Gut Flora Composition & Function May Impact Susceptibility to Konzo, a Paralytic Disease Caused by Consumption of Poorly Processed Cassava, a World Staple Crop; Study May “Open Novel Avenues to Prevent Devastating Disease for Many Children in Sub-Saharan Africa”

Differences between gut flora and genes from konzo-prone regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may affect the release of cyanide after poorly processed cassava is consumed, according to a recent study with 180 children. Cassava is a food security crop for over half a billion people in the developing world. Children living in high-risk konzo areas have high glucosidase (linamarase) microbes and low rhodanese microbes in their gut, which could mean greater susceptibility and less protection against the disease, according to researchers at the Children’s National Hospital (Washington, DC) who led the study published online on September 10, 2021 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “The Gut Microbiome in Konzo.”

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Evolutionary “Time Travel” Reveals Enzyme’s Origins, Possible Future Designs

“The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” Albert Einstein wrote. Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in protein evolution, where past and present versions of the same enzyme exist in different species today, with implications for future enzyme design. Now, researchers have used evolutionary “time travel” to learn how an enzyme evolved over time, from one of Earth’s most ancient organisms to modern-day humans. The researchers presented their resultson on August 25 at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Fall 2021 is a hybrid meeting being held virtually and in-person August 22-26, and on-demand content will be available August 30-September 30. The meeting featured more than 7,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

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Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Carry More Harmful Genetic Variants Than Other Breeds Studied; Genomic Analysis Also Identifies Genetic Variants Linked to a Common Heart Condition in the Breed

Recent dog breeding practices have loaded up cavalier King Charles spaniels with disease-causing mutations, including variants linked to the common heart condition, myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD). Erik Axelsson, PhD, of Uppsala University and colleagues published these new findings online on September 2, 2021 in PLOS Genetics. The open-access article is titled “The Genetic Consequences of Dog Breed Formation—Accumulation of Deleterious Genetic Variation and Fixation of Mutations Associated with Myxomatous Mitral Valve Disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.”

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Exploring Connections Between Migraines and Reduced Type 2 Diabetes

People who get migraines are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, while some people who develop diabetes become less prone to migraines. Today, scientists studying the link between these conditions report how the peptides that cause migraine pain can influence production of insulin in mice, possibly by regulating the amount of secreted insulin or by increasing the number of pancreatic cells that produce it. These findings could improve methods to prevent or treat diabetes. The researchers presented their results at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Fall 2021 was a hybrid meeting held virtually and in-person August 22-26, and on-demand content will be available August 30-September 30. The meeting featured more than 7,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

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Bacteria Generate Nanowires to Respire in Oxygen-Less Soil and Deep Ocean Beds; Ground Beneath the Entire Globe Is “Electronically Wired,” Yale Study Suggests

A hair-like protein hidden inside bacteria serves as a sort of on-off switch for nature’s “electric grid,” a global web of bacteria-generated nanowires that permeates all oxygen-less soil and deep ocean beds, Yale researchers reported online on September 1, 2021 in Nature. Nature. The article is titled “Structure of Geobacter Pili Reveals Secretory Rather Than Nanowire Behaviour.” “The ground beneath our feet, the entire globe, is electrically wired,” said Nikhil Malvankar, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at The Microbial Sciences Institute at Yale University and senior author of the paper. “These previously hidden bacterial hairs are the molecular switch controlling the release of nanowires that make up nature’s electrical grid.” Almost all living things breathe oxygen to get rid of excess electrons when converting nutrients into energy. Without access to oxygen, however, soil bacteria living deep under oceans or buried underground over billions of years have developed a way to respire by “breathing minerals,” like snorkeling, through tiny protein filaments called nanowires.

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Researcher Receives $2.5M to Explore the Origin of Arterial Hardening, Including the Possible Role of Exosomes; Findings Could Help Identify New Drug Targets for Treatment, Prevention

In diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease, arterial calcification and stiffening of the elastic layer of the arterial wall are almost always present. Think of it as if bones are forming inside your arteries. “Arterial calcification resembles osteogenesis, or bone formation, in which arterial smooth muscle cells (SMCs) within the arterial wall transform into osteoblast-like cells, or bone cells, that express many of the proteins associated with bone formation and release exosomes,” said Yang Zhang, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy.  

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In a Common Genetic Disorder (NF1), Blood Test May Reveal When Benign Tumors Turn Cancerous; 86% Accuracy Achieved in First Small Study

People with an inherited condition known as neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), often develop non-cancerous, or benign, tumors that grow along nerves. These tumors can sometimes turn into aggressive cancers, but there hasn’t been a good way to determine whether this transformation to cancer has happened. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) Center for Cancer Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed a blood test that, they believe, could one day offer a highly sensitive and inexpensive approach to detect cancer early in people with NF1. The blood test could also help doctors monitor how well patients are responding to treatment for their cancer. The new findings were published online on August 31, 2021 in PLOS Medicine. The open-access article is titled “Cell-Free DNA Ultra-Low-Pass Whole Genome Sequencing to Distinguish Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor (MPNST) from Its Benign Precursor Lesion: A Cross-Sectional Study.”

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Suppression of Galectin 1 Protein May Extend Lifespan in Glioblastoma Patients

A group of McGill University (Montreal, Canada) researchers identify proteins that drive cancer stem cells. Their recent results suggest that targeting and suppressing a particular carbohydrate-binding protein called galectin1 could provide a more effective treatment for glioblastoma, in combination with radiation therapy. The results were published online on August 31, 2021 in Cell Reports. The open-access article is titled “Transcriptional Control of Brain Tumor Stem Cells by a Carbohydrate Binding Protein.” Due in part to its resistance to therapy, glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive cancerous brain tumor in adults. It grows rapidly and spreads quickly. While treatments such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy can help ease symptoms for a few months, in most cases tumor cells regrow after treatment and the cancer recurs. According to the researchers, no matter how low the weeds are cut, if the roots are not pulled out, the weeds will just grow back.

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Brain Tissue Inflammation May Be Key to Alzheimer’s Disease Progression

Neuroinflammation is the key driver of the spread of pathologically misfolded proteins in the brain and causes cognitive impairment in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reveal in a paper published online on August 26, 2021 in Nature Medicine. The article is titled “Microglial Activation and Tau Propagate Jointly Across Braak Stages.” For the first time ever, the researchers showed in living patients that neuroinflammation—or activation of the brain’s resident immune cells, called microglial cells—is not merely a consequence of disease progression; rather, it is a key upstream mechanism that is indispensable for disease development.

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Protecting Gardens and Crops from Insects Using the “Smell of Fear”

For home gardeners and farmers, herbivorous insects present a major threat to their hard work and crop yields. The predator insects that feed on these insects emit odors that pests can sense, which changes the pests’ behavior and even their physiology to avoid being eaten. With insects becoming more resistant to traditional pesticides, researchers now report they have developed a way to bottle the “smell of fear” produced by predators to repel and disrupt destructive insects naturally without the need for harsh substances. The researchers presented their results on August 25, 2021 at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS Fall 2021 is a hybrid meeting being held virtually and in-person (Atlanta) August 22-26, and on-demand content will be available August 30-September 30. The meeting features more than 7,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

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