Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Open biology


The vast majority of all agents used to directly kill cancer cells (ionizing radiation, most chemotherapeutic agents and some targeted therapies) work through either directly or indirectly generating reactive oxygen species that block key steps in the cell cycle. As mesenchymal cancers evolve from their epithelial cell progenitors, they almost inevitably possess much-heightened amounts of antioxidants that effectively block otherwise highly effective oxidant therapies. Also key to better understanding is why and how the anti-diabetic drug metformin (the world’s most prescribed pharmaceutical product) preferentially kills oxidant-deficient mesenchymal p53(- -)cells. A much faster timetable should be adopted towards developing more new drugs effective against p53(- -) cancers.

Concepts: Cancer, Ionizing radiation, Metastasis, Oncology, Antioxidant, Chemotherapy, Radiation therapy, Leukemia


The peptidoglycan wall is a defining feature of bacterial cells and was probably already present in their last common ancestor. L-forms are bacterial variants that lack a cell wall and divide by a variety of processes involving membrane blebbing, tubulation, vesiculation and fission. Their unusual mode of proliferation provides a model for primitive cells and is reminiscent of recently developed in vitro vesicle reproduction processes. Invention of the cell wall may have underpinned the explosion of bacterial life on the Earth. Later innovations in cell envelope structure, particularly the emergence of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, possibly in an early endospore former, seem to have spurned further major evolutionary radiations. Comparative studies of bacterial cell envelope structure may help to resolve the early key steps in evolutionary development of the bacterial domain of life.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Evolution, Organism, Microbiology, Cell membrane, Cell wall, Bacterial cell structure


Campylobacter jejuni is an important cause of human foodborne gastroenteritis; strategies to prevent infection are hampered by a poor understanding of the complex interactions between host and pathogen. Previous work showed that C. jejuni could bind human histo-blood group antigens (BgAgs) in vitro and that BgAgs could inhibit the binding of C. jejuni to human intestinal mucosa ex vivo. Here, the major flagella subunit protein (FlaA) and the major outer membrane protein (MOMP) were identified as BgAg-binding adhesins in C. jejuni NCTC11168. Significantly, the MOMP was shown to be O-glycosylated at Thr(268); previously only flagellin proteins were known to be O-glycosylated in C. jejuni. Substitution of MOMP Thr(268) led to significantly reduced binding to BgAgs. The O-glycan moiety was characterized as Gal(β1-3)-GalNAc(β1-4)-GalNAc(β1-4)-GalNAcα1-Thr(268); modelling suggested that O-glycosylation has a notable effect on the conformation of MOMP and this modulates BgAg-binding capacity. Glycosylation of MOMP at Thr(268) promoted cell-to-cell binding, biofilm formation and adhesion to Caco-2 cells, and was required for the optimal colonization of chickens by C. jejuni, confirming the significance of this O-glycosylation in pathogenesis.

Concepts: Immune system, Protein, Bacteria, Glucose, Proteobacteria, Gastroenteritis, Campylobacter, Campylobacter jejuni


Mammalian embryonic diapause is a phenomenon defined by the temporary arrest in blastocyst growth and metabolic activity within the uterus which synchronously becomes quiescent to blastocyst activation and implantation. This reproductive strategy temporally uncouples conception from parturition until environmental or maternal conditions are favourable for the survival of the mother and newborn. The underlying molecular mechanism by which the uterus and embryo temporarily achieve quiescence, maintain blastocyst survival and then resume blastocyst activation with subsequent implantation remains unknown. Here, we show that uterine expression of Msx1 or Msx2, members of an ancient, highly conserved homeobox gene family, persists in three unrelated mammalian species during diapause, followed by rapid downregulation with blastocyst activation and implantation. Mice with uterine inactivation of Msx1 and Msx2 fail to achieve diapause and reactivation. Remarkably, the North American mink and Australian tammar wallaby share similar expression patterns of MSX1 or MSX2 as in mice-it persists during diapause and is rapidly downregulated upon blastocyst activation and implantation. Evidence from mouse studies suggests that the effects of Msx genes in diapause are mediated through Wnt5a, a known transcriptional target of uterine Msx. These studies provide strong evidence that the Msx gene family constitutes a common conserved molecular mediator in the uterus during embryonic diapause to improve female reproductive fitness.

Concepts: Gene, Pregnancy, Embryo, Organism, Developmental biology, Homeobox, Genes, MSX1


The correct assembly and timely disassembly of the mitotic spindle is crucial for the propagation of the genome during cell division. Aurora kinases play a central role in orchestrating bipolar spindle establishment, chromosome alignment and segregation. In most eukaryotes, ranging from amoebas to humans, Aurora activity appears to be required both at the spindle pole and the kinetochore, and these activities are often split between two different Aurora paralogues, termed Aurora A and B. Polar and equatorial functions of Aurora kinases have generally been considered separately, with Aurora A being mostly involved in centrosome dynamics, whereas Aurora B coordinates kinetochore attachment and cytokinesis. However, double inactivation of both Aurora A and B results in a dramatic synergy that abolishes chromosome segregation. This suggests that these two activities jointly coordinate mitotic progression. Accordingly, recent evidence suggests that Aurora A and B work together in both spindle assembly in metaphase and disassembly in anaphase. Here, we provide an outlook on these shared functions of the Auroras, discuss the evolution of this family of mitotic kinases and speculate why Aurora kinase activity may be required at both ends of the spindle microtubules.

Concepts: Cell, Eukaryote, Chromosome, Cell cycle, Mitosis, Aurora kinase, Motor protein, Spindle apparatus


The RNA-binding protein Mei2 is crucial for meiosis in Schizosaccharomyces pombe. In mei2 mutants, pre-meiotic S-phase is blocked, along with meiosis. Mei2 binds a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) called meiRNA, which is a ‘sponge RNA’ for the meiotic inhibitor protein Mmi1. The interaction between Mei2, meiRNA and Mmi1 protein is essential for meiosis. But mei2 mutants have stronger and different phenotypes than meiRNA mutants, since mei2Δ arrests before pre-meiotic S, while the meiRNA mutant arrests after pre-meiotic S but before meiosis. This suggests Mei2 may bind additional RNAs. To identify novel RNA targets of Mei2, which might explain how Mei2 regulates pre-meiotic S, we used RNA immunoprecipitation and cross-linking immunoprecipitation. In addition to meiRNA, we found the mRNAs for mmi1 (which encodes Mmi1) and for the S-phase transcription factor rep2 There were also three other RNAs of uncertain relevance. We suggest that at meiotic initiation, Mei2 may sequester rep2 mRNA to help allow pre-meiotic S, and then may bind both meiRNA and mmi1 mRNA to inactivate Mmi1 at two levels, the protein level (as previously known), and also the mRNA level, allowing meiosis. We call Mei2-meiRNA a ‘double sponge’ (i.e. binding both an mRNA and its encoded protein).


While initially recognized as causing respiratory disease, the SARS-CoV-2 virus also affects many other organs leading to other complications. It has emerged that advanced age and obesity are risk factors for complications but questions concerning the potential effects on fetal health and successful pregnancy for those infected with SARS-CoV-2 remain largely unanswered. Here, we examine human pre-gastrulation embryos to determine the expression patterns of the genes ACE2, encoding the SARS-CoV-2 receptor, and TMPRSS2, encoding a protease that cleaves both the viral spike protein and the ACE2 receptor to facilitate infection. We show expression and co-expression of these genes in the trophoblast of the blastocyst and syncytiotrophoblast and hypoblast of the implantation stages, which develop into tissues that interact with the maternal blood supply for nutrient exchange. Expression of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 in these tissues raises the possibility for vertical transmission and indicates that further work is required to understand potential risks to implantation, placental health and fetal health that require further study.


Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the world. It is broadly divided into small cell (SCLC, approx. 15% cases) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC, approx. 85% cases). The main histological subtypes of NSCLC are adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, with the presence of specific DNA mutations allowing further molecular stratification. If identified at an early stage, surgical resection of NSCLC offers a favourable prognosis, with published case series reporting 5-year survival rates of up to 70% for small, localized tumours (stage I). However, most patients (approx. 75%) have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis (stage III/IV) and despite significant developments in the oncological management of late stage lung cancer over recent years, survival remains poor. In 2014, the UK Office for National Statistics reported that patients diagnosed with distant metastatic disease (stage IV) had a 1-year survival rate of just 15-19% compared with 81-85% for stage I.

Concepts: Cancer, Metastasis, Oncology, Lung cancer, Non-small cell lung carcinoma, Cancer staging, Carcinoma, Squamous cell carcinoma


Scale sensilla are small tactile mechanosensory organs located on the head scales of many squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes). In sea snakes and sea kraits (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae), these scale organs are presumptive scale sensilla that purportedly function as both tactile mechanoreceptors and potentially as hydrodynamic receptors capable of sensing the displacement of water. We combined scanning electron microscopy, silicone casting of the skin and quadrate sampling with a phylogenetic analysis to assess morphological variation in sensilla on the postocular head scale(s) across four terrestrial, 13 fully aquatic and two semi-aquatic species of elapids. Substantial variation exists in the overall coverage of sensilla (0.8-6.5%) among the species sampled and is broadly overlapping in aquatic and terrestrial lineages. However, two observations suggest a divergent, possibly hydrodynamic sensory role of sensilla in sea snake and sea krait species. First, scale sensilla are more protruding (dome-shaped) in aquatic species than in their terrestrial counterparts. Second, exceptionally high overall coverage of sensilla is found only in the fully aquatic sea snakes, and this attribute appears to have evolved multiple times within this group. Our quantification of coverage as a proxy for relative ‘sensitivity’ represents the first analysis of the evolution of sensilla in the transition from terrestrial to marine habitats. However, evidence from physiological and behavioural studies is needed to confirm the functional role of scale sensilla in sea snakes and sea kraits.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Skin, Squamata, Snake, Elapidae, Bungarus, Sea snake


Increased brain size is thought to have played an important role in the evolution of mammals and is a highly variable trait across lineages. Variations in brain size are closely linked to corresponding variations in the size of the neocortex, a distinct mammalian evolutionary innovation. The genomic features that explain and/or accompany variations in the relative size of the neocortex remain unknown. By comparing the genomes of 28 mammalian species, we show that neocortical expansion relative to the rest of the brain is associated with variations in gene family size (GFS) of gene families that are significantly enriched in biological functions associated with chemotaxis, cell-cell signalling and immune response. Importantly, we find that previously reported GFS variations associated with increased brain size are largely accounted for by the stronger link between neocortex expansion and variations in the size of gene families. Moreover, genes within these families are more prominently expressed in the human neocortex during early compared with adult development. These results suggest that changes in GFS underlie morphological adaptations during brain evolution in mammalian lineages.

Concepts: Immune system, Gene, Genetics, Bacteria, Evolution, Biology, Species, Neocortex