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‘This Is Very Alarming!’: Flying Insects Vanish from Nature Preserves

Not long ago, a lengthy drive on a hot day wouldn’t be complete without scraping bug guts off a windshield. But splattered insects have gone the way of the Chevy Nova — you just don’t see them on the road like you used to. Biologists call this the windshield phenomenon. It’s a symptom, they say, of a vanishing population. “The windscreen phenomenon is probably one of the best illustrative ways to realize we are dealing with a decline in flying insects,” said Caspar Hallmann, an ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. Hallmann is part of a research team that recently waded through 27 years’ worth of insects collected in German nature preserves. “This decline happened in nature reserves, which are meant to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning,” Hallmann said. “This is very alarming!”

“If you like to eat nutritious fruits and vegetables, you should thank an insect. If you like salmon, you can thank a tiny fly that the salmon eat when they’re young,” Black said. “The whole fabric of our planet is built on plants and insects and the relationship between the two.”

Read the full article here.

Nature or Nurture? Innate Social Behaviors in the Mouse Brain

Adult male mice have a simple repertoire of innate, or instinctive, social behaviors: When encountering a female, a male mouse will try to mate with it, and when encountering another male, the mouse will attack. The animals do not have to be taught to perform these behaviors. This has led to the widespread presumption among neuroscientists that the brain circuits mediating these behaviors are “hardwired,” meaning that they are genetically encoded pathways with little flexibility. But new research from Caltech neuroscientists shows that these behaviors and the neurons that represent them are not as fixed as previously believed. “This is an unexpected discovery,” says co-first author Ann Kennedy, a Caltech postdoctoral scholar in biology and biological engineering. “This area of the brain, the ventromedial hypothalamus, is a primitive, ancient region. We used to think of it as the basement of the brain, more like a plumbing system than a computer. Our study shows that this region exhibits plasticity and computation.”

The paper is titled “Social behaviour shapes hypothalamic neural ensemble representations of conspecific sex.”

Read the full article here.

New Study Shows How Bee’s Brain Functions to Guide It Home

Image result for Megalopta genalisBees use their vision to navigate, but until now little was known about what happens inside their brains — which are smaller than a grain of rice — as they perform this task. “Polarized-light-based compass neurons and optic-flow-based speed-encoding neurons are located in a part of the bee brain called the central complex,” the study authors explained. “We found this region plays a pivotal role in controlling the navigation system — known as path integration or ‘dead reckoning’ — which is used by many animals, including bees, ants and humans.”

Dr. Heinze and colleagues unraveled the complex workings of the system by studying the brains of tropical nocturnal bees Megalopta genalis. Their results, together with microscope studies of how the nerve cells are connected, were used to develop a detailed computer model of the bee’s brain. “Understanding such a complex behavior at the level of single neurons is an important step forward for the science of brain function.”

Read the full article here.

‘Antibiotic Apocalypse’: Doctors Sound Alarm Over Drug Resistance

Image result for drug resistanceScientists attending a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology reported they had uncovered a highly disturbing trend. They revealed that bacteria containing a gene known as mcr-1 – which confers resistance to the antibiotic colistin – had spread round the world at an alarming rate since its original discovery 18 months earlier. In one area of China, it was found that 25% of hospital patients now carried the gene. The arithmetic is stark and disturbing, as the conference organisers make clear. At present about 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections. However, this global figure is growing relentlessly and could reach 10 million a year by 2050. The danger, say scientists, is one of the greatest that humanity has faced in recent times. In a drug-resistant world, many aspects of modern medicine would simply become impossible.

Read the full article here.

Two Ancient DNA Studies Provide New Insights into Lives of Neanderthals and Paleolithic Humans

Image result for neanderthalTwo separate teams of researchers have used advanced DNA sequencing methods to analyze the 52,000-year-old remains of a Neanderthal woman from Vindija Cave in Croatia, and the 34,000-year-old remains of four anatomically modern humans from the Upper Paleolithic archaeological site of Sunghir. The findings are published in two papers in the journal Science.

Kay Prüfer et al. A high-coverage Neandertal genome from Vindija Cave in Croatia. Science, published online October 5, 2017; doi: 10.1126/science.aao1887

Martin Sikora et al. Ancient genomes show social and reproductive behavior of early Upper Paleolithic foragers. Science, published online October 5, 2017; doi: 10.1126/science.aao1807

Read the full article here.

One Gene Mutation May Cause Zika’s Devastating Birth Defects

Image result for zika virusSixty years ago, a team of scientists went looking for yellow fever in the jungles that line the northwestern edge of Lake Victoria. What they found instead, in the blood of a rhesus monkey, was a new virus, one they named for the area’s dense vegetation: Uganda’s Zika Forest. Within a few years, Zika virus was showing up in humans, causing a pink rash and mild flu-like symptoms. And for the next six decades, as it spread eastward on the wings of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, its symptoms stayed the same. That all changed when the virus jumped the Pacific Ocean and landed on the shores of Brazil sometime around 2014. As Zika sickened thousands, reports of microcephaly—a birth defect characterized by abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains—began pouring in from doctor’s offices and hospitals around the country. In April of last year, scientists at the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention formally declared that Zika was to blame for the microcephaly cases. Since then, researchers have been rushing to tease apart how the Zika virus went from tepid to toxic, in hopes of finding vaccine or drug targets to prevent the most devastating manifestations of the infection.

New evidence suggests it might all come down to one measly mutation.

Read the full article here.

2017 | Patrick Allard, et al – Has Toxicity Testing Moved into the 21st Century? A Survey and Analysis of Perceptions in the Field of Toxicology

Patrick Allard, ISG faculty, along with Virginia Zaunbrecher, Elizabeth Beryt, Daniela Parodi, Donatello Telesca, Joseph Doherty, and Timothy Malloy, published the paper titled “Has Toxicity Testing Moved into the 21st Century? A Survey and Analysis of Perceptions in the Field of Toxicology” in the August 2017 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

ABSTRACT:

BACKGROUND:Ten years ago, leaders in the field of toxicology called for a transformation of the discipline and a shift from primarily relying on traditional animal testing to incorporating advances in biotechnology and predictive methodologies into alternative testing strategies (ATS). Governmental agencies and academic and industry partners initiated programs to support such a transformation, but a decade later, the outcomes of these efforts are not well understood.

OBJECTIVES:We aimed to assess the use of ATS and the perceived barriers and drivers to their adoption by toxicologists and by others working in, or closely linked with, the field of toxicology.

METHODS:We surveyed 1,381 toxicologists and experts in associated fields regarding the viability and use of ATS and the perceived barriers and drivers of ATS for a range of applications. We performed ranking, hierarchical clustering, and correlation analyses of the survey data.

RESULTS:Many respondents indicated that they were already using ATS, or believed that ATS were already viable approaches, for toxicological assessment of one or more end points in their primary area of interest or concern (26–86%, depending on the specific ATS/application pair). However, the proportions of respondents reporting use of ATS in the previous 12 mo were smaller (4.5–41%). Concern about regulatory acceptance was the most commonly cited factor inhibiting the adoption of ATS, and a variety of technical concerns were also cited as significant barriers to ATS viability. The factors most often cited as playing a significant role (currently or in the future) in driving the adoption of ATS were the need for expedited toxicology information, the need for reduced toxicity testing costs, demand by regulatory agencies, and ethical or moral concerns.

CONCLUSIONS:Our findings indicate that the transformation of the field of toxicology is partly implemented, but significant barriers to acceptance and adoption remain.

UCLA Biologists Slow Aging, Extend Lifespan of Fruit Flies

In research that potentially could delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases of aging, biologists have produced a genetic one-two punch that significantly slowed aging and improved health in the middle-aged fruit flies they studied. The approach focuses on mitochondria, the tiny power generators within cells that control the cells’ growth and determine when they live and die. Mitochondria often become damaged with age, and as people grow older, those damaged mitochondria tend to accumulate in the brain, muscles and other organs. When cells can’t eliminate the damaged mitochondria, those mitochondria can become toxic and contribute to a wide range of age-related diseases, said David Walker, a UCLA professor of integrative biology and physiology, and the study’s senior author.

The study, published Sept. 6 in the journal Nature Communications, reports that the UCLA scientists removed the damaged mitochondria by breaking up enlarged mitochondria into smaller pieces — and that when they did, the flies became more active and more energetic and had more endurance. Following the treatment, female flies lived 20 percent longer than their typical lifespan, while males lived 12 percent longer, on average.

Read the full article here.