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Snack size affects the chomp of the predator

University researchers have discovered the size of a predator’s prey affects the bite force of the predator, according to a Feb. 12 University press release.

The researchers trained carp — a kind of fish with relatively simple jaws — to eat ceramic tubes varying in strength and diameter. The hard-shelled tubes simulated the carp’s natural diet: snails. The researchers then implanted small metal balls into the carp’s jaws to track how much the fish’s jaw muscles stretched to eat the meal. The researchers recorded X-ray videos of the fish eating the tubes and kept track of which tubes the carp were able to break, according to the press release.

After the tests, the fish were dissected and the jaw muscles kept alive. The researchers measured the force of the bite when they stimulated the jaw muscle. They found the force of the bite was strongly affected by the size of the snack tube, and there was an “optimal amount of muscle stretch” that led to the strongest bite, according to the release.

The findings shine light on how the evolution of a prey animal, such as the snail species developing stronger or larger shells, can trigger an evolutionary response in the predator — in this case, the carp’s jaw muscle force and structure.

“This really sets the ground for a lot of cool ecology and predator-prey interaction studies,” said Nicholas Gidmark, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Evolutionary Biology who worked on the project, in the press release.


Religious organizations can play a role in fighting HIV 

Faith-based institutions serve as a valuable channel for HIV prevention campaigns among African Americans, according to an article published by University researchers and collaborators from Philadelphia.

The researchers initiated a community-based program in June 2010, tracking the effect of integrating HIV prevention strategies at 40 faith-based institutions in Philadelphia, according to the study. African Americans make up 44 percent of the city’s population but they constitute 69 percent of the new HIV infections, the researchers wrote.

The team conducted a city-wide media campaign to raise HIV/AIDS awareness, sponsored educational events at churches and encouraged sermons about HIV/AIDs in churches and mosques. They found the most effective HIV prevention campaigns consist of “tailoring events to individual institutions rather than pursuing a ‘one size fits all’ approach,” according to the study. The team recommended a targeted approach, including broad community outreach and building relationships with community organizers and faith leaders.


Researchers reveal inner workings of Angelman syndrome

University researchers have made headway on uncovering exactly what goes wrong in a brain affected by Angelman syndrome, according to a Feb. 13 University press release.

Angelman syndrome, which arises from a genetic defect on gene Ube3A, causes developmental delay, seizures and other learning problems in children, according to the release.

The researchers found that in a regularly functioning brain, the gene Ube3A restricts the levels of a protein called Arc. Without a proper Ube3A gene, Arc levels are left unchecked, hindering the development of neural connections in the hippocampus, a brain structure necessary for memory and learning.

“We are really beginning to understand what’s going wrong. That’s what’s very exciting,” said John Marshall, professor of medical science in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology and senior author of the study, in the release.

The team discovered that a synthesized compound called CN2097 restores regular neural functions in affected mice. The researchers are hopeful but cautious about assuming the therapy would be as effective in humans. They have launched a startup company called Angelus Therapeutics to raise funds for the research and plan to continue investigating brain disorders.

“Can we actually rescue learning deficits?” Marshall said in the release. “That would be the next stage to test. We haven’t gotten that far yet.”


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