2021 has been another strange year full of change and challenge. Here at Research Features, we consider ourselves lucky to have worked with so many brilliant researchers from all over the world. The articles that we published in 2021 span a huge range of topics. From the origins of life on Earth and chimpanzee behaviour, to the relationship between nutrition and brain health and the biology of bacteria, this year’s ten most popular articles are listed here for you to enjoy. Follow the links to read the full articles!
Panspermia has been around some 100 years since the term ‘primordial soup’, referring to the primitive ocean of organic material not-yet-assembled into living organisms, was first coined. The question of how life’s molecular building blocks spontaneously assembled themselves into something that could self-replicate – an informationally mega-rich living organism – remains unanswered. Meanwhile Chandra Wickramasinghe and his team of international collaborators have been arguing that the seeds of all life (bacteria and viruses) may instead have arrived on Earth from space, and may indeed still be raining down to affect life on Earth today, a concept known as cometary panspermia.
Small regulatory RNAs (sRNAs) are key molecules in gene regulation. The length of sRNAs can vary, from less than 50 nucleotides to more than 500. sRNAs typically bind to target mRNAs, promoting their degradation or interfering with translation. Prof Eric Massé and PhD student Marie-Claude Carrier from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, aim to decipher the regulatory networks between bacterial sRNAs and their targets. Another aspect of the Massé Lab’s research is understanding the role of the gut microbiome in colorectal cancer.
The relationship between nutrition and brain health is well established and even more poignant in our ageing population, where there is an increased risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Professor John Nolan and Dr Rebecca Power at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) are leading several projects that aim to explore the relationship between nutrition and cognition, as well as how we can fortify the diet with specific nutrients known to have positive impacts on brain health and cognitive performance. Understanding more about nutrition and cognition will allow the development of novel preventative pathways to help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative conditions.
For decades, physicists have known that their descriptions of the universe’s fundamental building blocks have been incomplete. So far, however, no conclusive theories have emerged to propose more suitable alternatives. Now, Professor Costas Vayenas at the University of Patras in Greece believes that the problem could be solved through the ‘Rotating Lepton Model’ – in which particles named neutrinos rotate at close to the speed of light. By combining the theories of Quantum Mechanics and Special or General Relativity, his theories could prove to transform the way we view the universe on the smallest of scales.
After 12 years documenting a large group of chimpanzees living in the Bili-Uéré region located in the northern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dr Thurston Cleveland (Cleve) Hicks from the University of Warsaw, Poland, proposes a very specific set of customs and traditions for these animals. Not only do they make their own specialised tools to catch insects and pound open termite mounds, but they often build their beds on the ground instead of up in the trees.
Honey enhances wound healing and can kill bacteria. Multiple honey-based wound care products exist. The efficacy of two commercial Medical Grade Honey-based wound care products are compared regarding their ability to kill common and multi-resistant bacteria.
The transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (COVID-19) is an important research subject for public health. It is now known that airflow plays a large role in transmitting Covid-19. Professor Björn Birnir, Director of the Center for Complex, Nonlinear and Data Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), studied how airflow transmits COVID-19 in confined spaces. He created a model that predicts transmission rates in any given public space. The results can be used to alter real-life spaces to reduce COVID-19 infection rates.
Professor Ute Deichmann from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev studies the impact of philosophical and scientific concepts as well as scientific personalities on the development of modern life sciences. Her recent work argues the importance of three biological concepts: hierarchy, genomic determinism, and specificity, which underpin the foundations of modern biological experimentation and theories. These concepts are relevant to understanding the causal role of genes in the conservation of species differences and early development. Professor Deichmann makes a case for the importance of these concepts for the future trajectory of research.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a common condition worldwide. It can progress to liver failure and death. No drug treatment in the clinic has yet shown sufficient efficacy to receive regulatory approval. Prof Moti Kashyap and co-workers at the University of California, Irvine and Aasta Pharmaceuticals have found that Niacin reversed every stage of NAFLD in preclinical studies. Furthermore, a human clinical trial has shown that high-dose Niacin reduces the build-up of fat in the liver. The research team have discovered that Niacin has unique mechanisms of action, which make it an excellent candidate for combination therapy with drugs in development.
And the most popular article we published in 2021 is…
Artificial limbs are essential to improve the quality of life of people living without limbs. Bionic limbs such as bone-anchored prostheses use implants directly inserted into the living bone for more stability. However, this technology still causes adverse events. Dr Laurent Frossard, Adjunct Professor of Bionics, and Professor David Lloyd, Professor of Biomechanical Engineering, combine biomechanics and computational modelling to develop a new integrated, wearable and non-invasive diagnostic device relying on the design of a digital twin of the residuum, which may ultimately improve the quality of life of people suffering from limb loss.
Thank you for reading – we look forward to sharing new research with you in 2022!