Week in Review: October 20–24

Commensal microbes combat C. diff; seeing inside cells; freeze-dried gene networks; how rice fights arsenic; rapid evolution among anoles

Oct 24, 2014
Tracy Vence

Fighting a pathogen with gut microbes

WIKIMEDIA, CJC2NDClostridium difficile infections can be prevented through the rebalancing of bile acids in the gut by introducing certain commensal microbes, according to a study published in Nature this week (October 23). Eric Pamer of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and his colleagues have demonstrated the efficacy of this approach in both mice and humans.

“Lots of people have looked at using bacteria to mediate the so-called colonization resistance to C. difficile,” Vincent Young, a microbiologist and infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, told The Scientist, “but this paper really goes a long way towards defining a good mechanism for how it happens.”

Lattice light-sheet microscopy

HHMI, BETZIG LABNobel Laureate Eric Betzig and his colleagues described a new technique, lattice light-sheet microscopy, in Science this week (October 23). The approach hinges on illuminating thin sections of living sample one at a time using a targeted plane of light, enabling researchers to track the movements of single molecules in 3-D over time.

“With this microscope, I feel like Galileo,” Betzig told The Scientist. “No matter where we point it, we make a discovery, and we see something of incredible beauty.” 

Preserving gene networks on paper

HARVARD'S WYSS INSTITUTEBoston University’s James Collins and his colleagues have successfully freeze-dried gene networks and later rehydrated them, finding they were biologically active. Their work was published in Cell this week (October 23).

“It turned out that this worked really well,” said Collins. “These samples would work as well as the fresh-from-frozen stock, and as well as inside a cell.”

Engineer Ali Yetisen of the University of Cambridge in the U.K. who was not involved in the work added: “This is one of the first examples [of] gene networks. . . . This will be the highest profile paper coming up about paper-based [devices].”

Rice versus arsenic

CHARLES HAYNES, FLICKROsABCC1, a rice transporter protein, prevents environmentally acquired arsenic from damaging plant tissues by sequestering the element in vacuoles, a team led by investigators in Korea and Japan reported in PNAS this week (October 20).

“What they have shown in this paper is really quite impressive,” said Andy Meharg, chair of plant and soil science at Queen’s University Belfast in the U.K. who was not involved in the research. “The difference between having these . . . transporters and not having them is very, very large.”

Competition changed Carolina anoles

WIKIMEDIA, R. COLIN BLENISFaced with the invasion of a competing species, Carolina anoles began to perch higher in their tree habitats and eventually developed larger, more adhesive toe pads for a more secure grip, Todd Campbell from the University of Tampa and his colleagues showed in Science this week (October 23).

The study “confirms a couple of theories that I’ve been interested in: rapid evolution and character displacement,” said Daniel Simberloff, a professor of ecology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who was not involved in the study.

First jawed vertebrate sex?

BRIAN CHOO, FLINDERS UNIVERSITYA study published in Nature last week (October 19) challenged the notion that external fertilization was the ancestral mode of reproduction among jawed vertebrates. Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden and their colleagues discovered structures indicative of internal fertilization in 400 million-year-old Microbrachius fossils.

The finding is “going to drive a lot of debate and I think it’s one of the most important discoveries in this area of research in years,” said evolutionary biologist Martin Brazeau of Imperial College London who was not involved in the study.

Other news in life science:

Moratorium on Gain-of-Function Research
In the wake of a handful of biosafety lapses at federal research facilities, the US government is temporarily halting funding for new studies aiming to give novel functions to influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses.

Electromagnetism Promotes Pluripotency: Study
A paper published last month claims that electromagnetic exposure facilitates cell reprogramming, but some scientists question the evidence.

WHO: TB’s Toll Worse Than Thought
A new report from the World Health Organization finds that tuberculosis has infected hundreds of thousands more people around the world than was estimated a year ago.

Virtual Reaction
A computer simulation could predict antibiotic resistance.

Exomes in the Clinic
Two teams report molecular diagnosis rates of 25 percent sequencing separate sets of patients with undiagnosed, suspected genetic conditions.