Yeast are first cells known to cure themselves of prions

Yeast cells can sometimes reverse the protein misfolding and clumping associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s, according to new research from the University of Arizona.

The new finding contradicts the idea that once prion proteins have changed into the shape that aggregates, the change is irreversible.

“It’s believed that when these aggregates arise that cannot get rid of them,” said Tricia Serio, UA professor and head of the department of molecular and cellular biology. “We’ve shown that’s not the case. Cells can clear themselves of these aggregates.”

Prions are proteins that change into a shape that triggers their neighbors to change, also. In that new form, the proteins cluster. The aggregates, called amyloids, are associated with diseases including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s.

“The is kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” said Serio, senior author of the paper published today in the open-access journal eLife. “When you get Hyde, all the prion that gets made after that is folded in that bad way.”

For yeast, having clumps of amyloid is not fatal. Serio and her students exposed amyloid-containing cells of baker’s yeast to 104 F (40 C), a temperature that would be a high fever in a human. When exposed to that environment, the cells activated a stress response that changed the clumping proteins back to the no-clumping shape.

The finding suggests artificially inducing stress responses may one day help develop treatments for diseases associated with misfolded prion proteins, Serio said.

“People are trying to develop therapeutics that will artificially induce stress responses,” she said. “Our work serves as a proof of principal that it’s a fruitful path to follow.”

First author on the paper “Spatial quality control bypasses cell-based limitations on proteostasis to promote prion curing” is Serio’s former graduate student Courtney Klaips, now at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich. The other authors are Serio’s students Megan Hochstrasser, now at the University of California, Berkeley, and Christine Langlois of Brown University.

These yeast cells contain a prion protein that can change shape from a non-clumping form to one that aggregates into clumps called amyloids. Proteins in these cells have the non-clumping shape and are tagged with a marker that fluoresces green under UV light. Credit: Serio laboratory/ UA molecular and cellular biology

To accomplish their jobs inside cells, proteins must fold into specific shapes. Cells have quality-control mechanisms that usually keep proteins from misfolding. However, under some environmental stresses, those mechanisms break down and proteins do misfold, sometimes forming amyloids.

Cells respond to environmental stress by making specific proteins, known as heat-shock proteins, which are known to help prevent .

Serio and her students wanted to know whether particular heat-shock proteins could make amyloids revert to the normal shape. To that end, the team studied that seemed unable to clear themselves of the amyloid form of the prion protein Sup35.

The researchers were testing one heat-shock protein at a time in an attempt to figure out which particular proteins were needed to clear the amyloids. However, the results weren’t making sense, she said.

So she and Klaips decided to stress yeast cells by exposing them to a range of elevated temperatures – as much as 104 F (40 C) – and let the cells do what comes naturally.

As a result, the cells made a battery of heat-shock proteins. The researchers found at one specific stage of the cell’s reproductive cycle, the yeast could turn aggregates of Sup35 back into the non-clumping form of the protein.

Yeast cells reproduce by budding. The mother cell partitions off a bit of itself into a much smaller daughter cell, which separates and then grows up.

The researchers found in the heat-stressed yeast, just when the daughter was being formed, the mother cell retained most of the heat-shock proteins called chaperones, especially Hsp-104. As a result, the mother had a particularly high concentration of Hsp-104 because little of the protein was shared with the daughter.

The fluorescent green chunks in these yeast cells are prion proteins that have assumed the shape that aggregates into clumps called amyloids. The prion proteins in these cells are tagged with a marker that fluoresces green under UV light. Credit: Serio laboratory/ UA molecular and cellular biology

The mother cells ended up “curing” themselves of the Sup35 amyloid, although the daughters did not. The degree of curing was correlated with the concentration of Hsp-104 in the cell, and the higher the temperature the more Hsp-104 the cells had.

The Hsp-104 takes the protein in the amyloid and refolds it, Serio said. But she and her colleagues found that just inducing high levels of Hsp-104 in cells by itself does not change the  back to the non-clumping form.

“Clearly the heat-shock proteins are collaborating in some way that we don’t understand,” she said.

Having the amyloid-forming version of the protein is not automatically bad, she said. It may be that shape is good under some environmental conditions, whereas the non-aggregating form is good under others.

Even in humans, amyloid forms of a protein can be helpful, she said. Amyloid proteins are associated with skin pigmentation and with hormone storage.

To clear the amyloid from yeast cells, these experiments triggered cells to make many different heat-shock proteins.

Serio now wants to figure out the minimal system necessary to clear amyloids from a cell. Knowing that may help the development of drug therapies for amyloid-related human diseases, she said.

Which Foods Are Natural Pain Killers?

Most synthesized pain killers (medical term “Analgesics”) we regularly pop come with their own set of side effects. Some easily available and widely consumed ones like Acetaminophen- causes liver damage; Ibuprofen or Naproxen – causes kidney problems; and Aspirin – known to have mild blood-thinning effect.

Nature has programmed our bodies to react to inflammation (cause of pain) through regulatory hormones and also provided natural foods and herbs that have been part of ancient medicine. So why add to your existing toxic load when you can incorporate a healthy diet and choose natural treatments?

Pain Killer Herbs:

Turmeric: Curcumin a potent anti inflammatory compound found in turmeric and shown positive results in treating patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.
White Willow: The bark of White Willow tree contains a compound called salicylic acid, an anti inflammatory compound used to treat different skin conditions like warts, psoriasis, scaly skin conditions.
Devil’s Claw: Contains chemical compounds called harpagide and harpagoside that reduces pain in inflammation-induced arthritis, headaches, and low back discomfort.
Other potent herbs include Ginger, Holy Basil, Peppermint, Arnica, Boswellia, Clove oil, etc.

Pain Busting Foods:

Hot Chillies: Capsaicin which is found in the hot chilli peppers is an active pain-reducing ingredient. Capsaicin also diminishes soreness for 3 to 5 weeks while the C-fibers help regain sensation. Works wonders for patients with migraine and cluster headaches.
Seed Oils: Gamma-Linolenic Acid, an essential fatty acid (found in numerous seed oils) are able to reduce nerve pain associated with diabetic conditions.
Berries: Contains compounds called anthocyanins, that blocks inflammation and inhibit pain enzymes, just like NSAID drugs.
Other foods include pineapple, blueberries, grapes, oats, etc.

Yoga for Pain Relief:

Yoga has been one of the greatest sources of revitalizing your energy sources and also relieving the pain in various parts of your body. Some highly recommended yoga poses to relive lower back pain are Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch), Supta Matsyendrasana (Two-Knee Twist), Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx), etc.

Innate Pain Killer Agents

Your body produces chemicals to soothe inflammation across the body.
Endorphins are the body’s natural pain relievers by blocking pain signals from reaching your brain. Any activity (cardio and high intensity routines) that gets your blood pumping for a sustained period will release pain-relieving endorphins into your system.
Opiorphin found in your saliva is considered six times more powerful than morphine in handling pain and inflammation.

Can organic crops compete with industrial agriculture?

A systematic overview of more than 100 studies comparing organic and conventional farming finds that the crop yields of organic agriculture are higher than previously thought. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, also found that certain practices could further shrink the productivity gap between organic crops and conventional farming.

The study, to be published online Wednesday, Dec. 10, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, tackles the lingering perception that , while offering an environmentally sustainable alternative to chemically intensive agriculture, cannot produce enough food to satisfy the world’s appetite.

“In terms of comparing productivity among the two techniques, this paper sets the record straight on the comparison between organic and conventional agriculture,” said the study’s senior author, Claire Kremen, professor of environmental science, policy and management and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute. “With global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it’s critical to look more closely at organic farming because, aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase has been declining.”

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies – a dataset three times greater than previously published work – comparing organic and conventional agriculture. They found that organic yields are about 19.2 percent lower than conventional ones, a smaller difference than in previous estimates.

The researchers pointed out that the available studies comparing farming methods were often biased in favor of , so this estimate of the yield gap is likely overestimated. They also found that taking into account methods that optimize the productivity of could minimize the yield gap. They specifically highlighted two agricultural practices – multi-cropping (growing several crops together on the same field) and crop rotation – that would substantially reduce the organic-to-conventional yield gap to 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

The yields also depended upon the type of crop grown, the researchers found. There were no significant differences in organic and conventional yields for leguminous crops, such as beans, peas and lentils.

“Our study suggests that through appropriate investment in agroecological research to improve organic management and in breeding cultivars for organic farming systems, the yield gap could be reduced or even eliminated for some crops or regions,” said the study’s lead author, Lauren Ponisio, a graduate student in , policy and management. “This is especially true if we mimic nature by creating ecologically diverse farms that harness important ecological interactions like the nitrogen-fixing benefits of intercropping or cover-cropping with legumes.”

The researchers suggest that organic farming can be a very competitive alternative to industrial agriculture when it comes to food production.

“It’s important to remember that our current agricultural system produces far more food than is needed to provide for everyone on the planet,” said Kremen. “Eradicating world hunger requires increasing the access to food, not simply the production. Also, increasing the proportion of that uses sustainable, organic methods of farming is not a choice, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t continue to produce far into the future without taking care of our soils, water and biodiversity.”

Bisphenol A BPA Causes 100x More Harm Than Previously

Research: Bisphenol A (BPA) Causes 100x More Harm Than Previously Imagined

A new study reveals just how profoundly misled we are about Bisphenol A and its analogs: they are at least 100x more toxic than we previously imagined.

An alarming new study establishes that the commonly used chemical bisphenol A used in tens of thousands of consumer products, and its lesser known but increasingly prevalent analogs, bisphenol S and F, are several orders of magnitude more disruptive to the endocrine systems of the developing male human fetus than previous toxicological risk assessments were capable of determining.

The new study was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility and titled, “A new chapter in the bisphenol A story: bisphenol S and bisphenol F are not safe alternatives to this compound.”

As we have documented extensively in the past, the authors of the new study raise concerns that as awareness of bisphenol A’s clearly demonstrated toxicity grows and it loses favor within the marketplace, manufacturers are increasingly substituting it with chemically similar bisphenol compounds whose toxicities are less well characterized. As a result, consumers who conscientiously buy ostensibly ‘BPA-free’ products are being mislead into thinking they are bisphenol free and therefore safe.

The new study employed an innovative ‘organotypic culture’ system that took tissue samples from mouse, rat and human fetal testis, in order to create an experimental model that would accurately reproduce some of the dynamics observable within in vivo (living organism-based) systems that are not ascertainable within conventional in vitro (cell-based) models. They termed this experimental environment the fetal testis assay (FeTA) system.

Disturbingly, they found:

“With the use of a culture system that we developed (fetal testis assay [FeTA]), we previously showed that 10 nmol/L BPA reduces basal testosterone secretion of human fetal testis explants and that the susceptibility to BPA is at least 100-fold lower in rat and mouse fetal testes.” [emphasis added]

In other word, the endocrine-disruptive effect of bisphenol A – particularly its ability to suppress the testosterone-mediated mascularization process during embryogenesis — may be at least 100 times more toxic than previously believed.

How so?

Conventional toxicological risk assessments of novel new chemicals like bisphenol A are invariably performed on rodents, with effects (lethal dose 50%/LD50) extrapolated to humans based merely on body weight differences. What these do not account for is the contrasting ontological differences between cells of different species. Nor do these acute lethal response studies (LD50) account for the non-linear response between dose and effect (i.e. monotonicity).

An accumulating body of scientific evidence has forced an acknowledgment today that the low-dose effects of chemicals on hormonal systems include the following counterintuitive response: a lower dose may have more profoundly disruptive effects on our hormonal system than higher doses.

This concept may be so counterintuitive, that it begs for deeper explanation. For instance, if chemical compound X at 1 milligram induces programmed cell death within an exposed cell, and .01 milligram of compound X induces a phenotypal change in the cell consistent with cancer, it will be the latter effect (the lower dose) that may be more detrimental in the long term, as cell death follows with stem-cell mediated replacement of the damaged differentiated cell; whereas chemically-induced carcinogenesis may result in the death of the entire organism).

Case in point:

“Using the FeTA system, we previously reported that basal testosterone secretion by human testes was not affected by 10,000 nmol/L DES, but it was reduced by concentrations as low as 10 nmol/L of BPA. Conversely, 10 nmol/L and 100 nmol/L BPA did not affect testosterone secretion by both mouse and rat testes, and 10,000 nmol/L BPA was needed to observe a significant reduction (58).”

The researchers also noted that during the development of the nascent male human in embryogenesis exposure to bisphenols in the 6.5th and 14th gestational weeks – the window known to be critical for what is known as the ”masculinization programming window’ – these chemicals are likely contributing to the alarming worldwide increase in male reproductive disorders, such as such as “hypospadias [abnormally placed urinary hole], cryptorchidism [the absence of one or both of the testicles], incomplete development or agenesis of prostate and seminal vesicles, and reduction of the anogenital distance (AGD) [ the distance from the anus to the genitalia] and penis length.”

Clearly, conventional toxicology, where the assumption is that a higher concentration of a toxic substance is linearly connected to a higher quantifiable adverse response, is no longer realistic. Living systems are highly dynamic and complex and one can never predict how a xenobiotic chemical will affect it. Any biologically incompatible chemical, introduced at a critically important developmental window, could result in untold adverse effects. The point is to eliminate unnecessary exposures, instead of abiding by what regulators consider ‘an acceptable level of harm.’

Clearly, the time is now to call for a ban of bisphenol containing products. While 3.4 millions tons are produced annually, with 20% of this being used as epoxy resin to coat food and beverage metallic cans, we can no longer pretend, given the latest research, that this chemical is not causing massive damage to exposed populations. The researchers comment:

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a widely studied typical endocrine-disrupting chemical, and one of the major new issues is the safe replacement of this commonly used compound. Bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) are already or are planned to be used as BPA alternatives. With the use of a culture system that we developed (fetal testis assay [FeTA]), we previously showed that 10 nmol/L BPA reduces basal testosterone secretion of human fetal testis explants and that the susceptibility to BPA is at least 100-fold lower in rat and mouse fetal testes. Here, we show that addition of LH in the FeTA system considerably enhances BPA minimum effective concentration in mouse and human but not in rat fetal testes. Then, using the FeTA system without LH (the experimental conditions in which mouse and human fetal testes are most sensitive to BPA), we found that, as for BPA, 10 nmol/L BPS or BPF is sufficient to decrease basal testosterone secretion by human fetal testes with often nonmonotonic dose-response curves. In fetal mouse testes, the dose-response curves were mostly monotonic and the minimum effective concentrations were 1,000 nmol/L for BPA and BPF and 100 nmol/L for BPS. Finally, 10,000 nmol/L BPA, BPS, or BPF reduced Insl3 expression in cultured mouse fetal testes. This is the first report describing BPS and BPF adverse effects on a physiologic function in humans and rodents.

On a Brighter Note…

While chemicals like BPA represent a source of great harm, there is plenty of research revealing that we can mitigate and/or undo some of the damage associated with its ubiquitous exposure, when eliminating it all together is not an option. In line with our mission: Education Equal Empowerment, we have gathered up abstracts from the National Library of Medicine indicating the in-built resilience of biological systems to attenuate the adverse effects of these chemicals, such as:

  • Genistein: This phytocompound, found in physiologicallly significant concentrations in soy, red clover and coffee, is capable of reducing the adverse effect of bisphenol A exposure. Read Studies.
  • Alpha Lipoic Acid: This compound commonly found in health food stores has been found to mitigate bisphenol A-induced testicular toxicity. Read Study.
  • Probiotics: The beneficial bacterial strains Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei reduce the intestinal absorption of bisphenol A. Read Study.
  • Folic Acid: This vitamin (albeit synthetic; choose folate whenever possible), has been found to attenuate the adverse epigenetic effects of bisphenol A, such as hypomethylation of DNA. Read Study.
  • Black Tea: This natural herbal compound reduces the adverse effects of bisphenol A on cells.Read Study.
  • Kimchi Probiotics: A bacterial strain in this fermented cabbage extract has been found to degrade bisphenol A. Read Study.
  • Royal Jelly: Produced by worker bees for the queen, this supernal elixir has been found also to inhibit the estrogenic and proliferative (potentially cancer-promoting) effects of bisphenol A. Read Study

Clearly, the best case scenario is avoiding exposure to bisphenols whenever possible. However, simply accepting a thermal receipt at a purchase, or consuming a meal whose ingredients derive from canned foods, makes avoidance a very difficult proposition. We hope that this research will foment a movement to pressure manufacturers and regulators to clamp down on the use of bisphenols.

Billionaire bought James Watson’s Nobel prize medal in order to return it

Alisher Usmanov wants medal to remain with Watson and for money he paid for it to be donated to scientific research

Alisher Usmanov

Alisher Usmanov: ‘In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognising his achievements is unacceptable.’ Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

The richest man in Russia and a major shareholder in Arsenal football club has come forward as the buyer of James Watson’s Nobel medal – declaring that he now plans to give the piece back.

Alisher Usmanov, the Russian entrepreneur, paid $4.1m (£2.6m) for the medal at an auction at Christie’s in New York city last week, but said he will return it to Watson, who with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, shared the 1962 Nobel prize in medicine for discovering the double helical structure of DNA.

Usmanov, whose steel, mining and other assets are worth $15bn according to Forbes, said he wanted the medal to remain with its rightful owner and for the money he spent on the item to be donated to scientific research.

“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognising his achievements is unacceptable,” Usmanov said in a statement.

“James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him,” he added.

Watson became the first living laureate to auction his Nobel medal in a sale that earned far more than the $3m that some experts had predicted. Last year, the family of Francis Crick, who died in 2004, sold his medal for $2.27m.

Before the auction, Watson said he was selling the medal to raise money for the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, from where he was suspended as chancellor after he claimed that black people were not as intelligent as whites.

Watson has been widely condemned for making sexist remarks too. He also raised the possibility of using the funds to buy a Hockney painting.

Crick and Watson’s discovery of the double helix structure of DNA drew heavily on the crystallography work of Rosalind Franklin at Kings College London. Franklin died of cancer in 1958, four years before the Nobel prize was awarded.

After the unusual intervention, Usmanov said that Watson could now keep the medal but donate the proceeds of the sale to the research institutions that had “nurtured him”, including the universities of Cambridge, Chicago and Indiana.

“Dr Watson’s work contributed to cancer research, the illness from which my father died. It is important for me that the money that I spent on this medal will go to supporting scientific research, and the medal will stay with the person who deserved it. I wouldn’t like the medal of the distinguished scientist to be an object on sale,” Usmanov’s statement said.

Did Deadly Gamma-Ray Burst Cause a Mass Extinction on Earth?

A gamma-ray burst, the most powerful kind of explosion known in the universe, may have triggered a mass extinction on Earth within the past billion years, researchers say.
These deadly outbursts could help explain the so-called Fermi paradox, the seeming contradiction between the high chance of alien life and the lack of evidence for it, scientists added.
Gamma-ray bursts are brief, intense explosions of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation. These outbursts give off as much energy as the sun during its entire 10-billion-year lifetime in anywhere from milliseconds to minutes. Scientists think gamma-ray bursts may be caused by giant exploding stars known as hypernovas, or by collisions between pairs of dead stars known as neutron stars. [Top 10 Greatest Explosions Ever]

If a gamma-ray burst exploded within the Milky Way, it could wreak extraordinary havoc if it were pointed directly at Earth, even from thousands of light-years away. Although gamma rays would not penetrate Earth’s atmosphere well enough to burn the ground, they would chemically damage the atmosphere, depleting the ozone layer that protects the planet from damaging ultraviolet rays that could trigger mass extinctions. It’s also possible that gamma-ray bursts may spew out cosmic rays, which are high-energy particles that may create an experience similar to a nuclear explosion for those on the side of the Earth facing the explosion, causing radiation sickness.
To see how great a threat gamma-ray bursts might pose to Earth, researchers investigated how likely it was that such an explosion could have inflicted damage on the planet in the past.
Gamma-ray bursts are traditionally divided into two groups — long and short — depending on whether they last more or less than 2 seconds. Long gamma-ray bursts are associated with the deaths of massive stars, while short gamma-ray bursts are most likely caused by the mergers of neutron stars.
For the most part, long gamma-ray bursts happen in galaxies very different from the Milky Way — dwarf galaxies low in any element heavier than hydrogen and helium. Any long gamma-ray bursts in the Milky Way will likely be confined in regions of the galaxy that are similarly low in any element heavier than hydrogen and helium, the researchers said.
The scientists discovered the chance that a long gamma-ray burst could trigger mass extinctions on Earth was 50 percent in the past 500 million years, 60 percent in the past 1 billion years, and more than 90 percent in the past 5 billion years. For comparison, the solar system is about 4.6 billion years old.
Short gamma-ray bursts happen about five times more often than long ones. However, since these shorter bursts are weaker, the researchers found they had negligible life-threatening effects on Earth. They also calculated that gamma-ray bursts from galaxies outside the Milky Way probably pose no threat to Earth.
These findings suggest that a nearby gamma-ray burst may have caused one of the five greatest mass extinctions on Earth, such as the Ordovician extinction that occurred 440 million years ago. The Ordovician extinction was the earliest of the so-called Big Five extinction events, and is thought by many to be the second largest. [Wipe Out: History’s Most Mysterious Extinctions]
The scientists also investigated the danger that gamma-ray bursts may pose for life elsewhere in the Milky Way. Stars are packed more densely together toward the center of the galaxy, meaning worlds there face a greater danger of gamma-ray bursts. Worlds in the region about 6,500 light-years around the Milky Way’s core, where 25 percent of the galaxy’s stars reside, faced more than a 95 percent chance of a lethal gamma-ray burst within the past billion years. The researchers suggest that life as it is known on Earth could survive with certainty only in the outskirts of the Milky Way, more than 32,600 light-years from the galactic core.
The researchers also explored the danger gamma-ray bursts could pose for the universe as a whole. They suggest that because of gamma-ray bursts, life as it is known on Earth might safely develop in only 10 percent of galaxies. They also suggest that such life could only have developed in the past 5 billion years. Before then, galaxies were smaller in size, and gamma-ray bursts were therefore always close enough to cause mass extinctions to any potentially life-harboring planets.
“This may be an explanation, or at least a partial one, to what is called the Fermi paradox or the ‘Big Silence,'” said lead study author Tsvi Piran, a physicist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Why we haven’t encountered advanced civilizations so far? The Milky Way galaxy is much older than the solar system and there was ample time and ample space — the number of planetary systems with conditions similar to Earth is huge — for life to develop elsewhere in the galaxy. So why we haven’t encountered advanced civilizations so far?”
The answer to Fermi’s paradox may be that gamma-ray bursts have struck many life-harboring planets. The most severe criticism of these estimates “is that we address life as we know it on Earth,” Piran told Live Science. “One can imagine very different forms of life that are resilient to the relevant radiation.”

Halving of malaria deaths celebrated

Global efforts have halved the number of people dying from malaria – a tremendous achievement, the World Health Organization says.

It says between 2001 and 2013, 4.3 million deaths were averted, 3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa.

Each year, more people are being reached with life-saving malaria interventions, the WHO says.

In 2004, 3% of those at risk had access to mosquito nets, but now 50% do.

Villagers from the Highlands in Papua New Guinea NG have been trained to detect and treat the disease in the community

Winning the fight

There has been a scaling up of diagnostic testing, and more people now are able to receive medicines to treat the parasitic infection, which is spread by the bites of infected mosquitoes.

An increasing number of countries are moving towards malaria elimination.

In 2013, two countries – Azerbaijan and Sri Lanka – reported zero indigenous cases for the first time, and 11 others (Argentina, Armenia, Egypt, Georgia, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Oman, Paraguay, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) succeeded in maintaining zero cases.

In Africa, where 90% of all malaria deaths occur, infections have decreased significantly.

Here, the number of people infected has fallen by a quarter – from 173 million in 2000 to 128 million in 2013. This is despite a 43% increase in the African population living in malaria transmission areas.

WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan said: “These tremendous achievements are the result of improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing.”

But she added: “We must not be complacent. Most malaria-endemic countries are still far from achieving universal coverage with life-saving malaria interventions.”

Emerging drug- and insecticide-resistance continued to pose a major threat, and if left unaddressed, could trigger an upsurge in deaths, she warned.


Malaria in Africa


deaths from malaria in 2013


drop in mortality since 2000

  • 49% of at-risk people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to mosquito nets
  • 70% of malaria patients could be treated but not all sick children are taken to a clinic
  • 43% of pregnant women did not receive a single dose of preventative medicine

There are also fears that the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa may set back the malaria fight.

Globally, an estimated 3.2 billion people are at risk of being infected with malaria and developing the disease.

Although malaria funding totalled $2.7bn (£1.7bn) in 2013 – a threefold increase since 2005 – it is still significantly below the $5.1bn needed to achieve global targets for malaria control and elimination, says WHO.

Based on current trends, 64 countries are on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target of reversing the incidence of malaria by the end of this year.

Animals’ 3D brain compass found

By recording from the brains of bats as they flew and landed, scientists have found that the animals have a “neural compass” – allowing them to keep track of exactly where and even which way up they are.

These head-direction cells track bats in three dimensions as they manoeuvre.

The researchers think a similar 3D internal navigation system is likely to be found throughout the animal kingdom.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

Egyptian fruit bat in flight (c) Yossi Yovel
The researchers think their findings in bats could apply throughout the animal kingdom

Lead researcher Arseny Finkelstein, from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, explained that this was the first time measurements had been taken from animals as they had flown around a space in any direction and even carried out their acrobatic upside-down landings.

“We’re the only lab currently able to conduct wireless recordings in flying animals,” he told BBC News.

“A tiny device attached to the bats allows us to monitor the activity of single neurons while the animal is freely moving.”

Decades of study of the brain’s internal navigation system garnered three renowned neuroscientists this year’s Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine.

The research, primarily in rats, revealed how animals had “place” and “grid” cells – essentially building a map in the brain and coding for where on that map an animal was at any time.

Mr Finkelstein and his colleagues’ work in bats has revealed that their brains also have “pitch” and “roll” cells. These tell the animal whether it is pointing upwards or downwards and whether its head is tilted one way or the other.

“Some of the neurons are encoding a combination [of the two],” Mr Finkelstein explained. “So they’re sensitive to a particular position of the head when it’s at a particular angle.”

Taking recordings from these head-direction cells to see exactly when they were active, the researchers showed that the animals had a 3D positioning system – a physical representation in their brains of where they were, where they were pointing which way up they were.

“And we don’t think our results are specific to bats,” said Mr Finkelstein.

Egyptian fruit bat hanging upside down (c) Merlin D Tuttle/ Bat Conservation International

“Bats and rats are separated by millions of years of evolution. And yet, if you look at the same brain regions of these two species, you find place cells, head-direction cells, and you find grid cells.

“That’s why we think this might be relevant for humans too. So we think that’s one of the exciting elements in neuroscience.”

In a related article, Prof May-Britt Moser, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, who shared in the 2014 Nobel, described the work as a “beautiful study”.

Mr Finkelstein added that an understanding of how animals, including humans, built a “sense of place” was important in our understanding of memory.

“To remember events, we need some sort of encoding of where we were,” he explained.

“So, many people think these cells could be a scaffold for [our memories].”