Myopia gene?

Published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, a research study led by Professor Ohad Birk of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has shown that a mutation in the LEPREL1 gene can cause myopia, otherwise known as near-sightedness. Myopia is predominantly a hereditary trait, and is considered the most common human eye disorder. Myopia contributes to the higher incidence of secondary eye disorders such as early-onset cataracts, retinal detachment, and macular degeneration. The LEPREL1 gene encodes an enzyme required for collagen modification in the eye. In mutated samples, the defective LEPREL1 gene results in an inactive form of the enzyme; this in turn produces aberrant collagen, causing the development of a human eyeball which is longer than normal. As a result of the lengthening, light beams entering the eye focus in front of the retina instead of on the retina itself, leading to myopia. The defective LEPREL1 gene was identified in a specific Bedouin tribe located in southern Israel, where severe early-onset myopia is common. Future studies will determine whether the findings on the LEPREL1 gene can be applied to the population at large.

— Sherine Ensan

Source: Science Daily

Organic life is so old school

Recently published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, professor Lee Cronin and colleagues have figured out a way to create life from hybrid inorganic chemical cells, abbreviated as iCHELLS. The cells work like regular organic cells in that they can compartmentalize controlled passages for energy, materials, and ions through robust membranes. The biggest challenge in the construction of inorganic cells is the creation of a fully functioning membrane. Cronin and colleagues overcame this obstacle by artificially forming a membrane. They did this by inserting a needle filled with POM solution (phosphotungstic acid) into a solution of organic positively-charged ions (such as DIP-Me). The ion exchange reaction that occurs between the POM and the organic cation leads to the aggregation of the cells, thus resulting in the formation of multiple cells within a cell. This tactic is called the “extrusion-exchange” mechanism and is very different from the traditional methods of forming flexible cell membranes. Ideally, the existence of cells within a cell will lead to the sequence of reactions similar to those of the molecular building blocks of life. If this happens, it could help explain how life emerged in an “inorganic” world and how inorganic life may be produced in the laboratory setting.

— Bianca Lemus Lavarreda

Using viruses to fight cancer

A collaborative study conducted by researchers from Canada, the United States, and South Korea, published recently in the journal Nature, describes a way of using mammalian poxviruses to selectively eliminate cancerous tissues. Poxvirus JX-594 was genetically engineered to selectively infect and replicate in cancer cells as well as express transgenes that would result in tumour destruction. In a clinical trial, 23 patients with advanced metastatic solid cancers were given intravenous infusions of JX-594 of differing concentrations. Eight to 10 days after receiving the infusions, biopsies of the tumours were taken, and patients given higher doses of the virus displayed infection and transgene replication in the cancer cells. Scans taken of the tumours after infection also showed decreases in tumour size and metastatic tumour growth in the high-dose patient group. This study represents a novel system for the delivery of selective and biologically active cancer therapy.

— Mina Park

Source: Nature

Comparative brains

If you think you don’t compare yourself to others, think again. Findings from a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that parts of the brain associated with reward and social reasoning interact to mediate the influence of social comparison during decision-making processes. Using both isolated and social conditions, researchers observed how participants evaluated themselves during private gains and losses versus social ones. They found that reward-related brain structures responded very highly to social versus private gains and lower to social losses than private ones. Similarly, parts of the brain related to social reasoning responded most to social gains than any other event. As predicted, activation of social reasoning structures due to social gains led to more risky and competitive behaviour in later trials. The study diverges from previous studies in that it directly contrasted private and social decision processes within a single task and observed the effects of social comparison (social gain or social loss) on participants’ subsequent decisions. The results suggest that our future decision-making process is improved by considering how the outcomes of our decisions are received by others.

— Bianca Lemus Lavarreda

Source: Science Daily