Interesting Science This Week. Week 3

Originally posted on June 24, 2016 at my blogger site.

Every time one ventures to watch a movie in India now a days, you are subjected to the gory images of cancerous tissues, patients etc and are warned about the relation between use of tobacco and incidence of cancer. You are probably aware that cancer happens because of changes to the DNA in a cell which then goes berserk, looses all regulation and starts diving abnormally. The cancerous cells in a tissue eventually move out in a process called metastasis and spread to other parts of the body damaging the tissue there. This sequence of events is now pretty common knowledge. But have you heard of super-metastasis where the cancerous cells move out of one body and infect another? This is a rare process that has till now been discovered only in two animals where the cancerous cells are transmitted by bodily contact, either through bite (Tasmanian devil) or through sexual mating (dogs). But in a recently published report in the journal Nature, scientists have shown that the transmission of cancerous cells can happen even through water. This phenomenon was observed in a class of molluscs called Bivalves including mussels, cockles and golden carpet shell clams.
  • Metzger et al., Nature, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nature18599

It’s monsoon time in India and the puddles of water seen everywhere offer abundant breeding grounds for nature’s master disease carriers, the mosquitoes. But what makes mosquitoes so efficient in being able to spread pathogens? The answer is, according to recent research findings, our own immune system. The most common reminder of having spent a good night futilely trying to fend off the mosquitoes are the red welts seen on the body next morning. The research suggests it is the inflammatory reaction resulting in these welts that aids the efficient spread of pathogens injected by the mosquito bite. The inflammatory response is due to a local reaction that serves to warn the body that skin, which is the first defensive barrier against infections, has been breached. This activates the body’s immune response and leukocytes (also called white blood cells) are mobilized to the site of inflammation in order to contain the infection. Researchers have found that, the immune cells that reach the spot of mosquito bite themselves get inadvertently infected and contribute to rapid spread of infection to rest of the body. This hijacking of the immune cells by pathogens might be due to help from certain molecules present in the saliva of mosquitoes that get injected at the point of bite. This conclusion is based on the observation that injection of the same pathogen into the body with a needle did not produce an infection of comparable intensity as when injected by a mosquito bite. Researchers also suggest that the ability of mosquito bites to promote infections can be ameliorated by suppressing the initial inflammatory reaction.

  • Pingen et al., Immunity, 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2016.06.002

 There is a nice write-up published in Quanta Magazine detailing the research about a class of micro organisms called the Lithoautotrophs, or the rock-eaters, that survive by consuming only electrons as their source of energy. As such, these microbes can be described as “electricity-eaters”.

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