Researchers search for clues to the origin of MS, details on how the first artificial DNA cells made a new protein, and is malaria on the rise?

Rise in malaria cases sparks fears of a resurgence

(Nature, 11/29/2017, Amy Maxmen)

In a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of malaria cases rose in many countries in 2016, suggesting that progress has halted in the global fight against the disease. Globally, malaria infections increased by about 5 million from 2015 to 2016, for a total of 216 million, with apparent jumps in parts of Asia, Africa and South America. The number of people who died from the disease remained relatively steady, at around 445,000, the WHO found. Although data on malaria is often inexact in countries with weak health-care systems, many researchers are concerned by the trends described in the WHO report, which the agency attributes to flat funding levels for anti-malaria programs.

Cell with artificial DNA makes a new protein, advancing synthetic life

(San Diego Tribune, 11/29/2017, Bradley J. Fikes)

Scientists in San Diego have achieved a major goal in the effort to craft artificial organisms: A microbe whose genetic material included some lab-made instructions was able to live, reproduce and synthesize proteins that included molecules never before used by life. The development, described in a paper in the journal Nature, is a step toward a world in which scientists can engineer organisms capable of producing highly specialized proteins that may be used to improve medicines, construct new materials and perhaps even change the functions of cells. The feat opens the door to inexpensively making drugs with novel properties that are now impossible or impractical to make, said study leader Floyd Romesberg of The Scripps Research Institute.

Scientists are seeking new strategies to fight multiple sclerosis

(Science News, 11/29/2017, Ashley Yeager)

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most complex disease every described. Scientists don’t yet have a good handle on where the damage begins. Does a problem in the nervous system spur an immune response that leads to additional damage to the brain and spinal cord? Or does the immune system attack first, dispatching disease-fighting cells into the brain, where they batter and kill nerve cells? What causes the initial nerve damage or incites the immune attack is still a big question. Scientists aren’t even clear whether multiple sclerosis is a single disease or a multitude of maladies. With so many unanswered questions, researchers have begun looking for potential treatment strategies outside the immune system. Some researchers have begun scrutinizing the malfunction of specific organelles within nerve cells, or neurons. Others are analyzing the gut’s community of microorganisms, its microbiome, which is considered a bridge between the environment and the body.


—Compiled by Social Media Specialist Jillian Scola