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.
The big freeze: moss species revived after a millennia on ice
A species of moss trapped in permafrost for 1500 years has become the oldest plant specimen to have been successfully revived after freezing. The samples of Chorisodontium aciphyllum were thawed from frozen soil cores taken from a moss bank buried in ice at a site called Signy Island in Antarctica. After being exposed to incubator conditions similar to those found at the study site, spontaneous regrowth was observed on the surface of the samples. Previous attempts to re-grow plant material after freezing have only been successful after a maximum of twenty years, meaning that the current findings pushes back the farthest date of viability at least 75-fold. Although dormant plant seeds and microbial specimens have been revived after far greater lengths of time, this new find adds another layer of understanding to the resilience of plant species across millennial timescales.
Roads et al. Current Biology
Combining microscopy techniques to image ion-channels
Ion-channels are large molecules spanning the cell membrane that regulate the flow of electrically-charged molecules within the cell. Although it is known that the structure of these channels is related to their function, the precise relationship between the two still requires better characterisation. Now, by combining two biophysical microscopy techniques, researchers hope to be able to probe deeper into this relationship. Placing a membrane bilayer over a silicon nanopore for support, researchers have been able to combine Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) for probing the mechanical properties of the structure, with high performance total internal reflection microscopy (TIRFM) to provide high-resolution images of how the channel functions during transport of fluorescent molecules through it.
Ramachandran et al. Scientific Reports
How the brain learns to sniff out reward
Brains are pretty adaptable things. This ‘plasticity’ is what allows us to learn and retain new skills throughout our lifetime, and discriminate between different sensory inputs. Although much research has focused on higher brain functions in relation to learning, less attention has been paid to the earlier stages of this process. Now, an experiment using mice exposed to different odours has revealed a remarkable level of plasticity when a learning-based reward system is in place. Mice trained to receive a reward after learning to discriminate between smells were able to retain this ability over the long term, whereas mice only passively exposed to the different smells fared no better than a control group who had never experienced the odours, when all the groups were re-exposed several weeks after the original experiments. This therefore adds another layer of complexity to our understanding of the brain’s functional plasticity at the sensory periphery.
Abraham et al. eLife
The fish-eye lens with built-in mirrors
A deep-sea fish has been described that is able to look both upwards and downwards at the same time. The species of barrel-eye fish known as Rhynchohyalus natalensis achieves this remarkable feat by having a single eye that is divided in half by a strip of membrane called a septum. By having the eyes positioned on the farthest extent of the head, it is able to gather incident light not only from above where it is more plentiful, but also from the dark depths beneath, in which only bioluminescence emanates. Although the retina is found in similar positions between the two halves, light is gathered from below and sharply focused onto it by means of crystalline structures in the eye wall. These act as reflecting mirrors in much the same way as a telescope, producing a far more sharply focused image than would a conventional lens. This species is only the second vertebrate ever recorded to use optical mirrors in this way.
Partridge et al. Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Is health-related telomere shortening a tall tale?
A large-scale analysis of the chromosomes of more than 4500 participants has found no evidence that risky lifestyle behaviours like drinking alcohol and smoking affect their genetic structure in the way we had previously believed. Chromosomes are capped by protective DNA structures called telomeres, which get shorter as organisms age. Previous studies investigating these structures have identified associations between telomere length and factors like obesity and cancer, but strong evidence for such a link has not been found. Now, a study conducted in Denmark that measured the length of telomeres from participants over three 10-year time periods has found no evidence to back-up such a link. On the contrary, the researchers find that in some cases, participants’ telomeres actually increased in length, suggesting that their role in ageing may be much more dynamic than was previously believed.
Weischer et al. PLoS Genetics
Written by Simon Harold, Senior Executive Editor for the BMC Series.