Welcome to another weekly issue of The Filtrate, motto: "Curation without representation."
If you try to keep up with the scientific literature, especially in biology, you've probably noticed the rising flood of preprints in recent years. Letting researchers share their work online before it's officially published seems neat, but one drawback is the resulting firehose of information. These folks have now developed a system to filter this stream by using social media posts and readership, identifying "hot" preprints and highlighting them, which will presumably make them even hotter. I'm not convinced that the internet really needs more signal amplifiers, but I guess it's one way to prioritize papers.
In 2015, California eliminated non-medical vaccine exemptions for kids attending public schools, a move cheered by virologists everywhere. Now that the change has been in effect for awhile, researchers decided to investigate its impact. The news isn't entirely good. While exemptions may be down a bit, a new problem has arisen: doctors writing medical exemptions for kids who don't need them. Tracking the exemptions is also problematic, with at least one school district now embroiled in a lawsuit as a result.
Meanwhile, in Australia, public health officials remain concerned about chikungunya virus. It hasn't become established there yet, but imported cases happen regularly, and who ever heard of a nasty invasive life form that couldn't eventually set up shop in Australia? In a new paper, scientists found that the number of imported chikungunya virus importations varies seasonally, and also with cycles of the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) ocean current pattern. That could help them predict and respond to subsequent case arrivals.
A few microbes, such as laboratory staple Escherichia coli, are easy to manipulate genetically, but many other species are genetically intractable. The problem with these species is often a type of innate immune system in bacteria called the restriction modification barrier. This type of system preferentially cuts foreign DNA, inactivating the genetically modified sequences researchers want to introduce. In a clever new approach, investigators developed a systematic protocol to disguise their modified sequences so that they look like the host's own DNA, evading the restriction modification barrier. If it's really as easy as they make it look, a lot more species of bacteria should now be genetically tractable.
One of the fundamental ways eukaryotic cells respond to stimuli is to move things around inside themselves, even reorganizing their organelles. Wouldn't it be great if researchers could reach inside cells, deliberately move organelles around, and watch what happens? Well, now they can. Using a really neat technique, scientists attached motor proteins to specific organelles, causing them to be pulled in one direction or the other along the microtubules that extend throughout the cell. I assume they then turned to their colleagues in medicine and said "you call that microsurgery? No, THIS is microsurgery."