BPoD

Jul 21

21 July 2014
Ripped Genes
X marks the spot of the location of our body’s genetic material, as that’s the normal shape of chromosomes. Formed from two identical strands (arms) of DNA joined at a single point, the set of chromosomes holds our genetic blueprint in each of our cells. But when a cell divides, their cross-like form changes radically (stained dark purple). Long tentacular protein spindles (green lines) creep out from opposite sides of the cell and latch onto one arm of the chromosome – the two spindle groups seen at the centre of the image are one cell’s worth. After reaching their targets, the spindles then retract, tearing the chromosomes apart thus dividing the genetic material in two. Understanding this complex process could help fight maladies linked to cell division such as cancer and birth defects. And help is much needed because developing medical treatments is never as easy as following a treasure map.
Written by Jan Piotrowski
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Image by Nasser RusanLife: Magnified Exhibition from National Institutes of Health, USACopyright held by National Institutes of HealthResearch published in Nature, June 2014
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21 July 2014

Ripped Genes

X marks the spot of the location of our body’s genetic material, as that’s the normal shape of chromosomes. Formed from two identical strands (arms) of DNA joined at a single point, the set of chromosomes holds our genetic blueprint in each of our cells. But when a cell divides, their cross-like form changes radically (stained dark purple). Long tentacular protein spindles (green lines) creep out from opposite sides of the cell and latch onto one arm of the chromosome – the two spindle groups seen at the centre of the image are one cell’s worth. After reaching their targets, the spindles then retract, tearing the chromosomes apart thus dividing the genetic material in two. Understanding this complex process could help fight maladies linked to cell division such as cancer and birth defects. And help is much needed because developing medical treatments is never as easy as following a treasure map.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

Image by Nasser Rusan
Life: Magnified Exhibition from National Institutes of Health, USA
Copyright held by National Institutes of Health
Research published in Nature, June 2014

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Jul 20

20 July 2014
Hard Hearted
As calcium builds up in tissues it gradually causes them to harden or calcify. It’s how our bodies build teeth and bones. When calcification happens in cardiovascular tissue, however, it reduces blood flow and eventually leads to heart failure. To better understand the problem, researchers have taken snapshots of calcified heart valves using a special microscope that can measure the density of a material as well as its surface features. Images like this one, where denser material appears orange, have revealed that spherical particles forming during soft-tissue calcification are composed of a form of calcium known as hydroxyapatite, which is structurally different to that found in bone. Such insights might help figure out how to break down the mineral deposits or even prevent them forming in the first place.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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Image by Sergio Bertazzo from the Wellcome Image Awards 2014Imperial College LondonOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in Nature, April 2013
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20 July 2014

Hard Hearted

As calcium builds up in tissues it gradually causes them to harden or calcify. It’s how our bodies build teeth and bones. When calcification happens in cardiovascular tissue, however, it reduces blood flow and eventually leads to heart failure. To better understand the problem, researchers have taken snapshots of calcified heart valves using a special microscope that can measure the density of a material as well as its surface features. Images like this one, where denser material appears orange, have revealed that spherical particles forming during soft-tissue calcification are composed of a form of calcium known as hydroxyapatite, which is structurally different to that found in bone. Such insights might help figure out how to break down the mineral deposits or even prevent them forming in the first place.

Written by Daniel Cossins

Image by Sergio Bertazzo from the Wellcome Image Awards 2014
Imperial College London
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in Nature, April 2013

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Jul 19

19 July 2014
Slipping its Tethers
An estimated 34 million people worldwide currently live with AIDS, a disease of the immune system caused by the virus HIV. Infecting the white blood cells that normally defend us against disease, such as lymphocytes and macrophages, this virus also neutralises the body’s antiviral weapons at the molecular level. One such weapon is tetherin, a protein that binds to virus particles and tacks them to the cell membrane, preventing their release into the bloodstream. Pictured are macrophages (nuclei stained blue) in which the immune response has been activated. Tetherin (in green) is seen alongside a protein (in red) that’s highlighting the membrane compartments where HIV particles are assembled before release. But HIV evades tetherin’s grasp with a weapon of its own – a protein called Vpu – which stimulates degradation of tetherin. This adaptation may have been a key step in the successful spread of HIV-like viruses in primates to human hosts.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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Image by Mark Marsh and Sebastian GieseUniversity College LondonOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in PLOS Pathogens, July 2014
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19 July 2014

Slipping its Tethers

An estimated 34 million people worldwide currently live with AIDS, a disease of the immune system caused by the virus HIV. Infecting the white blood cells that normally defend us against disease, such as lymphocytes and macrophages, this virus also neutralises the body’s antiviral weapons at the molecular level. One such weapon is tetherin, a protein that binds to virus particles and tacks them to the cell membrane, preventing their release into the bloodstream. Pictured are macrophages (nuclei stained blue) in which the immune response has been activated. Tetherin (in green) is seen alongside a protein (in red) that’s highlighting the membrane compartments where HIV particles are assembled before release. But HIV evades tetherin’s grasp with a weapon of its own – a protein called Vpu – which stimulates degradation of tetherin. This adaptation may have been a key step in the successful spread of HIV-like viruses in primates to human hosts.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

Image by Mark Marsh and Sebastian Giese
University College London
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in PLOS Pathogens, July 2014

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Jul 18

18 July 2014
Print, Fold, Magnify
Each of these small pieces of card is an origami-inspired microscope that could help save lives in the developing world. Created by researchers determined to put scientific tools in the hands of as many people as possible, the Foldscope is assembled in minutes from a sheet of pre-scored card and a few extra components including a lens, an LED and a button-sized battery. A mini-microscope costs just 50p and some can provide up to 2000x magnification – enough to see disease-causing parasites. They can also be made in different configurations for different purposes, including fluorescent microscopes capable of imaging specific proteins labeled with fluorescent dyes. The ultimate goal is twofold: to inspire children and to improve healthcare in the world’s poorest regions. To that end, researchers are now developing a series of disease-specific Foldscopes that will help healthcare workers diagnose particular illnesses.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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Image by Manu Prakash and colleaguesStanford UniversityOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in PLOS One, June 2014
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18 July 2014

Print, Fold, Magnify

Each of these small pieces of card is an origami-inspired microscope that could help save lives in the developing world. Created by researchers determined to put scientific tools in the hands of as many people as possible, the Foldscope is assembled in minutes from a sheet of pre-scored card and a few extra components including a lens, an LED and a button-sized battery. A mini-microscope costs just 50p and some can provide up to 2000x magnification – enough to see disease-causing parasites. They can also be made in different configurations for different purposes, including fluorescent microscopes capable of imaging specific proteins labeled with fluorescent dyes. The ultimate goal is twofold: to inspire children and to improve healthcare in the world’s poorest regions. To that end, researchers are now developing a series of disease-specific Foldscopes that will help healthcare workers diagnose particular illnesses.

Written by Daniel Cossins

Image by Manu Prakash and colleagues
Stanford University
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in PLOS One, June 2014

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Jul 17

17 July 2014
Climatic Kidney Stones
This is not a bouquet of flowers or a strange succulent plant. It’s a kidney stone, pictured using a scanning electron microscope. A new study has revealed an unexpected consequence of global warming: an increase in kidney stones. Researchers found a link between hot days and kidney stones in 60,000 patients from all over the United States. Kidney stones are usually formed when waste products in the blood, such as calcium, ammonia and uric acid, form crystals inside the kidneys. These hard stones can cause severe pain, particularly as they pass down the urinary tract. The number of people suffering from kidney stones, especially children, has soared over the past three decades. Part of this rise may be brought on by higher temperatures, which contribute to dehydration, leading to a higher concentration of minerals in urine that promote the growth of kidney stones.
Written by Nick Kennedy
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Image by Steve GschmeissnerScience Photo LibraryAny re-use of this image must be authorised by Science Photo LibraryResearch published in Environmental Health Perspectives, July 2014
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17 July 2014

Climatic Kidney Stones

This is not a bouquet of flowers or a strange succulent plant. It’s a kidney stone, pictured using a scanning electron microscope. A new study has revealed an unexpected consequence of global warming: an increase in kidney stones. Researchers found a link between hot days and kidney stones in 60,000 patients from all over the United States. Kidney stones are usually formed when waste products in the blood, such as calcium, ammonia and uric acid, form crystals inside the kidneys. These hard stones can cause severe pain, particularly as they pass down the urinary tract. The number of people suffering from kidney stones, especially children, has soared over the past three decades. Part of this rise may be brought on by higher temperatures, which contribute to dehydration, leading to a higher concentration of minerals in urine that promote the growth of kidney stones.

Written by Nick Kennedy

Image by Steve Gschmeissner
Science Photo Library
Any re-use of this image must be authorised by Science Photo Library
Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives, July 2014

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Jul 16

16 July 2014
Teasing Apart Autism
Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate with and relate to others. It’s a diverse condition and efforts to define the various subtypes by studying behaviour have met with little success. But researchers have now made progress by working back from genes. When they sequenced an autism-associated gene called CDH8 from 3,700 children with autism, scientists discovered the gene was mutated in 15 of the kids, all of whom had a particular cluster of characteristics: broad forehead, wide-set eyes, and digestive difficulties. What’s more, when the researchers disrupted CDH8 in zebrafish embryos, the fish developed larger heads and took much longer than controls to pass a fluorescent pellet through their digestive tract (pictured). It appears, then, that mutations in CDH8 are associated with a distinctive type of autism. The finding could usher in a genetics-first approach that might help tease apart discrete forms of autism.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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Image by Raphael BernierUniversity of Washington, USAOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in Cell, July 2014
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16 July 2014

Teasing Apart Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate with and relate to others. It’s a diverse condition and efforts to define the various subtypes by studying behaviour have met with little success. But researchers have now made progress by working back from genes. When they sequenced an autism-associated gene called CDH8 from 3,700 children with autism, scientists discovered the gene was mutated in 15 of the kids, all of whom had a particular cluster of characteristics: broad forehead, wide-set eyes, and digestive difficulties. What’s more, when the researchers disrupted CDH8 in zebrafish embryos, the fish developed larger heads and took much longer than controls to pass a fluorescent pellet through their digestive tract (pictured). It appears, then, that mutations in CDH8 are associated with a distinctive type of autism. The finding could usher in a genetics-first approach that might help tease apart discrete forms of autism.

Written by Daniel Cossins

Image by Raphael Bernier
University of Washington, USA
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in Cell, July 2014

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Jul 15

15 July 2014
Doors of Perception
People have described taking ‘magic mushrooms’ as entering a dream-like state, a realm of enhanced perceptions and strong visuals. Researchers have provided for the first time a physical representation for this experience in the brain. They injected 15 volunteers with psilocybin, the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms (pictured), while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The brain imaging data for people under psilocybin showed an increase in activity in the more primitive brain network linked to emotions and memory. This ‘louder’ pattern of activity is similar to the pattern observed in people who are dreaming. On the other hand, psilocybin made the brain network that’s linked to high-level thinking and our sense of self become uncoordinated and disorganised. Now the scientists are looking at the possibility that psilocybin may help alleviate symptoms of depression by altering pessimistic patterns of thinking.
Written by Nick Kennedy
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Image by Martin BondScience Photo LibraryAny re-use of this image must be authorised by Science Photo LibraryResearch published in Human Brain Mapping, June 2014
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15 July 2014

Doors of Perception

People have described taking ‘magic mushrooms’ as entering a dream-like state, a realm of enhanced perceptions and strong visuals. Researchers have provided for the first time a physical representation for this experience in the brain. They injected 15 volunteers with psilocybin, the psychedelic chemical in magic mushrooms (pictured), while they lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. The brain imaging data for people under psilocybin showed an increase in activity in the more primitive brain network linked to emotions and memory. This ‘louder’ pattern of activity is similar to the pattern observed in people who are dreaming. On the other hand, psilocybin made the brain network that’s linked to high-level thinking and our sense of self become uncoordinated and disorganised. Now the scientists are looking at the possibility that psilocybin may help alleviate symptoms of depression by altering pessimistic patterns of thinking.

Written by Nick Kennedy

Image by Martin Bond
Science Photo Library
Any re-use of this image must be authorised by Science Photo Library
Research published in Human Brain Mapping, June 2014

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Jul 14

14 July 2014
Buses and Blobs
Just as cities are full of buses – shuttling people around to school, work, play or home – our cells are bustling with tiny transporters that do a similar job. These fluffy-looking balls are zebrafish eggs, stained with a fluorescent dye that reveals these blobby biological buses, known as vesicles, packed with molecules rather than passengers. But there’s a key difference between them – the one on the left is normal, while the one on the right is missing a gene called souffle (also known as spastizin), so the vesicles don’t form properly. Children born with a faulty version of souffle have a condition known as hereditary spastic paraplegia, where they gradually lose the use of their legs. By understanding how souffle works in model systems like these fish eggs, researchers can start to figure out what’s going wrong in the human disease and search for future treatments.
Written by Kat Arney
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Adapted from image by Roland Dosch and colleaguesGeorg-August Universitaet GoettingenOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in PLOS Genetics, June 2014
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14 July 2014

Buses and Blobs

Just as cities are full of buses – shuttling people around to school, work, play or home – our cells are bustling with tiny transporters that do a similar job. These fluffy-looking balls are zebrafish eggs, stained with a fluorescent dye that reveals these blobby biological buses, known as vesicles, packed with molecules rather than passengers. But there’s a key difference between them – the one on the left is normal, while the one on the right is missing a gene called souffle (also known as spastizin), so the vesicles don’t form properly. Children born with a faulty version of souffle have a condition known as hereditary spastic paraplegia, where they gradually lose the use of their legs. By understanding how souffle works in model systems like these fish eggs, researchers can start to figure out what’s going wrong in the human disease and search for future treatments.

Written by Kat Arney

Adapted from image by Roland Dosch and colleagues
Georg-August Universitaet Goettingen
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in PLOS Genetics, June 2014

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Jul 13

13 July 2014
Slimy Sentinels
Slime-forming proteins called mucins are tethered to the surfaces of your body to block bacteria that would happily chomp their way into your organs and tissues. To understand more about these front-line defenders, cells from the cornea – the surface of the eye – were genetically modified and grown in the lab, each deficient in a particular type of mucin. Scientists discovered that the lack of a mucin called MUC16 weakened the surface barrier and, surprisingly, disrupted the ability of the cells beneath to form the tight junctions between neighbours (here stained light green) that are normally free of gaps to stop anything slipping through. The absence of another mucin, MUC1, didn’t reduce the barrier function, suggesting that different types of mucin work together to create the barrier. Understanding more about our natural defences could help us develop new anti-infective drugs as existing antibiotics become less effective.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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Image by Ilene Gipson and colleaguesHarvard Medical School, USAOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in PLOS One, June 2014
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13 July 2014

Slimy Sentinels

Slime-forming proteins called mucins are tethered to the surfaces of your body to block bacteria that would happily chomp their way into your organs and tissues. To understand more about these front-line defenders, cells from the cornea – the surface of the eye – were genetically modified and grown in the lab, each deficient in a particular type of mucin. Scientists discovered that the lack of a mucin called MUC16 weakened the surface barrier and, surprisingly, disrupted the ability of the cells beneath to form the tight junctions between neighbours (here stained light green) that are normally free of gaps to stop anything slipping through. The absence of another mucin, MUC1, didn’t reduce the barrier function, suggesting that different types of mucin work together to create the barrier. Understanding more about our natural defences could help us develop new anti-infective drugs as existing antibiotics become less effective.

Written by Mick Warwicker

Image by Ilene Gipson and colleagues
Harvard Medical School, USA
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in PLOS One, June 2014

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Jul 12

12 July 2014
Silver Bullet
It’s long been the ambition of cancer researchers to find the ‘silver bullet’ to treat tumours. Now the dream may have come true, although so far only in the lab. Researchers have developed tiny silver nanoparticles that directly target tumour cells, smuggling in a deadly payload of cancer-killing drugs. They’ve found a way of coating the particles with different molecules that get taken up by specific types of cells, as well as fluorescent dyes that reveal their location. For example, the top two cells in this image have taken up particles that glow red, while the lower cell prefers the green ones. What’s more, the particles break down quickly if they’re not gobbled up by cells, potentially reducing side effects in the body. It’s still early days and there’s more work to do, but this technique could help to pull the trigger on cancer.
Written by Kat Arney
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Image by Gary Braun and colleaguesSanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, USAOriginally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)Research published in Nature Materials, June 2014
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12 July 2014

Silver Bullet

It’s long been the ambition of cancer researchers to find the ‘silver bullet’ to treat tumours. Now the dream may have come true, although so far only in the lab. Researchers have developed tiny silver nanoparticles that directly target tumour cells, smuggling in a deadly payload of cancer-killing drugs. They’ve found a way of coating the particles with different molecules that get taken up by specific types of cells, as well as fluorescent dyes that reveal their location. For example, the top two cells in this image have taken up particles that glow red, while the lower cell prefers the green ones. What’s more, the particles break down quickly if they’re not gobbled up by cells, potentially reducing side effects in the body. It’s still early days and there’s more work to do, but this technique could help to pull the trigger on cancer.

Written by Kat Arney

Image by Gary Braun and colleagues
Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, USA
Originally published under a Creative Commons Licence (BY 4.0)
Research published in Nature Materials, June 2014

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