Category Archives: Molecular and structural bases of living organisms

The Extraordinary Powers of Bacteria Visualized in Real Time

The global spread of antibiotic resistance is a major public health issue and a priority for international microbiology research.

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Human “Jumping Genes” Caught in the Act!

Over the course of evolution, the genomes of most living organisms have grown more complex thanks to transposable elements, a.k.a. “jumping genes,” or DNA fragments that can move and copy themselves from one chromosome location to another. Researchers from Inserm, the CNRS, Université Côte d’Azur, and Université de Montpellier were able to capture these “jumping genes” just after they moved.

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The origins of asymmetry: A protein that makes you do the twist

Asymmetry plays a major role in biology at every scale: think of DNA spirals, the fact that the human heart is positioned on the left, our preference to use our left or right hand … A team from the Institute of biology Valrose (CNRS/Inserm/Université Côte d’Azur), in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, has shown how a single protein induces a spiral motion in another molecule. Through a domino effect, this causes cells, organs, and indeed the entire body to twist, triggering lateralized behaviour. This research is published in the journal Science on November 23, 2018.

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Pandoravirus: giant viruses invent their own genes

Three new members have been isolated and added to the Pandoravirus family by researchers at the Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory (CNRS/Aix‐Marseille Université), working with partners at the Large Scale Biology Laboratory (CEA/Inserm/Université Grenoble‐Alpes) and at CEA-Genoscope. This strange family of viruses, with their giant genomes and many genes with no known equivalents, surprised the scientists when they were discovered a few years ago. In the 11 June 2018 edition of Nature Communications, researchers offer an explanation: pandoviruses appear to be factories for new genes – and therefore new functions. From freaks of nature to evolutionary innovators, giant viruses continue to shake branches on the tree of life!

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Reducing Protein Intake to Fight Tumors More Effectively

What if immune system efficacy against cancerous cells could be reinforced by a diet in which calories are not reduced but nutrients are precisely determined? This what Inserm researchers from Université Côte d’Azur, through a study of the effects of restrictive diets on tumor growth in mice, have been exploring.  They have observed that a low-protein diet restricts tumor development by increasing immune response.  The findings, to be published in Cell metabolism, have proved promising in understanding anti-tumor immunity in mice and pave the way for new studies in humans. 

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Flunarizine: a New Drug Candidate in the Treatment of Spinal Muscular Atrophy

A team of researchers from Inserm (“Toxicology, pharmacology and cell signaling” JRU 1124) and the universities of Paris Descartes and Paris Diderot have recently discovered that flunarizine – a drug already used to treat migraine and epilepsy – enables the repair of a molecular defect related to spinal muscular atrophy, a severe and incurable disease. This discovery is the culmination of research efforts ongoing since 1995, when the Inserm team – comprising Suzie Lefebvre, leader of the current research projects – identified the gene responsible for infantile spinal muscular atrophy. The results of the initial animal tests, published in Scientific Reports, demonstrate a marked improvement in health. These extremely promising findings must now be confirmed in humans.

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3D Objects of Unequaled Precision Made from DNA

A revolution in the field of nanotechnology! An Inserm researcher in collaboration with Harvard University has succeeded in creating 3D shapes of unprecedented sophistication, thanks to the four DNA bases A, T, C and G. In practice, these researchers can create nanoscopic (10-9 m) objects from 30,000 DNA sequences that fold and self-assemble like LEGO® bricks. In time, this will make it possible to manufacture new tools adapted to the size of our cells.
These results have been published in Nature.

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The cause of uncombable hair syndrome identified

In 1973, the rare syndrome of uncombable hair or ‘pili trianguli et canaliculi’ was described by a Toulouse dermatologist. More than 40 years later, Michel Simon, Inserm research director his colleagues at the ‘Epidermal Differentiation and Rheumatoid Autoimmunity’ Unit [UDEAR] (Inserm/CNRS/Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier University) have identified its genetic cause.

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Jumping genes: all guilty?

Transposable elements, also known as “jumping genes” are DNA fragments that can move or copy themselves from one location to another on the chromosomes. They have invaded the genomes of most living organisms, from bacteria to humans, via the plants. When they jump, they bring about complex modifications in genes near which or in which they insert themselves, and can thereby alter or abolish their function. This phenomenon contributes to the evolution and adaptation of species.

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Light shed on the underside of the “cocktail effect” of endocrine disruptors

Chemical substances that are safe for humans when taken in isolation can become harmful when they are combined. Three research teams bringing together researchers from Inserm and CNRS in Montpellier have elucidated in vitro a molecular mechanism that could contribute to the phenomenon known as the “cocktail effect.”

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