Highlights of the BMC-series: September 2013

Different strokes for different folks • Parasite oversight • A soft touch induces strong resistance • Image of the month • Undergrads sequence sea lions  • Targeting microspheres to mesothelioma  • Assess your horse tendon fibroblast “health” • Importance of monitoring renal function

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Medical Education: Different strokes for different folks

A recent study in BMC Medical Education shows that, when it comes to choosing a medical specialty, different specialties attract individuals with different values. For example, lifestyle issues are less important to those students who value bioscientific specialties such as surgery or emergency medicine than for those who want to pursue paediatrics or orthopaedics. Other specialties, such as psychiatry and ophthalmology, attract individuals who seek a fulfilling life with job security.

Ecology: Parasite oversight

Studies of how blood parasites can affect bird populations traditionally focus on the breeding period as the most critical window in which harmful effects are evident. Now, analysis of malaria-like parasites infecting the declining farmland bird species the Yellowhammer reveals that infected individuals also suffer a survival disadvantage and immunological challenge during the overwintering period –highlighting the need to consider the effects of sub-clinical disease in the non-breeding season for vulnerable populations. Listen to an interview with the study’s lead author to find out more about their research, and the novel method of peer-review from which it came to be published.

Plant biology: A soft touch induces strong resistance

Plants have evolved a variety of mechanisms to overcome the harmful effects of stress from the environment. For example, leaves of the model species Arabidopsis thaliana release defensive cellular compounds and activate immune-response pathways when leaves are damage. A new study now reveals that this defensive pathway is also activated under a far gentler form of stress – “mechanical stimulation” from leaves being rubbed between finger and thumb.  Plants receiving this treatment induce a strong resistance to the grey mould Botrytis cinerea in a response that is independent of both tissue wounding and the major plant defense pathways. Read more in a Research Synopsis for Biome Magazine.

Image of the Month:


From: “A new xinjiangchelyid turtle from the middle jurassic of Xinjiang, China and the evolution of the basipterygoid process in Mesozoic turtles” Rabi et al. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:203

Genomics: Undergrads sequence sea lions

The growth of next-generation sequencing technology now means genomes can be quickly, cheaply and successfully sequenced by an ever-widening variety of researchers across many disciplines. For example, a 15-week Ecological Metagenomics course at San Diego State University recently brought together 21 biology and computer science undergraduates to successfully sequence the California sea lion genome, 14 bacterial genomes and 14 microbial community samples, in a course that aims to teach the latest next-generation methods to the newest next-generation biologists.

Cancer: Targeting microspheres to mesothelioma

A new targeted therapy for asbestos-related tumours has shown promise in an animal model. The results, reported in the open access journal BMC Cancer, raise hopes of a new therapy for this currently incurable cancer.  The new targeted therapy is a silica microparticle, coated in antibodies that recognize a protein produced by the tumour cells in large amounts. When the microparticles are injected into a mouse model of the cancer, the antibody helps the microparticles bind to the tumour cells, where they are then able to release their hidden inner cargo – the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin (DOX).  The new therapy appears to be more effective, demonstrating lower toxicity than DOX systemic treatment in a mouse xenograft model of human peritoneal mesothelioma.

Veterinary Research: Assess your horse tendon fibroblast “health”

Injuries to the equine superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) are considered a model for human Achilles tendon injury. Defining mechanisms of injury and methods of prevention requires in vitro work. Additionally, injectable cell-based therapies are widely used in the equine field and are being developed further for both veterinary and medical use. This collaborative study published in BMC Veterinary Research, identifies significant problems in tendon fibroblast monolayer culture that cannot be seen by simply monitoring viability and growth rates (as is standard), and that are highly variable within and between tissue sources. The data presented in this study are particularly prescient given that multiple laboratories have published data concerning the differentiation and reparative potential of cells extracted from horses.  The authors demonstrate that the significant damage created by cell culture conditions in the monolayer system is replication-associated. Even subtle differences in the levels of basal damage influenced reparative activity, raising concerns regarding in vitro cellular expansion for both therapeutic use and mechanistic studies.

Nephrology: Importance of monitoring renal function

Failure to monitor renal function has been linked with adverse outcomes in diabetic patients with and without hypertension, and a call for computerised prompts and other recall systems has been put forward to focus on high risk patients.  Investigations into the relationship between CKD stage, proteinuria, hypertension and these adverse outcomes in a cohort of more than 35,500 people with type 1 and 2 diabetes revealed that proteinuria and reduced eGFR were independently associated with adverse outcomes (a composite of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events, and ESRD). People with an eGFR below 60 mL/min/1.73 m², proteinuria, and hypertension had the greatest odds of experiencing adverse outcomes. The study published in BMC Nephrology noted renal function was not monitored in 12.6% of the cohort, and unmonitored renal function was associated with adverse events in people with and without hypertension.


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