Week in Review: September 14–18

Sonogenetics; caffeine affects circadian rhythms; skin microbes help clear pathogen; gene transfer from wasps to moths and butterflies; dopamine and obesity

Tracy Vence
Sep 18, 2015

Using sonogenetics to stimulate neurons

UC SAN DIEGO SCHOOL OF MEDICINEA team led by investigators at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, this week (September 15) presented “sonogenetics,” a technique that uses sound to stimulate genetically engineered neurons in nematodes. The results were published in Nature Communications.

“It’s an awesome study because it really opens up new possibilities for how we modulate biology,” said Jamie Tyler, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University who was not involved in the work.

“It’s the first demonstration of this genetic enhancement of ultrasound neurostimulation,” said Stephen Baccus, a neurobiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine who was also not involved in the study.

Residents versus pathogen

MARGARET BAUER, INDIANA UNIVERSITYA complement of commensal skin microbes, including some species associated with acne, appears to help human hosts clear canchroid-causing Haemophilus ducreyi, scientists from Indiana University and...

When infected with H. ducreyi, some people go on to develop pustules while others do not. The researchers inoculated a small sample of volunteers with the pathogen, sampling their skin microbes beforehand and throughout the course of infection. The team found that microbiome composition correlated with infection outcome.

“This is an interesting report, and most important, because it takes yet another step toward seeking evidence of a clear function of the microbiome,” Richard Gallo, chief of dermatology at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine who was also not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

Caffeine and the body clock

WIKIMEDIA, JULIUS SCHORZMANConsumption of a caffeine-pill equivalent to a double espresso delayed study participants’ internal clocks by around 40 minutes, according to research published in Science Translational Medicine this week (September 16). In their study, investigators from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the U.K. and their colleagues examined how circadian rhythms might be modulated.

“One interesting property of the circadian clock is that, whereas a light pulse late in the evening delays our rhythm, a light pulse in the morning advances it,” said molecular neurobiologist Malcolm von Schantz of the University of Surry, U.K., who was not involved in the work. “This paper only reports the results of a single time point, and one could hypothesize that in a similar fashion, a dose of caffeine in the morning may help advance our rhythms.” If so, von Schantz told The Scientist, “then a strong coffee in the morning will both help our wakefulness and the synchronization of our body clocks.”

Gene transfer from parasite to host

WIKIMEDIA, 8THSTARSome moth and butterfly genomes harbor genes acquired from the parasitoid wasps (Cotesia congregate) that prey on these species, according to a study published in PLOS Genetics this week (September 17). Further, the research team, from the University of Valencia in Spain and the University of Tours in France, found that genes from viruses associated with the wasps in some non-host butterfly and moth species.

The study “clearly demonstrates that polydnaviruses have been a source of horizontal gene transfer among insects,” University of Georgia entomologist Michael Strand, who was not involved in the research, wrote in an email. “Parasitoid wasps that carry polydnaviruses are an extremely species-rich group and have a life history that puts them into the position to introduce polydnaviruses into different insects.”

Dopamine and obesity

EMOJIPEDIA/THE SCIENTISTGene variants linked to weight gain may point to one way dopamine signaling in the brain can influence human behavior, according to a small functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study published recently (September 9) in The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne, Germany, found evidence to suggest that people with both the FTO and ANKK1 obesity-associated risk alleles are less able to learn from negative outcomes, said study coauthor Marc Tittgemeyer of Max Planck.

“What this research supports is the idea of obesity as a disorder of higher-level cognitive function—a disorder of how we control our own behavior,” said Alain Dagher of McGill University in Montreal who was not involved in the research. “The main take-home message is that the genetic causes of obesity are rooted in the brain.”

Other news in life science:

Genetics, Immunity, and the Microbiome
The makeup of an individual’s microbiome correlates with genetic variation in immunity-related pathways, a study shows.

DoD Under Investigation for Pathogen-Handling Mistakes
US Defense Department labs are the subject of inquiry following several safety breaches concerning the handling of deadly bacteria and virus strains.

Study: Men Get Bigger Start-Up Packages
A new analysis reveals yet another gender gap in science.

“WikiGate” Ruffles OA Feathers
A partnership between Wikipedia and scholarly publishing behemoth Elsevier has open-access advocates up in arms.

Golden Goose Awards for Unusual Research
This year’s honors go to researchers who mapped human populations, showed spots to cats, and offered children marshmallows to examine the kids’ patience and self-control.

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Week in Review: September 14–18

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