Research News – 10 – Microbiome

What happens after we die. What is the microbiome signature of a human being ?

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1. Internally derived microbes are the major control on internal preservation

Gut microbes are the main driver of tissue decay when animals die, and were probably important for preserving soft-tissue anatomy in fossil animals.

Philip Donoghue at the University of Bristol, UK, and his colleagues studied the brine shrimp and monitored its decay (pictured, middle and right) under various conditions. They found that soon after death, the shrimp’s gut wall breaks open and bacteria spill out into the body cavity. The bacteria form sticky aggregates, or biofilms, that gradually replace shrimp tissue and contain mineral deposits, as revealed by microscopy. This mineralization is a key step in tissue preservation in fossils. Evolution of the gut led to an explosion in both animal diversity and the abundance of fossils, the authors say. Royal Society Publishing Proceedings B. 13 May 2015. Open access.

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Research News – 9 – On Proteins

There have been so many interesting research news over the last six months that I decide to give them all in one installment. It may make a good holiday reading. The first in this series is about proteins in general.

1. Exploring the limits of protein sequence space
Exploring the variability of individual functional proteins is complicated by the vast number of combinations of possible amino acid sequences. Podgornaia and Laub take on this challenge by analyzing four amino acids critical for the interaction between two signaling proteins in Escherichia coli. They build all the possible 160,000 variants of one of the two proteins and find that over 1650 are functional. Even though there can be very high variability in the composition of the interface between the two proteins, there are nonetheless strong context-dependent constraints for some amino acids, which suggests why many functional variants are not seen in nature. Science STKE 10 Feburary 2015.

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Research News – 7

My research work focuses on first and second generation ethanol. The scientific community are large are bioprospecting for better cellulases and lignocellulose decontructors. Termites, although a nuisance when it shares its space with humans, could be a welcome guest for others.

Termite mounds can increase the robustness of dryland ecosystems to climatic change

Spotty vegetation patterns in tropical savannas and grasslands can be a warning sign of imminent desertification. However, Bonachela et al. find that termites can also produce spotty patterns. Their theoretical study, confirmed by field data from Kenya, shows that patterns produced by termite mounds are not harbingers of desertification. Indeed, the presence of termites buffers these ecosystems against climate change.

Editor’s summary, Science magazine.

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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).

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