A team including researchers at the Total Defense Research Institute, NBC Defense, in Umeå, Sweden, and the Department of Molecular Biology, Umeå University, are publishing in this week’s issue of Science new findings that show that the protein Ymt is of crucial importance for the capacity of the plague bacterium to survive and spread the plague via flea vectors. Professor Åke Forsberg and visiting researcher Dr. Peter Cherepanov are studying the properties that enable the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis to cause life-threatening infections in animals and humans. Increased knowledge of the mechanisms that Y. pestis exploits to conquer the body’s immune defense can make it possible to develop new methods of treatment for serious infectious diseases.
Historically, the plague is one of our most feared infectious diseases. During the most wide-spread epidemic in the middle ages, also known as the Black Death, more than 25% of the European population died. Today the disease is not very common, with some 2,000 cases per year. The plague occurs primarily in Africa and Asia, but there are also a few cases in North America every year.
The bacteria are normally spread by fleas, first of all to rodents. Humans can also be infected by fleas. When the disease reaches the lungs of a human, the infection can be spread through the air to other people. The onset of the disease is rapid, with a high temperature and a headache. There is often an enlargement of the lymph glands located near the back of the jaw, which explains why it is also called the bubonic plague. Untreated, the infection quickly reaches the blood, leading to general blood poisoning. Mortality for untreated bubonic plague is over 50%. If the infection is spread by the air to the lungs, the course of the disease is even more rapid, and mortality for untreated lung plague is virtually 100%. The high rate of mortality, together with the rapid progression of the disease, places plague bacteria among those considered for use as a biological weapon.
Ulrika Bergfors Kriström | alphagalileo
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Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
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Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
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Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
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For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
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