Pulse 159: Preserving Biodiversity Saves Lives

7 July 2020
Giulio Prisco

Fjord Algae

Life-saving drugs, combatting diseases such as cancer, "have been developed from marine organisms and their symbiotic microbiota," notes a press release from GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (see below).

"Fungi, which we isolated from bladder wrack and fermented in optimized laboratory conditions, are an established source of natural anti-cancer agents,” said research leader Deniz Tasdemir. “We have found several novel natural products here, which we named as pyrenosetins A and B, that have a high potential for fighting skin cancer."

"Nature is the source of more than half of all modern medicines that we use today,” emphasized the scientist.

I hope future synthetic biology will permit developing, from scratch, healing agents even more effective than those found in nature. But we aren’t there yet. In the meantime, we should take advantage of what we have. Therefore, preserving the natural environment and its biodiversity saves lives.

Sea Molecules Fight Infections and Skin Cancer

Using state-of-the-art approaches, coupled with bioinformatics and machine learning, scientists at Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR) have discovered marine molecules as potential remedies against infections and skin cancer. The molecules come from an alga and its fungal symbiont, originating from the Kiel Fjord.

A study published in Marine Drugs indicates that the brown alga, Fucus vesiculosus (bladder wrack), inhibits a pathogenic bacterium, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The bacterium can cause hospital infections.

The symbiotic fungus, Pyrenochaetopsis, efficiently kills melanoma-type skin cancer cells with low cytotoxicity.

Microparticles Treat Disease in Lab Mice

Researchers at University of Wisconsin have developed a safe and efficient method to deliver a promising new treatment for cancer and liver disorders to laboratory mice.

The new method is described in a paper published in Science Advances. It relies on mineral-coated microparticles, which have nanoscale pores on their surface. That allows them to pick up and carry molecules like proteins or messenger RNA (mRNA). And this permits safely inserting pieces of carefully designed messenger RNA into cells.

COVID-19 Infection Triggers Genetic Changes

Researchers at University of Utah have found that inflammatory proteins, produced during COVID-19 infection, significantly alter the function of blood platelets. This makes the platelets "hyperactive" and more prone to form dangerous and potentially deadly blood clots. This could contribute to the onset of heart attacks, strokes, and other serious complications in some patients who have the disease.

A study was published in Blood. It indicates that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, appears to trigger genetic changes in platelets. And this significantly alters how platelets interact with the immune system. The change likely contributes to inflammation of the respiratory tract that may, in turn, result in more severe lung injury.

Functional Bioengineered Uteri

Scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have shown that bioengineered uteri can support fertilization, fetal development, and live birth with normal offspring.

A study was published in Nature Biotechnology. It reports that bioengineered uteri in laboratory rabbits developed the native tissue-like structures needed to support normal reproductive function.

With further development, this approach may someday provide a regenerative medicine solution for women with the inability to get pregnant, due to uterine dysfunctional infertility.

Nitric Oxide Generated at Targets in the Body

Scientists and engineers led by MIT have found a way of generating nitric oxide at precisely targeted locations inside the body.

Nitric oxide is an important signaling molecule in the body, with a role in building nervous system connections that contribute to learning and memory. It also functions as a messenger in the cardiovascular and immune systems.

A research paper was published in Nature Nanotechnology. It describes a way for electrochemically controlled reactions that produce nitric oxide to operate efficiently and selectively at the nanoscale.

The method could be generalizable as a way of producing other molecules of biological interest within an organism.

Engineered T-Cells Attack Cancer Cells

Scientists at University of Illinois have developed engineered T-cells that attack a variety of solid-tumor cancer cells from humans and mice. The researchers inserted suitable antibodies into T-cells, and tested them with mouse and human cancer cell lines.

A study was published in PNAS. It reports that the engineered T-cells are active against both human and mouse cancer cell lines.

This development could dramatically broaden the potential targets of CAR-T therapy. The therapy modifies a patient's own T-cells by adding a piece of an antibody that recognizes unique features on the surface of cancer cells.

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