Cecilia Panfil (CHM, 2022) and Alexandra Libby (PNI, GS)
Worldwide, approximately 250 million people have tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus infects the liver, causing severe damage when left untreated, such as chronic infection, liver fibrosis, liver cancer and cirrhosis. The likelihood of an adverse outcome or chronic illness is higher if the disease is contracted in childhood. Transmission can occur either through birth (i.e., the mother was infected) or close contact (e.g., sexual incourse or needle sharing for injectable drugs)1. HBV is a significant global health problem; overall, it is estimated that 650,000 people die each year from HBV related illnesses2.
Some mosquitoes are picky eaters. For example, females of the mosquito subspecies Aedes aegypti preferentially select humans over non-human animals as their blood host (only females mosquitoes bite). The consequence of Ae. aegypti’s preference for humans is its emergence as a global driver for the spread of infectious diseases like dengue, yellow fever, and Zika. So what attracts this mosquitoso strongly to humans? Your smell.
Living things are composed of an intricate set of chemical machinery, each piece refined over billions of years of evolution to perform the tasks required to grow, reproduce, act, and react. A principal challenge of biochemistry is understanding how each microscopic gear (or protein) works within the dynamic context of a larger machine (the cell and, eventually, the organism as a whole). To dissect these complex pathways, researchers need ways to interact with the cell. They need tools that act like molecular tweezers to remove pieces, to change them, and to turn mechanisms on and off. As our understanding of each component grows, our biochemical toolbox expands, allowing for even more biological discoveries, which in turn allows for the development of ever more sophisticated tools.
Have you ever wondered how you can recognize a familiar friend in a busy environment? Or maybe how you remember a person you’ve seen just once? Social memory is the ability to recognize familiar others and is an essential function across species, not only for safety but also to maintain stable structures in complex and dynamic social networks. Social memory is involved in hierarchy formation, and defense, as well as mate, offspring, and interspecies recognition. A region of the brain called the hippocampus has long been pinpointed for its role in learning and memory generally; however, great strides have been taken recently to understand its role in social memory more specifically.
Language is ever-evolving. With each new generation, language structures such as word pronunciation, usage, and meaning mutate and change as they are passed imperfectly from parent to child. Similarly, bodies have the chance to evolve with every generation. Mutations in the germ line—eggs in females and sperm in males—give rise to the genetic variation that allows form and function to evolve. With each new germline mutation, the nucleotides that make up the genetic code are altered due to imperfect DNA replication. These mutations can code for changes to protein structures or protein amounts, altering the way bodies are constructed as they develop and the forms they take on along the way.
The transition to a highly digitized society is well underway. Hospital data and medical charts are no exception. According to the CDC, over 85% of healthcare organizations have adopted Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems as of 2017. EHRs, while increasingly complex, could very well hold the secret to advancing patient care and diagnostics. EHRs contain medical history, medications, and test results, much like a regular health record, while also providing real-time information and tools to automate treatment plans. Predictive healthcare analytics are at our fingertips, and a novel statistical framework designed by researchers at Princeton University unlocks the massive potential of personalized, predictive, and real-time medical monitoring systems.
In this episode of The Highlights, we're joined by Nicole Templeman, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Victoria. As a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton, Templeman was part of molecular biology professor Coleen Murphy’s lab, where she studied reproductive aging. We discuss her most recent publication, which explores how inter-tissue communication affects rate of “age-related reproductive decline,” and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her lab.
Understanding the link between neural activity and behavior is one of the long-running goals of neuroscience. In the information age, it is becoming more and more common for neuroscientists to take a data-driven approach to studying animal behavior in order to gain insight into the brain. Under this approach, scientists collect hours’ or days’ worth of video recordings of an animal, relying on modern machine learning (ML) systems to automatically identify exact locations of body parts and classify behavior types. These methods have opened the door for more expansive studies of the relationship between brain activity and behavior, without relying on laborious manual annotations of animal movements.
This country has a complicated relationship with its immigrants. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on theoretically being the “land of opportunity,” a “melting pot” where people from all backgrounds can come to try their hand at socioeconomic success. On the other hand, we often vilify the actual individuals attempting to come to this country, likening them to criminals, viruses, pests, and resource thieves.
Review written by Laura A. Murray-Nerger (Molecular Biology, G6)
As primary and secondary school students, we learn that cellular organelles have specific functions. For example, the mitochondria is often called the “powerhouse” of the cell because it makes energy that drives other cellular processes. However, we often don’t learn about the multifaceted functions of these well-known organelles or learn about some of the less-well studied organelles, including the peroxisome. Moreover, as we learn about the functions of these organelles, it is easy to forget that they are filled with many proteins, each of which participates in a variety of functions. Importantly, these proteins do not work in isolation, but rather by interacting with each other, which creates a complex network of protein-protein associations that ultimately determine cellular fate. In their recent paper, the Cristea lab has built a computational platform that can be broadly used to assess the changes in protein-protein interactions in any biological context. They employ this newly developed tool to understand the protein-protein interactions that underlie alterations in mitochondrial and peroxisomal function during viral infection.