Silver makes antibiotics thousands of times more effective

Ancient antimicrobial treatment could help to solve modern bacterial resistance.

Like werewolves and vampires, bacteria have a weakness: silver. The precious metal has been used to fight infection for thousands of years — Hippocrates first described its antimicrobial properties in 400 bc — but how it works has been a mystery. Now, a team led by James Collins, a biomedical engineer at Boston University in Massachusetts, has described how silver can disrupt bacteria, and shown that the ancient treatment could help to deal with the thoroughly modern scourge of antibiotic resistance. The work is published today in Science Translational MedicineRead more in Nature.

Making the most of muscle oxygen

Animals have evolved a variety of ways to get oxygen under extreme conditions.

Oxygen is vital for life, and animals have developed various ways to ensure they can access it under extreme conditions — deep under water, at high altitude or in times of stress. Three papers published today in Science examine the ways that different animals achieve this feat, and how their unique abilities evolved. Read more in Nature.

Refurbished Alvin submersible returns to sea


Photo by Erik Olsen.

After a two-year, $41 million upgrade, the venerable Alvin submersible is about to return to sea.

On 25 May, the research ship Atlantis will leave the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, with Alvin on board, bound for Astoria, Oregon. After a series of Navy certification cruises in September and a scientific verification cruise in November, Alvin will return to full service in December studying the deep ocean off the US Pacific Northwest. Read more in Nature.

Heavy sleepers

A growing body of evidence shows that getting a good night’s sleep plays an important role in regulating the body’s metabolism.

Burning the midnight oil can leave you tired and grumpy the next day, dulling your mind and slowing your reaction times. But lack of sleep has consequences beyond the brain as well, with long-term sleep disturbances leading to metabolic problems.

Matthew Brady, a biologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois who studies the links between sleep and metabolism, puts it simply: “Fat cells need their sleep as well.” Read more in Nature.

Gut microbe may fight obesity and diabetes

Bacterium helps to regulate metabolism in mice.

The gut is home to innumerable different bacteria — a complex ecosystem that has an active role in a variety of bodily functions. In a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers finds that in mice, just one of those bacterial species plays a major part in controlling obesity and metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.

The bacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, digests mucus and makes up 3–5% of the microbes in a healthy mammalian gut. But the intestines of obese humans and mice, and those with type 2 diabetes, have much lower levels. A team led by Patrice Cani, who studies the interaction between gut bacteria and metabolism at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, decided to investigate the link. Read more in Nature.

Seafood diet killing Arctic foxes on Russian island



Mercury pollution in marine animals may be behind a population crash.

An isolated population of Arctic foxes that dines only on marine animals seems to be slowly succumbing to mercury poisoning.

The foxes on Mednyi Island — one of Russia’s Commander Islands in the Bering Sea — are a subspecies of Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) that may have remained isolated for thousands of years. They were once numerous enough to support a small yet thriving group of fur hunters. After humans abandoned the settlement in the 1970s, the fox population began to crash, falling from more than 1,000 animals to fewer than 100 individuals today. Read more in Nature.

Magic trick transforms conservatives into liberals

‘Choice blindness’ can induce voters to reverse their party loyalty.

When US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he was not even going to try to reach 47% of the US electorate, and that he would focus on the 5–10% thought to be floating voters, he was articulating a commonly held opinion: that most voters are locked in to their ideological party loyalty.

But Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, knew better. Read more in Nature.

Canada puts commercialization ahead of blue-sky research

Federal budget boosts clean-energy research and university infrastructure.

Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty yesterday released the country’s 2013 budget, calling it “a plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity”, words that will please some of the budget’s main beneficiaries: those working in applied research. But for those who argue that investments in basic research are necessary for innovation and prosperity, “this is a really bad budget”, says James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers in Ottawa, Ontario. Read more in Nature.

Slow science

The world’s longest-running experiments remind us that science is a marathon, not a sprint.

Although science is a long-term pursuit, research is often practised over short timescales: a discrete experiment or a self-contained project constrained by the length of a funding cycle. But some investigations cannot be rushed. To study human lifespans or the roiling of Earth’s crust and the Sun’s surface, for instance, requires decades and even centuries.

Here, Nature takes a look at five of science’s longest-running projects, some of which have been amassing data continuously for centuries. Read more in Nature.

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