Biology News

From pond scum to parasite: a surprisingly small genomic leap Friday, May 9, 2014 - 09:20

Helicosporidium is a lethal parasite of insects including caterpillars, beetles and blackflies. The evolutionary origins of this parasite have remained shrouded in mystery but recent studies strongly suggested similarity to a green alga called Prototheca. Evolution of parasites from algae is not unheard of. One of the most famous examples is the transition of the malaria parasite Plasmodium from red algae, with loss of genes encoding biological functions that are no longer needed in the organism’s new life as a parasite.

SOCS-4 is a critical regulator of the immune response against influenza Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 14:57

A protein called suppression of cytokine signalling-4 (SOCS-4) is a key regulator of the immune response against influenza virus. It is important in controlling the ‘cytokine storm’ associated with the lungs of critically ill patients. These are the main findings of a new study in the journal PLoS Pathogens from researchers in Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne and the University of Melbourne.


What Vigilant Squid Can Teach Us About the Purpose of Pain Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 10:54

Most of us have probably felt that lasting sense of anxiety or even pain after enduring some kind of accident or injury. Now, researchers have the first evidence in any animal that there may be a very good reason for that kind of heightened sensitivity—or at least there is in the battle of squid versus fish. Squid that behave with extra vigilance after experiencing even a minor injury are more likely to live to see another day, according to a report appearing in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 8.


Antibiotic Resistance Genes Are Essentially Everywhere Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 08:10

The largest metagenomic search for antibiotic resistance genes in the DNA sequences of microbial communities from around the globe has found that bacteria carrying those vexing genes turn up everywhere in nature that scientists look for them. The findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 8 add to evidence showing just how common and abundant those resistance genes really are in natural environments.


Polar Bear Genome Reveals Rapid Adaptation to Fatty Diet Thursday, May 8, 2014 - 06:47

Polar bears adapted to life in cold Arctic climates in part by relying on a high-fat diet mainly consisting of seals and their blubber. In a study published by Cell Press May 8th in the journal Cell, researchers discovered that mutations in genes involved in cardiovascular function allowed polar bears to rapidly evolve the ability to consume a fatty diet without developing high rates of heart disease. Moreover, the study revealed that polar bears diverged from brown bears less than 500,000 years ago—much more recently than estimates based on previous genomic data.


The Black Death: A force for positive natural selection? Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 16:00

The Black Death was a devastating medieval epidemic, killing an estimated 30-50% of the European population between the years 1347-1351. Given the extremely high mortality associated with the Black Death, it might be assumed that the disease was indiscriminate in its targeting of individuals. However, a new study on skeletal remains from London cemeteries in the periods before and after the Black Death suggests otherwise.


“Dinosaurs aren’t extinct”: Birds are an avian dinosaur lineage that evolved by shrinking body size Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 17:10

Non-avian dinosaurs became extinct following a catastrophic event that occurred 65 million years ago. However, one dinosaur lineage is still with us: birds. There are approximately 10,000 known species of ornithine birds and they are considered to be a major evolutionary success story. A new study from an international team of researchers suggests that their success may be due to rapid evolutionary rates in avian dinosaurs that continued over long time scales, after evolution of terrestrial dinosaurs had slowed. In particular small body size seems to have been key to their evolutionary potential. The study is published on May 6th in the journal PLoS Biology.


Two-lock box delivers cancer therapy Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 14:58

Rice University scientists have designed a tunable virus that works like a safe deposit box. It takes two keys to open it and release its therapeutic cargo. The Rice lab of bioengineer Junghae Suh has developed an adeno-associated virus (AAV) that unlocks only in the presence of two selected proteases, enzymes that cut up other proteins for disposal. Because certain proteases are elevated at tumor sites, the viruses can be designed to target and destroy the cancer cells.