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12 news posts in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology

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30 Sep 2022

‘Love hormone’ revealed to have heart healing properties

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Image: Researchers show for the first time that the neurohormone oxytocin has a previously unsuspected function in both zebrafish and human cell cultures: it stimulates mature cells in the epicardium of the heart to become stem-like cells, which can replace heart cells lost after damage. This discovery could one day be used to stimulate the regeneration of the human heart after a heart attack. The neurohormone oxytocin is well-known for promoting social bonds and generating pleasurable feelings, for example from art, exercise, or sex. But the hormone has many other functions, such as the regulation of lactation and uterine contractions in females, and the regulation of ejaculation, sperm transport, and testosterone production in males. Now, researchers from Michigan State University show that in zebrafish and human tissue cultures, oxytocin has yet another, unsuspected, function: it stimulates stem cells derived from the heart’s outer layer (epicardium), to migrate into its middle layer (myocardium) and there develop into cardiomyocytes, muscle cells that generate heart contractions. This discovery could one day be used to promote the regeneration of the human heart after a heart attack. The results are published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. […]

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22 Sep 2022

Teams of sperm swim more smoothly against the current

By Peter Rejcek, science writer The physics of how sperm navigate their way to an egg in mammals, including humans, are not well understood. The tendency for sperm to cluster together as they make their way upstream through the thickish, elastic-like fluid of the female reproductive tract is more than just random behavior. Researchers have found biological benefits for sperm working together that may have implications for fertility studies. It turns out sperm go against the flow better when they swim together. Despite the popular idea that the fastest and fittest male reproductive cell is the one that wins the fertilization race, research has shown that spermatozoa often team up to navigate the female reproductive tract in a wide range of mammalian species. A new study published in the journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology offers some compelling reasons behind a newly identified clustering behavior.  Previous research by the team, led by scientists out of North Carolina A&T State University and Cornell University, first discovered that sperm naturally pull together without attaching to each other when swimming in viscoelastic fluid. This is the type of fluid encountered by sperm migrating through the cervix and uterus to the oviduct where […]


12 Sep 2022

Scientists eavesdrop on minke whale ‘boing’ calls in Hawai’i, and 4 other articles you don’t want to miss

By Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: Annie Leblanc/ At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a global audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, many often fly under the radar. Here are just five amazing papers you may have missed. Scientists eavesdrop on minke whale conversations in Hawai’i Scientists writing in Frontiers in Marine Science used hydrophones to study hard-to-spot minke whales in Hawai’i, learning that they use their ‘boing’ calls more frequently when they are close to other members of the same species. Minke whales who visit this area are hard to study because they are small, solitary, and visit outside the times when most ship-based surveys are conducted. Passive acoustic monitoring, using hydrophones mounted on the sea bed, allows scientists to listen in on whales all year round. The authors used 47 hydrophones to record thousands of calls between 2012 and 2017. These calls were analyzed to detect individual whales and monitor their behavior in the study area. The minke whales used their ‘boing’ calls only between fall and spring, and called more rapidly when other minke whales were nearby. Because minke whales are so enigmatic, it isn’t […]

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27 Jul 2022

Key to life found at the centre of our galaxy and bee ‘waggle dances’: Most viewed articles of July 2022

By Colm Gorey, Frontiers science communications manager Image: Each month, Frontiers shines a spotlight on some of the leading research across a wide range of topics. Here are just some of the highlights that resonated strongly with readers on our news site in the month of July. Building blocks for RNA-based life abound at center of our galaxy Nitriles, a class of organic molecules with a cyano group, that is, a carbon atom bound with an unsaturated triple bond to a nitrogen atom, are typically toxic. But paradoxically, they are also a key precursor for molecules essential for life, such as ribonucleotides, composed of the nucleobases or ‘letters’ A, U, C, and G, joined to a ribose and phosphate group, which together make up RNA. Now, a team of researchers from Spain, Japan, Chile, Italy, and the US show in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences that a wide range of nitriles occurs in interstellar space within the molecular cloud G+0.693-0.027, near the center of the Milky Way. Article link: 2. Bees’ ‘waggle dance’ may revolutionize how robots talk to each other in disaster zones Where are those flowers and how far away are they? This is the […]

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19 Jul 2022

Scientists identify DNA ‘hotspots’ that tell zebrafish to change sex in warmer waters

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer Zebrafish, Danio rerio Scientists identify 54 ‘hotspots’ in the genome for cross-talk between the environment, in particular water temperature, and genes predisposing zebrafish to develop into either sex. There, DNA methylation prompts genetic pathways to change, allowing the influence of temperature to ‘overrule’ the sex-determining genes. As a result, certain born females develop into males. Higher water temperatures induce specific chemical tags at targeted locations on the DNA of embryonic zebrafish. These ‘epigenetic’ changes can then reroute genetic pathways, so that the embryos change sex. This finding, in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, is not just of fundamental scientific interest. It’s also relevant for conservation, since an influence of temperature on sex determination could be recipe for disaster for species living through rapid climatic change. The study’s first author, Dr Shahrbanou Hosseini, a postdoctoral researcher at the Molecular Livestock Science and Diagnostics Group of the Department of Animal Sciences at Göttingen University, said: “Here we show that epigenetic modifications influence the variation in sex ratio between zebrafish families. This implies that the interaction between genotype and environment in determining sex is mediated by epigenetics.”   Genes interact with environment to determine sex From high […]

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29 Nov 2021

DNA of future deep-space explorers could become more ‘error prone’ in microgravity

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer During parabolic flight to simulate weightless conditions in space, researchers show for the first time that a DNA polymerase enzyme derived from bacteria makes 10-140% more errors while copying DNA in microgravity. Combined with the known greater rate of DNA damage from space radiation, this inaccuracy of DNA replication is likely to pose a threat to the health of future astronauts on long missions. On 22 May 2019, scientists from Queen’s University boarded a modified Falcon 20 aircraft at Ottawa airport. Scheduled was a ‘vomit comet’ flight, where the plane repeatedly climbs to 8km in a steep parabola, alternating with a descent in freefall. During freefall, at a rate of over 3.3km in 20 seconds, only gravity but no lift, thrust, or drag work on the plane, resulting in weightlessness. The scientists’ mission under these difficult conditions was to test whether the enzymes that copy DNA are as accurate under weightlessness as under earthbound conditions. This question is of paramount importance for future space exploration, as the health of astronauts will depend on accurate DNA replication during cell division. “So-called DNA polymerases are essential enzymes that copy and repair DNA. Inevitably, they aren’t perfect: […]

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07 Jun 2021

Dr Tal Gordon: ‘During one of my dives, an animal I collected ejected its digestive system at me’

By Mischa Dijkstra, Frontiers science writer / Tal Gordon, George S Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel-Aviv University, Israel Tal Gordon during one of her research dives. Image credit: Tal Zaquin Dr Tal Gordon is a zoologist and molecular biologist interested in the molecular basis of regeneration. She grew up in Eilat (Israel) close to the Red Sea and spent much of her childhood by the sea. Her recent PhD thesis at Tel-Aviv University focused on the development and regeneration in ascidians (sea squirts, a non-monophyletic subdivision of tunicates), in particular Polycarpa mytiligera. She discovered that this species has unique regeneration abilities, which makes it an excellent new model system to study regeneration and stem cells. One key result, recently published in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology, is that P. mytiligera can regenerate any missing body part, including its entire nervous system, by reactivation of evolutionarily conserved developmental programs. Gordon is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr Omri Wurtzel at Tel-Aviv University, focusing on the molecular basis of regeneration. In her present research, she uses comparative genomics to unravel regulatory pathways that facilitate ascidian regeneration. As part of our Frontier Scientist series, she told us about […]

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05 May 2021

An animal able to regenerate all of its organs even when it is dissected into three parts

By Tel Aviv University photography & media unit Polycarpa mytiligera. Credit: Tel Aviv University An extraordinary discovery in the Gulf of Eilat: Researchers from Tel Aviv University have discovered a species of ascidian, a marine animal commonly found in the Gulf of Eilat, capable of regenerating all of its organs—even if it is dissected into three fragments. The study was led by Prof Noa Shenkar, Prof Dorothee Huchon-Pupko, and Tal Gordon of Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. The findings of this surprising discovery were published in the leading journal Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. “It is an astounding discovery, as this is an animal that belongs to the phylum Chordata—animals with a dorsal cord—which also includes us humans,” explains Prof Noa Shenkar. “The ability to regenerate organs is common in the animal kingdom, and even among chordates you can find animals that regenerate organs, like the gecko who is able to grow a new tail. But not entire body systems. Here we found a chordate that can regenerate all of its organs even if it is separated into three pieces, with each […]