Science Reporting

Larger mitochondrial genome sequenced

A group of Brazilian scientists claim to have sequenced the largest mitochondrial genome of those already sequenced previously. The mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) is represented by the DNA contained in the mitochondria, the cellular organelles that in turn are found in the eukaryotic cells. It is only a small portion of the DNA of an animal eukaryotic cell since most of it is found in the nucleus of the cell (in this case we speak of nuclear genome or nuclear DNA).

Scientists at the University of São Paulo (FCL-UNESP), Assis, Brazil, have in fact sequenced the mitochondrial genome of Isarachnanthus nocturnus, a tubular sea anemone only 15 cm long but which boasts, in relation to its body, a long mitochondrial genome consisting of 80,923 base pairs (the human mitochondrial genome includes only 16,569 base pairs).

The results, published in Scientific Reports, therefore confirm that the mitogenome of the I. nocturnus is almost five times larger than the human one, as stated by Sérgio Nascimento Stampar, professor at FCL-UNESP and principal author of the study, who adds: “We tend to think that we are molecularly more complex, but in reality our genome has been more ‘filtered’ during our evolution. Maintaining this giant genome is probably more expensive in terms of energy expenditure.”

Among other things, this same sequencing puts on the table the possibility of a reclassification of the species of cnidarians (jellyfish, octopus, corals and sea anemones) since the tubular anemones analyzed seem to form a group separated from corals and other sea anemones and show similarities with jellyfish.

More data and more studies will be needed, perhaps focusing on the sequencing of the nuclear genome of these species, a result that Stampar intends to achieve by the end of 2020.

Science Reporting

Scientists discover that antibiotic for acne also fights hardening of the arteries

A drug used to treat acne may also be useful to counteract the hardening of the arteries according to a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge and King’s College London. The researchers found that minocycline, an antibiotic used to treat acne, can prevent, at least in rats, the accumulation of calcium in the circulatory system and thus the hardening of the arteries.

There is currently no treatment for this condition. The hardening is caused by the accumulation of calcium deposits, accumulations that stiffen the arteries limiting the flow of blood to organs and tissues. The hardening of the arteries, a sort of biomineralisation, occurs for practically every human being as he gets older but can be accelerated under different conditions, for example in dialysis patients.

Guiding this calcification, as the scientists behind this study have discovered, is a particular molecule, called Poly ADP-ribose (PAR), a molecule that was thought to be only associated with DNA repair. PAR is produced by the enzymes PARP1 and PARP2, which in turn are expressed in response to DNA damage and oxidative stress. In an attempt to find a way to block or inhibit PARP, researchers after years of work identified six molecules contained in the antibiotic minocycline that prevented hardening.

The study, published in Cell Reports, shows how this antibiotic is highly effective in preventing hardening of the arteries and calcification of blood vessels. The researchers now hope to carry out the first experiments on patients in the coming months in order to realize potential treatments.

Science Reporting

Creating a single artificial intelligence algorithm emits as much carbon as 5 cars

A new study produced by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, surprises us with regard to the fact that the artificial intelligence industry is a contributor of environmental pollution.

According to the results achieved by the researchers, developing a single software based on artificial intelligence can lead to the emission of more than 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent. It is the average material emitted into the air by five cars in the United States during their entire course of use.

What consumes the most, and therefore causes the most emissions in the environment, is the training phase of the software based on machine learning: the latter must in fact overcome a long initial phase during which are inserted in the program large sets of data, increasingly large and massive, to ensure that the same algorithm is “instructed” and then works properly when put into operation.

Obviously this phase needs a lot of hours and days of work, a period during which the energy consumed by the computers reaches the peaks. This is without counting the use of all kinds of hardware, for example by the robotics and automation industry, which involves even more expensive testing phases in this regard.

Naturally, thanks to artificial intelligence, very efficient neural networks have been created, very useful in many contexts and very advantageous also with regard to the context of pollution, but this analysis sensitizes and provides an answer to those who believe that automation through software is unassailable in this sense. And perhaps this data could be used in the future to push researchers to develop increasingly efficient software and algorithms.

Science Reporting

Mexican scorpion venom contains compounds that kill staphylococci and tuberculosis bacteria

A team of researchers found that the venom of a scorpion from Mexico contains two compounds that could help fight human bacterial infections. The researchers, who published their work on Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, also claim to have isolated these compounds and managed to synthesize them in the laboratory after analyzing them.

Even the laboratory-created versions were able to kill bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and drug-resistant bacteria for tuberculosis in tissue samples from mice. The discovery is, of course, interesting as regards possible attempts to create drugs based precisely on these two compounds found in the venom of the scorpion Diplocentrus melici.

Among other things, it is an animal that is difficult to find and identify because for most of the year, during the winter of dry seasons, “it is buried and we can only find it in the rainy season,” as reported by Lourival Possani, professor of molecular medicine at the National University of Mexico who signed the study with senior author Richard Zare.

Among other things, the fact that they were able to synthesize these compounds in the laboratory is a fundamental step: if these compounds should have been taken only from the venom of the scorpion, produce a gallon (less than four liters) would have cost 39 million dollars, as reported by Zare himself.

The compounds found in the venom of scorpions are two new benzoquinones, previously unknown, a class of molecules with a ring shape already known for its antimicrobial properties.

Science Reporting

Predicting seizures and epileptic seizures is possible according to researchers

A new discovery, the results of which have been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, shows that it is possible to predict seizures before they occur by analyzing particular molecules that are fragments of RNA transfer (tRNA). The latter is a particular chemical substance, related to DNA, which makes it possible to construct proteins within cells.

When cells are “stressed,” the tRNAs are cut into small fragments. These fragments, present in the blood, can reach high concentrations and this reflects the fact that brain cells are under stress. This state, if detected, can be considered as a symptom of an impending epileptic attack. This information could lead to the creation of an early warning system, something that could be of strong help to all people suffering from epilepsy as they might know in advance when they are at high risk of attack.

As Marion Hogg, lead author of the study and researcher at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), points out, “people with epilepsy often report that one of the most difficult aspects of living with the disease is never knowing when an attack will occur.”

On the basis of this research, scholars now hope to be able to create an alert system, similar to that of a trivial blood glucose meter, to predict seizures.

Science Reporting

Identified human protein that helps malaria parasite development

A group of Japanese researchers published a study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine stating that it was discovered that Plasmodium parasites responsible for malaria develop so easily in the human body thanks to a particular protein of liver cells that the human body itself produces and that these parasites exploit. The research could prove useful in developing new therapeutic plans that target precisely this human protein, called CXCR4.

Malaria is one of the most serious infectious diseases and, according to the WHO, in 2017 alone there were 219 million cases and the deaths of 435,000 people. Malaria is transmitted through mosquitoes infected with this parasite in the form of rods that, once in the human body, invades the liver cells, called hepatocytes, changing shape and giving rise to thousands of merozoites. The latter then spread in the blood and cause the disease known as “malaria.”

According to Masahiro Yamamoto, very little is known today about the factors that regulate the differentiation of sporozoites in infected hepatocytes within the human body. In the course of their research, however, scientists have realized that it is a special hepatocyte protein called CXCR4 that helps Plasmodium sporozoites to transform once inside liver cells.

Scientists have already carried out experiments on mice with a specific drug that inhibits its own protein CXCR4, the same mice have been shown to be more resistant to malaria and survival rates were significantly higher.

According to Yamamoto himself “most anti-malaria drugs that target Plasmodium molecules eventually lead to drug resistance in these parasites, however inhibitors that target human proteins such as CXCR4 could avoid this problem and could be used prophylactically to prevent the development of malaria. In addition, the CXCR4 inhibitor used in this study is already widely used in humans undergoing treatment for blood tumors, which could accelerate its reuse as a new way of combating malaria.”

Science Reporting

Strobe lights related to a risk of epileptic seizures

A new study highlights the potential negative influences of strobe lights, those that can be found for example in discos or dance halls, already targeted by several previous studies in relation to epilepsy. According to this new study, published in BMJ Open, stroboscopic lighting can be linked to a three-fold increased risk of epileptic seizures in individuals already sensitive in this respect.

This means that the organizers or managers of these rooms or premises must issue appropriate warnings or warn users so that those who are characterized by a history of epilepsy, especially the one that is most affected by flashing lights (photosensitive epilepsy), can take the necessary precautions.

The researchers were encouraged to do this study by the case of a twenty-year-old who collapsed in one of these rooms and suffered for the first time an epileptic attack. They then collected data from various incidents and more than 400,000 participants at 28 music festivals focusing on electronic dance in the Netherlands for the whole of 2015.

They discovered 200,776 occasions on which it was necessary to provide medical assistance and in 39 of these cases were involved individuals who had suffered an epileptic attack. 30 of these last cases had occurred during concerts or nocturnal gatherings; this means that the risk of an epileptic attack associated with night events was 3.5 times greater than that associated with similar but diurnal events.

“Regardless of whether stroboscopic lighting effects are the only ones responsible or whether sleep deprivation and/or substance abuse also play a role, the appropriate interpretation is that large electronic music festivals, especially during the night, probably lead to at least a number of people per event suffering from epileptic seizures,” the researchers add.