Typewriter Series #769 by Tyler Knott Gregson
Palestinian lady collects gas bombs fired by Israeli army. She grows flowers in these bombs.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered a genetic risk factor for premature birth. The risk factor is related to a gene that codes for a protein that the scientists have found helps the body’s immune cells recognize and fight Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria.
These bacteria are found in the vagina or lower gastrointestinal tract of approximately 15 to 20 percent of healthy women, but may cause life-threatening infections, such as sepsis or meningitis in newborns, especially those born prematurely.
The study is published online in the May 5, 2014 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.
“Pregnant women are universally screened for these bacteria during pregnancy and administered antibiotics intravenously during labor if they test positive to protect the infant from infection,” said Victor Nizet, MD, professor of pediatrics and pharmacy and co-author. “Our research may explain why some women and their infants are at higher risk of acquiring severe GBS infections than others.”
In the study, scientists identified two proteins on fetal membranes of the placenta that are involved in immune function. One of the proteins (known as Siglec-5) binds to the GBS pathogen and suppresses immune response to the microbe, while the other protein (known as Siglec-14) binds to the pathogen, and activates killing of the bacteria. Siglecs are cell surface receptors found typically on immune cells. They recognize (bind) sialic acids - sugar molecules that densely coat our cells.
“We have one protein that tells the body to attack the pathogen and another that tells the body not to attack it,” said Raza Ali, PhD, a project scientist in the Nizet laboratory and the study’s lead author.
Scientists believe that the pair of proteins together helps balance the body’s immune response to pathogens, by directing some antimicrobial response without provoking excessive inflammation.
“Identifying the dual role of these receptors and how they are regulated may provide insight for future treatments against GBS,” Ali said.
Interestingly, the gene for Siglec-14 is missing in some individuals, and the researchers have found that fetuses that lack the Siglec-14 protein are at higher risk of premature birth, likely due to an imbalanced immune response to the bacterial infection.
“We found this association in GBS-positive but not GBS-negative pregnancies, highlighting the importance of GBS-siglec crosstalk on placental membranes,” said Ajit Varki, MD, Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine and study co-author.
For reasons not completely understood, GBS infections are not found in any other animals, including chimpanzees, which share 99 percent of human protein sequences. “The expression of the two siglec proteins on the fetal membranes is also unique to humans,” Varki said. “Our study offers intriguing insights into why certain bacterial pathogens may produce uniquely human diseases.”
The scientists believe that identifying the mechanisms of siglec protein action may help in designing therapeutic targets against bacterial infections that are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and could have important implications for other disorders, such as blood clotting, chronic diseases and HIV infections.
Pictured: Group B Streptococcus bacteria (green) are shown binding to siglec proteins (red) that densely cover the surface of human immune cells (human cell nuclei in blue).
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When startled by predators, tiny fruit flies respond like fighter jets – employing screaming-fast banked turns to evade attacks.
Researchers at the University of Washington used an array of high-speed video cameras operating at 7,500 frames a second to capture the wing and body motion of flies after they encountered a looming image of an approaching predator.
“Although they have been described as swimming through the air, tiny flies actually roll their bodies just like aircraft in a banked turn to maneuver away from impending threats,” said Michael Dickinson, UW professor of biology and co-author of a paper on the findings in the April 11 issue of Science. “We discovered that fruit flies alter course in less than one one-hundredth of a second, 50 times faster than we blink our eyes, and which is faster than we ever imagined.”
In the midst of a banked turn, the flies can roll on their sides 90 degrees or more, almost flying upside down at times, said Florian Muijres, a UW postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper.
“These flies normally flap their wings 200 times a second and, in almost a single wing beat, the animal can reorient its body to generate a force away from the threatening stimulus and then continues to accelerate,” he said.
The fruit flies, a species called Drosophila hydei that are about the size of a sesame seed, rely on a fast visual system to detect approaching predators.
“The brain of the fly performs a very sophisticated calculation, in a very short amount of time, to determine where the danger lies and exactly how to bank for the best escape, doing something different if the threat is to the side, straight ahead or behind,” Dickinson said.
“How can such a small brain generate so many remarkable behaviors? A fly with a brain the size of a salt grain has the behavioral repertoire nearly as complex as a much larger animal such as a mouse. That’s a super interesting problem from an engineering perspective,” Dickinson said.
The researchers synchronized three high-speed cameras each able to capture 7,500 frames per second, or 40 frames per wing beat. The cameras were focused on a small region in the middle of a cylindrical flight arena where 40 to 50 fruit flies flitted about. When a fly passed through the intersection of two laser beams at the exact center of the arena, it triggered an expanding shadow that caused the fly to take evasive action to avoid a collision or being eaten.
With the camera shutters opening and closing every one thirty-thousandth of a second, the researchers needed to flood the space with very bright light, Muijres said. Because flies rely on their vision and would be blinded by regular light, the arena was ringed with very bright infrared lights to overcome the problem. Neither humans nor fruit flies register infrared light.
How the fly’s brain and muscles control these remarkably fast and accurate evasive maneuvers is the next thing researchers would like to investigate, Dickinson said.