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Featured Researchers: This Week in Science

We talk a lot about science and research, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the people who actually do the research. In case you haven’t followed our previous feature, here is where we share some of the most interesting studies from the week, and share a bit of information about the scientists who made them.

Scientists use fMRI technique to study the brain of novice and experienced writers as they write

Martin Lotze University of Greiftswald

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Martin Lotze
University of Greifswald
Research Interests: Neuroscience, Emotion, Stroke rehabilitation, Motor Learning, TMS, and Functional Imaging. Since 2001, he has published 87 articles and is one of the most active neuroscientists in the field.

Saturn’s moon Titan may be older than Saturn itself

Kathleen Mandt NASA.

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Kathleen Mandt
Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio
Research Interests: She has nearly a decade of experience in planetary research, six years of which were spent working on NASA-funded instrument teams. She has used numerical modeling to study atmospheric dynamics and photochemistry, with a special focus on isotopic evolution of atmospheres, and her career path was quite different from what we usually see.

“Working in planetary science is an opportunity to go beyond a single discipline and immerse oneself in a range of scientific studies without limits!”

Fish do feel and acknowledge pain. They also multi task and have have cultural traditions

Culum Brown Macquarie University.

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Culum Brown
Macquarie University
Research Interests:  He is mainly interested in Behavioural Ecology and in particular predator avoidance behaviour, learning and memory in freshwater fishes. He has conducted comparative research on the behavioural ecology of predator avoidance in Austalian freshwater fishes (Uni. Queensland) as well as examining social learning in guppies and salmon. He has been associated with several Universities in the UK, such as Cambridge and Edinburgh. He also has interests in applied research in conservation biology and fisheries management.

X-rays image atoms during chemical reactions for the first time

makoto fujita university of tokyo

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Makoto Fujita
University of Tokyo
Research Interests: His most notable papers focus on coordonation polymers, self-assembling molecular systems utilizing transition metals and the chemistry of isolated nano-space. His main goal is translating natural weak interactions into design principle for artificial molecular assemblies by showing the self-assembly of well-designed molecules into functional molecular systems.

Invasive ant has bear trap-like jaw which can propel it through the air

D. Magdalena Sorder ants

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: D. Magdalena Sorger
North Carolina State University
Research Interests: Ants! She initially graduated from the University of Economics and Business Administration in Vienna, Austria, and even took an MSc in International Business Administration, before she fell in love with biology. Her story is quite an inspiration for everybody to follow their dream – her dream is now following a PhD in entomology, focusing on ants.

Scientists develop an “unfeelability cloak”

Tiemo Bückmann Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Tiemo Bückmann
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Research Interests: His main research focus is on metamaterials and the exciting optical and acoustical properties which can be obtained through them. He has published a paper on invisibility cloaking in a diffusive light scattering medium, and of course, on the “unfeelability cloak”.

Strict diet doubles lifespan of worms

David R. Sherwood Duke University

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: David R. Sherwood
Duke University
Research Interests: His research is directed at elucidating mechanisms underlying morphogenetic processes in development. His lab primarily uses the model system C. elegans in research, and combines powerful genetic and systems biology approaches with live-cell imaging to address three main topics: Tissue Remodeling and Connection, Stem Cell-Niche Interactions and Nutritional Regulation of Late Larval Development.

Pesticides threaten bees, birds and worms alike

Scientific Paper: Worldwide Integrated Assessment.
Featured Researcher: Jean-Marc Bonmatin 
National Centre for Scientific Research (France)
Research Interests: I couldn’t find much info about mister Bonmatin outside for his published papers. Judging by those, his main research interest is honeybees, and in particular elements which have a negative impact on honeybees – be it pesticides (neocotinoids) or parasites.


Strict diet doubles lifespan of worms

Taking food away from C. elegans in larval stages suspends their development; while they still wiggle around and look for food, they are in a state of arrested development. However, when food becomes plentiful again, they start to develop normally – but live twice as long.

This shows the nematode worm C. elegans with muscle cells fluorescently labeled in green and germ cells fluorescently labeled in red. These cells and others pause at a checkpoint in development and slow their aging when worms encounter a period of starvation. Credit: David Sherwood Lab, Duke University

This remarkably simple way of achieving longevity is not entirely surprising. It has been known for quite a while that a low intake of nutrients and reduced cellular activity are generally linked with longevity – but doubling the lifespan only through a strict but temporary diet, that’s something quite surprising.

“It is possible that low-nutrient diets set off the same pathways in us to put our cells in a quiescent state,” said David R. Sherwood, an associate professor of biology at Duke University. “The trick is to find a way to pharmacologically manipulate this process so that we can get the anti-aging benefits without the pain of diet restriction.”

Sherwood and his colleagues from Duke University took a myriad of creatures and deprived them of food, in order to study the effects on longevity. They studied rats, mice, yeast, flies, spiders, fish, monkeys and worms; the effects on longevity varied between 30 percent to 200 percent, but in all cases, the lifespan was increased. Caenorhabditis elegans, a non-parasitic worm showed the most promise.

In nature, C. elegans often suffers from hunger, and its bodily development heavily depends on the available nutrients. But what researchers observed was that during the later stages of the larval development (known as L3 and L4), if they don’t have enough nutrients, they just stop developing. It’s as if they simply pause or slow down their development until they have sufficient nutrients around.

“Development isn’t a continuous nonstop process,” said Schindler, who is lead author of the study. “Organisms have to monitor their environment and decide whether or not it is amenable to their development. If it isn’t, they stop, if it is, they go. Those checkpoints seem to exist to allow the animal to make that decision. And the decision has implications, because the resources either go to development or to survival.”

Researchers starved the larvae for two weeks, and then fed them nutrients they would stumble upon in nature. What they observed was that the worms would develop normally after that – with their lifespans drastically increased.

“This study has implications not only for aging, but also for cancer,” said Sherwood. “One of the biggest mysteries in cancer is how cancer cells metastasize early and then lie dormant for years before reawakening. My guess is that the pathways in worms that are arresting these cells and waking them up again are going to be the same pathways that are in human cancer metastases.”


Journal Reference: Adam J. Schindler, L. Ryan Baugh, David R. Sherwood. Identification of Late Larval Stage Developmental Checkpoints in Caenorhabditis elegans Regulated by Insulin/IGF and Steroid Hormone Signaling Pathways. PLoS Genetics, 2014; 10 (6): e1004426 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004426