Spotlights on Hot Science
These stories describe NIGMS-funded medical research projects. Although only the lead scientists are named, they work together in teams to do this research.
Given a suitable surface, water and nutrients, bacteria will likely put down stakes and form communities called biofilms. These sticky, slimy microbial metropolises wreak havoc when they clog implanted medical devices like stents and catheters.
Researchers at Princeton University (including Bonnie Bassler; see "Bugging the Bugs" in the October 2004 issue of Findings) discovered how biofilms block such tubular devices. They created a time-lapse movie of the process (see https://publications.nigms.nih.gov/multimedia/biofilm.html) by recording fluorescently labeled bacteria through a microscope.
The scientists concluded that, after forming a layer on the inside of the tube (green), bacteria grow sticky streamers (red). The streamers tangle into a sievelike mesh that traps
passing bacteria and debris, quickly blocking the tube completely. The researchers suspect that streamers are also the root cause of biofilms in industrial water filters, sewage
facilities and natural settings like rivers and soil. If they could stop streamers from forming, scientists might be able to slow or even prevent bacterial clogging in medical and
What's your blood type: A, B, AB or O? Rh positive or negative? In addition to these familiar blood groups, there are more than 30 others, with names like Colton, Kidd, Diego and Duffy. Each defines a specific molecular variation on the surface of red blood cells. New blood types are usually discovered in—and named after—someone whose body launches a life-threatening immune attack against donated blood.
One rare blood type, Vel-negative, was first noticed in 1952, but its molecular basis remained mysterious until this year. Bryan Ballif of the University of Vermont, along with scientists in France, discovered that people with Vel-negative blood have a genetic variation that results in the absence of a tiny, previously unknown protein called SMIM1 on their red blood cells.
About 1 in 2,500 people in North America and Europe are Vel-negative. If these people need blood transfusions, they may require Vel-negative blood to avoid
potentially fatal complications. The scientists developed two genetic tests that will quickly detect Velnegative blood, so those who have it can be cared for properly.
—Alisa Zapp Machalek
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