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A heart muscle cell shows bundles of actin filaments and bands of myosin.

For the first time, scientists recreate cell division—outside a cell

Every living thing moves—prey from predators, ants to crumbs, leaves toward sunlight. But at the most fundamental level, scientists are still struggling to grasp the physics behind how our own cells build, move, transport and divide.

“The mechanisms that allow organisms to move and change shape are inherent to life, and they are all underlaid by physics,” said Margaret Gardel, professor of physics at the University of Chicago. “But despite how central they are for our understanding of biology, a great deal of these remain poorly understood.”

Gardel led an innovative new study, which for the first time recreates the mechanism of cell division—outside a cell. The experiment, led by postdoctoral fellow Kim Weirich and published May 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, helps scientists understand the physics by which cells carry out their everyday activities, and could one day lead to medical breakthroughs, ideas for new kinds of materials or even artificial cells.

“How cells divide is one of the most basic aspects of trying to create life, and it’s something we’ve been trying to understand for hundreds of years,” said study senior author Gardel, who combines physics and biology to study the ways by which cells transform themselves.

Cells move through the body, but some of the most complex motion takes place inside the cell, as it ships ingredients and supplies from place to place, flattens or expands, and divides to recreate itself. One of the key players in this dance is actin, a protein that assembles itself into rods and structures.

IT’S SOMETHING WE’VE BEEN TRYING TO UNDERSTAND FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS.”—Prof. Margaret Gardel on cell division Click To Tweet

Gardel’s team wanted to understand the physics behind the actions of actin. So Weirich turned to one of the main ways that scientists have for this question: take the ingredients and try to build with them outside the cell.

Weirich separated out actin proteins, and watched as they formed droplets that took on an almond shape. When Weirich added myosin (“motor” proteins common in muscles), they spontaneously found the center between the two ends of the droplet and pinched off the droplet into two.

They were totally shocked to see the process, Gardel said. “There’s no precedent for this. It looks exactly like the spindles that drive cell division.”

Working with fellow UChicago physicist Thomas Witten and chemist Suriyanarayanan Vaikuntanathan, postdoctoral fellow Kinjal Disbaswas modeled the physics at play.

When in a droplet, the rod-like actin molecules like to align themselves in parallel to minimize conflict, forming the almond shape. The longer myosin molecules prefer to gather in the center so that they can still stay parallel to the actin. But as more myosins gather, they begin to stick together, forming clusters that favor tilting rather than staying parallel—so it pinches off into two. It’s the first such detailed look at how a cell might accomplish this task.

           

Myosin molecules (white) gather in the center of the rod-like actin molecules (red). (Courtesy of Weinrich et al)

Watching this process—how living things exploit the structure of a droplet to form more life—is not only fascinating but useful, Gardel said. Though the types of proteins are different in cell division, the underlying principles are likely similar. “This is the kind of thing you need to know to imagine building things like artificial tissue for a wound,” she said.

“Ultimately, a great deal of problems in biology are about how ensembles of molecules work together,” she said, “and because these are often materials with chemical reactions going on inside, they’re very hard to model. These kinds of studies allow us the opportunity to explore the basic principles of the forces at play.”

Materials provided by University of Chicago

Megaraptor namunhuaiquii

Relation with T Rex found in fossils discovered 30 years ago

Humans of all age groups from children to great archaeologists have always been curious about the origin and existence of dinosaurs. Scientists at the University of Bonn and the Sirindhorn Museum have identified two new species of dinosaur which were based upon analyzing fossils discovered 30 years ago in Thailand.

The new species are distant relatives of the T.Rex dinosaur species but have a more primitive structure. Their work has been published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. These fossils were discovered during excavation and were handed over to the Sirindhorn Museum.  Adun Samathi who is pursuing the research came over these fossils five years ago. He is currently pursuing a doctorate at Steinmann Institute of Geology, Mineralogy and Paleontology at the University of Bonn. He bought these fossils here to use the state of the art facilities at the University.

These group of dinosaurs are called megaraptors which is a group of carnivores predatory dinosaurs including the Tyrannosaurus-rex(T.Rex). They run on hind legs and their arms are strong and armed with long claws. They have a more delicate head which has a long snout ending. Samathi has said that these fossils can be assigned to the bones of a megaraptor named as Phuwiangvenator. Phuwiangvenator was believed to be the fastest runner with a length of about six meters and shorter than T.Rex who is 12 meters.

The main group of megaraptors are found in South America and Australia however they are believed to be originated in Southeast Asia and spread across the globe from there. Various characters of the Phuwiangvenator group indicate that they originated from Southeast Asia. Further unidentified fossils were discovered by a group of researchers which are of a predatory dinosaur species of length close to 4.5 meters, however, the species could not be identified. Scientists assume that this second species is a smaller variant in the dinosaur species called the Vayuraptor nongbualamphuenisis is also related to Phuwiangvenator and T. rex. Samathi compares this condition with that of the African black cats where the Phuwiangvenator is a lion and the Vayuraptor is a cheetah.

The recent findings and all the hard work of the archaeologists in finding the two new predatory species will be made public and presented on the tenth anniversary of the Sirindhorn Museum. Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will open the event. In the field of archaeology, there is no end as new fossils will lead to discovering of new species and theories.

 

Fusarium oxysporum strain fungi

Researchers discover interaction of fungi with gold deep inside Earth

The National Space Agency of Australia has found a gold digging fungus not from gold mines rather from deep inside the surface of the Earth. The fungus attaches gold to its strands undergoing an oxidation process which involves dissolving and precipitating gold particles which are so small that they are impossible to be seen by a naked eye.

Fungi oxidizes the tiny gold particles and precipitates them on its strands by a cycling process which contributes to how gold and other elements are dispensed off within and around the surface of the Earth. The fungi are quite famous for playing a crucial role in the degradation and recycling of organic material , which mainly includes leaves and bark and other metals such as aluminium , manganese and iron.

However, researchers are not yet sure whether the gold coated fungi is an indication of gold deposits under the surface of the Earth . Nonetheless, they believe that mineral does allow for some biological advantage. The fungi with their hankering for gold grow larger and spread faster that the normal ones which do not posses any affinity towards gold.

These fungi are hence, more diverse than others. This is henceforth, the first evidence that fungi play an important role in how gold is cycled around the surface of the Earth and can contribute to less invasive extraction of gold in the near future and can even be used as a bio-remediation tool to recover gold from waste.

There are many other plants and animals thriving on the surface of the Earth , hankering over gold. Eucalyptus trees are known to draw gold particles from as deep as ten metres under the Earth’s surface using their roots and branches. These are 60 million years old and use their leaves to deposit gold on them. There are many species of termites and ants which decorate the mounds with gold, that they carry from under the Earth’s surface. According to a report in Nature Communications , these mechanisms help to create a low impact in mining practices.

The fungi Fusarium oxysporum is harmless and can even form a symbiosis relationship with plants. Some strains of this fungi, however, contribute to the development of the most infectious plant disease worldwide, called Fusarium Wilt. The disease is so destructive that US government had proposed strains to serve as weapons to wipe out coca and other illegal plant growth under the ‘Agent Green” operation.

trimethoprim

Antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels, global study finds

Concentrations of antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers exceed ‘safe’ levels by up to 300 times, the first ever global study has discovered.

Researchers looked for 14 commonly used antibiotics in rivers in 72 countries across six continents and found antibiotics at 65% of the sites monitored.

Metronidazole, which is used to treat bacterial infections including skin and mouth infections, exceeded safe levels by the biggest margin, with concentrations at one site in Bangladesh 300 times greater than the ‘safe’ level.

In the River Thames and one of its tributaries in London, the researchers detected a maximum total antibiotic concentration of 233 nanograms per litre (ng/l), whereas in Bangladesh the concentration was 170 times higher.

Trimethoprim

The most prevalent antibiotic was trimethoprim, which was detected at 307 of the 711 sites tested and is primarily used to treat urinary tract infections.

The research team compared the monitoring data with ‘safe’ levels recently established by the AMR Industry Alliance which, depending on the antibiotic, range from 20-32,000 ng/l.

Ciproflaxacin, which is used to treat a number of bacterial infections, was the compound that most frequently exceeded safe levels, surpassing the safety threshold in 51 places.

Global problem

The team said that the ‘safe’ limits were most frequently exceeded in Asia and Africa, but sites in Europe, North America and South America also had levels of concern showing that antibiotic contamination was a “global problem.”

Sites, where antibiotics exceeded ‘safe’ levels by the greatest degree, were in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan and Nigeria, while a site in Austria was ranked the highest of the European sites monitored.

The study revealed that high-risk sites were typically adjacent to wastewater treatment systems, waste or sewage dumps and in some areas of political turmoil, including the Israeli and Palestinian border.

Monitoring

The project, which was led by the University of York, was a huge logistical challenge – with 92 sampling kits flown out to partners across the world who were asked to take samples from locations along their local river system.

Samples were then frozen and couriered back to the University of York for testing. Some of the world’s most iconic rivers were sampled, including the Chao Phraya, Danube, Mekong, Seine, Thames, Tiber and Tigris.

Dr John Wilkinson, from the Department of Environment and Geography, who co-ordinated the monitoring work said no other study had been done on this scale. He said: “Until now, the majority of environmental monitoring work for antibiotics has been done in Europe, N. America and China. Often on only a handful of antibiotics. We know very little about the scale of problem globally.

“Our study helps to fill this key knowledge gap with data being generated for countries that had never been monitored before.”

Antimicrobial resistance

Professor Alistair Boxall, Theme Leader of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, said: “The results are quite eye opening and worrying, demonstrating the widespread contamination of river systems around the world with antibiotic compounds.

“Many scientists and policy makers now recognise the role of the natural environment in the antimicrobial resistance problem. Our data show that antibiotic contamination of rivers could be an important contributor.”

“Solving the problem is going to be a mammoth challenge and will need investment in infrastructure for waste and wastewater treatment, tighter regulation and the cleaning up of already contaminated sites.”

Material provided by University of York

Photosynthesis

Artificial photosynthesis helps in converting carbon dioxide to liquid fuel

Photosynthesis is claimed to be the most natural and pure process of nature through which plants are able to produce energy by taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen. A new way of artificial photosynthesis is developed by scientists producing high energy hydrocarbons by using gold particles as a catalyst. The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

This artificial process mimics the natural method by chemical manipulations that create liquid fuel without chlorophyll. The goal of this process and the researchers involved is to produce complex hydrocarbons from excess carbon dioxide and resources like sunlight. Compared to gaseous fuel, liquid fuel is more economical, easy to transport and safer. The ability to create clean fuel at a large scale by artificial photosynthesis could be a game changer in the fight towards global warming and climate change as it might one day power our homes.

Prashant Jain who is working on this research from the University of Illinois has based his current research on his previous work which investigated the work of gold nanoparticles as a substitute to chlorophyll and as a pigment that will act as a catalyst during the chemical reaction for artificial photosynthesis.

During experimentation, it became clear that gold nanoparticles could absorb visible green light and will be able to excite photons and electrons. His new study is to convert excess carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons like propane and methane using gold nanoparticles for artificial photosynthesis. In addition to these hydrocarbons, we can still produce ethylene, acetylene and propene to be photosynthesized for energy storage in fuel cells, as long chain molecules contain more bonds meaning that they pack energy more densely. This method of artificial photosynthesis will prove to be worthy only if we can meet the desired efficiency in the conversion process.

There is a lot of work to be done in refining the ability of gold particles to act as a catalyst and drive these chemical reactions for converting carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuel. Jain claims that there is still a long way to go until we set the right gears for this process to be implemented and tried and tested before we present this as a product to the world. They predict a decade more of time so that researchers can find practical carbon dioxide sequestration, carbon dioxide fixation and fuel formation technologies that along with being economically viable also need to be reliable. Such research work towards a good global cause needs to be promoted and encouraged.

How good it would be if we had a machine with us and we just have to put water in it and place it in sunlight and it should give us food instantaneously. What do you think? Would you like to have such a machine? Tell us with a quick and short comment.

Read about Artificial Photosynthetic cells

carolina dog

Researchers find out the genetic influence behind dog ownership

A team of researchers of Swedish and British scientists conducted a study on heritability of owning a dog with the help of 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry. This recent study says that the adaptability of the type of dogs depends heavily on the owner’s genes. Dogs were the first animals whom humans made their pet. The relationships of dogs with humans have been intact from the past 15,000 years. The researchers compared the genes with that of twins to that of the dog owners and the result was published for the first time in the Scientific Reports journal.

The main motive of this project was to see if the dog ownership had more impact of heredity or not. The results were surprising and the scientists noticed that the genes of a person had a greater impact on whether they owned a dog. This is the main reason why dogs and humans have shared a good relationship for so many years. Though pets are common in the households and dogs are more common but the impact in the owner’s health and life due to their presence is unknown or known very little.

Tove Fall, the lead author of this study and a Professor in Molecular Epidemiology at  Uppsala University said that some of the people take very good care of their pets than many other people. Carri Westgarth, a lecturer in the field of human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and the co-author of the study added that this study is important as it can explain the supposed health benefits of owning a dog.

The study of twins is a well-known method for dissecting the influences of environment and genes on biology and behaviour. It is said that identical twins share an entire genome whereas non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation and comparisons of the within-pair concordance of dog ownership within groups will reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog or not.

The scientists found the concordance rates of dog owners to be much larger in identical twins than that of the nonidentical ones and genes does play in the choice whether to own a dog or not. Which genes play an important role is not yet known and it is said that decades of archaeological research has helped in constructing a better relationship with the dogs.

The next step for the scientists is to find out the exact genetic variant responsible for an individual’s choices. This is a huge step in understanding the long history of the domestication of dog and the genetic reasons behind it.

Insulitis Autoimmune Diseases

For the first time, scientists discover the genetic variants behind lupus

A group of scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) have found that for the first time that very rare mutation of the gene is responsible for lupus. This is being considered as a groundbreaking discovery and it will change the understanding of the disease. It will also bring a change in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease which will be saving many lives. The study was published in the Nature journal.

Lupus falls in the category of the autoimmune diseases and currently, it has no cure. It mainly targets the tissues in the human body which are healthy thereby causing pain and inflammation. It can affect several parts of the body such as the heart, lungs and kidneys.

The actual cause of the disease is not properly understood by the doctors. Till now it has been known that it occurs due to a mix of the genetics and the surrounding conditions.  This understanding is now changed, thanks to a genetic breakthrough by researchers Dr. Simon Jiang, Dr. Vicki Athanasopoulos, and Professor Carola Vinuesa. It has been diagnosed mostly in women and in the age range of 15-45.

Doctor Simon Jiang, who is one of the leaders of the study is a researcher at the Centre for Personalised Immunology at Australian National University. He has been involved in the research for six years to find out the hidden genetic signals in the DNA which causes the disease. He said that they have been successful in showing for the first time how the rare variants of the gene which are present in less than one percent of the entire human population cause lupus.

He remarked that till now these rare gene variants were not considered significant in the autoimmune conditions of the human being. However, it is because of these variants that the immune system cannot function properly.

When the immune system of the body fails, it cannot distinguish between the useful microbes and bacteria, virus leading to lupus. This creates great potential for effective treatment. Dr Jiang has already started the necessary therapies in his patients which are only targeted towards the rare gene variants instead of the ones which are not specific and bring about lots of side effects in the human body.

These rare gene variants are not just responsible for lupus but they also cause other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes. This will also help in finding the severity of the disease. This disease is very difficult to diagnose properly since there are a lot of similar symptoms but they are actually not lupus.

It is also a personal achievement for Dr Jiang since he has seen many patients suffering from autoimmune diseases die due to unavailability of proper treatment.

E coli with synthetic DNA

Scientists successfully create first living organism with synthetic DNA

By the earnest effort of scientists, the world’s first ever living organism with completely synthetic DNA has been created. The ambitious project finally proved that life can exist in certain controlled conditions. This can be used to make drugs such as insulin for diabetes and other medical compounds for multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and eye diseases.

Since the inception of heredity and evolution, life on earth shares a common code of resemblance that’s called DNA. The four nucleic acid letters of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine– or A, C, G and T can be strung into 64 combinations of 3 letters called codons.

Nearly, in all life forms from jellyfish to humans, there are 64 codons. But many of them do the same job. In total, 20 amino acids which are natural are synthesised by 61 codons, which can be binded together like a necklace. Three more codons are in effect stop signs. They inform the cell when the protein is done like a full stop mark marking the ending of a sentence.

The Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Medical Research Council in Cambridge, read and redesigned the DNA of the bacterium E.Coli. Experts were in a fix whether it would be possible or not. The Cambridge team worked hard to redesign the E.coli genome by going through its DNA while working on a computer. Scientists made a whopping 18000 edits to the DNA, stitched the whole DNA together and exchanged it with the original DNA of the bacteria. The result was a microbe with a completely synthetic and radically altered DNA code known as SYN61. The bug was showing unusual characteristics such as a little longer than normal while showing slower growth.

This edited variation SYN61 isn’t quite a red alert for its ancestors as the cells were a touch longer and were virus resistant. Now, it can be thought that how it would act as a resistance to a virus. The answer is simple, as their DNA is different, invading viruses will struggle to spread inside them making them virus resistant.

Efforts were made earlier too like the bug Mycoplasma Mycoides but it has smaller genome than E Coli and was also not redesigned. But as “records are made to be broken” and in that sense, other researchers are persistently working on bacterial genomes with more coding changes.

Finally, scientists have taken the field of synthetic genomes to a new level by building the largest ever synthetic genome to date. It is a landmark step of completely novel life form. The invention of this remarkable life will be a milestone in the history of heredity and evolution.

Would you like to get your gene edited and get some changes in your body? Tell us what changes would you like to get with a quick and short comment.

inside ear

Scientists develop smartphone app to detect ear infections

As per the National Institutes of Health, the most common reason that parents take children to a paediatrician is an ear infection. It happens when there is a build up of fluids in the middle ear which is situated behind the eardrum. This also occurs in another condition known as otitis media with effusion (OME). Ear infections are always painful as it causes difficulty for children to hear and overall uneasiness. It can be harmful in their efforts in learning to talk.

However, the conditions are quite hard to be diagnosed as these symptoms are vague. Scientists from the University of Washington have developed an app which has the ability to detect fluids situated behind the eardrum with the help of paper, the microphone and speaker of a cellphone.

The phone creates a series of audible sounds inside the ear with the help of a paper funnel. And based on the way the reflection of chirps occurs back to the phone, the app detects the probability of fluid being present with accuracy upto 85%. This is in tune with the present techniques which are used by doctors who detect if the fluid is present or not.

The results have been published in the journal Science Translational MedicineShyam Gollakota, professor of Computer Science who is also the author of this study commented that this design with the help of smartphone can bring a great change in the ways healthcare operates in the small regions. The main advantage of this technique is that it does not need any other equipment other than a piece of paper and software running on the smartphone.

After diagnosis, the infections in the ear can be treated with medicines and the fluids can be monitored by physicians so that the symptoms can be reduced. A patient can be very easily treated at home and then a proper decision can be taken whether to approach a doctor or not.

The functioning of the app is that it sends sound signals inside the ear and then change in the sound waves occur as they bounce off after striking the eardrum. If there is fluid present in the ear, then sound waves which get reflected interfere in a different way with the original sounds.

Justin Chan, who is presently a doctoral student and also an author of the paper remarked that the process is similar to tapping a wine glass, With the difference in the level of wine, different types of sounds are obtained.

Let us hope that this app will help people to diagnose ear infections early and act upon it.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa SEM

Scientists turn bacteria as an instrument for measuring fluid speeds

A group of researchers from Princeton University has detected bacteria which has the ability to find the speed of fluids in motion. There are many different types of cells which can sense flow similar to the skin cells in human beings. The research has been published in Nature journal.

Zemer Gitai, a biology professor and a senior author on the research paper of Princeton’s Edwin Grant Conklin University said that they have discovered that bacteria can also be used for detecting speed and also added that there’s an application where we can use the bacteria as a flow sensor and we can know the speed in real time. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is that bacteria which have a built-in speedometer.

Pseudomonas is the bacteria which is responsible for health issues and healthcare-related infections per year and this ubiquitous pathogen is found in and on the bodies, in the soil, in the streams of water and throughout the hospitals. This bacteria was found as a serious threat in the centre for disease control and prevention.

Gitai said that chemical disinfection is used instead of scrubbing in some hospitals since pseudomonas loves to grow in pipes. Pseudomonas is said to be surrounded by flowing fluids like the bloodstream, the urinary tract, the gastrointestinal tract as well as in the lungs or in plumbing systems or in medical equipment too like catheters which is one of the primary vectors used for post-surgical infections. Gitai also added that they have found something new about pseudomonas that they can also detect the flow and respond to it and they can change their attitude too.

A postdoctoral research associate in Gitai’s lab, Joseph Sanfilippo and a 2017 graduate alumnus Alexander Lorestani are the main authors on this paper. They together found out that the bacteria can detect the nearby flow of the genes too and those genes are known as fro which stands for flow-regulated operon. Sanfilippo said that fro is tuned as per the speed and it’s not just a switch to on and off but it’s more like a dimmer switch than a light switch.

The researchers created a link between the fro and gene so that they can see in the microscope and thus ended up creating visual speedometer and it is visualized using the light of the flow that is the brighter the glow the faster the flow and Gitai said that they found out something interesting that the speed range matched with the fluids present in the bloodstream of urinary tract.

The scientists found out that the rate of flow in average sized human veins are about 100 per second and they also found that the fro was not able to detect flows below 8 per second but it responded to the flow between 40 and 400 per-second and stay above that.