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Protection for sperm and egg cells

Prof. Jacob Hanna and scientific colleagues at the Center for Cancer Research of Massachusetts General Hospital recently reported on a new method for generating human cells that resemble primordial germ cells (PGCs) — common precursors of both sperm and eggs. Circumventing the technical and ethical barriers of studying human embryonic PGCs, the scientists used human iPSCs to create human PGC-like cells in culture.  Such studies may contribute to the establishment of new clinical protocols designed to reduce unintended damage to sperm and eggs caused by cancer chemotherapy. 

Beating biofilms

Bacterial infection can be tough to treat because bacteria can congregate biofilms—colonies that can shield the bulk of the bacteria from antibiotic treatment. Now, a study by Dr. Ayelet Erez of the Department of Biological Regulation and Dr. Ilana Kolodkin-Gal of the Department of Molecular Genetics has shown how glutamine or glutamate—two factors that biofilms depend on as a source of nitrogen — can be targeted by drugs. This study identifies an “Achilles’ heel” that can help create new and more effective strategies for treating bacterial infections. The scientists’ findings have important implications for human health, as well as the control of biofilms harmful to plants. 

The genetic basis of faulty brain development

Using genetic knockout models developed by the Department of Veterinary Resources, Prof. Orly Reiner revealed high-resolution data about how key proteins are expressed in the developing mouse brain. When certain proteins are reduced, the result is aberrant neuronal migration. This can lead to developmental brain diseases, as well as postnatal neural disorders.  Prof. Reiner’s study identifies a completely new target for therapeutic intervention that may make it possible to prevent certain brain-related maladies.

Scoliosis in genes and muscles

Prof. Elazar Zelzer, a member of the Department of Molecular Genetics, is an expert in musculoskeletal development has led to new insights about health and disease. In recent work, Prof. Zelzer and his colleagues have shed light on the molecular and gene-based dynamics that contribute to inflammation in skeletal connective tissue (a phenomenon associated with juvenile arthritis and other conditions) and adolescent scoliosis. He has also identified a “backup” gene that ensures proper skeletal formation during embryonic development — a discovery that may eventually lead to new therapeutic strategies.