Weekly roundup 24/02/2017

24 February 2017


In the news recently:

The pace of new discoveries in space over the past decades means it is sometimes easy to dismiss developments. However, the detection of Trappist-1, a low-mass, cool star located only 40 light-years away from Earth and orbited by seven Earth-sized planets that all have the potential to support liquid water on the surface and therefore possibly life, is understandably generating a lot of interest. Only three fall into the ‘habitable’ zone where life is considered a possibility, based on the information acquired so far.
The team has already begun to investigate if key gases like oxygen and methane are present, to gain more information about the planets’ surfaces, using the James Webb Space Telescope. For more information, read the report in Nature.

Researchers from the University of Southern California have conducted a study in mice that appears to successfully regenerate beta cells in the pancreas, reversing the symptoms of diabetes. Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and team leader, said ‘Cycles of a fasting-mimicking diet and a normal diet essentially reprogrammed non-insulin-producing cells into insulin-producing cells. By activating the regeneration of pancreatic cells, we were able to rescue mice from late-stage type 1 and type 2 diabetes. We also reactivated insulin production in human pancreatic cells from type 1 diabetes patients.’ The study can be found in the journal Cell.

Meanwhile, a team of researchers from the universities of Helsinki, Leeds, and York, believes it has moved closer to understanding the 'hidden code' of the Human Parechovirus genome, a member of the Picornavirus family that includes the common cold, polio, and hand, foot, and mouth disease. Professor Peter Stockley, University of Leeds, said, ‘The coding works like the cogwheels in a Swiss watch. We now need a drug that has the same effect as pouring sand into the watch; every part of the viral mechanism could be disabled. We need to move away from a vaccine approach, which is what we have for flu and polio. Vaccines, although our best source of defence against polio at the moment, can result in the release of more virulent strains of the disease. Protecting against infection therefore relies on continued worldwide vaccination, which is both very expensive and logistically difficult.’ Read more here.

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