As life has evolved, its complexity has increased exponentially, just like Moore’s law. Now geneticists have extrapolated this trend backwards and found that by this measure, life is older than the Earth itself.
Lipopolysaccharide endotoxin is the only known bacterial product which, when subcutaneously infused into mice in its purified form, can induce obesity and insulin resistance via an inflammation-mediated pathway. Here we show that one endotoxin-producing bacterium isolated from a morbidly obese human’s gut induced obesity and insulin resistance in germfree mice.
Na Fei and Liping Zhao, The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology
The human microbiome is not merely an infestation we tolerate. It plays many different roles in our bodies. Microbes synthesize vitamins for us, regulate how much energy we get from our food, fight off invading pathogens, nurture our immune system, and potentially even influence our behavior. It may be possible to manipulate the microbiome through the phages that have coevolved with it for millions of years.
- Carl Zimmer, writing for The Chicago Blog
(The wikipedia article on phage therapy serves as useful background information for this story.)
Adult neurogenesis occurs in 2 primary locations: the olfactory bulb and the central part of the hippocampus, called the dentate gyrus (shown here). This widefield multi-photon fluorescence image of a rat hippocampus was stained to reveal the distribution of glia (cyan), neurofilaments (green) and cell nuclei (yellow). The image was produced as part of an ongoing brain mapping project for the Whole Brain Catalog.
by Thomas Deerinck, NCMIR, UCSD
Tibetan monk and molecular geneticist Matthieu Ricard is the happiest man in the world according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin. The 66-year-old’s brain produces a level of gamma waves - those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory - never before reported in neuroscience.
These rare photos capture the Flight Deck (cockpit) of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, fully powered for one of the final times. Just a few weeks later, at 9:58am EDT on May 11, Endeavour was powered down for the final time in history. It was the last of the three space shuttles to have power.
The Genome Institute, where I work, helped produce new research recently published in the latest Nature (the NYTimes also published a story). I had the opportunity to work with our Medical Genomics group in producing Figure 1 of the paper, which uses a heatmap type layout to clearly show correlations between tumor samples and mutated genes.
Figure 1. Tumour samples are grouped by mRNA subtype: luminal A (n = 225), luminal B (n = 126), HER2E (n = 57) and basal-like (n = 93). The left panel shows non-silent somatic mutation patterns and frequencies for significantly mutated genes. The middle panel shows clinical features: dark grey, positive or T2–4; white, negative or T1; light grey, N/A or equivocal. N, node status; T, tumour size. The right panel shows significantly mutated genes with frequent copy number amplifications (red) or deletions (blue). The far-right panel shows non-silent mutation rate per tumour (mutations per megabase, adjusted for coverage). The average mutation rate for each expression subtype is indicated. Hypermutated: mutation rates >3 s.d. above the mean (>4.688, indicated by grey line).
Note: This is a slightly different version than the one in Nature; their editors must sometimes modify figures to fit in spaces for which they might not have been designed. In the case of Figure 1, much of the text was enlarged and repositioned in the published version. The original is shown above (click to view or download a high-res version).
To be a futurist, in pursuit of improving reality, is not to have your face continually turned upstream, waiting for the future to come. To improve reality is to clearly see where you are, and then wonder how to make that better.
— Warren Ellis, in How To See The Future
“This page presents a scientific paper that has been redesigned as a sequence of illustrations with captions. This comic-like format, with tightly-coupled pictures and prose, allows the author to depict and describe simultaneously — show and tell.
It is based on Watts and Strogatz’s seminal Nature paper on network theory, shown to the right. This paper was chosen because it’s accessible to a broad audience, and it’s very well-written — already near the limit of clarity for just prose.”
- Brett Victor
We come messily from a motley. Indeed we literally come from messmates and morphed diseases, organisms that ate and did not digest one another, and organisms that infected one another and killed each other and formed biochemical truces and merged.
Hypersex is a provisional name for the commingling of organisms that meet, eat, engulf, invade, trade genes, acquire genomes, and sometimes permanently merge. Life displays mad hospitality. Korean biologist Kwang Jeon of the University of Tennessee received in the 1970s a batch of amoebae infected with a deadly bacterial strain. Most died. In a set of careful experiments after culturing the survivor amoebae for several generations, he found that the survivors, with fewer bacteria per cell, could no longer live without their infection. Deprived of their new friends and former enemies, the nuclei would not function without micro-injections of bacteria into the cytoplasm. The sickness had become the cure; the pathogens had become organelles; the last had become the first.
Had Jeon, who was a Christian, witnessed speciation in the laboratory? It seems so. But it was not gradual, as neoDarwinism predicts. It was near-instantaneous, the result not of mutations accumulating in a lineage, but of transformative parasitism.
- Dorion Sagan, in Journal of the Society for Cultural Anthropology