You may have missed… capsule Faecal Microbiota Transplants, brains get too hot, and potential for liquid water on Mars?

Faecal Microbiota Transplants via capsule instead of by colonoscopy

Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) – taking a poo sample from someone else and introducing it into a patient’s gut – have been very successful in treating recurring infection with the bacterium Clostridium difficile.

Faecal Microbiota Transplants preparations restore healthy intestinal microbiota – the microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea, that live in the digestive tract – without having to administer antibiotics which can further damage it. This process usually involves administration of liquid Faecal Microbiota Transplants via colonoscopy, but new research suggests that capsules containing freeze-dried microbes taken orally has similar safety and effectiveness.

In the study, 301 Faecal Microbiota Transplants were performed in 269 patients, with two-thirds of the procedures done by capsule Faecal Microbiota Transplants. Cure rates were 86% at one month and 81% at two months and there was no significant difference in cure rates between capsule and colonoscopic Faecal Microbiota Transplants. 

“Capsule FMT can avoid complications of colonoscopy and facilitate access to this potentially life-saving therapy,” says first author Dr Byron Vaughn, gastroenterologist and associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School in the US.

The research has been published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Capsule faecal microbiota transplants
Capsules for oral delivery of Faecal Microbiota Transplants. Credit: University of Minnesota Microbiota Therapeutics Program

What happens to the brain when it gets too hot?

Researchers have combined genetic technology and neurophysiology to figure out what happens inside the brains of living organisms when the temperature around them gets uncomfortably warm.

“We wanted to look at the mechanisms that limit organisms’ thermal tolerance. Which animals will survive when the Earth’s temperature increases due to climate change, and why? We chose to look at the brain,” says first author Anna Andreassen, a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

They did this through experiments with newly hatched zebrafish larvae (Danio rerio) that had been genetically modified so that the neurons in the brain give off fluorescent light when they’re active.

As the temperature rose, the brain stopped responding to stimuli and was completely inactive. But then, when they turned the temperature up a little more, the whole brain lit up in what might have been some kind of seizure.

“To our surprise, we found that the oxygen level played a part in controlling the thermal tolerance. When we added extra oxygen, the larval fish did better at high temperatures, had higher brain activity and also recovered faster from being exposed to upper thermal limits compared to the fish with low oxygen,” explains Adreassen.

Being “insensitive” to fluctuations in oxygen levels could thus be an evolutionary advantage as the temperature on Earth rises.

The research has been published in a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Woman holding tank of zebrafish
Zebrafish play the lead role when PhD candidate Anna H. Andreassen conducts experiments to find out how brain cells react to temperature changes. Credit: Ingebjørg Hestvik

New evidence for the possible existence of liquid water on Mars

An international team of researchers have new evidence that liquid water might exist beneath the south polar ice cap of Mars.

They used spacecraft laser-altimeter measurements of the shape of the upper surface of the ice cap to identify subtle patterns in its height and then showed that these patterns match computer model predictions for how a body of water beneath the ice cap would affect the surface.

Their findings agree with earlier radar measurements that were originally interpreted to show a potential area of liquid water beneath the ice, but which some other studies suggested was not due to liquid water.

The results, reported in the journal Nature Astronomy, provide the first independent line of evidence, using data other than radar, that there is liquid water beneath Mars’ south polar ice cap.

850 mars water. University of cambridge
The left-hand panel shows the surface topography of Mars’s south pole, with the outline of the south polar cap in black. The light blue line shows the area used in the modelling experiments, and the green square shows the region containing the inferred subglacial water. The ice in the region is around 1500 m thick. The right-hand panel shows the surface undulation identified by the Cambridge-led research team. It is visible as the red area, which is elevated by 5-8 m above the regional topography, with a smaller depression (2-4 m below the regional topography) upstream (towards the top right of the image). The black outline shows the area of water as inferred by the orbiting radar. Credit: University of Cambridge

Tracking turtle nesting grounds

Newly discovered turtle nesting sites in the Saudi Arabian Red Sea could help coastal megaprojects minimise their impact on these endangered species, according to a new study in PeerJ.

Saudi Arabia’s portion of the Red Sea has about 1,150 islands, yet only a few have been surveyed for sea turtlesa lack of data which makes it difficult to predict and prevent potential ecological damage by coastal developments.

So, in 35 visits from March to November 2019, researchers visited three undocumented beaches in the central Red Sea to look for signs of turtle nesting.

They found evidence of hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nests on two of the beaches. The discovery suggests that the islands in this area could contain a large proportion of the Red Sea turtle population, raising questions about how to protect them.

“A wide-scale survey of all the islands off the Red Sea coast to look for nesting evidence and migration corridors will help us identify priority areas,” says first author Kirsty Scott, a Ph.D. student at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia.

Find out how KAUST researchers are working to protect endangered Red Sea turtles. Credit: © 2022 KAUST; Morgan Bennett Smith.

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