Venom From Honeybees Found To Kill Aggressive Breast Cancer Cells (Oncology / Medicine)

Using the venom from 312 honeybees and bumblebees, Dr. Ciara Duffy and colleagues, tested the effect of the venom on the clinical subtypes of breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer, which has limited treatment options. Their results revealed that honeybee venom rapidly destroyed triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.

Dr Ciara Duffy at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research. Credit: Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research

According to Dr. Duffy, the aim of the research was to investigate the anti-cancer properties of honeybee venom, and a component compound, melittin, on different types of breast cancer cells.

They tested honeybee venom on normal breast cells, and cells from the clinical subtypes of breast cancer: hormone receptor positive, HER2-enriched, and triple-negative breast cancer.

They also tested a very small, positively charged peptide in honeybee venom called melittin, which they could reproduce synthetically, and found that the synthetic product mirrored the majority of the anti-cancer effects of honeybee venom.

They reported that both honeybee venom and melittin significantly, selectively and rapidly reduced the viability of triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.

A specific concentration of honeybee venom can induce 100% cancer cell death, while having minimal effects on normal cells.

They found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes.

Melittin in honeybee venom also had another remarkable effect; within 20 minutes, melittin was able to substantially reduce the chemical messages of cancer cells that are essential to cancer cell growth and cell division.

Dr. Duffy also tested to see if melittin could be used with existing chemotherapy drugs as it forms pores, or holes, in breast cancer cell membranes, potentially enabling the entry of other treatments into the cancer cell to enhance cell death. They found that melittin can be used with small molecules or chemotherapies, such as docetaxel, to treat highly-aggressive types of breast cancer. The combination of melittin and docetaxel was extremely efficient in reducing tumor growth in mice.

While there are 20,000 species of bees, Dr. Duffy wanted to compare the effects of Perth honeybee venom to other honeybee populations in Ireland and England, as well as to the venom of bumblebees.

She found that the European honeybee in Australia, Ireland and England produced almost identical effects in breast cancer compared to normal cells. However, bumblebee venom was unable to induce cell death even at very high concentrations.

One of the first reports of the effects of bee venom was published in Nature in 1950, where the venom reduced the growth of tumors in plants. However, Dr. Duffy said it was only in the past two decades that interest grew substantially into the effects of honeybee venom on different cancers.

In the future, studies will be required to formally assess the optimum method of delivery of melittin, as well as toxicities and maximum tolerated doses.


References: Duffy, C., Sorolla, A., Wang, E. et al. Honeybee venom and melittin suppress growth factor receptor activation in HER2-enriched and triple-negative breast cancer. npj Precis. Onc. 4, 24 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41698-020-00129-0 link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41698-020-00129-0

Cancer Cells Take Over Blood Vessels To Spread (Oncology / Medicine)

In laboratory studies, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins University researchers observed a key step in how cancer cells may spread from a primary tumor to a distant site within the body, a process known as metastasis.

Representative confocal fluorescence microscopy image of a primary tumor (red) and associated tumor vasculature (green). Credit: Vanesa Silvestri, Ph.D./Johns Hopkins Medicine

Trying to determine how groups of cells migrate to other parts of the body, the scientists used tissue engineering to construct a functional 3-D blood vessel and grew breast cancer cells nearby. They observed the cancer cells reaching out to the blood vessel and taking over a patch of the cell wall. As a result of this attachment to the blood vessel, a cluster of tumor cells were easily released into the bloodstream to travel to distant sites. Cancer cells also were able to constrict blood vessels, cause them to leak, or pull on them.

In this case, Ewald and collaborators expected to see groups of eight to 10 cells leaving a tumor, migrating through a protein barrier and squeezing between blood vessel walls to travel.

The “mosaic” vessels that result—named because they consist of some natural blood vessel cells and some cancer cells—were observed in about 6% of blood vessels in human breast tumors and in a mouse model of breast cancer in this and other studies. They also have been found in deadly brain tumors called glioblastomas, melanoma skin cancers and gastric cancers. Their presence is associated with increased distant metastases.

Their data revealed that the cancer cells can rapidly reshape, destroy, or integrate into existing blood vessels, thereby affecting oxygenation, perfusion, and systemic dissemination. Their novel assay also enables future studies to identify targetable mechanisms of vascular recruitment and intravasation.


References: Vanesa L. Silvestri, Elodie Henriet, Raleigh M. Linville, Andrew D. Wong, Peter C. Searson and Andrew J. Ewald, “A tissue-engineered 3D microvessel model reveals the dynamics of mosaic vessel formation in breast cancer”, Cancer Res July 14 2020 DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-19-1564 link: https://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2020/07/14/0008-5472.CAN-19-1564

Misfiring Brain Cells May Be Creating Swallowing Difficulties In Children With Neurodevelopmental Disorders (Neuroscience)

According to neuroscientists Xin Wang and colleagues, firing brain cells that control key parts of the mouth and tongue may be creating swallowing difficulties in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

The motor neurons that retract the tongue are labeled green, and those that protrude the tongue are labeled red in this image of the brainstem from a newborn mouse. The activity of these two populations of motor neurons is not coordinated properly in mice with the same mutation that causes human DiGeorge syndrome, according to scientists with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and George Washington University. This lack of coordination likely underlies suckling, feeding, and swallowing difficulties in the mice, and perhaps human infants with the disorder, which occurs in newborns when a piece of the 22nd chromosome is missing. Credit: Xin Wang & Anastas Popratiloff/George Washington University

In research using a mouse model of a genetic childhood disorder known as DiGeorge syndrome, scientists found brain cells called motor neurons that directly control the tongue muscles were firing spontaneously, out of sync with the mechanisms that should control their activity.

Finding ways to calm the motor neurons responsible for moving the tongue could lead to improved function in very young children who have difficulty swallowing, eating, or making sounds, but the scientists said more research is needed before developing therapies.

Problems ingesting, chewing, or swallowing food occur in up to 80 percent of children with developmental disorders and can lead to food aspiration, choking, or life-threatening respiratory infections.

Suckling, feeding, and swallowing difficulties—known as pediatric dysphagia—are among the most serious and frequent complications in infants. They are common in DiGeorge syndrome, which is a genetic disease caused when a small part of chromosome 22 is missing. The syndrome carries a high risk for autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia, as well as heart, face, and limb malformations.

In the study, associate research professor Xin Wang and co-senior author David Mendelowitz, vice chair and professor of pharmacology and physiology, both with the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, traced the motor neurons in mouse models DiGeorge syndrome from their target muscles, labeled each class of motor neuron, and recorded their electrical properties.

The motor neurons responsible for the forward and backward movement of the tongue in the DiGeorge syndrome models spontaneously fired compared with motor neurons of normal mice, and the excitatory impulses were not balanced by inhibitory responses.

As a result, the increased excitability of motor neurons affected compression and movement of the tongue muscles, which would threaten both food intake efficiency and airway safety in infants and toddlers.


References: Xin Wang et al, Disrupted Coordination of Hypoglossal Motor Control in a Mouse Model of Pediatric Dysphagia in DiGeorge/22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome, eneuro (2020). DOI: 10.1523/ENEURO.0520-19.2020

MIT Astronomers Discovered 18 Stars With Low Metallicity In The Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy (Astronomy)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) astronomers have detected 18 very metal-poor stars in the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy, using medium-resolution spectra from the MagE spectrograph on the Magellan-Baade Telescope. They found that one of the stars from the sample has an extremely low metallicity, slightly below -3.0.

Left: Color-magnitude diagram of their observed Sagittarius stars colored by their metallicities. Two 12 Gyr isochrones with [Fe/H] = −2.0 and [Fe/H] = −1.5 from the MESA Isochrones & Stellar Tracks database (Dotter 2016; Choi et al. 2016; Paxton et al. 2011, 2013, 2015, 2018) database are overlaid at the distance modulus of the Sagittarius dSph (17.10, Ferguson & Strigari 2020). Right: Position of their Sagittarius members with respect to the center of the Sagittarius dSph, which is marked with a blue cross.

Satellite dwarf spheroidal (dSph) galaxies of our Milky Way are excellent places to search and study metal-poor stars. Detailed investigation of such objects could be crucial for improving our understanding of early galactic environments. However, only a few dozen metal-poor stars (with metallicities below -2.5) in the Milky Way’s most massive dwarf satellites have been comprehensively studied and have detailed chemical abundance measurements available.

The Sagittarius Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxy (Sgr dSph for short) is the most massive among dSph of the Milky Way (with a mass of around 400 million solar masses). So far, only a handful of very metal-poor stars have been identified in Sgr dSph, mainly due to a prominent metal-rich component of the galaxy’s stellar population.

Now, a team of astronomers led by MIT’s Anirudh Chiti reports the finding of 18 metal-poor red giant stars in this galaxy. The detection is based on the medium-resolution spectra from the MagE spectrograph on the Magellan-Baade Telescope, metallicity-sensitive photometry from the SkyMapper DR1.1 catalog, and proper motion data from Gaia DR2 (Data Release 2).

They presented metallicities and carbon abundances for eighteen stars with metallicities between −3.08≤[Fe/H]≤−1.47 in the Sagittarius dwarf spheroidal galaxy, using medium-resolution spectra from the MagE spectrograph on the Magellan-Baade Telescope.

According to the study, nine stars from the sample are very metal poor, with metallicities below -2.0. This finding more than doubles the number of known very metal-poor stars in Sgr dSph. The object with the lowest metallicity (-3.08) out of the 18 described in the paper turned out to be Sgr-180. This makes Sgr-180 one of the first known extremely metal-poor stars in this galaxy.

The stars in the sample have effective temperatures ranging from 4,380 to 5,170 K, and are not carbon-enhanced. Hence, none of these objects can be classified as carbon-enhanced metal-poor (CEMP) stars. This is baffling as, for instance, the stars in the halo of our Milky Way galaxy generally exhibit an increase of relative carbon enhancement with decreasing metallicity. All in all, around 20 percent of stars in the Milky Way’s halo are classified as CEMPs with metallicity below -2.0.

In concluding remarks, the authors of the paper try to explain the observed lack of CEMP stars in Sgr dSph. The suppose that it may be due some dependence of early chemical evolution on the environment in which stars form. However, more high-resolution spectroscopic observations are required to further verify this hypothesis.


References: Anirudh Chiti, Kylie Y. Hansen, Anna Frebel, “Discovery of 18 stars with −3.10 < [Fe/H] < −1.45 in the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy”, pp. 1-13, 2020. arXiv:2008.09901 [astro-ph.GA] arxiv.org/abs/2008.09901 link: https://arxiv.org/abs/2008.09901

Japan’s Hitachi Seaside Park Is A Colorful Flower Paradise (Amazing Places)

An expansive stretch of colorful goodness sits about two hours from Tokyo in Japan’s Hitachi Seaside Park. This place is home to millions of flowers and plants that provide brilliant displays of color. But don’t stress about coordinating your schedule with flower season—the view here is surreally scenic year-round.

Hitachi Seaside Park is a 19-hectare floral paradise. The public park in Ibaraki, Japan covers a huge spectrum of wildlife colors that changes every season. In April, you’ll see an overwhelming spread of 4.5 million baby blue flowers that blend the hues of the hills with the spring sky. This dramatic scene is called “Nemophila Harmony” after the nemophila flower, also known as baby blue eyes.

In the summertime, the rolling hills transform into kelly green. But this is much more exciting than looking at fields of fresh grass—all thanks to the kochia. This large herb that grows in little bulbous brushes about 35 inches (90 centimeters) tall. The little spheres dotting the park make for a surreal scene of what appears to be oversized cotton balls. The kochia take things up a notch in autumn when their hue shifts to a deep crimson. Though the stuff isn’t actually raspberry-flavored cotton candy (could’ve fooled us), parts of it are edible. The seeds, called tonburi, are eaten in some parts of northern Japan and are known as the “caviar of the fields.”

We’re not saying you might get sick of just looking at all the plant life, but… just in case you do, there’s plenty more to do at Hitachi Seaside. Most of the non-flower attractions sit in the Pleasure Garden Area. Here, you can also peddle down the cycling trail or hit up the small amusement park (a view of all the colorful blooms would probably look pretty amazing from atop the Ferris wheel). There’s also a restaurant, golf course, BMX course, and a little water fountain play area for kids to splash around in.


This French Theme Park Is A “Bestiary Of Machines” (Amazing Places)

If you’re interested in visiting a theme park that’s part circus and part steampunk, step right up to Les Machines de l’île in Nantes, France. At this mechanical-animal theme park, you can ride enormous elephants and spiders, hear from their machinists, and even tour where the magic happens.

Fourrure

This safari wonderland was conceived by François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, and their website describes Les Machines de l’île as “the crossroads of Jules Verne’s ‘invented worlds,’ the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, and of Nantes’ industrial history, on the exceptional site of the former shipyards.” All of the park’s animal machinists come from the company La Machine, and their design goal is to convey a “mysterious reality to this island just like the time when vessels were launched there for all the trips of the world.” The park features a three-level, 82-foot tall carousel that offers visuals of ocean life while guests ride on the banks of the Loire River.

Interested in riding Les Machines de l’île’s “bestiary of machines”? According to Travel + Leisure, the park includes “giant herons, massive ants, larger-than-life elephants, looming spiders and more.” The mechanical spider holds four people in its abdomen. If you think that sounds frightening, the elephant is four stories high and can carry 50 passengers on its back.

In addition to riding these animals, you can also nerd out over their creation. Machinists from La Machine are stationed at the park to explain how the machines were developed and how they work. The park also houses its own laboratory where you can view the entire process from sketch to finished, terrifying (yet amazing) product. In other words, if you’re afraid of giant spiders, this is the perfect place to conquer your fear.


The Haenyo Are South Korean Mermaids (Amazing Places)

Remember when you watched The Little Mermaid, then told your entire class that you wanted to be a mermaid when you grew up? No, just us? We digress. A group of elderly South Korean women are considered real-life mermaids, diving depths of up to 65 feet (20 meters) without any oxygen tanks. Beat that, Ariel. The haeyno, or “sea women,” live off the Jeju and Udo Islands in South Korea and dive in the Korea Strait for sea urchins, sea cucumbers, abalone, and squid. According to The Independent, Koreans often say that “haenyo do the work of the dead in the land of the living.” These women can dive to depths of up to 65ft (20 metres) without any oxygen tanks, holding their breath for up to two minutes.

Picture credit: Mijoo Kim

The women can be in the water for hours at a time, holding their breath for up to 2 minutes during each dive. They also withstand frigid waters whose temperatures drop as low as minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter. Although women have primarily held this role since the 18th century, the haenyo had been male-dominated since the 5th century. As CNN Travel reports, the divers “have fought for years protecting their rights against men, governments and even armies in order to make a living from the sea.”

In a 2016 photo series by Mijoo Kim called The Mother of the Sea, the photographer depicts what could be the last generation of haenyo on Jeju Island. This group of women are in their 60s and 70s, and there aren’t any younger generations of Korean women learning to take over in their stead. Instead, they’re moving to the mainland of South Korea to pursue higher education and modern careers. Through the photo series, Kim hopes to share “not only their beauty as women, but also their courageousness for facing such difficulties during their lives.”

Although there are schools for haenyo on Jeju Island to preserve and continue the tradition and culture, there are fewer than 4000 left.

But Kim now feels that she has gained a better understanding of the haenyo culture and what they go through during their lives, and hopes to convey that message to her audience.


Fly Geyser Is A Human Mistake Turned Into Natural Art (Amazing Places)

Across the state from Las Vegas stands another oasis in the Nevada desert. A human blunder from the 1960s has led to the formation of a manmade geyser known as Fly Geyser, a multicolored natural tower that looks straight out of Doctor Seuss.

It may look like an alien creation, but this sight is purely a human mistake. The mess all started a century ago during a search for irrigation water in the Black Rock Desert, according to Atlas Obscura. People drilled a well and quickly realized that the near-boiling water wasn’t going to work for farming, so the well was left abandoned until the mid-1960s. That’s when a different company returned to the Fly Ranch property, again hoping to tap into some geothermal energy by drilling a second well. But like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this time the near-boiling temperatures weren’t quite hot enough for the geothermic energy the company was after. According to Burning Man (yes, that one), the new owner of the property, that well became a geyser when it wasn’t suitably capped.

Far from your typical cone geyser, Fly Geyser spews steam and hot water from multiple places, many feet in the air. The water lands in pools around the formation. In the decades since, deposits continue to grow as water continues to spray, taking advantage of the water pressure it stole from the first well. Nevada State Geologist James Faulds told the Reno Gazette-Journal the colors are from the minerals: “Sulphur creates the mustard yellow color, iron creates the red and the green color is from algae.”

It’s been difficult for regular people to see Fly Geyser up close, but now the private property has a new owner: the Burning Man festival’s nonprofit organization. Organizers wrote, “Ever since the Burning Man event was held at Fly Ranch in 1997, this special place has taken up residence in our hearts and in the imagination of the Burning Man community.” It’s still closed to the public, but the festival started a Fly Ranch website that they say they’ll keep updated as plans are made for future use. It won’t become the site of Burning Man; rather, festival organizers say they want to use Fly Ranch for activities during the non-festival days of the year.

Beyond the Fly Geyser, Fly Ranch is an expansive piece of land, offering many more natural spring water pools, wetlands, and grasslands. The area is also a sight for stargazers. FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder wrote about nearby Gerlach, Nevada as the darkest city in the U.S. “By day, you can see plumes of geothermal steam rising in every direction, pouring from vents in the ground and disappearing into the crisp, dry air,” he wrote. “At night, you can see distant galaxies with the naked eye, their light much older than our species.”


The Temples Of Humankind Were Built By Believers In Secret (Amazing Places)

Can you imagine building a structure without someone finding out? That’s exactly how 150 people built the Temples of Humankind, a sprawling spiritual center in Turin.

Buried in the foothills of the Italian Alps, the temple contain different halls like the Hall of Earth, of Water, of the Spheres, of Metals, the Blue temple, and the labyrinth. The temples are also known to be built on the meeting point of Synchronic Lines where the Earth meets the cosmos. There is only one other place where four Synchronic Lines converge and that is Tibet. Despite being underground, some rooms have ceilings that are more than 25 feet high.

But these intricate spaces weren’t built by trained architects or engineers. Instead, followers of Oberto Airaudi, who founded the Federation of Damanhur, built the temples in secret beginning in 1978. In 1992, the Italian government threatened to dynamite the temples upon discovering their existence, but ultimately left them alone. Today, they still reside in the Damanhur commune, about 30 miles north of Turin.

Detailed work of frescoes in the temple
The hallways of the temple
One of the themed halls depicting beautiful art