May 28, 2010
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A Map to Better Beer? The key signaling protein-protein interactions in yeast have been mapped. Mass spectrometry was used to discover the global network between protein kinases and phosphatases to generate the “kinome” map, which contains 1844 interactions. Since yeasts are model organisms with similar signaling pathways as in human cells, this information is relevant for human disease research and drug design. The data set in this study was so large that the research team created software to store and analyze the data (ProHits) and perform statistical analysis (SAINT). Dr. Mike Tyers (Samuel Luenefeld Research Institute) is the lead author of the project described in Science magazine. The entire data set is available at the yeastkinome.org resource website.
Shhhh… Improving Gene Silencing: Micro RNAs (miRNA) control gene expression by interfering with specific RNA transcripts and this requires the Argonaute proteins (AGOs) to perform this function. Researchers isolated the specific key region in AGO and solved the crystal structure of this segment. From this, they discovered that there are intricate and specific molecular interactions between the miRNA and AGO that can dictate specificity. As RNA interference techniques are gaining traction in the therapeutic arena, this discovery may lead to modifications to enhance the effectiveness of these therapies. Dr. Bhushan Nagar led the McGill University research team and published the findings in Nature or check out this video podcast.
E. coli Survival Switch: The AceK protein in some bacteria acts as a switch responding to stressful environmental cues, allowing the bacteria to bypass the energy-producing Krebs cycle and go into a conservation mode. Bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella can survive in low-nutrient environments such as water. Therefore, the discovery of how AceK works provides a potential target to prevent bacterial contamination in drinking water by inhibiting the ability of the bacteria to go into survival mode. Dr. Zongchao Jia and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Jimin Zheng at Queen’s University solved the structure of the protein that led to understanding the unique properties of the enzyme in having both phosphorylation and de-phosphorylation activities on the same protein. This breakthrough is described in the latest edition of Nature.
Little Buggers All Over Us: The Human Microbiome Jumpstart Reference Strains Consortium is trying to catalog all the microbes in the human body. We are covered by millions and millions of these little critters – as many as 10x more microbes than the number of cells in our body, but they’re not necessarily bad for us. They actually play important roles in protecting against infection, aid with digestion, developing our immune system and keeping us healthy. So far, 178 genomes have been sequenced with the goal to sequence around 900 genomes. The NIH initiated the project and Dr. Michael Surette and his team at the University of Calgary is a major contributor to the study. The first phase of this initiative is published in Science.
Genomic Modifications in Stem Cells: To further understand stem cells and embryonic development, scientists took a closer look at how the structural organization of genomic DNA (chromatin and histones) plays a role in determining what tissue they become. They identified and compared specific modifications across the genome that either activates or represses gene expression in different stem cells. The value of this information is that it suggests differential regulatory mechanisms controlling development and depends on the specific stem cell lineage. The safety of regenerative medicine lies in these types of studies in basic stem cell biology. Developmental biologist Dr. Janet Rossant at The Hospital for Sick Children led the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also, congratulations to Dr. Rossant as a recent recipient of the 2010 Premier’s Summit Award for Medical Research.
Improving Alzheimer Immunotherapy: Delivering antibodies against amyloid-beta peptide (Abeta) directly into the brain is more effective than systemic delivery in reducing amyloid plaques, as demonstrated in a mouse model. In this novel approach, transcranial focused ultrasound (FUS) was applied to improve permeability of the blood brain barrier without the need for high doses of the antibody. The researchers administered the therapeutic antibody intravenously along with a contrast agent to follow the progress via MRI imaging. Using this MRI guided FUS method, they could see the contrast agent enter the brain within minutes and amyloid pathology was improved in the mouse model after four days. Drs. Kullervo Hynynen and Isabelle Aubert at Sunnybrook Research Institute published their study on-line in PLoS One.
September 17, 2009
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The Ontario Bioscience Industry Organization (OBIO) and the Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) co-hosted an event a few days ago entitled: “Funding Opportunities in 2009-2010 for Bioscience Companies: What CEO’s Need to Know About Ontario’s ETF and BIP Programs.”
The speakers were:
- Chair: Kevin French, Senior Act. Manager, RBC;
- Rocky Ganske (President & CEO, Axela),
- Peter Pekos (President & CEO, Dalton Pharmaceuticals),
- Tom Wellner (President & CEO, Therapure Biopharma);
- Rob Koturbash (Managing Director, Maple Leaf Angels)
- Steve Ottaway (Managing Director, GMP Securities),
- Peter van der Velden (CEO, Lumira Capital);
- John Marshall (Director, MRI, responsible for OETF)
- Ryan Lock (Acting Director, MRI, responsible for BIP)
Lots of great information on funding opportunities, and luckily, the whole thing is archived (here) online. To access the presentation, enter “OBIO” when prompted.
July 2, 2009
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Here’s a bit of Canadiana to start off the catching up:
On the front page of the Globe and Mail this morning: Top AIDS researcher lured away, urges Harper ‘soul-searching’, citing $148 million in cuts to the Canadian funding agencies.
Buried several links down below the fold in the National section: Ontario to provide major new research funding – in fact, $100 million to retain researchers, which makes up fully two-thirds of what the Harper budget cut. Something we mentioned here a month ago when it was announced in the budget.
That’s more than a silver lining, it’s a whole different perspective. Enough with the doom and gloom. There’s money out there. Go get it.
Update: at least the Globe has added the Ontario story as a “related” link under the Sékaly story.
Update2: Here is the MRI press release. The funding is directed to genomics research.
Early Screening for Breast Cancer Risk:
A group of Canadian researchers showed that using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging, not the Ministry of Research and Innovation) to estimate breast tissue density may provide information on breast cancer risk comparable to measuring density by mammography. Because MRI does not use radiation, earlier screening by MRI would avoid the culumative radiation exposure problems of mammography, although the effect, if any, on clinical outcomes remains unknown. The authors’ interpretation:
Per cent breast water [(density)] was greatest during the ages when women are most susceptible to breast carcinogens, and was associated with weight, height, and mother’s breast-tissue characteristics, and with serum concentrations of growth hormone: a breast mitogen that also mediates postnatal somatic growth. Mammographic density in middle age might partly be the result of genetic factors that affect growth and development in early life.
The study appears in the advanced online publication section of The Lancet Oncology.
Screening for Plant Genes:
After many years of searching, Arabidopsis receptors for abscisic acid (ABA) were identified. ABA helps plants survive drought and other stresses; and as it turns out, there are 13 receptors for it, with the redundancy foiling previous screening techniques. This week, a novel screen developed in a collaboration among scientists at UC Riverside, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University of Toronto, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia in Spain and other institutions in the U.S. and Spain identified one of the family members and used that one to find its relatives. The PYR/PYL proteins are a family of START receptors that the authors place “at the apex of a negative regulatory pathway that controls ABA signaling by inhibiting PP2Cs.” Their work was published this week in Science’s advance publication, Science Express.
Put this together with the reports in Nature this week showing targeted insertions in the plant genome, and you have a powerful set of tools to start engineering drought and stress resistant crops. The targeted plant vectors use a zinc-finger nuclease, designed from a public database created by Daniel Voytas at University of Minnesota, J. Keith Joung at Mass Gen and their colleagues.
April 6, 2009
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You may remember Genome Canada’s reaction to the 2009 Canadian Federal budget. Here’s one bit from ScienceInsider at the time:
Researchers funded by Genome Canada … are reacting with shock to news that the Canadian government is withdrawing funding from the 9-year-old organization.
Not true! Cried the Canadian government.
Well, this week Genome Canada’s Board decided (unanimously) to withdraw funding from the International Regulome Consortium project. Here’s the reaction from IRC:
Michael Rudnicki, the senior scientist and chair of the International Regulome Consortium, said he is devastated by the news. He said Martin Godbout, president and CEO of Genome Canada, phoned him this week to say that the agency had to terminate its support because of the budget.
Not true! Cried Genome Canada. Well, there’s some support for that, with Godbout citing “significant scientific and management issues;” but more importantly, the recent Ontario Budget included $100 million in the Ontario Research Fund to support “genomics and gene-related research,” so I don’t think genomics research in Ontario is short the money right now.
In fact, according to Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation John Wilkinson’s comments at a BIO2009 preparation meeting last week, that $100 million is targeted to rebut any suggestion of a weakening of support for genomics research in Ontari0.
And, right at the other end of the Ontario-Quebec Corridor, a $5 million donation plus a $6.6 million construction investment, plus recruitment of internationally renowned scientists, has added up to over $80 million in funding attracted from various sources to advance pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine research at the new Centre de pharmacogénomique Beaulieu-Saucier de l’Université de Montréal (Beaulieu-Saucier Centre for Pharmacogenomics at the University of Montréal).
January 30, 2009
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Interesting science developments in and from Canada this week:
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