Muscle Movers There are over 600 skeletal muscles in your…

Muscle Movers

There are over 600 skeletal muscles in your body; those are the ones that get your bones moving. They spring into action every time motor nerves send signals to them via special junctions called neuromuscular junctions (NMJs). We don’t yet know exactly how NMJs develop but past research suggests signalling molecules called Wnts are involved. Researchers genetically tweaked mice to prevent the release of Wnts from their motor nerves during development. The mutant mice showed muscle weakness and looking at their NMJs using fluorescent microscopy (pictured) revealed that the ends of their nerves (green) were swollen (top middle) when compared to normal mice NMJs (top left). Next they added back different Wnts (top right and bottom row) to see which could rescue these defects. Wnt 7A and 7B were the winners (bottom left and middle). More digging will reveal just what they are up to during NMJ development.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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Targeting Zika Although it could easily be mistaken for a work…

Targeting Zika

Although it could easily be mistaken for a work of art, this image is actually showing you a sample of human immune cells (blue), some of which are invested with the Zika virus (red). The virus affects many different cells, but how it damages and kills them isn’t clear. Researchers recently developed a new method to label Zika-infected immune cells. By separating infected from uninfected cells in the same sample, the team can compare the two directly and by looking at the differences, understand what the virus is doing. The technique provides a comprehensive account of the effect Zika is having on immune cells, in particular how it prevents them from activating certain genes that would enhance the body’s immune defence. In future, this method could be applied to tag cells infected with other viruses.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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Plague of Marmots If you ever end up on a wildlife safari in…

Plague of Marmots

If you ever end up on a wildlife safari in central Asia, then watch out for Himalayan marmots – especially if they’re suspiciously still like this one spotted lying dead in a field in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. As well as being the highest plateau in the world, it’s also one of the region’s highest risk areas for plague caused by infectious Yersinia pestis bacteria (the same bugs responsible for the Black Death), which is responsible for killing this poor rodent. Alarmingly, researchers have now discovered that Tibetan sheep can catch plague bacteria from dead marmots – maybe by licking them to extract extra nutrients or from fleas – and can also transfer them on to humans. Since the first marmot with plague was identified in 1954, there have been nearly 500 human plague cases and 240 deaths, suggesting that this is a significant route for transmission of the disease and needs further investigation.

Written by Kat Arney

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