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Monday, November 02, 2009

Today in the News (2 Nov 09)

Evolution:
Novel Evolutionary Theory For The Explosion Of Life. The Cambrian Explosion is widely regarded as one of the most relevant episodes in the history of life on Earth, when the vast majority of animal phyla first appear in the fossil record. However, the causes of its origin have been the subject of debate for decades, and the question of what was the trigger for the single cell microorganisms to assemble and organize into multicellular organisms has remained unanswered until now. Within a longstanding research collaboration between the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia and Bielefeld University together with the Friedrich-Miescher-Institute in Basel and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole (Massachusetts), Xavier Fernàndez-Busquets (Barcelona) and Dario Anselmetti (Bielefeld) and their colleagues published online in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution their biophysical single molecule results on the effect of calcium on the interactions of cell adhesion molecules from marine sponges. These simply organized organisms do not have specialized muscle or nerve cells and nevertheless survived the last 500 million years almost unchanged and are considered a link between the single-cell dominated Precambrian and later multicellular organisms.

A Solution To Darwin's 'Mystery Of The Mysteries' Emerges From The Dark Matter Of The Genome. Biological species are often defined on the basis of reproductive isolation. Ever since Darwin pointed out his difficulty in explaining why crosses between two species often yield sterile or inviable progeny (for instance, mules emerging from a cross between a horse and a donkey), biologists have struggled with this question. New research into this field by basic scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, published online Oct. 22 in Science Express, suggests that the solution to this problem lies within the "dark matter of the genome": heterochromatin, a tightly packed, gene-poor compartment of DNA found within the genomes of all nucleated cells. "Speciation is one of the most fascinating, unsolved problems in biology," said Harmit Malik, Ph.D., an associate member of the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division and corresponding author of the paper.

Vaccines:
Pregnant Women At 'Serious Risk' from Flu. Pregnant women who catch the flu are at serious risk for flu-related complications, including death, and that risk far outweighs the risk of possible side effects from injectable vaccines containing killed virus, according to an extensive review of published research and data from previous flu seasons. The review, a collaboration among scientists from the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Emory University and Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and published online Oct. 22 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, found substantial and persistent evidence of high complication risk among pregnant women -- both healthy ones and those with underlying medical conditions -- infected with the flu virus, while confirming vaccine safety. The findings, researchers say, solidify existing CDC recommendations that make pregnant women the highest-priority group to receive both the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.

Progress Made On Group B Streptococcus Vaccine. Scientists supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, have completed a Phase II clinical study that indicates a vaccine to prevent Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection is possible. GBS is the most common cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also cause severe illness in pregnant women, the elderly and adults with chronic illnesses. Colonization of the genital or gastrointestinal tract is a critical risk factor for infections due to GBS.

Autism:
New 'Schizophrenia Gene' Prompts Researchers To Test Potential Drug Target. Johns Hopkins scientists report having used a commercially available drug to successfully "rescue" animal brain cells that they had intentionally damaged by manipulating a newly discovered gene that links susceptibility genes for schizophrenia and autism. The rescue, described as "surprisingly complete" by the researchers, was accomplished with rapamycin, a drug known to act on a protein called mTOR whose role involves the production of other proteins. The idea to test this drug's effectiveness at rescuing impaired nerve cells occurred to the team as a result of having discovered a new gene that appears to act in concert with two previously identified schizophrenia susceptibility genes, one of which is involved in the activation of the protein mTOR. This piecing together of multiple genes adds support for the idea that susceptibility to schizophrenia and autism may have common genetic fingerprints, according to the researchers.

Vaccine Inoculations Show No Link to Autism, Other Health Problems: Presented at IDSA. Vaccine inoculations show no link to autism or other health problems even in children with certain genetic disorders that might put them at risk for such problems, researchers stated here at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). The research findings could contradict previous concessions by the US Department of Health and Human Services that suggested a possibility that vaccination might have aggravated a child's underlying mitochondrial disorder and caused her autism symptoms.

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