This week in science: Chimps look both ways before crossing a road; gazing into your pooches’ eyes increases oxytocin levels; vaccination against ebola; mutation in IRF7 increases risk of lethal flu
Wild chimps have learned to look both ways before crossing a road! Researchers observed wild chimps crossing a busy road in Sebitoli, in northern Uganda’s Kibale National Park. The noted that the chimps would pause at the road and look both ways for vehicles. They would quickly cross the road in small groups while continuing to look for oncoming cars. The researchers also observed that the alpha males of the group would lead the crossing and wait until all members had crossed. Chimps in Bossou, Guinea behave differently as the roads are quieter. Here, they would cross in a single file line. (Cibot, M. et al. American Journal of Primatology (2015), doi: 10.1002/ajp.22417)
Staring lovingly into your dog’s eyes increases oxytocin levels. Gazing is an important part of non-verbal communication in humans. The “mutual gaze” has been discussed as the fundamental manifestation of the attachment between mother and infant, with maternal oxytocin levels rising during the moment. Now researchers have shown that man’s best friend have hijacked this nonverbal cue. Researchers examined whether a dog’s gazing ability affected the oxytocin levels in both the dog and the owner during a 30-min interaction. Indeed, the oxytocin levels in both dogs and their owners was shown to increase. This suggests that humans may feel affection for the dogs in a similar manner felt towards their family members. So the next time someone refers to Fido as their child, they really do feel that way! (Nagasawa, M. et al. Science 348, 333 (2015)
Ebola vaccination protects nonhuman primates against lethal infection with the virus. As we are all aware of, ebola is a very dangerous virus. With the recent epidemic in Africa and with the recent scares we’ve had here in the US, it’s no surprise that research is underway to find a vaccination against the virus. It has already been demonstrated that a vaccine that is based on a replication-defective strain of ebola (it can not make more of itself) can protect mice and guinea pigs against lethal infection with a rodent-adapted ebola virus. Now, Marzi et al. have demonstrated that this same vaccination protects nonhuman primates against lethal ebola infection. The group further inactivated the virus by treating the replication-defective virus with hydrogen peroxide. It has been known for many years that hydrogen peroxide is an effective viral inactivating agent but only recently has it been revealed that this treatment does not affect the antigenicity (or ability to cause a reaction from our immune response) of the virus. This vaccination provides a safe and effective means to vaccinate against ebola. (Marzi, A. et al. Science 348, 439 (2015))
A mutation in IRF7 increases the risk of lethal flu infection. A mutation in IRF7 in an otherwise healthy child has been linked to life-threatening influenza (flu). IRF7 encodes the transcription factor interferon regulatory factor 7 and plays an important role in the expression of virus-targeted genes. With these mutations, the child’s body produces very little type I and type III interferons (IFNs). IFNs are signalling proteins that are released in response to pathogens such as viruses. This suggests that type I and III IFNs are necessary for protection against primary infection by the flu virus. (Ciancanelli, M.J. et al. Science 348, 448 (2015))
Other random science-related facts:
- Germany’s political parties have agreed to increase funding to science by $5.4 billion (US) between 2018 and 2028. Now if we can get the US to follow suit!
- The Center of iPS Cell Reseach and Application (CiRA) of Kyoto Univeristy has partnered with Takeda, a Japanese pharmaceutical firm, to develop clinical applications for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, including treatments for heart failure and diabetes.
- The CDC has started late-stage clinical trials of a potential ebola vaccine in partnership with Sierra Leone’s College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences.
Did I miss anything you found interesting? Want to learn more about any of these topics?