How Fruit Flies Control the Brain’s “Steering Wheel”

When we walk down the street, we have an internal sense of which way we are heading, from looking at street signals and physical landmarks, and also a sense of where we’d like to go. But how does the brain coordinate between these directions, doing the mental math that tells us which way to turn? Now, new research describes such a neural process in fruit flies, providing insight into how an animal’s brain steers it in the right direction. The study, published February 7, 2024 in Nature, shows how neurons that signal the direction in which a fly is currently oriented work together with neurons that signal the direction in which way the fly wishes to be oriented—its goal direction—to form a circuit that guides the animal. The open-access article is titled “Converting an Allocentric Goal into an Egocentric Steering Signal.”

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Rockefeller’s Marraffini Wins Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science; Prize Honors Outstanding Immigrant Scientists Whose Work Has Had Profound Impact on Biomedical Research, with Important Contributions to Medicine & Human Health

Luciano Marraffini, PhD

Luciano Marraffini, a pioneer in the study of CRISPR-Cas systems in bacteria and their potential for genome editing, has received the 2024 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. Each year, this honor recognizes outstanding immigrant scientists whose work has had a profound impact on biomedical research, with important contributions to medicine and human health. Marraffini, who was born in Rosario, Argentina, and attended the University of Rosario, moved to the US to earn his PhD at the University of Chicago and conduct postdoctoral research at Northwestern University. In 2010, he was recruited to The Rockefeller University where he is currently the Kayden Family Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Bacteriology. For years, Marraffini has been uncovering the molecular mechanisms of CRISPR-Cas systems that help bacteria defend themselves against viral invaders. With Erik Sontheimer, Marraffini showed that CRISPR-CAS targets and destroys viral DNA, rather than RNA, as previously thought. Their groundbreaking paper in 2008 noted that, as a result, CRISPR could become a broader tool for genome editing. In collaboration with Feng Zhang’s lab at the Broad Institute, Marraffini conducted the original in vivo CRISPR-Cas genome-editing projects and showed its effectiveness across cell types.

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Newly Discovered Genetic Disorder (Absence of CCR2) Causes Rare Lung Disease


The macrophage is one of the body’s most important inhabitants. Meaning “big eater” in Greek, this immune cell consumes and digests problematic elements from microbes and cancer cells to dust and debris. Macrophages are especially important in the lungs, where they both fight bacterial infection and clear the lungs of excess surfactant, a protein- and lipid-rich layer that’s essential to healthy function but can create a sticky buildup if not controlled. In a recent study, investigators from Rockefeller University and other institutions have discovered a never-before-documented genetic disorder that causes the improper functioning of these cells. The researchers made their discovery by drawing an unexpected connection between a select group of sick children. Throughout their lives, these nine children had battled severe diseases such as pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP), progressive polycystic lung disease, and recurrent bacterial and viral infections that left them gasping for breath from often cyst-plagued lungs.

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How Does Zika Virus Replicate and Transmit from Mother to Fetus?

Nearly $6 million in new NIH grants will enable Penn State researcher and colleagues to investigate how Zika virus replicates and crosses the placenta to infect unborn children

In 2015, an outbreak of Zika virus, driven by a heavy rain season and subsequent boom in the virus’s host mosquito population, caused thousands of babies in Brazil to be born with severe birth defects. Zika virus is unique among flaviviruses, which also include West Nile, dengue and yellow fever viruses, in its ability to transmit from an infected mother to her unborn child. How do the components of Zika virus assemble during viral replication and how does the virus then pass from mother to fetus? These are some of the questions that Joyce Jose, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State, and her colleagues aim to answer with two new grants from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases totaling nearly $6 million.

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New Study Uncovers Why Mutated Gene Is Believed to Be Responsible for Certain Cases of ALS and Dementia; May Point Way to Effective Therapy

Lou Gehrig

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, together with collaborators, have discovered why a gene that, when mutated, is a common cause of two debilitating brain diseases: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The study found that the protein generated by this mutant gene, C9ORF72, influences the immune system by regulating the production of interleukin 17A (IL-17A), a potent inflammatory molecule. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that results in progressive paralysis due to the loss of neurons in the central nervous system. ALS patients often have pre-existing autoimmune disease and inflammation of the brain that worsens as muscle function declines.

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New Model for in Vitro Production of Human Brown Fat Cells Lays Groundwork for Obesity and Diabetes Cell Therapy

Brown fat cells (Credit: Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News; David Gregory and Debbie Marshall)

Brown adipocytes are specialized cells that can use energy to produce heat. This property makes them attractive tools for the treatment of diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes. Until recently, this therapeutic potential was constrained by limited understanding of how brown adipocyte tissue (BAT) develops from precursors. A team led by investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital identified a set of cellular signaling cues that lead up to brown adipocyte formation in mice. They then used these cues to develop a protocol that efficiently produced human brown adipocytes in vitro.

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Rafi Ahmed, PhD, to Be Awarded 2024 AACR- Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lectureship for His Immunology Advances

Rafi Ahmed, PhD

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will award the 20th AACR-Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lectureship to Rafi Ahmed, PhD, during the AACR Annual Meeting 2024 to be held April 5-10 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. Dr. Ahmed is Director of the Emory Vaccine Center; a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar; the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University School of Medicine; an investigator in the Emory Center for AIDS Research (CFAR); and a member of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University in Atlanta. He is being recognized for his illuminating research achievements focused on immune cell function and the molecular mechanisms of immunological memory.

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Exceptionally Rapid Tooth Development and Ontogenetic Changes in the Feeding Apparatus of the Komodo Dragon

by Tea Maho and Robert Reisz, PhD

Kilat, 20-year-old Komodo dragon (Credit: Toronto Zoo)

Kilat, the largest living lizard at the Toronto Metro Zoo, like other members of his species (Varanus komodoensis), truly deserves to be called the Komodo dragon! Its impressive size and the way it looks at you and tracks your every move makes you realize that it is an apex predator, not unlike a ferocious theropod dinosaur. So, it is not surprising when you look around at his enclosure to find that there are shed teeth sparkling on the ground, a common find when hunting for Mesozoic theropod dinosaurs. This startling phenomenon led us to study the teeth and feeding behavior of this fascinating predator. The Toronto Zoo Team generously collected many shed teeth and allowed us to undertake this study, and skulls in the skeletal collection of the Royal Ontario Museum were also made available to us.

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Translational Technology Using Exosomes & Ultrasound Being Developed to Possibly Help Stroke Patients

(L-R) Mahrima Parvin, Ali Arbab, MD, and Sawaiz Kashif [Credit: Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

Sometimes a “no” can lead someone to look in a different direction for a “yes.” That is the case for Ali Arbab, MD, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia who has spent most of his career studying breast cancer. When one of his proposed methods for treating breast cancer didn’t result in a grant, Arbab shifted the focus to other diseases and found he could tailor his methods to help stroke victims. This resulted in Arbab receiving a $423,500 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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Waisman Biomanufacturing & RoosterBio Announce Collaboration for GMP Manufacturing of Cell & Exosome Therapies

On February 6, 2024, Waisman Biomanufacturing, a leading contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) that is strategically part of the University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison, announced a strategic partnership with RoosterBio, Inc., a leading provider of human mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs), highly engineered media solutions, and bioprocess development services. Through this collaboration, Waisman Biomanufacturing will incorporate RoosterBio’s cutting-edge MSC and exosome bioprocessing products, manufacturing protocols, and analytical services into its portfolio of biologics manufacturing services, expanding Waisman Biomanufacturing’s capabilities for the production of advanced therapies for clinical trials. Together, Waisman Biomanufacturing and RoosterBio deliver an end-to-end solution for the development and manufacturing of cell- and exosome-based therapeutics, including the critical raw materials, expert process development in both 2D and 3D systems, advanced analytical characterization, regulatory support packages, and proven cGMP manufacturing capabilities. Advanced therapy developers in both industry and academia can now accelerate and de-risk their progression into clinical trials by leveraging this new strategic collaboration.

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