Tag Archives: Pitch Imperfect

The Case of the Sugars that “Strike Back” Against HIV

[Electromicrograph of an HIV-infected T-cell via NIAID & CC2.0] 

“Pitch Imperfect” is a series of blog posts where I highlight stories that I pitched but didn’t quite sell and discuss why it was tough to sell them. The goal is to share both interesting research stories and some of the obstacles in getting them into the news cycle.

Proposed Headline:

Sugar signals force HIV out of hiding

Proposed Dek:

And the same sugar signalling pathway “poisons the virus on the way out”

The Pitch:

Anti-retroviral therapies can block HIV’s attempts to infect new cells in patients but do nothing to get rid of HIV sleeper cells that are already in the patient’s blood stream. The immune system can’t spot infected cells unless the HIV is actively building viruses.

However, a paper in PLOS Pathogens may have revealed an unexpected ally in the fight against HIV–the sugar coatings on immune cells. Having sugars on the surface of a cell isn’t unusual; surface-sugars serve as ID-badges that allow immune cells to tell self from not-self. But they’re usually thought of as relatively passive in cell-to-cell communications. This study indicates that yanking on a certain class of surface sugar can start a chain reaction that forces HIV into the open.

“Even though it seems kind of counter-intuitive to wake up the HIV, it really boils down to: the infected cells will die if we wake them up,” says the study’s senior co-author Satish Pillai of the Blood Systems Research Institute in San Francisco.

The paper came out on Thursday, but a Google News search turned up zero hits.

Sugars, in general, are relatively underused in next-gen medicine strategies–while genes, proteins, and RNAs hog all the glory–but they may have been potential allies ambushing HIV, hiding in plain sight.

Continue reading “The Case of the Sugars that “Strike Back” Against HIV” »

The Case of the Infected Fruit Bats

[Photo  courtesy of Brian Giesen via Creative Commons & Flickr]

“Pitch Imperfect” is a series of blog posts where I highlight stories that I pitched but didn’t quite sell and discuss why it was tough to sell them. The goal is to share both interesting research stories and some of the obstacles in getting them into the news cycle.

Proposed Headline:

How Fruit Bats Spread Ebola and Hendra Viruses Without Getting Sick

Proposed Dek (aka “the sub-headline” or  “social media blurb”)

Unlike most mammalian immune systems which leap into action in response to threats, fruit bats’ immune systems are “on” all the time.

The Pitch (as sent on February 23rd 2016)

Flying foxes– aka fruit bats or megabats— can harbor viruses that are strong enough to tear a human body apart without exhibiting a single symptom.

Or more precisely, while viruses like Ebola and Hendra virus set off violent (and often deadly) immune system chain reactions in humans, fruit bats’ immune systems are able to nip viral infections in the bud right away.

Unfortunately, that means that healthy and highly mobile bats can inadvertently end up transporting viruses like SARS, MERS, Ebola, and Hendra to new locations. However, studying fruit bats’ ability to control viral populations without collateral damage may eventually help humans learn how to coexist with our own volatile immune systems.

Continue reading “The Case of the Infected Fruit Bats” »

What’s in a Mutant Membrane?

[Photo by Yale Rosen, via Creative Commons]

“Pitch Imperfect” is a series of blog posts where I highlight stories that I pitched but didn’t quite sell and discuss why it was tough to sell them. The goal is to share both interesting research stories and some of the obstacles in getting them into the news cycle.

Proposed Headline:

How an Ordinary Piece of Lab Equipment Might Help Identify Fatty Acids in Cell Membranes

Proposed Dek (aka “the sub-headline” or  “social media blurb”)

The makeup of cell membranes is more diverse than many suspect, but it’s hard to tell the molecules in membranes apart. This study might change that

The Pitch: (as sent on February 23rd)

Yesterday, I spoke with a Purdue biochemist whose lab may have opened up a whole new avenue of research on cell membranes and fatty acids. Their paper debuted on PNAS Early Edition , and Purdue has issued a press release, but so far no news outlets have picked up on its potential for helping biologists make sense of fatty tissues.

Yu Xia and her post-doc XiaoXiao Ma were able to identify 96 distinct fatty acids in a sample of rat brain tissue, using one of the most universal pieces of scientific equipment, a mass spectrometer. Up until now, no one has been able to tell fatty acids in cells apart without resorting to extremely expensive techniques.

Continue reading “What’s in a Mutant Membrane?” »

The Case of the Looming Octopus

[Photo  courtesy of David Scheel via Current Biology]

“Pitch Imperfect” is a series of blog posts where I highlight stories that I pitched but didn’t quite sell and discuss why it was tough to sell them. The goal is to share both interesting research stories and some of the obstacles in getting them into the news cycle.

Proposed Headline:

How Octopuses Communicate through their Color-Changing Skin

Proposed Dek (aka “the sub-headline” or  “social media blurb”)

Turning dark and “looming” is a warning; white with black splotches means surrender.

The Pitch

When a philosopher and a marine biologist set up cameras to record octopus’s mating behavior, they saw something they didn’t expect.

Octopuses- which many biologists describe as solitary, cannibalistic predators- appear to use their skin to send each other signals, according to their study in Current Biology.

The marine biologist, David Scheel, describes one example from their footage: “The first octopus comes up from the back, being very dramatic– standing tall and turning very dark. Then it tussles with the other octopus for a minute, until that octopus turns pale.”

Continue reading “The Case of the Looming Octopus” »