Scientific News

Key mechanism of epilepsy in Angelman syndrome discovered by researchers

In the course of research defined as “innovative,” a team of researchers from the Duke-NUS Medical School and the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), Singapore, discovered a mechanism considered to be basic with regard to epilepsy in Angelman syndrome. This discovery, according to the researchers themselves, could lead to new therapies in the future.

Angelman’s syndrome (AS) is a rare genetic disease due to a defect in the process of chromosome duplication, often accompanied by delays in psychological and motor development, cognitive disabilities and other symptoms including epilepsy. In the course of the study, researchers at the Singapore Institutes used a new experimental methodology with human neural cells and brain organelles to understand the mechanism of epileptic seizures in this syndrome.

The researchers discovered the role of the ion channel in the hyperactivity of the brain network that triggers convulsions. The latter would be linked to gene deficiency of the ubiquitin ligase protein E3A (UBE3A) within neurons. As this is a syndrome that cannot be treated at present, this discovery could, therefore, be very important.

“Our study used 2D human neuronal cultures that allowed the accelerated discovery of functional differences at the single-cell level in the brain of normal individuals compared to those with AS,” explains Hyunsoo Shawn Je, the senior author of the study. “The use of mini 3D human brains allowed us to monitor spontaneous network activities, linking the results of abnormal firing from individual neurons and convulsive-like activities, just like those observed in the brains of AS patients.”

Scientific News

Psilocybin produced by Escherichia coli modified with magic mushroom genes

A team of researchers at Miami University in Ohio has managed to engineer Escherichia coli bacteria to produce psilocybin, a psychedelic substance usually produced by so-called “magic mushrooms” and which in recent years is proving increasingly interesting in the treatment of people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses such as addiction.

Since mushroom cultivation can be quite difficult and can take months, it has never proved to be very practical for the production of drugs. On the other hand, the synthetic production of psilocybin itself is equally difficult and the process is very expensive. The researchers have therefore thought of modifying these microbes so that they can generate up to 1.16 grams of psilocybin per litre of culture medium. This is the highest yield to date for engineered microorganisms producing this substance and opens the door to more widespread therapeutic use.

They have in particular ensured that the Escherichia coli bacteria incorporated three genes of the fungus Psilocybe cubensis. In this way the bacteria began to synthesize psilocybin from the 4-hydroxyindol molecule.

As Alexandra Adams, a chemical engineering student at the above mentioned university and one of the authors of the study published in Scientific American, explains, the main advantage of this procedure is that it is much cheaper than all the other methods.

Currently the only limit is represented by the danger that these bacteria could also generate toxic or allergenic microbial material and the latter must be absolutely removed before any possible use of the resulting psilocybin but in any case the results seem impressive.

Scientific News

Radio telescope MeerKAT takes pictures with thousands of galaxies billions of light years away

A new image of the deep universe has been realized thanks to the data received by the MeerKAT radio telescope made by 64 antennas located in South Africa. The image shows tens of thousands of small points of light but they are not stars: each of these points is a distant galaxy and each of them could potentially contain hundreds or thousands of billions of stars.

The most interesting feature of the image, however, is that the most distant galaxies represent the weakest points of light. Acquiring data and information about these “primordial” galaxies can in fact help astronomers understand when the first stars and galaxies were born. Most stars are currently thought to have been born between 8 and 11 billion years ago, an era also known as “cosmic noon.”

It is usually very difficult to acquire light from these galaxies so far away not only because of the distance but also because of the gas clouds that can overlap and make them invisible. And this is where radio telescopes come into play, operating at a wavelength through which these gas clouds can be “surpassed” to catch a glimpse of the farthest hidden galaxies.

In fact, an international team of astronomers has succeeded in using the MeerKAT radio telescope, now sensitive enough to detect even these galaxies billions of light years away. The result is the image that can be seen on this page that represents a portion of the southern sky, comparable to that occupied by five full moons, with tens of thousands of galaxies, an area that does not contain particular radio sources whose glow could disturb the data acquisition.

Of course, as with all objects located at a certain distance, here too we can speak of a sort of “time machine” with which we can look at the past of the cosmos. And, as James Condon, one of the authors of the study and researcher at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA, explains, “since only short-lived stars that are less than 30 million years old send radio waves, we know that the image is not contaminated by old stars. The radio light we see from each galaxy is therefore proportional to its speed of stellar formation at that time”.

Thanks to this image and the data collected with MeerKAT, researchers now know that during the “cosmic noon” era, even more stars were formed than previously calculated and that there are probably many more galaxies in the universe than ever theorized.