Bacteria in the human microbiome can inactivate the antidiabetic drug acarbose

Review written by Abigail Stanton (MOL, G2)

Even in the microscopic world, survival of the fittest can make for relentless, and creative, competition. With a limited amount of resources to go around, some bacteria will play dirty to make sure they get their fair share. Actinoplanes sp. SE50/110, a bacterium that lives in the soil, has developed a strategy to fight off competitors: by producing a specialized sugar called acarbose, it can block proteins responsible for sugar uptake and metabolism in its microbial neighbors. This inhibits the growth of other bacteria, leaving more food for Actinoplanes to enjoy. 

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Proton Outflow Associated With Jupiter’s Auroral Processes

Review written by Cecilia Panfil (CHM, 2022) and Alexandra Libby (PNI, GS)

Abstract

Despite Jupiter’s aurora being the brightest in the solar system, the mechanism of its occurrence is not well understood. One peculiar phenomenon on Jupiter is the large quantities of protons in its magnetosphere. Recently, Dr. Jamey Szalay and his team were able to use data from the Juno spaceship to observe the protons flying away from Jupiter. This provides evidence that the protons are coming from Jupiter itself. The electric fields which drive protons away from Jupiter are likely intimately related to Jupiter’s auroral fields. With their novel observation, Szalay et al. provide a clue towards Jupiter’s complex auroral interactions. 

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Exploring the tradeoff between privacy and algorithm performance

Review written by Andy Jones (COS, G3)

In many countries, cameras are nearly ubiquitous in public society. When you go to public places — such as stoplights, stores, or hospitals — a photograph is often taken of you. 

When these photographs are collected into large datasets, they can be useful for developing machine learning (ML) solutions to real-world problems. For example, automated analysis of stoplight photographs could improve traffic flow, and examining customer behavior patterns in clothing stores could improve the shopping experience. However, a large fraction of these photographs contain personal identifying information, such as faces, addresses, or credit card numbers. These photos prompt concerns about the privacy of the individuals identified in them. Thus, at first glance there appears to be a tradeoff between using large datasets of images to train ML algorithms and protecting people’s privacy. But what if the people in these images could somehow be anonymized to protect their privacy, while the images could still be used to build useful ML models?

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AAV: Versatile Viral Hero or Neurotoxic Villain?

Review written by Amy Ciceu (NEU, 2024)

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

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What other species can teach us about how infants learn to speak

Review written by Sarah McFann (CBE, G6)

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.

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Topology helps slime bacteria form fruiting bodies

Review written by Qiwei Yu (G1, QCB)

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.

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Viability of planting more trees for mitigating climate change

Review written by Kimberly Sabsay (G2, QCB)

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. 

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A Sea Squirt Story: What our squishy relatives teach us about the origins of the vertebrate brain

Review written by Jarome Ali (EEB, G4)

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. 

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Talking toddlers with Mira Nencheva

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 nencheva@princeton.edu.

To view the transcript for this episode, click “More Info” and then “Full Transcript” in the episode player.

RESOURCES:

Princeton Insights coverage: The moment-to-moment pitch dynamics of child-directed speech shape toddlers’ attention and learning

Original Paper: The moment-to-moment pitch dynamics of child-directed speech shape toddlers’ attention and learning

CREDITS

Written and Hosted by Thiago Tarraf Varella GS and Liza Mankovskaya GS

Edited by John Shin and Isabel Rodrigues

Produced by Isabel Rodrigues

Original Insights Coverage by Liza Mankovskaya GS

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Controlling microbial growth with a light switch

Review written by Olivia Duddy (MOL, G5)

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 [1]. 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 [3].

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