This Week in Science – September 23, 2016

By Justine Jiang

Water Bear Protein Could Protect Humans from Radiation

Researchers at the University of Tokyo sequenced tardigrade genome this week, deepening our understanding of the world’s most resilient animal. The study found that tardigrades contain a unique genome, with 1.2% originating from foreign sources such as fungi and bacteria.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are tiny aquatic animals that can be found everywhere from mountaintops to the Antarctic. Born with the ability to adapt, tardigrades can tolerate complete dehydration, extreme temperatures, high pressure, and exposures to high doses of radiation.

Researchers have attempted to sequence the genome for years, but due to tardigrades’ microscopic size, they faced challenges with contamination. In the study published in Nature Communications, a team led by Takuma Hashimoto took research one step further, introducing a tardigrade protein into human cells. They isolated a gene shown to be highly active during x-ray exposures, and upon integrating it into cell cultures, it enabled cells to be resistant to radiation, preventing harmful breaks from occurring in their DNA strands.

Stem Cell Research Offers Possible Treatment Breakthrough
Researchers at the University of Glasgow discovered a way to control stem cells’ regenerative ability, offering new hope in treatments for injuries and diseases.

Produced naturally in the bone marrow, pluripotent stem cells are inactivated until a repair command is issued, enabling them to differentiate into necessary cells for regeneration. Dr. Catherine Berry and Professor Matthew Dalby teamed up to create a 3-D spherical structure of stem cells by injecting them with magnetic nanoparticles. The bundle of cells was then placed in an environment similar to bone marrow jelly, tricking the cells into remaining dormant over a prolonged period of time.

Dr. Berry told Phys.org, "Although this paper is on our research into using these stem cells with bone and cartilage, we're already starting to work with partners…to look at the potential to use this technique to combat leukemia and breast cancer.”

Scientists Triple Database on Viruses in Oceans

An international research team has tripled the database for the different types of viruses residing in oceans this week. The goal of this study was to understand the biodiversity in oceans and its interaction with viruses, which will ultimately help in efforts to preserve the environment.

Data and samples were mostly gathered from the three-year Tara Oceans Expedition, as well as the 2010 Malaspina expedition. With recent climate shifts, scientists are looking toward viruses as a key to sequestering excess carbon. One in three microbes are infected by a virus at any given time, and solutions could be found in the alternation of microbes, allowing scientists to ultimately sink carbon into the bottom of the ocean.

Quoted in Phys.org, Melissa Duhaime, an assistant researcher at the University of Michigan, stated that, "Before we can understand how organisms interact and the consequences of those interactions—which have implications for both planetary and human health—we need to have a handle on who is there, how they are organized into groups of similar-looking and similar-behaving organisms, and how these groups are distributed across time and space."