Highlights of the BMC-series: August 2013

Teaching biology is as easy as Pi • Fukushima fallout over butterflies • Probiotics are not to be sniffed at • Bacterial social networks Image of the month • Farmed salmon make a bid for freedom  • ART and death

BMC Wordle CC0Bioinformatics: Teaching biology is as easy as Pi

An open access, open learning method for teaching bioinformatics uses the Raspberry Pi computer and a custom operating system to teach early-career researchers key skills in systems administration and computational biology at low cost. The course, developed for teaching undergraduates computational biology at the University of St Andrews (UK) is freely available for anyone wishing to develop their coding skills with this innovative new piece of hardware. Want to know more? Read an interview with lead author Daniel Barker and leading bioinformatician Ian Korf, for Biome magazine.

Evolution: Fukushima fallout over butterflies

Research conducted in the area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the months following the devastating tsunami and nuclear meltdown suggested that the radioactive fallout had substantial effects on a local butterfly species. However, this research—published originally in the journal Scientific Reports—attracted both considerable attention and considerable criticism. Now, in a Correspondence article published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, the authors have responded to their critics and the controversy surrounding their work. You can read more on the background to the controversy over on our blog.

Immunology: Probiotics are not to be sniffed at

Acute respiratory infections by bacteria, for example those that cause pneumonia, are a persistent public health problem, particularly in children. However, there is evidence for immunological benefits from oral probiotics in tackling this problem. Now, comparative studies using two Lactobacillus rhamnosus strains demonstrate that nasal administration of immunobiotics can beneficially modulate immune responses in the respiratory tract and increase resistance to Respiratory Syncytial Virus challenge in mice, offering an alternative route to combat these infections.

Systems biology: Bacterial social networks

Bacteria communicate via chemical signalling mechanisms called quorum sensing, which may be used in some pathogenic species to regulate virulence factors involved in infection. To investigate how these factors may be potentially manipulated, researchers have used computational network modelling to investigate how inhibition of the quorum sensing pathways in the opportunistic pathogen Psedomonas aeruginosa may influence virulence. Pinpointing a weak spot in these virulence factors may therefore help in the ongoing battle against antibiotic resistance. You can read more on the background to this research in Biome magazine.

Image of the Month:

Fig 4A Freyer et al BMC Developmental Biology (2013) 13, 33

From “Conditional and constitutive expression of a Tbx1-GFP fusion protein in mice” Freyer et al. BMC Developmental Biology 2013, 13:33

Population genetics: Farmed salmon make a bid for freedom

Each year, thousands of farmed salmon escape into the wild from aquaculture. If introgression with wild populations occurs this can cause major problems by affecting the genetic diversity of wild conspecifics, as well as creating issues with aquaculture management techniques that typically use genetics to monitor population health and identify cases of poaching. Now, a large scale comparison of wild Atlantic Salmon populations with those from farms in Norway is the first to quantify the extent of introgression of farmed fish in a native population, and indicates that while levels of admixture between the two can often be high, these appear to be population-specific.

Infectious diseases: ART and death

Adherence to full courses of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is crucially important to prevent increases in drug-resistance and ensure viral suppression.  However, research conducted on patients in Zimbabwe and Uganda finds that recurrent poor adherence to ART, determined even through simple measures, is associated with high mortality both at individual level as well as at the ART programme level. Simple measure to promote adherence to ART could therefore save many lives if properly implemented.


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