Fighting anti-Israel boycotts

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December 21, 2013 23:00

The science ministers of Israel and Britain have agreed to increase their budget for scientific cooperation and the fight against boycotts against Israel by universities in that country.

4 minute read.



Yaakov Peri

Yaakov Peri 370. (photo credit: Knesset)

The science ministers of Israel and Britain have agreed to increase their budget for scientific cooperation and the fight against boycotts against Israel by universities in that country.

Sir David Willetts of Britain and Israel’s Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri recently reached the understanding in London, where Peri also met with Prime Minister David Camaron and addressed the House of Lords. The cooperation is part of the binational BIRAX program.

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The Israeli minister called on the British government to bring an end to the “provocations against Israel” being made by academic organizations in that country. “Israeli science is our pride, but don’t let provocations run the scientific cooperation that we have with Britain,” Peri advised. “Our cooperation agreement is the most suitable reaction to the calls in Britain to boycott Israel of its researchers and products. Israeli scientists studying and conducting research in Britain have found their environments turned into political rather than academic. This must be stopped,” Peri concluded.

ZINC STARVES PATHOGENS

Australian researchers have found that the mineral zinc can starve one of the world’s most deadly bacteria by preventing its uptake of an essential metal. The finding, by infectious disease researchers at the University of Adelaide and the University of Queensland, opens the way for further work to design antibacterial agents in the fight against Streptococcus pneumoniae.

This bacterium is responsible for more than a million deaths a year, killing children, the elderly and other vulnerable people by causing pneumonia, meningitis and other serious infectious diseases. Published recently in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, the researchers describe how zinc “jams shut” a protein transporter in the bacteria so that it cannot take up manganese, an essential metal that Streptococcus pneumoniae needs to be able to invade and cause disease in humans.

“It’s long been known that zinc plays an important role in the body’s ability to protect against bacterial infection, but this is the first time anyone has been able to show how zinc actually blocks an essential pathway causing the bacteria to starve,” says project leader Dr. Christopher McDevitt, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Adelaide.

“This work spans fields from chemistry and biochemistry to microbiology and immunology to see, at an atomic level of detail, how this transport protein is responsible for keeping the bacteria alive by scavenging one essential metal (manganese), but at the same time also makes the bacteria vulnerable to being killed by another metal (zinc),” says structural biology Prof. Bostjan Kobe at the University of Queensland. “Without manganese, these bacteria can easily be cleared by the immune system,” says Dr McDevitt. “For the first time, we understand how these types of transporters function. With this new information we can start to design the next generation of antibacterial agents to target and block these essential transporters.”

CHROMOSOMES SHOW OFF THEIR SHAPES

Chromosomes – the 46 tightly- wrapped packages of genetic material in our cells – have in the last six decades been depicted as X-shaped formations. But in fact, those neat X’s appear only when a cell is about to divide and the entire contents of its genome duplicated.

Until now, researchers have not been able to get a good picture of the way that our DNA – some two meters of strands all told – is neatly bundled into the nucleus while enabling day-to-day (non-dividing) gene activity.

A combination of new techniques for sequencing DNA in individual chromosomes and analyzing data from thousands of measurements has given us a new picture of the 3-D structures of chromosomes.

This method, the result of an international collaboration, which was recently reported in Nature, promises to help researchers understand the basic processes by which gene expression is regulated and genome stability maintained.

Dr. Amos Tanay of the Weizmann Institute’s computer science and applied mathematics and the biological regulation departments develops advanced computer algorithms for analyzing genomic datasets, which can run to billions of bits of information. He and his team, including doctoral students Yaniv Lubling and Eitan Yaffe, joined forces with Dr. Peter Fraser of the UK’sBabraham Institute to try to resolve chromosomal architectures at an unprecedentedly high resolution.

Instead of traditional microscopy techniques, they used the power of modern high-throughput DNA sequencing and developed a sophisticated sequencing method for taking thousands of measurements of the contacts between genes inside single cells. While these techniques vastly improve upon approaches that average the conformations of millions of chromosomes, the data generated from just the few trillionths of a gram of DNA present within a single cell can only be interpreted by advanced statistical methods.

Tanay and his team performed the complex computer analysis that turned millions of DNA sequences into reliable maps describing contacts between genes along individual chromosomes. Using these maps, the scientists were able to produce 3-D models of individual chromosome structures.

Interestingly, the new high resolution depictions of chromosomal architecture indicate that the structure of the same DNA molecule can vary markedly between different cells. At the same time, the results point to some basic principles that underlie the genes’ organization.

Their arrangement appears to be modular and based on the functions of the thousands of genes embedded within each chromosome. The data suggests that chromosomes expose the more active genes at their boundaries, possibly allowing these genes better access to the cellular machinery that regulates them.

Besides giving us a unique, surprising view of the structure of the chromosomes in our cells, the researchers believe that their method may help uncover the variations in genetic activity between different types of cells.


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