Shail Bhatt summarises this month’s most interesting research developments in the biological sciences
4th: No more leaky tissues!
After accidents and grave injuries, it is often an arduous task to repair tissue ruptures. Further, despite these efforts, tissues may continue to leak air and liquid, and the ingredients of a glue (otherwise known as a hydrogel) used to seal tissue may not work for certain tissues. The need for a more effective sealant motivated Nasim Annabi and colleagues to develop a new type of hydrogel, which uses a human protein, tropoelastin, important for elasticity. The gel, based on MeTro (methacryloyl-substituted tropoelastin), was successfully able to seal surgical incisions in rats and prevent air and liquid leakages, leaving scientists and doctors optimistic for the future of surgery.
11th: Scientists can now edit human DNA with extreme precision using CRISPR
Gene-editing using the CRISPR-Cas9 mechanism just became “hyper-accurate”, allowing specific targeting and cutting of DNA. Using an advanced form of Cas9 (an enzyme) called HypaCas9, wherein a domain of Cas9, HNH nuclease (the part of the enzyme that actually does the cutting) was stabilised, Janice Chen and colleagues enabled stable and efficient DNA cleaving. CRISPR, the revolutionary technology originally derived from bacteria, locates and edits out specific genes from DNA, giving scientists the ability to modify the genetic code in organisms, including humans!
11th: The science of social behaviour in a new light
Genetic variations, or polymorphisms, in the receptors of oxytocin (the hormone associated with social behaviour, and closely linked with the feelings of love and trust), may lead to neurodevelopmental disorders like autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Although this relationship has remained unclear, an experiment recently conducted by Danielle Baribeau and colleagues not only confirmed that that these genetic modifications do alter specific social abilities, by changing an individual’s levels of empathy and social sensitivity, but also determined that while an individual may have these polymorphisms, it does not mean that their social abilities will be impaired.
18th: Down with the flu? Down with the flu!
A revolutionary cure has been found for Influenza B, the debilitating virus that causes “the flu” which affects millions and can kill hundreds of thousands. A specific monoclonal antibody, C12G6, managed to neutralise, and therefore combat, the virus with freakishly high potency. Analysis showed that the antibody inhibits the virus using multiple mechanisms; C12G6 not only prevents the entry of the virus, but it also inhibits its exit. Furthermore, it also triggers a complement-dependent cytotoxic response that attacks and destroys the membrane of the pathogen, causing it to swell and stop functioning. This all-round attack by C12G6 makes the antibody extremely efficient, and a highly promising medicine to treat this dangerous virus.
25th: One of nature’s fiercest phenomena: the pistol shrimp’s snapping claw
The pistol shrimp doesn’t kill with bullets, but with its deadly claw! The snapping of the claw generates a high-speed water jet, darting at 30 metres per second towards its prey and enemies, to effectively obliterate the poor things via the shockwaves this stream of water generates. Research conducted by Phoevos Koukouvinis and colleagues finally revealed why the pistol shrimp’s claw was so effective, and therefore shed light on one of nature’s fiercest phenomena. They discovered that in half a millisecond, the claw’s snap generates enough friction to create a strong vortex, like a mini-whirlpool. When the centre of the whirlpool collapses, it releases a powerful shockwave. Though only five centimetres in length, the pistol shrimp creates waves that can be felt by humans as well!
Featured image: unsplash