. Scientific Frontline

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Network neuroscience theory best predictor of intelligence

U. of I. Professor Aron Barbey, pictured, and co-author Evan Anderson found that taking into account the features of the whole brain – rather than focusing on individual regions or networks – allows the most accurate predictions of intelligence.     
Photo Credit: Fred Zwicky

Scientists have labored for decades to understand how brain structure and functional connectivity drive intelligence. Researchers report a new analysis offers the clearest picture yet of how various brain regions and neural networks contribute to a person’s problem-solving ability in a variety of contexts, a trait known as general intelligence, researchers report.

They detail their findings in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

The study used “connectome-based predictive modeling” to compare five theories about how the brain gives rise to intelligence, said Aron Barbey, a professor of psychology, bioengineering and neuroscience at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who led the new work with first author Evan Anderson, now a researcher for Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. working at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“To understand the remarkable cognitive abilities that underlie intelligence, neuroscientists look to their biological foundations in the brain,” Barbey said. “Modern theories attempt to explain how our capacity for problem-solving is enabled by the brain’s information-processing architecture.”

Antimalarial Drug Proves Ineffective at Saving Children’s Lives

A drug used for the initial treatment of malaria failed to improve child survival in real world circumstances.
Photo Credit: Matthis Kleeb, Swiss TPH

Rectal artesunate, a promising antimalarial drug, has no beneficial effect on the survival of young children with severe malaria when used as an emergency treatment in resource-constrained settings. These are the results of a large-scale study conducted by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute and local partners in three African countries.

Rectal artesunate (RAS) proves ineffective at saving the lives of young children suffering from severe malaria, according to the results of a new study. A viewpoint about these findings was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The study, which investigated a large-scale roll-out of RAS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Uganda, found that when used as an emergency treatment under real-world conditions, RAS did not improve the odds of survival for young children with severe malaria.

Diving birds are more prone to extinction, says new study

Diving birds like puffins are highly adapted for their environment, but that means they can't adapt so well to changing conditions.
Photo Credit: Michael Blum

Diving birds like penguins, puffins and cormorants may be more prone to extinction than non-diving birds, according to a new study by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath. The authors suggest this is because they are highly specialized and therefore less able to adapt to changing environments than other birds.

The ability to dive is quite rare in birds, with less than a third of the 727 species of water bird using this way of hunting for food.

Evolutionary scientists Joshua Tyler and Dr Jane Younger studied of the evolution of diving in modern waterbirds to investigate how diving impacted: the physical characteristics of the birds (morphology); how the species evolved to increase diversity (rate of speciation); and how prone the species were to extinction.

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that diving evolved independently 14 times, and that once a group had evolved the ability to dive, subsequent evolution didn’t reverse this trait.

The researchers found that body size amongst the diving birds had evolved differently depending on the type of diving they did.

More stable states for quantum computers

The properties of gralmonium qubits are dominated by a tiny constriction of only 20 nanometers, which acts like a magnifying glass for microscopic material defects.
Illustration Credit: Dennis Rieger, KIT

Quantum computers are considered the computers of the future. A and O are quantum bits (qubits), the smallest computing unit of quantum computers. Since they not only have two states, but also states in between, qubits process more information in less time. Maintaining such a condition longer is difficult, however, and depends in particular on the material properties. A KIT research team has now produced qubits that are 100 times more sensitive to material defects - a crucial step to eradicate them. The team published the results in the journal Nature Materials.

Quantum computers can process large amounts of data faster because they perform many calculation steps in parallel. The information carrier of the quantum computer is the qubit. With qubits there is not only the information "0" and "1", but also values in between. The difficulty at the moment, however, is to produce qubits that are small enough and can be switched quickly enough to perform quantum calculations. Superconducting circuits are a promising option here. Superconductors are materials that have no electrical resistance at extremely low temperatures and therefore conduct electrical current without loss. This is crucial to maintain the quantum state of the qubits and to connect them efficiently.

Technique for tracking resistant cancer cells could lead to new treatments for relapsing breast cancer patients

Breast cancer cells
Image Credit: Anne Weston - Francis Crick Institute (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Tumors are complex entities made up of many types of cells, including cancer cells and normal cells. But even within a single tumor there are a diverse range of cancer cells – and this is one reason why standard therapies fail.

When a tumor is treated with anti-cancer drugs, cancer cells that are susceptible to the drug die, the tumor shrinks and the therapy appears to be successful. But in reality, a small number of cancer cells in the tumor may be able to survive the treatment and regrow, often more persistently, causing a relapse.

In a study published in eLife, scientists from Professor Greg Hannon’s IMAXT lab at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute at the University of Cambridge have developed a new technique for identifying the different types of cells in a tumor. Their method – developed in mouse tumors – allows them to track the cells during treatment, seeing which types of cells die and which survive.

The IMAXT team was previously awarded £20 million by Cancer Grand Challenges, funded by Cancer Research UK.

Developing antibiotics that target multiple-drug-resistant bacteria

The sphaerimicin analogs (SPMs) inhibit the activity of MraY, and hence the replication of bacteria, with different degrees of effectiveness. The potency of the analog increases as the IC50 decrease Illustration Credit: Takeshi Nakaya, et al. Nature Communications. December 20, 2022

Researchers have designed and synthesized analogs of a new antibiotic that is effective against multidrug-resistant bacteria, opening a new front in the fight against these infections.

Antibiotics are vital drugs in the treatment of a number of bacterial diseases. However, due to continuing overuse and misuse, the number of bacteria strains that are resistant to multiple antibiotics is increasing, affecting millions of people worldwide. The development of new antibacterial compounds that target multiple drug resistant bacteria is also an active field of research so that this growing issue can be controlled.

A team led by Professor Satoshi Ichikawa at Hokkaido University has been working on the development of new antibacterial. Their most recent research, published in the journal Nature Communications, details the development of a highly effective antibacterial compound that is effective against the most common multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Polarity proteins shape efficient “breathing” pores in grasses

One of the two “compass proteins” (POLAR, in pink) orients the future cell division. In grey there are cell outlines on the developing leaf.
Image Credit: ZVG / Courtesy of Michael T. Raissig

A research group at the University of Bern is studying how plants "breathe". They have gained new insights into how grasses develop efficient "breathing pores" on their leaves. If important landmark components in this development process are missing, the gas exchange between plant and atmosphere is impaired. The findings are also important regarding climate change.

Grasses have "respiratory pores" (called stomata) that open and close to regulate the uptake of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis on the one hand and water loss through transpiration on the other. Unlike many other plants, stomata in grasses form lateral "helper cells". Thanks to these cells, the stomata of grasses can open and close more quickly, which optimizes plant-atmosphere gas exchange and thus saves water.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Why Don’t T Cells Destroy Solid Tumors during Immunotherapy?

3-D image of a T cell experiencing cell stress: endoplasmic reticulum (green), mitochondria (purple).
 Illustration Credit: Elizabeth Hunt, Thaxton lab

Led by Jessica Thaxton, PhD, MsCR, UNC School of Medicine scientists and colleagues found that targeting key proteins that control the T cell response to stress could help researchers develop more potent cancer immunotherapies.

The great hope of cancer immunotherapy is to bolster our own immune cells in specific ways to keep cancer cells from evading our immune system. Although much progress has been made, immunotherapy does not always work well. Jessica Thaxton, PhD, MsCR, in the immunotherapy group at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, wants to know why. She thinks one reason is the stress response experienced by T cells once they infiltrate solid cancers.

The Thaxton lab’s latest work, published in the journal Cancer Research, shows in detail how the stress response in T cells can lead to their inability to curtail tumor growth. Thaxton’s group found that T cells exposed to the environment of solid cancers undergo a natural response to stress that shuts off their function, limiting T cell ability to kill tumors. By manipulating multiple proteins in the stress response pathway inside T cells, Thaxton’s team showed that it was possible to overcome the intrinsic T cell stress response to allow the immune system to thwart cancer growth.

The clever glue keeping the cell’s moving parts connected

This liquid droplet is actually made from protein molecules. It acts as a glue that keeps the microtubule attached, via moving motor proteins, to an actin cable – a process essential for cell division to proceed.
 Illustration Credit: Ella Maru Studios, Courtesy of Paul Scherrer Institute

Researchers from Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich have discovered how proteins in the cell can form tiny liquid droplets that act as a smart molecular glue. Clinging to the ends of filaments called microtubules, the glue they discovered ensures the nucleus is correctly positioned for cell division. The findings, published in Nature Cell Biology, explain the long-standing mystery of how moving protein structures of the cell’s machinery are coupled together.

Couplings are critical to machines with moving parts. Rigid or flexible, whether the connection between the shafts in a motor or the joints in our body, the material properties ensure that mechanical forces are transduced as desired. Nowhere is this better optimized than in the cell, where the interactions between moving subcellular structures underpin many biological processes. Yet how nature makes this coupling has long baffled scientists.

Now researchers, investigating a coupling crucial for yeast cell division, have revealed that to do this, proteins collaborate such that they condense into a liquid droplet. The study was a collaboration between the teams of Michel Steinmetz at Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Yves Barral at ETH Zurich, with the help of the groups of Eric Dufresne and Jörg Stelling, both at ETH Zurich.

Scientists use machine learning to gain unprecedented view of small molecules

Metabolites are extremely small – the diameter of a human hair is 100,000 nanometers, while that of a glucose molecule is approximately one nanometer.
Illustration Credit: Matti Ahlgren/Aalto University.

A new tool to identify small molecules offers benefits for diagnostics, drug discovery and fundamental research.

A new machine learning model will help scientists identify small molecules, with applications in medicine, drug discovery and environmental chemistry. Developed by researchers at Aalto University and the University of Luxembourg, the model was trained with data from dozens of laboratories to become one of the most accurate tools for identifying small molecules.

Thousands of different small molecules, known as metabolites, transport energy and transmit cellular information throughout the human body. Because they are so small, metabolites are difficult to distinguish from each other in a blood sample analysis – but identifying these molecules is important to understand how exercise, nutrition, alcohol use and metabolic disorders affect wellbeing.

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