Individual cells go through life cycles, in which they grow and prepare for cell division. Similarly, in certain bacteria, groups of cells go through a synergistic cycle involving the formation and disassembly of biofilms. Biofilms are essentially groups of cells that surround themselves in layers of self-made extracellular matrix proteins and polysaccharides. A biofilm is a way for cells to protect themselves from dislocation or death by predation and are present in both beneficial and pathogenic bacterial microbiomes. The sticky extracellular matrix is a structure that pathogens such as Vibrio cholerae (the bacteria that causes Cholera) can hide in to avoid detection by immune cells and thus increase their virulence. In this way, biofilms essentially provide protective armor for bacterial cells that inhibits our ability to fight pathogenic infections.
In this episode of The Highlights, we're joined by Zhilei Zhao, a former graduate student in the McBride Lab of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. We discuss his experiences working in the lab during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as his study of the delicate neuroscience of mosquitoes and its potential impact on the fight against malaria and other insect-borne illnesses.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Zhilei Zhao is a post-doc in the Goldberg Lab at Cornell University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proteins are ubiquitous in our cells. Currently, it’s estimated that the human body contains between 80,000 and 400,000 protein molecules, all busily performing the many tasks that keep your cells running smoothly and ultimately go into making you. Not only do proteins form the structural framework of your cells, but they also protect your body against foreign pathogens, help digest your food, and send and transmit signals around your body. However, they don’t do this in isolation: proteins are constantly working hand-in-hand with other proteins and molecules in your body, like your DNA, RNA, small molecules, and ions. When your DNA is replicated, or an ion is actively transported, the proteins doing the job need to recognize those molecules (and often bind to them) in order to carry out their task properly. This fundamental process of a protein binding to a partner molecule, or ligand, is critically important in biological processes ranging from development to cancer. And yet, we know surprisingly little about what proteins bind what ligands, and where -- knowledge that is key in understanding, and possibly manipulating, the inner workings of cells.
How do animals produce a healthy egg cell? To answer this, many developmental biologists investigate the complex choreography of factors required for successful egg cell development, called oogenesis. This process is crucial to the survival and reproduction of many vertebrate and invertebrate species and, remarkably, diverse species often employ a common strategy where the growth of the egg cell is supported by an interconnected network of germline, or reproductive, cells. Like cellular factories, the job of the germline cells is to produce and export nutrients to the egg via connecting cytoplasmic canals. The nutrients these support cells supply to the egg include proteins and the nucleic acids that code for them, called RNA transcripts.
Welcome to our new segment, Minute Insights! This segment will highlight research or high-level experimental techniques conducted and used by graduate students in different departments at Princeton. In this video, learn about Princeton Insights writer Olivia Duddy’s research in the Bassler Lab.
Review written by Amy Ciceu (2024) & Adelaide Minerva (PNI, G2)
As youngsters, we develop memories of and connections to our parents, who nurture us throughout not only our childhoods but also much of our lives. These memories and relationships play vital roles in teaching us how to navigate the world. Do other animals form similar memories? A recent study published by the Gould Lab in Princeton’s departments of Psychology and Neuroscience discovered that mouse pups form memories of their maternal caregivers within days of birth and that these memories endure as the pups age into adulthood.
It has been estimated that there are at least as many bacterial cells in our bodies as there are our own cells1. The vast and diverse collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live within and on us is known as the human microbiome. We are colonized with microorganisms from birth, but the structure (composition) of our microbial communities evolves throughout our lives2. In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that human health is inextricably tied to the state of our microbiomes. For example, Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease of increasing prevalence. Changes in the composition of the gut microbiota, as a result of diet and other environmental factors, have been associated with severe Crohn’s disease states3.
Have you ever wondered why we tend to talk to children in a different way than we speak to adults? You might think there isn’t much to it. After all, kids are cute, so adults melt, and hence - “baby talk.” Yet, this difference serves a very important purpose. Several decades of studies have shown that children, from young infants to toddlers, prefer this kind of speech; most importantly, when exposed to speech directed to them in this way, children are more engaged and learn more. But why? We can first consider the differences between speech to children, and speech between adults. One of the most recognizable ways in which caregivers tend to speak to children--child-directed-speech (CDS)--is characterized by significant variation in pitch and intonation. Compared to CDS, “adult” voice and intonations are much more monotonous, so children have a harder time concentrating. Thus, researchers believe that the overall higher level of engagement engendered by CDS promotes learning in children. What is less known, however, is how children process and learn from specific patterns of stress and intonation of CDS on the level of individual words. Recently, Princeton researchers Mira Nencheva, Elise Piazza, and Professor Casey Lew-Williams in the department of Psychology took on exactly this question. They identified specific ways in which caregivers’ pitch changed throughout a word (pitch contours) of CDS in English and analyzed how engaged two-year-old children were during these different pitch contours and how well they learned novel words that followed these contours. Their findings provide a sub-second frame for understanding the mechanisms and features of CDS that make it optimal for children as they listen to CDS in real time.
Many household goods, from dyes and plastics to contact lenses and aspirin, are made using petroleum byproducts. Over the past 150 years, chemical catalysts have been optimized to efficiently convert crude oil into starting materials for a wide range of products. Unfortunately, petroleum is a non-renewable resource, and emissions from petroleum processing are a big contributor to climate change. A team of bioengineers from the Avalos Lab at Princeton University is investigating an alternative: a petroleum-free way of manufacturing carbon-based goods that uses genetically engineered yeast to convert sugar into high-value products.
Princeton scientists have long been at the forefront of research into nuclear fusion, a challenging process in which light atomic nuclei—hydrogen, for example—are chemically fused together to form heavier elements. The process releases immense amounts of energy, and is a promising approach for meeting the world’s energy needs. Early research dating from the post-war period explored designs for fusion-based weapons, but quickly interest turned to the process of harnessing fusion to generate usable electricity. Fusion research is a vast field encompassing both theoretical and experimental work, and it is not hard to see why controlled fusion remains a difficult problem after almost a century of progress: a prerequisite to achieving the fusion of light ions is the ability to super-heat the ions, in the form of a plasma, up to temperatures of 108 Kelvin within large reactors. To do this, all while maintaining the ability to confine and control the plasma, is no easy engineering feat.