. Scientific Frontline

Monday, June 5, 2023

Testing for 'zombie cells' could boost number of hearts for transplant

Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures

Testing older potential organ donors for dangerous ‘zombie’ cells could help to increase the number of hearts available for transplant, according to research we've part-funded and presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference in Manchester. 

Currently, hearts from donors aged over 65 are not accepted for donation due to the likelihood of a poor clinical outcome. However, our hearts age at different rates and age isn’t necessarily the best indicator of heart health.  

Researchers from Newcastle University are working to develop a test which may help clinicians determine quickly whether a donor heart may still be suitable for transplant. With around 320 people in the UK currently waiting for a lifesaving heart transplant, it is hoped this new test would help to increase the number of hearts available and allow more people to get the transplant they desperately need. 

The research has shown that people with heart disease have more senescent – or ‘zombie’ – cells than those without, after they found higher levels of ‘zombie’ cell markers in their blood. 

Fungi stores a third of carbon from fossil fuel emissions and could be essential to reaching net zero

The fungi make up a vast underground network all over the planet underneath grasslands and forests, as well as roads, gardens, and houses on every continent on Earth
Photo Credit: Florian van Duyn

Researchers are now calling for fungi to be considered more heavily in conservation and biodiversity policies, and are investigating whether we can increase how much carbon the soil underneath us can hold

The vast underground network of fungi beneath our feet stores over 13 gigatons of carbon around the world, roughly equivalent to 36 per cent of yearly global fossil fuel emissions, according to new research.

It is widely believed that mycorrhizal fungi could store carbon, as the fungi forms symbiotic relationships with almost all land plants and transports carbon, converted into sugars and fats by the plant, into soil, but until now the true extent of just how much carbon the fungi were storing wasn’t known.

The discovery by a team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Sheffield, that fungi is storing over a third of the carbon created from fossil fuel emissions each year indicates that it could be crucial as nations seek to tackle climate change and reach net zero. Work is now being undertaken to see whether we could increase how much carbon the soil underneath us can store.

New findings about human metabolic processes

Using genome-wide analysis, the researchers identified 1,299 genetic alterations that impact on metabolites in blood plasma and urine. Shown here are the 282 gene locations where enzymes and transporter proteins that influence metabolism are located.
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Image Credit: Anna Köttgen/Universität Freiburg

Researchers at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Freiburg have gained significant new insights into metabolic processes in the kidney. The scientists from the Institute of Genetic Epidemiology at the Medical Center - University of Freiburg measured tiny molecules, so-called metabolites, which occur in blood and urine and reflect our metabolism, in samples from more than 5,000 study participants. They compared these with the genome of the test persons and were able to identify 1,299 genetic changes that are associated with metabolites and contribute to their production, degradation or transport. The findings provide a better understanding of processes throughout the body and particularly in the kidney, which produces urine from blood plasma. These discoveries, which appeared June 5, 2023, in the journal Nature Genetics, could lead to a better understanding of diseases and new approaches to their treatment. For example, a new class of therapies for treating diabetes, called SGLT2 inhibitors, work by inhibiting a metabolite transporter in the kidney.

Delirium risk in the Emergency Department for older adults

Katren Tyler led team of researchers that discovered detrimental effects of prolonged ED stays on older patients' health.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of California, Davis Health

New UC Davis Health research reveals a significant association between the length of stay in the emergency department (ED) and the development of incident delirium in older adults.

The study, published this month in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, was conducted by a team of emergency medicine physicians. It sheds light on the detrimental effects of prolonged ED stays on older patients' health.

Katren Tyler, vice chair for geriatric emergency medicine and wellness and senior author of the study, commented, "Prolonged ED length of stay can have detrimental effects on older patients, especially those with a history of dementia and multiple comorbidities. Swift assignment and transfer to inpatient beds for admitted older patients will not only reduce the risk of delirium but also benefit both patients and health systems."

Delirium is a sudden change in mental function that can include confusion, rapid mood changes and is often reversible.  It is a common and costly condition among older adults, often goes unrecognized and can have severe consequences. The estimated costs associated with delirium to the health care system fall between $38 billion and $152 billion annually.   

Computational model mimics humans’ ability to predict emotions

While a great deal of research has gone into training computer models to infer someone’s emotional state based on their facial expression, that is not the most important aspect of human emotional intelligence, says MIT Professor Rebecca Saxe. Much more important is the ability to predict someone’s emotional response to events before they occur.
Image Credit: Christine Daniloff, MIT
(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

When interacting with another person, you likely spend part of your time trying to anticipate how they will feel about what you’re saying or doing. This task requires a cognitive skill called theory of mind, which helps us to infer other people’s beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions.

MIT neuroscientists have now designed a computational model that can predict other people’s emotions — including joy, gratitude, confusion, regret, and embarrassment — approximating human observers’ social intelligence. The model was designed to predict the emotions of people involved in a situation based on the prisoner’s dilemma, a classic game theory scenario in which two people must decide whether to cooperate with their partner or betray them. 

To build the model, the researchers incorporated several factors that have been hypothesized to influence people’s emotional reactions, including that person’s desires, their expectations in a particular situation, and whether anyone was watching their actions.

“These are very common, basic intuitions, and what we said is, we can take that very basic grammar and make a model that will learn to predict emotions from those features,” says Rebecca Saxe, the John W. Jarve Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.

PSI researchers use extreme UV light to produce tiny structures for information technology.

The PSI researchers involved at the XIL-II beamline of the SLS. From left to right: Yasin Ekinci, Gabriel Aeppli, Matthias Muntwiler, Procopios Christou Constantinou, Dimitrios Kazazis, Prajith Karadan
Photo Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic

Researchers at PSI have refined a process known as photolithography, which can further advance miniaturization in information technology.

In many areas of information technology, the trend towards ever more compact microchips continues unabated. This is mainly because production processes make it possible to achieve ever smaller structures, so that the same number of information-processing components takes up less and less space. Fitting more components into less space increases the performance and lowers the price of the microchips used in smartphones, smartwatches, game consoles, televisions, Internet servers and industrial applications.

A research group led by Dimitrios Kazazis and Yasin Ekinci at the Laboratory for X-ray Nanoscience and Technologies at the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, in collaboration with researchers from University College London (UCL) in the UK, has now succeeded in making important progress towards further miniaturization in the IT industry. The scientists have demonstrated that photolithography – the method of patterning widely used in the mass production of microchips – works even when no photosensitive layer has been applied to the silicon.

How Studying Poop May Help Us Boost White Rhino Populations

White Rhinoceros with baby, being protected from poachers. Shot in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Photo Credit: Nadine Venter

Researchers at North Carolina State University have identified significant differences in the gut microbiome of female southern white rhinos who are reproducing successfully in captivity, as compared to females who have not reproduced successfully in captivity. The work raises questions about the role that a particular genus of gut microbes may be playing in limiting captive breeding of this rhinoceros species.

“Our work focuses on the southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum), because while it is not yet endangered, species numbers are declining in the wild due to poaching,” says Christina Burnham, first author of a paper on the work and a former graduate student at NC State.

“There is a significant population of southern white rhinos under human care in the United States, but there have been challenges in getting many of these animals to reproduce successfully. It is critical we understand why, as the managed rhinos serve as important assurance populations in case wild rhino numbers continue to fall. We wanted to know how the gut microbiome may influence the reproductive ability of these rhinos.”

Women more likely to experience repeat Toxoplasmosis

Ocular syphilis on the rise
Video Credit: Flinders University

Women are more likely to experience recurrent cases of the Toxoplasma parasite, according to new Flinders University research.

With the condition putting people at risk of further attacks of toxoplasmosis that can progressively damage the retina and lead to vision loss, international experts have demonstrated that women are also more likely to have more than one lesion in their eyes.

The new study, which analyzed the impact of toxoplasmosis on 262 participants at an eye clinic in Brazil, aims to address differences in the way dangerous infections like toxoplasmosis impact people because of their gender to develop targeted treatments.

Closely associated with cats, Toxoplasma is a parasite that causes the infectious disease known as toxoplasmosis. For humans, while domestic cat feces can be a carrier, the most common route of infection is by eating undercooked or raw meat sourced from infected livestock.

The Rise of Pelagic Fungi and their Crucial Role in Oceanic Ecosystems

Federico Baltar and Eva Breyer in front of their research vessel in Antarctica during a sampling expedition
Photo Credit: Federico Baltar

Mycoplankton plays an active role in the degradation of organic matter and the cycling of nutrients

Fungi plays a vital and previously neglected role in the complex tapestry of marine ecosystems, a study by Eva Breyer and Federico Baltar of the University of Vienna reveals. The results have now been published in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Traditionally overlooked and underestimated, recent findings have put the spotlight on the profound importance of pelagic fungi (mycoplankton) as valuable members of oceanic pelagic ecosystems. Thanks to recent technological advances, the scientific community can now harness cutting-edge tools to uncover, characterize, and understand the abundance, diversity, and functional roles played by pelagic fungal taxa and communities within the oceanic realm.

Saving moths may be just as important as saving the bees

More moths were found to be carrying pollen than previously thought, and visiting more types of plant and fruit crops than previously identified
Photo Credit: EyeCandyDesignz

Night-time pollinators such as moths need protecting as effectively as bees, as new research found they could be less resilient to the pressures of urbanization

Night-time pollinators such as moths may visit just as many plants as bees, and should also be the focus of conservation and protection efforts, a new study from the University of Sheffield suggests.

The study found that moths under pressure from urbanization may also be less resilient than bees, due to their more complex life cycle and more specific plant requirements.

It also revealed that despite this threat, moths play a crucial role in supporting urban plant communities, accounting for a third of all pollination in flowering plants, crops and trees.

The researchers suggest that when planning or redeveloping urban areas, supporting the introduction of plant species that are beneficial for moths, as well as bees, will become increasingly important for the health of urban ecosystems.

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