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Telomere shortening protects against cancer

Credit: Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics at The Rockefeller University As time goes by, the tips of your chromosomes–called…

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As time goes by, the tips of your chromosomes–called telomeres–become shorter. This process has long been viewed as an unwanted side-effect of aging, but a recent study shows it is in fact good for you.

“Telomeres protect the genetic material,” says Titia de Lange, Leon Hess Professor at Rockefeller. “The DNA in telomeres shortens when cells divide, eventually halting cell division when the telomere reserve is depleted.”

New results from de Lange’s lab provide the first evidence that telomere shortening helps prevent cancer in humans, likely because of its power to curtail cell division. Published in eLife, the findings were obtained by analyzing mutations in families with exceptional cancer histories, and they present the answer to a decades-old question about the relationship between telomeres and cancer.

A longstanding controversy

In stem cells, including those that generate eggs and sperm, telomeres are maintained by telomerase, an enzyme that adds telomeric DNA to the ends of chromosomes. Telomerase is not present in normal human cells, however, which is why their telomeres wither away. This telomere shortening program limits the number of divisions of normal human cells to about 50.

The idea that telomere shortening could be part of the body’s defense against cancer was first proposed decades ago. Once an early-stage tumor cell has divided 50 times, scientists imagined, depletion of the telomere reserve would block further cancer development. Only those cancers that manage to activate telomerase would break through this barrier.

Clinical observations seemed to support this hypothesis. “Most clinically detectable cancers have re-activated telomerase, often through mutations,” de Lange says. Moreover, mouse experiments showed that shortening telomeres can indeed protect against cancer. Nonetheless, evidence for the telomere tumor suppressor system remained elusive for the past two decades, and its existence in humans remained controversial.

The solution to a decades-old problem

The telomere tumor suppressor pathway can only work if we are born with telomeres of the right length; if the telomeres are too long, the telomere reserve would not run out in time to stop cancer development. Longer telomeres will afford cancer cells additional divisions during which mutations can creep into the genetic code, including mutations that activate telomerase.

For decades, de Lange’s lab has been studying the complex process by which telomeres are regulated. She and others identified a set of proteins that can limit telomere length in cultured human cells, among them a protein called TIN2. When TIN2 is inhibited, telomerase runs wild and over-elongates telomeres. But it was not known whether TIN2 also regulated telomere length at birth.

The stalemate on the telomere tumor suppressor continued until physicians at the Radboud University Medical Center in Holland reached out to de Lange about several cancer-prone families. The doctors found that these families had mutations in TINF2, the gene that encodes the TIN2 protein instrumental to controlling telomere length. That’s when they asked de Lange to step in.

Isabelle Schmutz, a Women&Science postdoctoral fellow in the de Lange lab, used CRISPR gene-editing technology to engineer cells with precisely the same mutations as those seen in the Dutch families and examined the resulting mutant cells. She found that the mutant cells had fully functional telomeres and no genomic instability. They were, for all intents and purposes, normal healthy cells.

But there was one thing wrong with the cells. “Their telomeres became too long, ” de Lange says. Similarly, the patient’s telomeres were unusually long. “These patients have telomeres that are far above the 99th percentile,” de Lange says.

“The data show that if you’re born with long telomeres, you are at greater risk of getting cancer, ” says de Lange. “We are seeing how the loss of the telomere tumor suppressor pathway in these families leads to breast cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma, and thyroid cancers. These cancers would normally have been blocked by telomere shortening. The broad spectrum of cancers in these families shows the power of the telomere tumor suppressor pathway.”

The study is demonstration of the power of basic science to transform our understanding of medicine. “How telomeres are regulated is a fundamental problem,” de Lange says. “And by working on a fundamental problem, we were eventually able to understand the origins of a human disease.”

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The idea that telomere shortening could be part of the body’s defense against cancer was first proposed decades ago. Once an early-stage tumor cell has divided 50 times, scientists imagined, depletion of the telomere reserve would block further cancer development. Only those cancers that manage to activate telomerase would break through this barrier.

Source: https://bioengineer.org/telomere-shortening-protects-against-cancer/

telomere-shortening-protects-against-cancer

Ventureburn

ZwartTech launches Talent Foundation to equip Africans with digital skills

Lagos-based ZwartTech has announced the launch of its new edtech, Zwart Talent Foundation (ZTF) in a statement on 30 July 2021.

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Lagos-based ZwartTech has announced the launch of its new edtech, Zwart Talent Foundation (ZTF) in a statement today.

The foundation aims to equip young Africans with ICT skills necessary to close the growing African skills gap. The project has also set aside 70% of recruitment positions for African women.

87% of African CEOs are concerned about the digital skills gap

According to a report by PwC, featured in 2020’s Digital Skills Insights publication, 79% of global CEOs are worried about the availability of digital skills in their workforces, with 87% of African CEOs sharing the same concern.

“We launched the Zwart Talent Foundation to help Africans quickly combat poverty by giving them the chance to acquire tech skills as well as connecting them to international job opportunities. This will enable them to earn more and boost their economic status,” commented Nelson Tosin Ajulo, Chairman of ZTF in a statement.

ZTF’s three-pronged approach to tackling this skills gap means participants are led through the process from initial skills training to launching successful, sustainable careers.

The foundation aims to equip 2 000 Africans with critical ICT skills and recruit them into global companies over the next five years.

The Zwart Academy

Participants are first trained through the Zwart Academy in cybersecurity and Javascript for six months at no cost, giving them the necessary foundation to complete a one-year internship with Zwart Tech on completion.

“We have also realised that the quality of ICT education in Africa is inadequate. Considering this, students who join the Foundation will become Junior Developers in less than three years compared to attending a university and spending four or five years on the same course,” stated Ajulo.

Zwart Recruit

Zwart Recruit aims to support African ICT developers by connecting them with international companies looking for employees specialising in digital skills.

The Zwart Hub

The Hub is an accelerator programme that takes startups from concept to scaling their business on a global scale through mentorship and support from successful, experienced startup owners and investors.

While the global skills gap is worrying, considering automation may render many digital jobs obsolete in the near future, ZTF’s approach is different, according to Ajulo.

“Our approach is not only innovative, but it also saves time and will help tackle inequality faster, bridging gaps between social classes. The Academy training program involves a lot of practicals and it is free,” she concluded.

Read more: Edtech Go1 is SA’s first unicorn after closing $200m round

Read more: Transforming B2B payments could grow Africa’s local businesses [Opinion]

Featured image: Zwart Talent Foundation Chairman, Nelson Tosin Ajulo (Supplied)

“We launched the Zwart Talent Foundation to help Africans quickly combat poverty by giving them the chance to acquire tech skills as well as connecting them to international job opportunities. This will enable them to earn more and boost their economic status,” commented Nelson Tosin Ajulo, Chairman of ZTF in a statement.

Source: https://ventureburn.com/2021/07/zwarttech-launches-talent-foundation-to-equip-africans-with-digital-skills/

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Reduced microbial stability linked to soil carbon loss in active layer under alpine permafrost degra

Credit: NIEER Chinese researchers have recently discovered links between reduction in microbial stability and soil carbon loss in the active

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Chinese researchers have recently discovered links between reduction in microbial stability and soil carbon loss in the active layer of degraded alpine permafrost on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP).

The researchers, headed by Prof. CHEN Shengyun from the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources (NIEER) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and XUE Kai from University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, conducted a combined in-depth analysis of soil microbial communities and their co-occurrence networks in the active permafrost layer along an extensive gradient of permafrost degradation.

The QTP encompasses the largest extent of high-altitude mountain permafrost in the world. This permafrost is different than high-latitude permafrost and stores massive soil carbon. An often ignored characteristic of permafrost is that the carbon pool in the active layer soil is more active and directly affected by climate change, compared to deeper layers.

Triggered by climate warming, permafrost degradation may decrease soil carbon stability and induce massive carbon loss, thus leading to positive carbon-climate feedback. However, microbial-mediated mechanisms for carbon loss from the active layer soil in degraded permafrost still remain unclear.

In this study, the researchers found that alpine permafrost degradation reduced the stability of active layer microbial communities as evidenced by increased sensitivity of microbial composition to environmental change, promoted destabilizing network properties and reduced resistance to node or edge attacking of the microbial network.

They discovered that soil organic carbon loss in severely degraded permafrost is associated with increased microbial dissimilarity, thereby potentially contributing to a positive carbon feedback in alpine permafrost on the QTP.

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The results were published in PNAS in an article entitled “Reduced microbial stability in the active layer is associated with carbon loss under alpine permafrost degradation”.

This research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Strategic Priority Research Program (A) of CAS and the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program.

Triggered by climate warming, permafrost degradation may decrease soil carbon stability and induce massive carbon loss, thus leading to positive carbon-climate feedback. However, microbial-mediated mechanisms for carbon loss from the active layer soil in degraded permafrost still remain unclear.

Source: https://bioengineer.org/reduced-microbial-stability-linked-to-soil-carbon-loss-in-active-layer-under-alpine-permafrost-degra/

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