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Molecular & Cell Biology

A microscope about the size of a penny is giving scientists a new window into the everyday activity of cells within the spinal cord. The innovative technology revealed that astrocytes--cells in the nervous system that do not conduct electrical signals and were traditionally viewed as merely supportive--unexpectedly react to intense sensation.

Gene Therapy

Pioneering gene therapy has restored some vision to patients with a rare form of genetic blindness for as long as four years, raising hopes it could be used to cure common causes of vision loss, new University of Oxford research published today shows.

Biology


Sleeping bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
Behavioural sleep is ubiquitous among animals, from insects to man. In humans, sleep is also characterized by brain activity: periods of slow-wave activity are each followed by short phases of Rapid-Eye-Movement sleep (REM sleep). These electrical features of brain sleep, whose functions are not well understood, have so far been described only in mammals and birds, but not in reptiles, amphibians or fish. Yet, birds are reptiles--they are the feathered descendants of the now extinct dinosaurs. How then did brain sleep evolve? Gilles Laurent and members of his laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, describe for the first time REM and slow-wave sleep in a reptile, the Australian dragon Pogona vitticeps. This suggests that brain sleep dates back at least to the evolution of the amniotes, that is, to the beginning of the colonization of terrestrial landmass by vertebrate animals.

Health & Medicine


Optical microscopy showing ooscysts of Cryptosporidium sp (in red).
An outbreak of an intestinal parasite common in the tropics, known as Cryptosporidium, has been identified for the first time in the Arctic. The discovery was made in Nunavik, Quebec, by a team from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), in collaboration with the Nunavik Department of Public Health, Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec and Health Canada. The discovery, which was documented in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, could have long-term implications for the health of children in Nunavik and Nunavut's communities.