The technique could help scientists verify if bacterial treatments for some cancers, gut illnesses are working
BARTH VAN ROSSUM FOR CALTECH
Ultrasound can now track bacteria in the body like sonar detects submarines.
For the first time, researchers have genetically modified microbes to form gas-filled pouches that scatter sound waves to produce ultrasound signals. When these bacteria are placed inside an animal, an ultrasound detector can pick up those signals and reveal the microbes’ location, much like sonar waves bouncing off ships at sea, explains study coauthor Mikhail Shapiro, a chemical engineer at Caltech.
This technique, described in the Jan. 4 Nature, could help researchers more closely monitor microbes used to seek and destroy tumors or treat gut diseases (SN: 11/1/14, p. 18).
Repurposing ultrasound, a common tissue-imaging method, to map microbes creates “a tool that nobody thought was even conceivable,” says Olivier Couture, a medical biophysicist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, who wasn’t involved in the work.
Until now, researchers have tracked disease-fighting bacteria in the body by genetically engineering them to glow green in ultraviolet images. But that light provides only blurry views of microbes in deeper tissue — if it can be seen at all. With ultrasound, “we can go centimeters deep and still see things with a spatial precision on the order of a hundred micrometers,” Shapiro says.
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Shapiro and his colleagues engineered a strain of E. coli used to treat gut infection to form gas compartments, and injected these bacteria into mice’s bellies. Unlike glowing bacteria — which could only be pinpointed to somewhere in a mouse’s abdomen — ultrasound images located the gas-filled microbes in the colon. The researchers also used their ultrasound technique in mice to image Salmonellabacteria, which could be used to deliver cancer-killing drugs to tumor cells.
Bacteria that produce ultrasound signals can also be designed to help diagnose illnesses, Shapiro says. For instance, a patient could swallow bacteria engineered to create gas pockets wherever the microbes sense inflammation. A doctor could then use ultrasound to search for inflamed tissue, rather than performing a more invasive procedure like a colonoscopy.
R.W. Bourdeau et al. Acoustic reporter genes for noninvasive imaging of microorganisms in mammalian hosts. Nature. Vol. 553, January 4, 2018, p. 86. doi: 10.1038/nature25021.
M. Temming. How gut bacteria may affect anxiety. Science News. Vol. 192, September 30, 2017, p. 12.
R. Ehrenberg. Post-stroke shifts in gut bacteria could cause additional brain injury. Science News. Vol. 190, August 6, 2016, p. 7.
L. Sanders. Microbes can play games with the mind. Science News. Vol. 189, April 2, 2016, p. 23.
S. Gaidos. Microbes can redeem themselves to fight disease. Science News. Vol. 186, November 1, 2014, p. 18.
T. Siegfried. Microbes at home in your gut may also be influencing your brain. Science News Online, May 28, 2013.
Our Top 10 stories of 2017 cover the science that was earthshaking, field-advancing or otherwise important. But choosing our favorite stories requires some different metrics.
Here are some of our staff’s favorites from 2017, selected for their intrigue, their power, their element of surprise — or because they were just really, really fun.
Stories that moved us
“The eclipse the eclipse the eclipse omg the eclipse.”
Astronomy writer Lisa Grossman didn’t hesitate in her e-mail reply when I asked for everyone’s personal favorites of the year.
For the Great American Eclipse, Lisa wrote a 10-part preview of questions scientists would pursue during totality. She then traveled to Wyoming for the eclipse itself, reporting from a Baptist summer camp–turned-observatory. The whole experience was surprisingly emotional, Lisa says, and one that has stuck with her. “I keep looking at the sun now and thinking about how all that beautiful gossamer structure is there, all the time, and we just can’t see it. And how lucky we are that the moon is just the size and distance it is, so that we can experience this.”
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The Cassini spacecraft’s journey to Saturn also struck an emotional chord with the SN staff. “Cassini crashing into Saturn wins the award for ‘2017 science event that made me cry the most,’” says staff writer Laurel Hamers. After traveling 4.9 billion miles over nearly 20 years, the spacecraft dove into Saturn’s atmosphere and vaporized. “It was a very human drama about a machine,” says audience engagement editor Mike Denison. “It was the sort of science story even a layman like me can get very invested in.”
At its core, Cassini’s mission was basic exploration — the same drive that made the moon landing so captivating. “It’s amazing that there is still so much of our solar system we haven’t explored directly, and the goodies from that mission and the final dive will be reported for years to come,” writes acting editor in chief Beth Quill. “Plus, I love the narrative potential of a spacecraft that sacrifices itself.”
Physics writer Emily Conover’s personal favorite was also our No. 1 story, the detection of two neutron stars colliding — a finding that she had predicted. “I’m patting myself on the back a little bit for that,” she says.
“It was a lot of fun to think about how we’ve detected something completely new and confirmed that some of the tangible stuff around us, like the gold in my wedding ring, came from collisions like that,” she adds. “It’s one of those stories that if you think about it hard enough, it makes you feel like a very small part in a giant, wonderful, fascinating universe.”
Stories that surprised us
We spend our days devouring science, combing scientific journals, interviewing scientists, attending meetings and reading science news in other publications. You’d think very little would surprise us. Not true.
Maria Temming’s story on the discovery of a mysterious void in the Great Pyramid of Gizawas one of our most-read stories of the year. By placing detectors throughout the pyramid to measure subatomic particles called muons, researchers discovered a previously unknown cavity inside the pyramid. “The topic was this beautiful juxtaposition of modern, cutting-edge technology — as in the muon detectors — with the ancient technology of pyramid construction,” says Maria, SN’s technology writer. “It’s also kind of hilarious to think that the Great Mysterious Thing in this story is not the high-energy particles from outer space — that’s the thing we’ve got a handle on!”Science News for Students managing editor and Wild Things blogger Sarah Zielinski has a keen eye for amazing animal stories, so her pick for a favorite story surprised me: It was our May story and infographic on how an asteroid impact would kill you. “You assume that you know what an asteroid impact would do,” Sarah says, “but it turns out that your assumptions are completely wrong.”
Senior writer Tina Hesman Saey has been covering molecular and developmental biology for more than a decade, but was surprised when a new study overturned the idea that female is the default sex in developing mammals, and that only male tissues have to be actively built. A study she reported on this year found that male structures must be demolished to set off female development. “I was amazed that no one knew a basic of developmental biology: that development of female reproductive organs is an active process,” Tina says.
A story about circulation in sea spiders takes the surprise prize for biology writer Susan Milius. “I had never written a story about them, so they were on my taxonomic bucket list,” she says. It turns out that oxygen-rich blood circulates up and down the animal’s legs as contractions move bits of food through the digestive tract in the legs. “It’s circulation by gut lump!” Susan says. “This still blows me away.”The story of how the house mouse came to live with peoplewas a favorite for Science News for Students writer and Scicurious blogger Bethany Brookshire. “It was something I’d never thought of before and it was interesting to find how just how much we were affecting the species around us, even the littlest ones!”
Graphic designer Tracee Tibbitts highlighted two more, well, animalistic animal stories: One about a coconut crab attacking a bird, and one about gulls eating hookworms from seals’ feces — directly from the source. “We see a lot of cute animal stories online that give us warm fuzzies or a ‘they’re just like us!’ reaction,” Tracee says. “But both of these stories remind us that — NOPE. Animals are still wild and out there fighting each other for food and resources and survival.”
Stories that intrigued, for better or worse
The gene-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 caught Beth’s attention this year, “though I would say that last year and would say it again next year,” she says. “It is especially interesting to me to watch a technology from its infancy and understand the twists and turns it takes, all the ways it’s used and the ethical implications that arise.”
But Susan hadn’t expected CRISPR to creep into her beat as well. “What I missed by light-years was how fast CRISPR would cease to be just Tina’s business and become a matter that someone writing about conservation, ecology and real outdoor evolution has to watch,” Susan says. In an in-depth story on ticks, Susan described preliminary work to engineer mice using CRISPR gene editing to curb the spread of the Lyme disease parasite. “It might happen in six or seven years, and at the current speed, gene editing for wild, free-roaming organisms may, for better or worse — or both — be a real thing,” Susan says. “I certainly see the need for caution, but wow, are the possibilities changing fast.”
Stories scientists tell
Part of the fun of many of the stories we cover is talking to the researchers who do the work. “I had so much fun interviewing scientists for [the neutron star collision] story,” Emily says. “Some of the members of LIGO were practically losing their minds about how amazing the detection was. It was so easy to get caught up in the excitement.”
Tina got a chance to talk to planetary scientists and astrochemists — not her usual crowd — for a news story on a molecule on Saturn’s moon Titan that could be a key building block for any strange life-forms that might exist in the moon’s frigid methane lakes. In 2016, Tina had written a feature story on what alien life might look like, and in it described computer simulations of a molecule that could form bubblelike structures that resemble cell membranes. The new work showed that the molecule actually does exist on Titan. “It was a thrill to see that one prediction about truly alien life might come true,” Tina says.Laurel enjoyed talking to scientists trying to create better surgical adhesives inspired by slugs, worms and other critters. “People who study weird slime-making animals give the best interviews,” she says.
Associate editor Cassie Martin had a challenging time getting in touch with a scientist for a piece on the cholera epidemic in Yemen. “Finding a scientist and health worker in the war-torn country without actually traveling there took a lot of time and determination,” Cassie says. Once she did, though, she learned more than she expected. “I learned so much about what was happening not only with the epidemic, but about how war affects the scientific enterprise.”
For a video story on the anniversary of the detection of supernova 1987A, web producer Helen Thompson talked to Ian Shelton, who discovered the stellar explosion. The video told the story of the night of the discovery and reviewed all the insights the explosion has given to astronomy. The video also featured Shelton’s voice — and his likeness, in Claymation form. “I got to do a video that combined Claymation and glitter, which are my two favorite things,” Helen says.
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The story of the moment
You know when someone asks you what your favorite TV show is, and the show that springs to mind is the one you’re binge-watching right now? That often happens with our favorite science stories. Behavioral sciences writer Bruce Bower is putting the finishing touches on a feature story, due out early next year, on fantasy and reality in children’s play. Today, it’s his favorite. “It brings together psychology, anthropology/ethnography and archaeology, an interdisciplinary service that journalists can provide because scientists rarely do,” Bruce says.
For biomedical writer Aimee Cunningham, it’s all of the stories. “The majority of the stories I’ve written this year have met my criteria for why I do this work: to talk to interesting people, learn cool science and share what I find out.”
And that’s what we love about the work that we do. Here’s to 2018 and all the moving, surprising, intriguing, fascinating stories it will bring.
Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
Pollution responsible for 16 percent of early deaths globally!
Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear is a Commissioner and author of The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health that has released a report detailing the adverse effects of pollution on global health.
“This is the first global analysis of the impacts of pollution — air, water, soil, occupational — together as well as exploring the economic costs and the social injustice of pollution,” says Lanphear. “Pollution, which is at the root of many diseases and disorders that plague humankind, is entirely preventable.”
The report features solutions and recommends how the problem can be solved. It includes examples and case studies of pollution control success.
Commission findings include:
- Pollution causes 16% of all deaths globally.
- Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths — 16% of all deaths worldwide — three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence. It kills more people than smoking, hunger and natural disasters. In some countries, it accounts for one in four deaths.
- Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable. Nearly 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Within countries, pollution’s toll is greatest in poor and marginalized communities. Children face the highest risks because small exposures to chemicals in utero and in early childhood can result in lifelong disease and, disability, premature death, as well as reduced learning and earning potential.
- Pollution is closely tied to climate change and biodiversity. Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution. Major emitters of carbon dioxide are coal-fired power plants, chemical producers, mining operations, and vehicles. Accelerating the switch to cleaner sources of energy will reduce air pollution and improve human and planetary health.
- Philip J Landrigan, Richard Fuller, Nereus J R Acosta, Olusoji Adeyi, Robert Arnold, Niladri (Nil) Basu, Abdoulaye Bibi Baldé, Roberto Bertollini, Stephan Bose-O’Reilly, Jo Ivey Boufford, Patrick N Breysse, Thomas Chiles, Chulabhorn Mahidol, Awa M Coll-Seck, Maureen L Cropper, Julius Fobil, Valentin Fuster, Michael Greenstone, Andy Haines, David Hanrahan, David Hunter, Mukesh Khare, Alan Krupnick, Bruce Lanphear, Bindu Lohani, Keith Martin, Karen V Mathiasen, Maureen A McTeer, Christopher J L Murray, Johanita D Ndahimananjara, Frederica Perera, Janez Potočnik, Alexander S Preker, Jairam Ramesh, Johan Rockström, Carlos Salinas, Leona D Samson, Karti Sandilya, Peter D Sly, Kirk R Smith, Achim Steiner, Richard B Stewart, William A Suk, Onno C P van Schayck, Gautam N Yadama, Kandeh Yumkella, Ma Zhong. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The Lancet, 2017; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32345-0
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Brain’s immune cells linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia
Source: Salk Institute
Summary: Scientists conducted a vast microglia survey, revealing links to neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric illnesses.
Scientists have, for the first time, characterized the molecular markers that make the brain’s front lines of immune defense — cells called microglia — unique. In the process, they discovered further evidence that microglia may play roles in a variety of neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases as well as schizophrenia, autism, and depression.
“Microglia are the immune cells of the brain, but how they function in the human brain is not well understood,” says Rusty Gage, professor in Salk’s Laboratory of Genetics, the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease, and a senior author of the new work. “Our work not only provides links to diseases but offers a jumping-off point to better understand the basic biology of these cells.”
Genes that have previously been linked to neurological diseases are turned on at higher levels in microglia compared to other brain cells, the team reported in Science on May 25, 2017. While the link between microglia and a number of disorders has been explored in the past, the new study offers a molecular basis for this connection.
- David Gosselin, Dylan Skola, Nicole G. Coufal, Inge R. Holtman, Johannes C. M. Schlachetzki, Eniko Sajti, Baptiste N. Jaeger, Carolyn O’Connor, Conor Fitzpatrick, Martina P. Pasillas, Monique Pena, Amy Adair, David G. Gonda, Michael L. Levy, Richard M. Ransohoff, Fred H. Gage, Christopher K. Glass. An environment-dependent transcriptional network specifies human microglia identity. Science, 2017; eaal3222 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal3222
Saturday, January 30, 2016
Risky Business – The Future of Biopharmaceutical Innovation
This event gives professionals from across the biopharmaceutical space – from scientists and industry executives, through healthcare providers and insurers to investors – a visceral understanding of how biopharma innovation dynamics are evolving, mimicking decision-making under pressure in a complex and changing environment.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Cultivating Character: The Art of Living
Featuring: Lisa Feldman Barrett (Northeastern University), Philip Kitcher (Columbia University), Valerie Tiberius (University of Minnesota)
Moderator: Steve Paulson (Wisconsin Public Radio)
Philosopher of science Philip Kitcher joins Humean philosopher Valerie Tiberius and distinguished psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett to explore the role of wisdom in the interplay between positive emotions, virtues, and character.
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Neuronal Connectivity in Brain Function and Disease: Novel Mechanisms and Therapeutic Targets
Speakers: Wenbiao Gan (NYU Langone Medical Center), Bruce McEwen (Rockefeller University), Eric Nestler (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), Amy Robinson (MIT), Bernardo Sabatini (Harvard Medical School), David Sulzer (Columbia University Medical Center)
Mapping neuronal circuitry provides important insight into mammalian health and disease. This symposium will discuss emerging tools and novel findings that address this important goal.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Solute Carrier Proteins: Unlocking the Gene-Family for Effective Therapies
Speakers: Dax Fu (The John Hopkins University School of Medicine), Kathleen M. Giacomini (University of California San Francisco), Matthias A. Hediger (Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Bern), Avner Schlessinger (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), Giulio Superti-Furga (Austrian Academy of Sciences), Ming Zhou (Baylor College of Medicine)
Solute Carrier Proteins are an untapped resource for drug discovery. This event will discuss breakthroughs in structural biology, cell engineering and metabolomics that hold the promise of “unlocking” this gene family.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016 – Friday, May 20, 2016
The Addicted Brain and New Treatment Frontiers: Sixth Annual Aspen Brain Forum
Discover from leading experts, including NIAAA and NIDA directors, the latest on neurobiology of addiction; susceptibility of the teen brain; new treatment strategies; and social, economic, political, and legislative aspects of this disease.
Sunday, July 31, 2016 – Friday, August 5, 2016
Discipline: Life Science
Location: Big Sky, United States
Event types: Conference
This SRC focuses on the interactions between obesity and immune cells, focusing in particular on how inflammation in various organs influences obesity and obesity-related complications.
Monday, August 15, 2016 – Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Disciplines: Chemistry, Life Science, Engineering, Health Science, Social & Behavioral Science
Location: Boston, United States
Event types: Course
Health outcomes research is essential for making effective clinical and business decisions, improving patient-reported outcomes, including health quality, and in decreasing payer costs
Friday, September 30, 2016 – Saturday, October 8, 2016
Discipline: Health Science
Location: Seattle, United States
Event types: Conference
Topics: Overview of substance use disorders (addiction) and diversion: epidemiology, etiology, diagnosis and pharmacological and pharmacokinetic properties of commonly used substances Consequences and prevention of Substance Abuse and Addiction.
Friday, October 21, 2016 – Sunday, October 23, 2016
Discipline: Health Science
Location: Baltimore, United States
Event types: Meeting
The Society of Radiologists in Ultrasound has as its mission the advancement of the science, practice, and teaching of the specialty of ultrasound in radiology in order to ensure the professional fulfillment of radiologists performing ultrasound
Thursday, November 3, 2016 – Sunday, November 6, 2016
Disciplines: Life Science, Health Science
Location: Colorado Springs, United States
Event types: Conference, Workshop, Meeting, Exhibition
Stay at the forefront of psychopharmacology with four days of educational lectures taught by leaders in the field of psychiatry.
Monday, December 5, 2016 – Thursday, December 8, 2016
Discipline: Life Science
Location: St. Pete Beach, United States
Event types: Conference
We are proud to announce the 1st Zing Memory Mechanisms in Health and Disease Conference which shall be taking place in December 2016.