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Gizmorama - June 18, 2018

Good Morning,

Looking for antibiotics? Scientists have developed a rather efficient way to search for potential antibiotics living in the soil. That's right... THE SOIL! I can dig it.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*- Genetic sequencing helps scientists mine soil for antibiotics -*

Scientists have developed a more efficient way to search for potential antibiotics living in the soil.

The new method, called metagenomic sequencing, allows scientists to sequence the genomes of multiple microbes living in a small soil sample.

Scientists can use the survey method to identify gene sequences related to the production of molecules with antibiotic or antifungal qualities -- defense mechanisms evolved by microbes that could also help humans battle infections.

Many studies show problematic bacteria, including MRSA, E. coli and others, are becoming increasingly resistant to common antibiotics.

To test the new genome sequencing method, scientists collected 60 10-gram samples of dirt from a few inches beneath the surface of a Northern California meadow. Researchers used metagenomic sequencing to identify the genomes of 1,000 different microbes, 360 of which were found to be new species.

"Soil is the last frontier from the perspective of genome-resolved metagenomics," Jill Banfield, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Innovative Genomics Institute, said in a news release. "It is just full of many, many, many different types of organisms, a lot of them closely related and present in fairly low abundances, so it is hard to tease them apart."

Scientists are currently analyzing the newly sequenced genomes, searching for gene sequences related to the production of unique and complex molecules. These genes can be inserted into other organisms to see if they do indeed code for the production of a potentially useful protein or enzyme.

These proteins and enzymes could yield molecules with a variety of medicinal qualities.

"Most of these new biosynthetic molecules are coming out of what people know to be the most abundant bacteria in soil, they just hadn't been found because people didn't have genomes for them," Banfield said. "We expect to find novel antibiotics, which could help humanity, but also novel pharmaceuticals more broadly."

Researchers detailed their new sequencing technology this week in the journal Nature.

*-- Science of squeezed oranges may help detection of failing bridges --*

By studying the mechanics of a squeezed orange and its unique multilayered peel, scientists may be able to more accurately predict bridge failures or develop new ways to deliver medicine.

In a new study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists at the University of Central Florida characterized the mechanics of an orange peel's miniature jets.

When squeezed, an orange's jets expel a zesty perfume of oil, an attribute prized by chefs and bartenders -- and now, scientists.

"We study natural systems to mathematically characterize how creation works, and despite the ubiquity of citrus-fruit consumption, these jets had not been previously studied," Andrew Dickerson, an assistant professor of engineering at UCF, said in a news release. "Nature is our greatest inspiration for tackling real-world problems."

A hard, shiny outer layer protects the orange. A softer, spongier layer is found beneath. Within the bottom layer are microscopic reservoirs of oil.

When an orange is squeezed, the spongy layer absorbs energy. At a critical threshold, when enough energy has been absorbed, the pressure in the oil reserves causes tiny holes to be ripped open in the outer layer and a jet of oil to be released.

Tiny streams of oil exit the jets at 22 miles per hour, with an accelerating force of 5,000 Gs -- 1,000 times the force astronauts feels as they blast-off from Earth.

"There are several potential applications," said graduate student Nicholas Smith.

Scientists suggest a bridge could deploy a similar mechanism. A bridge could be designed so that when its materials degrade past a critical threshold, a color change is triggered.

"It would have an orange-like skin layer and when you were approaching material failure, you would get a preventative warning," Dickerson said.

The orange peel's mechanics could also inspire new drug delivery methods, the researchers said.

"For asthmatics, you could have a small slice of material which would aerosolize emergency medication that you currently find in expensive, multi-use inhalers," Smith said. "This approach may be less expensive and biodegradable."


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