Hello, and welcome to the #bioscinews round-up! This is the place where you can find all the important biosci new stories from the past week, in a short, digestible paragraph.
This week’s news
The hygiene hypothesis has been around for a while now. In order to develop a well-functioning immune system, children should be exposed to parasites, bacteria and viruses (both harmless and infectious) as they grow up. A recent study has discovered some evidence supporting this idea in mice. When young mice grew up in a sterile environment their gut microflora was less diverse, and their innate immunity (that is, their ability to fight off pathogens) was reduced in comparison to mice who were exposed to unsterile environments while growing up.
It is the belief (and hope) of many scientists that gene therapy will be the ‘gold standard’ of disease treatment. This week, it was announced that the world’s first trial of stem cell therapy will commence in the womb to alter the effects of brittle bone disease. Initial results have shown promise in fixing mutations in the gene required for producing collagen, with patients receiving follow-up boosters for 2 years after birth. Foetus at 20 weeks of age will be injected with stroll cells (connective tissue cells) containing the corrected, normal collagen-producing gene.
After analysis of many functional MRI images, researchers were able to identify individual participants in a study due to differences in their ‘neuronal fingerprint’. They also discovered that these patterns are associated with cognitive ability.
There have been many studies in the past few years about how bad sitting is. Even if you exercise a lot, it is believed that extended periods of sitting can increase the risks of all kinds of (primarily) metabolic diseases. However, a comprehensive cohort study has now found no association between sitting behaviour and these disease outcomes. In health and epidemiology, cohort studies are seen as the gold standard, so it will be interesting to see if any more studies are conducted in this area…
Lately, there has been a bit of excitement in the hominid evolution field, and this article just adds to the interesting storybook of our origins. Scientists have presented new evidence of modern humans in China that predates any evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe. This potentially changes the human migration narrative and gives interesting insights into our past.
Gene therapy has long been discussed and explored as an avenue to cure certain diseases. A new paper brings hope to those suffering from glioma, a cancer that targets the protective cells of the nervous system. This paper focuses on using adenoviruses to specifically target glial cells, and to only express the desired gene(s) in those cells. This means these treatment vectors have two strict regulation points to prevent the therapy from wrecking havoc in healthy cells that do not need gene therapy.
For years scientists have wondered why bowel cancer is so hard to treat. This week it has become clear that bowel cancer is actually four separate cancers, with a mixture of similar genes that have influence on the behaviour of the cancer. With the variance of the genes, however, this has led to resistance towards certain treatments. It is now hoped that with these new findings will lead to the development of more precise and targeted treatments, which can be trialled to help treat bowel cancer.
Global climate change will likely result in a decrease in ocean biodiversity. This will impact the food-web, from small marine plankton to humans.
Who knew that bees also need a morning caffeine buzz? Well they do! Scientists have recently discovered that plants that provide bees with a dose of caffeine actually do it for their own benefit. Instead of delivering caffeine as a reward for spreading their pollen, as was once thought, the caffeine hit actually makes the bees honey production inefficient. Instead of producing honey, the bees go on the hunt for a caffeine fix, going back to the same plant in the hope of more caffeine. Instead they end up spreading more pollen, benefiting only the plant.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s news round-up, thanks for reading!
Devon Smith, The University of Sheffield, @devoncaira
Julie Blommaert, The University of Innsbruck, @jblommaert92