The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are immune cell heart beats, printing glass, and meteor showers.

Article written by Victoria Swann

Immune cells help the heart to beat

New research by Hulsman et al. published this week in Cell showed for the first time that macrophages actually enable cardiac cells to beat.  Macrophages, a type of immune cell more commonly known for engulfing bacteria and other pathogens, have a slightly different role within the heart.  Using mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) tagged macrophages, they showed that cardiac macrophages were much more elongated than most other cells of the same type, with long spindly projections wrapping around the cardiac muscle cells (cardiomyocytes).  These heart-specific immune cells were predominantly found around the atrioventricular (AV) node, a bundle of cells which connects the atria at the top of the heart to the ventricles at the bottom.  The AV node is the heart’s pacemaker, keeping the cardiomyocyte beating in sync.  With the help of photoactivatable macrophages, the group demonstrated that they could adjust the electrical pattern of cardiomyocytes by controlling the electrical activity of the cardiac macrophages.  They could also mimic AV block by disrupting the physical connection between the macrophages are the myocytes.  As problems with the AV node are the major cause of requiring pacemakers, understanding how it is happening could be of great use in treating cardiovascular disease.

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Printing glass

In this week’s Nature, Kotz et al. have developed a method for 3D printing glass.  Up until now, attempts to use 3D printing to make transparent glass structures have resulted in coarse surfaces that would need extensive further processing before they could be used.  This new method used a monomeric silica powder that could be printed out into a polymerised matrix, followed by ‘sintering’ – heating to 1300⁰C to fuse the silica into a mass of glass.  The group managed to print out a variety of glass structures to micrometre resolution, including the logo of the Karlsruhe Institute and a pretzel!  These new glass structures were shown to have smooth surfaces, a lack of reaction to hazardous chemicals, and extremely high heat resistance.  This development could potentially make optical lenses and filters for microscopes and cameras much cheaper and quicker to make to specification, and in the future opticians may even be printing out lenses for our glasses while we wait!

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Meteor shower tonight!

The Lyrid meteors are here!  For the last week, stargazers in the northern hemisphere have been watching shooting stars streaking across the sky, and they’re expected to show up for the next couple of nights as well.  These meteors are formed from the tail of Comet Thatcher and are a result of the sun melting the ice on the outside of the comet, causing some of it to break off and spread out along the comet’s orbit.  When the Earth crosses the comet’s path, they burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere producing streaks of fire across the night sky.  The comet itself was identified in 1861, but descriptions of the Lyrids date back to at least 687 BC in China.  If you miss them, don’t be too worried as they’ll be back again next April.

Find out more here.

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Article written by Victoria Swann.