Author Archives: ycpmicro

Could there really be such thing as a cellular snooze button?

algaeErin Mensch (11 AM Micro) found another article she found interesting, from Science Daily. In this story, scientists from Michigan State University identified a gene from algae in research about biofuel production that also appears to be involved in the development of human cancers. As Erin notes, it is much easier to grow things like algae in the lab, and if you can get information about human diseases at the same time, that’s a great thing. Here is Erin’s summary:

Michigan State University has discovered what they think could help solve many problems in the world such as tumor growth and oil production. A man by the name of Christoph Benning is a professor at Michigan State University and teaches biochemistry and molecular biology. He and his team were working in the laboratory trying to find a way to make algae’s capacity as a biofuel expand. In the process of trying to do that, they discovered the protein CHT7. They believe this protein is able to decide when the cells are resting or hard at work reproducing rapidly. They called it the “cellular snooze button”. This could help the oil production industry and the cancer research tremendously. The protein could enhance the production of oil and could make the tumor cells in “resting state”.

Christoph Benning explained how he was working with algae because like yeast it is easy to work with in a laboratory setting whereas many human cells are not able to grow in laboratory setting. This makes studying human disease so much harder. He says algae are able to be manipulated in the lab which helps scientists study them closely. He believes algae are able to do the same if not even more for us than yeast can. He claims he discovered this protein when noticed that when algae are essentially awake they are able to grow and when they are asleep they are able to make oil. In order to have algae able to make viable biofuel they would have to be able to grow and make oil at the same time. Benning figured out that the way to have the algae producing oil and growing at the same time is the protein CHT7. This protein would be able to tell the cells to either be awake or asleep. Depending if they were awake or asleep they would either be producing oil or growing. This is a fascinating concept and could be the start of something that changes medicine and the oil industry forever.

Benning’s next step in this process is to create an organism that does not rest and is always active. This could then help scientists able to make an enormous amount of viable oil. More importantly is could help with suppressing the growth of tumors. Ultimately this protein CHT7 could make the cancer cells not able to divide. First, they would have to look at it from the other perspective, which is how to get a cell to grow rapidly and uncontrollably. This would then explain to us about tumor growth. Once we understand tumor growth it would be easier to figure out how to prevent the rapid growth all together.  I found this article very interesting because it is always exciting when scientists find out new research that could possibly stop cancer. I hope that Benning is able to keep going with this experiment and find out more about the protein CHT7. I also found it interesting that algae have to do with oil production. I hope to read an article in the future about this being a successful protein that is able to tell tumor cells to stop rapidly dividing.

The Lean, Mean, Gene Protein

histonesGregory Gable (12:00 Micro) is interested in genetics, and how cells can keep cancer from occurring. He found the following article via Science Daily which summarizes work from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine about the role of gene regulation plays in the development of cancer. Here is Gregory’s story:

In a healthy cell, certain genes will be turned on if they are used, and turned off if they are not. If one of the genes that is not needed, the cell can grow uncontrollably, and become cancerous. Researchers have recently discovered that Bre1is the key protein that regulates which genes are turned on in which cells. These proteins are the biggest aid (much like enzymes are) to genes working in the first place, as they are the behind the scenes to make sure operation runs smoothly.

The field of cancer research has now been changed. A greater focus will now be placed on the epigenetic portion of research. The best way to visualize the way epigenetics works is to view it like a stage production. The protein Bre1 is the director who provides offstage cues for the main actors, the genes, to do or not do something. They are the ones who read off the script, RNA. If a single line is missed, catastrophe could be a potential outcome. The show could be ruined – in this case, rampant growth of cells.

Brian Strahl, Ph.D., is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center who is currently in the process of researching these histones. His goal is to figure out precisely what these histones do to contribute to biological regulations and, in turn, to cancer. Bre1 is a histone, and histones are used to wrap out or exclude genetic material in our cells. Ubiquitin is able to help histones in their task by exposing genetic material in the chromatin of cells. These proteins can also be tagged with chemicals that further allow control of genetic replication. Now all that needs to be learned is what these histones do exactly.

There is a Goldilocks range for these proteins. Too much, and the gene doesn’t turn off. Too little, and the gene is never on. If the gene isn’t needed at all, it simply leaves, creating other big issues. Before this day, it wasn’t known whether it promoted or prevented cancer, but now it is known that this protein has its own Goldilocks range. Bre1 protein could be a wonderful target for cancer drugs to help prevent rampant growth. This discovery is very important in showing specifically how these cells function, and how they need to be regulated.

With this new discovery, cell division by genetic replication can be better controlled. Not only is their function now known (and to be researched further), but it is also known that they have their own specifics for functioning as well. Pursuing drugs that target this specific protein should definitely be looked into. Whereas chemotherapy annihilates cells both good and bad, perhaps by using this to target down one specific regulator, life can better be maintained.

Keeping viruses at bay

Well, it’s heading into flu season, and what’s a Micro prof to do? Get a flu shot, that’s what. As part of the YCP Wellness Fair on Monday during Fall Break, I went over to the Grum and received my flu shot from a very competent nurse, and now am ready to say “Bring it on, Influenza!”

The same day that I did this positive step for public health, I came across a little bit of craziness about the Ebola outbreak, via the science blog io9.com. Writer Mark Strauss spent some time among the seedier conspiracy theory websites over the weekend, and documented that in addition to the hysteria and mistaken information that is available, there is also some outright disinformation about the Ebola outbreak. Members of the anti-vaccination network have proposed that the spread of Ebola to Texas is part of a concerted government effort to shift attention away from a discredited “whistleblower,” who was going to make a statement about a vaccine/autism link that supposedly had been covered up by the CDC. Another site claims that the initial outbreak of Ebola in discrete regions in Guinea is indicative of a deliberate release of the virus by pharmaceutical companies, so that they could test a secret antidote on an unsuspecting population. Finally, the Vaccine Information Network doesn’t seem to believe that Ebola virus is real, and that the reports in the media are attributed to purposeful misinformation on the part of authorities ultimately “to poison us with drugs and vaccines.”

So after we all take a deep, cleansing breath to clear our minds after that, here’s a bonus opportunity. Simply do as I did up above–go get a flu shot. Document it if you can as I did, by tweeting it or posting it on Instagram with hashtag #ycpmicro, and paste the link in the comment thread below. Offer goes through the end of October, when we should all have gotten our flu shots anyway.

A Virus Lies in You

New Picture (4)Amanda Fierro (12:00 Micro) sent me this summary from Science Daily on the viral microbiome, which is something that scientists have begun to characterize only very recently. Identification of the bacterial flora is relatively straightforward–collect samples from people, and culture the organisms on microbiological media. The challenge with this approach is with organisms that might be present, but present in relatively small proportions, become difficulty to characterize; kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack. Viruses add another level of complexity since they are not able to be directly grown on microbiological media (you have to have the host cell that they infect), and as a result if you are trying to find them, it is kind of like looking for hay-colored needles in a haystack. It really ONLY became possible to do this type of experiment with the advent of cutting-edge DNA sequencing techniques. Here is Amanda’s summary:

The following summary is about an article found on Science Daily concerning viruses. We’ve learned about the bacterial flora of the human body in class but there also is a viral flora. The article is about the findings of a study researching the various viruses that may reside in the human body. The research was performed at the Washington University School of Medicine as part of the Human Microbiome Project. The study is the first comprehensive analysis to describe the variety of viruses in healthy people.

According to the researchers, healthy individuals on average harbor about five types of viruses. Researchers have discovered the standard viral flora to be rich and complex. The study performed consisted of 102 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 40. Each volunteer was carefully screened to confirm health and the absence of symptoms of acute infection. The volunteers could not have been diagnosed with an HPV infection within the last two years or have an active genital herpes infection. Researchers split the human subjects as evenly as possible by gender. Researchers sampled five body habitats: nose, skin, mouth, stool and vagina. The results indicated an impressive number of viruses found in the sampled body habitats of the subjects. As one can guess, many more would have been discovered if the entire human body had been sampled.

In 92% of the subjects, at least one virus was found. Some of the individuals sampled were home to 10-15 viruses. Half of the subjects were sampled two or three times during the course of the study. Researchers observed some of the viruses created stable low-level infections in those individuals. While analyzing all of the collected samples, the researchers discovered seven families of viruses. Herpesvirus 6 and Herpesvirus 7, strains of the herpesvirus not sexually transmitted, were found in 98% of the mouth samples. Seventy-five percent of the skin samples and 50% of the nose samples harbored some strains of the papillomavirus. The researchers encountered novel strains of the virus present in both the skin and the nose habitats. The vagina was dominated by the papillomavirus—38% of the female subjects carried strains. Some of the women possessed high-risk strains that increase the risk of cervical cancer. The high-risk strains were more common in women whose vaginal bacteria had low levels of Lactobacillus and high levels of Gardnerella.  Lactobacillus is a good bacteria for humans that helps protect against bad bacteria. Gardnerella is the bacteria that produces bacterial vaginosis. Adenoviruses also were found in the various body habitats sampled. The common cold and pneumonia are caused by adenoviruses. In addition, the researchers had scientists at the university’s Genome Institute sequence the viral DNA of what was discovered by the study. They concluded each volunteer subject had a distinct viral fingerprint.

The study’s researchers admit they do not know whether the viruses have a positive or a negative effect on the overall health of the human body. They do hypothesize some viruses may keep the immune system prepared to respond to dangerous pathogens while other viruses may increase the risk of illness. The researchers also admit to the possibility the viruses discovered could have been latent viruses the subjects acquired years earlier, but they do not believe that is the case. They believe the viruses found to be active. Many of the viruses found during the study were discovered in body secretions where the presence of a virus is an indicator of an active infection. Latent viruses hide within cells and not in body fluids such as saliva and nasal secretions. The researchers plan to continue their research by distinguishing between the active viral infections not causing symptoms or illness and the active viruses that are.

Even Bacteria Thinks Females are Better

mosquitoAmanda Fierro (12:00 Micro) is interested in vector-borne diseases, and how microbiotia of insects might modify the behavior of the vector, and their ultimate ability to transmit disease. The relationship between pathogen, host, and vector is complicated, and other players in the web can even further complicate the rate of transmission of various diseases in a population.  See this BIO230 summary by a student from last Fall for a counterpoint to Amanda’s summary. In the meantime, here is Amanda’s story:

This topic is from an article on Science Daily based on research performed at Penn State University. The main researcher was Jason Rasgon, PhD. The topic in question for the research was Wolbachia bacteria and its connection to mosquitos and the transmission of West Nile virus. Wolbachia is a genus of bacteria that can be found in arthropods (mosquitos) and nematodes. The bacteria is a parasite that manipulates the reproductive biology of its host to improve and increase its own transmission. It is transmitted from mother to offspring. Males cannot spread Wolbachia to offspring or to any other host. Four mains methods of manipulating its host’s reproductive biology are: “1) feminization of infected males (turning genetic males into females),  2) Induced parthenogenesis (reproduction without males),  3) killing of infected males, and 4) Cytoplasmic Incompatibility (CI), the modification of sperm from infected males resulting embryonic defects and death when sperm fertilize eggs not similarly infected” (University of Rochester, 2011).  Past research has suggested Wolbachia bacteria leave mosquitos resistant to pathogens thus inhibiting mosquitos from transmitting those pathogens to humans. An example is the Dengue virus. Because of the research, mosquitos infected with the bacteria are being released into the environment as a strategy to control the Dengue virus. Research also has been done on Wolbachia’s impact on malaria. The studies suggested some malaria-inducing Plasmodium parasites could be enhanced increasing its transmission to rodents and birds.

Rasgon and his team of researchers wanted to discover the bacteria’s effect on West Nile virus. The researchers expected Wolbachia to have the same effects on the mosquito’s West Nile resistance as it did on the Dengue virus. The research team injected adult female mosquitos with the bacteria. After the bacteria was allowed to replicate within the mosquitos, they were fed blood infected with the West Nile virus. Tests showed Wolbachia did not impede the virus. In fact, the mosquitos infected had drastically higher West Nile virus infection rates than the control group after seven days from the date of infection. Rasgon points out a serious complication the results could imply—hosts rendered resistant to one pathogen by Wolbachia could become better pathways for, thus enhancing, other pathogens such as those causing malaria. The researchers also discovered the West Nile virus enhancement due to Wolbachia occurred in combination with the suppression of the genes associated with the mosquitos’ anti-viral immune response. Rasgon and his team plan to do more research to find the mechanism for the West Nile virus enhancement.

keep calmThe study is important because it is the first study to illustrate, for certain, Wolbachia bacteria enhancing a human pathogen in mosquitos. While West Nile may not be a serious illness for most, it can be deadly to some. According to CDC, about 70-80% of the people infected with the disease do not show symptoms. Those who do, can recover within weeks or months. There also is that 1% of West Nile infected people who develop serious neurologic illnesses. Ten percent of those people will die. Then there is the effect Wolbachia bacteria can have on mosquitos’ malaria resistance. Malaria is much more serious than West Nile. I have always hated insects, especially mosquitos. This gives me more reason to believe bacteria infected insects or any laboratory manipulated organisms should not be released into the environment.

New communicating molecule able to tell cancer cells to die

Cancer cells before treatment (left); cancer cells after treatment (right)

Erin Mensch (11 AM Micro) found an article in Science Daily, reporting research in the biomedical journal PLoSOne which found that the principle of “quorum sensing” from bacteria might be exploited to fight certain types of cancer cells. Using bacteria and viruses to treat cancers is a topic which has been reported in BIO230 before, but new approaches are always welcome. Here is Erin’s summary:

I read an article from the Science Daily. This article was about an experiment done by the University of Missouri. At the University, they have found a molecule that is found in bacteria and has to do with communicating to other cells. They figured out that it can change the way cancer cells act and can actually stop them from spreading. This is a huge find because cancer is so deadly because of its ability to spread so quickly.

A man by the name of Senthil Kumar said that is communicating molecule can even make the cancer cell dies immediately. Kumar explains in the article that when there is an infection somewhere in the body, the bacteria is able to tell the other bacteria what to do. This could be either to spread to this specific place or to continue rapidly multiplying. The study decided to work with pancreatic cancer cells. They grew them in the lab with these communicating bacteria cells. These molecules are known as ODDHSL. They found that after the treatment from the communicating cells that the pancreatic cells stopped multiplying, stopped spreading, and even were killed off. This is a huge deal because pancreatic cancer cells are some of the hardest cells to kill off. Kumar said that this is why they chose to use pancreatic cells because he knew if it worked for them that there is a good chance it will work in a lot of other types of cancers as well. This is a huge deal to the medical world and could be the beginning part of figuring out the mystery of so many cancers.

Kumar plans to next find a way to introduce these molecules in a more resourceful way. Once they figure out a way to do that they could then move onto animal testing. After they did animal testing and if it was successful the next step would be to test it out in humans. The problem right now is trying to find a way to be able to get these molecules to do what they did in the laboratory setting not in the laboratory. He feels pretty confident with the results he has gotten so far and where this could lead to. He said that the main thing right now is finding out if it work in animals and if that is successful we could have something very good on the way. I found the article to be extremely exciting especially because my aunt was just recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers there is so knowing that this molecule could make even them die off is incredible. This would be a huge accomplishment to the medical world if they could get a way to communicate with the cancer cells and tell them to die off. I am very excited to keep following this study and hope to see some more successful articles about them finding out more about this phenomenal “communicating molecule”.

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