Science News This Week:
1) New catalyst to convert greenhouse gases into chemicals
Researchers have developed a highly selective catalyst capable of electrochemically converting carbon dioxide -- a greenhouse gas -- to carbon monoxide with 92 percent efficiency. The carbon monoxide then can be used to develop useful chemicals.
team of researchers at the University of Delaware has developed a highly selective catalyst capable of electrochemically converting carbon dioxide -- a greenhouse gas -- to carbon monoxide with 92 percent efficiency. The carbon monoxide then can be used to develop useful chemicals.The researchers recently reported their findings in Nature Communications."Converting carbon dioxide to useful chemicals in a selective and efficient way remains a major challenge in renewable and sustainable energy research," according to Feng Jiao, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and the project's lead researcher.Co-authors on the paper include Qi Lu, a postdoctoral fellow, and Jonathan Rosen, a graduate student, working with Jiao.The researchers found that when they used a nano-porous silver electrocatalyst, it was 3,000 times more active than polycrystalline silver, a catalyst commonly used in converting carbon dioxide to useful chemicals.Silver is considered a promising material for a carbon dioxide reduction catalyst because of it offers high selectivity -- approximately 81 percent -- and because it costs much less than other precious metal catalysts. Additionally, because it is inorganic, silver remains more stable under harsh catalytic environments.The exceptionally high activity, Jiao said, is likely due to the UD-developed electrocatalyst's extremely large and highly curved internal surface, which is approximately 150 times larger and 20 times intrinsically more active than polycrystalline silver.
Jiao explained that the active sites on the curved internal surface required a much smaller than expected voltage to overcome the activation energy barrier needed drive the reaction.The resulting carbon monoxide, he continued, can be used as an industry feedstock for producing synthetic fuels, while reducing industrial carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 40 percent.
To validate whether their findings were unique, the researchers compared the UD-developed nano-porous silver catalyst with other potential carbon dioxide electrocatalysts including polycrystalline silver and other silver nanostructures such as nanoparticles and nanowires.Testing under identical conditions confirmed the non-porous silver catalyst's significant advantages over other silver catalysts in water environments.Reducing greenhouse carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use is considered critical for human society. Over the last 20 years, electrocatalytic carbon dioxide reduction has attracted attention because of the ability to use electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and wave.Ideally, Jiao said, one would like to convert carbon dioxide produced in power plants, refineries and petrochemical plants to fuels or other chemicals through renewable energy use.A 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that 19 percent of greenhouse gas emissions resulted from industry in 2004, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's website."Selective conversion of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide is a promising route for clean energy but it is a technically difficult process to accomplish," said Jiao. "We're hopeful that the catalyst we've developed can pave the way toward future advances in this area."The research team's work is supported through funding from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and University of Delaware Research Foundation. Jiao has patented the novel application technique in collaboration with UD's Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships.
2) A little acid or a tight squeeze can turn a cell stemlike:
Stresses send mouse cells into primordial state capable of making any tissue. Creating stem cells may be as simple as dunking cells briefly into a mild acid bath.
Doing so with mouse cells turned them into ultraflexible ones that can grow into any type of body tissue, researchers report in two papers in the Jan. 30 Nature. Other types of stress, such as squeezing cells through narrow glass tubes, can also reprogram cells, Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, and Harvard Medical School and her colleagues discovered.The easy technique, if it works on human cells, could provide replacement cells for diseased body parts, foster a better understanding of a person’s disease risks and drug sensitivities, and maybe even serve as a fertility treatment.
The method has floored other researchers, who thought that creating stem cells required more-complex operations: extracting cells from embryos, transferring the nucleus of an adult cell to an egg cell, or using viruses or other means to introduce factors into the cell that reprogram it to be embryonic-like.“It’s fascinating. It’s perplexing. It’s potentially profound, but leaves lots of reasons to scratch my head,” says George Daley, the director of stem cell transplantation at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “It’s begging to be replicated,” he says, adding that his lab will attempt to do just that.In the new study, about 7 to 9 percent of cells from newborn mice survive the acid treatment and take just a week to form primordial cells, dubbed STAP cells for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency. Pluripotent cells are capable of developing into cells from any tissue. Both embryonic stem cells and reprogrammed cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, are pluripotent.
STAP cells may be even more flexible, Obokata says. When injected into mouse embryos, STAP cells not only incorporate into any body tissue but they can also form parts of the placenta. That’s a feat other pluripotent cells generally can’t accomplish, and it may indicate that STAP cells are totipotent, or capable of forming a complete organism. Growing STAP cells under different conditions in lab dishes also produced stem cells that could grow into fetal tissues. Slightly different conditions yielded cells resembling placenta precursor cells called trophoblasts. Obokata and her colleagues transformed blood, skin, brain, muscle, fat, bone marrow, lung and liver cells from newborn mice into STAP cells. The technique worked, but not as well, on cells from older mice, she says. The researchers have begun testing the acid treatment on human cells.
The new reprogramming method’s simplicity has taken other researchers aback.Dieter Egli, a stem cell researcher at the New York Stem Cell Foundation, is skeptical of the findings. “If I were to describe this over a coffee break to one of my colleagues, they’d say, ‘you must be kidding,’” he says. He knows of no mechanism that could explain how mild acid or squeezing changes a cell’s fate so dramatically and consistently in one direction. Egli wonders why, for instance, blood cells became stem cells instead of transforming into muscle or any other type of cell.Cells experience stress all the time, Egli points out, from sources such as low oxygen, high or low temperatures, mechanical stress from exercise and chemical stress from inflammation. If simple acid or mechanical stress causes cells to revert to an early developmental state, he says, “it’s hard to imagine how our bodies would maintain integrity over a lifetime.”But Qi-Long Ying, a stem cell biologist at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, speculates that the body produces inhibitory factors that prevent stress from reprogramming cells. Without those inhibitions, lab-grown cells can regress to an immature state. Understanding how stress reverts mouse cells to the anything-goes state may teach researchers more about cancer, another condition in which cells have no particular identity and grow rapidly. He worries that cells reprogrammed by stress might be more susceptible to becoming cancerous.On the road to using STAP cells in individualized medicine, ethical barriers may also pop up. Because STAP cells may be totipotent, James Byrne, a stem cell researcher at UCLA, worries that the new technology may raise old specters of human cloning. Debates over the ethics of embryonic stem cell research were largely pushed to the side when researchers learned how to reprogram adult cells into iPS cells. Because iPS cells usually don't form placenta, they probably would not grow into a fetus if directly transplanted into a uterus. But acid-reprogrammed cells potentially could grow into a fetus, placenta and all. If that’s true, the cells might be used to treat infertility by creating an embryo from an adult’s cells, Byrne says.The new method is just one of many ways to create stem cells, says Louise Laurent, a stem cell biologist at the University of California, San Diego and the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine. If stress reprograms human cells as quickly and efficiently as it does mouse cells, it may have advantages over older techniques. Ultimately, researchers conducting clinical trials will choose the most stable cells that faithfully reproduce tissues of interest, Laurent says.Much research is needed to show whether STAP cells can compete with other types of stem cells, she says. Regardless of the final outcome, she says, “these papers will inspire people to explore less traditional ways of changing a cell’s fate.”
3) Revealing how the brain recognizes speech sounds:
Researchers are reporting a detailed account of how speech sounds are identified by the human brain. The finding, they said, may add to our understanding of language disorders, including dyslexia.UC San Francisco researchers are reporting a detailed account of how speech sounds are identified by the human brain, offering an unprecedented insight into the basis of human language. The finding, they said, may add to our understanding of language disorders, including dyslexia.
Scientists have known for some time the location in the brain where speech sounds are interpreted, but little has been discovered about how this process works.
Now, in Science Express (January 30th, 2014), the fast-tracked online version of the journal Science, the UCSF team reports that the brain does not respond to the individual sound segments known as phonemes -- such as the b sound in "boy" -- but is instead exquisitely tuned to detect simpler elements, which are known to linguists as "features."
This organization may give listeners an important advantage in interpreting speech, the researchers said, since the articulation of phonemes varies considerably across speakers, and even in individual speakers over time.
The work may add to our understanding of reading disorders, in which printed words are imperfectly mapped onto speech sounds. But because speech and language are a defining human behavior, the findings are significant in their own right, said UCSF neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Edward F. Chang, MD, senior author of the new study.
"This is a very intriguing glimpse into speech processing," said Chang, associate professor of neurological surgery and physiology. "The brain regions where speech is processed in the brain had been identified, but no one has really known how that processing happens."Although we usually find it effortless to understand other people when they speak, parsing the speech stream is an impressive perceptual feat. Speech is a highly complex and variable acoustic signal, and our ability to instantaneously break that signal down into individual phonemes and then build those segments back up into words, sentences and meaning is a remarkable capability.Because of this complexity, previous studies have analyzed brain responses to just a few natural or synthesized speech sounds, but the new research employed spoken natural sentences containing the complete inventory of phonemes in the English language.To capture the very rapid brain changes involved in processing speech, the UCSF scientists gathered their data from neural recording devices that were placed directly on the surface of the brains of six patients as part of their epilepsy surgery.The patients listened to a collection of 500 unique English sentences spoken by 400 different people while the researchers recorded from a brain area called the superior temporal gyrus (STG; also known as Wernicke's area), which previous research has shown to be involved in speech perception. The utterances contained multiple instances of every English speech sound.
Many researchers have presumed that brain cells in the STG would respond to phonemes. But the researchers found instead that regions of the STG are tuned to respond to even more elemental acoustic features that reference the particular way that speech sounds are generated from the vocal tract. "These regions are spread out over the STG," said first author Nima Mesgarani, PhD, now an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Columbia University, who did the research as a postdoctoral fellow in Chang's laboratory. "As a result, when we hear someone talk, different areas in the brain 'light up' as we hear the stream of different speech elements."
"Features," as linguists use the term, are distinctive acoustic signatures created when speakers move the lips, tongue or vocal cords. For example, consonants such as p, t, k, b and d require speakers to use the lips or tongue to obstruct air flowing from the lungs. When this occlusion is released, there is a brief burst of air, which has led linguists to categorize these sounds as "plosives." Others, such as s, z and v, are grouped together as "fricatives," because they only partially obstruct the airway, creating friction in the vocal tract.The articulation of each plosive creates an acoustic pattern common to the entire class of these consonants, as does the turbulence created by fricatives. The Chang group found that particular regions of the STG are precisely tuned to robustly respond to these broad, shared features rather than to individual phonemes like b or z.
Chang said the arrangement the team discovered in the STG is reminiscent of feature detectors in the visual system for edges and shapes, which allow us to recognize objects, like bottles, no matter which perspective we view them from. Given the variability of speech across speakers and situations, it makes sense, said co-author Keith Johnson, PhD, professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, for the brain to employ this sort of feature-based algorithm to reliably identify phonemes.
"It's the conjunctions of responses in combination that give you the higher idea of a phoneme as a complete object," Chang said. "By studying all of the speech sounds in English, we found that the brain has a systematic organization for basic sound feature units, kind of like elements in the periodic table."
4) Puzzling question in bacterial immune system answered:
Researchers have answered a central question about Cas9, an enzyme that plays an essential role in the bacterial immune system and is fast becoming a valuable tool for genetic engineering: How is Cas9 able to precisely discriminate between non-self DNA that must be degraded and self DNA that may be almost identical within genomes that are millions to billions of base pairs long.central question has been answered regarding a protein that plays an essential role in the bacterial immune system and is fast becoming a valuable tool for genetic engineering. A team of researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley have determined how the bacterial enzyme known as Cas9, guided by RNA, is able to identify and degrade foreign DNA during viral infections, as well as induce site-specific genetic changes in animal and plant cells. Through a combination of single-molecule imaging and bulk biochemical experiments, the research team has shown that the genome-editing ability of Cas9 is made possible by the presence of short DNA sequences known as "PAM," for protospacer adjacent motif.
"Our results reveal two major functions of the PAM that explain why it is so critical to the ability of Cas9 to target and cleave DNA sequences matching the guide RNA," says Jennifer Doudna, the biochemist who led this study. "The presence of the PAM adjacent to target sites in foreign DNA and its absence from those targets in the host genome enables Cas9 to precisely discriminate between non-self DNA that must be degraded and self DNA that may be almost identical. The presence of the PAM is also required to activate the Cas9 enzyme."With genetically engineered microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, playing an increasing role in the green chemistry production of valuable chemical products including therapeutic drugs, advanced biofuels and biodegradable plastics from renewables, Cas9 is emerging as an important genome-editing tool for practitioners of synthetic biology."Understanding how Cas9 is able to locate specific 20-base-pair target sequences within genomes that are millions to billions of base pairs long may enable improvements to gene targeting and genome editing efforts in bacteria and other types of cells," says Doudna who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley's Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry, and is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
Doudna is one of two corresponding authors of a paper describing this research in the journal Nature. The paper is titled "DNA interrogation by the CRISPR RNA-guided endonuclease Cas9." The other corresponding author is Eric Greene of Columbia University. Co-authoring this paper were Samuel Sternberg, Sy Redding and Martin Jinek.
Bacterial microbes face a never-ending onslaught from viruses and invasive snippets of nucleic acid known as plasmids. To survive, the microbes deploy an adaptive nucleic acid-based immune system that revolves around a genetic element known as CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. Through the combination of CRISPRs and RNA-guided endonucleases, such as Cas9, ("Cas" stands for CRISPR-associated), bacteria are able to utilize small customized crRNA molecules (for CRISPR RNA) to guide the targeting and degradation of matching DNA sequences in invading viruses and plasmids to prevent them from replicating. There are three distinct types of CRISPR-Cas immunity systems. Doudna and her research group have focused on the Type II system which relies exclusively upon RNA-programmed Cas9 to cleave double-stranded DNA at target sites."What has been a major puzzle in the CRISPR-Cas field is how Cas9 and similar RNA-guided complexes locate and recognize matching DNA targets in the context of an entire genome, the classic needle in a haystack problem," says Samuel Sternberg, lead author of the Nature paper and a member of Doudna's research group. "All of the scientists who are developing RNA-programmable Cas9 for genome engineering are relying on its ability to target unique 20-base-pair long sequences inside the cell. However, if Cas9 were to just blindly bind DNA at random sites across a genome until colliding with its target, the process would be incredibly time-consuming and probably too inefficient to be effective for bacterial immunity, or as a tool for genome engineers. Our study shows that Cas9 confines its search by first looking for PAM sequences. This accelerates the rate at which the target can be located, and minimizes the time spent interrogating non-target DNA sites."
Doudna, Sternberg and their colleagues used a unique DNA curtains assay and total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM) to image single molecules of Cas9 in real time as they bound to and interrogated DNA. The DNA curtains technology provided unprecedented insights into the mechanism of the Cas9 target search process. Imaging results were verified using traditional bulk biochemical assays."We found that Cas9 interrogates DNA for a matching sequence using RNA-DNA base-pairing only after recognition of the PAM, which avoids accidentally targeting matching sites within the bacterium's own genome," Sternberg says. "However, even if Cas9 somehow mistakenly binds to a matching sequence on its own genome, the catalytic nuclease activity is not triggered without a PAM being present. With this mechanism of DNA interrogation, the PAM provides two redundant checkpoints that ensure that Cas9 can't mistakenly destroy its own genomic DNA."
5) Integration brings quantum computer a step closer:
Scientists have made an important advance towards a quantum computer by shrinking down key components and integrating them onto a silicon microchip.An international research group of scientists and engineers led by the University of Bristol, UK, has made an important advance towards a quantum computer by shrinking down key components and integrating them onto a silicon microchip.Scientists and engineers from an international collaboration led by Dr Mark Thompson from the University of Bristol have, for the first time, generated and manipulated single particles of light (photons) on a silicon chip -- a major step forward in the race to build a quantum computer.
Quantum computers and quantum technologies in general are widely anticipated as the next major technology advancement, and are poised to replace conventional information and computing devices in applications ranging from ultra-secure communications and high-precision sensing to immensely powerful computers. Quantum computers themselves will likely lead to breakthroughs in the design of new materials and in the discovery of new medical drugs.Whilst still in their infancy, quantum technologies are making rapid process, and a revolutionary new approach pioneered by the University of Bristol is exploiting state-of-the-art engineering processes and principles to make leaps and bounds in a field previously dominated by scientists.
Featuring on the front cover of Nature Photonics, this latest advancement is one of the important pieces in the jigsaw needed in order to realise a quantum computer. While previous attempts have required external light sources to generate the photons, this new chip integrates components that can generate photons inside the chip.
"We were surprised by how well the integrated sources performed together," admits Joshua Silverstone, lead author of the paper. "They produced high-quality identical photons in a reproducible way, confirming that we could one day manufacture a silicon chip with hundreds of similar sources on it, all working together. This could eventually lead to an optical quantum computer capable of performing enormously complex calculations."
Group leader Mark Thompson explained: "Single-photon detectors, sources and circuits have all been developed separately in silicon but putting them all together and integrating them on a chip is a huge challenge. Our device is the most functionally complex photonic quantum circuit to date, and was fabricated by Toshiba using exactly the same manufacturing techniques used to make conventional electronic devices. We can generate and manipulate quantum entanglement all within a single mm-sized micro-chip."The group, which, includes researchers from Toshiba Corporation (Japan), Stanford University (US), University of Glasgow (UK) and TU Delft (The Netherlands), now plans to integrate the remaining necessary components onto a chip, and show that large-scale quantum devices using photons are possible.
"Our group has been making steady progress towards a functioning quantum computer over the last five years," said Thompson. "We hope to have within the next couple of years, photon-based devices complex enough to rival modern computing hardware for highly-specialised tasks."However, these are just the first steps. To realise useful quantum machines will required a new breed of engineering -- quantum engineers, individuals capable of understanding the fundamentals of quantum mechanics and applying this knowledge to real world problems.Bristol's newly established Centre for Doctoral Training in Quantum Engineering will train a new generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs to harness the power of quantum mechanics and lead the quantum technology revolution. This innovative centre bridges the gaps between physics, engineering, mathematics and computer science, working closely with chemists and biologists while interacting strongly with industry.
6) Worry on the brain: Researchers find new area linked to anxiety:
Previous studies of anxiety in the brain have focused on the amygdala, but a team of researchers had a hunch that understanding a different brain area, the lateral septum (LS), could provide more clues into how the brain processes anxiety. Their instincts paid off -- the team has found a neural circuit that connects the LS with other brain structures in a manner that directly influences anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 18 percent of American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, characterized as excessive worry or tension that often leads to other physical symptoms. Previous studies of anxiety in the brain have focused on the amygdala, an area known to play a role in fear. But a team of researchers led by biologists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) had a hunch that understanding a different brain area, the lateral septum (LS), could provide more clues into how the brain processes anxiety. Their instincts paid off -- using mouse models, the team has found a neural circuit that connects the LS with other brain structures in a manner that directly influences anxiety"Our study has identified a new neural circuit that plays a causal role in promoting anxiety states," says David Anderson, the Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology at Caltech, and corresponding author of the study. "Part of the reason we lack more effective and specific drugs for anxiety is that we don't know enough about how the brain processes anxiety. This study opens up a new line of investigation into the brain circuitry that controls anxiety."
The team's findings are described in the January 30 version of the journal Cell.
Led by Todd Anthony, a senior research fellow at Caltech, the researchers decided to investigate the so-called septohippocampal axis because previous studies had implicated this circuit in anxiety, and had also shown that neurons in a structure located within this axis -- the LS -- lit up, or were activated, when anxious behavior was induced by stress in mouse models. But does the fact that the LS is active in response to stressors mean that this structure promotes anxiety, or does it mean that this structure acts to limit anxiety responses following stress? The prevailing view in the field was that the nerve pathways that connect the LS with different brain regions function as a brake on anxiety, to dampen a response to stressors. But the team's experiments showed that the exact opposite was true in their system.
In the new study, the team used optogenetics -- a technique that uses light to control neural activity -- to artificially activate a set of specific, genetically identified neurons in the LS of mice. During this activation, the mice became more anxious. Moreover, the researchers found that even a brief, transient activation of those neurons could produce a state of anxiety lasting for at least half an hour. This indicates that not only are these cells involved in the initial activation of an anxious state, but also that an anxious state persists even after the neurons are no longer being activated.
"The counterintuitive feature of these neurons is that even though activating them causes more anxiety, the neurons are actually inhibitory neurons, meaning that we would expect them to shut off other neurons in the brain," says Anderson, who is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
So, if these neurons are shutting off other neurons in the brain, then how can they increase anxiety? The team hypothesized that the process might involve a double-inhibitory mechanism: two negatives make a positive. When they took a closer look at exactly where the LS neurons were making connections in the brain, they saw that they were inhibiting other neurons in a nearby area called the hypothalamus. Importantly, most of those hypothalamic neurons were, themselves, inhibitory neurons. Moreover, those hypothalamic inhibitory neurons, in turn, connected with a third brain structure called the paraventricular nucleus, or PVN. The PVN is well known to control the release of hormones like cortisol in response to stress and has been implicated in anxiety.This anatomical circuit seemed to provide a potential double-inhibitory pathway through which activation of the inhibitory LS neurons could lead to an increase in stress and anxiety. The team reasoned that if this hypothesis were true, then artificial activation of LS neurons would be expected to cause an increase in stress hormone levels, as if the animal were stressed. Indeed, optogenetic activation of the LS neurons increased the level of circulating stress hormones, consistent with the idea that the PVN was being activated. Moreover, inhibition of LS projections to the hypothalamus actually reduced the rise in cortisol when the animals were exposed to stress. Together these results strongly supported the double-negative hypothesis.
"The most surprising part of these findings is that the outputs from the LS, which were believed primarily to act as a brake on anxiety, actually increase anxiety," says Anderson.
Knowing the sign -- positive or negative -- of the effect of these cells on anxiety, he says, is a critical first step to understanding what kind of drug one might want to develop to manipulate these cells or their molecular constituents. If the cells had been found to inhibit anxiety, as originally thought, then one would want to find drugs that activate these LS neurons, to reduce anxiety. However, since the group found that these neurons instead promote anxiety, then to reduce anxiety a drug would have to inhibit these neurons.
"We are still probably a decade away from translating this very basic research into any kind of therapy for humans, but we hope that the information that this type of study yields about the brain will put the field and medicine in a much better position to develop new, rational therapies for psychiatric disorders," says Anderson. "There have been very few new psychiatric drugs developed in the last 40 to 50 years, and that's because we know so little about the brain circuitry that controls the emotions that go wrong in a psychiatric disorder like depression or anxiety."The team will continue to map out this area of the brain in greater detail to understand more about its role in controlling stress-induced anxiety."There is no shortage of new questions that have been raised by these findings," Anderson says. "It may seem like all that we've done here is dissect a tiny little piece of brain circuitry, but it's a foothold onto a very big mountain. You have to start climbing someplace."
7) Trick identified that aids viral infection:
Scientists have identified a way some viruses protect themselves from the immune system’s efforts to stop infections, a finding that may make new approaches to treating viral infections possible.Scientists have identified a way some viruses protect themselves from the immune system's efforts to stop infections, a finding that may make new approaches to treating viral infections possible.Viruses have well-known strategies for slipping past the immune system. These include faking or stealing a molecular identification badge that prevents a cell from recognizing a virus.Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and elsewhere have found some viruses have another trick. They can block the immune system protein that checks for the identification badge.
The blocking structure is called a stem-loop, found at the beginning of the virus's genetic material. This is the first time scientists have found an immune-fighting mechanism built directly into the genetic material of a virus. They are looking for ways to disable it and searching for similar mechanisms that may be built into the genetic material of other disease-causing microorganisms."When the stem-loop is in place and stable, it blocks a host cell immune protein that otherwise would bind to the virus and stop the infectious process," said senior author Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, professor of medicine. "We found that changing a single letter of the virus's genetic code can disable the stem-loop's protective effects and allow the virus to be recognized by the host immune protein. We hope to find ways to weaken the stem-loop structure with drugs or other treatments, restoring the natural virus-fighting capabilities of the cell and stopping or slowing some viral infections."
Most life forms encode their genes in DNA. To use the instructions contained in DNA, though, cells have to translate them into a related genetic material, RNA, that can be read by a cell's protein-making machinery.Some viruses encode their genes directly in RNA. Examples include West Nile virus and influenza virus, and the viruses that cause sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), yellow fever and polio.
When a virus infects a cell, it co-opts the cell's protein-making machinery to make viral proteins. These proteins allow the virus to replicate. Copies of the virus break into other cells, repeat the process, and the infection spreads.The researchers studied alphaviruses, a group of RNA viruses that cause fever, encephalitis and infectious arthritis. They showed that a single-letter change in the RNA of an alphavirus strengthened the stem-loop. When the structure was stable, a key immune system protein called Ifit1 was blocked from binding to the viral RNA and the infection continued unchecked. But when the stem-loop was unstable, Ifit1 would bind to the viral RNA and disable it, stopping the infectious process."Knowing about this built-in viral defense mechanism gives us a new opportunity to improve treatment of infection," Diamond said. "To control emergent infections, we must continue to look for ways that viruses have antagonized our natural defense mechanisms and discover how to disable them."
Movie Release This Week:
Three best friends find themselves where we've all been - at that confusing moment in every dating relationship when you have to decide "So...where is this going?"
A young couple moves into what appears to be the perfect home. But when they discover that they will soon become parents, things begin to fall apart. Rachel, the expectant mother, is haunted by a ghost in a red dress, while Kevin, the soon to be father, has frightening nightmares even while he’s awake. The once happy couple is torn apart by horrific events, which all seem to be centered around the birth of their unborn child.
When a tornado appears in the waters south of Boston, former storm chaser Joe Randall is intrigued by the unusual weather. But as twisters begin to strike across the Boston shoreline, Joe quickly realizes this is no ordinary storm front. As the storms threaten to move inland, the citizens of Boston find themselves trapped in a tempest turning deadlier by the minute. With the city under siege, Joe, his sister Maddy and his old storm chasing partner Lee realize they’re dealing with a never before seen weather phenomenon known as Stonados. The only chance of stopping the storm is an untested theory about weather manipulation… the same theory that Joe has been trying to prove for over a decade. But with the storm spreading and threatening the entire Eastern Seaboard–as well as Joe’s children who are trapped in a storm-besieged stadium–Joe and his motley crew will have to give it a try, either saving the world... or accelerating its destruction!
When Anna Thompson gets mixed-up in a convenience store robbery, she makes a split-decision to walk out of her life and into the unknown. On her travels, she meets Travis, a teenage drifter on his own journey of self-discovery.
Bride-to-be Claire, her sister Leslie, fun-loving Zoe, and quirky new friend Janet set off to Las Vegas for a one-night bachelorette party that turns out to be more than they bargained for. A series of unexpected adventures—including getting kicked out of a strip club, being mugged, and getting pummeled by the Las Vegas reigning gelatin-wrestling champion, Veronica—rips them from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip and places them smack dab in Vegas's seedy underbelly. Determined to keep their bachelorette party dreams alive, the girls band together and embark on the wildest night in bachelorette party history. Fueled by sex and booze, this raunchy, riotously hilarious, out-of-control blow-out is, for better or worse, all caught on tape. And is destined to go down as the Best Night Ever.
Political News This Week:
1) Protests erupt in Delhi over Arunachal student's death:
A group of students from the Northeast on Saturday staged a protest in New Delhi against the death of an Arunachal Pradesh MLA's son after being allegedly beaten up by some shopkeepers in Lajpat Nagar. The 19-year-old student Nido Tania, son of Congress MLA and Parliamentary Secretary in Health and Family Welfare Department Nido Pavitra, was allegedly beaten up by some shopkeepers following an altercation sparked by their taunts on his hairstyle.
"Police should take swift action in the case. We would not remain silent till the culprits are sent to jail," said Dhapo, a protestor.Protestors in large numbers today gathered outside the Lajpat Nagar Police Station and raised slogans against the police.Police have registered a case of murder under section 302 of IPC and are probing the matter. A magisterial inquiry has also been ordered.
"This is not the first time that a Northeast student has been targeted. We would continue our fight for our rights. We have come here to protest the brutal death of the Arunachal student. We want Delhi Police to take swift action in this case," said Sumokoji, a protestor.
The student's relatives alleged that he had an altercation with some shopkeepers in Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi on Wednesday after they made fun of his hairstyle. The shopkeepers then allegedly thrashed him to death.
Police had reached the spot and brokered compromise after which Tania returned to his Safdarjung home with his friends. However, he did not wake up the next day. When his friends took him to AIIMS, he was declared brought dead. Police said they were waiting for the viscera report while two shopkeepers identified as Farhan and Akram have been arrested.The initial post-mortem has not revealed "much injury or aberration". His viscera samples have been preserved to zero in on the cause of death, police said.
2) Hindi music director Bappi Lahiri, TV personalities join BJP:
Veteran Hindi music director of 'Disco Dancer' fame, Bappi Lahiri, and a few other film and TV personalities joined BJP today in the presence of party president Rajnath Singh in New Delhi.
Lahiri, the flamboyant music director known for wearing heavy gold ornaments, cheered for BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and insisted there is a wave in favour of the right-wing party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Incidentally, Lahiri had campaigned for Congress in 2004.Breaking into a song, Lahiri said, "Rajnathji's dream will come true. Modi will create some magic." He also paid respect to BJP veteran leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L K Advani and party's founders Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.
When asked why he has joined BJP when he had campaigned for Congress in the past, Lahiri said, "Ten years back, there was a wave in their (Congress) favour. The wave has now changed. The wave is now here."
The BJP president said it will soon be decided what role Lahiri will play in the party and whether he will contest the polls.He, however, mentioned that Lahiri is from West Bengal -- perhaps an indication that his services may be used in the state where BJP hardly has a political presence.
Others who joined the party are Tuhin Sinha who wrote TV serial 'Yeh Rista Kya Kehlata Hai' and co-authored former party president Nitin Gadkari's book 'India Aspires', Prashant Narayan who acted in 'Murder-2', TV actress Ashima Sharma who is also a former president of Jodhpur University Students Union, Sachindra Sharma, writer of children series 'My Friend Ganesha', TV actor Gaurav Chopra and script-writer Rajiv Dhamija.
3) Italy criticises India's handling of marines case:
Italy has criticised India's handling of the case of two of its marines accused of killing two Indian fisherman as "contradictory" and "disconcerting" ahead of a hearing of the case in India's Supreme Court.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in a statement that the case had been managed in "contradictory, disconcerting ways by the Indian authorities".He said he would back efforts by Premier Enrico Letta to raise awareness among Italy's international partners about the marines, who could face the death penalty if convicted under an anti-terror law."The head of state will continue and intensify the contacts established on this issue with the heads of state of friendly nations, having already encountered attention and understanding about this painful case from them," Napolitano was quoted as saying by ANSA news agency in the statement issued on Friday.
The marines -- Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone -- were deployed on the Italian-flagged oil tanker MT Enrica Lexie when they shot dead the fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, sparking diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The marines said they mistook the fishermen for pirates. They are currently lodged at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi. The Apex court is scheduled to hear the Italian government's plea challenging the invocation of an anti-terrorism law against the marines on February 3.
4) LeT militant killed in Pulwama gunfight:
A Lashkar-e-Tayiba militant was killed in a gunbattle with security forces in south Kashmir's Pulwama district overnight, police said.
Acting on an intelligence input about presence of ultras in village Kangan, 35-km from Srinagar, security forces launched a search operation in the area last evening, they said.
As they zeroed in on their target, the militants fired at security forces who retaliated, police said.
In the ensuing gunfight, a militant identified as Ajaz Ahmad Bhat was killed, they said.
Bhat, affiliated to the LeT outfit, was involved in a number of terrorist activities including the firing incident at Awantipora market in which two civilians, including a woman, were injured, police said.Some arms and ammunition were recovered from the scene, they said.
5) China 'expels' foreign military planes from airspace:
China on Saturday said it "expelled" foreign military planes from its airspace, the first such incident after Beijing unilaterally declared an air defence zone over islands disputed with Japan in the East China Sea.
"An unidentified military plane was spotted on Friday morning, disrupting the peace and celebratory atmosphere. Airmen from East Sea Fleet were deployed immediately to expel the planes," state-run CCTV quoted The People's Liberation Army Daily as saying.
The report did not identify the country to which the military planes belonged or the exact location where the incident occurred.
China is shutdown for a week from January 31 to celebrate the Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival.
"The whole mission lasted less than three hours... it is essential for the soldiers to stay alert, even on the most important holiday in China. And it is the army's responsibility to protect the people for a peaceful and happy new year," the report said.
In November, China declared the Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea over the disputed islands and warned it could take action against aircraft passing through the region that did not identify themselves.
The US, Japan and South Korea did not recognise the ADIZ and flew their military planes through the zone monitored by China's Air Force.
The announcement of the ADIZ came amid an escalation of the diplomatic standoff between Japan and China over the uninhabited islands, called Senkakus by Tokyo and Daisy's by Beijing.
6) Kejriwal lists 'India's most corrupt' politicians:
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday listed India's "corrupt politicians" who, he said, should not be allowed to contest elections.
On the list put out by the Aam Aadmi Party were Kapil Sibal, A Raja, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, P Chidambaram, Suresh Kalmadi, Jagan M Reddy, Kamal Nath, Sharad Pawar, Nitin Gadkari, Sushilkumar Shinde, Veerappa Moily, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Pawan Bansal, Naveen Jindal, Shriprakash Jaiwal, B Yeddyurappa, Anurag Thakur, Tarun Gogoi, Anu Tandon, Salman Khurshid, Avtar Singh Bhadana, GK Vassan, HD Kumaraswamy, MK Alagiri, Praful Patel and Ananth Kumar.
Kejriwal was addressing AAP workers on a day his cabinet is to discuss the Jan Lokpal Bill that seeks to punish corruption with a maximum sentence of life in jail.
"People like Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, who have spent Rs 500 crore to build their brands, will take that money back from us only. How can they deliver good governance?" Kejriwal asked."Our aim should be to not allow a single corrupt politician or even a family member to enter the House," he said, urging the people to submit similar 'corruption' lists of their own.Kejriwal said, "I have prepared a list of dishonest (politicians) of the country. If you come across any honest politician in the list then please tell me."I am asking for the country's approval on whether to defeat (these politicians) or send them to Parliament."
Kejriwal said the party will field candidates against Gandhi, Union ministers Shinde, Chidambaram, Sibal, Vasan, Khurshid, Moily, Jaiswal, Kamal Nath, Bansal, as well as MPs Naveen Jindal, Bhadana, Tandon, Kalmadi and Assam CM Tarun Gogoi.Kejriwal said AAP candidates will also be fielded against Union Minister Farooq Abdullah, DMK MPs Alagiri, former Minister A Raja, Kanimozhi and Nationalist Congress Party leaders and Union Ministers Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel.Attacking the Bharatiya Janata Party, Kejriwal said the AAP will contest elections against the BJP's youth wing leader Anurag Thakur, former national president Nitin Gadkari, BJP national secretary Ananth Kumar and former Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa.
"We trusted these parties for 65 years and thought that they will do good to the nation, but they betrayed us. After 65 years, we have an opportunity that a common man will go inside Parliament and talk about his rights," Kejriwal said.The AAP will also field candidates against Janata Dal-Secular leader and former Karnataka CM, H D Kumaraswamy, and YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy, he said.An earlier version of this report had erroneously mentioned BJP leader Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as being on the list put out by AAP
7) Indian-origin parents arrested in US toddler death case:
Indian-origin parents of a 19-month-old baby, who died of severe head injuries after his babysitter got angry and dumped him on the floor, have been arrested and charged in the US state of Connecticut.
Kinjal Patel, 27, the Indian-origin babysitter, has already been charged in the case with manslaughter in the first degree and is being held on a $1 million bond.
She allegedly told police that she became angry with the child and forced him to the floor, where he hit his head. The incident occurred at her home in New Haven on January 16.The baby's mother, Thenmozhi Rajendran, 24, and his father, Mani Sivakumar, 33, have been charged with risk of injury to a child and interfering with police.
They turned themselves in at police headquarters, The Hartford Courant newspaper reported on Thursday.Police responded to a "risk of injury" complaint at Yale-New Haven Hospital Paediatric Emergency Department and found the boy's skull was "severely fractured".As the boy, Athiyan Sivakumar, was rushed to surgery, doctors told police his injuries were life-threatening.The boy died on Sunday from his injuries. The Office of the State's Chief Medical Examiner determined his death was "homicide caused by blunt force".On Wednesday, detectives interviewed Patel, who said she called the child's father to tell him his boy was injured.The toddler after the injury began to cry and convulse.
The father returned home and brought the baby to the hospital, police said adding that they were also called to the hospital where doctors told them that the boy's injuries were life-threatening.The family's home was immediately secured as a potential crime scene, police said.
Officers said they were dispatched to the child's home as the boy went into surgery. They said they secured the home as a potential crime scene.Police said the boy died from internal bleeding and a skull fracture on January 19.The Chief Medical Examiner concluded that the death was a homicide caused by blunt force."Any homicide is a tragedy," said Chief Dean Esserman of the New Haven Police Department."None, however, is more tragic than that of an innocent young child. His death was senseless and has affected us deeply."Authorities interviewed Patel on January 22 and she admitted to them that she was babysitting the boy. According to court records, Patel first told the police that the boy woke up convulsing.She then changed her story to say that the boy had slipped on the wet kitchen floor. She later called the police again and said she wanted to tell the truth.In a follow-up interview, Patel told them she became angry and demonstrated how she grabbed the boy and violently slammed his feet up and down on the kitchen floor approximately three times.
She said she then grabbed the boy's cheeks and forcefully shook his head back and forth. She told the police that she pushed the victim's face and he fell backwards, hitting his head on the kitchen floor.Patel told police she did it because the child was spitting food and water at her.In court records, she was quoted as saying to the baby, "Why don't you listen to me? I am the one who is always watching you."Patel said the child began to cry and convulse. She then phoned the child's father, who took the boy to hospital, according to detectives.A woman, who lived in a house below the couple's, told police that she heard a loud banging coming from the couple's home on January 16.
Police said they believe that banging was the sound of the crime in progress.Patel's public defender told Eyewitness News she was very afraid and was seen trembling in court.
Sports News This Week:
1) Cricket: ODI rout fires up New Zealand for India Tests:
A fired up New Zealand on Saturday turned their sights towards the upcoming two Tests against India, bursting with confidence after exceeding expectations by dominating the one-day series.The first Test starts in Auckland next Thursday, with New Zealand already plotting to continue the barrage of short-pitched deliveries which the Indian batsmen struggled to contend with in the ODIs."Even in our wildest dreams we didn't think we could win 4-0 against such a quality side," coach Mike Hesson said.
"We know it's a different format (Tests), and there'll be a few new guys, but we'll definitely take some confidence into the Tests."
The gulf between the two sides on the world rankings table may be vast but New Zealand showed it mattered little as they wrapped up the one-day series with an emphatic 87-run victory in the final match in Wellington on Friday.
In the process India, whose best performance was to tie the third match, dropped from first to second in the rankings while New Zealand raised their standing from a modest eighth to seventh.It is a similar margin at Test level where India are number two with New Zealand in eighth place, but Hesson said his players proved in the ODIs that was no barrier."It's all very well having plans but you need quality players to execute them and we certainly saw that. It was as good as it gets really from a coach's point of view," he said."A number of different players stood up throughout the series at key times," he added, singling out the imperious form of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor who will reprise their roles at three and four in the Test batting line up.Williamson became the fourth New Zealander to score a half-century in five consecutive ODIs, while Taylor produced back-to-back centuries for only the fourth time by a New Zealander in a one-day series.New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum hailed his side's ruthless streak with short-pitched bowling, built on the blueprint of bowling coach Shane Bond, and warned India there would be no let up in the Tests."It's something that's Shane's pretty hot on," McCullum said. "He's keen to see our guys hostile and aggressive with ball in hand and it's certainly a tactic we'll look to employ in the Test series"But India's repeated failures trying to handle the sort-pitched delivery did not mean they would abandon the hook shot, according to captain Mahendara Singh Dhoni, who wants his batsmen to take a positive approach into the Tests."At times they (New Zealand) bowled really well but at the same time we have to back ourselves to play the shots, the kind of cricket, that we're known for," he said."You may lose a few games but it's also important to see the kind of attitude you bring and try to play aggressive cricket.
"Even if you get out you get out. What's important is to have a positive intent right from the start."
2) Cricket: Pakistan star Umar Akmal arrested:
Pakistan's middle-order batsman Umar Akmal was arrested Saturday for violating traffic rules, interfering in government work and "scuffling" with a traffic official.
Police said the 23-year-old Akmal, whose brothers Kamran and Adnan also play for Pakistan, did not stop at a traffic signal in the commercial Firdous market area in Lahore, and later brawled with a traffic warden."Three wardens tried to stop him after he violated a traffic signal but he did not (stop). And when he finally stopped, he scuffled with a warden and tore his uniform," senior local police official Zahid Nawaz told reporters."Umar is under arrest and a case has been filed against him."
But Akmal denied the charges, claiming he had been assaulted by the traffic warden first."The warden hit me on my face and you can see the wounds," he told reporters.
"I myself came to the police station with a request to control the wardens who misbehave with people and police have instead registered a case against me."
Later Saturday, the Lahore police took Akmal to a session court but could not produce him before the close of proceedings.Akmal's lawyer Wasim Mumtaz said police stopped him from meeting Umar."The police wasted time and even stopped me from meeting him," said Mumtaz, who was unsure whether his client will be released on bail before court proceedings on Monday.Mumtaz added that the authorities had yet to show him a copy of the allegations against his client, a refusal which he described as "unlawful".
Akmal's elder brother Kamran, former Pakistan vice captain, also accompanied the lawyer.
Earlier Akmal was charged on three bailable counts and faces the prospect of a large fine or six months in prison if convicted.Akmal has so far played 16 Tests, 89 one-day internationals and 52 Twenty20 for Pakistan in a career that began in 2009.He is regarded as one of Pakistan's most talented batsman, but has failed to live up to his potential because of his rashness in batting and approach.He was dropped from the Test side in 2011 but regularly plays limited overs cricket.
3) Russian PM urges for plans for Sochi venues:
Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has urged his government to come up with a plan for the post-Olympic use of Sochi venues.
The Winter Games open in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Feb.7 and run through Feb. 23. Russia has spent about $51 billion on the Games, making them the most expensive in Olympic history.
Medvedev issued an order published on the government's website, urging the government to present proposals for the post-Olympic use of the venues by the end of the month.
There are five arenas in the Olympic park and two for ice-hockey in this subtropical town. Sochi does not have a history of winter sports and is most known for tennis players including Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Maria Sharapova.
4) India beat Chinese Taipei to progress in Davis Cup:
Rohan Bopanna and Saketh Myneni gave India an unassailable 3-0 lead against Chinese Taipei after clinching their doubles rubber in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Round 1 tie at the Indore Tennis Club here Saturday.Bopanna and Myneni won 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(2) against Hsien-Yin Peng and Hsin-Han Lee to put the Anand Amritraj-led team in Round 2 where they will take on South Korea April 4-6.
After being completely routed by the Indian combine in the first set, Peng and Lee came back to level the contest by winning the second set in the tie-breaker.
Davis Cup debutant Myneni came out on top with his experienced partner to bag the third set easily and the fourth in another tie-breaker to take the home side to victory.
Earlier Saturday, Somdev Devvarman put India 2-0 up beating Ti Chen. Devvarman's match resumed in the morning after being suspended due to bad light Friday at 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 1-6, 6-2, 7-7. The Indian took only a few minutes to finish off the last set 9-7 and go 3-0 up in career meetings against Chen.
The 28-year-old played attacking shots and kept Chen at the baseline which aided him to break the visitor in the 16th game. Devvarman finally managed to seal the deal on his seventh match point when he forced Chen to make an error, putting an end to the match fought over two days.
Yuki Bhambri had given India a 1-0 lead Friday by drubbing Chinese Taipei No.1 Tsung Hua Yang 6-2, 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-3 in two hours and 52 minutes.
5) 102-year-old cyclist sets world record:
Age hasn't slowed cyclist Robert Marchand.The 102-year-old Frenchman broke his own world record in the over-100s category Friday, riding 26.927 kilometers (16.7 miles) in one hour, more than 2.5 kilometers better than his previous best time in the race against the clock two years ago.
By way of comparison, the current overall world record for one hour is 49.700 kilometers (30.882 miles) set by Czech Ondrej Sosenka in 2005.
Marchand, a retired firefighter and logger, also holds the record for someone over the age of 100 riding 100 kilometers (62 miles). He did it in four hours, 17 minutes and 27 seconds in 2012.Marchand received a standing ovation and was mobbed by dozens of photographers and cameramen at the finish line in France's new National Velodrome, a 74-million-euro ($100 million) complex that officially opened its doors Thursday.The athlete smiled and raised his arms at the finish, supported by two assistants. "It was very good, but at the end it started to become very hard!" he said.He said he couldn't have done it without the public's support.
"You have to know there are people who came from 600 kilometers away to see me today! It is incredible. That's all I can say," Marchand said.
Book Of This Week:
The Ghost of the Mary Celeste :by Valerie Martin
In December of 1872, the cargo ship Mary Celeste was discovered under sail near the Azores. Nearly everything about it looked normal except that it was totally devoid of its crew and any passengers who may have been aboard when it left port. The quarters and cargo appeared undisturbed but for one missing lifeboat. No answer as to what happened has ever been found, although many theories have been proffered.
"While the storyline can come across as somewhat disjointed and a trifle confusing at times, the writing is skillful and the prose is often heartbreakingly beautiful."
In her vivid imagining of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the seven who set out on the Mary Celeste, Valerie Martin has created, among many things, a book within this book labeled “The Log of the Mary Celeste,” the title being a joke between the captain and his wife. In reality, it contains diary entries by the wife, in which she records the daily events leading up to the crucial time when all aboard went missing. In these pages, Martin’s readers are given a chance to experience life aboard a seagoing vessel as it cuts through stormy high seas and survives punishing waters whipped up by the pounding winds. It becomes easy to believe one could be swept off the deck in the blink of an eye, with no one having seen. But what does the author think happened to an entire ship’s crew?
Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes --- and a member of The Society for Psychical Research --- earlier wrote a story for a magazine under a pseudonym, proposing one possible scenario for the vanished men. It didn’t cover all of the facts that were known, though, and no one took it too seriously. Now, later, on a trip to the United States, he meets Miss Violet Petra, a sought-after seeress, and a cunning but often demure woman whose exact age --- along with her dubious talent --- seems hard to pin down. Doyle becomes quite entranced by her abilities and wishes to learn more about her. So it is that, after vigorous cajoling, Miss Petra agrees to travel to London where the Society plans to put her through stringent psychic testing. Although she seemed unafraid of exposure, she nonetheless failed to arrive in England --- another mysterious disappearance added to the lot.
The Atlantic Ocean claims many lives in this book, despite any confirmation that it was the body of water that took the crew of the ghost ship Mary Celeste. Yet the idea that a handful of men would jump into a lifeboat, take none of their belongings or any valuables that were known to be onboard, and then never be seen or heard from again makes little sense either. But no one has been able to present a satisfactory alternative to solve the mystery. So Valerie Martin decided to let her mind run where it would, weaving together several concurrent stories that come together in a loose sort of way and reach a conclusion that doesn’t quite satisfy.
While the storyline can come across as somewhat disjointed and a trifle confusing at times, the writing is skillful and the prose is often heartbreakingly beautiful. Despite these criticisms, THE GHOST OF THE MARY CELESTE is worth a read.
Valerie Martin is the author of 10 novels, including TRESPASS, MARY REILLY, ITALIAN FEVER and PROPERTY, three collections of short fiction, and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, titled SALVATION. She has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the Kafka Prize (for Mary Reilly) and Britain’s Orange Prize (for Property). Martin’s last novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF EDWARD DAY, was a New York Times notable book for 2009.
A new novel, THE GHOST OF THE MARY CELESTE, is due from Nan Talese/Random House in January 2014, and a middle-grade reader ANTON AND CECIL, CATS AT SEA co-written with Valerie’s niece Lisa Martin, will be out from Algonquin in October of 2013.
Valerie Martin has taught in writing programs at Mt. Holyoke College, University of Massachusetts, and Sarah Lawrence College, among others. She resides in Dutchess County, New York and is currently Professor of English at Mt. Holyoke College.