Week in Review: September 28–October 2

Invasive weed and malaria; genetics of mouse memory; potential riboswitch-targeting antibiotic; an endogenous retrovirus and ALS; mouse microbiome fitness

Tracy Vence
Oct 2, 2015

Problem plant?

WIKIMEDIA, ETHEL AARDVARKThe spread of the invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus could impact malaria-control efforts in Africa, researchers proposed in PLOS ONE last month (September 14), after finding that malaria-transmitting Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes frequently feed on the plant. “This is the first evidence of the interaction of invasive weeds and malaria,” study coauthor Baldwyn Torto of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya, told The Scientist.
 

Memory mechanism

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGEIn order to properly form memories, the expression of several genes in the mouse hippocampus is downregulated or repressed, scientists from the Institute for Basic Science in Seoul, Korea, and their colleagues found. Their results were published in Science this week (October 1).

“It provides a fresh concept,” said Mauro Costa-Mattioli of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, who was not involved in the study. “Essentially, not only do...

Riboswitch-targeting antibiotic?

WIKIMEDIA, FDARDELThrough a comprehensive screening process, a team led by investigators at Merck found what could be a potential new antibiotic in a compound that targets an RNA-regulating riboswitch. The group described this RNA-targeting molecule, called ribocil, this week (September 30) in Nature.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of drug targets are proteins,” said Thomas Hermann of the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the work, “but they were prepared for the 0.1 percent outcome, and I think that’s what I really liked about this work.”

Retrovirus spurs ALS?

AVINDRA NATHHuman endogenous retrovirus-K (HERV-K) may in some cases contribute to the pathology of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), researchers from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and their colleagues reported this week (September 30) in Science Translational Medicine. “The new data presented in the paper represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the potential role of endogenous retroviruses in neurological disease,” University College London’s Jeremy Garson, who was not involved in the work, wrote in an email.

Microbiome fitness

WIKIMEDIA, CDCBacteria in the mouse gut appear to get by with a little nutrition from their friends, a team led by investigators at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis showed in Science this week (September 30). The researchers examined various dietary effects on the microbiomes of mice using a method they developed to separate the effects of genetic and environmental influences on community composition.

“We could measure the robustness of the community and its resiliency to dietary perturbation,” study coauthor Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University told The Scientist.

“I think this [new methodology] will go down as significant advance in field,” said Thomas Sharpton of Oregon State University who was not involved in the study. “It provides us with a tool kit for a mechanistic understanding of the microbiome.”

Other news in life science:

CRISPR 2.0?
A pioneer of the gene-editing technique discovers a protein that could improve its accuracy.

Biotech Stocks Take a Hit
Some say the biotech bubble has burst over concerns that drug prices are too high—and may soon be regulated.

Mislabeled Genomes to be Fixed
Conference elicits buzz about the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s efforts to clean up genome entries.        

Early Hominin Hearing
Based on the structure of fossilized skulls and ear bones, researchers learn that early hominins heard sounds best between the frequencies that humans and chimpanzees do.

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