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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up: 08.12.14

8 Dec, 2014

Our fortnightly round-up of research news from the Wellcome Trust community…

Competition and climate change may help exotic parasites spread to UK honeybees

Scientists have found that an exotic parasite out-competes its native relative when introduced into UK honeybees, which may lead to disease spreading in bees as our climate changes.

B0007642 Honey Bee Credit: Annie Cavanagh. Wellcome Images

B0007642 Honey Bee
Credit: Annie Cavanagh. Wellcome Images

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B compared parasite growth in honeybees that were infected with both an exotic parasite, Nosema ceranae and its relative, Nosema apis, which is native to Northern Europe.

Experiments showed that, while both parasites slow down or even stop each other’s growth, the exotic Nosema ceranae has a much greater negative impact on the native Nosema apis than vice versa.

Researchers incorporated this competitive effect into a simple model which also considered the climatic conditions under which the parasites could survive. They found that by considering these two factors together, researchers are better able to predict where both parasite species are found in nature: Nosema ceranae is common in Southern Europe but rare in Northern Europe.

Co-author of the study, Prof Robert Paxton of Queen’s University Belfast, explained the role of climate, “This emerging parasite is more susceptible to cold than its original close relative, possibly reflecting its presumed origin in East Asia. In the face of rising global temperatures, our findings suggest that it will increase in prevalence and potentially lead to increased honey bee colony losses in Britain.”

The study was funded by the Insect Pollinators Initiative, a joint venture of the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, managed under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) partnership.

Study finds boys significantly more likely to be stillborn than girls

A large-scale study led by the University of Exeter has found a significantly increased risk of stillbirth in males. Published in the journal BMC Medicine, the study reviewed more than 30 million births globally, and found that the risk of stillbirth is about 10% higher in boys. This increased risk adds up to the loss of around 100,000 additional male babies per year.

The research, supported by a Wellcome Trust grant to study gender inequalities in the health of babies and young children, found that the percentage of increased risk of mortality in males was consistent across both high- and low-income countries. The only exceptions to this global pattern were found in reports from China and India, where sex-biased induced abortion is a known issue. In the UK the data showed equal ratios of stillbirth in males and females and higher overall stillbirth risks than other countries.

Dr Fiona Mathews from the University of Exeter said, “The numbers speak for themselves – the disparity between male and female stillbirth rates is startling. Stillbirth is a common occurrence, even in rich countries with good healthcare systems: every day, eleven babies are stillborn in the UK. Uncovering why male babies are at higher risk could be a first step towards developing new approaches to prevention, including sex-specific management of high-risk pregnancies.”

Although the reasons for increased risk to male babies are not known, they could include developmental differences in the growth and function of the placenta, or increased sensitivity of male foetuses to environmental factors experienced by the mother, including obesity, smoking, advanced maternal age, and social deprivation.

Failure to distinguish between dangerous and safe stimuli could lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

 Neurons in the brain - illustration Credit: Benedict Campbell. Wellcome Images

Neurons in the brain – illustration
Credit: Benedict Campbell. Wellcome Images

New research from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, indicates that misfiring of neurons in the brain are responsible for the inability to tell dangerous and safe stimuli apart, a possible cause of the generalised feeling of fear experienced in those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In this experiment, scientists played rats two different sounds, one which was paired with mild electric shock, and one which was not. The rats quickly learned to discriminate between the two by showing a bigger fear response only to the dangerous but not the safe tone. As the animals learned, the researchers recorded electrical signals from individual neurons in the amygdala.

Dr Chattarji, lead scientist and International Senior Research Fellow, said: “Remarkably, this study finds that the same neuron that was initially capable of discriminating safe from dangerous lost its ability to do so when the animal exhibits generalised fear.”

In other news…

11 major projects focussing on science learning outside of the classroom launched internationally this week, supported by a venture between the Wellcome Trust and international collaborators called Science Learning+ .

The University of Sussex has announced it will be using its grant of £600,000 from the Wellcome Trust’s Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) to aid the discovery and development of new drugs that treat cancer and neurological diseases.

A project between the University of Oxford and the Indian Institute for Science has been launched to work on affordable prosthetics in India. The project is funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust’s Affordable Healthcare in India scheme.

There has been lots of research published by members of the Wellcome Trust community in the past fortnight – here are just a few papers you might be interested in:

Our colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute published a paper on the genetic diversity of Sub-Saharan Africa

Jason Signolet and Brian Hendric from the Wellcome Trust – Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge, published a paper on the role chromatin-modifying proteins play in animal development

The Wellcome Trust Seeding Drug Discovery Initiative provided funding for reasearchers working on treating allergic asthma by targeting the cause

1 in 10 British men have paid for sex was one of the findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Research on the prevalence of paying for sex by men living in Britain was published in BMJ Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Parasites use ‘Trojan Horse’ tactics to invade the body according to research from the University of Edinburgh, published in Nature Communications.





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