Week in Review: June 13–17

Anti-CRISPR proteins; following the chronic fatigue syndrome funding; listening, learning, and memory consolidation during sleep; microbe affects behavior; Zika updates

Jun 17, 2016
Tracy Vence

Counteracting CRISPR

Researchers at the University of Toronto have found more anti-CRISPR proteins in phage genomes and mobile genetic elements, adding to a group of such molecules previously identified by the team. “The discovery of anti-CRISPR proteins is not surprising in the sense that phage must develop these as part of the nature of the host-parasite co-evolution,” said Eugene Koonin of the US National Center for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine who was not involved in the work.

Funding for ME/CFS

The Scientist spoke with researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about their planned intramural study on myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). “Historically, the NIH has ignored this illness for a long time, and that’s caused lot of resentment and suspicion in the patient community,” said Brian Vastag, a journalist who has ME/CFS. “Now I’m convinced that the NIH has turned the corner.”

Sleep listening

It’s long been known that people remain somewhat responsive when asleep, but how the brain processes certain auditory cues during rest remains a mystery. Scientists at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and their colleagues found that study participants could accurately identify words—objects versus animals—during light non-REM sleep. “With an elegant experimental design and sophisticated analyses of neural activity, [the authors] demonstrate the extent to which the sleeping brain is able to process sensory information, depending on sleep depth [or] stage,” Thomas Schreiner of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland who was not involved in the study wrote in an email.

Perchance to remember

Autonomic nervous system activity—measured by both electrical activities of the brain and the heart—can help explain variation among memory- and learning-associated performance of study participants asked to study something before sleeping and, later, being tested on that material, researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have shown.

Microbes and behavior

Mouse pups born to mothers fed a high-fat diet typically lack a certain bacterial species that is linked to early-life social behavior. Supplementing this bacterium, Lactobacillus reuteri, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine and their colleagues found that they could reverse certain autism spectrum disorder–like social behaviors in the animals who were missing the microbe. “There’s growing evidence that the microbiome, particularly early in life, can have long-term effects on brain development and behavior,” said anatomist and neuroscientist John Cryan of University College Cork in Ireland who was not involved in the research. “What this paper does is take advantage of the fact that we get our microbiome from our mums, and looks at what happens if the mum disturbs her microbiome during pregnancy.”

Zika updates

WHO: Rio Olympics Pose “Very Low Risk” of Spreading Zika
World Health Organization concludes the events are unlikely to worsen the viral outbreak.

Zika-Carrying Mosquitoes May Be More Constrained in U.S.
The CDC has released a new map that shows US counties where scientists have reported the presence of Aedes aegypti over the past 20 years.

Babies born to mothers infected with Zika during the third trimester have a low risk of developing microcephaly, researchers report.