Highlights of the BMC-series: December 2012

Growth in zero gravity • Nudging consumers to healthier living • Infections may increase risk of celiac disease • Regeneration by proliferation • The Clemson Robot • Barriers for gestational diabetes services • Piecing together a viral puzzle


Plant Biology: Growth in zero gravity

Which way do plant roots grow when there’s no force guiding them downwards? How do these patterns differ compared to normal plant growth? What else could cause this difference? And just how do you water a plant in zero gravity? Answers to all these questions and more can be found in BMC Plant Biology, where Anna-Lisa Paul and colleagues report their findings from a mission to the International Space Station.


Public health: nudging consumers to healthier living

Nudging consumers toward healthier options could be a promising strategy to promote sales of healthier food. Ellen van Kleef and colleagues from Wageningen University report on a lab and field study examining the effect of manipulating the shelf layout of a display of healthy and unhealthy snacks near the checkout counter of a canteen, and find a higher probability of healthy snack choices when healthier options are more prominently displayed – even though these choices were not rated as less satisfying or more restrictive by buyers.


Pediatrics: Infections may increase risk of celiac disease

A study of Swedish children with celiac disease finds that sufferers are more likely to have had three infections before six months of age and consume larger amounts of dietary gluten. These results indicate that repeated early infections and gluten intake contribute to disease risk, which until recently had displayed an epidemic pattern among Swedish children below two years of age. Speaking to BioMed Central, lead author Dr Anna Myléus explained, “While we do not know if the increased risk is due to a genetic predisposition to both infection and celiac disease, our results highlight the importance of breast feeding in reducing risk of celiac disease, especially for an infant who has frequent infections.”


Developmental biology: Regeneration by proliferation

High levels of cell proliferation characterize the regeneration of oral structures in the cnidarian worm Nematostella, in contrast to other model species such as planarian worms that can regenerate structures via pluripotent stem cells. This cell proliferation is necessary for the proper progression of regeneration and may be a common feature of oral regeneration in the Cnidaria in general.

Image of the month

Fig 7 from Smith et al. BMC Structural Biology 2012, 12:31 The Clemson Robot, a composite object created by the software package Protein Nano-Object Integrator (ProNOI). The different parts of the robot are charged with various volumetric charge densities and it holds the barnase-barstar protein complex in its hand.



Global health: Barriers for gestational diabetes services

An analysis of surveys conducted on World Diabetes Foundation (WDF) supported gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) projects indicates that treatment of GDM in low- and middle-income countries may be hindered by a lack of trained health care providers. Different cultural perceptions of women and women’s health issues may also be hampering treatment of GDM, suggesting that these services face strong barriers within health systems and society. The findings from these surveys are published in BMC International Health and Human Rights.


Biophysics: Piecing together a viral puzzle

Computational modeling of the way that viruses are able to self-assemble their protein capsid coats suggests that for complex viruses with more stable bonds, a piecemeal hierarchical assembly process is most likely. Author Ulrich Schwarz told BioMed Central: “Theoretical models and computer simulations, like ours, can be used to understand the mechanism behind assembly of complex viruses and give an indication of how other large protein complexes assemble.” See for yourself just how they solve this DIY puzzle by viewing some video action over on our blog:  What is the best way for a virus to build itself?


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