Nailing the influenza virus
[Physiology and Developmental Biology] David Busath (biophysics) and colleagues at Florida State University (FSU) have received a five-year, multi-million-dollar grant to identify ways to keep influenza viruses from reproducing. They are using FSU's very powerful 15-foot magnet to essentially conduct an MRI of the membrane, or skin, of the influenza A virus. The magnet allows them to "see" tiny holes or channels in the membrane which are too small to be detected with the electron microscope. The channels import acid into the virus, which releases genes to begin viral reproduction in host cells.
The group has discovered that flu virus channels are even narrower than previously thought. Results of their work were recently published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Our work has implications for how the virus survives, and maybe how we can kill it," Busath said. HIV and avian flu have channels similar to the virus the team studies. Their work may shed light on the reproduction of those viruses, as well.
Environmental preservation in Mongolia
[Integrative Biology] Riley Nelson, professor of aquatic entomology, is part of an international team of scientists, based at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, conducting a survey of Mongolian aquatic life forms.
Mongolia is at a biodiversity crossroads. Pressures to exploit mineral resources that lead to water pollution are great. Mongolia's natural ecosystems retain a spectacular large-animal diversity which has been all but wiped out in surrounding countries. Nomadic grazing of sheep, cattle, yaks, goats, and camels remains a central part of Mongolian life. In 1991 Mongolia pledged 30 percent of its land to nature reserves—the most of any country in the world.
Freshwater is the most limited resource in Mongolia. Prior to the Academy team, there were virtually no trained people to monitor aquatic life forms (excellent indicators of water quality). The team has sampled water chemistry and classified aquatic invertebrates, diatoms, and fish, and is training Mongolian researchers to do the same. Plans are underway to expand their work into the Altai, Sayan, and Hangay Mountains.
Green jellyfish and special mice shed light on healing
[Microbiology and Molecular Biology] Sandra Burnett, assistant professor of immunology, has combined a "glow-in-thedark" gene from jellyfish and the DNA of special mice to help determine the role of particular types of white blood cells called macrophages. Doctors have debated the role of macrophages during healing after abdominal surgery. Some surgeons wash macrophages out of the abdomen believing they lead to adhesions, intestinal obstructions, and pain. Others believe the cells attack infections and minimize obstructions and pain.
Burnett's mice carry the jellyfish gene so their macrophage cells fluoresce green. This helps her and her students observe where the cells congregate and what they do. Her mice are also special in that when treated with a simple drug they become macrophage-free.
Burnett hypothesized that macrophage-free mice would be free of post-surgical adhesions, but the experiment showed that most developed adhesions anyway. Burnett's complete results are reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Surgical Research where she concludes that macrophages protect, not endanger.