Researchers Find New Insights Into Role of Little-Understood Placenta

placenta health illustration

More than 15 percent of women in developed countries suffer from pregnancy complications associated with the placenta, the disk-shaped organ that sustains a growing fetus. Now researchers find the placenta adapts when nutrients are scarce. The discovery identifies possible targets for intervention, the researchers say.

“Pregnancy complications are [often] linked to poor placental growth and function,” said Amanda Sferruzzi-Perri, a physiologist and developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who led the new research. “However, we lack information on what determines how well the placenta grows and functions to support fetal growth during a healthy pregnancy, let alone when the mother is challenged by a suboptimal environment.”

Pregnancy Problem

The placenta is a temporary organ that sprouts a baby’s umbilical cord. The organ then provides the oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus. It also synthesizes hormones and other molecules necessary for pregnancy and pulls waste products from the baby’s blood. Beyond these fundamental functions, however, researchers know little about what makes for a healthy placenta. But if a placenta isn’t working properly, it can compromise the fetus’ development.

One in 10 infants are born small from growth restrictions in the womb. And those newborns face a higher risk for death in their first few weeks of life, followed by a lifetime of poor health. Hypoxia, an insufficient amount of oxygen getting to tissues, is the chief factor behind growth-restricted babies born at high-altitudes, but is also a common feature of pregnancy complications at sea level.

Sferruzzi-Perri and her team wanted to find out what factors contribute to a healthy placenta during a normal pregnancy, as well as what hinders the organ’s function during complications. The researchers assessed how well mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories, use oxygen and nutrients to produce energy in the placentas of pregnant mice in their third trimester. Some of the mice lived in conditions that mimic a high-altitude environment about 12,000 feet above sea level.

Mighty Mitochondria

In the final stage of labor, the placenta comes out. (Credit: ChameleonsEye/shutterstock

“We found that in the placenta, mitochondria alter their function during the course of pregnancy to best support the needs of the rapidly growing fetus,” Sferruzzi-Perri said.

The mitochondria used more oxygen in earlier stages of gestation than near term, the team reported online January 17thin the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The results suggest mitochondria are more active when the placenta is growing quickly. It then switches gears closer to term to shuttle oxygen and nutrients to the growing fetus.

The researchers also found that the mitochondria compensate for when mothers are not getting enough to eat or are in low-oxygen environments. “When the placenta is not able to compensate for such challenges then this can lead to complications such as fetal growth restriction,” Sferruzzi-Perri said.

“The next step would be to find ways to target mitochondria in the placenta to alter their function and improve pregnancy success in women where we know the outcome might be poor,” she added.

[“source=discovermagazine”]

Some Strange Science Will Launch Into Space This Week for NASA

This Thursday, crystallizing proteins from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, a dizzying virtual- reality system, ultratiny membranes and the “Refabricator” — a device that turns waste into 3D-printing filament, will all be shooting into space.

This weird science and so much more will launch Thursday (Nov. 15) at 4:49 a.m. EST (0949 GMT) on Northrop Grumman’s (formerly Orbital ATK) 10th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The company’s Cygnus spacecraft will lift off on its Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, carrying about 882 pounds (400 kilograms) of research and hardware for these experiments, NASA officials said in a statement. In total, the rocket will launch about 7,500 pounds (3,402 kg) of scientific equipment and crew supplies like food and clothing to the International Space Station.

These experiments will be among the hundreds of scientific investigations currently happening aboard the space station. The launch will be visible along parts of the U.S. East Ccoast, and you can watch it live online here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV. [Launch Photo: Orbital ATK’s Antares Rocket & Cygnus OA-9 Soar to Space Station]

Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket, preparing for Northrop Grumman's 10th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, is seen on the left in the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket, preparing for Northrop Grumman’s 10th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station, is seen on the left in the Horizontal Integration Facility at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Credit: Patrick Black/NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle has been named in honor of NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy officer John Young. Young spent 835 hours in space over six missions as a NASA astronaut.

Aboard the Cygnus vehicle will be a device called the Refabricator as part of the In-Space Manufacturing Refabricator project. This is the first integrated 3D printer and recycler that will turn waste plastic into filament for 3D-printing aboard the space station. The filament will be used for repairs aboard the space station and also as a means of recycling waste. The device could also be used to fabricate things on board the space station.

Refabricator flight hardware as seen from the front, similar to how it will look when installed in the EXPRESS Rack on the International Space Station.

Refabricator flight hardware as seen from the front, similar to how it will look when installed in the EXPRESS Rack on the International Space Station.

Credit: Allison Porter, Tethers Unlimited Inc.

This technology could be very useful for long-term deep-space missions where astronauts will have to deal with waste, repair and resource issues on a regular basis. As the investigation’s research overview states, “Without a recycling capability, a large supply of feedstock would need to be stowed on board for long-duration exploration missions.” This investigation is sponsored by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Office.

The Effect of Long Duration Hypogravity on the Perception of Self-Motion (VECTION) study, another investigation launching to the space station, will explore how a microgravity environment might affect an astronaut’s ability to visually interpret motion, orientation and distance.

Here on Earth, our senses work together to let us know how far away we are from things, how fast they are moving, and how they are oriented. In space, gravity no longer plays a part in our vestibular system, a system that contributes to our sense of balance and orientation. The VECTION study aims to better understand how microgravity affects these senses using virtual reality.

In this study, astronauts will wear a virtual-reality (VR) system that will provide computer-generated visual clues to try to create artificial gravity using visual acceleration, Laurence Harris, a professor at York University in Toronto and principal investigator in this research, said at a news conference on Thursday, Nov. 8. After the VR simulation, the astronauts will report how far they perceive that they moved, how far away things were from them, etc.

“Many astronauts do feel disoriented or suffer from space sickness when they first arrive at the space station,” Harris said. So, to understand how a microgravity environment might affect astronauts at multiple points in their trip, they will participate in the VR simulation as soon as they arrive in space, once they’ve gotten used to the environment and once they’ve returned to Earth.

[“source=TimeOFIndia”]

New insights into the origins of mutations in cancer

Image result for New insights into the origins of mutations in cancer

Researchers at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), the University of Dundee and the Wellcome Sanger Institute have used human and worm data to explore the mutational causes of cancer. Their study, published today in Genome Research, also shows that results from controlled experiments on a model organism — the nematode worm C. elegans — are relevant to humans, helping researchers refine what they know about cancer.

Enigmatic DNA mutation and repair

Cancer is caused by DNA mutations which can be triggered by a range of factors, including UV radiation, certain chemicals and smoking, but also errors occurring naturally during cell division. A cell recognises most of these mutations and corrects them through multiple repair mechanisms. However, DNA repair is not perfect, so it can leave certain mutations unrepaired or repair them incorrectly leading to changes in DNA. Understanding the footprints of these mutational processes is an important first step in identifying the causes of cancer and potential avenues for new treatments.

“The DNA mutations we see in cancer cells were caused by a yin and yang of DNA damage and repair,” explains Moritz Gerstung, Research Group Leader at EMBL-EBI. “When we study a patient’s cancer genome, we’re looking at the final outcome of multiple mutational processes that often go on for decades before the disease manifests itself. The reconstruction of these processes and their contributions to cancer development is a bit like the forensic analysis of a plane crash site, trying to piece together what’s happened. Unfortunately, there’s no black box to help us.

Controlled experiments in model organisms can be used to mimic some of the processes thought to operate on cancer genomes and to establish their exact origins.”

What worms can tell us

Previous research has shown that one of the first DNA repair pathways associated with an increased risk of cancer is DNA mismatch repair (MMR). The current study uses C. elegans as a model system for studying MMR in more detail.

“Dr Bettina Meier in my team initiated this project by assessing the kinds of mutations that arise when C. elegans is defective for one specific DNA repair pathway,” says Professor Anton Gartner, Principal Investigator in the Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression at Dundee. “As it only takes three days to propagate these worms from one generation to the next, the process of studying how DNA is passed on is greatly expedited. DNA mismatch repair is propagated for many generations and this allowed us to deduce a distinct mutational pattern. The big question was if the same type of mutagenesis also occurred in human cancer cells.”

To address this question, EMBL-EBI PhD student Nadia Volkova compared the C. elegans results with genetic data from 500 human cancer genomes.

“We found a resemblance between the most common signature associated with mutations in MMR genes in humans and the patterns found in nematode worms,” explains Volkova. “This suggests that the same mutational process operates in nematodes and humans. Our approach allows us to find the exact profile of MMR deficiency and to understand more about what happens when DNA repair goes wrong.”

These findings could lead to a better understanding of the causes of cancer and potentially help to identify the most appropriate treatment.

[“Source-sciencedaily”]

Police launch probe into agriculture recruitment racket

A preliminary enquiry found that 15 candidates from Haryana used unfair means to excel in the examination held on September 4, 2016.

Police on Wednesday launched a probe into an alleged cheating racket pertaining to a nationwide examination conducted by the Agricultural Scientist Recruitment Board (ASRB) in 2016.

A preliminary enquiry found that 15 candidates from Haryana used unfair means to excel in the examination held on September 4, 2016. At least 13 of them appeared for the test at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly.

Officials of the institute lodged a complaint in this regard on the ASRB’s direction.

All the candidates under question were found to be residents of Sonepat and Rohtak districts of Haryana. They have also been accused of involvement in scams pertaining to other central government recruitment examinations, including those conducted by the army.

“The 15 candidates scored similar marks in the examination, much higher than the average score of other candidates. We became suspicious and reported the matter to the police,” said IVRI director Dr RK Singh.

The complaint was filed at the office of Bareilly senior superintendent of police (SSP) Joginder Kumar on Tuesday. He then directed a circle officer to investigate the matter, and lodge an FIR in this regard. “We will share inputs in the case with our counterparts in Haryana to nab the racketeers,” said Kumar.

Meanwhile, the ASRB has decided to hold a re-examination on June 24. A notice put up on its website cites “administrative issues” as the cause for cancellation of the previous test.

The examination is conducted to ensure recruitment for technical posts in agricultural institutes across the country. Over 70,000 candidates appeared for the exam to fill 150 vacancies that year.

[“source=hindustantimes”]