The week’s most astounding developments from the neobiological frontier.

July 14, 2022

Skin stem cells protected by deleting protein

A mechanosensitive “touch” protein known as Piezo1 has been implicated in skin stiffening and the preservation of an important pool of cells in skin known as interfollicular epidermal stem cells—the loss of which is associated with aging. According to researchers at Kyoto University in Japan, deleting this protein in the skin of mice ameliorated the dysregulation of these stem cells in aging skin, whereas activating it led to atrophy of the skin vasculature and skin aging. The work could “provide a potential mechanobiology-based therapeutic strategy against skin disorders in aging,” they write. Nature Aging

CRISPR confers disease resistance in wheat

Agricultural researchers at Northwest A&F University in Yangling, China, have identified a “disease-susceptibility” gene in wheat plants called TaPsIPK1, which is targeted by the fungus Puccinia striiformis, the pathogenic cause of wheat stripe rust, a disease devastating to the crop. The fungus co-opts the gene when it contacts wheat stalks, helping it to invade and infect. In field trials the researchers showed that using CRISPR to inactivate this gene confers broad-spectrum resistance to the pathogens without impacting things like plant quality or crop yield over a two-year period. With as much as 5–10 percent crop losses caused by the disease, this could potentially protect millions of tons of wheat annually. Cell

Universal cancer proteomic map

A new resource called the “pan-cancer proteomic map” was announced this week by a team from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, and the University of Sydney in Australia. Available online, the map pools proteomic and drug response data from 949 various cultured cancer cells derived from more than 40 different types of human cancer found in 28 different tissues in the human body. It reveals a highly connected protein network in cancer cells, and the researchers used deep learning to identify key genes and potential biomarkers of drug responses. “This dataset represents a major resource for the scientific community, for biomarker discovery and for the study of fundamental aspects of protein regulation that are not evident from existing molecular datasets,” they write. Cancer Cell

Expert panel highlights unmet spiritual needs

People who pray for themselves or their loved ones suffering serious illness do not expect the medical establishment to acknowledge or support their spiritual beliefs, but according to a panel of experts from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, perhaps they should. Systematically analyzing thousands of articles published from 2000–2022 that touted evidence of the beneficial effect of spirituality in serious illness or poor health, the panel distilled top-level implications for health care: Spiritual care should be considered a routine part of person-centered, value-sensitive care; many patients already seek spiritual support during their care and face unmet spiritual needs; and health care providers, therefore, could benefit from training about the role community-based spiritual support could play in patient care. Furthermore, they found that spirituality should be considered a social factor to be taken into account in health research and programs. JAMA

Increased risk seen in children of a same-sex parent with anxiety disorder

A study of 398 children in Canada found that those who have a parent of the same sex with an anxiety disorder were more likely to have an anxiety disorder themselves when compared to children who have an opposite-sex parent with an anxiety disorder—a result that strongly suggests environmental “nurture” mechanism, such as modeling, behind the vertical transmission of the mental health conditions. The work has profound implications for addressing the risk of future anxiety disorders in children as well, the authors write, calling for future studies to investigate whether treating anxiety disorder in parents could protect their offspring from later developing them. JAMA Network Open

The sunscreen diet?

Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel have discovered that UVB exposure enhances food-seeking in males through a mechanism involving the hormone ghrelin, which becomes activated in the skin. The same effect is not seen in women, though, because the mechanism is disrupted by estrogen hormones. The work is tantalizing because it’s not clear what effect age or ethnicity has on this process or how the research could lead to new sex-based treatments of endocrine diseases. Experts who reviewed the study say the work highlights how the role of the skin in energy homeostasis and metabolism has been overlooked and deserves further research. We wonder whether phototherapy or sun blockers could become part of some future trendy diet. Nature Metabolism