Highlights of the BMC-series: March 2017

Detoxification of food using microorganisms • A good tool for assessing pain • The neural activity of dance • Parasite evolution within isopods • The effects of economic recession on mental health • Comparison of diagnostic tools to identify latent TB infection • Shaping sperm in Drosophila

Biothechnology: Detoxification of food using microorganisms

Fusarium (mold) and other toxigenic fungal pathogens are responsible for contaminating many of the cereal-based foods we ingest.  They also contaminate animal feeds,  so as humans, we are exposed to these pathogens from multiple sources.  The effects range from diarrhea and vomiting to feed refusal, growth retardation, immunosuppression, reduced ovarian function, reproductive disorders and even death. Because of this, there is an urgent need to reduce toxin levels in contaminated foods. The use of detoxifying microorganisms to biodegrade mycotoxins has shown promising results and this study, published in BMC Biotechnology, describes the de-epoxidizing effects of a microbial consortium on toxic fungal pathogens.  This has tremendous implications for improving the quality and safety of our food and animal feeds.

Neurology: A good tool for assessing pain

The PainDETECT questionnaire (PD-Q) is a screening tool designed to assess pain of neuropathic origin, such as chronic lower back pain.  It measures 7 aspects of the quality of pain, as well as the time course and whether or not the pain radiates.  In order to validate the measurement properties of the PD-Q as an outcome measure for research and clinical practice, a Rasch analysis was conducted. The results supported the PD-Q, excluding the time course and radiating measurements, and confirmed PD-Q as a useful tool for clinicians who wish to screen for chronic pain at baseline, and then track it over time.

Neuroscience: The neural activity of dance

Dance movements require the transformation of multisensory inputs into complex and reproducible motor outputs.  This aim of this study was to measure the impact of familiarity on EEG activity and confidence ratings.  This was done by modulating and comparing the brain activity of ballet dancers, dancers from other genres, and non-dancers. The three groups were repeatedly exposed to a video clip of a choreographed ballet sequence and were then asked to visualize performing the dance sequence they just learned.  In addition, they were asked to visualize 12 every day non-dance movements. The findings confirmed evidence for experience-dependent plasticity.  The complex dance sequence required greater cognitive resources than the more familiar movements, lending further support to the concept of dance and motor imagery as an effective therapeutic intervention for individuals with movement disorders.

Image of the month: Parasite Evolution within isopods

Stereo images of the functional head of the thorax of fossil isopod Urda rostrata indicate a parasitic lifestyle  and provide crucial information to the understanding of the evolution of parasitism within isopods.

Fossil isopod


Psychiatry: The effects of economic recession on mental health

Economic recession has been shown to cause psychological distress as well as suicidal thoughts.  The aim of this study was to investigate the experience of people who were affected by job loss or financial hardship following the recent 2008 recession as they sought help for their problems. The subjects were recruited from two cities in England, who both experienced a 60% rise in unemployment rates between 2007 and 2012. They were divided into three groups: 1) those who had self-harmed due to financial issues; 2) those who had not self-harmed but were struggling financially; 3) staff from voluntary and state-run organisations. Individuals who had not self-harmed demonstrated more knowledge and access to debt advice than those who had.  Individuals who had self-harmed had less support from friends and family and most had pre-existing mental issues. All three groups shared the view that more practical help for financial issues was needed. These finding underline the importance of identifying those in need and alleviating their anxiety by offering support and advice. To know more, please listen to the podcast.

Infectious Diseases: Comparison of diagnostic tools to identify latent TB infection

It is important to identify individuals with latent TB infection (LTBI), as 5-10% of these will progress to active TB in the course of their life and will become contagious.  At present there is no gold standard in the diagnosis of LTBI although the tuberculin skin test (TST) and interferon gamma release assays (IGRAs) are commonly used.  The aim of this study was to perform a systematic review of the literature to compare two types of IGRAs to the TST in the diagnosis of LTBI by predicting the progression to active TB in children, immunocompromised individuals, and those arriving from countries with a high incidence of TB.  Based on the results gathered, there was no evidence that IGRAs were better or worse than TST at detecting LTBI.  This underlines the importance of obtaining more data on the sensitivity and specificity of these diagnostic techniques.

Cell Biology: Shaping sperm in Drosophila

ATP synthase is a large protein complex found in mitochondria, which catalyzes ATP formation from ADP and inorganic phosphate during cellular respiration. It is typically composed of 16 subunits and peripheral stalk regions.  This study reports on the role of subunit d of ATP synthase in modulating the structure of the Nebenkern within Drosophila spermatids.  In addition, the study offers evidence that other ATP synthase subunits help shape spermatid mitochondria.   The findings offer additional support to the growing knowledge of the role ATP synthase in membrane conformation in addition to ATP production.

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