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This week in PLOS Biology

In PLOS Biology this week you can read about citizen science oceanography, de-differentiation and drug resistance in cancer, fine-tuning of DNA repair and action potential initiation in cortical neurons.

Crowdsourcing the Collection of Oceanographic Data

Lauro
Image credit: Rachelle Lauro

In a new Community Page, Frederico Lauro and colleagues argue that the vast size of the oceans and the costs of research inhibit the gathering of oceanographic data. They propose using ‘Citizen Scientists’ to improve spatial and temporal density of observations – i.e. by fitting simple, low-cost instrumentation to sailing vessels. Examples of the types of data that could be collected include biological samples, surface weather conditions and debris sightings.

 

Striking the Balance in DNA Repair

Du thumb2Double-strand breaks in DNA strands can have catastrophic consequences if left unrepaired. The repair process requires careful resection of one strand, maintaining a delicate balance of nuclease activities so as to achieve accurate repair without erosion of the end of the DNA strand. New research by Jia-Min Zhang, Li-Lin Du and colleagues identified a key protein – Pxd1 in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe which helps coordinate the multi-enzyme activities taking place during DNA repair. This protein minimizes the potentially deleterious consequences of the process by inhibiting one nuclease while activating another.

 

Blocking Multi-Drug Resistance in Tumours

There are often two key features of the most dangerous cancerous tumours – they tend to be both de-differentiated (i.e. have regressed to an earlier developmental stage) and multi-drug resistant. In their research article published this week in PLOS Biology, Catherine Del Vecchio, Piyush Gupta and colleagues asked how these two things might be linked. They found that PERK-Nrf2 signalling was involved with therapy resistance in poorly differentiated breast cancer cells. Nrf2 is activated when the cancer cells de-differentiate. Their results suggest a novel therapeutic role for drugs that block this signalling pathway, which when coupled with chemotherapy might improve the responsiveness of resistant tumours to treatment.

 

Sodium Channels Bring Variety to Inhibitory Interneurons

SExcitatory neurons in the cortex of the brain are regulated by inhibitory neurons, but it appears that not all inhibitory neurons are the same.  Tun Li, Yousheng Shu and colleagues investigated two different populations of neurons (parvalbumin- and somatostatin-expressing) in the cerebral cortex. They found that they had varying electrical properties, caused by the presence of different types of sodium channels in their membranes.

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