Untangling the Genetic Troubles of the Florida Panther

Researchers have put together the first complete imagery of the Florida panther’s DNA. This work might be the key to protecting this endangered population and others. This is the only known population of puma east of the Mississippi River.

Florida panthers, in the mid 90’s, were experiencing tough times with less than 30 in the wild. The inevitable inbreeding that happened in such a small population caused the expected health troubles when this kind of close genetic mating. For these south eastern pumas this included heart failure, undescended testicles and pathogenic diseases.

The solution? Researchers placed eight female Texan pumas into the population hoping to expand the genetic pool.

Using advanced computing techniques researchers are doing a new study in which they are trying to better understand how the Texan pumas contributed to the genetic diversity of the population. One crucial finding was that genetic diversity tripled.

The previous population had a heart defect in 21% of pumas. This defect is now down to a mere 3 percent amidst the population.

Researchers hope their findings will help those working with endangered populations better understand the risks of small gene pools in endangered populations and how to detect those harmful mutations.

OSU Researchers Develop “Trojan Horse” Cancer Treatment

Researchers at The Ohio State University are working on a new way to treat drug-resistant cancer that the ancient Greeks would approve of—only it’s not a Trojan horse, but DNA that hides the invading force.

The study involved a pre-clinical model of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) that has developed resistance against the drug daunorubicin. Specifically, when molecules of daunorubicin enter an AML cell, the cell recognizes them and pumps them back out through openings in the cell wall. It’s a mechanism of resistance that study co-author John Byrd of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center compared to sump pumps that draw water from a basement.

He and Carlos Castro, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, lead a collaboration focused on hiding daunorubicin inside a kind of molecular Trojan horse that can bypass the pumps so they can’t eject the drug from the cell.

In this case, the invading force is a common cancer drug.

In laboratory tests, leukemia cells that had become resistant to the drug absorbed it and died when the drug was hidden in a capsule made of folded up DNA.

Previously, other research groups have used the same packaging technique, known as “DNA origami,” to foil drug resistance in solid tumors. This is the first time researchers have shown that the same technique works on drug-resistant leukemia cells.

The researchers have since begun testing the capsule in mice, and hope to move on to human cancer trials within a few years. Their early results appear in the journal Small.