Biology

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.

Dr Chen Zhao | Dr Qianze Dong – The Fine Mechanics of Haematopoiesis

Haematopoiesis is the process through which cellular blood components are produced. It starts during embryonic development to ensure the production of blood cells such as erythrocytes (red cells), leukocytes (white cells), and platelets and continues throughout our lives. All blood cells derive from haematopoietic stem cells located in the bone marrow and, unfortunately, blood cancers may occur during this process. Whether blood cells become inefficient or grow excessively, the outcomes are usually devastating. Dr Chen Zhao (University of Iowa) and Dr Qianze Dong (China Medical University) are exploring the cellular mechanisms of haematopoietic stem cells.

Dr Adelumola Oladeinde – Exploring Alternatives to Antibiotics for Reducing Salmonella in Poultry

Salmonella remains the leading pathogen of food safety concern in the US, with poultry being the main vector. For many years, poultry producers have relied on antibiotics to curtail the prevalence of pathogens in their flocks. However, consumer concerns and the rise of antimicrobial resistance are leading to the withdrawal of antibiotics, leaving farmers in unchartered territory. Dr Adelumola Oladeinde at the US Department of Agriculture is collaborating with researchers from the University of Georgia and Colorado State University to develop novel techniques for reducing Salmonella in chickens. Their work focuses on preventing infection and predicting risk in antibiotic-free production.

Professor Sara Brucker | Professor Olaf Riess | Professor Oliver Kohlbacher – Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome: Interrogation of Genetic Pathology and Novel Surgical Intervention Methods

In otherwise phenotypical normal females, that is, females with normal ovaries and regular hormone production, Type I Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome results in the absence of the uterus (womb) and the upper two-thirds of the vagina. Type II MRKH syndrome presents with the same utero-vaginal malformation but also further difficulties that can include structural issues within the urological and skeletal systems. Professors Sara Brucker, Olaf Riess, and Oliver Kohlbacher from the University of Tuebingen are elucidating the molecular pathology of the disorder and have developed a surgical intervention to overcome the major life-changing aspects of this condition.

Dr Charles DeLisi – Genetically Engineered Plants: A Potential Solution to Climate Change

Climate change is already having devastating effects felt across the globe. Without adequate measures to counteract the human drivers behind climate change, these negative consequences are guaranteed to increase in severity in the coming decades. Esteemed biomedical scientist, Dr Charles DeLisi of Boston University, urges that a multi-disciplinary approach to mitigating climate change is vital. Using predictive modelling, he has demonstrated the potential power of genetically engineering plants to remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby mitigating climate change.

Dr Joel R. Coats – Natural Essential Oils as Novel Pesticides

Insect pests cause devastating economic losses in agriculture, and as vectors of disease they have significant impact on the health of humans, livestock and pets. Plant essential oils have been used for centuries as protection against insect pests, but scientists have only recently begun to explore the extent of their potential for pest control. Dr Joel R. Coats and his team at Iowa State University’s Department of Entomology have been investigating essential oils as greener alternatives to conventional pesticides, and as a vital tool for overcoming pesticide resistance in insect populations.

Dr Lisa Dean – Investigating Functional Properties to Produce Even Better Peanuts

Peanuts are a nutritious and sustainable food staple in many regions across the globe, as well as being enjoyed for their rich flavour. As such, the peanut industry is continually striving to improve peanut crops and the methods used to produce our favourite peanut-based foods. Dr Lisa Dean and her team at USDA-ARS have been investigating the flavours, nutritional compositions and physical properties of peanuts, with the aim of helping peanut growers and food manufacturers enhance the quality of the peanuts produced in the USA.

Dr Elke Glasmacher – Identifying Molecular Mechanisms Controlling Immune Cell Function

The immune response entails the rapid activation of the immune cells to ensure effective defence from pathogens through the inflammatory pathway, as well as maintain immune homeostasis through the anti-inflammatory pathway. Immune cell activation happens as the result of rapid and severe changes in the expression of the immune-response genes. These depend on regulatory mechanisms controlling the processes of transcription, translation, and modification of these genes to produce functional proteins. Dr Elke Glasmacher, Head of Immune and Cell Biology at Roche, researches the important molecular mechanisms underlying how cells are activated or repressed.

Dr Mark Herzberg – Calprotectin – From Natural Antimicrobial to Anti-tumour Therapeutic?

Calgranulins are relatively small proteins, usually around 100 amino acids long. Calprotectin is a complex of two of these small proteins, S100A8 and S100A9, getting its name from its protective, antimicrobial properties. Dr Mark Herzberg at the University of Minnesota, USA, has extensively researched the antimicrobial action of this protein complex, and this knowledge is now leading serendipitously to the development of potential therapeutic agents for certain types of human cancer.

Dr Rakesh S. Chandran – Sustainable Weed Coexistence in Corn Crops

Agricultural weeds have the potential to cause significant crop loss. As such, conventional weed management practices have aimed to keep crop fields free from weeds through the broad application of herbicides. However, these practices have damaging consequences on the surrounding environment. Dr Rakesh Chandran and his team in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department of West Virginia University have developed a more sustainable herbicide application regime that allows weeds to coexist with corn crops at acceptable levels, with the aim of improving environmental health without significantly sacrificing crop yield.

Dr Shikha Nangia – The Blood-Brain Barrier: More than Just a Barrier

Neurodegenerative disorders present a major cause of death and disability worldwide. Treatments are typically expensive, non-efficient, and invasive. Although scientists are committed to finding better treatment strategies, the challenge of penetrating the blood-brain barrier remains. This highly selective envelope protects our brain from harmful substances but also prevents drugs from reaching the brain when needed. Dr Shikha Nangia at Syracuse University, USA, focuses on understanding the molecular structure of this complex interface to ultimately facilitate the transport of drugs across the blood-brain barrier.

Dr Madhumita Chatterjee | Professor Michael Lämmerhofer | Professor Tilman Schäffer – Platelet Lipidomics: A Novel Approach to Assessing Cardiovascular Risk

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the world’s leading cause of preventable death. A multidisciplinary team of researchers, Dr Madhumita Chatterjee (University Hospital Tübingen), Professor Michael Lämmerhofer and Professor Tilman Schäffer (both engaged with the University of Tübingen) are investigating the previously unrecognised molecular mechanisms that direct the function of tiny blood cells known as platelets in the formation of blood clots or thrombi, a condition that contributes to thrombosis and atherosclerosis. Their work is leading to the development of a new diagnostic tool to determine the risk of thrombosis in patients with CVD and also suggest potential therapeutic strategies to prevent such complications.

Dr Jennifer Hernandez Gifford – Uncovering New Signalling Pathways in Ovarian Function

Plant pathogens transmitted by insect vectors can have devastating consequences for farmers across the globe. Huanglongbing disease of citrus trees and zebra chip disease of potatoes are both caused by bacteria transmitted by specific psyllid insect species, and have the potential to destroy entire crops, causing enormous economic losses. Conventional control methods rely on pesticides, but these can have adverse effects on the environment. In addition, resistance to these chemicals is on the rise in many pest species. Dr Bryce Falk and his plant pathology team at the University of California, Davis aim to solve this problem by developing highly targeted psyllid control methods using virus-based gene technologies.

Dr Bryce Falk – Fighting Plant Disease with Virus-based Gene Technology

Plant pathogens transmitted by insect vectors can have devastating consequences for farmers across the globe. Huanglongbing disease of citrus trees and zebra chip disease of potatoes are both caused by bacteria transmitted by specific psyllid insect species, and have the potential to destroy entire crops, causing enormous economic losses. Conventional control methods rely on pesticides, but these can have adverse effects on the environment. In addition, resistance to these chemicals is on the rise in many pest species. Dr Bryce Falk and his plant pathology team at the University of California, Davis aim to solve this problem by developing highly targeted psyllid control methods using virus-based gene technologies.

Dr Hiromi Wada – Can an Alkaline Diet Improve Cancer Outcomes?

There is a strong body of evidence from animal and human studies showing that the acidic external microenvironment (local environment) of cells associated with tumours plays a significant role in the progression and migration of cancers. Indeed, in a rat model, systemic buffering which reduces acidic pH levels also reduces both cancer progression and drug resistance. Dr Hiromi Wada at the Japanese Society of Inflammation and Metabolism in Cancer and his colleagues are investigating the effect of an alkaline diet on the tumour microenvironment, and its potential to enhance the efficacy of anti-cancer treatments.

Dr Andreas Mayer – Genome Transcription Regulation During Cell Differentiation

The mechanisms that control the transcription of DNA to produce RNA and the building blocks of life, proteins, are a fundamental cellular process in all living organisms. Dr Andreas Mayer at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Germany has spent more than a decade unravelling these complex processes. Using newly developed high-resolution genome-wide techniques, his team is discovering the vital role that RNA polymerase II transcription plays in stem cell differentiation, where a cell changes from one cell type to another usually to perform a more specialist function.

Dr Jennifer Kay | Professor Bevin Page Engelward – The MIT Superfund Research Program: Studies on Cleaning Up Genes and the Environment

In the United States, there are thousands of industrial sites contaminated by the irresponsible disposal of chemical waste. The higher than expected frequency of cancer cases near these sites has caused alarm, since many of the chemical contaminants found at these sites have been linked to the development of long-term health problems, including cancer. As leaders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Superfund Research Program, Dr Jennifer Kay (Research Scientist and Research Translation Director) and Professor Bevin Page Engelward (Program Director) are using their expertise to investigate the genetic factors that influence susceptibility to adverse health outcomes following exposure to environmental chemicals.

Professor Steven E. Wilson – Clearing the Haze: Understanding the Process of Scarring Following Corneal Injury

Any injury such as trauma, surgery or infection to the cornea in the eye may result in persistent scarring (clinically referred to as fibrosis) due to the wound healing response. Professor Steven E. Wilson at the Cole Eye Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation has identified that defective epithelial basement membrane (EBM) regeneration plays a central role in the development of scar producing myofibroblast cells. Critically, Professor Wilson suggests that the pathophysiological consequences of defective EBM regeneration are also likely to have wider relevance to the fibrosis that occurs in other organs, such as the lungs, heart, kidneys, and skin.

Professor Kirk Erickson – Health Neuroscience: How and Why Exercise Improves Cognitive

We all know exercise is good for us. In addition to the renowned physical benefits, Professor Kirk Erickson in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh is providing powerful evidence that exercise may improve cognitive faculties throughout the lifespan. Read on to discover the wide range of ways in which exercise can help us to live our lives to the fullest across the years, and how the emerging field of health neuroscience may inform public health policy for our better good.

Dr Jun Hua – Innovations in Functional Brain Imaging to Improve Neurosurgery

Dr Jun Hua, Associate Professor at the F. M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University, USA, leads a team focused on developing novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technologies for imaging the structure and function of the brain. Recently, they have been pioneering the development of new MRI techniques that can be used to improve pre-surgical planning for neurological patients and optimise patient outcomes.

Professor Stephan Pleschka | Professor M Lienhard Schmitz – The Influenza A Genotype and Cell Signalling Networks

Influenza viruses pose a major threat despite advances in vaccine and drug development. Research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive influenza viruses aims to reveal new drug targets to fight disease. However, information on the molecular mechanisms of how influenza viruses infect and replicate in host cells is currently limited. As part of the German Collaborative Research Centre 1021 (CRC1021), Professors Stephan Pleschka and M Lienhard Schmitz at the Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany are exploring the impact of the genetic variability of influenza viruses on the interactions between the virus and host cell that regulate viral infection and replication.

Dr James G. Thomson – Lilac Limes: More Than Just A Pretty Fruit

Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with scientists now able to precisely insert beneficial genes into plant genomes and accurately predict the activity of the new genes in the host plant. However, public acceptance has not kept up with the technological advancements in this field. Dr James G. Thomson and his team at the USDA’s Western Regional Research Center have developed Lilac Limes using this advanced genetic technology. This striking purple fruit could help to open dialogue with consumers and encourage greater acceptance of the use of genetic technology in food plants.

Building the STEM Students We Need

Despite recent efforts to promote diversity in STEM education and professional environments, some ethnic groups remain highly underrepresented in STEM fields, including the Hispanic/LatinX community. To tackle this underrepresentation, researchers at the University of San Diego have created a multi-dimensional program funded by the National Science Foundation called STEMWoW, which is designed to promote and sustain interest in STEM disciplines among middle school students from underserved communities.

Dr Teodoro Ruiz – Unlocking the Potential within Puerto Rico’s Milk Industry

The milk output of the Puerto Rican dairy industry has remained static over the last 30 years, despite improvements in the genetics of cows. With the quality of forage being a key limitation to milk production on the Island, Dr Teodoro Ruiz and his team from the University of Puerto Rico have been investigating the effects of alternative forage crops on milk yield. They are also evaluating the productivity of Puerto Rican ‘pelón’ Holstein cows, with the overall aim of developing strategies to improve milk production under tropical conditions.

Dr Yan M Yufik – From Machine Learning to Machine Understanding

Despite dramatic advances in neuroscience and biology in the 20th and 21st centuries, our understanding of the brain remains very limited. Dr Yan M Yufik, Head at Virtual Structures Research Inc, USA, is a physicist and cognitive scientist who has spent over 20 years combining experimental findings and theoretical concepts in domains as diverse as neuroscience and thermodynamics to form a theory of the brain. His focus has been on elucidating the mechanisms underlying human understanding and applying the results to the design of machines that can not only learn but understand what they are learning.

Dr Susanne Zeilinger – Fighting Fungi with Fungi: Utilising Chemical Warfare for Human Benefit

Fungi feeding on other fungi (mycoparasites) represent a promising alternative to chemical fungicides for plant disease control. They also have potential applications in medicine and across industry. Dr Susanne Zeilinger and her team from the University of Innsbruck in Austria are working to identify and characterise the genes and gene products that are active during the interactions of antagonistic fungi. This critical work is paving the way for improvement of fungal strains as biotechnological workhorses in plant protection and beyond.

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers

Representing approximately 7,000 members in over 100 countries, the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) is devoted to advancing engineering research applicable to agriculture, food and biological systems. In this exclusive interview, we have had the pleasure of speaking with Dr Sue Nokes, President of ASABE, who discusses the myriad of ways that the Society accelerates this diverse research field, towards ensuring global food, energy and water security, in the face of our changing climate and growing human population.

Dr Fay B Horak – Wearable Technology to Detect Risk of Falling and Frailty

Accidental falls are one of the leading causes of injuries and accidental death for the elderly, and the risk of falling increases significantly in those with neurological disorders or frailty. Dr Fay B Horak and her colleagues at Oregon Health & Science University and APDM Wearable Technologies, USA, are investigating the use of APDM’s novel wearable technology to monitor mobility in daily life of individuals at risk of falling to help prevent falls and identify prefrail elderly individuals.