Developing a nanobody based technique to investigate interactions between signalling proteins and their role in Oesophageal Adenocarcinoma

Conventional antibody used in current imaging techniques.

Conventional antibody used in current imaging techniques.

Oesophageal cancers can be divided into tumours of the upper or lower oesophagus. Carcinomas arising from glandular cells usually found in the lower oesophagus are termed oesophageal adenocarcinoma (OAC)1,2. The incidence rate of OAC has increased by 600% within the last 30 years and is continually rising3.

Dulak et al. identified mutations of two genes previously not linked to cancer namely the engulfment and cell motility protein 1 (ELMO1) and the dedicator of cytokinesis 2 Continue reading

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How bacteria surf waves

Breaking wave by Louis Argerich which probably is a bit too big for a bacterium to ride on.

Recently I started surfing and I was instantly hooked. That made me wonder who or what else might love to ride waves. And indeed I found that not only dolphins enjoy riding waves but even some bacteria choose surfing on waves as their mode of transport.

The organism in question is Bacillus subtilis which is found mostly in soil and decomposing plants but is also very common  Continue reading

It came in the water and caused disease

The outbreak

Cryptosporidium parvum stained with a fluorescent antibody. Image by the Environmental Protection Agency

In the spring of 1993, Milwaukee, a city in the US state Wisconsin, was facing a mysterious outbreak of severe diarrhoea. In the course of the events at least 400,000 people became ill and 4000 were hospitalized. The situation was so bad that some hospital laboratories even ran out of culture medium for their tests. However none of the undertaken tests was positive for bacteria nor viruses. Only by chance a laboratory technician noticed “voids” in one of her stool samples and could stain them with fluorescent antibodies against

Continue reading

Restriction enzymes: the superbug’s arch nemesis

Flesh eating, and drug resistant, bacterial strains are being found more frequently in the UK.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Credit National Institutes of Health

The MRSA strain known as USA300 is nearly untreatable and often lethal, demonstrating how important it is to prevent resistances in the first place, as well as their spread. An international team of scientists have now mapped the structure of a restriction enzyme for the bacteria, a protein which could be used to prevent these resistances to spread.

Bacteria are able to share their genetic blueprint, their DNA, in a process called conjugation. This is a process which resembles sex in higher organisms  Continue reading

Top-down or bottom-up?

Can we solve the global food-shortage with biotechnology?

Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world. Intended for 90.000 people it gives shelter to 400.000 fugitives. But they are only a minority of the 12 million people affected by the worst famine in 60 years which was worsened by a two decade lasting civil war in Somalia.

Scientist examining a rice plant. Credit: the image collection of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Two scientists recently claimed that the global food supply is in danger because of

Europe´s resistance to genetically engineered food. The team from the Universities of Edinburgh and Warwick looked into the past ten years of the relationship to biotechnology in agriculture in Europe.

They found that as a result of the European skepticism against biotechnology, many developing countries do not use genetic engineered (GM) plants. Those countries fear that the products cannot be sold to Europe and deny this option although it  might increase their yields.

Professor Joyce Tait who wrote the publication together with Guy Barker said that “At a time when increasing numbers of people are living in hunger [..], Continue reading

Universal malaria vaccine gives hope to half the word’s population

Photo Credit: James Gathany, CDC

Scientists have developed a universal vaccine that could prove successful in battling the many different types of malaria.

Until now most efforts to design a vaccine against the malaria parasite Plasmodium have been fruitless. This mosquito transmitted parasite still claims 781,000 lives each year, especially amongst children and pregnant women. The situation for half the world’s population, living in regions with malaria, is becoming worse due to emerging resistances to the available drugs. The hurdle that scientists have tried to overcome for years is that the parasite comes in many different types. Each of them looks slightly different to the immune system which makes it very difficult to find one vaccine against all strains.

A research team from the University of Edinburgh set themselves the task to make such a vaccine to protect from all known malaria strains. Their approach was to collect different types of a vital protein which is found in all parasite strains. This protein causes the production of antibodies in the human body which then protect the person from the strain they were infected with. The scientists combined the slightly different shapes of the protein from different strains into one artificial protein, producing antibodies against all types of malaria when injected as a vaccine. Until now it showed to be effective in animal trials but the researcher hope to start a clinical trial in the near future.

Dr. David Cavanagh the head of the study said, ‘our approach is novel because it combines multiple targets from different types, giving broader protection. This could prove to be a useful vaccine.’

The most recent success story, which was in the headlines a couple of weeks ago, was a vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline, protecting children in a clinical trial. However this vaccine uses only one target protein. Therefore this new approach by the group around Dr. Cavanagh might have the advantages of higher effectiveness in protecting against all the types of the parasite. It is hoped this vaccine will especially help children and pregnant women who are most prone to the disease.

The original paper appeared in PloS and was supported by the European Commission.

18.11.2011 EUSCI

Irrational Decisions – what we have in common with a slime mould

Do you believe you are able to decide rationally? We always think we are in control of our choices but often our subconscious mind cheats us. Imagine you travel to a foreign city. There you want to go out for dinner and choose the restaurant rationally by studying menus, prices and ambience.

Because you wanted to see so many things the sightseeing finishes late in the evening and you are hungry and tired. Probably you will pick the first restaurant regardless of whether it may look dodgy, charge fantasy prices and even if you do not like the food.

Professor Ray Dolan from University College, London tried to give a neuroscientific explanation for this phenomenon this past spring during the Edinburgh International Science Festival. In his words, ”the human mind is a Parliament and not an Executive”.

The human mind has different feedback mechanisms that allow it to judge the environment and decide between several options. The final decision is not made by an executive (your brain) alone. As in a parliament these types of decision-making contribute to the final result.

To grasp this idea we have to understand the process of decision-making first. Continue reading

Number five or a second life

It started as any normal night shift. We had finished our jobs, the daily cleaning and checking. Then we both started to kill time. I just placed my dinner plate on the table when the pagers hanging imminent from our belts started vibrating silently. While walking to the door, its tiny display showed the address where we were needed nothing else.

On the foot of the stairs I met my colleague who proclaimed “Let’s go!” and we went into the garage, hopping into our boots while climbing into the ambulance. The beeping display on the dashboard showed the factual diagnosis “unconscious person”.

Both my colleague and me had a bad feeling in the gut region when we saw the diagnosis. Continue reading