Open Reading Frame brings together a selection of recent publication highlights from elsewhere in the open access ecosystem. This week we take a look at the past few weeks in biology.
Bats use megaphones to get their message across
The Spix’s disc-winged bat is a rather unusual species that, contrary to popular perception, lives an upright lifestyle. The bats cling to the curled-up leaves of tropical plants like Heliconia, which they use as a sheltering roost. They’re also a noisy bunch, relying heavily on acoustic calls to locate other group members. To make sure that these messages get through, they’ve put these curled-up leaves to good use by using them as megaphones and earpieces. Interestingly, sounds emitted from the leaves in a conventional horn-like way only amplified sounds a small amount, whereas the true benefits were felt by listeners – incoming sounds were significantly amplified by being compressed into the narrow end of the leaf.
Chaverri & Gillam, Proceedings of the Royal Society B
The upside to DNA -damaging viruses
A new mechanism has been identified by which tumour-inducing viruses make cells hypersensitive to DNA damage. Such damage to the genomic integrity of cells can lead to cancer, but it’s not all doom and gloom for these manipulative microbes. Infection by polyomavirus can increase the sensitivity of cells to UV damage more than 100-fold, as viral antigens block the usual DNA repair pathways – specifically replication protein A, which is crucial for normal replication and repair. It is hoped that by turning the tables on this cancer-causing process by manipulating it towards cancer targets, new therapies can be devised to block the spread of tumour growth.
Banerjee et al. PLoS Pathogens
An emerging pig virus crosses continents, and the species boundary
Genotyping three strains of porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) from farms in the US reveals a strong relationship with strains isolated from Anhui province in China, from which they likely emerged. The virus, which was recognized earlier this year, has spread rapidly across 17 states in the US, causing widespread mortality in piglets. Intriguingly, the virus shares strong similarities to a coronavirus that is widespread in bats, suggesting this could be the source of a cross-species transmission.
Huang et al. mBio
A pathway to new neurons
Some neurological disorders like tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) are associated with hyperactivity of a protein complex called mTORC1. This complex is the target of a signalling pathway regulating the renewal of neural stem cells, and hence new neurons in the brain. By using a technique known as electroporation to manipulate the expression of specific components of this pathway, a new study has shown that dampening down activity of mTORC1 prevents the differentiation of neural stem cells, resulting in aborted production of new neurons. This insight could help identify new targets to prevent abnormal brain development in infants.
Hartman et al. Cell Reports
Extracting secrets of the kiwi genome
The kiwi is often the biology teachers’ fruit-of-choice for low-tech DNA extraction experiments. You can even try it yourself, with little more than some salt, washing-up liquid and cold alcohol. But you might struggle to delve deeper into its genetic secrets in your home kitchen. Now, the first draft of this furry fruit’s genome has shown that it has undergone two recent whole-genome duplication events, following divergence from tomatoes and potatoes. The duplication involved extensive gene expansion followed by extensive gene loss, and helps pinpoint the evolutionary relationships among important fruit traits like growth and ripening.
Huang et al. Nature Communications
Few cells, but a whole bunch of transcripts
A new method of analysing RNA transcripts allows efficient amplification from as low as 50 picograms of mRNA. The methods, termed Designed Premier-based RNA sequencing (DP-seq), could provide a more reliable way to quantify transcripts for fields that typically suffer from problems of low yield, such as forensics genetics and developmental biology.
Bhargava et al. Scientific Reports
Written by Simon Harold, Senior Executive Editor for the BMC Series.