Among the one trillion or so species that share space on our planet, complex relationships have emerged over time. Such relationships, in which two or more species closely interact, are collectively termed symbiosis. Although it’s commonly assumed that symbiotic relationships are mutually beneficial, this example constitutes only one type of symbiosis (known as mutualism). The traditional predator-prey relationship, clearly a one-sided arrangement, is also an example of symbiosis.
The sheer diversity of microbial species has led to the development of many well-characterized relationships with plants and animals. Perhaps the best-known example of mutualism in this context is the process of nitrogen fixation. In this process, various types of bacteria that live in water, soil or root nodules convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms that are readily used by plants. On the other hand, some types of bacteria-plant relationships are parasitic: the bacteria rely on the plant for survival but end up damaging their host. Parasitic relationships can have devastating ecological and economic consequences when they affect food crops.
Food contamination is a serious global health issue. According to the WHO, an estimated 600 million, almost 1 in 10 people globally, suffer from illness after eating contaminated food—and 420,000 die. Developing new technologies for more effective testing of food contaminants can help reduce that number and improve public health.
A recent application of bioluminescent technology could change the way we test for mycotoxins in the future. Dr. Jae-Hyuk Yu, Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his then graduate student, Dr. Tawfiq Alsulami, collaborated with Promega to develop a bioluminescent biosensor that enables simple and rapid detection of mycotoxins in food samples.
Did dinosaurs get cancer? That isn’t an easy question to answer. Finding and diagnosing cancer in dinosaur fossils has proven difficult. Any soft tissue, the typical location of tumors, has degraded over the millennia. Fossilized bones millions of years old are subject to wear and tear, making it hard to distinguish bone damage from possible pathology. By using the knowledge and expertise gained from diagnosing cancer in humans, a team reported in The Lancet Oncology that they found the first known case of osteosarcoma in a lower leg bone from a horned dinosaur found in southern Alberta, Canada.
This case of bone cancer discovered in a specimen of Centrosaurus apertus found in the Canadian Dinosaur Park Formation was confirmed by examining the bone surface along with radiographic and histological analysis. The 77–75.5-million-year-old case was compared to both a normal C. apertus fibula from the Oldman formation also in southern Alberta, Canada, as well as a human fibula with an osteosarcoma.
A new article in Nature Scientific Reports answers open questions about TOPBP1, a protein involved in repairing DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). The study used cell-free protein expression and a unique DSB system to identify domains that were important for activation of a protein kinase.
The term ICOS —inducible T cell co-stimulators— has been prominent in my work as a science writer at Promega, recently. Here is a brief look at ICOS, how it works, and how it can be used in therapeutics research and development.
T cells do amazing things, like driving or blocking production of B cells and their related antibodies and antibody maturation, and they are the primary drivers of innate immunity. T cells have a variety of surface molecules, the primary and omnipresent T cell receptor (TCR), as well as CD3.
In the past 15 years or so, researchers have identified other, inducible receptors on T cells. These receptors appear when T cells are stimulated, enabling interactions with other cell types. The following information is summarized from a Frontiers in Immunology review by Wikenheiser et al.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts are underway in several countries. Recently, the Serum Institute of India celebrated the nationwide rollout of its Covishield vaccine, kicking off the country’s largest ever vaccination program. Meanwhile, many other vaccines against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are in either preclinical studies or clinical trials. At present, 19 vaccine candidates are in Phase 3 clinical trials, while 8 vaccines have been granted emergency use authorization (EUA) in at least one country.
The global war against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 rages on, spearheaded by efforts to develop effective and safe vaccines. At the time of writing, over 100 COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials were listed in the clinicaltrials.gov database. Recent attention has focused on mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. If licensed, they would become the first mRNA vaccines for human use.
Multiple battles are being fought in the war against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Currently, there are nearly 3,000 clinical trials listed in the World Health Organization (WHO) database, either underway or in the recruiting stage, for vaccines and antiviral drugs. Two recent announcements of data from phase 3 vaccine trials, by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have offered some hope for global efforts to fight the pandemic. At the time of writing, Pfizer and BioNTech had submitted an application for emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Moderna had planned to do so shortly.
Both vaccines are mRNA-based, as opposed to most conventional vaccines against established diseases that are protein-based. Typically, the key ingredient in viral vaccines is either part of an inactivated virus, or one or more expressed proteins (antigens) that are a part of the virus. These protein antigens are responsible for eliciting an immune response that will fight future infection by the actual virus. Another approach is to use a replication-deficient viral vector (such as adenovirus) to deliver the gene encoding the antigen into human cells. This method was used for the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca; phase 3 interim data were announced on the heels of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna announcements. All three vaccines target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, because it is the key that unlocks a path of entry into the host cell.
Cervical cancer is a major health problem for women, and it is currently the fourth most common cancer in women globally (1). A worldwide analysis of cancer estimates from the Global Cancer Observatory 2018 database showed that cervical cancer disproportionally affects lower-resource countries, on the basis of their Human Development Index; it was the leading cause of cancer-related death in women in many African countries (1).
Infection by human papillomavirus (HPV), a double-stranded DNA virus, is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Many types of HPV have been identified, and at least 14 high-risk HPV types are cancer-causing, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) fact sheet. Of these types, HPV-16 and HPV-18 are responsible for 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions. HPV infection is sexually transmitted, most commonly by skin-to-skin genital contact. Although the majority of HPV infections are benign and resolve within a year or two, persistent infection in women, together with other risk factors, can lead to the development of cervical cancer [reviewed in (2)].
What animal can be found around the globe that outnumbers humans three to one? Gallus gallus domesticus, the humble chicken. The human appetite for eggs and lean meat drive demand for this feathered bird, resulting in a poultry population of over 20 billion.
Controversy over the origin of the domestic chicken (when, where and which species) have lead some researchers to look for that information in the genomes of contemporary chicken breeds and wild jungle fowl, the candidates from which chickens were derived. By sequencing over 600 genomes from Asian domestic poultry as well as 160 genomes from all four wild jungle fowl species and the five red jungle fowl subspecies, Wang et al. wanted to understand and identify the relationships and relatedness among these species and derive where domesticated chickens first arose.