Injectisomes: the hypodermic needles of bacteria

Written and illustrated by: Jacquelyn Roberts

Edited by: Sarah Bassiouni, Sophia Hill, Austin Shannon, and Madeline Barron

Pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, and Escherichia coli can inject proteins into target cells with an extremely small hypodermic needle called a type III secretion system, or T3SS. The injected proteins are called “effector proteins”, as they elicit effects in the host (in this case human) cell. The cell membranes of both the bacteria and host cell prevent large molecules like effector proteins from simply drifting inside, so bacteria need specialized delivery systems like the T3SS to do it. These specialized delivery systems are very similar to a syringe and needle, and have been nicknamed injectisomes (Figure 1). However, injectisomes are 10 million times smaller than the average syringe. In addition to being incredibly small, these syringes are extremely specific in the cargo that they accept for transport. Bacteria generally use these machines to inject effector proteins  that weaken the host cell, leading to easier bacterial infection. The mechanistic details of these molecular machines is of great interest to scientists for many reasons. Designing a specific inhibitor of the injectisome could render pathogenic bacteria harmless. On the other hand, engineering an injectisome for drug delivery could provide targeted biologic medicine to specific cells in the body.

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“Birdbrain” May Be a Compliment: Complex Vocal Learning in Avian Species

Written by: Bethany Beekly

Editors: Christina Del Greco, William Dean, Olivia Pifer Alge, and Madeline Barron

…Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

While Poe’s raven is generally understood to be metaphorical, the premise of his famous tale is not outside the realm of possibility. Ravens belong to a family of birds called corvids (Latin Corvidae) which also includes other common urban birds such as crows and magpies. Corvids are among the most intelligent avian species studied to date. They also happen to be among the select families of birds capable of mimicking human speech!

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Demystifying the origins of embryonic stem cells used in scientific research

Written by: Renee Hein

Editors: Liz Tidwell, Ryan Schildcrout, Maddie Barron

Human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have made quite the name for themselves throughout  history, and they continue to be a buzz-worthy topic in modern society. On the one hand, ESCs serve as valuable tools for scientists studying unique aspects of human development, such as how cells create a functioning organ and why disruptions in this process can cause disease or defects. On the other hand, there are ethical concerns surrounding the use of ESCs in research, which largely center on destroying what some consider to be a potential human life. To form an opinion on the matter, however, it’s first important to understand the facts about where ESCs come from.

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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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