Highlights of the BMC-series: October 2016

Imaging plant cell walls – Cosmic radiation affects the brain – Community sports and health promotion – Regenerating worms – Environmental risks and dementia – Dimorphism in Siberian squirrels – Plant innate immunity – Gene flow of king penguins – Meningitis in Vietnam

Plant Biology: imaging plant cell walls

A new BMC Plant Biology article describes a valuable new tool to study plant cell walls and glycobiology. Glycans are carbohydrate molecules that attach to plant cell walls and proteins, and serve critical regulatory functions in development, cell-cell communication and immunity. The inability to directly label and image endogenous plant glycans with fluorescent tags has thus far hindered study of these molecules and their function in cellular processes. However, the copper-free click chemistry approach from Hoogenboom et al (2016) offers a novel method to fluorescently label plant glycans with high specificity and low toxicity.

Genomics: cosmic radiation affects the brain

Galactic cosmic rays are a significant source of high-energy radiation and may pose a health hazard to those involved in deep space missions. 56Fe ions, a component of such rays, have previously been shown to affect memory in juvenile mice, though the mechanisms underlying such effects were unclear. In this study published in BMC Genomics, the authors investigated the effects of 56Fe ion radiation on the cognitive function of 6-month old mice. Radiation exposure resulted in behavioral changes that were correlated to epigenetic remodeling within the hippocampus, highlighting the need for further investigations on the different types of irradiation that astronauts will encounter.

Cancer: community sports and health promotion

Physical activity is often recommended to men diagnosed with prostate cancer, in order to counteract the side effects that treatments often have on their quality of life. Whilst previous trials to promote physical activity in men have been hampered by short follow-up periods and the clinical settings, it is hoped that the study protocol published in BMC Cancer will provide some empirical data obtained in a real-world setting. In this trial, participation in community-based football (soccer) forms the basis in which to assess the effectiveness such activities have on health promotion and in promoting long-term physical activity. The study is expected to be completed by November 2017, so watch this space!

Image of the month: regenerating worms

Aberrant regeneration of the stolon (organism’s reproductive unit), observed in Typosyllis antoni following removal of the proventricle region (Weidhase et al, 2016).

Geriatrics: environmental risks and dementia

There is now growing evidence that there are some modifiable risk factors that affect the onset of dementia: “diabetes, midlife hypertension and obesity, smoking, depression, cognitive inactivity, and low educational attainment”. However, as yet, little is known about the effects that environmental risk factors may have on dementia. In this systematic review, it would appear that there is moderate evidence that dementia risk may be affected by air pollution, pesticides, and electromagnetic fields amongst other factors.

Zoology: dimorphism in Siberian squirrels

Due to evolutionary pressures in mammals, it is a general pattern that males are often larger than their female counterparts, both in body size and mass. However, this isn’t often the case in tree and flying squirrels. New research using data collected over 22 years seems to support this idea in Siberian flying squirrels, which has shown that females were generally larger than males throughout the year.

Plant Biology: plant innate immunity

DAMPs (damage-associated molecular patterns) and MAMPs (microbe-associated molecular patterns) are important molecules that can trigger innate immune responses in both plants and animals. This BMC Plant Biology mini-review from Hyong Woo Choi and Daniel F. Klessig of Cornell University provides an excellent overview of this ancient and highly conserved immune system, in addition to discussing the newly discovered NAMPs, which are molecules specifically associated with immune defence against nematode infection in plant species.

Evolutionary Biology: gene flow of king penguins

A hurdle in species conservation that often has to be overcome is in understanding the population structure and the patterns within it. A study in the sub-Antarctic has found that there is very low level of genetic differentiation between penguin colonies, with some colonies spanning over 7000km apart. The authors suggest that any efforts in monitoring and conserving penguin populations should be done at an archipelago level, rather than at colony level.

Infectious Diseases: meningitis in Vietnam

Tuberculous meningitis, caused by an infection of the meninges by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is a serious condition that is often accompanied by high death or disability rates, particularly in developing nations. Although this disease is well characterized in Vietnamese adults, there is little data on how this disease manifests and affects children in Vietnam. This BMC Infectious Diseases study aimed to address this by describing the current practices in disease management, as well as presenting the predictors of poor outcome. The authors conclude that much research is still necessary in developing strategies to treat afflicted children in order improve clinical outcomes.

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