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Archive - Mar 11, 2020

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Microbial DNA in Patient Blood May Be Tell-Tale Sign of Cancer--From Simple Blood Draw, Microbial DNA May Reveal Who Has Cancer and Which Type, Even at Early Stages, Nature Study Suggests

When Gregory Poore was a freshman in college, his otherwise healthy grandmother was shocked to learn that she had late-stage pancreatic cancer. The condition was diagnosed in late December. She died in January. "She had virtually no warning signs or symptoms," Poore said. "No one could say why her cancer wasn't detected earlier or why it was resistant to the treatment they tried." As Poore came to learn through his college studies, cancer has traditionally been considered a disease of the human genome -- mutations in our genes allow cells to avoid death, proliferate, and form tumors. But when Poore saw a 2017 study in Science that showed how microbes invaded a majority of pancreatic cancers and were able to break down the main chemotherapy drug given to these patients, he was intrigued by the idea that bacteria and viruses might play a bigger role in cancer than anyone had previously considered. Poore is currently an MD/PhD student at University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine, where he's conducting his graduate thesis work in the lab of Rob Knight, PhD, Professor and Director of the Center for Microbiome Innovation. Together with an interdisciplinary group of collaborators, Poore and Dr. Knight have developed a novel method to identify who has cancer, and often which type, by simply analyzing patterns of microbial DNA -- bacterial and viral -- present in their blood. The study, published online on March 11, 2020 in Nature, may change how cancer is viewed, and diagnosed.

Primitive One-Cell Organism Reveals Amazing Clues to Structure of the Universe; Slime Mold Simulations Used to Map Dark Matter Holding Universe Together; Art Initially Prompts Incredible Connection Between Slime Mold and Dark Matter

The behavior of one of nature's humblest creatures is helping astronomers probe the largest structures in the universe. The single-cell organism, known as slime mold (Physarum polycephalum), builds complex filamentary networks in search of food, finding near-optimal pathways to connect different locations. In shaping the universe, gravity builds a vast cobweb structure of filaments tying galaxies and clusters of galaxies together along faint bridges hundreds of millions of light-years long. There is an uncanny resemblance between the two networks: one crafted by biological evolution, and the other by the primordial force of gravity. The cosmic web is the large-scale backbone of the cosmos, consisting primarily of the mysterious substance known as dark matter and laced with gas, upon which galaxies are built. Dark matter cannot be seen, but it makes up the bulk of the universe's material. The existence of a web-like structure to the universe was first hinted at in the 1985 Redshift Survey conducted at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Since those studies, the grand scale of this filamentary structure has grown in subsequent sky surveys. The filaments form the boundaries between large voids in the universe. But astronomers have had a difficult time finding these elusive strands, because the gas is so dim it is hard to detect. Now a team of researchers has turned to slime mold to help them build a map of the filaments in the local universe (within 500 million light-years from Earth) and find the gas within them.