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Steal My Sunshine

Steal My Sunshine
Top row (l to r): Elysia chlorotica; spotted salamander adult; Lotharella globosa. Bottom row (l to r): diatom (Campylodiscus sp.); Paulinella chromatophora; diatom (Thalassiosira pseudonana). For credits, see end of article. Our world is swarming with symbioses. Sea anemones and clownfish, land plants and mycorrhizal fungi, rays and remora cleaner fish, corals and algae. All around us, radically different species team up in unconventional ways, forming long-lasting relationships that benefit both parties. Among the more profitable endosymbioses is one that allows the host to derive energy from sunlight. Catch me if you can The genesis of plastids follows a straightforward and generally agreed-upon plot: about 1.5 billion years ago, a heterotrophic eukaryote, which gained energy by consuming and digesting organic compounds, swallowed and retained a free-living photosynthetic cyanobacterium. Opportunistic eukaryotes have also hijacked plastids from red algae. Moving in References 1. 2. 3.

Related:  Synthetic & Systems BiologyBioinformatics & Genomicsbiohack

Microbes Living in Tiny Water Droplets Help Break Down Oil It doesn’t take much to keep oil-consuming microbes happy and working. Researchers have discovered communities of microorganisms that live in the tiniest droplets of water suspended in natural tar lakes, where they actively break down oil from the inside out. These thriving microhabitats need very little water to support them, and they could be harnessed for cleaning up disastrous spills. The findings also open up the possibilities of life in harsh and extraterrestrial worlds. The work was published in Science this week.

Synthetic biology: promises and challenges Synthetic biology: another buzzword? Life is evolving fast (at least in the first world) and the latest technological gadget becomes outdated even before we have learnt how to use it. In this respect, science is no exception. The new buzzword ‘Systems Biology’ entered the vocabulary of the scientific community only a few years ago. Now that every biologist is aware of it and almost everyone seems to be doing it, an even newer buzzword has entered the scientific arena, ‘Synthetic Biology’ (see as an example a sample of recent reviews on the topic, Benner and Sismour, 2005; Endy, 2005; Andrianantoandro et al, 2006; Heinemann and Panke, 2006).

The Body’s Ecosystem The human body is teeming with microbes—trillions of them. The commensal bacteria and fungi that live on and inside us outnumber our own cells 10-to-1, and the viruses that teem inside those cells and ours may add another order of magnitude. Genetic analyses of samples from different body regions have revealed the diverse and dynamic communities of microbes that inhabit not just the gut and areas directly exposed to the outside world, but also parts of the body that were long assumed to be microbe-free, such as the placenta, which turns out to harbor bacteria most closely akin to those in the mouth. The mouth microbiome is also suspected of influencing bacterial communities in the lungs.

News Highlights:Most Cancers Due to Bad Luck, Not Heredity or Lifestyle You eat healthy, exercise regularly, and avoid toxic substances. You even—so far as you know—have “good genes.” You should be protected against cancer, right? Bionic Plants: Turning Plants Into Energy Producing Factories A group of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a system aimed at increasing the energy yield of plants through the use of nanomaterials. Using a similar system, they also hope to be able to assign plants the novel function of chemical detection, which could be used to sense explosives amongst other things. This new field of research has been entitled plant nanobionics​, and it is hoped these findings will precipitate a wave of research into this exciting new area.

This Microbe's Hair is Actually a Nanowire for Powering Itself When researchers first looked at the long tendrils grown by “electric bacteria” called Shewanella, they thought it was just common bacterial hair (or pili) for sensing surfaces and connecting to other bacteria. Now, an examination of their structure reveals that they’re actually nanowires that can conduct electricity. The work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. “The pili idea was the strongest hypothesis, but we were always cautious because the exact composition and structure were very elusive. World First: Scientists Observe DNA Shuttling Between Cells, Triggering Tumor Growth In a world first, scientists have demonstrated that a particular type of DNA can shuttle between cells in an animal, a finding that will rewrite textbook science. During their study, the team observed that DNA from a mouse's second genome, or mitochondrial DNA, could be transferred from healthy tissue to tumor cells in mice, promoting cancer growth and spread. Not only could these important findings help further our understanding of cancer and other diseases, but they raise the tantalizing possibility that one day, it might be possible to replace faulty, disease-causing genes with synthetic, custom-designed mitochondrial DNA in a bid to fight a wide variety of illnesses. The work has been published in Cell Metabolism.

Are Your Bacteria Making You Fat? If you reach for that tasty piece of chocolate, even though you are trying to lose weight, are you doing it out of your own volition? Or are you actually being controlled by the bacteria in your gut? This is the question posed in BioEssays by Dr Carlo Maley of the University of California San Francisco. “Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said Marley. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals and others not.” If it sounds ridiculous that life forms too small to see are controlling our behavior, remember the bacteria within you outnumber your own cells at least 10 to one (some estimates say 100 to one)

Binge Drinking Effects Your Immune System Immediately That binge drinking alters behavior is well known. “But there is less awareness of alcohol’s harmful effects in other areas, such as the immune system,” Loyola University Chicago’s Elizabeth Kovacs says in a news release. Previous studies in both humans and animals revealed that alcohol intoxication exerts effects on the immune system several hours to days after the exposure—when blood alcohol is no longer detectable. Now, to study the effects while blood alcohol is still elevated, a team led by Majid Afshar of Loyola University Health Systems collected blood from seven men and eight women before they voluntarily became intoxicated after “high-dose alcohol consumption.”

Scientists Create Simple Artificial ‘Cell’ Capable Of Spontaneous Movement The cells that make up all living things are in constant interaction with their environment. Most cells perform complex chemical processes to ensure the cell and the organism remain healthy. Scientists have not yet been able to replicate a fully-functional synthetic cell, but it now appears they are off to a good start. A team of biophysicists have developed basic artificial vesicles capable of changing shape and moving spontaneously.