Problems 2016

1. I have a contact!

In neuroprosthetics, people are implanted with electrodes that transmit signals from the brain to the exoskeleton or other external devices. Currently, these electrodes can only work for a limited period of time (up to several months), because they cause rejection from the brain and gradually become covered with glial cells, losing conductivity. Suggest ways to solve the problem of using neural prostheses.

The problem’s author is Victoria V. Korzhova, neurobiologist, Ph.D. student of the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen).

2. Flu: catch me if you can

Garlic is often recommended for use during flu epidemics. How could to justify this treatment against viral diseases? What is the mechanism of possible antiviral action of garlic?

3. Useful radiation

Let us recall the phrase of the famous physician and philosopher Paracelsus: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison”. This applies also to ionizing radiation. When living organisms are irradiated with low doses and capacities, growth, development, and improvement in physiological parameters are observed. This effect is called the phenomenon of hormesis. For more than 100 years, it has been studied on different organisms, but the mechanisms of the development of positive effects from small doses of ionizing radiation are still not fully understood. Propose one of the ways in which gene activation, initiation of protein synthesis, stimulation of growth and development can occur, for example, in agricultural plants exposed to preliminary γ-irradiation of their seeds.

The problem was proposed by the Laboratory of Radiobiology and Ecotoxicology of Plants,
All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Radiology and Agroecology, Obninsk, Russia

4. Ribosomes dance

Protein biosynthesis (translation) includes three consecutive stages: initiation (ribosomes bind to messenger RNA), elongation (formation of peptide bonds between amino acids), termination of translation (release of the ready protein, departure of ribosomes from mRNA). Under certain conditions, the ribosome stops at the termination stage, being stuck to the mRNA with the almost ready protein. To resume termination, you need a signal. According to the results of some in vitro experiments, the initiation of translation of a single ribosome can stimulate the termination of another ribosome. Suggest an experimental approach (mental experiment) that would prove or disprove the assumption of the “signaling” role of initiation. What advantages does the cell achieve having the possibility to regulate translation through termination?

The problem author is Evgeny A. Sogorin, Laboratory of protein biosynthesis mechanisms, Protein Research Institute RAS, Pushchino, Russia

Additional explanatory material for the problem:

5. To kill or not to kill

At present, in the reserves, humans do not interfere in the regulation of large ungulate animals, which can lead to undesirable consequences for the ecosystem. For example, the abnormally high number of moose in the 60s of the last century in Moscow region led to a disruption of reforestation. Consider the biological expediency of human intervention in regulating the number of ungulates in protected areas.

* The legal side of the issue should not be considered.

The problem was proposed by the Prioksko-Terrasny Nature Biosphere Reserve

6. “Chicken or the egg”

In aerobic organisms, the antioxidant systems, that neutralize the reactive oxygen species formed as a result of many metabolic reactions, are an integral part of whole cell metabolism. However, genes encoding antioxidant enzymes are also found in anaerobic organisms, including obligate anaerobes. This discovery allowed scientists to assume that antioxidant enzymes arose evolutionarily before the formation of the oxygen atmosphere. It is possible that the last common universal ancestor (LUCA), although an anaerobic organism, also possessed antioxidant enzymes. Suppose, why the ancient anaerobes needed antioxidant enzymes.

The problem was proposed by Marina A. Kozuleva, Laboratory of photosynthetic electronic transport, Institute of Basic Biological Problems RAS, Pushchino, Russia