So I mentioned earlier that a good portion of January became hectic, to the point that I didn’t get quite as much finished as originally planned.

This meant I was behind on my science news round-ups. I’m hoping that my schedule is back on track, and that it will become a weekly post (but definitely a biweekly post) starting again this week.

Since I missed a week, this week’s post is a combination of recaps of articles I’ve read over the past two weeks (I decided I would only recap 3 articles this week).

Currently I’ve just been reading and sharing articles from Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, though I may start at least reading news from other sites to share here as well. As I mentioned in my first post, their site is updated Monday-Friday with new articles, and if you subscribe to their site you can get their daily newsletter (which is what I do).

So again–this is going to be a fairly long post, probably somewhere between a ten and fifteen minute read.

The first article I want to recap is “Tomoplasma gondii linked to brain tumor”.

The protozoan, Toxoplasma gondii, is one of the world’s most common parasites and is the causative agent of Toxoplasmosis. It has been estimated that approximately 11% of the US population over the age of six has been infected at one point with Toxoplasma gondii.

Colored image of the Toxoplasma gondii protozoan (c)istockphotos credit: Dr_Microbe

We come into contact with Toxoplasma gondii, through either under cooked infected meats, infected cat feces (as cats are a host for the protozoan), or it is passed from mother to child during pregnancy.

After entering the human body, the protozoan forms cysts within various tissues including the skeletal tissue, the heart, brain, and eyes. Depending on how old a person is when they come into contact with Toxoplasma and the strength of their immune system, the cysts may remain throughout the individual’s lifetime.

Toxoplasma now been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, epilepsy, and various cancers. One group of researchers decided to look to see if there could be a linnk between parasite infection/cyst formation and the possible risk of developing glioma brain tumors.

The researchers published their paper “Toxoplasma gondii infection and the risk of adult glioma in two prospective studies” in the International Journal of Cancer. I have not read teh paper–because it is behind a pay wall (hopefully it will be freely available at some point over the next year).

Their reasoning to look at brain cancer, is that the brain tissue is one of the tissues that hte parasite tends to favor in terms of cyst formation. Glioma, is a rare (but fatal) neurological cancer. It is the most common primary brain tumor, though it can occur at any age and part of the central nervous system where the glial cells are found.

Approximately 80% of malignant brain tumors are gliomas, with a very low five-year survival rate of only five percent.

The scientists were wanting to see if there was any correlation between having been exposed to the Toxoplasma parasite at some point in life and development of glioma tumors later in life.

The two groups that they looked at showed that there could be a possible correlation between infection with the parasite and development of glioma tumors. They stated though that a larger and more diverse number of cases were needed to to see if the findings (presence of antibodies against the surface antigens of the parasite) are reproducible.

If the findings are reproducible looking at larger and more diverse groups, then reducing exposure to the parasite could be an easy way to help prevent the development of these highly aggressive and lethal brain tumors. Though it does need to be stressed that exposure to Toxoplasma gondii isn’t the only possible cause for the development of the tumors.

The second article I read was “Dengue virus blocking antibody indentified”

Dengue fever is caused by a flavivirus, carried by mosquitoes, and infects somewhere between 50 and 100 million people per year. Therefore finding a treatment(s) or a vaccine is needed, and is something that scientists have been working on for some time.

3-D image of Dengue Virus. (c) Image created by Kateryna Kon

One of the major problems is that there are four different strains of the virus, and being infected with one strain (and building an immunity to it) doesn’t mean you’re protected from the other strains. In fact, it is just the opposite–building the immunity against one, actually makes you more vulnerable to infection from one of the other three strains.

The research group published their paper “Structural basis for antibody inhibition of flavivirus NS1-triggered endothelial dysfunction” in Science. Since I don’t remember if I have a password for the journal or not, I haven’t read the paper yet (it isn’t behind a pay wall per say, but you do need an account with the journal to read it).

It has been shown that the dengue virus has a specific protein (NS1 or non-structural protein 1) that it uses to attach to endothelial cells around organs. This protein helps weaken cellular membranes and allows the virus to enter the cells. The weakening of cellular membranes and movement of the virus may also lead to the rupture of blood vessels.

The research group found that an antibody that would physically block NS1 from being able to attach to other cells. Therefore helping to slow the spread of the virus. This is an important discovery, due to the fact the antibody is against the protein and not the coding sequence. This means that it should be effective against all four strains of the dengue virus (the physical structure of the NS1 protein should be similar enough for the antibody to recognize it).

If shown to be effective against all four strains of the dengue virus, and if it gets into (and through) clinical trials, it would mean that there is at least one possible treatment for dengue fever. It would also open the door to looking at other flavivirus diseases (such as Zika or West Niles) to see if an antibody against their surface binding proteins would also be effective or not.

The final article I want to recap is “Taurine enhances the microbiome’s resistance to future pathogens”

There has been a wealth of research done over the years that show our microbiome in our gut plays a role in just about every part of our day-to-day lives, and can be connected to numerous different diseases and conditions (though more research still needs to be done to show that the microbiome is playing a significant role whatever the disease or condition is).

So one of the problems when we develop a bacterial infection, is that the antibiotic treatment doesn’t just get rid of the bad bacteria, it also gets rid of some of the good bacteria in our gut. This is one reason, why now doctors suggest that you eat yogurt that is fortified with the ‘good’ bacteria to help recolonize your gut as you’re taking your antibiotics.

Therefore, a key area of research now in infectious disease is to find alternatives to antibiotics for treating bacterial infections–but hopefully not harm our native gut microbiome.

It has recently been shown that taurine (an amino sulfonic acid, it is derived from cysteine), which is found in foods such as meats, fish, and eggs could help enhance the protection of the gut by the native microbiome.

Taurine biosynthesis. Image (c)

Taurine is also a molecule that we can make ourselves from the amino acid cysteine (see above image). Taurine can be found in the brain, retina, muscle tissues, and in bile acids. The presence of taurine in the bile acids helps up digest fats and oils in our gut.

The group published their paper “Infection trains the host for microbiota-enhanced resistance to pathogens” in the journal Cell. Hopefully it will be freely available to read within a year.

When present in high enough concentration in the gut, it helps the microbes produce excess amounts of sulfides to prevent any cellular respiration from occurring in the gut. By helping to prevent cellular respiration, it helps to then prevent the colonization of invasive bacterial pathogens that rely on cellular respiration to replicate and invade neighboring cells/tissues.

Their research showed that even an small initial infection can be enough to induce taurine production (bile acids), which then led to the increase in population of certain bacterial species in the gut. If a second infection (same or similar bacteria) occurred, the microbiome was quicker to react. But treating the animal with an over the counter medication (one to say soothe an upset stomach, deal with diarrhea or even indigestion), was enough to actually allow the pathogenic bacteria to colonize the gut by removing sulfide producing bacteria in the gut.

This also shows that we should take into consideration our own microflora when taking over the counter medications–because you never know when you could possibly come down with food poisoning or some other bacterial infection.

So that wraps up this week’s Science News Round-Up. I could have covered quite a few more articles, but decided that three to four articles is a good number, especially if I can get a good variety in the articles. I think that going from protozoan parasites, to viruses, to bacteria was a good choice this week–it kept everything at the microscopic level (more or less).

Again, let me know what you think of the post–too much scientific jargon still? Is there something that you would like me to cover in more detail? Do you have a specific site you go to read science news on?

Image References:

Image of Toxoplasma gondii again is from; image credit: Dr_microbe

Image of Dengue virus again is from; image credit: Kateryna Kon

Image of taurine biosynthesis is from the following site: