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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.