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Archive - Nov 9, 2012


Micro RNAs in Plants: Regulation of the Regulator

Micro RNAs are essential regulators of the genetic program in multicellular organisms. Because of their potent effects, the production of these small regulators has itself to be tightly controlled. That is the key finding of a new study performed by Tübingen scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. They identified a new component that modulates the production of micro RNAs in thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, by the removal of phosphate residues from a micro RNA-biogenesis enzyme. This can be as quick as the turn of a switch, allowing the plant to adapt to changing conditions. In this study, the scientists combined advanced imaging for facile detection of plants with defective micro RNA activity with whole genome sequencing for rapid identification of new mutations. The cell seems to thwart itself: Reading the DNA, a mobile messenger RNA is produced in the cell nucleus, exported to the cytoplasm where it serves as a blueprint for the production of proteins. At the same time, the cell is able to produce micro RNAs that, by binding to specific messenger RNAs, can block protein production or even initiate its destruction. But why does the cell start a costly process and immediately stops it? "Well, the answer lies on the fine balance the cell has to achieve between producing a protein and avoid(ing) having an excess of it. Reaching the right level of a protein and its adequate temporal and spatial distribution requires, sometimes, opposed forces," says Dr. Pablo Manavella, first author of the study, published in the November 9, 2012 issue of Cell, and a postdoc in the department of Dr. Detlef Weigel at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology. "Once the transcript of the messenger RNA is activated it is quite stable.

RTS,S Candidate Vaccine Reduces Malaria by One-Third in African Infants

Results from a pivotal, large-scale Phase III trial, published online on November 9, 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate can help protect African infants against malaria. When compared to immunization with a control vaccine, infants (aged 6-12 weeks at first vaccination) vaccinated with RTS,S had one-third fewer episodes of both clinical and severe malaria and had similar reactions to the injection. In this trial, RTS,S demonstrated an acceptable safety and tolerability profile. Eleven African research centers in seven African countries are conducting this trial, together with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), with grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to MVI. Dr. Salim Abdulla, a principal investigator for the trial from the Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, said: "We've made significant progress in recent years in our battle against malaria, but the disease still kills 655,000 people a year—mainly children under five in sub-Saharan Africa. An effective malaria vaccine would be a welcome addition to our tool kit, and we've been working toward this goal with this RTS,S trial. This study indicates that RTS,S can help to protect young babies against malaria. Importantly, we observed that it provided this protection in addition to the widespread use of bed nets by the trial participants." When administered along with standard childhood vaccines, the efficacy of RTS,S in infants aged 6 to 12 weeks (at first vaccination) against clinical and severe malaria was 31% and 37%, respectively, over 12 months of follow-up after the third vaccine dose. Insecticide-treated bed nets were used by 86% of the trial participants, which demonstrated that RTS,S provided protection beyond existing malaria control interventions.