Combating Coronaviruses Scientists discover a molecule that defeats MERS and other coronaviruses in human cells.

Coronaviruses, including the one responsible for the ongoing outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), can be defeated in a dish by a molecule that destroys their replication vesicles, according to a paper published in PLOS Pathogenstoday (May 29). The molecule, called K22, is the first antiviral substance known to interfere with such vesicles, revealing them as a novel exploitable weak point in the coronavirus (CoV) life cycle.

“There’s no way to treat a virus with just one drug. You need to come at it from a couple of different angles, and this is a brand new fresh angle from which to attack a dangerous pathogen,” saidBenjamin Neuman, a molecular virologist at the University of Reading in the U.K., who was not involved in the study. “And it seems to work on all the coronaviruses they tested, which is lovely.”

Until a decade ago, CoVs were not considered a significant threat to human health because the few that did infect humans caused non-life-threatening upper respiratory tract infections (essentially, colds). But then, in 2003, the SARS CoV emerged and killed nearly 10 percent of the people it infected. And the MERS-CoV that’s currently circulating the globe has been fatal for approximately 30 percent of infected individuals.



The Scientist

Human Proteome Project Finds 193 Previously Unknown Proteins

Striving for the protein equivalent of the Human Genome Project, an international team of researchers has created an initial catalog of the human “proteome,” or all of the proteins in the human body. In total, using 30 different human tissues, the team identified proteins encoded by 17,294 genes, which is about 84 percent of all of the genes in the human genome predicted to encode proteins.
In a summary of the effort, to be published today in the journal Nature, the team also reports the identification of 193 novel proteins that came from regions of the genome not predicted to code for proteins, suggesting that the human genome is more complex than previously thought. The cataloging project, led by researchers at The Johns Hopkins University and the Institute of Bioinformatics in Bangalore, India, should prove an important resource for biological research and medical diagnostics, according to the team’s leaders.

Arterial Stiffening Provides Sufficient Explanation for Primary Hypertension

Hypertension is one of the most common age-related chronic disorders, and by predisposing individuals for heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease, it is a major source of morbidity and mortality. Its etiology remains enigmatic despite intense research efforts over many decades. By use of empirically well-constrained computer models describing the coupled function of the baroreceptor reflex and mechanics of the circulatory system, we demonstrate quantitatively that arterial stiffening seems sufficient to explain age-related emergence of hypertension. Specifically, the empirically observed chronic changes in pulse pressure with age and the impaired capacity of hypertensive individuals to regulate short-term changes in blood pressure arise as emergent properties of the integrated system. The results are consistent with available experimental data from chemical and surgical manipulation of the cardio-vascular system. In contrast to widely held opinions, the results suggest that primary hypertension can be attributed to a mechanogenic etiology without challenging current conceptions of renal and sympathetic nervous system function.


PLOS Computational Biology


Can the Nervous System Be Hacked?

One morning in May 1998, Kevin Tracey converted a room in his lab at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., into a makeshift operating theater and then prepped his patient — a rat — for surgery. A neurosurgeon, and also Feinstein Institute’s president, Tracey had spent more than a decade searching for a link between nerves and the immune system. His work led him to hypothesize that stimulating the vagus nerve with electricity would alleviate harmful inflammation. “The vagus nerve is behind the artery where you feel your pulse,” he told me recently, pressing his right index finger to his neck.

The vagus nerve and its branches conduct nerve impulses — called action potentials — to every major organ. But communication between nerves and the immune system was considered impossible, according to the scientific consensus in 1998. Textbooks from the era taught, he said, “that the immune system was just cells floating around. Nerves don’t float anywhere. Nerves are fixed in tissues.” It would have been “inconceivable,” he added, to propose that nerves were directly interacting with immune cells.




The Maternal Microbiome Moms bombard their babies with bugs both before and after they’re born.

Popular thinking has held that as a baby works his way through a birth canal teeming with microorganisms, his body is colonized with its first commensal bacteria. But a new study shows that a bevy of microbes exist in the womb.

The findings, published today (May 21) in Science Translational Medicine, add to a growing body of literature suggesting that tissues once thought to be germ-free are crawling with microbes, and that babies’ introduction to the microbial world comes from multiple maternal sources.

“[It’s an] interesting study that continues to build the snowball that no tissue in the human body is sterile, including reproductive tissues and, for that matter, the unborn child,” Seth Bordenstein, a biologist at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the work, said in an e-mail to The Scientist.

Hints that the uterine environment harbors bacteria began to emerge several years ago. In 2008, for instance, Juan Miguel Rodríguez’s group at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain inoculated pregnant mice with a labeled bacteria and later identified the strain in the meconium (the poop that develops in a fetus) of pups delivered by C-section. In combination with other studies of the placenta, amniotic fluid, and umbilical cord blood, it now seems apparent that an infant’s first meeting with microbes is not at birth.

“Based on the sum of evidence it is time to overturn the sterile womb paradigm and recognize the unborn child is first colonized in the womb,” said Bordenstein.




Prostate cancer ‘may be a sexually transmitted disease’

Prostate cancer may be a sexually transmitted disease caused by a common yet often silent infection passed on during intercourse, scientists say – but experts say proof is still lacking.

Although several cancers are caused by infections, Cancer Research UK says it is too early to add prostate cancer to this list.

The University of California scientists tested human prostate cells in the lab. They found a sex infection called trichomoniasis aided cancer growth

More research is now needed to confirm the link, they say in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).




Are we fat because we overeat, or do we overeat because we’re fat?

FOR most of the last century, our understanding of the cause of obesity has been based on immutable physical law. Specifically, it’s the first law of thermodynamics, which dictates that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. When it comes to body weight, this means that calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored. Surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat. The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less.

New York Times

Science Weekly podcast: the synthetic biology revolution

With this month’s news of a breakthrough in synthetic biology –extending the genetic code – we repeat a special edition of Science Weekly from July 2013, our report from the sixth international meeting on the subject at Imperial College London. Alok Jha met leading researchers to discuss the extraordinary promise and potential problems of this new field of biology.

Alok spoke to Prof Paul Freemont and Professor Richard Kitney, co-directors of the EPSRC Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation at Imperial, as they explained why synthetic biology has become so important for industry in such a short time.


The Guardian

Breastfeeding, Birth Control Pills May Reduce Ovarian Cancer Risk Among Women, University of Pennsylvania Study

“Heredity Is Not Destiny”: Penn Study Reveals Breastfeeding, Birth Control Pills May Reduce Ovarian Cancer Risk Among Women With BRCA Gene Mutations 

PHILADELPHIA — Breastfeeding, tubal ligation – also known as having one’s “tubes tied” – and oral contraceptives may lower the risk of ovarian cancer for some women with BRCA gene mutations, according to a comprehensive analysis from a team at the University of Pennsylvania’s Basser Research Center for BRCA and the Abramson Cancer Center. The findings, a meta-analysis of 44 existing peer-reviewed studies, are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 


The researchers, from Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, found that breastfeeding and tubal ligation are associated with reduced rates of ovarian cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers, and the use of oral contraceptives is associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer in patients with BRCA1 or BRCA 2 mutations. The analysis also helped better define factors that may increase risk among this population: Smoking, for instance, may raise the risk of breast cancer for patients with a BRCA2 mutation. Though the team cautions that more data are required before definitive conclusions about these variables can be made, the findings help to shed light on non-surgical risk reduction options for women who may not be ready to undergo prophylactic removal of their ovaries to cut their cancer risk. 



Measles Vaccine Wipes Out Cancer in Groundbreaking Test

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have completed a groundbreaking new test: They knocked widespread blood cancer into remission with a single massive blast of measles vaccine.

Stacy Erholtz, who was suffering from an advanced stage of blood cancer, recovered thanks to an intravenous injection of the measles virus, which was sufficient to overwhelm the cancer’s natural defenses, the StarTribune reports.