Virus-Like Particle Derived Vaccines: Safe, Dependable, and Still Exciting

Written by: Beth Rousseau

Editors: Madeline Barron, Will Dana, and Austin Shannon

New and flashy vaccines tend to get all the press, whereas less attention is paid to safe, effective, and well-established vaccine technology, such as vaccines derived from virus-like particles (VLPs). VLP-based vaccines have been on the commercial market for years and include those used to prevent diseases like hepatitis B and cervical cancer. The success of these vaccines is rooted in the science underlying their development and activity in the body. With many new VLP vaccines currently in clinical trials around the world, it is evident that, even amidst the wave of new vaccine technologies, VLPs are here to stay.

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Birds of a Feather Magnetize Together: How Birds Use the Earth’s Magnetic Field to Find Their Way Home

Written by: Bethany Beekly

Editors: Christina Del Greco, Henry Ertl, Jennifer Baker, and Madeline Barron

I recently traveled to Seattle for the wedding of a high school friend. As I prepared for my first flight since the pandemic began—dreading the long lines, the awkward shoeless dance through security, and the inevitable 4.5 hour battle with the child kicking me in the back—my thoughts drifted to the remarkable flights made by hundreds of species of migratory birds and the relative ease with which they make them.

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Biomanufacturing: the unexpected connection between a soccer superstar and COVID-19 vaccines

Written by: Franco Tavella

Editors: Jennifer Baker, Kristen Loesel, Christian Greenhill, and Madeline Barron

As an Argentinian, I’ve shared a wish with my country for 16 years: to see our nation’s soccer team win a major tournament with Lionel Messi as team captain. Even Argentinians uninterested in soccer felt the frustration of having one of the world’s best players on the national team, yet never winning a tournament. Finally, this summer we watched with joy as Messi received the trophy after defeating our greatest soccer rival, Brazil, in the 2021 Copa América finals. A large crowd celebrated in the iconic Obelisco, and despite being abroad in the U.S., I felt closer to home. However, this moment of national pride and celebration may have never happened without biomanufacturing. 

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Depression: Physiology to Psychology is Rarely Simple

Written by: Kane York

Editors: Sophie Hill, Austin Shannon, and Peijin Han

I’m running low on serotonin

Chemical imbalance got me twisting things

Stabilize with medicine

There’s no depth to these feelings

-“Serotonin”, girl in red

Depression. In the time of a global pandemic, a burning ocean, an increasing wealth gap, and other catastrophes too numerous to mention, what could be more topical? Depression is one of the most common illnesses in the world, affecting more than 322 million people. Despite its prevalence, depression is still not perfectly understood. The common view is that depression is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, but the current research tells us that the condition is far more complex.

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Find Your Purpose in Carbon Removal

Written by: Kianna Marquez

Editors: Jennifer Baker, Sophie Hill, Rebecca Dzombak, Alyse Krausz, and Madeline Barron

As a young person, the level of action necessary to overcome the climate crisis feels insurmountable. The overwhelming challenge of mitigating the effects of accumulating greenhouse gases on atmospheric warming often paralyzes me—I have even doubted pursuing a career path in sustainability because I am unsure if our world is beyond the point of saving from environmental destruction and irreversible climate change. However, this past year, I turned this challenging prospect into an opportunity for hope. I found my purpose in contributing to climate action and to the outcome of our climate future, and in inspiring others to do the same. 

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Nanoparticles may be tiny, but they are the next big thing for fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Written by: Madeline Barron

Editors: Christian Greenhill, Kristen Loesel, and Peijin Han

We are currently at war with antibiotic-resistant bacteria—and it’s not looking good. In 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, resulting in 35,000 deaths and billions of dollars in healthcare costs. This is over 28% higher than the approximated number of infections and deaths in 2013. Yet, despite the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, antibiotics remain our primary weapon for combatting bacterial pathogens; if they stop working, infections that were once easily controlled could become untreatable. Thus, there is a critical need to look beyond our arsenal of antibiotics for new methods to treat bacterial infections.

Enter: Nanoparticles.

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A step towards gender inclusivity in research

Written by: Michele Marenus

Editors: Christina Del Greco, Madeline Barron, and Emily Glass

The lack of guidance on how to be a gender inclusive researcher is frustrating and exclusionary. I’m not a gender researcher—but I do study gender. Meaning, my primary research aims are not to examine gender or gender identities, but it is an important construct in my work. I study the intersection of physical activity and mental health, which has been on the forefront of research for some time now, especially during the ever-challenging coronavirus pandemic. Depression symptoms have increased three-fold since the start of the pandemic and there has been a worldwide decrease in physical activity levels. The relationship between physical activity and mental health has been found to differ by gender but is typically only examined on a gender binary. The American Psychological Association (APA) specifically encourages researchers to protect the dignity of all persons by removing biased language and avoiding misrepresentation of participants, yet most studies still refer to gender in a binary manner. This practice contradicts the empirical evidence that undermines the gender binary and finds that gender exists on a spectrum, and ignoring this evidence therefore violates the ethical principles that guide researchers.

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Bacterial outer membrane vesicles: Little membrane blebs with big vaccine potential

Author: Madeline Barron

Editors: Genesis Rodriguez, Alyse Krausz, and Emily Glass

Bacteria are bubbly organisms—literally. As they go about the business of living, many bacteria pinch off little blebs of their outer membrane to form outer membrane vesicles, or OMVs. OMVs are tiny orbs (about 4,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair) that pack a big functional punch. They contain proteins that scavenge nutrients for bacteria to eat, serve as “decoys” that bind up antibiotics and protect bacteria from certain death, and deliver compounds to host cells that cause disease and trigger an immune response. To this end, scientists have sought to exploit the immune-stimulating power of OMVs to generate vaccines that help protect people from bacterial infections. Thus, OMVs may be small, but they could be a mighty weapon to help us keep bacterial pathogens at bay.

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Epigenetics: An Unconventional Take on Cancer

Written By: Christine Lu

Edited By: Christina Del Greco, Peijin Han, and Emily Glass

When you think about cancer, what pops into mind? Likely pain, disease, death, or even a family member who has been affected by cancer. In terms of the cause of cancer, we most likely think of genetic mutations. Very few of us will think about epigenetics. Yet, this does not diminish the fact that epigenetics takes on an equally important role in cancer progression. To understand the role of epigenetics in cancer, we must first appreciate what epigenetics is.

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Dr. Brenda Bass: Distinguishing self and non-self dsRNA in vertebrates and invertebrates

This piece was written live during the 5th annual RNA Symposium: Processing RNA. Follow us on Twitter or the tag #umichrna

Live Blogger: Chloe Rybicki-Kler

Editor: Emily Glass

Welcome to Dr. Brenda Bass, a senior professor of Biochemistry at the University of Utah. Dr. Bass worked with Dr. Cheque on enzymatic binding sites during her PhD and will be talking to us about self- and non-self detection of mRNA.

When Dr. Brenda Bass began studying long double-stranded RNA (ldsRNA) during her post-doc, it was known that the only time that cells contain dsRNA was after viral infection. After infection, binding proteins attach to viral dsRNA, forming an “SOS”-like signal that initiates an immune response.

Dr. Bass and others had stumbled on some but not all dsRNAs, and thus began compiling the LONG dsRNAome. The self-sequences were found primarily in introns and UTRs (untranslated regions) of protein-coding genes.

Three -omes were considered in the thinking through of the self/non-self identification question – mouse, human, and C. elegans. Later, Drosophila would replace C. elegans as the invertebrate model due to difficulties transitioning from in vivo to in vitro studies of invertebrate dsRNA detection machinery.

Even now, we don’t know the function of many of these ldsRNAs, but we do know that if cells don’t pay attention to these sequences there are consequences for the immune response to viral infection.

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