Posts tagged: Biology

Genetics link found in search for sweet strawberries

Holding strawberries

This post by Madeleine Martiniello looks at findings from two new papers on strawberries published in BMC Genomics today, and is republished with kind permission from The Conversation.

If you’ve ever bitten into a strawberry and wondered why it doesn’t taste as sweet or as good as others in the punnet, you could blame the fruit’s genetics.

Two studies, published today in BMC Genomics, found that the distinct flavour of strawberry has been linked to a specific gene, present in some varieties of the fruit – but not in others.

The gene FaFAD1 controls a key flavour volatile compound in strawberries called gamma-decalactone, which is described as “fruity”, “sweet” or “peachy” and …

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Weapons of low-mass destruction: small ORFs in the uncharted parasite genome

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bmc biol

In our genomes, there is a whole host of genes hiding in plain sight. These genes are not included in major genome annotation efforts and are widely ignored in the literature, even though in some cases they have been conserved for as long as 550 million years.

So how have these genes remained hidden? There is a short answer to this. Literally so: the genes are short.

Scientists and computer algorithms that hunt for genes expect their prey to take the form of long sequences of hundreds of nucleotides, and quite simply ignore or discard candidates that do not meet this criterion.

But they are perhaps unwise to do so, suggest a number of recent reports, including an article in BMC

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Farm animals are more intelligent than they seem

Credit to Brian Squibb (35)

Following on from our post last month about research into the intelligence of goats, we asked one of the authors of the article, Elodie Briefer, to tell us more about why she studies goats and what is was like to carry out the research. Here’s what she had to say…

My main research interests are vocal communication and cognition. I carried out my PhD in the Bioacoustics team of Paris South University, on the song of skylarks. After my PhD, I moved to Queen Mary University of London to work with Alan McElligott on mother-offspring vocal recognition and vocal ontogeny in goats, and later on, on goat personality and emotions.

Expanding the breadth of research on cognition

After a few …

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Donating normal breast tissue – a gift to cancer researchers

Susan Clare

In this guest post, Dr Susan Clare of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and co-author of a recent paper published in Breast Cancer Research, writes about the importance of research on the ‘normal’ breast and what’s needed to allow this research to take place.

Our limited understanding of the developmental biology and genetics of normal breast tissue is a barrier to progress in understanding the causes of breast cancer and to developing successful prevention strategies and improved treatments. This oft repeated refrain is found in the periodic reviews of the state of breast cancer research and dates back at least to the NCI’s Report of the Breast Cancer Progress Review Group (1997).

Tissues banks and other initiatives mean there

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Guinea pig teenagers are highly domesticated

Guinea pig wikimedia

Unlike their human counterparts, adolescent guinea pigs  display highly domesticated behavior says a new paper published today in Frontiers in Zoology.  They have  reduced levels of cortisol (a hormone commonly associated with stress) and display less risk-taking behavior, in comparison with their wild relatives.

Domestication of animals has been key to the success of humans and our expansion across a broad range of environments. For example, it was in the harsh environment of the Andes that guinea pigs are thought to have been first domesticated as a food source to supplement protein-poor diets.

The process of domestication of animals can have strong effects on their behavior, physiology and morphology. These changes are a result …

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Is cancer preventable? The role of diet and obesity


Cancer is a metabolic disease. So asserts a growing body of evidence, supported by twin pillars. On one hand is strong data from population studies showing that those with metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes, have altered risks of specific types of cancer. Elio Riboli, Director of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, lists the cancers associated with obesity in a revealing interview for BMC Biology: breast post-menopausal, colorectal, endometrium, kidney, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and cardia, and prostate (tentatively).

The second line of evidence is the severe metabolic dysfunction within cancer cells. Familiar oncogenes such as c-myc, that are known to drive forward cancer growth, are now known to also reprogram cellular …

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Santa Fe loves mobile DNA

Santa Fe village

The field of mobile DNA is currently a very exciting area of genetics and genomics research. It was once assumed that transposable elements were useless DNA sequences that incorporated into host genomes, forming ‘junk DNA’. In recent years, however, the significance of these genetic elements has been increasingly realized, with studies regularly being published hinting at the function of transposable elements in the host genome.

It seems that some of these suspected functions are damaging to the host, and others may even be beneficial; either way, the contribution of mobile elements to genome evolution is now a hugely interesting area, providing new insights into the evolutionary ‘arms race’ between organisms.


On March 9-14th, BioMed Central attended the Keystone meeting Mobile …

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Goats, the boffins of the farmyard

Figure 2

Goats are well known for their high adaptability and ability to survive in inhospitable and food scarce  environments. It turns out that this behavioural flexibility has played a key role in the evolution of complex cognition in goats, which are much more intelligent than had previously been thought. Goats are able to quickly learn to solve complex tasks – at least when the reward is food related! – and even remember how to solve these tasks up to ten months later.

Researchers from the Queen Mary University London tested the intelligence of 12 goats living at Buttercup Sanctuary for Goats using a food box cognitive challenge (essentially a box containing food which the goats were trained to open …

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Developments in Daphnia

Daphnia magna at various stages of development.

Recent headlines reporting contaminated floodwaters invading British towns and villages may have left you wondering what’s really lurking in these waters. If the floodwater is contaminated, as has been suggested, with bacteria such as E. coli, campylobacteria (a common cause of food poisoning) and norovirus in Surrey and the Somerset levels, what other microscopic entities could be being transported around the country by the extraordinarily high water levels?

One microscopic organism which is almost certainly present in the floodwater, but less of a threat to our health, is the water flea – the subject of a new paper published in EvoDevo this week. Water fleas are in fact not fleas at all, bearing little resemblance to their distant arthropod …

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Announcing the winners of the 2013 Ming K Jeang Award for Excellence in Cell & Bioscience


Congratulations to the winners of the annual Ming K Jeang Award for Excellence in Cell & Bioscience for 2013. The winning papers (below), have been chosen for their innovation, high-quality execution and lasting contribution to the biosciences. The winners are chosen by a committee of internationally renowned Cell & Bioscience Editors, chaired by Dr Chris Lau.


Monoubiquitination of EEA1 regulates endosome fusion and trafficking

Harish N Ramanathan, Guofeng Zhang, Yihong Ye

Cell & Bioscience 2013, 3:24 (23 May 2013)

Dr TC Wu, a judge on the selection panel for the award, has commented on the importance of this research:

“Early endosomal autoantigen 1 (EEA1) is an essential component of the endosomal fusion machinery. The current study demonstrates that EEA1 is subject to …

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