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Archive - Jan 2, 2018

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Epigenetic Changes to CRH Gene Linked to Severity of Suicide Attempts

Researchers have linked genetic changes in the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) gene, which affects the regulation of the body's stress system, to suicide risk and psychiatric illness. The study of epigenetic changes in the body's hormone-based stress system has shown that stress-related changes in the CRH gene are linked to both serious suicide attempts in adults and psychiatric illness in adolescents. The research study, which is a collaboration among researchers at Umeå University, Karolinska Institutet, and Uppsala University in Sweden, was published online on December 18, 2017 in EBioMedicine. The open-access article is titled “Epigenetic Changes in the CRH Gene Are Related to Severity of Suicide Attempt and a General Psychiatric Risk Score in Adolescents.” Previous studies have indicated an overactive stress system in individuals with increased suicide risk. In the current study, researchers report that epigenetic changes in the CRH gene, which are linked to serious suicide attempts in adults, could also be found in adolescents with high risk of psychiatric illness. Recently published research output shows that serious suicide attempts lead to a heavily reduced lifespan with an increased suicide risk and risk of mortality from natural causes, particularly in adolescents. In the last ten years, it has become twice as common for Swedish adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 to suffer from psychiatric illness. An alarming increase also in young adults can be seen. This is according to a recently published report from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare. In the current study described in EBioMedicine, researchers examined 88 individuals who had attempted suicide. The participants were divided into high- and low-risk groups based upon the severity of their suicidal behavior.

Nature’s Smallest Rainbows Created by Specialized Abdominal Scales of Peacock Spider; Finding May Have Application to Wide Array of Fields, from Life Sciences & Biotechnologies to Material Sciences & Engineering

Brightly colored Australian peacock spiders (Maratus spp.) captivate even the most arachnophobic viewers with their flamboyant courtship displays featuring diverse and intricate body colorations, patterns, and movements - all packed into miniature bodies measuring less than 5 mm (~0.2 inches) in size for many species. However, these displays aren't just pretty to look at, they also inspire new ways for humans to produce color in technology. One species of peacock spider - the rainbow peacock spider (Maratus robinsoni) - is particularly impressive, because it showcases an intense rainbow iridescent signal in males' courtship displays to the females. This is the first known instance in nature of males using an entire rainbow of colors to entice females to mate. But how do males make their rainbows? Figuring out the answer was inherently interdisciplinary so Dr. Bor-Kai Hsiung - now a postdoctoral scholar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego - assembled a team that included biologists, physicists, and engineers while he was a PhD student at The University of Akron's (UA) Integrated Bioscience PhD program under the mentorship of Dr. Todd Blackledge and Dr. Matthew Shawkey (now at University of Ghent), and supported by UA's Biomimicry Research and Innovation Center. The team included researchers from the United States - UA, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) - Belgium (University of Gent), Netherlands (University of Groningen), and Australia to discover how rainbow peacock spiders produce this unique iridescent signal.

Lethal Fungus That Causes White-Nose Syndrome in Bats May Have Achilles' Heel; Fungus Lacks DNA Repair Enzyme and Is Vulnerable to UV Light

The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease that has ravaged bat populations in North America, may have an Achilles' heel: UV light. WNS has spread steadily for the past decade and is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans, known as P. destructans or Pd. In the course of genomic analyses of P. destructans, a team of scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the University of New Hampshire found that the fungus is highly sensitive to UV light. P. destructans can only infect bats during hibernation because it has a strict temperature growth range of about 39-68 degrees Fahrenheit. However, treating bats for the disease during hibernation is challenging, so any weakness of the fungus may be good news to managers trying to develop treatment strategies. In an open-access article published online on January 2, 2018 in Nature Communications titled "Extreme Sensitivity to Ultra-Violet Light in the Fungal Pathogen Causing White-Nose Syndrome of Bats," the research team suggests that P. destructans is likely a true fungal pathogen of bats that evolved alongside bat species in Europe and Asia for millions of years, allowing Eurasian bats to develop defenses against it. In the course of comparing P. destructans to six closely related non-pathogenic fungi, researchers discovered that P. destructans is unable to repair DNA damage caused by UV light, which could lead to novel treatments for the disease. The study, which was funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02441-z "This research has tremendous implications for bats and people," said Dr. Tony Ferguson, Director of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory.

Mystery of How Midshipman Fish Can Sustain Continuous Mating Hum for Up to an Hour Solved; Midshipman Swimbladder Muscles Can Contract Over 360,000 Times in Hour-- Fast Calcium Pumping and Small Calcium Release Are Key

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered how the Pacific midshipman fish can hum continuously for up to an hour in order to attract potential mates. The study, which is featured on the cover of the January 2018 issue of the Journal of General Physiology, explains how the muscle fibers surrounding the fish's swimbladder can sustain the high rates of contraction--up to 100 times per second--that are needed to produce the animal's distinctive call. The article is titled “Small Ca2+ Releases Enable Hour-Long High-Frequency Contractions in Midshipman Swimbladder Muscle.” It can be difficult to find a mate within the dark and cloudy waters of the ocean, so the males of several fish species have evolved the ability to emit loud calls that can attract potential female partners to their nest. These mating calls are generated by superfast muscle fibers that surround the fishes' swimbladders and undergo rapid cycles of contraction and relaxation in order to make these gas-filled organs vibrate. Male Atlantic toadfish, for example, contract and relax their swimbladder muscles up to 100-200 times per second to produce short, repetitive "boatwhistle" calls interspersed with relatively long periods of silence. Type I males of the Pacific midshipman fish (Porichthys notatus) are even more remarkable, producing a continuous mating hum for as long as an hour (you can hear a brief snippet in this YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSmEsuhEDK0) a rate of 100 contractions and relaxations per second, the midshipman swimbladder muscle can therefore contract as many as 360,000 times over the course of an hour-long call. "The midshipman swimbladder muscle generates more contractions per hour than any other known vertebrate muscle, explains Lawrence C.

Scheduled Feeding Improves Neurodegenerative Symptoms in Mouse Model of Huntington’s Disease; Results Suggest Eating on Strict Schedule Could Improve Quality Of Life for Those with Neurodegerative Disease

Restricting meals to the same time each day improves motor activity and sleep quality in a mouse model of Huntington's disease, according to new research published online on xxxx in eNeuro, the open-access journal of the Society for Neuroscience. The findings suggest that eating on a strict schedule could improve quality of life for patients with neurodegenerative diseases for which there are no known cures. The eNeuro article is titled “Time Restricted Feeding Improves Circadian Dysfunction As Well As Motor Symptoms in the Q175 Mouse Model of Huntington's Disease.” Dr. Christopher Colwell and colleagues used a well-studied mouse line (Q175) that models the genetic cause and symptoms of Huntington's disease, including sleep disruptions that appear to be a general feature of neurodegenerative disorders. By restricting food availability to a 6-hour period in the middle of the period when the mice are active, the researchers demonstrate in these mice improved performance on two different motor tasks and a more typical rhythm of daily activity. In addition, these mice showed improved heart rate variability, a marker of cardiovascular health, and more typical gene expression in the striatum, a brain region involved in motor control that is susceptible to degeneration in Huntington's disease. This study, which manipulated the availability but not the quantity of food, point to time of feeding as an additional environmental signal that might work in conjunction with light to regulate the body clock. The image illlustrates that, after three months of treatment (when mice reached the early disease stage), the time-restricted feeding-treated Q175 mouse model of Huntington's disease showed improvements in locomotor activity rhythm and sleep awakening time. (Image credit: Wang et al., eNeuro (2018).