Syndicate content

Archive - Feb 17, 2010


Mystery of King Tut’s Death Possibly Solved

A combination of bone disease and malaria infection likely contributed to the early death of Egypt’s King Tutankhamun, according to researchers who used a combination of anthropological, radiological, and DNA-based genetic studies to analyze the king’s mummy. The scientists also putatively identified other members of Tutankhamun’s immediate lineage, including his father, mother, and a grandmother. The 18th dynasty (circa 1550-1295 B.C.) of the New Kingdom (mid-16th to early 11th century B.C.) was one of the most powerful royal houses of ancient Egypt, and included the reign of Tutankhamun, probably the most famous of all pharaohs, although his tenure was brief. He died in the ninth year of his reign, circa 1324 B.C., at age 19 years. "Little was known of Tutankhamun and his ancestry prior to Howard Carter's discovery of his intact tomb (KV62) in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, but his mummy and the priceless treasures buried with him, along with other important archeological discoveries of the 20th century, have provided significant information about the boy pharaoh's life and family," the researchers wrote. With regard to their current research, the scientists noted that "several pathologies, including Kohler disease II (bone disorder), were diagnosed in Tutankhamun; none alone would have caused death. Genetic testing for STEVOR, AMA1, or MSP1 genes specific for Plasmodium falciparum (the malaria parasite) revealed indications of malaria tropica in four mummies, including Tutankhamun's. These results suggest avascular bone necrosis (condition in which the poor blood supply to the bone leads to weakening or destruction of an area of bone), in conjunction with the malarial infection as the most likely cause of death in Tutankhamun.

New Pathway Plays Role in Organ Tissue Repair and Regeneration

Scientists have discovered a molecular pathway that works through the immune system to apparently reestablish a developmental program that is beneficial for the repair and regeneration of damaged kidney tissues. This discovery may lead to new therapies for repairing injury in the kidney, and perhaps in a number of other organ systems as well. Acute kidney injury is a significant cause of kidney disease, cardiovascular complications, and early death, affecting as many as 16 million children and adults in the United States. There are currently no effective treatments for acute kidney injury--a growing problem in hospitals and clinics, according to the study's co-senior authors, Dr. Richard Lang, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, and Dr. Jeremy Duffield, from Brigham and Women's Hospital of Harvard Medical School. The newly discovered molecular repair pathway involves white blood cells called macrophages--part of the immune system--that respond to tissue injury by producing a protein called Wnt7b. The research team identified the macrophage-Wnt7b pathway during experiments in mice with induced kidney injury. Wnt7b is already known to be important to the formation of kidney tissues during embryonic organ development. In this study, the scientists found that the protein helped initiate tissue repair and regeneration in injured kidneys. “Our findings suggest that by migrating to the injured kidney and producing Wnt7b, macrophages are re-establishing an early molecular program for organ development that also is beneficial to tissue repair," said Dr. Lang. "This study also indicates the pathway may be important to tissue regeneration and repair in other organs." This research was conducted by an international team from eight research institutions and was reported online on February 16, 2010 in PNAS.

Crickets Warn Unborn Offspring of Spider Danger

New research shows that crickets, which abandon their eggs before they hatch, can warn their unborn offspring about potential predator threats, such as spiders. Scientists placed pregnant crickets into enclosures containing a wolf spider. The spiders' fangs were covered with wax so that the spiders could stalk the crickets, but couldn't kill them. After the crickets laid their eggs, the researchers then compared the behavior of those offspring to offspring whose mothers hadn't been exposed to spiders. The differences were significant. When placed into a terrarium with a hungry wolf spider, the crickets born of spider-exposed mothers were more likely to seek shelter and stay there. They stayed hidden 113 percent longer—and as a result had higher survival rates—than offspring from mothers that hadn't been exposed to spiders. Another experiment showed that the "forewarned" crickets were more likely to freeze when they encountered spider silk or feces—a behavior that could prevent them from being detected by a nearby spider. The results suggest that "the transfer of information from mother to offspring about predation risk, in the absence of any parental care, may be more common than one might think," said Dr. Jonathan Storm, a co-author of the study. This research was carried out by Dr. Storm, now of the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg, and Dr. Steven Lima of Indiana State University. The study was published in the March 2010 issue of American Naturalist. [Press release] [American Naturalist abstract]