Open Reading Frame brings together a selection of recent publication highlights from elsewhere in the open access ecosystem. This week we take a look at the past few weeks in biology.
Sonar, no good: whales disturbed by military sounds
Some recent mass strandings of whales and dolphins have been blamed on mid-frequency military sonar. However, the exact mechanism behind how this happens is something of a mystery since whales tend to communicate at far higher frequencies. By tagging individual blue whales with tracking devices and exposing them to controlled bouts of simulated mid-frequency noise, researchers have now shown that these sounds do in fact disturb feeding behavior – in some cases eliciting a ‘flight’ response comparable to that measured under killer whale attack.
Strong jaw, strong heart: developmental connection between different organs
A lipid molecule called S1P plays a crucial role in cardiac development. Similarly, the glycoprotein fibronectin is involved in several cellular processes required for normal myocardial organization. How these two molecules interact to regulate this process was not previously well characterized. Now, using mutant zebrafish, a team of researchers from Japan reveal what happens when you remove both key molecules from the developmental process. Surprisingly they find that not only is normal heart development severely compromised, but so is normal jaw development, suggesting that both molecules cooperatively regulate development of these two seemingly disparate organs.
Clues to the origin of ORFans by tracking down their parents
In case you weren’t sure, an open reading frame (ORF) is a stretch of DNA that lies between between ‘stop’ and ‘start’ codons. Novel stretches of this code are termed ORFans and have been previously identified from a number of marine invertebrate species, including bivalve molluscs. Interestingly, these animals sometimes contain two separate ORFans in their mitochondrial DNA, since offspring inherit two separate lineages – one from the maternal line and one from the paternal line. However, it is not known whether this novelty arises through separate duplication of genes or by some other mechanism. A comparison of ORFans across many different species now reveals that each one shares common features that point toward a possible viral origin, through ancestral insertion into the mitochondrial genome.
“Pharmaceuticals are entering habitats via water, sewage, manure and animal carcasses, and dispersing through food chains”
A recent Royal Society Research Fellow International Scientific Seminar brought together leading researchers from the fields of veterinary research, environmental science, ecology and toxicology, to discuss the potential impacts of exposure to pharmaceutical products leaching into the environment. Recent cases of major concern, such as the near-extinction of Asian vultures through exposure to veterinary drugs, highlighted the urgent need to tackle this ‘grand challenge’.
Neurons get to grips with grasping tasks
Grasping an object may seem like a relatively simple task, but at the neuronal level it involves a complex feedback system between areas of the brain involved in both visual and motor coordination. The frontal cortex contains populations of neurons that, until now, were classified as belonging wholly to the motor system. By measuring brain activity in macaques that were tasked to use a small door handle to obtain a food reward, researchers from Italy have now demonstrated that this area of the brain also contains populations of neurons that are sensitive to visual tasks. Undergoing tests with varying light regimes, they established that this area of the macaque brain was activated even when their hand was only visible during short phases of the act of grasping.
Bacteria prefer tumors
Bacteria live not only on us and inside us, but also within us – integrated into parts of our genome by a process called lateral gene transfer. A huge analysis of publicly available sequence data from the Human Genome Project, the 1000 Genomes Project, and the Cancer Genome Atlas delves deeper into this intimate relationship, and finds that bacterial DNA more readily integrates itself into tumor cells than it does healthy cells. Although the exact mechanism of cause and effect in carcinogenesis is not well characterized in all cases, this study represents an important overview to inform future studies.