Colleagues at Cornell University and I have used the fruit fly, Drosophila to tease apart the relationship between immunity and the gut microbiome. The work (which took six years to complete) is to be published in Immunity (impact factor 20 for the ‘metricists’ out there) and has major significance because it starts to explain how the human immune response ‘tolerates’ the billions of ‘good’ bacteria in our body.
Many animals carry billions of bacteria in their intestines which are critical for the digestion of ingested foods. This poses a problem for immune cells because signs of the bacteria regularly end up outside the gut and in circulation. Normally, bacterial signals would elicit a powerful immune system but it would be bad news if the gut microbiome was targeted for destruction by immune cells. How this cordial relationship is maintained is therefore of major interest to immunologists and medical science because it has implications for how we understand inflammatory diseases.
We show for the first time that cells called nephrocytes remove bacterial signals (proteoglycans that make bacterial cell walls) from circulation and that this dampens immune responses. Disruption of this removal system causes immune cells to be over-active – a state not unlike chronic inflammation.
I’m duty bound as a basic scientist to make the point that this work also impacts our understanding of insect ecology. Having an over-active immune system shortened the lifespan of Drosophila – an effect likely to be seen in ecologically and medically important species such as honeybees and mosquitoes. How immune responses are affected by the environment in these species is also a very hot topic of research – one that can also be modeled in Drosophila.
Paul Hartley (Dept of Life and Environmental Sciences)
The Physiological Society is Europe’s largest network of physiologists, so it was a great privilege to be invited to give a plenary talk at the Renal physiology: Recent advances and emerging concepts satellite symposia in Aberdeen last week. This followed on from work conducted at BU using fruit flies to study human kidney function and which most recently contributed to research published in Nature Communications. We’ve been studying insect cells called nephrocytes for several years because of their tractability and genetic similarity to human kidney cells called podocytes – cells crucial to the kidney’s role in filtration and excretion. The insects cells offer us opportunities to modulate genes and infer what may happen in human diseases. The Nature Comms paper and Phys Soc talk detailed the work we collaborated on that identified a metabolic pathway in podocytes governed by a gene called GSK3, this pathway now represents a potential target for the control of kidney disease in diabetics.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs invites applications for its development of coordinated in situ and ex situ UK farm animal genetic resources conservation strategy and implementation guidance call.
This call aims to fund a project that will provide an up to date record, analysis and evaluation of effectiveness of current breeding programmes and conservation strategies for farm animal genetic resources and FAnGR at risk in the UK and provide evidence-based best practice for conservation strategies and breeding programmes that can be used directly by livestock breeders, policy makers and advisors aiming to conserve sustainably FAnGR in the UK. The project is expected to start by 1 October 2012 and take no more than six months to complete ending by 31 March 2013.
View the full details of this call here.
The RKE Operations team can help you with your application.
A workshop organised by the BBSRC brought together top scientists from around the world to plan the future direction of standards and methodologies in the area of soil carbon monitoring and reporting. This will make a significant contribution to our knowledge of the role of soil in addressing climate change.
Outputs of the workshop will be a series of scientific papers outlining the challenges and opportunities of soil carbon monitoring in the context of biomass production. This will help to inform sustainable management of changing land use, as well as any shift towards biomass crops within agriculture; contribute to the future direction of research in this area; and help to inform policy for sustainability. It is likely that opportunities will emerge from this work to improve the overall sustainability of bioenergy and an improved appreciation of the flux of carbon into and out of the soil will complement our increasing knowledge of the roles of genetics, physiology and agronomic traits of bioenergy crops.