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Common Swifts Set New Record for Migration Speed

Swifts aren't called "swifts" for nothing. They're known for being among the fastest migrating small birds around. When they aren't breeding, common swifts stay in the air most of the time--up to 10 months of the year. Scientists had thought they travel about 500 kilometers per day on average. Now, new evidence reported online in the journal iScience on May 20 shows that's a conservative estimate. The open-access article is titled “"Wind-Assisted Sprint Migration in Northern Swifts.” According to new tracking data, common swifts travel 570 kilometers (more than 350 miles) on an average day--but they are capable of going much farther and faster. The maximum recorded distance in the study was more than 830 kilometers (more than 500 miles) per day over nine days. "We have discovered that common swifts breeding in the most northern part of the European breeding range perform the fastest migrations of swifts recorded so far, reaching above the predictions," says Susanne Åkesson (@susanne_akesson), PhD, of Lund University in Sweden. "The swifts seem to achieve these high speeds over substantial distances--on average about 8,000 kilometers one way--in spring by using a mixed migration strategy, with fueling at stopover and a fly-and-forage strategy, meaning they feed and fuel a bit each day." Dr. Åkesson and her colleagues used miniature tracking technology based on geolocation by light to track adult breeding swifts from one of the most northern breeding locations in Europe. Because the birds are faithful to their breeding sites, Åkesson's team was able to recover many of the loggers after one migration season. As expected, the tracking data supported the researchers' expectations that northern breeding swifts would reach exceptionally high overall migration speeds. But they were surprised at just how fast the birds could travel.

How Plants Leave Behind Their Parents' Genomic Baggage; Small RNAs Guide Proper Histomethylation in Developing Embryo After Parents’ Epigenetic Marks Have Been Wiped Clean

Passing down a healthy genome is a critical part of creating viable offspring. But what happens when you have harmful modifications in your genome that you don't want to pass down? Baby plants have evolved a method to wipe the slate clean and reinstall only the modifications that they need to grow and develop. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Professor & HHMI Investigator Rob Martienssen (photo), PhD, and his collaborators, Jean-Sébastien Parent, PhD, and Institut de Recherche pour le Développement Université de Montpellier scientist Daniel Grimanelli, PhD, discovered one of the genes responsible for reinstalling modifications in a baby plant's genome. A plant's genomic modifications--called epigenetic modifications--help turn off genes at the right times. Epigenetic changes accumulate with age. Martienssen explains. "If you think about a tree, the flowers that arise a hundred years after it germinated, they're obviously a long way from the original acorn, and an awful lot of epigenetic changes could happen in that period. And so, these are important resets for development so that you don't inherit this epigenetic collateral damage." Dr. Martienssen's team discovered that after baby plants remove the epigenetic modifications, the SUVH9 protein puts back the ones they need to survive. Without SUVH9, plants develop poorly because the wrong genes turn on at the wrong time. Dr. Parent, a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says: "I remember this moment where we were like, 'Wow! This is not what we expected.' There was an opening for an actor that was not accounted for in the standard models, and that was the most innovative part of our story." The SUVH9 protein uses small snippets of RNA to look for the right places to reinstall the beneficial modifications, which are on mobile genetic elements known as transposons.

Ancient Horse DNA Reveals Gene Flow Between Eurasian and North American Horses; New Findings Show Connections Between the Ancient Horse Populations in North America, Where Horses Evolved, and Eurasia, Where They Were Domesticated

A new study of ancient DNA from horse fossils found in North America and Eurasia shows that horse populations on the two continents remained connected through the Bering Land Bridge, moving back and forth and interbreeding multiple times over hundreds of thousands of years. The new findings demonstrate the genetic continuity between the horses that died out in North America at the end of the last ice age and the horses that were eventually domesticated in Eurasia and later reintroduced to North America by Europeans. The study was published online on May 10, 2021 in Molecular Ecology. The article is titled “Ancient Horse Genomes Reveal the Timing and Extent of Dispersals Across The Bering Land Bridge.” "The results of this paper show that DNA flowed readily between Asia and North America during the ice ages, maintaining physical and evolutionary connectivity between horse populations across the Northern Hemisphere," said corresponding author Beth Shapiro, PhD, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. The study highlights the importance of the Bering Land Bridge as an ecological corridor for the movement of large animals between the continents during the Pleistocene, when massive ice sheets formed during glacial periods. Dramatically lower sea levels uncovered a vast land area known as Beringia, extending from the Lena River in Russia to the MacKenzie River in Canada, with extensive grasslands supporting populations of horses, mammoths, bison, and other Pleistocene fauna. Paleontologists have long known that horses evolved and diversified in North America.

Evidence Suggests Bubonic Plague Had Long-Term Effect on Human Immunity Genes--Scientists Examined DNA from Mass Grave of Plague Victims in German City & Compared with Current Residents

Scientists examining the remains of 36 bubonic plague victims from a 16th century mass grave in Germany have found the first evidence that evolutionary adaptive processes, driven by the disease, may have conferred immunity on later generations of people from the region. "We found that innate immune markers increased in frequency in modern people from the town compared to plague victims," said the study's joint-senior author Paul Norman, PhD, Associate Professor in the Division of Personalized Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. "This suggests these markers might have evolved to resist the plague." The results of the study, carried out in conjunction with the Max Planck Institute in Germany, were published online on May 6, 2021 in Molecular Biology and Evolution. The open-access article is titled “Analysis of Genomic DNA From Medieval Plague Victims Suggests Long-Term Effect of Yersinia Pestis on Human Immunity Genes.” The researchers collected DNA samples from the inner ear bones of individuals in a mass grave in the southern German city of Ellwangen which experienced bubonic plague outbreaks in the 16th and 17th centuries. The scientists then took DNA samples from 50 current residents of the town. They compared their frequency spectra--the distribution of gene variants in a given sample--for a large panel of immunity-related genes. Among the current inhabitants, the team found evidence that a pathogen, likely Yersinia pestis which causes bubonic plague, prompted changes in the allele distribution for two innate pattern-recognition receptors and four human leukocyte antigen (HLA) molecules, which help initiate and direct immune response to infection. An allele is a variant form of a gene. "We propose that these frequency changes could have resulted from Y.

Capricor to Present Preclinical Data for Exosome-mRNA Vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 at the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV) Virtual Annual Meeting (May 18-21); Capricor Findings Support Expansion Across Multiple Therapeutic Targets

On My 28, 2021, Capricor Therapeutics (NASDAQ: CAPR), a biotechnology company focused on the development of transformative cell- and exosome-based therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of a broad spectrum of diseases, announced that the company will present data supporting its Exosome-Mediated mRNA Delivery approach against SARS-CoV-2 at the 10th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV) (, which is being held virtually May 18-21, 2021. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread globally, the medical community anticipates additional challenges posed by new variant strains, as well as a likely need for different vaccine technologies,” said Linda Marbán, PhD, CEO, Capricor Therapeutics. “These data demonstrated that our exosome-based, multivalent mRNA vaccine elicited long-lasting cellular and humoral responses to both the N and S proteins [of SARS-CoV-2]. This data also supports our exosome platform technology which allows us to develop new, tailored, and targeted therapeutic approaches to a variety of diseases and disorders.” The title of the Capricor poster abstract is “Exosome-Mediated mRNA Delivery for SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination. For more information on Capricor, please visit the company’s web site at The poster will be presented by Nadia A. Atai, PhD, Associate Director of Research and Development Capricor, Beverly Hills, California, United States For additional details regarding the ISEV 10th Annual Meeting, please visit: On-demand talks, as well as recordings of the live sessions, will be available until June 14, 2021, to meeting registrants. Capricor Therapeutics, Inc.

Stanford Study Reveals Entirely New Class of Biomolecules—GlycoRNAs; Senior Author Terms Discovery “A Bombshell" Because It Suggests That There Are Biomolecular Pathways in the Cell That Are Completely Unknown to Us

Stanford researchers have discovered a new kind of biomolecule that could play a significant role in the biology of all living things. The novel biomolecule, dubbed glycoRNA, is a small ribbon of ribonucleic acid (RNA) with sugar molecules, called glycans, dangling from it. Up until now, the only kinds of similarly sugar-decorated biomolecules known to science were fats (lipids) and proteins. These glycolipids and glycoproteins appear ubiquitously in and on animal, plant and microbial cells, contributing to a wide range of processes essential for life. The newfound glycoRNAs, neither rare nor furtive, were hiding in plain sight simply because no one thought to look for them--understandably so, given that their existence flies in the face of well-established cellular biology. A study, published online on May17, 2021 Cell, describes the findings. The article is titled “Small RNAs Are Modified With N-Glycans and Displayed on the Surface of Living Cells.” "This is a stunning discovery of an entirely new class of biomolecules," said Carolyn Bertozzi (photo) (, PhD, the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass professor at Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences, the Baker Family Director of Stanford Chemistry, Engineering, and Medicine for Human Health, and the study's senior author. "It's really a bombshell because the discovery suggests that there are biomolecular pathways in the cell that are completely unknown to us." "What's more," Dr. Bertozzi added, "some of the RNAs modified by glycans to form glycoRNA have a sordid history of association with autoimmune diseases." Dr.

Novel Nanotech Improves Cystic Fibrosis Antibiotic Tobramycin Efficacy by 100,000-Fold

World-first nanotechnology developed by the University of South Australia could change the lives of thousands of people living with cystic fibrosis (CF) as ground-breaking research shows it can improve the effectiveness of the CF antibiotic tobramycin, increasing its efficacy by up to 100,000-fold. The new technology uses a biomimetic nanostructured material to augment tobramycin--the antibiotic prescribed to treat chronic Pseudomonas aeruginosa lung infections in severe cases of CF--eradicating the infection in as little as two doses. In Australia, CF affects one in 2500 babies--or one baby born every four days--causing severe impairments to a person's lungs, airways, and digestive system, trapping bacteria and leading to recurrent infections. Lung failure is the major cause of death for people with CF. The UniSA research team, which includes Professor Clive Prestidge, Dr. Nicky Thomas, and PhD candidate, Chelsea Thorn, says the discovery could transform the lives of people living with CF. "CF is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent, chronic lung infections and limits a person's ability to breathe," Dr. Thorn says. "The disease causes thick, sticky mucus to clog a person's airways, attracting germs and bacteria, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which leads to recurring infections and blockages. "Tobramycin is commonly used to treat these infections, but, increasingly, antibiotics are failing to make any significant difference to lung infections, leaving sufferers requiring life-long antibiotic therapy administered every month. "Our research successfully treats advanced human cell culture lung infections using nano-enhanced tobramycin and shows how it can eradicate serious and persistent infections after only two doses. "This could be a real game-changer for people living with CF."

Lavender Genome Sequence May Reveal What Makes Fragrance So Special

Even the mention of lavender evokes the distinct fragrance of the flower. This beautiful flower has been used to make perfumes and essential oils since time immemorial. The aesthetics of the flower have captured the imagination of thousands, worldwide. So, what makes this flower so special? What are the "magical" compounds that give it its unique fragrance? What is the genetic basis of these compounds? These questions have long puzzled scientists. To find out the answers, a group of scientists from China have sequenced the genome of lavender, which is known in the scientific world as Lavandula angustifolia. The research team, headed by Dr. Lei Shi, Professor at the Key Laboratory of Plant Resources and Beijing Botanical Garden, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, was specifically interested in the genetics and diversity of a class of volatile terpenoids produced by lavender. Terpenoids play important roles in the biology of fragrant flowers including lavender. In the environment, terpenoids have been shown to attract potential insect pollinators. In real-life applications, terpenoids lend their potential benefits, including stress relief and skin conditioning, through products like essential oils. Keeping these in mind, it is essential to understand the fundamentals of terpenoid biosynthesis at the genetic level to manipulate lavender to produce better quality of these compounds. The team began by analyzing the high-quality reference genome data of the Chinese variety of lavender 'Jingxun 2.’ Through phylogenetic analysis, they identified genomic events through the evolutionary history of lavender that led to the expansion of terpenoid biosynthetic genes in this species.

Biologists Have Discovered the Gene Controlling Mating Preference of Male European Corn Borer Moths for the Female Sex Pheromone; First Moth Species Out of 160,000 in Which Female Signaling and Male Preference Genes Have Both Been Identified

The mysteries of sexual attraction just became a little less mysterious--at least for moths. A team of six American and European research groups, including one at Tufts University, has discovered which gene expressed in the brain of the male European corn borer moth controls his preference for the sex pheromone produced by females. This complements a previous study on the gene expressed in the female pheromone gland that dictates the type of blend she emits to attract males. The results of the new study were reported online on May 14, 2021 in Nature Communications. The article is titled “bric à brac Controls Sex Pheromone Choice by Male European Corn Borer Moths.” The implications go beyond making a better dating app for bugs. Now scientists can begin to ask why mating signals and mating preferences change in the first place, which is a long-standing paradox because any change could reduce the ability of an organism to successfully mate. Knowledge of these two genes will provide a better understanding of how the pheromones of the 160,000 moth species have evolved. Of course, one important role for mating preferences is to make sure you are not matching up with a completely different species. The signal sent by females must be preferred by males of the same species to ensure that like mates with like--a mechanism called assortative mating. The European corn borer is interesting because there are two types, called E and Z, with assortative mating within each type. Even though the two types can be mated to each other in captivity, E mostly mates with E, and Z with Z in the field. For this reason, the European corn borer has been used as a model for how one species can split into two, ever since the two pheromone types were first discovered 50 years ago.

Two Mammalian Models Can Use Their Intestines to Breathe; Finding May Be Applicable to Humans with Respiratory Failure, Including Those with COVID-19

Rodents and pigs share with certain aquatic organisms the ability to use their intestines for respiration, finds a study published online on May 14, 2021 in the journal Med. The article is titled “Mammalian Enteral Ventilation Ameliorates Respiratory Failure.” The researchers demonstrated that the delivery of oxygen gas or oxygenated liquid through the rectum provided vital rescue to two mammalian models of respiratory failure. "Artificial respiratory support plays a vital role in the clinical management of respiratory failure due to severe illnesses such as pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)," says senior study author Takanori Takebe (@TakebeLab), MD, PhD, of the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "Although the side effects and safety need to be thoroughly evaluated in humans, our approach may offer a new paradigm to support critically ill patients with respiratory failure." Several aquatic organisms have evolved unique intestinal breathing mechanisms to survive under low-oxygen conditions using organs other than lungs or gills. For example, sea cucumbers, freshwater fish called loaches, and certain freshwater catfish use their intestines for respiration. But it has been heavily debated whether mammals have similar capabilities. In the new study, Dr. Takebe and his collaborators provide evidence for intestinal breathing in rats, mice, and pigs. First, they designed an intestinal gas ventilation system to administer pure oxygen through the rectum of mice. They showed that without the system, no mice survived 11 minutes of extremely low-oxygen conditions. With intestinal gas ventilation, more oxygen reached the heart, and 75% of mice survived 50 minutes of normally lethal low-oxygen conditions.

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