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Muscles Thought to Be “Uniquely Human” Have Been Discovered in Apes

Muscles once thought “uniquely human” have been discovered in several ape species, challenging long-held theories on the origin and evolution of human soft tissues. The findings question the anthropocentric view that certain muscles evolved for the sole purpose of providing special adaptations for human traits, such as walking on two legs, tool use, vocal communication, and facial expressions. Published on April26, 2018 in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the study highlights that thorough knowledge of ape anatomy is necessary for a better understanding of human evolution. The article is titled “First Detailed Anatomical Study of Bonobos Reveals Intra-Specific Variations and Exposes Just-So Stories of Human Evolution, Bipedalism, and Tool Use.” "This study contradicts key dogmas about human evolution and our distinct place on the 'ladder of nature,'" says Rui Diogo, PhD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy at Howard University in Washington, DC. "Our detailed analysis shows that, in fact, every muscle that has long-been accepted as 'uniquely human' and providing 'crucial singular functional adaptations' for our bipedalism, tool use, and vocal and facial communications is actually present in the same or similar form in bonobos and other apes, such as common chimpanzees and gorillas." Long-standing evolutionary theories are largely based on the bone structures of prehistoric specimens -- and, according to Dr. Diogo, also on the idea that humans are necessarily more special and complex than other animals. These theories suggest that certain muscles evolved in humans only, giving us our unique physical characteristics.

Researchers Set Sights on Exosome-Based Early-Detection Blood Test for Pancreatic Cancer

A team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), published a study on March 23, 2018, evaluating a new strategy to analyze blood samples to search for clues indicating the presence of pancreatic cancer. The article, published in ACS Nano, is titled “Integrated Analysis of Exosomal Protein Biomarkers on Alternating Current Electrokinetic Chips Enables Rapid Detection of Pancreatic Cancer in Patient Blood.” Patients whose pancreatic cancer is diagnosed early have a higher chance of long-term survival and increased access to treatment options, including surgery. However, there is currently no standard screening program or effective early detection strategy for pancreatic cancer. Researchers and organizations like the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) are dedicated to identifying ways to effectively diagnose the disease earlier and improve patient outcomes. The new study from the UCSD team analyzed blood samples from people who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and compared them to blood from healthy individuals. Specifically, they isolated small particles, called exosomes, from the blood samples. Exosomes are tiny fluid-filled sacs that can contain protein and genetic material called RNA, which can provide information signifying the presence of disease. Previous work, such as a project conducted at MD Anderson Cancer Center (https://www.pancan.org/news/blood-test-could-potentially-diagnose-pancre...), has also focused on exosomes as a biomarker, or detectable and measurable substance that can indicate what’s happening inside a person’s body.

Giraffes Surprise Biologists Yet Again; Increased Understanding Much Needed to Aid Conservation Efforts for This “Vulnerable” Species

New research from the University of Bristol in the UK has highlighted how little we know about giraffe behavior and ecology. It is commonly accepted that group sizes of animals increase when there is a risk of predation, because larger group sizes reduce the risk of individuals being killed, and there are “many eyes” to spot any potential predation risk. Now, however, in the first study of its kind, Bristol PhD student Zoe Muller from the School of Biological Sciences has found that this is not true for giraffes, and that the size of giraffe groups is not influenced by the presence of predators. Muller said, "This is surprising, and highlights how little we know about even the most basic aspects of giraffe behavior." This study investigates how the grouping behavior of giraffes differed in response to numerous factors, such as predation risk, habitat type, and the characteristics of individuals. Habitat type had some effect on group size, but the main effect on group size was in the behavior of adult females, who were found to be in smaller groups when they had calves. This is contrary to another popular belief that female giraffes form large groups to communally care for their young - this study, published recently in the Journal of Zoology presents the first evidence to show that, actually, the opposite is true. Giraffe populations have declined by 40 percent in the last 30 years, and there are now thought to be fewer than 98,000 individuals remaining in the wild. In recognition of their drastic decline in the wild, giraffes have recently been listed as "Vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation in Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

New Molecular Insights into How Neurons Communicate During Learning; Synaptic Nanomodules Underlie Organization & Plasticity of Spine Synapses

(BY RACHEL DERITA, PhD Candidate,Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Cancer Biology) The laboratory of Matthew Dalva, PhD, and Director of the Synaptic Biology Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, has gained new insight into how synapses change upon learning in the brain. These findings come from a study published in Nature Neuroscience on April 23, 2018. The article is titled : Synaptic Nanomodules Underlie the Organization and Plasticity of Spine Synapses.” It was already known that upon learning, connections between neurons strengthen and become bigger. But this new study showed specifically that molecules involved in transmitting signals between neurons organize in clumps called “nanomodules” that dance and multiply when neurons are stimulated by signals that mimic learning. Super-resolution live-cell microscopy was used to show this dynamic behavior of molecules during neuronal communication on a cellular and molecular level by zooming into synapses in real-time. When further analyzing the behavior of these nanomodules, it was discovered that key molecules on the pre-synaptic side (such as vesicular glutamate transporter; VGLUT) not only clustered, but lined up and tracked with the post-synaptic proteins (such as post-synaptic density protein 95; PSD-95). When stimulated with signals to strengthen the synaptic connection between two neurons, a stationary nanomodule would begin to move around the synaptic spine, and the pre- and post-synaptic components would still track with each other. The nanomodules also had a uniform size and multiplied when the neurons were stimulated to grow and nearly touch each other across the synapse. The number of nanomodules was positively correlated with the size of the spines.

Research Offers Deeper Understanding of Role of Retinoblastoma Gene in Aggressive Prostate Cancer

(BY RACHEL DERITA, PhD Candidate,Thomas Jefferson University, Department of Cancer Biology) In prostate cancer, there is a continual effort to better stratify patients. Current standards of care for all patients are identical, but each case is not. A recent study (published on December 4, 2017 in the Journal of Cl inical Investigation) from Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) identified loss of the retinoblastoma (RB) susceptibility gene as a cause of what senior author Karen Knudsen, PhD, Director of the SKCC, describes as “major reprogramming of gene expression, allowing induction of pathways that promote features that induce characteristics of lethal disease.” That article is titled “Differential Impact of RB Status on E2F1 Reprogramming in Human Cancer.” RB was the first “gatekeeper” gene (genes that are responsible for controlling cell growth and keeping it in check) discovered for cancer. Loss or damage to RB allowed cancer to thrive and be more aggressive, but the exact mechanism of how this happened remained unclear. The JCI -piublshed study involved tumor and cell-free DNA analysis of samples from patients with” advanced, lethal-stage” prostate cancer from multiple institutions across the US and international institutions in the UK, Italy, Belgium, Finland, and Sweden. RB function may be disrupted in several different ways, but it was found that complete loss of the RB gene, compared to inactivation, was associated with the transcriptional reprogramming linked to aggressive disease. This reprogramming, interestingly, was unique and different from the typical cell-cycle genes that RB controls as a gatekeeper.

Project Launched to De-Stigmatize Mental Illness; BioQuick News Interviews Founder Pooja Mehta

BioQuick News Editor & Publisher Mike O’Neill recently had the opportunity to interview Pooja Mehta (photo), a young Duke graduate, who has recently moved to Madison, Wisconsin and who has just launched, on May 1st, an innovative web-based project intended to de-stigmatize mental illness, by giving those with mental illness a forum through which they can tell their own personal stories. Pooja hopes that when people see the compelling profiles of those with mental illness who are participating in her Project I Define Me, they will have a more positive and accurate perception of what those with mental illness are really like. The hoped-for result is a de-stigmatization of mental illness and a more realistic and compassionate understanding of who people with mental illness really are.

BioQuick News: How old are you, Pooja?
Pooja Mehta: 22.

BQN: Can you describe some of your background? (where you went to school, what you studied, where you work now, what does your work involve?)
PM: I have lived in North Carolina for most of my life, 20 years, and absolutely love it. I had the privilege of going to Duke for undergrad, where I earned my BS in Public Health and Biology. I now work as a Project Manager at Epic, where I help hospitals implement software which allows them to provide the best care for their patients.

BQN: What do your parents do? When did they come to the United States? Where in India are they from?
PM: Both my parents work in the pharmaceutical industry, my mom as a researcher and my dad as a manufacturer. They came to the US in 1991, from Mumbai.

BQN: Do you have brothers and sisters? Where do you fit in with your siblings in age? Do any of your siblings have issues with mental illness? Is there any mental illness in your parents and/or in other relatives you know of?

Tick Exosomes May Aid Transmission of Viruses to Vertebrates

Scientists have shown for the first time that exosomes from tick cells can aid transmission of viral proteins and genetic material from arthropod to vertebrate host cells, according to research published on January 4, 2018 in PLOS Pathogens. The open-access article is titled “Exosomes Serve As Novel Modes of Tick-Borne Flavivirus Transmission from Arthropod to Human Cells and Facilitates Dissemination of Viral RNA and Proteins to the Vertebrate Neuronal Cells.” When ticks (Ixodes scapularis species; commonly known as deer ticks) bite humans or other vertebrates, they can transmit dangerous, brain-infecting viruses in the Flaviviridae viral family, such as tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV). However, the mechanisms underlying transmission of Flaviviridae from tick to vertebrate host are poorly understood. Previous studies have shown that some other pathogens use exosomes--tiny, membrane-bound spheres released from cells--to facilitate transmission and infection. Dr. Hameeda Sultana of Old Dominion University, Virginia, and colleagues hypothesized that tick-borne Flaviviridae viruses may use similar techniques. To investigate this hypothesis, the researchers infected cells from an Ixodes scapularis-derived cell line (ISE6) with tick-borne Langat virus (LGTV), which is closely related to TBEV but safer for laboratory work. Using cryo-electron microscopy, they showed that infected tick cells indeed produced exosomes, and further investigation showed that these contained LGTV RNA and proteins. Additional experiments using human and vertebrate cell lines revealed more about the role of exosomes in LGTV transmission. LGTV-carrying tick exosomes were able to infect keratinocytes, cells found at the outermost layer of human skin and human blood endothelial cells.

NIH Will Launch Hugely Ambitious “All of Us” Research Program on May 6; Program Seeks to Enroll One Million Volunteers from Diverse & Traditionally Under-Represented Backgrounds to Participate in Innovative Effort to Advance Precision Medicine

On Sunday, May 6, 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will open national enrollment for the All of Us Research Program (https://www.joinallofus.org/en) a momentous effort to advance individualized prevention, treatment, and care for people of all backgrounds. People ages 18 and older, regardless of health status, will be able to enroll. The official launch date will be marked by community events (https://launch.joinallofus.org/) in seven cities across the country, as well as an online event. Volunteers will join more than 25,000 participants already enrolled in All of Us as part of a year-long beta test to prepare for the program’s national launch. The overall aim is to enroll 1 million or more volunteers and over-sample communities that have been underrepresented in research to make the program the largest, most diverse resource of its kind. “All of Us is an ambitious project that has the potential to revolutionize how we study disease and medicine,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “NIH’s unprecedented effort will lay the scientific foundation for a new era of personalized, highly effective health care. We look forward to working with people of all backgrounds to take this major step forward for our nation’s health.” Precision medicine is an emerging approach to disease treatment and prevention that considers differences in people’s lifestyles, environments, and biological makeup, including genes. With eyeglasses and hearing aids, we have long had customized solutions to individual needs. More recently, treating certain types of cancer is now possible with therapies targeted to patients’ DNA. Still, there are many unanswered questions leaving individuals, their families, their communities, and the health care community without good options.

Algorithms Applied to EEG Results for Infants Accurately Predict Risk of Autism Spectrum DIsorder; “Stunning” Results May Provide Basis for Early Intervention

Autism is challenging to diagnose, especially early in life. A new study published online on May 1, 2018 in Scientific Reports shows that inexpensive EEGs, which measure brain electrical activity, accurately predict or rule out autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in infants, even in some as young as 3 months. The open-access article is titled “EEG Analytics for Early Detection of Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Data-Driven Approach.” "EEGs are low-cost, non-invasive and relatively easy to incorporate into well-baby checkups," says Charles Nelson, PhD, Director of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital and co-author of the study. "Their reliability in predicting whether a child will develop autism raises the possibility of intervening very early, well before clear behavioral symptoms emerge. This could lead to better outcomes and perhaps even prevent some of the behaviors associated with ASD." The study analyzed data from the Infant Sibling Project (now called the Infant Screening Project), a collaboration between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University that seeks to map early development and identify infants at risk for developing ASD and/or language and communication difficulties. William Bosl, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Informatics and Clinical Psychology at the University of San Francisco, also affiliated with the Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) at Boston Children's Hospital, has been working for close to a decade on algorithms to interpret EEG signals, the familiar squiggly lines generated by electrical activity in the brain. Dr. Bosl's research suggests that even an EEG that appears normal contains "deep" data that reflect brain function, connectivity patterns, and structure that can be found only with computer algorithms. The Infant Screening Project provided Dr.

Low Levels of Vasopressin Hormone in Cerebrospinal Fluid Possible Biomarker for Low Sociability Seen in Autism Spectrum Disorder

One of the characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder is reduced social ability. It's difficult to study the possible causes of social impairment in children, but a new study shows that rhesus macaques with low sociability also had low levels of the peptide vasopressin in cerebrospinal fluid, as did children with autism spectrum disorder. The study, by researchers at the California National Primate Research Center (CNPRC) at the University of California (UC), Davis and Stanford University, was published online on May 2, 2018 in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The article is titled “Arginine Vasopressin in Cerebrospinal Fluid Is a Marker of Sociality in Nonhuman Primates.” "At this point, we consider vasopressin concentrations to be a biomarker for low sociability," said John Capitanio, PhD, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and a research scientist at the CNPRC. Dr. Capitanio studies the interplay between social behavior and health. Over several years, his team has assessed rhesus macaque monkeys born at the Center for sociability. The Center maintains large field corrals where the macaques live in extended large family groups with the same hierarchies and social behavior that they show in the wild.nAbout fifteen percent of the animals are classed as "low social": they spend less time interacting with others than most macaques. Dr. Capitanio has previously studied how this natural variation affects the course of infectious disease. Professor Karen Parker at the Stanford Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, principal investigator on the project, is interested in why children with autism spectrum disorder have deficits in social ability.

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