Sci-Ed Update 268
Bird flu, Guide to the HAPS conference, Nose shape, Three-parent offspring, Flying through body tissues, Deep elaboration, nanoparticles affect microbiome; the human pangenome
A frightening virus is killing a massive number of wild birds
Scientists have never seen anything like it.
While hundreds of humans have contracted H5N1 over the years — and many of them have died — those cases usually involve extremely high exposure to infected poultry. Biologically speaking, the virus isn’t well equipped to overtake our immune systems and spread quickly among human populations.
The problem for us is that viruses, and especially influenza viruses, evolve quickly. Not only do they mutate, but they can also swap entire portions of their genomes with other viruses if they infect the same hosts. Under the right circumstances, this evolution could give them the tools to replicate more easily in mammals, which would make them more threatening to humans. (My colleague Keren Landman and I go into this in detail here.)
The risk of the virus morphing into a human threat remain slim, yet the outbreak in wild birds may push it in that direction.
During most past outbreaks, only poultry farms were badly infected, so countries could kill giant flocks of infected farm birds and exercise other biosecurity measures to stem the spread. That’s what happened during the outbreak in 2014 and 2015. In this case, however, wild birds are also a reservoir for highly pathogenic influenza. So no matter how much culling farmers do, wild birds could still pass H5N1 over to domestic populations.
Read more→ AandP.info/86j
Kevin’s Unofficial Guide to the HAPS Conference
Veteran HAPS member and President Emeritus Kevin Patton gives his advice on having the best experience at the HAPS Annual Conference. Includes call-ins from Jerry Anzalone and Mindi Fried, plus music from Greg Crowther. Extra-long bonus episode.
07:19 | Way Before the Conference
11:23 | Just Before the Conference
27:12 | Structure of the Conference
30:25 | Musical Interlude: Greg Crowther
33:29 | Update Days
49:31 | Professional Development Approach
54:36 | Workshop Days (with Jerry Anzalone)
1:03:46| Mindi Calls In
1:06:08 | Other Stuff at the Meeting
1:11:31 | After the Conference
To listen to this episode, click on the player (if present) or this link→ open.spotify.com/episode/0nmRA3KFgOYZTESQBUgtUx
Nose shape gene inherited from Neanderthals
Humans inherited genetic material from Neanderthals that affects the shape of our noses, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.
The new Communications Biology study finds that a particular gene, which leads to a taller nose (from top to bottom), may have been the product of natural selection as ancient humans adapted to colder climates after leaving Africa.
Read more→ AandP.info/t7g
Baby born from three people's DNA in UK first
A baby has been born using three people's DNA for the first time in the UK, the fertility regulator has confirmed.
Most of their DNA comes from their two parents and around 0.1% from a third, donor woman.
The pioneering technique is an attempt to prevent children being born with devastating mitochondrial diseases.
Fewer than five such babies have been born, but no further details have been released.
Mitochondrial diseases are incurable and can be fatal within days or even hours of birth. Some families have lost multiple children and this technique is seen as the only option for them to have a healthy child of their own.
Mitochondria are the tiny compartments inside nearly every cell of the body that convert food into useable energy.
Defective mitochondria fail to fuel the body and lead to brain damage, muscle wasting, heart failure and blindness.
Read more→ AandP.info/yq0
‘Game changer’ method lets scientists peer into—and fly through—mouse bodies
Latest version of imaging technique enables use of thousands of antibodies that can map specific cell types
A research team has turned the bodies of dead mice into vivid 3D maps of anatomy, with tissues, nerves, and vessels highlighted in color. The technique, which renders the corpses transparent and then exposes them to fluorescent antibodies that label distinct cell types, could help everything from drug development to understanding the spread of cancer, its creators and other scientists say.
The developers, at the Helmholtz Munich research institute, call their technique wildDISCO—wild because it can work on any “wild type,” or normal, mice, and DISCO for 3D imaging of solvent-cleared organs. Building on their previous success at making mouse bodies transparent, the new technique removes cholesterol from the bodies so that a vast array of existing antibodies can penetrate deep into the animals. “wildDISCO is a game changer—it allows us to see the hidden highways and byways in the body,” says Muzlifah Haniffa, a dermatologist and immunologist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Newcastle University’s Biosciences Institute who was not involved in the research.
The method should let scientists map a mouse at the cellular level and explore previously hidden links between tissues, like neural connections between organs, says neuroscientist Ali Ertürk, director of Helmholtz Munich, who led the work, posted recently as a preprint. His group in Germany has already posted eye-catching videos of “flying” through the 3D anatomy of a mouse with different tissues labeled.
Read more→ AandP.info/wgl
Deep Elaboration & Other Stories of Teaching Anatomy & Physiology
In Episode 136, host Kevin Patton looks at the effects of tattoos on sweat glands, we discuss aural diversity and how we can accommodate it, and we explore how to use the process of deep elaboration in our course to help challenged learners develop stronger and more useful memories.
To listen to this episode, click on the player (if present) or this link→ lnns.co/V6MPGFAKaNU
Gut microbes ‘eat’ nanoparticles — leading to microbiome changes
Humans can accidentally ingest nanomaterials in consumer products, with unknown effects.
Bacteria in the digestive tract can break down ingested carbon nanomaterials, according to new research in mice1. The research also hints that the excessive amounts of fatty acids formed by this breakdown could inhibit the normal function of the animals’ intestinal stem cells.
Nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene, measure less than 100 nanometres in at least one dimension and are finding increasing use in consumer products. People can unwittingly ingest these materials, raising concerns about their safety.
For insight on the materials’ fate in the gut, Xuejing Cui at the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology of China in Beijing and her colleagues fed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and graphene oxide flakes to mice every day for 28 days. They found that treated mice had significantly more of the fatty acid butyrate in their guts than did untreated mice. Butyrate is normally produced when gut bacteria ferment high-fibre foods.
Bacteria grown in nanomaterial-laced medium also had elevated butyrate levels. The nanomaterials altered the rodents’ gut microbiomes, boosting the growth of butyrate-producing bacteria at the expense of other microbes.
Read more→ AandP.info/h9j
The new human pangenome could help unveil the biology of everyone
The pangenome includes the genetic instruction books of 47 people
More than 20 years after people got a peek at the first draft of the human genome, our genetic instruction book, researchers have unlocked the next level: the human pangenome.
In four studies published May 10 in Nature, researchers describe the achievement, how the pangenome was built and some of the new biology scientists are learning from it.
The more complete reference book, which includes almost all the DNA of 47 people, will allow researchers to explore types of variation that could never be examined before, such as large chunks of duplicated, lost or rearranged DNA. That work could possibly reveal more details about the genetic underpinnings of heart diseases, schizophrenia and various other diseases and disorders.
Read more→ AandP.info/gwn