plant cells appear to play a role in defending the organism against pathogenic fungi. Recent research has shown, for example, that exosomes can carry short interfering RNAs and fungal defense proteins from the plant host cell to the invading fungal cells. Plant-derived exosomes can also aid the formation of a physical barrier to impede the penetration of fungal haustoria.


Mechanistic links for human endogenous retroviruses

© NICOLLE RAGER FULLER 

As animals evolved, they were infected with viruses that sometimes left a genetic trace in the genome. Studying how these endogenous retroviruses in human genomes—many thousands of fragments that have accumulated over millions of years—affect our biology, researchers have discovered several links with disease, from cancer to neurodegeneration. Now, they are starting to reveal the mechanisms that may underlie those links.


Parkinson’s pathology rethought

© LISA CLARK

Researchers have long pointed the finger at a protein called α-synuclein as a driver of the neurodegeneration characteristic of Parkinson’s disease. But new research points to the accumulation of α-synuclein as a symptom of a much bigger problem—the dysfunction of cellular waste-clearing processes mediated by the lysosome. Indeed, clumps of cellular material known as Lewy bodies, the telltale pathology of Parkinson’s, are made up of much more than just α-synuclein proteins.


How researchers measure ocean connectivity

© MESA SCHUMACHER

Populations of marine organisms are far less isolated than once believed. Even sessile species such as mollusks can get around, thanks to a mobile juvenile stage. This movement has important conservation considerations, researchers are now learning, as animals are often not restricted to a particular region, undermining local protection efforts.


Can viruses cause neurodegenerative disease?

© CATHERINE DELPHIA

For centuries, doctors and researchers have noted the link between infection by the flu or other viruses and neurodegeneration decades down the road. Recent studies are now revealing how viruses might travel to the brain, cross the blood-brain barrier, and inflict neural damage. Whether viral infections can cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any other brain disease remains an open question, however.

© CATHERINE DELPHIA

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist. Email her at jakst@the-scientist.com