Week in Review: November 16–20

Winding down polio research; how the immune system tolerates skin microbes; magnetic protein complex found; FDA approves genetically engineered fish; NIH chimps retiring; more

Nov 20, 2015
Tracy Vence

Eradicating lab stocks

WIKIMEDIA, CDCAs global health officials work to reach their polio eradication goals, new biosafety regulations for laboratories handling type 2 poliovirus mean some groups will cease working on the pathogen.

“There’s a growing sense in [the] picornavirus community that all research on poliovirus should not stop. We should maintain some research,” said Kurt Gustin, a virologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix who studies host-pathogen interactions.

While it could mean a shift in her own research, Boston University virologist Esther Bullitt, who studies proteins involved in poliovirus replication, told The Scientist that it is justified. “The fact that poliovirus will be eradicated will be worth what it takes to make that happen.”

Immune tolerance

UCSF, TIFFANY SCHARSCHIMDTRegulatory T cells are key for the establishment of the skin microbiome, according to a mouse study published in Immunity this week (November 17). Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that tolerance to skin-dwelling commensal microbes was apparent only during the first weeks of an animal’s life.

 “The authors . . . prove that the skin develops tolerance to [a skin microbe] and, importantly, identified a window in early life when this happens,” said the National Human Genome Research Institute’s Julie Segre, who penned an accompanying editorial but was not involved in the research.

“This is an elegant and well-executed study showing a regulatory T cell–mediated establishment of commensal-specific tolerance,” said Keisuke “Chris” Nagao of the National Cancer Institute who was also not involved in the work.

Mammalian roots reconsidered

UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, A.I. NEANDERA new analysis of an ancient fossil suggests that mammals diversified around 30 million years later than previously thought. A team led by investigators at the University of Chicago published its latest analysis, of a jaw specimen from the mouse-like proto mammal Haramiyavia clemmenseni, this week (November 16) in PNAS.

Haramiyids like H. clemmenseni “are, of course, related distantly to the origin of mammals, but much more distantly than was argued before,” said Guillermo Rougier of the University of Louisville, who reviewed the paper but was not involved in the research.

Permanent magnetic moment

WIKIMEDIA, TU7UHThe Drosophila MagR/Cry protein complex spontaneously aligns in the direction of external magnetic fields, scientists from China’s Peking University and their colleagues reported in Nature Materials this week (November 16). The authors proposed this complex could help some species navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field.

“This is the only known protein complex that has a permanent magnetic moment,” said Peter Hore of the University of Oxford, U.K., who was not involved in the research. “It’s a remarkable discovery.”

Stopping sugar cravings

WIKIMEDIA, COSTAPPPRDuodenal-jejunal bypass surgery eliminates gut-to-brain–related dopamine surges associated with cravings for sweets, according to a mouse study published in Cell Metabolism this week (November 19). Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine pinpointed the duodenum as the source of these sugar craving–regulating signals.

The study “reveals more mechanistic insights into how the postprandial processing of calories by the gut can serve to activate brain reward systems involved in the formation of new preferences and habits,” said Paul Kenny of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who was not involved in the work.

Other news in life science:

Retirement for All NIH Chimps
The remaining 50 animals from a waning research program at the National Institutes of Health will head to sanctuaries.

FDA OKs GM Salmon
AquaBounty Technologies’s fast-growing fish is the first genetically modified animal approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Reining in Gene Drives
Researchers have developed two methods to avoid the unchecked spread of engineered genes through wild populations.

Clinical Trial Data Underreported: Study
One-third of the human experiments for approved drugs failed transparency requirements.

Human Exomes Galore
A new database includes complete sequences of protein-coding DNA from 60,706 individuals.