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News Article | May 9, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

ALAMEDA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--BioTime, Inc. (NYSE MKT:BTX), a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing and commercializing products addressing degenerative diseases, today announced new data from the Phase I/IIa clinical trial of OpRegen® in the advanced form of dry age-related macular degeneration (dry-AMD). The interim data were presented on May 8, 2017 at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) in Baltimore, Maryland by Eyal Banin, M.D., Ph.D. “We are encouraged by the results and look forward to the next steps in moving this therapeutic through the clinic and addressing the needs of the millions of patients with dry-AMD,” said Adi Mohanty, Co-Chief Executive Officer. The presentation at ARVO reported new clinical trial data with two patients that were treated in cohort 2, where they received a dose of 200,000 cells. Imaging analysis suggests the transplanted OpRegen cells remained in place (engrafted) in an area of the scar that was completely depleted of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) because of the advanced stages of the disease. Cell engraftment occurred in four of the five patients treated thus far. There was also possible evidence of a biological response with some areas appearing to show structural improvement (a thickening of the thinned area of retina above the scar) without any signs of retinal edema, a fluid build-up that can further compromise vision. “I am excited to see that the second cohort is showing evidence of cell survival and early signs suggesting a biological response,” stated Dr. David Boyer, senior partner at Retina-Vitreous Associates Medical Group in Los Angeles and a principal investigator for the OpRegen trial. “I am looking forward to treating patients in the U.S. under this trial protocol.” Best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) remained stable in all treated eyes and importantly showed no signs of deterioration, which could be expected if no treatment was given. The data also continues to show that the procedure is well tolerated in all patients, including those patients with follow-up for more than one year after treatment. “We continue to be encouraged by the lack of serious adverse events in the trial during both the surgical procedure required for cell transplantation and long-term post-operative monitoring,” stated Professor Eyal Banin, M.D., Ph.D., Center for Hereditary Retinal and Macular Degeneration (CRMD) Department of Ophthalmology Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel. “Thus far in the trial, we have not encountered any serious systemic side effects or unexpected severe ocular adverse events.” OpRegen is the lead product of BioTime’s ophthalmology subsidiary Cell Cure Neurosciences Ltd., which has been conducting the clinical trial in Israel and will soon be opening additional trial sites in the United States. BioTime anticipates DSMB review of cohort 2 by the end of the second quarter of 2017 and if approved will then begin cohort 3 immediately after. Cohort 3 is expected to enroll more quickly due to the reduced stagger requirements between patients and the ability of new clinical trial sites in the U.S. to enroll patients. The Company also expects to share additional data from all patients before the end of the year. OpRegen is an investigational therapy in which retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells are transplanted into the subretinal space, where they are intended to replace missing RPE cells. The ongoing trial is a Phase I/IIa dose-escalation study evaluating the safety and efficacy of three different dose regimens. More information about the data presented at ARVO is available here. OpRegen® for the treatment of the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), consists of a suspension of Retinal Pigment Epithelial (RPE) cells that are delivered subretinally during a simple intraocular injection. RPE cells are essential components of the back lining of the retina, and function to help nourish the retina including photoreceptors. A proprietary process that drives the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells is used to generate high purity OpRegen® RPE cells. OpRegen® RPE cells are also “xeno-free," meaning that no animal products are used either at any point in the derivation and production process. The avoidance of the use of animal products eliminates some potential safety concerns. Preclinical studies in rats have shown that following a single subretinal injection of OpRegen®, the cells can rapidly organize into its natural monolayer structure in the subretinal space and survive throughout the lifetime of the animal. OpRegen® is designed to be an “off-the-shelf” allogeneic (non-patient specific) product. Unlike treatments that require multiple, frequent injections into the eye, it is expected that OpRegen® would be administered in a single procedure. OpRegen® was granted Fast Track designation from FDA which allows more frequent interactions with the agency, and eligibility for accelerated approval and priority review. OpRegen® is a registered trademark of Cell Cure Neurosciences Ltd., a majority-owned subsidiary of BioTime, Inc. Macular degeneration affects approximately 11 million people in the U.S. and is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 60. Approximately 90 percent of these patients suffer from the dry form, for which there are no FDA-approved therapies. In dry-AMD, there is a loss or dysfunction of the layer of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells generally in the region of the eye called the macula, which is the part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision that is important for facial recognition, reading and driving. These RPE cells support the light detecting photoreceptor cells that are so critical to vision. When we look at something, the photoreceptors (rods and cones) detect the light and send the information to the brain allowing us to perceive our surroundings. The age-dependent loss of the RPE cells therefore leads to degeneration of nearby photoreceptors and this can lead to severe vision loss or even legal blindness. Generally, the damage caused by the “dry” form is not as severe or rapid as that of the “wet” form. However, in the advanced stage of dry macular degeneration widespread loss of RPE and photoreceptors in the macular area, called geographic atrophy, leads to severe vision loss. While therapeutics are available to treat the wet form of AMD, there are currently no FDA-approved therapies for dry-AMD. BioTime, Inc. is a clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on developing and commercializing novel therapies developed from what the company believes to be the world’s premier collection of pluripotent cell assets. The foundation of BioTime’s core therapeutic technology platform is pluripotent cells that are capable of becoming any of the cell types in the human body. Pluripotent cells have potential application in many areas of medicine with large unmet patient needs, including various age-related degenerative diseases and degenerative conditions for which there presently are no cures. Unlike pharmaceuticals that require a molecular target, therapeutic strategies based on the use of pluripotent cells are generally aimed at regenerating or replacing affected cells and tissues, and therefore may have broader applicability than pharmaceutical products. BioTime also has significant equity holdings in two publicly traded companies, Asterias Biotherapeutics, Inc. and OncoCyte Corporation, which BioTime founded and which, until recently, were majority-owned consolidated subsidiaries of BioTime. BioTime common stock is traded on the NYSE MKT and TASE under the symbol BTX. For more information, please visit www.biotimeinc.com or connect with the company on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Google+. Certain statements contained in this release are “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Statements pertaining to future financial and/or operating results, future growth in research, technology, clinical development, and potential opportunities for BioTime, Inc. and its subsidiaries, along with other statements about the future expectations, beliefs, goals, plans, or prospects expressed by management constitute forward-looking statements. Any statements that are not historical fact (including, but not limited to statements that contain words such as “will,” “believes,” “plans,” “anticipates,” “expects,” “estimates” should also be considered to be forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, including, without limitation, risks inherent in the development and/or commercialization of potential products, uncertainty in the results of clinical trials or regulatory approvals, need and ability to obtain future capital, and maintenance of intellectual property rights. Actual results may differ materially from the results anticipated in these forward-looking statements and as such should be evaluated together with the many uncertainties that affect the business of BioTime, Inc. and its subsidiaries, particularly those mentioned in the cautionary statements found in more detail in the “Risk Factors” section of its Annual Reports on Form 10-K and Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q filed with the SEC (copies of which may be obtained at www.sec.gov). Subsequent events and developments may cause these forward-looking statements to change. BioTime specifically disclaims any obligation or intention to update or revise these forward-looking statements as a result of changed events or circumstances that occur after the date of this release, except as required by applicable law. To receive ongoing BioTime corporate communications, please click on the following link to join our email alert list: http://news.biotimeinc.com.


News Article | May 9, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Marijuana isn’t exactly synonymous with mental sharpness, but surprising new research has found that it might help protect the brain from the effects of aging. A German study on mice published in the journal Nature Medicine found that low, regular doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, may help to keep our brains from slowing down as we get older. For the study, researchers from the University of Bonn and Hebrew University spent a month giving daily THC to mice that were two months, one year, and 18 months old, and studied the effects on each. Scientists first tested the mice on their ability to recognize familiar objects and navigate a water maze without the influence of THC and found that, while younger mice did well, older mice struggled. Once they were given THC, the younger mice had a drop in performance, but older mice showed improvement that lasted for weeks afterward — and even did as well as younger mice that had no THC. Researchers say that THC in older mice might stimulate the brain’s endocannabinoid system, a group of brain and nervous system receptors that become less active as we age. Of course, the study was conducted on mice, not humans, and it’s too soon to recommend that adults start taking daily doses of THC based on this. But The Guardian reports that the scientists are planning to start a clinical trial to test this on humans later this year. “If we can rejuvenate the brain so that everybody gets five to 10 more years without needing extra care, then that is more than we could have imagined,” study co-author Andras Bilkei-Gorzo told The Guardian. Norbert E. Kaminski, PhD, director of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Beauty that while it’s too soon to draw any conclusions from the research, there may be something to it. “If low doses of THC decrease decline in cognitive function in senior citizens, this could be beneficial,” he says. Kaminski also notes that many diseases that cause a decline of cognitive function, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, are thought to be due, in part, to chronic inflammation in the brain. Cannabinoids like THC have anti-inflammatory properties, he says, which may be beneficial for some older patients suffering from certain neurodegenerative diseases. Gary Wenk, PhD, a professor in the departments of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology, and Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center who is a member of the Governor’s Marijuana Advisory Committee, agrees. He tells Yahoo Beauty that the research “presents clear evidence for the cognitive and neurological benefits of low-dose marijuana use in the aging brain.” Wenk, who also has studied the impact of low-dose cannabinoids, says THC acts by reducing brain inflammation and its consequences upon normal brain function as people age. “It’s a very positive effect that is seen at quite low doses,” he says. Seth Ammerman, MD, a clinical professor at Stanford University’s department of pediatrics in the division of adolescent medicine, tells Yahoo Beauty that THC affects younger brains differently because it can disrupt normal pathways of brain development. But once a person’s brain has fully developed, Ammerman says, it’s “possible” that THC can help stabilize elements in the endocannabinoid system so that the effects of aging on the brain are tempered in a way. Of course, THC is responsible for the high that people feel from marijuana, so dosing is important. Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty she has some concerns. “It has been well-established that THC comes along with side effects — even in older people,” she says, listing anxiety, paranoid thinking patterns, drowsiness, slowed sense of time, and dizziness as examples. “More research will be needed before this could become an accepted therapeutic modality.” Ammerman agrees, noting that “there are still a lot of unanswered questions.” Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyle and @YahooBeauty.


California "weed nun" Christine Meeusen, who goes by the name Sister Kate, poses for a portrait with hemp. Smoking marijuana when you’re young can dull your brain. But when you’re old, it may have the opposite effect. That’s the conclusion of recent research studying the effects of cannabis on mice. Researchers from Bonn University in Germany and Hebrew University in Jerusalem treated aging mice with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—the psychoactive component in marijuana—and found that it reversed the brain’s aging process. Not only did mature and elderly mice perform better on cognitive tests after treatment, but their brain tissue and genetic markers showed physical changes indicative of cognitive youth, according to the study published in Nature Medicine on May 8. Conversely, young mice treated with THC did worse on cognitive tests after treatment, a finding that’s consistent with marijuana studies on human youth. The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that cognitive aging is associated with a decline in the ability of receptors in the brain and body’s endocannabidiol system to receive chemical signals. This system helps mammals, including people, regulate things like appetite, mood, and memory as well as the response to marijuana. THC appears to stimulate these receptors in older mice. To test the impact of treatment with THC, scientists chose mice because they have condensed lives compared to humans. Mice are considered young at two months, mature at 12 months, and elderly at 18 months. The research team administered low doses of THC and compared the three age groups—two-month-olds as compared to 12- and 18-month-olds. They conducted three different kinds of tests in order to measure the effects of THC treatment. First, mouse memory was tested with a maze-navigating exercise which involves learning and recollection. A control group of older mice was unsuccessful at this test, and young mice treated with THC also performed poorly. But the mature and elderly mice treated with THC did well on the test, as well as two-month-old untreated mice. Second, the research team studied novelty object location, whether mice were able to locate a Lego piece that was moved. “In the object location recognition test we used three identical Lego figures,” researcher Andras Bilkei-Gorzo of the Institute of Molecular Psychology at Bonn University said in an interview. “We changed the position of one figure in the second trial. [Mice] that remembered the original positions spent more time investigating the object in the new position.” Young mice who weren’t treated with THC were able to locate repositioned objects easily, as were mature and elderly treated mice. But a control group of older animals not treated with THC couldn’t locate moved objects with the same ease. “Preference for the object in a new position (novelty preference) is an indicator that animals have recognized the repositioning of the object,” the researchers explain. Third, the mice performed a partner recognition exercise. Older rodents treated with THC performed much better than older control groups. To test partner recognition, individual mice were initially placed in an open area that contained a cage with another unknown mouse. An aluminum can that was a similar size, shape, and material as the cage was also placed in that open area but it contained no other mouse. After 24 hours, the mouse was again placed in the open area and presented with two cages, one that contained the prior day’s partner and one containing a new, unknown mouse. The researchers determined that the mice recognized the prior day’s partner mouse if they spent more time with the new partner. They found that the THC-treated mature and older mice were inclined to be more interested in the new partner. Finally, the researchers analyzed the brain tissue and genetic markers of the treated mice. They found that the aged mice no longer showed the typical genetic markers of their age. Most notably, increased connectivity in their brain circuitry indicated that the THC treatment had literally reversed the aging process and restored the cognitive power of youth, making it easy for older mice to learn new things. The next step in research is clinical trials on humans. “Although there is a long path from mice to humans, I feel extremely positive about the prospect that THC could be used to treat dementia, for instance,” North Rhine-Westphalia science minister Svenja Schulz said in a statement. If THC works to restore cognitive youth in people, there may someday be many more old stoners living among us. Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed an innovative new method for detecting buried land mines, and it combines two unconventional tools: lasers and fluorescent bacteria. Civilians around the world are continually impacted by live land mines left over from wartime. Detecting the land mines is difficult and removing them is obviously dangerous. And every year, between 15,000 and 20,000 people are hurt or killed by the devices. As many as 110 million buried land mines have been laid in more than 70 countries since the 1960s, according to the United Nations. Millions are still buried and unexploded. Over the past few years, a number of creative methods have emerged for detecting and detonating land mines, including Massoud Hassani’s windblown device and drone-based system called Mine Kafon. The new Hebrew University method is inspired by the fact that soils collect trace amounts of explosive vapors that leak out of land mines. Detecting the vapors helps detect the land mine. The researchers genetically engineered bacteria to give off a fluorescent signals when contacted by the explosive vapors. They then packed the bacteria into small beads and sprinkled them across the top layer of a test site that had land mines buried underneath. From a safe distance, they scanned the site with a laser and successfully detected the location of the land mines. A paper detailing the study was published last week in the journal Nature Biotechnology. “Our field data show that engineered biosensors may be useful in a land mine detection system,” said Shimshon Belkin, who was in charge of engineering the bacteria. However, he pointed out there were a few more obstacles ahead: “For this to be possible, several challenges need to be overcome, such as enhancing the sensitivity and stability of the sensor bacteria, improving scanning speeds to cover large areas, and making the scanning apparatus more compact so it can be used on board a light unmanned aircraft or drone.”


News Article | April 6, 2017
Site: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have discovered a new mechanism through which our genes express the oxygen-carrying molecule hemoglobin. The discovery shows that even at the cellular level, stress and the ability to mount a stress response are essential to our survival. Our ability to breathe oxygen is critical to our survival. This process is mediated by the hemoglobin in our blood, which carries oxygen. Since air contains less oxygen on high mountains, the body is under pressure to make hemoglobin rapidly a stressful time. But what role does cellular stress play in the production of hemoglobin? In a paper in the high-impact journal Cell Research, researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem report the discovery of an entirely new mechanism through which globin genes are expressed. Discovery of this hitherto unknown property of the hemoglobin genes shows that stress is absolutely needed to allow for the production of hemoglobin. To produce a globin protein molecule, the DNA of the globin gene is first transcribed into a long RNA molecule from which internal segments must be excised, or spliced out, to generate the RNA template for protein synthesis in the red cell. Now, a team of molecular biologists led by Prof. Raymond Kaempfer in the Hebrew University's Faculty of Medicine reports that for each of the adult and fetal globin genes, the splicing of its RNA is strictly controlled by an intracellular stress signal. The signal, which has been known for a long time, involves an enzyme present in every cell of the body, called PKR, which remains silent unless it is activated by a specific RNA structure thought to occur only in RNA made by viruses. What Kaempfer and collaborators have discovered is that the long RNAs transcribed from the globin genes each contain a short intrinsic RNA element that is capable of strongly activating PKR. Unless the PKR enzyme is activated in this manner, the long RNA cannot be spliced to form the mature RNA template for globin protein synthesis. "Surprisingly, we have revealed an entirely new mechanism through which hemoglobin gene expression is regulated by stress. An intracellular signal, essential for coping with stress, is absolutely necessary to allow for hemoglobin production. That stress signal is activated by the hemoglobin gene itself. Although we have long known that this signal strongly inhibits protein synthesis in general, during hemoglobin gene expression it first plays its indispensable, positive role before being turned off promptly to allow for massive hemoglobin formation needed for breathing," said Prof. Raymond Kaempfer, the Dr. Philip M. Marcus Professor of Molecular Biology and Cancer Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Once activated, PKR will place a phosphate (a process known as phosphorylation) onto a key initiation factor needed for the synthesis of all proteins, called eIF2-alpha. That in turn leads to inactivation of eIF2-alpha, resulting in a block in protein synthesis. This process is essential for coping with stress. Most unexpectedly, they discovered that once activated, PKR must phosphorylate eIF2-alpha, and that phosphorylated eIF2-alpha is essential to form the machinery needed to splice globin RNA. In the splicing process, removal of an internal RNA segment causes the mature RNA product to refold such that it no longer will activate PKR, now allowing for unimpeded synthesis on this RNA of the essential globin protein chains at maximal rates, allowing for effective oxygen breathing. In other words, the ability to activate PKR remains transient, serving solely to enable splicing. Thus, the team has demonstrated a novel, positive role for PKR activation and eIF2-alpha phosphorylation in human globin RNA splicing, in contrast to the long-standing negative role of this intracellular stress response in protein synthesis. The realization that stress is not only important but also essential may have important implications for how we understand hemoglobin expression. "What this boils down to is that even at the cellular level, stress and the ability to mount a stress response are essential to our survival. We have long known this in relation to other biological processes, and now we see that it is at play even for the tiny molecules that carry oxygen in our blood," said Prof. Kaempfer.


Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria), a new butterfly species discovered in Israel on the slopes of the popular Mount Hermon ski resort. Credit: Dr Vladimir Lukhtanov Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, made a startling discovery: what people had thought was a population of a common species, turned out to be a whole new organism and, moreover - one with an interesting evolutionary history. This new species is named Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria) and was found flying right over the slopes of the popular Mount Hermon ski resort in northern Israel. It is described in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics. "To me, it was a surprise that no one had already discovered it," says Vladimir Lukhtanov. "Thousands of people had observed and many had even photographed this beautifully coloured butterfly, yet no one recognised it as a separate species. The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA". In 2012, Vladimir Lukhtanov, together with his students, initiated an exhaustive study of Israeli butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 2013, Asya Novikova (until 2012, a master's student at St. Petersburg University and, from 2013, a PhD student at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem) sampled a few fritillaries from Mt. Hermon. It was at that time when the researchers noticed that the specimens "didn't look right" - their genitalia appeared different from those of the typical Persian fritillary. Over the next few years, Lukhtanov and his students studied this population in-depth. They carried out sequencing DNA from the specimens and found that they had a unique molecular signature - very different from the DNA of any other fritillary. The Acentria's fritillary seems to be endemic in northern Israel and the neighbouring territories of Syria and Lebanon. Its evolutionary history is likely to prove interesting. "The species is probably one of a handful of butterflies known to have arisen through hybridisation between two other species in the past," says Lukhtanov. "This process is known to be common in plants, but scientists have only recently realised it might also be present in butterflies." This is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years. More information: Vladimir A. Lukhtanov, A new species of Melitaea from Israel, with notes on taxonomy, cytogenetics, phylogeography and interspecific hybridization in the Melitaea persea complex (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae), Comparative Cytogenetics (2017). DOI: 10.3897/CompCytogen.v11i2.12370


News Article | May 5, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, made a startling discovery: what people had thought was a population of a common species, turned out to be a whole new organism and, moreover - one with an interesting evolutionary history. This new species is named Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria) and was found flying right over the slopes of the popular Mount Hermon ski resort in northern Israel. It is described in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics. "To me, it was a surprise that no one had already discovered it," says Vladimir Lukhtanov. "Thousands of people had observed and many had even photographed this beautifully coloured butterfly, yet no one recognised it as a separate species. The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA". In 2012, Vladimir Lukhtanov, together with his students, initiated an exhaustive study of Israeli butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 2013, Asya Novikova (until 2012, a master's student at St. Petersburg University and, from 2013, a PhD student at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem) sampled a few fritillaries from Mt. Hermon. It was at that time when the researchers noticed that the specimens "didn't look right" - their genitalia appeared different from those of the typical Persian fritillary. Over the next few years, Lukhtanov and his students studied this population in-depth. They carried out sequencing DNA from the specimens and found that they had a unique molecular signature - very different from the DNA of any other fritillary. The Acentria's fritillary seems to be endemic in northern Israel and the neighbouring territories of Syria and Lebanon. Its evolutionary history is likely to prove interesting. "The species is probably one of a handful of butterflies known to have arisen through hybridisation between two other species in the past," says Lukhtanov. "This process is known to be common in plants, but scientists have only recently realised it might also be present in butterflies." This is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years. Lukhtanov VA (2017) A new species of Melitaea from Israel, with notes on taxonomy, cytogenetics, phylogeography and interspecific hybridization in the Melitaea persea complex (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae). Comparative Cytogenetics 11(2): 325-357. https:/


News Article | May 8, 2017
Site: www.biosciencetechnology.com

Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, made a startling discovery: what people had thought was a population of a common species, turned out to be a whole new organism and, moreover - one with an interesting evolutionary history. This new species is named Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria) and was found flying right over the slopes of the popular Mount Hermon ski resort in northern Israel. It is described in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics. "To me, it was a surprise that no one had already discovered it," said Vladimir Lukhtanov. "Thousands of people had observed and many had even photographed this beautifully coloured butterfly, yet no one recognised it as a separate species. The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA". In 2012, Vladimir Lukhtanov, together with his students, initiated an exhaustive study of Israeli butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 2013, Asya Novikova (until 2012, a master's student at St. Petersburg University and, from 2013, a Ph.D. student at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem) sampled a few fritillaries from Mt. Hermon. It was at that time when the researchers noticed that the specimens "didn't look right" - their genitalia appeared different from those of the typical Persian fritillary. Over the next few years, Lukhtanov and his students studied this population in-depth. They carried out sequencing DNA from the specimens and found that they had a unique molecular signature - very different from the DNA of any other fritillary. The Acentria's fritillary seems to be endemic in northern Israel and the neighbouring territories of Syria and Lebanon. Its evolutionary history is likely to prove interesting. "The species is probably one of a handful of butterflies known to have arisen through hybridisation between two other species in the past," said Lukhtanov. "This process is known to be common in plants, but scientists have only recently realised it might also be present in butterflies." This is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: phys.org

Remote detection of buried landmines is a possible application of system to remotely detect buried landmines using a bacterial sensor and a laser-based scanning system. Credit: Hebrew University The need for safe and efficient technologies for detecting buried landmines and unexploded ordnance is a humanitarian issue of immense global proportions. About half a million people around the world are suffering from mine-inflicted injuries, and each year an additional 15 to 20 thousand more people are injured or killed by these devices. More than 100 million such devices are still buried in over 70 countries. The major technical challenge in clearing minefields is detecting the mines. The technologies used today are not much different from those used in World War II, requiring detection teams to risk life and limb by physically entering the minefields. Clearly, there is a critical need for an efficient solution for the remote detection of buried landmines and unexploded ordnance. Researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now report a potential answer to this need. Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, they present a novel, functional system combining lasers and bacteria to remotely map the location of buried landmines and unexploded ordnance. The system is based on the observation that all landmines leak minute quantities of explosive vapors, which accumulate in the soil above them and serve as markers for their presence. The researchers molecularly engineered live bacteria that emit a fluorescent signal when they come into contact with these vapors. This signal can be recorded and quantified from a remote location. The bacteria were encapsulated in small polymeric beads, which were scattered across the surface of a test field in which real antipersonnel landmines were buried. Using a laser-based scanning system, the test field was remotely scanned and the location of the buried landmines was determined. This appear to be the first demonstration of a functional standoff landmine detection system. "Our field data show that engineered biosensors may be useful in a landmine detection system. For this to be possible, several challenges need to be overcome, such as enhancing the sensitivity and stability of the sensor bacteria, improving scanning speeds to cover large areas, and making the scanning apparatus more compact so it can be used on board a light unmanned aircraft or drone," said Prof. Shimshon Belkin, from the Hebrew University's Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, who was responsible for genetically engineering the bacterial sensors. Explore further: Simple test could offer cheap solution to detecting landmines


Baneth G.,Hebrew University
International Journal for Parasitology | Year: 2014

A wide variety of pathogens is transmitted from ticks to vertebrates including viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths, of which most have a life cycle that requires passage through the vertebrate host. Tick-borne infections of humans, farm and companion animals are essentially associated with wildlife animal reservoirs. While some flying insect-borne diseases of humans such as malaria, filariasis and Kala Azar caused by Leishmania donovani target people as their main host, major tick-borne infections of humans, although potentially causing disease in large numbers of individuals, are typically an infringement of a circulation between wildlife animal reservoirs and tick vectors. While new tick-borne infectious agents are frequently recognised, emerging agents of human tick-borne infections were probably circulating among wildlife animal and tick populations long before being recognised as clinical causes of human disease as has been shown for Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. Co-infection with more than one tick-borne infection is common and can enhance pathogenic processes and augment disease severity as found in B. burgdorferi and Anaplasma phagocytophilum co-infection. The role of wild animal reservoirs in co-infection of human hosts appears to be central, further linking human and animal tick-borne infections. Although transmission of most tick-borne infections is through the tick saliva, additional routes of transmission, shown mostly in animals, include infection by oral uptake of infected ticks, by carnivorism, animal bites and transplacentally. Additionally, artificial infection via blood transfusion is a growing threat in both human and veterinary medicine. Due to the close association between human and animal tick-borne infections, control programs for these diseases require integration of data from veterinary and human reporting systems, surveillance in wildlife and tick populations, and combined teams of experts from several scientific disciplines such as entomology, epidemiology, medicine, public health and veterinary medicine. © 2014 Australian Society for Parasitology Inc.

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