Week in Review: August 8–12

Mutations that cause sudden cardiac deaths in children identified; optogenetic stimulation of artificial neural networks in mice; more US universities can apply to grow marijuana for research; imaging gene expression in the living human brain; science questions for presidential candidates

Aug 12, 2016
Tracy Vence

Causative mutations

Two groups have pinpointed mutations in mitochondrial inorganic pyrophosphatase gene PPA2 as the causes of sudden cardiac deaths among children in various families. The gene and its protein were “not known to be so important to the cell before this study,” Jeanne Amiel, a genetics researcher at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research and a coauthor on one of the two studies published in The American Journal of Human Genetics this week (August 11), told The Scientist. “This was not expected.”

“It’s exciting that these authors opened up a new [biological] network [to investigate] for families who have lost a child unexpectedly or a young adult unexpectedly,” said Debra Weese-Mayer of Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago who was not involved in the work.

New neural circuits

Using two-photon optogenetic stimulation, researchers at Columbia University and their colleagues artificially activated neurons in the visual cortices of living mice. The team’s results were published in Science this week (August 11).

“Researchers have previously related optogenetic stimulation to behavior [in animals], but this study breaks new ground by investigating the dynamics of neural activity in relation to the ensemble to which these neurons belong,” said Sebastian Seung of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute in New Jersey who was not involved in the work.

Infection payoff?

Given the choice between tomato plants infected with the cucumber mosaic virus and uninfected specimens, bumblebees showed a preference for pollinating the infected plants, scientists at the University of Cambridge, U.K., and their colleagues showed in a lab study published in PLOS Pathogens this week (August 11).

“Viruses, they’re often seen as bad for the plant,” said study coauthor Simon “Niels” Groen, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at New York University. “However, when pollinators are placed into the picture, it turns out that the infected plants are actually more attractive to the insects, to the pollinators, and that way, they actually produce just as [many] seeds . . . as the healthy plants would.”

More news in life science:

US Government Will Allow More Universities to Grow Pot
The US Drug Enforcement Agency continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, however, perpetuating challenges for researchers.

Gene Expression Imaged in the Living Human Brain
For the first time, researchers visualize histone deacetylase in the brains of healthy volunteers.

Brain-Machine Interface Training Triggers Recovery
Researchers studying the use of neural prosthetics in paralyzed patients describe the approach’s therapeutic potential.

New Drug Target for Three Tropical Diseases
Researchers efficiently clear mice of the parasites that cause leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, and sleeping sickness by inhibiting the parasites’ kinetoplastid proteasomes.

Questioning the Presidential Candidates on Science
Science advocacy organizations have drafted a list of 20 questions for Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Donald Trump; will post responses as they roll in.