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Apr 26, 2017

New method for tapping vast plant pharmacopeia to make more effective drugs - Rokas Lab

Cocaine, nicotine, capsaicin. These are just three familiar examples of the hundreds of thousands of small molecules (also called specialized or secondary metabolites) that plants use as chemical ammunition to protect themselves from predation. Unfortunately, identifying the networks of genes that plants use to make these biologically active compounds, which are the source of many of the drugs that people use and abuse daily, has vexed scientists for years, hindering efforts to tap this vast pharmacopeia to produce new and improved therapeutics. Now, Vanderbilt University geneticists think they have come up with an effective and powerful new way for identifying these elusive gene networks, which typically consist of a handful to dozens of different genes, that may overcome this road block.

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Apr 26, 2017

Forget sponges: the earliest animals were marine jellies - Rokas Lab

For the last decade, zoologists have been battling over the question, “What was the oldest branch of the animal family tree?” Was it the sponges, as they had long thought, or was it a distinctly different set of creatures, the delicate marine predators called comb jellies? The answer to this question could have a major impact on scientists’ thinking about how the nervous system, digestive tract, and other basic organs in modern animals evolved.

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Apr 25, 2017

Wisecaver named Vanderbilt Postdoc of the Year

Biological Sciences postdoctoral scholar Jennifer Wisecaver from the Rokas lab has been named this year’s “Postdoc of the Year” by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs for her exceptional scholarship. Kevin Kohl from the Bordenstein lab has been named runner up.

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Mar 21, 2017

New tool for combating mosquito-borne disease: insect parasite genes

The Bordenstein Lab together with researchers from Yale have identified the specific genes that allow the bacteria Wolbachia to hijack a host insect’s reproductive system. This discovery will potentially help researchers develop methods for controlling insect-borne diseases like dengue and Zika viruses.

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Jan 24, 2017

What Did Neanderthals Leave to Modern Humans? Some Surprises.

Geneticists tell us that somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of the genome of modern Europeans and Asians consists of DNA inherited from Neanderthals, our prehistoric cousins. At Vanderbilt University, John Anthony Capra, an evolutionary genomics professor, has been combining high-powered computation and a medical records databank to learn what a Neanderthal heritage — even a fractional one — might mean for people today.

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Dec 6, 2016

Each animal species hosts a unique microbial community and benefits from it

Each animal species hosts its own, unique community of microbes that can significantly improve its health and fitness. That is the implication of a laboratory study that investigated four different animal groups and their associated microbiota. The research found that each species within the group has a distinctive microbial community. “Previous research has tended to concentrate on the negative effects of microbes. In this case we are showing that whole communities of microbes have positive effects as well,” said Vanderbilt graduate student Andrew Brooks, co-first author of the study.

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Oct 25, 2016

Steve Baskauf and Vanderbilt's Bicentennial Oak

From the October 19th issue of MyVU: Vanderbilt University’s Bicentennial Oak has been recognized as a Landmark Tree by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council. The designation is given to Tennessee trees that are “commonly recognized as an established and familiar feature of the community or can be confirmed as a significant part of the community’s heritage.” The Bicentennial Oak is the only tree on the Vanderbilt campus known to predate the university.

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Oct 24, 2016

Suzana Herculano-Houzel examines the evolution of the brain

In News@Vanderbilt (Oct. 17, 2016) Suzana Herculano-Houzel examines the question, “What is different about humans that allowed them to evolve brains with so many neurons, which large apes can’t afford?”

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Oct 24, 2016

The Bordensteins on

You would expect a spider to excel at pulling strings, but in this case, it's a virus that appears to have pulled the strings of widow spiders -- DNA strings, that is. A husband-and-wife research team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville recently discovered eerily spider-like DNA hidden within an itsy-bitsy virus named WO. The newfound DNA is somewhat similar to a portion of the gene that makes widow spiders venomous, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications last week. "This is the first time we've seen a possible transfer of genetic information between an animal and a bacterial virus," said Seth Bordenstein, a biologist at the university who co-authored the study with his wife and lab partner, Sarah Bordenstein.

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Oct 11, 2016

Bordensteins Discover a Bacterial Virus with Animal DNA

If you pick a random species of insect and look inside its cells, there’s a 40 percent chance that you’ll find bacteria called Wolbachia. And if you look at Wolbachia carefully, you'll almost certainly find a virus called WO, lying in wait within its DNA. And if you look at WO carefully, as Seth and Sarah Bordenstein, from Vanderbilt University, have done, you'll find parts of genes that look like they come from animals—including a toxin gene that makes the bite of the black widow spider so deadly.

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