Research Report: Discovery sheds light on mysterious glow of sea

Below the ocean surface in tropical seas are often seen dazzling displays of green light produced by marine fireworms. Now researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD have uncovered how (and why) the light is produced.

The chemical process responsible for the bioluminescence appears to involve a specific light-producing protein (photoprotein). The study also found the fireworms use bioluminescence both to attract suitors for mating rituals (sustained light) and as a defensive measure (short bursts of light). The report is the cover story of the current issue of the journal Invertebrate Biology.

Simplifying surgery

With a single incision, through the navel, UCSD Medical Center surgeons successfully removed a cancerous kidney tumor while saving the patient’s kidney. Specialized instruments were passed through the 3.5-centimeter incision that allowed the removal of the tumor followed by a reconstruction of the kidney.

The highly involved, minimally invasive surgery allowed surgeons to save more than 90 percent of the patient’s kidney. UCSD Medical Center is the second hospital in the world to perform this procedure.

Regenerating axons

UCSD School of Medicine researchers have demonstrated regeneration of a critical type of nerve fiber (corticospinal motor axons) that travels between the brain and the spinal cord and is required for voluntary movement.

The finding, in animal models, establishes a method for regenerating these axons.

Axons of the corticospinal tract are long, slender projections of neurons that travel between the cerebral cortex of the brain and the spinal cord carrying signals for movement from the brain to the body. Restoring these axons is an essential step in one day enabling patients to regain voluntary movement after spinal cord injury. The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Controlling the ‘clock’

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have made an advance in the quest to understand the proteins that control the human circadian clock - the 24-hour wake-sleep cycle that, when interrupted, can lead to jet lag and other sleep disturbances.

Cryptochrome proteins control the “master clock” in humans and other mammals. It has however, been impossible to create 3-D models in order to study these proteins. Instead, researchers turned to flowering plants that contain a photolyase protein that is surprisingly similar to human cryptochrome proteins. Researchers were able to determine the molecular structure of photolyase proteins thus providing a model for studies of the cryptochrome proteins in the human clock. The findings appear in “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS).