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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up: 21.03.16

21 Mar, 2016

Our fortnightly round-up of research and news from our community…

Lighting the way to new virus treatments

Quantum dots are fluorescent crystals in which the colour of the emitted light is dependent on the size of the crystal

Quantum dots are fluorescent crystals in which the colour of the emitted light is dependent on the size of the crystal

Minute crystals normally used in your flat screen TV are lighting up clues to tackling deadly viruses such as Ebola and HIV. During an infection, virus particles attach to the surface of healthy cells, forming multiple interactions before entering and infecting a cell. But the mechanism behind this has remained a mystery.

Wellcome Trust-funded researchers from Leeds University used fluorescent nano-crystals, smaller than a millionth of a millimetre in size – called ‘quantum dots’ – to mimic the shape of a virus particle. These were coated in sugar, using a new technique developed by the researchers, to allow the crystals to bind to the cells and reveal the clues behind this process.

Dr Yuan Guo, from the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, said:  “Until now, how these viruses attach to cells was a ‘black box’ to chemists. We knew that the viruses were interacting with healthy cells, but the way in which they bound together was still a mystery.”

The findings, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, could lead to a new mechanism for tackling viruses in people.  Instead of looking to destroy the pathogen itself, blocking the interaction between viruses and healthy cells could help to prevent the spread of infection.

Bumblebee foraging altered by pesticides 

C0024693 Bumblebee on a dog daisyLow level pesticides can affect the foraging behavior of bumblebees on wildflowers, according to new research published in Functional Ecology.

The Insect Pollinators Initiative, partly funded by the Wellcome Trust, investigated how bees exposed to ‘field-realistic’ levels of a neonicotinoid pesticide foraged on wildflowers. Bees exposed to the pesticide collected more pollen, but took longer to do so that their un-exposed counterparts. The two groups of bees also chose to forage from different species of wildflower.

Foraging for pollen requires bees to learn how to locate flowers and how best to extract the nectar and pollen. In this study, the control bees were able to navigate and extract pollen from more wildflowers with complex shapes, such as white clover, after fewer visits, suggesting that the pesticide could affect bumblebees learning and memory.

Dr Dara Stanley, Royal Holloway University of London, who led the study, said: “The findings have important implications for society and the economy as pollinating insects are vital to agriculture and natural ecosystems. Our results suggest that current levels of pesticide-exposure could be significantly affecting how bees are interacting with wild-plants, and impairing the crucial pollination services they provide that support healthy ecosystem function.”

Imagination and navigation

B0003760 Neuronal network derived from ES cellsThe cells that drive our brain’s internal coordination system are also involved in how we imagine moving through spaces, according to new research published in Current Biology.

Healthy volunteers had their brains scanned using fMRI whilst being asked to imagine moving through a new environment. The scans detected activity in the entorhinal cortex of the brain consistent with grid cell activity. These cells are neurons that act as the brain’s ‘positioning system’, firing signals in a way that creates a hexagonal grid across an environment, allowing us to understand our position within it.

Wellcome Trust-funded researchers from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience hope the study will increase our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. The entorhinal cortex is one of the first areas affected by the disease and sufferers often have problems with imagination as well as memory.

“People with Alzheimer’s disease can find it difficult to visualise and remember scenes, and our new findings may help to explain why,” says senior author Professor Neil Burgess, Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

The findings identify additional roles for grid cells, suggestion they are involved in more than just navigation and could also contribute to planning and imagining the future.

Other Wellcome Trust research news

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have discovered that just a single letter change to the DNA code of one gene can have a substantial effect on the risk of schizophrenia. Published in Nature Neuroscience, the study found conclusive evidence for the involvement of the SETD1A gene in some cases of the illness.

Wellcome Trust-funded researchers from the University of Exeter have found that mothers who are overweight or obese during their pregnancy tend to have larger babies. The research, published in JAMA, also found that high blood glucose during pregnancy could cause babies to be born larger.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have discovered how our immune system stops bacteria leaking from our gut into our blood streams and causing widespread infection. Published in Science, the research identified a small molecule called PGE2 that helps to maintain the barrier between the gut and the rest of the body.

Dog vacc 3


And in other news…
Congratulations to Wellcome Trust-funded researcher Dr Katie Hampson who won a Guardian University Award in the International Project category for her research using mobile phone surveillance in the fight against rabies. The system is used to report in real-time instances of rabid animal bites as well as rabies vaccination use and has already generated more than 30,000 rabies-linked reports.



Image credits: (from top to bottom) Richard Cruise, University of Leeds; Neuronal network, Q-L. Ying & A. Smith, Wellcome Images; Bumble bee feeding on a flower, Wellcome Images; Katie Hampson, Glasgow University




One Comment leave one →
  1. 21 Mar, 2016 5:43 pm

    Reblogged this on Catharine Toso and commented:
    Some interesting news here!

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