Biology

SFB 1309: Collaborating to Understand the Chemical Biology of Epigenetic Modifications

The discovery of DNA has been one of the most important findings of the last century, yet there is still much more to uncover about the ‘additional chemical layer’ brought about by the chemical modification of amino acids and nucleotide bases. A large collaboration of researchers at institutions across Germany, known as SFB 1309, is led by Professor Thomas Carell at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. A key focus of SFB 1309 is to elucidate the details of the second layer of information beyond the sequence layer of biochemical molecules called Watson-Crick bases within our DNA.

Dr Muy-Teck Teh – A Novel Diagnostic Tool for Cancer Detection

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) constitutes around 90% of all head and neck cancers. Millions of individuals are diagnosed across the globe every year, very often too late and with poor prognosis. Among other factors, alcohol consumption and smoking increase the risk to develop HNSCC. Dr Muy-Teck Teh, from Queen Mary University of London, is driving forward our understanding of the factors leading to cancer, leading the development of novel less invasive detection methods, and progressing better therapeutic options.

The Association for Women in Science

Founded almost 50 years ago, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is a global network that inspires bold leadership, research, and solutions that advance women in STEM, spark innovation, promote organisational success, and drive systemic change. In this exclusive interview, we speak with AWIS president and world-renowned biomedical innovator Dr Susan Windham-Bannister, who describes the barriers that women face in the STEM workplace, and the many ways in which AWIS supports women in science and works towards eliminating inequality through systemic change.

Dr David Mota-Sanchez – Knowledge is Power in the Fight Against Pesticide Resistance

First recognised over a century ago, the resistance of insects and other arthropods to pesticides is a growing problem, with implications for crop production and human health on a global scale. Dr David Mota-Sanchez and his team at Michigan State University are creating a worldwide, online database of resistance cases to catalogue the scale of the problem. Their work will aid decision makers in developing sustainable strategies to manage arthropod pests.

Dr James E. Goldman | Dr Osama Al-Dalahmah – Confronting the Challenge of Huntington Disease

Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited and progressive neurological disorder which is currently fatal. Dr James E. Goldman and Dr Osama Al-Dalahmah, both at Columbia University, USA, are utilising new techniques in molecular biology to better understand the brain pathology associated with HD. Their vision is to develop therapeutics that can slow the progression of the disease, and ultimately, treat and even prevent it.

Dr. Hamdy Awad – Eliminating Paralysis After Aortic Aneurysm Surgery

Ruptured and dissected aneurysms are medical emergencies that can have fatal consequences. There are two main surgical procedures to repair a ruptured aneurysm: open surgery and endovascular aneurysm repair. Unfortunately, both methods present a risk of developing spinal cord injury and paralysis. In addition, patients who develop paralysis after surgery have a significantly lower survival rate compared to non-paralysed patients. Dr. Hamdy Awad at The Ohio State University has spent most of his academic career focusing on the development of preclinical small and large animal models to understand the mechanisms of ischaemic spinal cord injury and discovery of novel therapeutics to prevent paralysis after aortic aneurysm surgery.

Dr Alan N. Schechter – The Role of Nitrate and Nitric Oxide in Muscle Blood Flow in Exercise

Nitric oxide is an ‘A-list’ celebrity amongst chemical compounds. Proclaimed ‘molecule of the year’ in 1992 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, its physiological importance, discovered in 1985, was recognised in 1998 by the award of a Nobel prize to some of the researchers who had discovered its vital role in regulating blood vessels and blood pressure. Here we look at the pre-eminent work of Dr Alan N. Schechter at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, that is continuing to keep nitric oxide at the front and centre of groundbreaking biological research.

Dr Josh Rubin – Understanding Sex Differences in Cancer Promises Better Treatment and Survival

Differences in the prevalence and survival of male and female cancer patients have long been acknowledged but not well understood. Dr Josh Rubin (Departments of Paediatrics and Neuroscience at Washington University) and his collaborators have been the first to identify sex-specific differences in malignant transformation. This evidence will help to optimise sex-specific approaches to cancer treatment and contribute to the improvement of the outcomes and survival of cancer patients.

Dr Zachary Senwo – Microbes: Agriculture’s Microscopic Helpers

Climate change and environmental degradation are increasingly threatening our ability to feed a burgeoning human population. Switching to agricultural practices that support beneficial soil microbes, and thus healthy soils, may help farmers achieve the yields required for continued food security. Dr Zachary Senwo from the College of Agriculture, Life and Natural Sciences at Alabama A&M University has spent over two decades exploring how agricultural management practices impact soil health. In an extensive new project, his team is investigating soil nitrogen cycling and the role of microbes in soil health.

Dr Mary Whitman – From Nerve Development to Vision: A Bumpy Ride

The eye movement disorders strabismus (characterised by eye misalignment) and nystagmus (characterised by involuntary oscillation of the eyes) together affect up to 5% of the population and have a detrimental impact on vision. These disorders also impact on facial appearance and social interaction, which may, in turn, lead to psychological difficulties. Dr Mary Whitman, at the Boston Children’s Hospital, USA, is working to understand the genetic causes and neurological mechanisms underlying eye movement disorders to improve treatment and, ultimately, prevent their onset.

Dr Jess Zimmerman – Understanding and Conserving Puerto Rico’s Tropical Ecosystems

Tropical forests and marine ecosystems in the Caribbean are biodiversity hotspots and home to many species found nowhere else on Earth. Increasing environmental stress from a changing climate, such as hurricanes, temperature rises and droughts, threaten to irreparably alter these precious systems. Coupled with ongoing pressures from human activities, some of these areas are especially at risk. Dr Jess Zimmerman and his colleagues at the University of Puerto Rico and throughout the US aim to provide the basis for predicting the future of these ecosystems, through their research at the Luquillo Experimental Forest in north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Dr Richard Goodman – Genetically Engineering Our Future Food Security

Genetically modified crops can offer a range of environmental and health benefits, such as reduced usage of chemical pesticides, improved farm efficiency and crop yields, and an enhanced nutritional profile. Despite this, fears surrounding genetic modification have led to a lack of acceptance of these foods by many consumers, regulators, and governmental organisations. Dr Richard Goodman from the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, is helping to shift the narrative around genetically modified crops, through his extensive work evaluating their safety.

Professor David Magnuson – Spinal Cord Injury and Recovery in Rats: Informing Human Rehabilitation

Professor David Magnuson, at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, describes himself as ‘a CPG guy’ and occasionally, more informally as ‘a rat guy!’ His work on the function of the central pattern generator (CPG) in the rat spinal cord following spinal cord injury, has produced both surprising and thought-provoking results. This research may ultimately challenge the established clinical beliefs and practices around the ways to best rehabilitate human patients with severe spinal cord injury.

Professor Kim Dale | Dr Hedda Meijer – The Role of Notch Signalling within the Molecular Clock in the Early Development of the Skeleton

Cells possess the ability to interact with one another through complex signalling pathways. Different signals regulate how cells differentiate, undergoing modifications that ultimately allow them to adopt different cell fates and perform specific functions. The laboratory of Professor Kim Dale from the University of Dundee, Scotland, has made seminal contributions to our understanding of how the Notch signalling pathway controls the formation of tissues and organs in the earliest stages of development. Their important research has unveiled new insights into the molecular basis of Notch signalling in the context of normal development which will further our understanding of the molecular basis of developmental disorders and a multitude of diseases correlated with aberrant Notch signalling.

Dr Scott Gerber – A Novel Combination Therapy for Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is an aggressive type of cancer. It is relatively common and is one of the leading causes of cancer mortality. Unfortunately, it is often detected only in the late stage of the disease and fails to respond to pre-surgical approaches, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, that are needed to shrink the tumour mass before surgical removal. Dr Scott Gerber at the University of Rochester Medical Center, USA, is working with colleagues to develop a novel combined therapy to overcome this issue and increase the survival of PDA patients.

Dr Elizabeth A. Cooper – New Sorghum Reference Genome Highlights Genetics Underlying Sweet Varieties

Sorghum is a staple crop in many regions of the world. As such, this versatile plant has been selectively bred into a number of cultivars, including sweet varieties predominantly used for forage, silage, sweet syrup and bioenergy production. Dr Elizabeth A. Cooper and her team at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte generated a full reference genome for the sweet sorghum cultivar ‘Rio’ with the aim of understanding the genetics underlying the differences between grain and sweet cultivars. Their research could provide a vital tool for biologists and breeders to improve sweet sorghum lineages.

Professor Gordon Carmichael – Unravelling the Biology of snoRNAs Implicated in Prader-Willi Syndrome

Prader-Willi Syndrome is a rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorder that gives rise to a vast array of symptoms which affect the individual from birth. There is currently no cure for Prader-Willi Syndrome. Professor Gordon Carmichael and his team from the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences at the University of Connecticut Health Centre, USA, believe it is crucial to understand the affected chromosome 15 region to unravel the pathogenesis of Prader-Willi Syndrome and his team are making significant strides towards achieving this goal.

Professor Michael O’Donnell – A Twin DNA Replication Factory

For life on Earth to grow, its genetic material must be copied and reproduced in a process known as DNA replication. Professor Michael O’Donnell, head of the Rockefeller University’s DNA replication laboratory, has devoted his over 30-year career to the study of the protein complex that is responsible for just that – the replisome. Recently, Professor O’Donnell and his team uncovered exciting insights into the function of this remarkable piece of molecular machinery.

Dr Paul Wolf – Fern Genomics: Unfurling the Mystery of Plant Chromosome Numbers

Plants are more tolerant of changes in their chromosome number than animals. Even dramatic changes, such as doubling of the entire genome, sometimes leads to beneficial outcomes. Though a history of genome doubling is common in most plants, the chromosome number in many plants does not reflect this. Complex genome downsizing processes help these plants shed extra genetic information, but are poorly understood. Through comparisons with ferns – a group with high chromosome numbers – Dr Paul Wolf from the University of Alabama in Huntsville aims to shed light on genome downsizing.

Dr James Simon – A Breakthrough in the War Against Basil Downy Mildew

Sweet basil is among the most popular and economically important culinary herbs, but by 2010, US production began to feel the impact of a newly emerging destructive disease: basil downy mildew. At that time, no sweet basil varieties were resistant to basil downy mildew and growers began relying heavily on fungicide application to avoid devastating crop losses. Dr James Simon at Rutgers University had been researching basil for 25 years and was eager to tackle this problem. Eight years later, Dr Simon’s team is proud to have successfully developed 12 new downy mildew resistant varieties of sweet basil and two varieties resistant to fusarium wilt disease.

Dr Malcolm Doupe | Dr Frode F. Jacobsen – Ending the Revolving Door of Emergency Department Visits for Older Adults

‘Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die’ (Anonymous). Old age faces us all (if we are fortunate), but while we are generally living longer, we are not necessarily living that extended time being healthy. Older adults are now the fastest-growing segment of the population worldwide, and internationally, healthcare systems are scrambling to cope with the new demands this will bring. Here, we review the work of long-time research collaborators Dr Malcolm Doupe (University of Manitoba) and Dr Frode F. Jacobsen (Western Norway University of Applied Sciences) to address these fundamental issues.

Professor Tomáš Hanke – Use of Experimental Medicine for Rational Development of an Effective HIV Vaccine

The UNAIDS estimates that 38 million people currently live with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Combination antiretroviral treatment has had great success in saving lives but is also associated with numerous medical and public health challenges. Vaccination remains the best and most cost-effective option for controlling HIV infection across the world. Professor Tomáš Hanke jointly from the University of Oxford, UK, and Kumamoto University, Japan, designs vaccines and coordinates clinical programmes testing the most advanced vaccine candidates developed by his team in the UK, Europe, USA and Africa.

Dr Brigitte Pertschy – Dedicated ‘Bodyguards’ for the Safe Delivery of Essential Proteins

Ribosomes are undoubtedly one of the most essential cellular components in life. These macromolecules are responsible for the synthesis of proteins in all living cells. Dr Brigitte Pertschy, Dr Ingrid Rössler and Jutta Hafner at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences at the University of Graz, Austria, have discovered that the safe delivery of essential ribosomal proteins that make up the ribosomes is dependant on ‘private bodyguards’ or ‘chaperones’.

Maternal Diabetes and Adult Morbidity in the Offspring: The Team Study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

While most people are aware of the health complications associated with diabetes, the impact of maternal diabetes on their children later in life is less understood. A research group at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (Ohio, USA) led by Dr Jane Khoury is working to change this. Their ongoing study, ‘Level and timing of diabetic hyperglycaemia in utero: The transgenerational effect on adult morbidity’ (TEAM study) is driving forward our understanding of the effects of maternal diabetes during pregnancy, to improve healthcare provision for both mothers and their children.

The National Association of Biology Teachers

Founded in 1938, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) is an organisation of educators that promotes biology teaching, supports learning methods based on scientific principles and advocates for biology within society. In this exclusive interview, we have had the pleasure of speaking with NABT’s Executive Director, Jaclyn (Jacki) Reeves-Pepin, and President, Sharon Gusky, who discuss the varied ways in which the Association empowers educators to provide the best possible biology and life science education for all students, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Professor Carl Borrebaeck | Dr Ulrika Axelsson – Finding the Molecular Fingerprint of Psychological Resilience in Breast Cancer Patients

Professor Carl Borrebaeck and Dr Ulrika Axelsson are Director and Deputy Director, respectively, of the CREATE Health Translational Cancer Centre, Lund University, Sweden; a venue with an outstanding record of world-class cancer research. They are leading research into the fascinating topic of whether cancer patients’ psychological resilience after their cancer diagnosis may be linked to biomolecular processes, suggesting a mind-body link between the ability to cope psychologically and its impact on cancer prognosis.

Dr Christopher Hohl – Working Towards Safer Tattoos

The potential health risks of tattooing are known. However, many of the regulations which govern the practice of tattooing are somewhat relaxed compared to other industries. Dr Christopher Hohl and the Chromatography Section at the State Laboratory Basel-City, Switzerland, work to analyse the composition of tattoo inks and investigate the effects of tattooing to provide the authorities with the evidence needed to improve tattoo safety standards.

Dr Kenneth J. Pienta – Are Poly-aneuploid Cancer Cells the Keystone Cure for Cancer?

‘Our audacious idea is to cure cancer.’ Dr Kenneth Pienta at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, USA, speaks with genuine passion about his ground-breaking research. With his team, he has recently discovered that in every type of cancer, a special type of rare cancer cell – a polyaneuploid cancer cell (PACC) – exists and hides within the greater cancer cell population. The team hypothesises that ‘PACCs are a master mediator of therapy tolerance’ and thus, the critical treatment target. Now, in a call to arms, Dr Pienta is asking researchers and scientists across diverse disciplines to unite in developing a cure for cancer.

Dr Ken Overturf – Securing a Sustainable Future for Aquaculture

To help feed a global population of the magnitude expected by 2050, fish farming will need to increase dramatically. Two main factors limiting the expansion and future sustainability of the aquaculture industry are finding feed replacements that have equivalent or improved nutritional benefits, and preventing disease. Over the last 20 years, Dr Ken Overturf and his team at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in collaboration with the Aquaculture Research Institute at the University of Idaho have been working to establish a genetic enhancement program for rainbow trout, with the aim of helping to boost global fish production in a sustainable manner.