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Pollinators Use Multiple Cues to Identify Flowers Across Continents

Although at least 75% of our crop species depend on the activities of wild pollinators, little is known about their flower preferences. As global populations of domestic bee pollinators decline, it is of utmost importance for us to understand what factors attract wild pollinators such as hoverflies to flowers, and how these preferences differ in the face of environmental change. Now, a team of scientists from Uppsala University in Sweden and Flinders University in Australia, and the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) in India have discovered that hoverflies, a group of generalist pollinators, use a combination of cues such as color, shape, and scent to identify flowers. You and I live in a sensory world--sight, sound, touch, and taste blend to give us a sense of our surroundings. However, imagine perceiving the world as a fly, with a brain the size of a pinhead. Yet many insects with miniscule brains manage to do exactly what we do--identify objects like a flower, or a plant. Dr. Karin Nordström's group from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and Flinders University, Australia, and Dr. Shannon Olsson's team from the NCBS in Bangalore, India, have long been interested in how insects, with their "teeny-tiny" brains can recognize objects such as flowers. Now, through their collaborative work on hoverflies, the two teams have found an answer. These insects use a multimodal sensory mechanism--in other words, hoverflies require a combination of clues including shape, size, color, and scent--to recognize flowers in different environments across the world. The teams' results are especially important with respect to our scarce knowledge of what attracts wild insect pollinators to flowers. Although at least 75% of our crop species depend on the activities of wild pollinators, little is known about their flower preferences.

Blocking Sensory Neuron Release of Exosomes Containing MicroRNA-21 May Help Reduce Neuropathic Pain

New research from King’s College London has revealed a previously undiscovered mechanism of cellular communication, between neurons and immune cells, in neuropathic pain. The authors, who published their findings online on November 24, 2017 in Nature Communications, identified a new method of treating neuropathic pain in mice, which could be more safe and effective than current treatments consisting of opioids and antiepileptic drugs. The open-access article is titled “Exosomal Cargo Including MicroRNA Regulates Sensory Neuron To Macrophage Communication After Nerve Trauma.” Neuropathic pain is a type of chronic pain that is usually caused by an injury to nerves, but the pain persists long after the injury has healed. Neuropathic pain may occur after surgery or a car accident, or in some cases when a limb has been amputated. Currently, the only available drugs for neuropathic pain are either opioids or antiepileptic medication. Opioids, like morphine and tramadol, are highly addictive and the National Health Service (England, Scotland, Wales) have recently raised concerns about prescription of these drugs, due to opioid overdoses more than doubling in the last decade. In the US, an opioid “epidemic” has recently been declared due to the rising number of deaths linked to these drugs. In contrast, antiepileptic medication is not addictive but is often accompanied by a whole host of unpleasant side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and weight gain. However, people with neuropathic pain have very little choice when it comes to other treatment options because the cause of neuropathic pain is so poorly understood.

Intrinsically Disordered Proteins (IDPs) Can Allosterically Control Function Using Principle of “Energetic Frustration” to Simultaneously Tune Transcriptional Activation and Repression;

Proteins carry out almost all processes in living organisms, including moving other molecules from one place to another, replicating DNA, conveying genetic information from genes to cells, controlling immune response, driving metabolism, and building muscle. Not all protein molecules are created equal, however, and some are better understood than others. Now, a team of scientists led by a Johns Hopkins University biologist has cracked a key part of the mystery surrounding a particular group of proteins that emerged as a distinct type less than 30 years ago. The finding, reported on October 12, 2017 in the online journal eLife, could eventually lead to treatments for diseases that range from cancer to neurological disorders. The title of the article is “Genetically Tunable Frustration Controls Allostery in an Intrinsically Disordered Transcription Factor.” Dr. Vincent Hilser, Professor and Chair of the Johns Hopkins Department of Biology, said it's not possible to say when this new research will translate into improved treatments, "but what is clear is understanding how these things work is a critical step toward that." These so-called "intrinsically disordered proteins" (IDPs) do not look like the more familiar type, but they make up about 40 percent of all proteins. Perhaps more importantly, they constitute the majority of proteins involved in the process called "transcription." That's how the instructions in the DNA genetic code are converted to messenger RNA that codes for the production of proteins in the ribosomes. It is not clear exactly how errors in transcription affect human health, but it is known that these errors are involved in most cancers, Dr. Hilser said.

New Species of Butterfly Found Flying Over Northern Slopes of Caucasus Mountains; Identification of Unusual Butterfly with 46 Chromosomes Culminates 20 Years of Study

What looked like a population of a common butterfly species turned out to be an entirely new species, and, moreover - one with a very peculiar genome organization. Discovered by Dr. Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Dr. Alexander Dantchenko, entomologist and chemist at the Moscow State University, the discovery was named South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus). It was found flying over the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. The study was published online on November 24, 2017 in the open-access journal Comparative Cytogenetics. The article is titled “A New Butterfly Species from South Russia Revealed Through Chromosomal and Molecular Analysis of the Polyommatus (Agrodiaetus) damonides Complex (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae). (Editor's note: The image here shows a common blue butterfly from norther Norway, not the newly identified species.) "This publication is the long-awaited completion of a twenty-year history," says Dr. Lukhtanov. In the mid-nineties, Dr. Lukhtanov, together with his students and collaborators, started an exhaustive study of Russian butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 1997, Dr. Dantchenko, who was mostly focused on butterfly ecology, sampled a few blue butterfly specimens from northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. These blues looked typical at first glance and were identified as Azerbaijani blue (Polyommatus aserbeidschanus). However, when the scientists looked at the cells of these butterflies under a microscope, it became clear that they had 46 chromosomes - a very unusual number for this group of the blue butterflies and exactly the same count as in humans.

Medical Professionals Hold Free Clinic for the “Hardest-Working Feet in Madison, Wisconsin”

On a snowy Saturday morning just before Thanksgiving, almost 40 of Madison, Wisconsin’s homeless and disadvantaged were welcomed to a free bimonthly foot-care clinic hosted by the First United Methodist Church and organized by the Madison Street Medicine Initiative, which is operated under the Madison Area Care for the Homeless OneHealth (MACH OneHealth) organization ( This clinic has been underway for almost two years and has become increasingly successful, popular, and efficient with each successive session. At the November 18 event (see ten photos at end), running from 9 am to 12 noon, the number of participating health professionals (MDs, nurses, wound specialists, and volunteer helpers) was approximately the same as the number of homeless (38) seeking help with their feet. As Meg Collins, an RN and certified wound care nurse from Madison and Dane County Public Health said, this clinic is a great opportunity to care for the “hardest-working feet in Madison.” One of the medical professionals who is key to this wonderful effort is Ann Catlett, MD, who is a trained internist specializing in palliative care at University of Wisconsin (UW) Health. Dr. Catlett is also Medical Director of the Madison Street Medicine Initiative. This recently founded Initiative is funded by a two-year $100,000 UW Ira and Ineva Baldwin Grant intended to leverage University expertise to do good for the greater Wisconsin community. Dr. Catlett said that before the foot-care clinic was started, MACH OneHealth had heard from those experiencing homelessness, as well as from outreach workers, that foot care was a major health need for the homeless. After the clinic had been launched, the Madison Street Medicine Initiative undertook a survey that confirmed this need. Dr.

Schizophrenia Drug Development May Be Aided by Use of Image-Based Biomarkers for Glutamate-Targeted Drug Development

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have identified biomarkers that can aid in the development of better treatments for schizophrenia. The findings were published online on November 22, 2017 in JAMA Psychiatry. The open-access article is titled "Utility of Image-Based Biomarkers for Glutamate-Targeted Drug Development in Psychotic Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial." In the past two decades, the pharmaceutical industry has spent over $2.5 billion to develop new schizophrenia drugs. But while many appear to be effective in animal models, most fail when tested in late-stage human clinical trials. "While a great deal of money has been invested in developing schizophrenia drugs, a similar investment hasn't been made to develop biomarkers that could improve the reliability and consistency of test results," said Daniel Javitt, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Experimental Therapeutics at CUMC, Director of Schizophrenia Research at the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and Co-Principal Investigator of the study. The National Institute of Mental Health's FAST Initiative, which was established to validate the use of biomarkers to facilitate drug development, aligns with the 21st Century Cures Act passed last year by Congress. The legislation authorized the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve treatments based on biomarker data alone, and created a formal Biomarker Qualification Program. In this context, FAST-Psychosis researchers identified biomarkers using MRI applications to support the development of drugs that target the glutamate system. Previous studies have shown that drugs such as phencyclidine (PCP or "angel dust") and ketamine, which block glutamate receptors, cause schizophrenia-like symptoms in healthy volunteers.

Exosome Diagnostics and MD Anderson Cancer Center Demonstrate Superior Liquid Biopsy Performance of Exosome Diagnostics’ ExoLution® Plus Platform That Simultaneously Analyzes Exosomal Nucleic Acids and Cell-Free DNA

In a November 13, 2017 press release, it was announced that Exosome Diagnostics, Inc., and MD Anderson Cancer Center had a unique study published online on October 19, 2017 in Clinical Cancer Research, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Association of Clinical Cancer Research. The analysis directly compared Exosome Diagnostics’ ExoLution® Plus platform with two different platforms, BEAMing and ddPCR, that analyze cell-free (cf) DNA alone. The article is titled “Liquid Biopsies Using Plasma Exosomal Nucleic Acids and Plasma Cell-Free DNA compared with Clinical Outcomes of Patients with Advanced Cancers.” Teams at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Exosome Diagnostics showed that the ExoLution Plus platform, which simultaneously analyses exosome nucleic acids (exoNA) and cfDNA correlated better to clinical outcome than cfDNA analysis alone in a cohort of 43 patients with progressive advanced cancer. The teams studied overall survival among the patients and linked low amounts of mutated exoNA with longer survival times and high amounts of mutated exoNA with shorter survival times. "Our study reports two novel observations. First, our data suggest that next-generation sequencing of plasma-derived exosomal nucleic acids from patients with advanced cancers has high sensitivity compared to molecular testing of plasma cell-free DNA or archival tumor samples. Second, we demonstrated that the amount of mutated exosomal nucleic acids is an independent prognostic factor for survival" said Dr. Filip Janku, MD Anderson Cancer Center senior author on the study.

Antibodies As a Potential Fix to HIV/AIDS—Interview with Adrian McDermott, Acting Chief of the Immunology Core in the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center

by Sara Malmanger, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Science Writing Intern with BioQuick News

HIV researchers have found that giving the human body’s immune system a boost of specific antibodies may be a potential fix to HIV/AIDS as we seek a cure or vaccine. Our world could be free of this deadly virus sooner than we ever thought possible. Researchers are hopeful that they have found a way to turn our own immune systems against the disease. In an interview, Adrian McDermott (photo), PhD, from the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center, said, “We are hoping to use HIV-specific antibodies that target vulnerable parts of the HIV envelope to prevent and treat HIV.” The Vaccine Research Center is within the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. McDermott is presently Acting Chief, Immunology Core, within the Vaccine Research Center. He is a former Director of Immunobiology and Vaccine Design at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) in New York. The antibody studies are important because more than 35 million people have HIV worldwide, and around one million people have HIV in the United States. Despite the common feeling that AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is a disease of the past, it is still harming and destroying many lives. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) essentially erodes and ultimately destroys the immune system over time. HIV, without appropriate health care and treatment, can develop into AIDS. Once a person reaches the AIDS stage of the infection, the immune system can’t fight off pathogens that cause common illnesses, where a healthy immune system could knock these bugs out with ease.

Autoimmune Disease Discovery Could Spark New Treatments; Scientists Synthesize Small Molecule Inhibitor of Toll-Like Receptor 8 (TLR8)

University of Colorado (UC) Boulder researchers have discovered a potent, drug-like compound that could someday revolutionize treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases by inhibiting a protein instrumental in prompting the body to start attacking its own tissue. "We have discovered a key to lock this protein in a resting state," said Dr. Hang Hubert Yin, a biochemistry professor at the BioFrontiers Institute and lead author of a paper, published on November 20, 2017 in Nature Chemical Biology, describing the discovery. "This could be paradigm shifting." The article is titled “Small-Molecule Inhibition of TLR8 Through Stabilization of Its Resting State.” More than 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and lupus, in which an excessive immune response leads to pain, inflammation, skin disorders, and other chronic health problems. Three of the top five selling drugs in the United States aim to ease autoimmune disease symptoms. But no cure exists, and treatments are expensive and come with side effects. "Given the prevalence of these diseases, there is a big push for alternatives," Dr. Yin said. For years, scientists have suspected that a protein called Toll-like receptor 8 (TLR8) plays a key role in the innate immune response. When TLR8 senses the presence of a virus or bacterium, it goes through a series of steps to transform from its passive to active state, triggering a cascade of inflammatory signals to fight off the foreign invader. But, as Dr. Yin explained, "it can be a double-edged sword" leading to disease when that response is excessive.

Dog Ownership Linked to Lower Mortality, Especially in Persons Living Alone

A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or to other causes during the 12-year follow-up. A total of more than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease in 2001 were included in the researchers' study linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers. The results were published for the first time on November 17, 2017 in Scientific Reports. The goal was to determine whether dog owners had a different risk of cardiovascular disease and death than non-dog owners. The open-access Scientific Reports article is titled “Dog Ownership and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Death – A Nationwide Cohort Study.” "A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household. Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households. The results showed that single dog owners had a 33% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of myocardial infarction during follow-up compared to single non-owners. Another interesting finding was that owners of dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected," says Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and a PhD student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University. In Sweden, every person carries a unique personal identity number.

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