August 21, 2019

    Sea slugs acquire toxins from the bacteria that live within the food they eat
    Where sea slugs get their toxic defense from - life short science news

    Sea slugs acquire bacterial toxins that live inside algae, the food source of sea slugs, a new study shows.

    Thus, this three-way symbiotic relationship between slugs, algae and bacteria provide the snails with toxins to fight off predators.

    These complicated interactions illustrate the importance of understanding how organisms live together, and how molecules might travel in the food chain.

    Read the full story: Princeton
    Scientific publication: Science


    Female Anopheles stephensi is a transmitter of malaria. Image: Jim Gathany/CDC
    Keeping malaria under control with a harmless neurotoxin - life short science news

    Scientists have discovered a unique neurotoxin that kills Anopheles mosquitoes that carries malaria. The neurotoxin is harmless for humans, vertebrate animals and even other insects.

    It is produced by a particular strain of bacteria that likely have coevolved with the Anopheles mosquitos.

    The neurotoxin is apparently safe and could replace the chemical insecticides that are currently being used to control the mosquito populations.

    Read the full story: University of California – Riverside
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Nematodes transmit information from the nervous system to their offspring. Image: Biosphere Science Foundation
    The nervous system can transmit information across multiple generations - life short science news

    Researchers have found that brain cells of nematodes (worms) communicate with germ cells through the release of small pieces of RNA. In this way, the information stored in the brain can be transmitted to the offspring and their descendants.

    This stunning observation was made in nematodes in which the small RNAs could not be produced anymore. These animals showed limited capacity to find food. Reintroduction of the small RNA in the nervous system of the worms not only restored the proper food seeking behavior in these nematodes, but also in that of their offspring that could not synthesize the small RNA themselves.

    It is currently not known whether the nervous system transmits information across generations in humans.

    Read the full story: Tel Aviv University
    Scientific publication: Cell


    Adult sockeye salmon returning to spawn in the lakes of Bristol Bay, Alaska. Image: Jason Ching/University of Washington
    Global warming speeds up early life of salmon - life short science news

    Higher annual temperatures in Alaska’s Bristol Bay have caused lakes and rivers to warm up earlier in spring, enhancing the growth of plankton that young sockeye salmon eat. This fattens up the young salmons much quicker than before, so that they now migrate to sea a year earlier.

    This series of events, described in a new study, does not necessarily mean that sockeyes benefit from global warming, because in the ocean they have to compete with increasing number of cultured sockeyes, making them stay in the ocean a year longer before returning to freshwater to spawn. Also, as all young fish now migrate to the sea at the same age (one year), the population is at risk if ocean conditions happen to be poor that year.

    This report shows an example of the complicated ecological effects of global warming.

    Read the full story: University of Washington
    Scientific publication: Nature Ecology & Evolution


    Feathers existed before birds
    Some dinosaurs had feathers, long before birds - life short science news

    After analyzing 250-million-year-old fossils from China, paleontologists have discovered that pterosaurs had feathers, long before birds had evolved.

    The function of these early feathers was probably insulation. Other functions, such as flying and courtship, came probably much later.

    As the genetic program underlying the development of scales in reptiles, feathers in birds, and hairs in mammals is essentially similar, it is indeed possible that feathers appeared before birds did.

    Read the full story: University of Bristol
    Scientific publication: Trends in Ecology & Evolution


    DNA editing is still too dangerous to be used in humans
    Does CRISPR technology increase mortality? - life short science news

    You may remember that a Chinese scientist has applied a gene-editing technique called CRISPR in two human baby girls in 2018. Apart from ethical issues, there is now also concern that the genetic mutation that was introduced into the girls to protect them against HIV, is actually doing more harm than good.

    Researchers have now associated this mutation with a 21% increase in mortality later in life. This association is based on the analysis of 400,000 genomes and linked health records contained in a British database, the UK Biobank.

    Researchers conclude that CRISPR is still a far too risky technique to employ in humans, because health effects of many genes and gene mutations are largely unknown.

    Read the full story: UC Berkeley
    Scientific publication: Nature Medicine


    Organs in our body can tell the difference between day and night
    Tick tock goes the clock, throughout our body and not only in the brain - life short science news

    New research has shown that organs can detect variations in light between day and night, even when they do not receive instructions anymore from the central clock in the hypothalamus of the brain.

    This remarkable finding was obtained in studies with mice in which organs could be studied independently of other organs.

    Thus, while the master clock in the brain is important for e.g. synchronization of activity of all organs, each individual organ can still function minimally (like organs preparing for the arrival of a meal) when other organs in the body have a failure.

    Read the full story: IRB Barcelona
    Scientific publication: Cell


    D-phenyllactic acid is absorbed from lactic acid bacteria fermented food and induces HCA3-dependent migration in human monocytes (immune cells). Image: Claudia Stäubert
    Bacteria in fermented food signal to the immune system - life short science news

    Lactic acid bacteria, which convert cabbage into sauerkraut and milk into yoghurt, have been found to secrete a substance (D-phenyllactic acid) that binds to a particular receptor on immune cells unique to apes and humans.

    D-phenyllactic acid signals to the immune system and to fat cells that that both foreign substances and energy have entered the body.

    This signaling pathway from gut bacteria to cells in the body may be at the basis of the beneficial effects of eating fermented food (yoghurt, sauerkraut) on human health.

    Read the full story: Universität Leipzig
    Scientific publication: PLoS Genetics


    Fungi such as these mushrooms have an evolutionary tree that goes back one billion years in time
    Billion-year-old fossil of a fungus found in Canada - life short science news

    Numerous microfossils of fungi have been found in Canada, which are up to one billion years old. This find pushes the age of fungi back by 450 million years.

    Fungi play an important role in ecosystems, as they break down organic material. This has led the discoverers of these old fungi to speculate that also other simple life must have existed at that time, although the oldest fossils of simple animals date back to “only” 635 million years ago.

    The newly discovered fungus, likely an ancestor of modern fungi, contained chitin, a fibrous component that forms fungi cell walls, making this the oldest record of chitin as well.

    Read the full story: University of Liège
    Scientific publication: Nature


    Macrophages at a wound. Image: Dr Iwan Evans, University of Sheffield
    Dead cells modulate how immune cells function - life short science news

    Immune cells prioritize removal of dead cells over fighting infections and healing wounds, a new study found.

    While clearance of dead cells is important, during times of injury immune cells are needed at the wound to prevent infections and aid healing processess. Also, these cells can worsen many human conditions if they are at the wrong site or overactive.

    Researchers found that the protein Simu is needed to keep macorphages at wound sites in fruit flies, so that targeting this protein in humans might provide new possibilities for improved wound healing and less infections in the future.

    Read the full story: University of Sheffield
    Scientific publication: PLoS Biology


    A color pigment scan of a fossilised, three million old mouse. Image: University of Manchester
    Evolution of color revealed in fossilized mouse - life short science news

    Scientists have found red pigmet in the fur of a three million year old fossilized mouse.

    The chemistry of the pigment shows that the trace metals of the pigment in the mouse fur are bonded to organic chemicals, just like they are in modern day animals with red fur such as foxes.

    The combination of techniques used in this study have made it possible to study unstable pigments in fossils, revealing secrets of color evolution, and teaching us how animals have used color for their behavior in the past.

    Read the full story: University of Manchester
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    Red algae are amongst the most efficient converters of sunlight into energy. Image: Johnmartindavies [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
    What we can learn from algae to improve photovoltaic cells - life short science news

    As algae manage to use and store solar energy more efficiently than any other organism (up to 98%), biochemists have set out to determine how algae do this precisely.

    They found that algae have many protrusions (antennae) on their surface, that are made up of stacks of tiny disks. Inside each disk there is a gamma building block that passes light efficiently into the light harvesting system. The efficiency may further be enhanced by the presence of at least four different gamma blocks, making it possible to capture light under all circumstances.

    Perhaps that the light capture system of algae could be used as a blueprint for the next generation of photovoltaic cells.

    Read the full story: Utrecht University
    Scientific publication: Chem


    This is the protein encoded by the mcr-9 gene that renders bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Image: Ahmed Gaballa, Cornell University
    Bad news: Salmonella carries a newly discovered antibiotic resistance gene - life short science news

    When scientists analyzed the genome of Salmonella bacteria, they discovered a gene, named mcr-9, that renders bacteria resistant to the last resort antibiotic colistin.

    Colistin has been designated a highest priority antibiotic by the World Health Organization, and is given when other antibiotics are without effect.

    As mcr-9 can jump from bacteria species to species, this gene may impose problems for our health as more bacteria may become resistant to antibiotics, even to colistin.

    Read the full story: Cornell University
    Scientific publication: mBio


    Egg-carrying female of the new to science species Elthusa xena. Image: Serita van der Wal (under CC-BY 4.0 license)
    Looking a fish in the mouth: a new species of parasite found - life short science news

    Researchers from the North-West University in South Africa have discovered a new parasite of fish.

    They are crustaceans (like crabs and shrimps), and attach themselves to the gills of especially klipfish (genus Clinus).

    The new species has been baptized Elthusa Xena, named after the warrior princess Xena (from the American fantasy television series), as the females appear particularly tough with their elongated and ovioid bodies.

    Read the full story: North West University South Africa
    Scientific publication: Zookeys


    More than ever is survival of many plant and animal species under threat as a consequence of human activities
    Shrinking biodiversity threatens human life, research warns - life short science news

    Plant and animal species on earth are declining at such a rapid pace that human life is also threatened. This emerges from a large scientific study of the biodiversity on earth of Ipbes, an organization affiliated with the United Nations.

    One million of the estimated eight million species are threatened with extinction in the coming decades.

    The loss of biodiversity is a "direct consequence of human action," the researchers say. The causes are changes in the use of land and sea, exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and the arrival of invasive exotic species.

    Read the full story: Ipbes


    Some of the varieties of peanuts from Brazil. Image: Fábio de Oliveira Freitas
    Sequencing the peanut genome, peanuts? - life short science news

    With the latest advances in genomic sequencing, researchers have succeeded to sequence the complex genome of peanuts.

    This genetic analysis has revealed the evolutionary origin of the several varieties of cultivated peanut plants, and will give geneticists the necessary information to make peanut plants more resistant to disease and more productive.

    Thus, while the characterization of the peanut plant genome has not been peanuts, the efforts have paid off and will provide the basis for breeding and improvement of peanut crops.

    Read the full story: University of Georgia
    Scientific publication: Nature Genetics


    The Australian box jellyfish, the most venomous creature on Earth. Image: Peter Southwood [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
    Antidote found to deadly box jellyfish sting - life short science news

    Researchers have discovered an antidote to the sting of the most venomous creature on Earth: the Australian box jellyfish. The tentacles of this animal can reach three meters of length, and contain enough venom to kill 60 humans.

    The antidote was discovered with the CRISPR genome editing technique, and was tested on human cells and on mice.

    The scientists found that the venom of the jellyfish requires cholesterol to work. There are already many drugs on the market that target cholesterol, which should facilitate further study of the efficacy of the antidote and the development of a topical cream or spray.

    Read the full story: University of Sydney
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    The endangered San Francisco garter snake is a rare species only found in the Bay Area. Image: Amy Patten
    Nature in the city - life short science news

    A US study, in which citizens could report urban plants and animals, shows that nature in the city strongly depends on the region where the city is situated.

    However, while the number cosmopolitan species (pigeons, white-tailed deer, dandelions) that are found in most of cities is relatively small, the actual number of individuals of these species outnumbered that of the number of individuals of local species.

    Thus, while one would observe mostly cosmopolitan urban plants and animals, cities still harbor many local, and even rare species, but in lower numbers.

    Read the full story: California Academy of Sciences
    Scientific publication: PeerJ


    Using powerful X-rays, the UpaB protein has been pictured digitally for the first time. Image: La Trobe University
    Protein that sticks bacteria to our skin imaged - life short science news

    Bacteria produce a protein, named UpaB, that helps them stick to the human skin. In a new study, researchers have modeled this superglue protein of a pathogen that causes urinary tract infection, but similar proteins have been found in other bacteria as well.

    The imaging of the UpaB protein helps scientists to better understand how bacterial adhesion is brought about, and may give rise to new treatment options to remove harmful bacteria from infected body parts.

    This would then present an alternative way of treating bacterial infections, not relying on antibiotics.

    Read the full story: La Trobe University
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    This Isarachnanthus nocturnus tube anemone has the largest animal mitochondrial genome reported to date. Image: Sergio Stampar
    Sea anemones: complex genome outside the nucleus - life short science news

    While most of the genetic information (DNA) is packed in a cell’s nucleus, some DNA is found in mitochondria, the cell’s power plants that generate energy.

    Sea anemones have now been found to have the largest mitochondrial collection of DNA of all species analyzed, containing 81,000 base pairs (the basic units of genetic information). For comparison, the human mitochondrial genome contains 17,000 base pairs.

    It is not quite known why such apparently simple animals have such large mitochondrial genomes that are furthermore organized in a linear instead of the normal circular way.

    Read the full story: Ohio State University
    Scientific publication: Scientific Reports


    New genes can be formed following gene duplication and editing; an underlying molecular mechanism of evolution
    Emergence of a new gene seen for the first time in the lab - life short science news

    For the very first time, biotechnologists have witnessed the emergence of a completely new gene.

    By forcing the yeast species Saccharomyces pastorianus to eat complex sugars, the cells started to form a new sort of “mouth” by recombining parts of already existing genes into a new gene.

    This spectacular observation confirms what biotechnologists had suspected for decades: living things can make new genes by copying and then editing them, which is a driving force of evolution.

    Read the full story: TU Delft
    Scientific publication: PLoS Genetics


    A new species added to the human evolution
    Homo luzonensis: A new human species discovered - interesting science news

    A team of International scientists have uncovered the mortal remains of a new human species in Philippines, which indicates that this region played an important role in the human evolution. These fossil remains were found in the Luzon island and are 50,000 years old at the Callao Caves.

    The bones found were adult finger and toes bones as well as teeth. The size of the teeth are usually indicative of the overall size of the mammal and since the teeth discovered were very small, the scientists predict that Homo luzonensis was a small being.

    They also found evidence of a butchered rhinoceros and stone tools dating 700,000 years old but it still remains to be established if these were used by Homo luzonensis.

    Read the full story: Australian National University
    Scientific publication: Nature


    To secure the future of this young elephant, better protection of its habitat is needed
    Stopping the loss of biodiversity by defining a new target for protected areas - life short science news

    Scientists argue that the current international target for the protected area estate, accepted by 190 nations, is failing.

    The use of simple percentage targets has proven not to be effective for conservation of nature. For example, areas of low biodiversity value have been protected, whereas the regions rich in biodiversity have been destroyed or left unprotected. On top of this, protected areas are often not well-managed, partly due to insufficient funds.

    A new target to be adopted in a new convention in 2020, when the current target expires, should take global significance for biodiversity into account, so that the most important areas for biodiversity can be protected, restored, and properly managed, scientists say.

    Read the full story: Wildlife Conservation Society
    Scientific publication: Science


    Personality of birds promotes adaptability of behavior
    Just like humans, birds have different personalities which determine when breeding starts - life short science news

    Studies in great tit (Parus major) have shown that breeding behavior changes under predation threat.

    Aggressive and exploring birds, normally starting the laying of eggs late in the breeding season, shifted their breeding forwards, whereas more passive birds showed exactly the opposite.

    Thus, breeding start is flexible, and depends on personality and external influences such as predation risk. Breeding success is not affected by personality. Together, this study shows the importance of different personalities within a population, so that survival of a species is more likely when external conditions change.

    Read the full story: Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
    Scientific publication: Nature Communications


    To avoid escalation of conflicts and to promote group cohesion male chimpanzees reduce aggressive interactions in times of social instability. Image: Anna Preis
    Social insecurity causes stress - life short science news

    A new study found that social insecurity increases stress in chimpanzees, and that the amount of urinary cortisol (a stress hormone) did not correlate with hierarchy in the group.

    Also, during times of social insecurity, like observed in intense male-male competition, aggression rates were lower, probably to avoid injuries and improve group cohesion.

    This study shows that, unlike previously thought, dominant and recessive members of a group have similar stress levels caused by instable social structure, and that proper conflict management strategies improve the wellbeing of the group.

    Read the full story: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft – Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
    Scientific publication: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution


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