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Hair Spacing Keeps Honeybees Clean During Pollination

Image result for images of honey bees with pollenWith honeybee colony health wavering and researchers trying to find technological ways of pollinating plants in the future, a new Georgia Tech study has looked at how the insects do their job and manage to stay clean. According to the study, a honeybee can carry up to 30 percent of its body weight in pollen because of the strategic spacing of its nearly three million hairs. The hairs cover the insect’s eyes and entire body in various densities that allow efficient cleaning and transport. “Without these hairs and their specialized spacing, it would be almost impossible for a honeybee to stay clean,” said Guillermo Amador, who led the study while pursuing his doctoral degree at Georgia Tech in mechanical engineering. This was evident when Amador and the team created a robotic honeybee leg to swipe pollen-covered eyes. When they covered the leg with wax, the smooth, hairless leg gathered four times less pollen.

“If we can start learning from natural pollinators, maybe we can create artificial pollinators to take stress off of bees,” said David Hu, a professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. “Our findings may also be used to create mechanical designs that help keep micro and nanostructured surfaces clean.” The study, “Honeybee hairs and pollenkitt are essential for pollen capture and removal,” is published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

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Scientists Hack A Human Cell And Reprogram It like A Computer

Image result for cellsCells are basically tiny computers: They send and receive inputs and output accordingly. If you chug a Frappuccino, your blood sugar spikes, and your pancreatic cells get the message. Output: more insulin. But cellular computing is more than just a convenient metaphor. In the last couple of decades, biologists have been working to hack the cells’ algorithm in an effort to control their processes. They’ve upended nature’s role as life’s software engineer, incrementally editing a cell’s algorithm—its DNA—over generations. In a paper published today in Nature Biotechnology, researchers programmed human cells to obey 109 different sets of logical instructions. With further development, this could lead to cells capable of responding to specific directions or environmental cues in order to fight disease or manufacture important chemicals.

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Why Are Primates Big-Brained? Researchers’ Answer Is Food for Thought

Brain size in primates is predicted by diet, an analysis by a team of New York University anthropologists indicates. These results call into question “the social brain hypothesis,” which has posited that humans and other primates are big-brained due to factors pertaining to sociality. The findings, which appear in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, reinforce the notion that both human and non-human primate brain evolution may be driven by differences in feeding rather than in socialization. “Are humans and other primates big-brained because of social pressures and the need to think about and track our social relationships, as some have argued?” asks James Higham, an assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Anthropology and a co-author of the new analysis. “This has come to be the prevailing view, but our findings do not support it—in fact, our research points to other factors, namely diet.”

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Scientists Assemble Zika Virus Mosquito Genome From Scratch

A team spanning Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, Texas Children’s Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has developed a new way to sequence genomes, which can assemble the genome of an organism, entirely from scratch, dramatically cheaper and faster. While there is much excitement about the so-called “$1000 genome” in medicine, when a doctor orders the DNA sequence of a patient, the test merely compares fragments of DNA from the patient to a reference genome. The task of generating a reference genome from scratch is an entirely different matter; for instance, the original human genome project took 10 years and cost $4 billion. The ability to quickly and easily generate a reference genome from scratch would open the door to creating reference genomes for everything from patients to tumors to all species on earth. Today in Science, the multi-institutional team reports a method – called 3D genome assembly – that can create a human reference genome, entirely from scratch, for less than $10,000.

To illustrate the power of 3D genome assembly, the researchers have assembled the 1.2 billion letter genome of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus, producing the first end-to-end assembly of each of its three chromosomes. The new genome will enable scientists to better combat the Zika outbreak by identifying vulnerabilities in the mosquito that the virus uses to spread.

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The Genes and Neural Circuits Behind Autism’s Impaired Sociability

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have gained new insight into the genetic and neuronal circuit mechanisms that may contribute to impaired sociability in some forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Led by Matthew P. Anderson, MD, PhD, Director of Neuropathology at BIDMC, the scientists determined how a gene linked to one common form of autism works in a specific population of brain cells to impair sociability. The research, published today in the journal Nature, reveals the neurobiological control of sociability and could represent important first steps toward interventions for patients with autism. “In this study, we wanted to determine where in the brain this social behavior deficit arises and where and how increases of the UBE3A gene repress it,” said Anderson, who is also an Associate Professor in the Program in Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Director of Autism BrainNET Boston Node. “We had tools in hand that we built ourselves. We not only introduced the gene into specific brain regions of the mouse, but we could also direct it to specific cell types to test which ones played a role in regulating sociability.”

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Overuse of Antibiotics Brings Risks for Bees — and for Us

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have found that honeybees treated with a common antibiotic were half as likely to survive the week after treatment compared with a group of untreated bees, a finding that may have health implications for bees and people alike. The scientists found the antibiotics cleared out beneficial gut bacteria in the bees, making way for a harmful pathogen, which also occurs in humans, to get a foothold. The research is the latest discovery to indicate overuse of antibiotics can sometimes make living things, including people, sicker. The UT Austin team, led by professor Nancy Moran and postdoctoral researcher Kasie Raymann, found that after treatment with the common antibiotic tetracycline, the bees had dramatically fewer naturally occurring gut microbes — meaning healthy bacteria that can help to block pathogens, break down toxins, promote absorption of nutrients from food and more. They also found elevated levels of Serratia, a pathogenic bacterium that afflicts humans and other animals, in the bees treated with antibiotics, suggesting that the increased mortality might have been a result of losing the gut microbes that provide a natural defense against the dangerous bacteria. “Our study suggests that perturbing the gut microbiome of honeybees is a factor, perhaps one of many, that could make them more susceptible to declining and to the colony collapsing,” Moran said. “Antibiotics may have been an underappreciated factor in colony collapse.” The results are reported today in the online journal PLOS Biology.

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Biochemists Develop New Way To Control Cell Biology With Light

Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a new method of controlling biology at the cellular level using light. The tool—called a photocleavable protein—breaks into two pieces when exposed to light, allowing scientists to study and manipulate activity inside cells in new and different ways. “By shining light into the cell, we can cause the photocleavable protein to break, removing the inhibitor and uncaging the protein within the cell,” said lead author Robert Campbell, professor in the Department of Chemistry. Once the protein is uncaged, it can start to perform its normal function inside the cell. The tool is relatively easy to use and widely applicable for other research that involves controlling processes inside a cell.

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UCLA Study Aims To Improve Interaction Between LA Residents, Wildlife

UCLA researchers are studying how wildlife mammals live in urban Los Angeles to improve the relationship between animals and humans. With a prize of $225,000 from UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, the researchers will survey residents and study mammals such as squirrels, raccoons and possums in a three-part study starting next quarter. The three parts, which involve studying pathogens animals carry, learning how humans interact with mammals and documenting biodiversity in Los Angeles, will help researchers learn about how humans and animals influence each other. “Compared to mammals in natural environments, little is known about the abundance, diversity and population dynamics of wildlife mammals in LA urban areas,” said Jessica Lynch Alfaro, project leader and faculty member in the Institute for Society and Genetics.

The project will compare how animals live in the wild and how they live in urban environments by studying mammals’ DNA and recording their numbers, said Alfaro, who is also an anthropology professor. This will allow researchers to determine which aspects of urban construction threaten animals’ survival.

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