Research News – 6

Biotech route for rubber: Natural rubber trumps synthetic, petroleum-derived rubber in useful qualities such as elasticity and abrasion resistance. But rubber trees are quite susceptible to disease, leading scientists to search for other sources of natural rubber and to understand the specifics of its biosynthesis. Lettuce plants are a source of natural rubber, and now Qu et al. identify a scaffold protein called CPTL2 that keeps rubber-synthesizing enzymes from bouncing around the cell. Tethered to the cell’s endoplasmic reticulum, CPTL2 anchors a protein important for rubber polymerization in place. Plants with reduced expression of CPTL2 could not synthesize rubber, revealing its essential role.  From the Journal of Biological Chemistry, 2014

10.1074/jbc.M114.616920 (2014).

Why do we fight:

Many human societies engage in warfare, but given the mortal risks involved, many evolutionary anthropologists have wondered why. Is there an evolutionary benefit to warfare? Glowacki and Wrangham tackled this question by studying the Nyangatom, a nomadic society in East Africa. Nyangatom men carry out livestock raids to pay for the right to marry. Men who were active cattle raiders had more wives and children than men who were not. But they had to wait for this benefit. Young raiders give stolen livestock as gifts to paternal relatives. They only benefitted later in life by inheriting the larger herds they helped to build. From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014. 

Artificial Membrane – potential for a synthetic cell

Cell membranes house many important proteins that are hard to study outside their native environment. Salvati Manni et al. now have devised a special building block that stabilizes artificial, membrane-like phases at low temperature. Their approach potentially opens the door to more detailed studies of temperature-sensitive membrane proteins. Biological membranes assemble from lipid molecules. The authors induced low-temperature stability by incorporating a rigid triangular ring, or cyclopropyl group, into a more conventional lipid structure. They validated the result by x-ray analysis of embedded bacteriorhodopsin protein at 4°C. From  Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 

Chronic malaria shortens telomeres
Chronic infections are assumed to cause little damage to the host, but is this true? Migrant birds can pick up various species of malaria parasite while overwintering in the tropics. After initial acute malaria, migrant great reed warblers, which nest in Sweden and overwinter in Africa, are asymptomatically infected for life. Asghar et al. discovered that these cryptically infected birds laid fewer eggs and were less successful at rearing healthy offspring than uninfected birds. Furthermore, infected birds had significantly shorter telomeres (the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes) and produced chicks with shortened telomeres. From Science Magazine.

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