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Travis J Bernardo, PhD

Science and medical writer. Inveterate molecular biologist and data geek.

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The pectin is protectin': Study uncovers a plant barrier against toxic aluminum

Aluminum toxicity has long been known to damage plant cells and inhibit the growth of plants. Aluminum is widely found in soils that are too acidic, and as human activities have increased soil acidity across the globe, aluminum toxicity has become a leading cause of low crop yield worldwide. While the effect of aluminum on plants is widely known, precisely how aluminum enters plant cells and causes harm is not well understood. In a new study published in Frontiers in Plant Science, researchers at the University of Tsukuba have found that an integral part of a plant's cell wall may play a role in protecting rice plants from soil aluminum.

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Deleting a liver enzyme lowers the health risk of sweet treats (at least in mice)

Excessive sugar and fat in the diet can lead to hepatic (liver) insulin resistance. Often seen in people who are obese, hepatic insulin resistance leads to unhealthy levels of fatty lipids in the liver and is a risk factor for serious illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Researchers at the University of Tsukuba are attempting to unravel the complicated physiology of insulin resistance, and in a new study published in Hepatology, they show how one gene can have a major impact on insulin resistance in the liver.

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'Instant liver, just add water'? Not quite, but a better way to grow multiple organs

Pluripotent stem cells are specialized cells that can become almost any type of cell or tissue in the body. Because of this potential, they are often used in research to study disease. One way this is done is by coaxing stem cells to form organoids, which resemble organs but can be more easily studied in a laboratory. Researchers centered at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) have devised a better way to make one particular organoid to aid in studies of the liver, bile duct and pancreas.

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No Glutamine? No Problem! Study Shows How a Chemical Lets Starving Cancer Thrive

All cells needs chemical nutrients to survive and grow. Tumors often grow so fast that they cannot get enough nutrients from their surrounding host tissue, and as a result many cancer cells learn to survive in nutrient-starved environments. Researchers at the University of Tokyo and their collaborators have reported a new molecular pathway in cancer cells that allows them to grow when nutrients are scarce, suggesting a potential approach to cancer treatment.

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Immunotherapy and diabetes: A game of hide and seek?

Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) are an emerging type of cancer immunotherapy that uses the immune system to attack cancer cells. However, in some patients they cause the immune system to attack healthy cells, leading to autoimmune diseases. When pancreatic beta cells are attacked, this can lead to type 1 diabetes. In a case report published in Diabetes Care, researchers from Osaka University provide insight into this unintended consequence of ICIs.

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Neuron guidance factor found to play a key role in immune cell function

Macrophages are white blood cells involved in a variety of biological functions, from destroying infectious pathogens to repairing damaged tissue. To carry out their different roles, macrophages must first be activated and transformed into different subtypes. However, the mechanisms that lead to macrophage activation are not fully understood. Now, researchers at Osaka University have identified a new player that activates macrophages and allows them to take on a protective role against inflammatory disorders such as sepsis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

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Study sheds light on bacterial propeller assembly

Many bacteria are equipped with a flagellum, a helical propeller that allows bacteria to travel. The flagellum is assembled in a highly organized manner involving the stepwise addition of each of its internal parts. However, there are many open questions as to how this orderly construction is achieved. In a study published in Science Advances, a Japanese research team centered at Osaka University has uncovered new molecular details and provided a model explaining how stepwise flagellar assembly occurs.

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Cholesterol leash: Key tethering protein found to transport cellular cholesterol

Despite its less-than-stellar reputation in the news, cholesterol is an essential molecule for living things. It serves as the building block for hormones and helps give shape to the membranes that enclose cells and their internal parts. Consequently, many diseases arise from defects in the proper transport of cholesterol. Now, researchers at Osaka University have shed new light on one of the key pathways used to transport cholesterol inside of cells.

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Even flies like a familiar song

The ability to learn and speak language depends heavily on the sounds and language we experience during early infancy. While this may sound self-evident, we still do not understand exactly what happens neurologically as a developing infant learns how to speak. In a study published in eLife, researchers at Nagoya University devised a new neurological model in fruit flies that may illuminate this process -- and made some key discoveries about insect mating along the way.

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Strength in numbers: Worldwide study finds new genetic risk factors for stroke

Stroke is a serious disease affecting blood flow to and from the brain, and is the second leading cause of death worldwide. Stroke is characterized by a sudden onset of neurological dysfunction, caused by a blood clot or hemorrhage in a cerebral artery. While many genetic variants and lifestyle behaviors have been identified as risk factors for stroke, the genetic basis for the disease is unknown.

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Helpful B cells lend a hand to developing neurons

Several neurological disorders, including autism and schizophrenia, are thought to be driven in part by the failure of myelin to properly surround axons during development. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at Osaka University have added an unexpected piece to the developmental puzzle, showing that immune cells may play a key role in helping myelin to form around newly minted neurons.

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