Adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) are some of the most widely used recombinant viral technologies—those that combine different genes to produce unique viral vectors, or tools that convey genetic material into cells—in modern neuroscience. Because they are incapable of being replicated within cells, recombinant AAVs are commonly used in neuroscience research as a means of expressing genes in specific cells. By expressing genes that heighten or dampen the function of certain cells, researchers are able to identify the functions of particular neural circuits.1 This approach can provide scientists with insight into the mechanisms underlying neurobiological processes. To make such circuit-related discoveries, AAVs are typically injected into certain brain regions of animal subjects. After an incubation period, some AAVs encoding fluorescent tracers can induce cells to fluoresce under specialized microscopes, enabling scientists to visualize particular neural circuitry. Furthermore, AAVs have demonstrated clinical potential; for example, AAVs have been used to replenish certain proteins in the treatment of diseases like congenital blindness 2, 3 and spinal muscular atrophy.4, 5 AAV is also currently being investigated as a potential means of treating other brain disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and more.6
One thing that sets humans apart from our closest evolutionary relatives, Old World apes and monkeys, is that much of human brain development occurs outside the womb. This means that, relative to our evolutionary neighbors, humans are born altricial—a term describing animals that are born helpless and dependent upon parental care. Because our immature brains are presented with real-world stimuli as they develop, humans have the chance to be molded by external cues like language.
Nature never ceases to amaze us, particularly when it comes to how biological organisms develop sophisticated and diverse strategies to survive dynamic and oftentimes hostile environments. Myxobacteria (also known as “slime bacteria”), for example, have evolved a specialized life cycle to cope with the possibility of unreliable nutrient supply. While nutrient abundance enables the bacteria to grow and proliferate, nutrient scarcity can conversely trigger a transition to a more dormant state. In response to nutrient depletion, myxobacteria cells can aggregate into fruiting bodies, three-dimensional multicellular structures of diverse colors and shapes. A subset of the cells within the fruiting bodies develop into rounded myxospores with thick cell walls, waiting for a more favorable environment to resume growth. It is truly amazing how the behavior of a large number of cells can be coordinated to achieve the rapid and dynamic process of fruiting body formation.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which absorbs and radiates heat. It is estimated to be responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance which is driving our increasingly urgent global climate crisis. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this past year, we reached a new all-time-high of atmospheric carbon dioxide: an astounding 412.5 parts per million (ppm). This is higher than any other time in the past 800,000 years.
Clinging to the side of a marina you might find the usual suspects like mussels and barnacles, but lurking among these life forms is a less familiar one, a squishy invertebrate that looks like nothing more than a translucent tube. This creature is the sea squirt, Ciona instestinalis. Despite its unassuming appearance, Ciona could hold the key to understanding how the brain--the most complex structure in the universe--came to be. By investigating the evolutionary origin of the brain, we can uncover the roots of the remarkable variety of intelligence in the animal world and gain a deeper appreciation for the beautifully complex human brain. Princeton researchers are now studying the simple ‘brain’ of the sea squirt to begin to unravel this evolutionary story.
In this episode of The Highlights, we’re joined by Mira Nencheva, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology. We discuss her path to graduate work in psychology, the day-to-day of working with toddlers at the Princeton Baby Lab, and how the vocal pitch of a caregiver can affect learning early in life.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Mira Nencheva is a graduate student in the Princeton Baby Lab of the Department of Psychology. She can be reached at email@example.com.
To view the transcript for this episode, click “More Info” and then “Full Transcript” in the episode player.
Microbes are powerful tools in the biotechnology industry. Like microscopic factories, microbes are employed to manufacture a diversity of chemical compounds, such as industrial chemicals, food products, drugs, and other biotechnology molecules, on a large scale. Given the ease of genetic engineering in microbes like Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, scientists and metabolic engineers alike tinker with their metabolic capacities, or even completely rewire them, to yield high concentrations of a specific product . Metabolic engineers aim to maximize the efficiency of these biosynthetic processes. High efficiency, in turn, delivers biomolecules that are more readily available and at a lower cost. Metabolic engineering applications also can be more sustainable or environmentally friendly than traditional chemical synthesis approaches [1,2]. Recently, a team of researchers in the Avalos lab, led by former Ph.D. candidate Makoto Lalwani (now postdoctoral researcher at the Wyss Institute), added an additional layer of genetic engineering to this process: They are using light as a strategy to advance biomolecule production .
In this episode of The Highlights, we’re joined by Jarome Ali, a graduate student in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB), and Professor Mary Cassie Stoddard, the head PI of the Stoddard lab in EEB. We discuss her career in sensory ecology and color vision in birds, her field experiments in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and the science of nonspectral colors.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Jarome Ali is a graduate student in the Stoddard Lab of EEB, and Cassie Stoddard is an associate professor of EEB. Dr. Stoddard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preserving the integrity of DNA is crucial to maintaining a cell’s functions and life cycle. However, DNA is regularly under attack by chemical and physical agents, such as toxins and UV rays from the sun, that can cause breaks in the chemical backbone that holds a strand of DNA together. This DNA damage can lead to dire consequences if left unaddressed, with effects ranging from cell death to uncontrolled cellular proliferation, which leads to cancer. Thankfully, our cells have evolved mechanisms of repairing broken DNA in order to alleviate the risks of accumulating DNA damage.
In this episode of The Highlights, we’re joined by Patricia Hoyos, a graduate student in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI). We discuss her work on the development of spatial biases in school-aged kids, the challenges and perks of working with children, and her experiences transitioning her work from undergraduate independent work to a graduate project.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Patricia Hoyos is a graduate student in the Kastner Lab of PNI. She can be reached at email@example.com.
To view the transcript for this episode, click here.