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.
A research team from Vienna have generated the first de novo assembly of the genome of a single Bactrian camel, appropriately named Mozart. Their analysis reveals similar levels of genetic diversity to other domesticated ungulate species, while a further comparison with their single-humped cousins, the dromedaries, reveals high levels of overlap between the two genomes.
Burger and Palmieri. Journal of Heredity
Sensing foreign DNA has a STING in its tail
When foreign DNA enters your cells, it’s probably a sign that you’ve been infected with something. In mammals, this elicits an immune response to mobilise defensive proteins to counteract the threat. Until now, it was thought that a molecule called cGAMP was integral to this process, as it binds to a receptor called STING that is responsible for producing defensive proteins. However, a team of researchers from California and Japan have now discovered that variants of the STING receptor that are normally unresponsive to cGAMP can still be activated via the same basic mechanism. By identifying a novel cGAMP-like messenger molecule produced during the normal immune response, the team hopes that potent new immunotherapeutic or chemotherapeutic agents could be developed.
Diner et al. Cell Reports
On the deep-sea floor of the Pacific ocean there lives a remarkable creature called the Pompeii worm, which seems to enjoy living under extreme temperatures and pressures. It makes its home within the chimney walls of ’black smoker’ hydrothermal vents, where temperatures can reach a tissue-meltingly high 60°C. So is this the upper limit of what life can withstand? A team of researchers voyaged to the bottom of the ocean to find out, taking worms back to the lab in a ‘pressurized recovery device’ to mimic deep-sea conditions. Subjecting them to a barrage of high-temperature tests, they found that long-term exposure to temperatures in excess of 50°C still proved to be lethal – even to one of Nature’s hardiest creatures.
Ravaux et al. PLoS ONE
Tracking down the plant disease that changed history
In the 1840’s, failure of the potato crops on which Ireland depended led to the Great Famine, killing in excess of 1 million people and displacing just as many. Although this failure was caused by an infection of late blight fungus from the New World, the exact strain of the plant pathogen that was responsible for this devastation was not known. Now, by comparing historic specimens with modern strains, researchers have pinpointed the culprit: a unique genotype called HERB-1 that is distinct from all modern strains, but similar to one that dominated up until the 1970’s when modern chemicals could more effectively fight back.
Yoshida et al. eLife
Nobel prize winner John Gurdon reflects on 50 years since his ground-breaking paper on nuclear transplantation in frogs was published in the journal Development. He describes some of the technical difficulties that were encountered when undertaking these pioneering experiments, and some of the striking results that were found when they finally went to plan.
Blink and you’ll miss it: acquired reactions are lost in damaged brains
When you automatically shut your eyes when there is a visual threat, you are eliciting a naturally conditioned response acquired during early childhood. By testing how subjects reacted to a tennis ball hitting them in the face, researchers have now been able to deduce that the human cerebellar cortex is involved in the long-term storage of these learned responses. Comparing healthy subjects to patients with cerebellar degeneration, allowed them to pinpoint exactly where these responses were stored in these critical brain regions.
Thieme et al. Brain
By systematically removing one-by-one almost every single gene in the functional genome of fission yeast, researchers have come up with the first full map of the cell cycle in a living organism. The team – that included Nobel prize winning cell biologist Paul Nurse – screened each one of nearly 5000 different strains of the fungus and highlighted which of the missing genes disrupted the normal processes of cellular reproduction.
Hayles et al. Open Biology
Written by Simon Harold, Senior Executive Editor for the BMC Series.