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Archive - Nov 28, 2013

A Scientific First--Researchers Block Replication of AIDS Virus

A multidisciplinary team of scientists from Spanish universities and research centers, including the University of Valencia, has managed to design small synthetic molecules capable of joining to the genetic material of the AIDS virus and blocking its replication. This achievement has been made for the first time in the world by a group of researcher led by Dr. José Gallego from Universidad Católica de Valencia "San Vicente Mártir." The University of Valencia, the Príncipe Felipe Research Centre, and the Instituto de Salud Carlos III have participated. The work was published November 25, 2013 by Angewandte Chemie International Edition, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world in the area of chemistry. The newly designed synthetic molecules inhibit the output of genetic material of the virus from the infected cell nucleus to the cytoplasm, thus the virus replication is blocked and avoids the infection of other cells. The genetic material of the AIDS virus, or HIV-1, is formed by ribonucleic acid (RNA), and encodes several proteins that allow it to penetrate the human cells and reproduce within them. The new virus inhibitors, called terphenyls, developed by this group of scientists, were designed by computer to reproduce the interactions of one of the proteins encoded by the virus, the viral protein Rev. In this way, the terphenyls join Rev’s receptor in the viral RNA, preventing the interaction between the protein and its RNA receptor. This interaction is necessary for the virus genetic material to leave the infected cell nucleus and, thus, it is essential for the survival of HIV-1. The fact that the terphenyls block the virus genetic material output of the cell prevents the infection of other cells.

New Evidence for Intelligence of Crows

Scientists have long suspected that corvids – the family of birds including ravens, crows, and magpies – are highly intelligent. Now, Tübingen neurobiologists Dr. Lena Veit and Professor Andreas Nieder have demonstrated how the brains of crows produce intelligent behavior when the birds have to make strategic decisions. Their results are published in the latest edition of Nature Communications. Crows are no bird-brains. Behavioral biologists have even called them “feathered primates” because the birds make and use tools, are able to remember large numbers of feeding sites, and plan their social behavior according to what other members of their group do. This high level of intelligence might seem surprising because birds’ brains are constructed in a fundamentally different way from those of mammals, including primates – which are usually used to investigate these behaviors. The Tübingen researchers are the first to investigate the brain physiology of crows’ intelligent behavior. They trained crows to carry out memory tests on a computer. The crows were shown an image and had to remember it. Shortly afterwards, they had to select one of two test images on a touchscreen with their beaks based on a switching behavioral rules. One of the test images was identical to the first image, the other different. Sometimes the rule of the game was to select the same image, and sometimes it was to select the different one. The crows were able to carry out both tasks and to switch between them as appropriate. That demonstrates a high level of concentration and mental flexibility which few animal species can manage – and which is an effort even for humans. The crows were quickly able to carry out these tasks even when given new sets of images.