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Archive - Feb 28, 2010


Beewolves Protect Larvae with Antibiotic Cocktail from Symbionts

Digger wasps that typically hunt bees to feed their larvae are called “beewolves,” and they are known to house beneficial bacteria on their cocoons that guarantee protection against harmful microorganisms. A team of scientists from Germany has now discovered that symbiotic bacteria of the genus Streptomyces produce a cocktail of nine different antibiotics that protect the beewolf larvae from invading pathogens. Using imaging techniques based on mass spectrometry, the antibiotics could be displayed in vivo on the cocoon's exterior surface. Moreover, it was shown that the complementary actions of the nine symbiont-produced antibiotics confer a potent antimicrobial defense for the wasp larvae against a multitude of different pathogenic microorganisms. Thus, the scientists said, beewolves have, for millions of years, been taking advantage of a principle in human medicine that is known as “combination prophylaxis.” Many insects spend a part of their life underground and are exposed to the risk of fungal or bacterial infections. This is also the case for many digger wasp species that construct underground nests. Unlike bees that use pollen and nectar as food to nurture their larvae, digger wasps hunt insects to feed their offspring. Because of the warm and humid conditions, as well as the large amounts of organic material in their subterranean nests, both their food supply and their larvae are endangered by pathogens. Mold and bacterial infection are major threats and can cause larval death in many cases. Beewolves have evolved an elegant solution to the problem of fungal and bacterial infection. Earlier studies had shown that beewolves form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria of the genus Streptomyces.

Sneezing Induced by Bright Light Is Subject of Study

In research published in PLoS ONE, scientists from the University of Zurich examined the curious and apparently highly prevalent phenomenon called the “photo-induced sneeze reflex” or “sun sneeze.” This reflex is characterized by the induction of a sneeze upon sudden exposure of a dark-adapted subject to intensive bright light and, according to one previous study, is seen in almost 25% of normal individuals. Although generally considered harmless, it has been hypothesized that photic sneezing is, at least in part, a causal factor in conduction deafness, mediastinorrhexis, and cerebral hemorrhage. Previous studies have pointed out that photic sneezing could be dangerous for individuals in certain professions, such as baseball outfielders, high-wire acrobats, and airplane pilots, or in commonly experienced situations such as driving out of a tunnel, which can triple the risk of sneezing. The Zurich researchers said that their results demonstrated that photic sneezers have a generally enhanced excitability of the visual cortex to standard visual stimuli, and that a stronger prickle sensation in the nose of photic sneezers was associated with both activation in the insular cortex and stronger activation in the secondary somatosensory cortex. Thus, while the results of this study do not contradict those theories that emphasize the role of reflex pathway in the brain stem of photic sneezers, they do, the researchers said, support the view that even cortical circuits, rather than just brainstem circuits, might play a pivotal role in controlling (or modulating) this extraordinary and rarely investigated behavior. The researchers said that the photic sneeze reflex is therefore not a classical reflex that occurs only at a brainstem or spinal cord level, but, in stark contrast to many theories, also involves specific cortical areas.

Personalized Warfarin Dosing Enhanced by MS-Based SNP Genotyping

The anticoagulant drug warfarin (also known under the brand name Coumadin) is commonly used to prevent blood clots and embolisms. However, the drug exhibits significant inter-individual variability in dosing requirements. This variability is partly due to single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that influence either drug action or drug metabolism. Rapid genotyping of these SNPs helps clinicians to choose appropriate initial doses to quickly achieve anticoagulation effects and to prevent complications. A group led by Dr. Haifeng Wu of Ohio State University has developed a new, rapid method to genotype SNPs that will help clinicians to choose appropriate doses of warfarin for individual patients. Using surface-enhanced laser desorption and ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (SELDI-TOF MS), which can determine the elemental composition of a sample, the researchers were able to determine the genotype of three warfarin-related SNPs (CYP2C9*2, CYP2C9*3, and VKORC1 3673G>A) in under five hours with high levels of accuracy. The researchers suggested that "on-site application of this method in hospital laboratories will greatly help clinicians to determine appropriate doses of warfarin to treat patients with thromboembolic disorders." In future studies, the Ohio State scientists plan to apply the SELDI-TOF platform to genotype other medically important SNPs that influence the efficacy and safety profiles of many drug therapies and to thus ultimately promote personalized health care. This work was reported in the March issue of the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. [Press release] [Journal of Molecular Diagnostics abstract]

Animal Model Suggests Possible Cause for ADHD

Using a mouse model they created, scientists at Rockefeller University and collaborating institutions have identified a gene (CK1 delta) that they believe merits investigation as a possible cause of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Currently, the cause of ADHD is unknown, but there is increasing evidence that dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s reward-motivation system, is involved. Scientists have previously found that the levels of dopamine, and of the D2 receptor it binds to, are involved in the progression of ADHD, as are four connected regions in the frontal region of the brain, two of which are directly linked to reward and motivation. In their work, the scientists focused on an enzyme called casein kinase I (CK1), which is involved in regulating the dopamine signaling pathway. They created a line of mice genetically modified to overexpress a form of CK1 called CK1 delta, specifically in the forebrain of the mouse. Under normal conditions and in response to stimulation by drugs such as the ones used today to treat ADHD, the mice that overexpressed CK1 delta showed behavioral symptoms and responses to drugs similar to those observed in people with ADHD. “The genetically modified mice that we generated present interesting features such as hyperactivity and altered nesting capacities that might be related to attention deficit, and possibly altered impulsivity,” said Dr. Marc Flajolet, senior author of the report. Biochemical studies showed that both classes of dopamine receptors, D1R and D2R, were significantly reduced in the CK1 delta-overexpressing mice, providing further evidence that the dopaminergic system is severely affected.

Genetic Locus Associated with Increased Need for Orthodontia

Researchers have reported that the teeth of babies with certain genetic variants tend to appear later and that these children have lower numbers of teeth by age one. Additionally, certain of these children whose teeth develop later are more likely to need orthodontic treatment later in life. In a a SNP-based genome-wide association study conducted in approximately 6,000 individuals, the scientists identified five genetic loci (the KCNJ2, EDA, MSRB3, IGF2BP1, and RAD51L1 gene regions) that were significantly associated with both time of first tooth eruption and number of teeth at age one. The researchers also identified five additional loci that were suggestively associated with these same variables. The international team further found that a SNP at one of these suggestive loci (a SNP within the HOXB gene cluster) was associated with a 35 percent increased risk of requiring orthodontia treatment by the age of 31 years. The discovery of genes influencing tooth growth may lead to innovations in the early treatment and prevention of congenital dental and occlusion problems, the authors noted. They also said their findings should provide a strong foundation for the study of the genetic architecture of tooth development, which in addition to its relevance to medicine and dentistry, may have implications in evolutionary biology because teeth represent important markers of evolution. The scientists emphasized that tooth development is not an isolated event. Teeth and several other organs have common growth and developmental pathways in early life. Some of the genes identified here have been linked in previous studies with the development of the skull, jaws, ears, fingers, toes, and heart. The article describing the current research was published online on February 26, 2010, in PLoS Genetics.