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Archive - Jul 31, 2015

Cabbage White Butterfly Studies Heat Up Solar Energy Research; Power & Efficiency of Solar Energy Structures Can Be Vastly Increased and Costs Significantly Reduced by Imitating Special Butterfly Model

The humble butterfly could hold the key to unlocking new techniques to make solar energy cheaper and more efficient, according to the results of pioneering new research. A team of experts from the University of Exeter in the UK has examined new techniques for generating photovoltaic (PV) energy - or ways in which to convert light into power. The scientists showed that by mimicking the V-shaped posture adopted by Cabbage White butterflies when heating up their flight muscles before take-off, the amount of power produced by solar panels can be increased by almost 50 per cent. Crucially, by replicating this “wing-like” structure, the power-to-weight ratio of the overall solar energy structure is increased 17-fold, making it vastly more efficient. The research by the team from both the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) and the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, based at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall, UK, was published online on July 31, 2015 in an open-access article in Scientific Reports. The article is titled “White Butterflies As Solar Photovoltaic Concentrators.” Professor Tapas Mallick, lead author of the research said: "Biomimicry in engineering is not new. However, this truly multidisciplinary research shows pathways to develop low cost solar power that have not been done before." The Cabbage White butterflies are known to take flight before other butterflies on cloudy days - which limit how quickly the insects can use the energy from the sun to heat their flight muscles. This ability is thought to be due to the V-shaped posturing, known as reflectance basking, that these butteflies adopt on such days to maximize the concentration of solar energy onto their thorax, which allows for flight.

Vaccination of Baby Bees—Vitellogenin Protein in Queen’s “Fat Body” Binds Pieces of Ingested Pathogens and Is Carried via Blood to Developing Eggs, Immunizing Baby Bees; Researchers Patenting Method to Create Harmless, Edible Vaccines for Insects

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don't have a choice -- they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how they do it. Researchers from Arizona State University (ASU), the University of Helsinki, the University of Jyväskylä, and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences made the discovery after studying a bee blood protein called vitellogenin. The scientists found that this protein plays a critical, but previously unknown, role in providing baby bees with protection against disease. The findings was published online on July 31, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS Pathogens. The article is titled “Transfer of Immunity from Mother to Offspring Is Mediated via Egg-Yolk Protein Vitellogenin.” "The process by which bees transfer immunity to their babies was a big mystery until now. What we found is that it's as simple as eating," said Dr. Gro Amdam, a Professor with ASU's School of Life Sciences and co-author of the paper. "Our amazing discovery was made possible because of 15 years of basic research on vitellogenin. This exemplifies how long-term investments in basic research pay off." Co-author Dr. Dalial Freitak, a postdoctoral researcher with University of Helsinki adds: "I have been working on bee immune priming since the start of my doctoral studies. Now almost 10 years later, I feel like I've solved an important part of the puzzle. It's a wonderful and very rewarding feeling!" In a honey bee colony, the queen rarely leaves the nest, so worker bees must bring food to her. Forager bees can pick up pathogens in the environment while gathering pollen and nectar.

Charles Scriver Honored with Prestigious Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award 2015 from American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Charles R. Scriver, M.D., Alva Professor Emeritus of Human Genetics, and Professor of Pediatrics, Biochemistry (Associate), Biology (Honorary), and Human Genetics at McGill University; as the 2015 recipient of the annual Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award ( This award, named in honor of the late and legendary Victor A. McKusick, M.D., widely and quite legitimately regarded as the “father of medical genetics” for his seminal work establishing the field, recognizes individuals whose professional achievements have fostered and enriched the development of human genetics as well as its assimilation into the broader context of science, medicine, and health. The ASHG will present the McKusick Award, which will include a plaque and monetary prize, to Dr. Scriver on Friday, October 9, during the ASHG’s 65th Annual Meeting ( in Baltimore. There is not an award in all of genetics that is more prestigious than one that bears the name, and honors the memory, of the great Victor McKusick. Dr. Scriver has worked at McGill University in Montreal for more than 50 years, having founded the deBelle Laboratory for Biochemical Genetics in 1961. He has dedicated his career as a clinician-scientist to discovering, training, treating, and educating the public about inherited metabolic and other genetic diseases. After a year of clinical work at Children’s Medical Center, Harvard, followed by two years in the laboratory at University College Hospital Medical School, London, Dr. Scriver unexpectedly encountered a recurrent seasonal epidemic in Quebec, which affected thousands of infants and children with Vitamin D deficiency.

Deadly Fungus Threatens Mass Extinction of Salamanders in North America, But Looming Crisis Is Preventable, San Francisco State University-Led Study Shows

A deadly fungus identified in 2013 could devastate native salamander populations in North America unless U.S. officials make an immediate effort to halt salamander importation, according to an urgent new report published in the July 31, 2015 issue of Science. The article is titled “Averting a North American Biodiversity Crisis.” San Francisco State University (SFSU) biologist Dr. Vance Vredenburg, his graduate student Tiffany Yap, and their colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles say the southeastern United States (particularly the southern extent of the Appalachian Mountain range and its southern neighboring region), the Pacific Northwest and the Sierra Nevada, and the central highlands of Mexico are at the highest risk for salamander declines and extinctions if the fatal Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) fungus makes its way into those regions. Salamanders are popular worldwide as pets, and frequently traded across borders. That has scientists worried that the fungus could spread from Asia, where it likely originated, to other parts of the globe. Dr. Vredenburg and his coauthors on the study are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place an immediate ban on live salamander imports to the U.S. until there is a plan in place to detect and prevent the spread of the Bsal fungus. Although the ban has been supported by key scientists for some time, including in a prominent op-ed in the New York Times last year, the government has been slow to act. "This is an imminent threat, and a place where policy could have a very positive effect," Dr. Vredenburg said. "We actually have a decent chance of preventing a major catastrophe."

Harvard Scientists Use Evolutionary Lineage of Adeno-Associated Viruses (AAVs) to Improve Vector Design for Gene Therapy, Particularly for Liver, Muscle, and Retina

Researchers have recreated the evolutionary lineage of adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) for the purpose of reconstructing an ancient viral particle that is highly effective at delivering gene therapies targeting the liver, muscle, and retina. This approach, published on July 30, 2015 in an open-access article in Cell Reports, could be used to design a new class of genetic drugs that are safer and more potent than those currently available. The article is titled “In Silico Reconstruction of the Viral Evolutionary Lineage Yields a Potent Gene Therapy Vector.” "Our novel methodology allows us to understand better the intricate structure of viruses and how different properties arose throughout evolution," says senior study author Dr. Luk H. Vandenberghe of Harvard Medical School. "We believe our findings will teach us how complex biological structures, such as AAVs, are built. From this knowledge, we hope to design next-generation viruses for use as vectors in gene therapy." Viruses need to efficiently transfer their genetic material into host cells in order to replicate and survive. Researchers have taken advantage of this natural property to develop viral vectors, or carriers, capable of shuttling therapeutic genes to the appropriate cells or tissues. Early-stage clinical trials have demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of this approach for treating inherited blindness and hemophilia. But so far, AAVs used for gene therapy have been chosen from naturally circulating viral strains, which patients may already have been exposed to, which means they would have natural immunity. Because natural immunization blocks the transfer of the therapeutic gene, these individuals are often ineligible for gene therapy.