Week in Review: September 29–October 3

Feeding beneficial gut bacteria during infection; testing bacteriophage therapies; Central Park’s diverse soil microbiome; Ebola update; BRAIN funding boost

Tracy Vence

Supplying beneficial microbes with sugar

JOSEPH PICKARD, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGOEven when their systemically infected hosts stopped eating, beneficial gut bacteria still received enough food to survive, according to a mouse study published in Nature this week (October 1). Researchers from the University of Chicago and their colleagues identified an immune pathway through which intestinal cells provide commensal microbes with the sugar fucose.

“The host is responding to a systemic microbial infection signal by altering glycans on intestinal epithelial cells, and this in turn increases host fitness in a microbiota-dependent manner,” Laurie Comstock, a microbiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who was not involved in the work, told The Scientist.

An urban park’s diverse soil

FLICKR, KEVIN DOOLEYTesting nearly 600 samples, a team led by investigators at Colorado State University has found that the soil beneath New York City’s Central Park is exceptionally diverse. Their...

“Interestingly they found that belowground diversity from urban and managed soils have similar diversity to some of known natural ecosystems, which indicate the high resilience of belowground diversity to anthropogenic pressures,” microbial ecologist Brajesh Singh of the University of Western Sydney in Australia who was not involved in the work told The Scientist in an e-mail.

Revisiting bacteriophage therapy

PRECISION GRAPHICS, AATHAVAN AND CHEMLAFor both agricultural and medical purposes, researchers are now revisiting bacteriophage therapy as a potential silver bullet against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“All [phages] do is interact with and parasitize the bacteria, so we can learn from them exactly how they do this, and identify a number of different Achilles’ heels of the bacteria,” Rockefeller University microbiologist Raymond Schuch told The Scientist.

Priming yeast for biofuel production

MARTINA BUTORACHeat and alcohol, two products of yeast’s fermentation of sugars into ethanol, can be toxic to the single-cell eukaryotes at certain concentrations. In two studies published in Science this week (October 2), separate groups—led by investigators at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and MIT, respectively—showed how Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast could be made more resilient to increasing temperatures and ethanol concentrations.

Huimin Zhao at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who was not involved in either study told The Scientist the work is still early-stage. “They are very interesting scientific discoveries,” he said. “We have not solved the real industrial problem yet. . . . The temperatures are not high enough. For ethanol tolerance, there is still room for further improvements.”

Other news in life science:

$300M Boost for BRAIN
Mix of public, private, philanthropic, and academic investments will fund additional BRAIN Initiative-related projects.

CDC Director: First U.S. Ebola Case a “Teachable Moment”
The man diagnosed with Ebola in a Texas hospital was sent home when he initially sought care.

CRISPR Knock-in Mouse Debuts
Researchers have created a line of model mice that naturally express Cas9, paving the way for rapid precision gene-editing.

Chimp Culture Caught on Camera
Researchers have captured footage of wild chimpanzees teaching each other to use tools, lending support to the idea that humans aren’t the only primates to engage in social learning.

Learning to Share
Policies instituted by the National Institutes of Health have led to more data sharing in the life sciences, according to a new report.

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