Submersible captures vibrant detail of deep-sea life


A collaborative effort between Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the San Diego Natural History Museum has captured unprecedented details of vibrant sea life and ecosystems in the Gulf of California, including new species and marine animals previously never seen alive.

Part of the research involved “DeepSee,” a three-person submersible, which explored deep-sea reefs and undersea mountains (seamounts) at depths below 50 meters (164 feet) - far deeper than can be reached by scuba divers.

Some of Mexico’s top marine scientists took part in the expedition and the work continues at Mexican universities where detailed genetic and morphological investigations of the findings are underway. But along with the excitement of discovery came disturbing signs of human impacts in the gulf, in particular signs that overfishing and pollution has decimated other once-vibrant ecosystems.

Fighting Lyme disease

A research team led by the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology and Albany Medical College has shed light on the important role of natural killer (NK) T cells in fighting Lyme disease and the arthritis commonly associated with it.

Lyme disease, the most common insect-borne disease in the United States, is typically transmitted to humans out hiking who are bitten by an infected deer tick.

Discovered in the 1990s, NK T cells are disease-fighting white blood cells of the immune system whose inner workings are still being defined.

The study reported NK T cells were found to both clear the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and also prevent the chronic inflammatory infection that leads to debilitating arthritis. The finding raises hope that immunological agents developed to trigger more NK T cell production could combat the disease.

Insights into ALS

Astrocytes (star-shaped cells in the brain and spinal cord) are crucial for the survival and wellbeing of motor neurons that control voluntary muscle movements. Defective astrocytes are the main suspects in the usually fatal muscle-wasting disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Now, researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, using the first ALS model based on human embryonic stem cells, have confirmed the role of dysfunctional astrocytes in killing off healthy motor neurons. Perhaps more importantly, treating cultured cells with a powerful anti-oxidant (apocynin) was shown effective in fighting off this type of nerve cell neuron death.

The findings provide insight into the toxic pathways that contribute to the demise of motor neurons in ALS and open up new opportunities for drug-screening experiments using human stem-cell ALS models.