Why Are They So Resistant to Change?

Some things just don’t budge. Changes in organisms happen very slowly if ever. Ironically, our exceptional “real-time” example of biological evolution is one we don’t want to see. It’s called bacterial antibiotic resistance.

We tackled this topic a while ago here on ScienceBar, here’s a brief introduction if you’re unfamiliar with the development of such a phenomenon.

In a brilliant paper by Baquero et.al, this issue is given a public health perspective, outlining possible intervention strategies that would benefit the community.

To break down the problem, 3 stages of development were described, along with strategies to fight them:

1. Emergence. Most prevention strategies are focused on this stage, using antibiotics to kill off bacteria and prevent any resistance showing up –>Aim to decrease absolute number of resistant organisms, host and environmental colonization.

2. Invasion and increasing the frequency of organisms having resistance within a specific milieu–>Aim to decrease host to host and water/food to host transmission

3. Occupation, as best described when resistant colonies remain in someone’s body or hospital settings –>Aim to select FOR susceptible population and maintain their presence. Sort of having local thugs you can crash when needed, versus needing SWAT for terrorist cells.


This week’s news featured 2 stories that should help us better understand those stages.

Surprises About Antibiotic Resistance Uncovered Via ScienceDaily

“Recent findings revealed a complicated love story between antibiotic resistance and bacterial virulence. There was an ancient paradigm about the ‘fitness cost of antibiotic resistance,’ but the emergence of the new technologies of high-throughput sequencing has changed the field, allowing researchers to study bacterial pathogenesis at the genome scale,” said Dr. David Skurnik, senior author of a new Bioessays article. “This new, unbiased approached has revealed that unfortunately the worst case scenario of antibiotic resistant bacteria being more fit and virulent was not uncommon, particularly during infection.”

Addressing Antibiotic Resistance: Breath Analysis Aims to Reduce Unnecessary Prescriptions Via ScienceDaily

“To confirm whether patients have a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, doctors currently have to take a number of different samples (blood and sputum), and even chest x-rays in the case of pneumonia,” explained Kejing Ying, who is coordinating the work and is based at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine.

Breathe in, breathe out

Analysing samples from 60 volunteers, the scientists have found a potentially useful link between the presence of exhaled acinetobacter baumannii derived volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and patients diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia.



How Many Donald Trumps do you Need to Hug a Tree?

The human rights organisation Front Line Defenders reports that, of the 156 human rights defenders killed in 2015, the largest single group, 45% of the total, were those defending environmental, land, or indigenous rights. Via The Guardian.

Some people are putting their lives at stake to lobby for our planet. This article by the guardian, from which the quote above was taken, really struck a nerve.

It’s World Environment Day. I’d like to take this as an opportunity to share some news that might shape our legacy as a human race. This is a reminder of our need to better communicate our science to make a impact that aligns with our findings and ethics.


Donald Trump would ‘cancel’ Paris climate deal Via BBC

This is a deal signed by 195 countries. This means that not only are scientists from those countries convinced but that pressure was able to trickle up to decision makers there. Even if you don’t believe that consensus, debilitating smog levels seen this year CANNOT be caused by anyone but us.

Same guy who produced this a couple of months ago:

Australia removed from UN world heritage climate report Via BBC

News about the impact of climate change on those iconic sites is said to negatively affect tourism. This is why any mention is now out of the official UNESCO report. The Guardian compares this to a Shakespearean tragedy, since information about coral bleaching and death is pretty well known both by scientists and the world opinion.

It may be an inconvenient truth to most; but that documentary was aired 10 years ago. Here’s an exclusive interview with Al Gore with Wired last week. Highly recommended!

[Signature drink by E.]

Need to SEE it to Believe it

I think we all remember the first time we saw a wild animal. Whether it’s a tiger, elephant or a bear, moving from this to that was pretty impressive:

winnie_the_pooh_by_loveisextynct 2010-kodiak-bear-1

In this case though, animation was devised to replace a phenomenon we could see. Instead of taking children to the zoo to introduce them to the ideas of bears, illustrations and animations replaced the real deal.

In other cases, illustrations are the only way we visualize concepts we know…until we can finally see.

No longer lost in translation: Biochemists watch gene expression in real time Via ScienceDaily

To understand the concept of translation in biology, instructors around the world are using simple animations like this one

or even more complex 3D renderings to facilitate the introduction. These videos were made possible because of indirect evidence gathered ever since Francis Crick first described it. In very abstract terms, knowing proteins are translated from RNA and trying to figure our the mechanism is like having a birds eye view of buildings, and trying to figure out what goes on inside from watching the people going in and out.

Going back to our news, the molecular events were finally caught on tape! Detailed images of transcription were also obtained by another group.

Challenges not only for the micro-world

These obstacles aren’t unique to biologists where technological advances are needed to zoom in closer than is currently possible. They can be inherent to many disciplines:

  • Too far: Detection of gravitational waves was recently celebrated not only because it gives proof of concept but also because of the instrument sensitivity we could achieve. Whether you’re studying stars, black holes or anything in space, having objects so far presents its own set of obstacles. Renderings and animations are a great tool to share the knowledge.
  • Too old: Archeologists have always faced this issue. The most accessible example would be dinosaurs. No one can be 100% sure of what they looked like, but the estimates based on fossils, bacteria and other determinants give us a pretty good clue.

In all cases, no one doubts the presence of stars, dinosaurs or translation just because we couldn’t see it happening with our own eyes. Modeling is a great resource, not only because it makes concepts easy to grasp but also because it evolves.

  • Our model of all eukaryotes assumes that they all would have mitochondria in their cells. A new report indicates that a eukaryotic bacteria was found to survive without them!
  • The world’s first wireless satellite was built and plans to test it are under way. We always assume we need some sort of cables, but look, people challenged the status quo and made it happen.

All are examples of how flexible life is, and how our views and models should always be 🙂


Zika Vaccine

This one is a vaccine you shouldn’t be taking.

I know you’re scared and want to protect your children and loved ones, but don’t buy into the hype.


How would you feel if that vaccine were to cause autism or some other dreadful condition? Haven’t thought of that didn’t you?

Why not?! Some of you still put up a fight against other vaccines. Why stop now? Is it because this disease is fresh in your memory? Is it because you’ve seen the symptoms it may cause?

Well, too bad. That’s what people a while ago thought about polio, measles and smallpox. They also rushed to get some vaccine when it became available. But then a bunch of you forgot how much healthier it made our community. Let’s just throw it all away and to hell with vaccines.

Ladies and gents, there’s no vaccine yet for Zika. There are many for other almost-eradicated diseases. Stop trying to go backwards.

In any case, I won’t be as eloquent as Dear Parents, you are being lied to by Dr. Jennifer Raff. I highly recommend it from anyone suffering form the above condition.

This post is actually to update you on what we know so far, since our intro and its declaration as a global emergency by WHO.

‘Sweaty’ Billboard Kills Mosquitoes To Fight Zika Virus

A recent article via BBC mentions that the blueprints of this sweat secreting billboard are free to use and share. Advertising agencies in Brazil have developed a “Mosquito Killer Board” aimed at attracting and trapping the vectors in order to protect urban residents.


On another note, a new paper-based test for Zika is also out. This inexpensive apparatus promises results within a few hours, making efforts to combat this virus more timely.

What do you all think, let us know in the comments!


We Now Have a Microscope That Can Manipulate Brain Cells

For the organ allowing us to think and resolve problems, the brain is still pretty unknown to us. We are still characterizing regions with responses we didn’t know they could perform. Not many dreams about being able to peek into their stomach, but much can still be said about our other control center:

To brighten up our quest for knowledge, some exciting brainy news surfaced last week:

Blood-Brain Barrier Breakthrough Reported by Researchers

“We can open the BBB for a brief window of time, long enough to deliver therapies to the brain, but not too long so as to harm the brain. We hope in the future, this will be used to treat many types of neurological disorders,” said Margaret Bynoe, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Bynoe is senior author of the study, which appears in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

brain-activityBynoe’s team was able to deliver chemotherapy drugs into the brains of mice, as well as large molecules, like an antibody that binds to Alzheimer’s disease plaques, according to the paper. Via ScienceDaily.

New Microscope Controls Brain Activity of Live Animals

The tool they have devised is essentially a microscope that points into the brain of a live mouse, zooms in on a few thousand cells and uses sophisticated lasers to manipulate electrical signals between individual neurons.


So far, the team has conducted preliminary tests of the instrument by mapping the effects of small perturbations, such as wiggling a whisker, and then creating holograms that induce the neurons to fire in the same — or slightly different — patterns. In a series of tests that are still underway, they are working with mice trained to push a specific lever when they see a certain shape in order to develop holograms that “trick” the mouse into seeing, for example, a circle where none exists, or to make the mouse perceive a square as a circle. In the near future, the team hopes to apply the microscope to studies of memory formation. Via ScienceDaily.

Think our brains are the only ones worth investigation, check out the octopus system:

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3D Pen for Stem Cells and Other Impressive Cellular Stories

Handheld Surgical ‘Pen’ Prints Human Stem Cells

A new 3D printing pen to ‘draw’ human stem cells in freeform patterns. Using a hydrogel bio-ink to carry and support living human stem cells, and a low powered light source to solidify the ink, the pen delivers a cell survival rate in excess of 97%.


3D bioprinters have the potential to revolutionise tissue engineering -they can be used to print cells, layer-by-layer, to build up artificial tissues for implantation.

But in some applications, such as cartilage repair, the exact geometry of an implant cannot be precisely known prior to surgery. This makes it extremely difficult to pre-prepare an artificial cartilage implant.

The Biopen special is held in the surgeon’s hands, allowing the surgeon unprecedented control in treating defects by filling them with bespoke scaffolds. Via ScienceDaily.

Next-Generation Holographic Microscope for 3D Live Cell Imaging

Current fluorescence confocal microscopy techniques require the use of exogenous labeling agents to render high-contrast molecular information. Therefore, drawbacks include possible photo-bleaching, photo-toxicity, and interference with normal molecular activities. Immune or stem cells that need to be reinjected into the body are considered particularly difficult to employ with fluorescence microscopy.


“As one of the two currently available, high-resolution tomographic microscopes in the world, I believe that the HT-1 is the best in class regarding specifications and functionality. Users can see 3D/4D live images of cells, without fixing, coating or staining cells. Sample preparation times are reduced from a few days or hours to just a few minutes,” said Professor Park. Via ScienceDaily.

‘Game Changing’ Stem Cell Repair System

AZA is known to induce cell plasticity, which is crucial for reprogramming cells. The AZA compound relaxes the hard-wiring of the cell, which is expanded by the growth factor, transforming the bone and fat cells into iMS cells. When the stem cells are inserted into the damaged tissue site, they multiply, promoting growth and healing.

The new technique is similar to salamander limb regeneration, which is also dependent on the plasticity of differentiated cells, which can repair multiple tissue types, depending on which body part needs replacing.


“Embryonic stem cells cannot be used to treat damaged tissues because of their tumour forming capacity. The other problem when generating stem cells is the requirement to use viruses to transform cells into stem cells, which is clinically unacceptable,” Dr Chandrakanthan said.

“We believe we’ve overcome these issues with this new technique.” Via ScienceDaily.


Tech Infiltrating Water!

Each of us has their own story with water, whether we don’t drink enough, mistake thirst for hunger or just ALWAYS discover that you’ve run out of hot water mid-shower. Being guilty of all three, I also need to remind myself not to take access to water for granted.


Today marks the celebration of World Water Day 2016 with Reuters recently reporting that:

650 million people can’t get a safe drink

That’s 1 in 10 people. Here’s how science is working on tackling everyone’s water issues (Via Indegogo) that you can buy and support:

Issue: Fresh herbs but can’t remember to water.

Project: Amphora – A soilless, never-water planter

How it works: System initially filled with enough water to sustain the herb to maturity including a seed kit for growing 8 plants.

Issue: Don’t drink enough water.

Project: The Right Cup: Trick Your Brain, Drink More Water!

How it works: Add flavor to your cup, not drink, to make drinking water infinitely more exciting.

Issue: No access to clean water.

Project: Desolenator transforming sunshine into water

How it works: Using solar power to purify untreated water with no Need of an external power source.

Issue: Can’t breathe underwater.

Project: Triton, World’s First Artificial Gills Re-breather

How it works: Extract oxygen from water 🙂


I hope you enjoyed this selection as much as I have. Happy Water day everyone!

[Signature drink by E.]

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Biologists publishing Outside of Journals and The World’s Thinnest Lens

Handful of Biologists Went Rogue and Published Directly to Internet

On Feb. 29, Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University became the third Nobel Prize laureate biologist in a month to do something long considered taboo among biomedical researchers: She posted a report of her recent discoveries to a publicly accessible website, bioRxiv, before submitting it to a scholarly journal to review for “official’’ publication.


“It’s not beer or tacos,” as James Fraser, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco put it at last month’s conference, “it’s beer AND tacos.” Via NYtimes.

World’s Thinnest Lens to Revolutionize Cameras

“This type of material is the perfect candidate for future flexible displays,” said Dr Lu, leader of Nano-Electro-Mechanical System (NEMS) Laboratory in the ANU Research School of Engineering.


The 6.3-nanometre lens outshines previous ultra-thin flat lenses, made from 50-nanometre thick gold nano-bar arrays, known as a metamaterial. Via ScienceDaily.

Foldable Material Can Change Size, Volume and Shape

Harvard researchers have designed a new type of foldable material that is versatile, tunable and self actuated. It can change size, volume and shape; it can fold flat to withstand the weight of an elephant without breaking, and pop right back up to prepare for the next task.


“We’ve designed a three-dimensional, thin-walled structure that can be used to make foldable and reprogrammable objects of arbitrary architecture, whose shape, volume and stiffness can be dramatically altered and continuously tuned and controlled,” said Johannes T. B. Overvelde, graduate student in Bertoldi’s lab and first author of the paper. Via ScienceDaily.


Vietnamese Twins With DIFFERENT Fathers and Other Unique Stories

Vietnam Twins Found to Have Different Fathers in Rare Case

The occurrence, known as heteropaternal superfecundation, is rare with few publicly known about.

It happens when a woman’s eggs are fertilised by two men within a short period of time.


There are only less than 10 known cases of twins with different fathers in the world. There might be other cases but the parents and/or the twins were not aware of it or didn’t want to announce it. Via BBC.

Amputee Feels Texture with a Bionic Fingertip

“The stimulation felt almost like what I would feel with my hand,” says amputee Dennis Aabo Sørensen about the artificial fingertip connected to his stump. He continues, “I still feel my missing hand, it is always clenched in a fist. I felt the texture sensations at the tip of the index finger of my phantom hand.”

Sørensen is the first person in the world to recognize texture using a bionic fingertip connected to electrodes that were surgically implanted above his stump.8760623250_a7d842b198_z.jpg

Sørensen could distinguish between rough and smooth surfaces 96% of the time. Via ScienceDaily.

New ‘LightningStrike’ Plane Will Take Off, Hover & Land Vertically


An unmanned aircraft that can take off, hover and land vertically could be closer to reality, as part of a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program to develop these futuristic flying machines. Via LiveScience.

Cancer Cells Eat Their Neighbors’ ‘Words’

“A growing body of evidence suggests that exosomes can facilitate crosstalk between cancer cells and other types of cells that are nearby in the microenvironment that surrounds the tumor,” said Hongyun Zhao, the first author of the eLife study. “Some studies suggested that exosomes harbored the potential to regulate cancer cell metabolism, but most research had focused on the exosomes that were produced and emitted by cancer cells themselves. We decided to look at the exosomes of stromal cells, a type of cell that is commonly found in the tumor microenvironment, and see if stromal exosomes were influencing the energy consumption of cancer cells.”


“Our results show that not only do exosomes enhance the phenomenon of the ‘Warburg effect’ in tumors, but exosomes also contain ‘off-the-shelf’ metabolites within their cargo that cancer cells use directly in their metabolic processes,” Zhao said. Via ScienceDaily.

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3D Glasses for All

Most people agree that immersive 3D movies deliver a better quality experience than traditional films. At least I do, and I extend it to unusual places, including my research.

I recently got an email that a review I wrote got cited. It got me thinking that one of the most interesting ideas back when I wrote it was the need to study cells in 3D.


Traditionally, scientists study cells in plastic dishes, in vitro. It’s the equivalent of growing a cell population in a dish having nutritious media and maintained in a warm incubator. This behaviour is expected to replicated what cells do in vivo, or inside the body. Limitations have been highlighted on this approach, mainly because of the lack of a third dimension, cells are only allowed to grow as a monolayer on the dish, which is not a condition present in the body.

To simplify things, it’s like spotting a great basketball player in a game, then asking them to come to the lab for analysis. When they show up, you provide them with a team, a court, a ball and everything you think is needed. However, they can’t stand up, they’re expected to lie on the floor. That’s how odd it can be for a cell to grow in 2D.

The main concerns is that studies are ran, drugs are screened and developed based on that model. This lead several in the community to adopt the 3D culture model, and the results have shown to be very promising:

Seeing Cancer in 3-D

They found that in a 3D environment (where cells normally reside), unlike a glass slide, multiple melanoma cell lines and primary melanoma cells (from patients with varied genetic mutations) form many small protrusions called blebs. One hypothesis is that this blebbing may help the cancer cells survive or move around and could thus play a role in skin cancer cell invasiveness or drug resistance in patients. Via ScienceDaily.

Identification of the Mechanism by which Cells Interact with Their Milieu

For this study, the team of researchers used the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster — a particular useful model for biomedical research. The study focused on the tracheal system, tubes that are analogous to the function of the human respiratory apparatus. This system has an extracellular matrix that covers the inside of the trachea, forming a structure that is comparable to the hose of a vacuum cleaner. Until now, it was believed that this matrix served only a structural purpose, preventing the tube from collapsing, but the team of scientists has demonstrated that it also regulates the cells that form it. Via ScienceDaily.

Engineered Hydrogel Scaffolds Enable Growth of Functioning Human Breast Tissue

The scaffold supports the growth of human mammary tissue from patient-derived cells and can be used to study normal breast development as well as breast cancer initiation and progression. […] “Ours is a beautiful system, and it’s a very good tool for someone who has questions about normal breast development or breast cancer — to see what happens when a gene is perturbed,” says Sokol. “It’s so amazing to watch the tissues grow.” Via ScienceDaily.

Not only are researchers working on deciphering how cells interact with their environment, but also on how to enable us to interacts with a virtual environment:

New Virtual Reality Suit Lets You Reach Out & Touch ‘Environment’


The combination of motion-tracking and accelerometers means that it doesn’t matter if your arm is out of view of the camera because the program generating the virtual environment will “know” where your hand is and can calculate where it is most likely to be, based on how long your arm is and what the accelerometer tells the device about how your hand is moving. Read more about it via LiveScience.

[Signature drink by E.]