Week in Review: December 1–5

How bats navigate; platelets and inflammation; smoking and loss of Y chromosome; gut microbes help stop malaria?

Dec 5, 2014
Tracy Vence

Breaking down bat navigation

YOSSI YOVELTwo papers published this week highlight how bats navigate their environments. In a December 3 Nature paper, researchers from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science and their colleagues showed that the flying mammals have specialized brain cells that track their movements as they navigate through space. In Current Biology (December 4), investigators from Tel Aviv University demonstrated that species of bat that were once thought not to use echolocation do, in fact, navigate their environments in part through feedback from audible clicks.

Microbes boost anti-malarial response

BAHTIYAR YILMAZCommensal microbes like E. coli appear to help protect mice from malaria infection because of antibodies the animals produce in response to chemicals released by the bacteria, according to a Cell study published this week (December 4).

Harvard Medical School microbiologist Gerald Pier, who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist that the study provides “a more molecular basis for associating immune response to normal flora and resistance to infection.”

Platelet-neutrophil pairs and inflammation

CNICNeutrophils bind to platelets in order to migrate to the source of infection during an inflammatory response, investigators from the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research and their colleagues reported this week (December 4) in Science. The finding underscores a role for platelets in inflammation, immunologist Paul Kubes of the University of Calgary told The Scientist.

“It’s a very interesting concept that platelets would be so important in inflammation and in regulating neutrophil biology,” he said. “I think people are starting to appreciate that platelets are becoming more and more important in immunity.”

Smoking, loss of Y, and cancer

FLICKR, ROMAN PAVLYUKLoss of the Y chromosome, a relatively common phenomenon among aging men, could help explain different rates of cancer between male and female smokers, according to a paper published in Science this week (December 4). Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden have found in three cohorts of men that smoking is associated with loss of the Y.

This work “provides an interesting hypothesis for a biological mechanism that could contribute to the sex ratio in cancer,” said cancer epidemiologist Ellen Chang of the Stanford School of Medicine.

Other news in life science:

Complexities of Carbon Lowering
Iron fertilization might be less efficient at storing carbon in the deep ocean than previously reported.

23andMe Expands to U.K.
British consumers can buy the genetic testing-associated health prediction service forbidden by the US government.

Enzyme Design
Researchers create synthetic enzymes in the lab, encoded by artificial genetic material.

Missing Brains Found
About 100 human brains belonging to a university collection thought lost have turned up at another campus.

Nature Opens the Archives
Users will be able to access articles dating back to 1869 from the journal and its sister titles, but cannot copy, print, or download the materials.

How Dogs Interpret Speech
Dogs tend to turn to the left when they hear emotional speech-like sounds, and right when they hear verbal commands from a robot.