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Wellcome Trust Research Round-Up: 23/02/15

23 Feb, 2015

Our fortnightly round-up of work from the Wellcome Trust community…

The secret life of pollinators in the city

beeCities should not be overlooked as important havens for bees according to research by a team of scientists from universities across the UK.

Pollinators such as bees play an important role in ecosystems but very little is known about how they interact in urban landscapes. With more and more people living in cities, researchers decided to compare and contrast pollinator populations in urban, agricultural and protected landscapes around the UK.

The study, published recently in Proc. R. Soc. B, surveyed 12 large urban centres in the UK. For each city, a nearby nature reserve and farmland site was also surveyed. They recorded a total of 7,412 insects which were visiting flowers. In the study, 11 rare or scarce species were recorded, four of which were found in urban habitats. The ‘species richness’ of bees – the number of species in a given area – was found to be higher in urban zones than farmland site, although there were fewer hover-flies in urban areas.

The team, led by Dr Katherine Baldock of the University of Bristol, said urban landscapes deserve more attention in the drive to protect bees from decline. “Urban areas could be managed in a way to be good to pollinators. What we need to know next is which habitats within urban areas are good for pollinators”, she said.

The research was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, a joint venture between the BBSRC, Defra, NERC, the Scottish Government, the Wellcome Trust, and LWEC.

Genes identified as drug targets for allergies and asthma

asthma34 new genes that make people more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma have been identified, some of which could be targets for new drugs.

This research, published in Nature and led by scientists at Imperial College London, could lead to new treatments for allergic diseases, and help to predict who will respond best to currently available treatments.

The work, involving researchers in the UK, US, Canada and Sweden, studied the genes that regulate the immune response in allergic reactions and asthma. The team looked at ‘epigenetic changes’, which do not affect the genetic code itself but which influence the activity of genes.

Using this approach, the team were able to locate genes that regulate the antibody involved in triggering allergic responses. This antibody, called immunoglobin E (IgE), was known to researchers already but until now scientists had been unable to identify which genes control its activities.

They found strong associations between IgE and increased activity in 34 genes. In people with asthma, these genes are overactive, making them produce more IgE, which contributes to symptoms of asthma.

Professor Miriam Moffatt, Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator and one of the study’s authors said: “The genes we identified represent new potential drug targets for allergic diseases as well as biomarkers that may predict which patients will respond to existing expensive therapies”.

Their research was supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Study predicts Ebola cases in Sierra Leone

ebola wrrA model produced by an international team of researchers suggests that cases of Ebola have peaked in Sierra Leone.

Between August and November 2014, the incidence of Ebola rose dramatically in several districts of Sierra Leone, meaning treatment centres were stretched past capacity and were lacking beds. During December, additional beds were introduced, and incidence declined in many areas. This study, published in PLoS Current Outbreaks, aimed to measure patterns of future demand to help doctors better prepare.

To do this, researchers based in the UK, Switzerland and Sierra Leone and led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used a mathematical model of Ebola infection to estimate how the extent of transmission in the nine worst affected districts of Sierra Leone changed between 10th August 2014 and 18th January 2015. Using the model, they forecasted the number of cases that could occur until the end of March 2015, and compared bed requirements with expected future capacity.

They found that, although Ebola incidence has varied over time and space in Sierra Leone, results suggest that the epidemic may have now peaked. Current numbers of beds appear to be sufficient to keep the epidemic under control in most districts.

The research was funded by R2HC, which is a partnership between the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Wellcome Trust, aimed at improving health outcomes by establishing a strong base of evidence about public health interventions during humanitarian crises.

In other news…

Last week saw the performance of songs developed through partnerships between young people, sexologists and songwriters from across the UK, looking at how sex and sexuality is represented in music and lyrics. You can listen and read about their work here and our most recent image of the week is also about the project.

Brain signatures of intrusions of thought while falling asleep are reported in a paper by Trust-supported researchers in Frontiers in Psychology Research.

A Wellcome Trust funded film about Antoine Yates, who kept a tiger called Ming and a large alligator in his high-rise New York apartment for several years, was screened last Wednesday at the Tate. You can see the trailer here.

Image credits: Wellcome Images

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