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Catarina AmorimRSS Feed of this column.

After many years as a scientist (immunology) at Oxford University I moved into scientific journalism and public understanding of science. I am still at Oxford Uni but now I write about any bio... Read More »

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Abnormally high levels of P-cadherin – an adhesion molecule that enables cells to bind together – occur in about a third of all breast cancers and are associated with poor prognosis. Portuguese researchers , writing in the journal Oncogene1, found that the reason why these cancers are more aggressive is because excessive P-cadherin changes the cancer cells’ internal organization, making them mobile and invasive (invasiveness is the capacity to cross biological barriers such as membranes). Both these characteristics allow the formation of metastases - which is the spread of cancer cells from the original site of the tumour to other parts of the body - increasing the disease aggressiveness and explaining the poor prognoses associated with P-cadherin.
Cooperation is seen in every corner of life from microbes to humans, many times with no obvious advantages to those that provide it at high costs. Given the existence of “freeloading cheaters” ready to exploit the resources of those cooperating, why is it that cooperation persist? In an article now published in the journal Current Biology Nogueira and colleagues suggest that in bacteria this can result from highly mobile genes that “jump” from one cell to the next carrying the cooperative traits, effectively turning everyone into a cooperator. They also show that, at least in Escherichia coli (E. coli), this new population remains stable through “punisher” genes that impose a mafia-like strategy of “cooperation or death”, ensuring that the new cooperators do not revert to freeloading.
Calcium is crucial for heart regeneration by cardiac stem cells following cardiovascular problems say scientists in an article to be published in the journal Circulation Research this 9th of October. The study also identifies the body molecules controlling calcium levels in the stem cells and reveals, how their manipulation, can lead to the formation of new cardiac tissue. The work, that follows the recent surprising discovery of stem cells within the heart, can have important implications in the regenerative medicine of this organ in patients with cardiovascular diseases.

What a difference a bulb makes? On the 6th of November the 2100 inhabitants of the Isles of Scilly - a small British archipelago just off the mainland – will be asking this and a little more, by switching off for 24 hours all unused electrical apparatus, while measuring online, and in real time, the energy saved. This unique event aims to raise awareness of climate change and energy wastage, whilst showing how easy it is to make a real difference. All this is part of the “Isle of Scilly Earth Summit” that launches this weekend (3/4 October) with talks by islanders from all over the world followed by the energy saving day (E-Day) on the 6th of October.

A new gene called AP2gamma has been discovered to be crucial for the neural development of the visual cortex in a discovery that can have implications for the therapeutics of neural regeneration as well as provide new clues about how the brain evolved into higher sophistication in mammals. The article will come out in the journal Nature Neuroscience1 on the 14th of September.
A new paradigm in the way we look at cancer with important implications on how we treat it is about to be published in the British Journal of Cancer by Portuguese, Belgian and American researchers. The group use a mathematical approach to reveal how - by changing the dynamics of interaction between the cancer cells and those of the affected tissue – it is possible to control and even potentially cure the disease.