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Magnetic Attraction - Arash Komeili charts the course of magnetotactic bacteria

Magnetic Attraction

Arash Komeili charts the course of magnetotactic bacteria

Arash Komeili
PHOTO: Elena Zhukova

In a laboratory at Koshland Hall, a bobblehead doll of the X-Men character Magneto sits on a shelf near a few dozen tubes and jars of murky pond water. When a visitor stops by, plant and microbial biology professor Arash Komeili grabs a bottle from a countertop and pours a few milliliters of the cloudy water into a test tube. “This is from a stream near my house,” he says, “or maybe Strawberry Creek. It probably contains tens of millions of bacteria.”

He holds a common refrigerator magnet to the tube, and suddenly sludge drifts upward along the side of the glass. Unsatisfied with the display, he quickly prepares a slide with a water droplet and places it under a microscope. On an attached video screen, the bacteria appear as a scattered constellation of black dots. When Komeili holds the magnet up to the slide, the bacteria rush to gather at the edge of the droplet. Like a line of dancers, they follow the magnet, then fall back into disarray when it’s removed from the glass.

If you didn’t know that bacteria could be magnetic, you’re not alone. In fact, Komeili’s work is bringing attention to a once obscure corner of the biological world, and even causing scientists to reevaluate basic facts about the structures of single-celled organisms. Think back to your introductory high school biology class: Bacteria were probably presented to you as one of the earth’s simplest life-forms, lacking nuclei and defined organelles. Look a little deeper than Bio 101, however, and you’ll find that these organisms aren’t really so simple after all.

Specifically, Komeili studies magnetosomes, microscopic structures within bacteria that contain magnetic particles, such as iron, allowing the bacteria to navigate in relation to the earth’s poles, just like Viking mariners using lodestones. “For the bacterial cells, it’s a valuable product because they use it to align in the earth’s magnetic field,” he says, “and then they can navigate the environment along a restricted space.”

Magnetic Marco Polo

Unlike Vikings, bacteria aren’t looking for new lands to conquer, but magnetism does help them find resources and hospitable environments. Take a typical lake, for example, in which oxygen levels are highest near the surface. Magnetotactic bacteria prefer areas with a lower oxygen content, Komeili explains, “so they swim up and down along the magnetic field lines, and then they decide where to stop.” Like playing Marco Polo in a swimming pool, they’re continually sampling their environment to move in more promising directions.

The magnetosome isn’t a true compass, and it can’t tell bacteria exactly where to go—it’s more like the earth’s magnetic field is a train track, and the magnetosome is the train’s wheels. “Then you have an engine and a conductor,” Komeili says, “but you can’t escape those tracks.”

Komeili studies magnetosomes, structures that allow bacteria to navigate in relation to the earth’s poles, just like Viking mariners using lodestones.

While this navigation technique is exciting in and of itself, Komeili is even more interested in what the presence of magnetosomes reveals about basic cell biology. To begin with, there’s that traditional understanding of bacteria—that they don’t have organelles, the specific functional subunits associated with complex organisms such as plants and animals. “When I was getting my PhD in cell biology,” Komeili says, “that was certainly what I had heard and believed.”

The presence of what is essentially a “magnet factory” within some of these cells doesn’t square with the sort of basic biology that high school students have been taught for generations. The magnetosomes don’t spring up magically, Komeili says. Rather, “the bacteria are making this compartment, and then within that compartment they’re making the magnetic particle.” And that level of complex organization just isn’t something that organisms this simple were thought to be capable of. Until, that is, Komeili and his colleagues began their groundbreaking research.

A blueprint for magnetosomes

 

Establishing the basic science that undergirds the magnet factory has been the thrust of Komeili’s inquiry. This has been painstaking, multifaceted work that required figuring out the genetics that control the magnetosome formation process. With those basic tools in place, the researchers then began changing one factor at a time in their bacterial “lab rat,” to reverse engineer how the magnetosome is created.

“Over time, we assembled a little blueprint of how magnetosomes are made and how the magnetic particles are made,” Komeili explains. “And the blueprint says, ‘To make the compartment, you need these genes, then to bring in the iron, you need these other genes. And to turn the iron into something solid like a mineral, you need these other genes, and then to put them together in a line, you need thesegenes.’”

The study of magnetic bacteria is still in its relative infancy. Komeili did a search of PubMed, the scientific database, and between 1975 and the early 2000s only one or two papers per year matched the term “magnetotactic bacteria.” “In the last five or six years, though,” he says, “you have 50 to 75 papers a year with that search term.” And many of those build on the foundational work being done in the Komeili lab.

There is already great promise for practical applications of magnetotactic bacteria. In the field of environmental remediation, they can be used to bind toxic heavy metals such as chromium, neutralizing them and speeding cleanup. Geologists and paleontologists are also eager to do more work with them: The orientation of fossilized magnetic bacteria provides valuable information about continental plates and the history of the earth’s magnetic poles. But perhaps the most exciting potential is in the field of cancer detection and treatment. One of Komeili’s colleagues at Berkeley is Steven Conolly, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences who is working on a new technology called magnetic particle imaging.

One long-term goal is to use magnetic bacteria DNA to label mammalian cancer cells—essentially creating a living magnetic biomarker of cancer. Researchers already rely on a similar optical genetic reporter, fluorescent proteins. But, as Conolly notes, “tracking cancer with magnetic reporters has great potential because you can see magnetic signals deep inside an animal without worrying about the attenuation of light through layers of tissue.”

Conolly envisions a research measurement device the size of a toaster—simply pop a mouse inside the machine and you could measure tumor volume very quickly, without even making an image. Additionally, magnetic labels could help physicians track the success of immunotherapy treatments, which are often frustratingly invisible once inside a patient. “If we put magnetic reporters on them,” Conolly says, “then we can see them anywhere. It’s like looking for stars at night instead of looking for stars during the day.”

Fun with serious science

Back in the laboratory, Komeili’s enthusiasm for basic science is infectious. Although the work is complex and time-consuming, the mood in the lab is light, with frequent social events and holiday parties, not to mention the presence of every possible magnetic toy on the market. That energy extends beyond the lab and into the classroom, where Komeili teaches a well-regarded undergraduate microbiology course that’s small enough to give him plenty of one-on-one time with budding scientists.

And unlike the microbiologists of yesterday, Komeili maintains an active Twitter presence @micromagnets, often highlighting the work of  other people in his field. In part because of his own research—and in part because of his upbeat attitude and collaborative nature—magnetosomes are beginning to gain wide renown.

“Recently I was interviewing a high school student for a scholarship,” Komeili recalls, “and she asked me about my work. When I told her, she said, ‘Oh, we learned about magnetotactic bacteria in AP Biology,’ and I was so excited that I had to run back into the lab and tell everybody.”

When it comes to his graduate students, Komeili is committed to providing a wide range of challenges and opportunities. “This lab wasn’t initially on my radar,” says fifth-year PhD candidate Carly Grant. “But I took a class with Arash, and I decided that what I wanted from grad school was a really good mentor. He’s given me the freedom and support to explore alternative research opportunities and work on projects that excite me.”

The advantages of that freedom go both ways. The notion that bacteria make compartments “is still the most compelling idea that drives me,” Komeili says, “but different people in my lab get excited about different aspects of this field, and that leads them down different paths, and then that gives me whole new ways of getting excited.”

 

https://nature.berkeley.edu/breakthroughs/fa18/magnetic-attraction?fbcli...

Great News to share: Congratulations to Maryam Tabibzadeh on her latest book release - Husrō and Shirin

Please join us to congratulate Mrs. Maryam Tabibzadeh on her latest book release - Husrō and Shirin.

 

March 2018 (RALEIGH, NC) - Maryam Tabibzadeh has released a fascinating historical saga of the love affair between the king of the Persian empire and the princess of Armenia, based on a true story which is set in the 6th century.  Husrō and Shirin follow the individual lives of three people across three cities, exploring the intimate details of their lives in Iran during this period. Through the loves and losses of these characters and the telling and retelling of the stories, the reader is allowed to experience Ancient Persian culture from the inside.


From the architecture of the palaces to the rules governing relationships between men and women, the texture of this rich culture permeates the book and interweaves the realities of the time and place with the lives of these characters. By highlighting the importance of poetry in Persian culture, there are poems/songs throughout the novel which speaks of the love, tragedy, and joy that these characters experience over the years.

Speaking from a place of great familiarity with the culture, Tabibzadeh takes the reader through time to experience the feeling of these characters.
Tabibzadeh- tells the tale of Parviz and Shirin in a practiced, polished manner, capturing the poetry of the ancient story and its worldview: “That evening, when the night spread its hair, covering the world in darkness, Parviz went home and recited his prayers.”

Describing the sources of inspiration and material for her novel, Tabibzadeh credits “This novel is the translation of beautiful Epic verses written by Nezami the famous Persian poet in the 12th century based on the true love story that rivals the Romeo and Juliette and is sweeter than any other romance you have ever read. I got some facts from another famous Poet Firdausi in the 10thcentury also.

The resulting novel offers readers a glimpse at an Iran 1400 years ago that is much deeper than the headlines and much broader than the preconceptions that dominate Western media.
 
For all media inquiries, including requests for author interviews,  or appearances please contact:   Amanda by e-mail  dreambookpublisher@gmail.com

Great News to share: Congratulations to Troy Homesley

Please join us to congratulate Troy Homesley, son of Fariba and Cliff  Homesley, and brother to Persia, Cyrus, and Darius, who has been named Editor in Chief of the Carolina Law Review at the University of North Carolina Law School at Chapel Hill. 
 
Troy attended UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate as a Morehead-Cain Scholar, graduating with Honors.  He has recently accepted a summer internship with the lawfirm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City.

Great News to share: Congratulations to Aram Lindroth

Please join us in congratulating Aram Lindroth, the winner of the 2016 Chapel Hill Philharmonia Young Artist Concerto Competition!
 
Congratulations also, to Aram’s parents, Dr. Katayoun Tabrizi and Professor Scott Lindroth, vice provost for the arts at Duke University.
Aram will join the Chapel Hill Philharmonia on their May 1st evening concert in Chapel Hill, performing Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 in c minor.

Great achievement by Aidin Fathalizadeh

Please join us to congratulate Dr. Aidin Fathalizadeh, recipient of an award for helping in the development of the world’s strongest and lightest material at University of California at Berkeley.

Aidin is son of Mr. Hassan and Mrs. Mahnaz Fathalizadeh who reside in Raleigh.  Aidin was one of the star students of ICSNC Persian School who continues to bring happiness to family and friends with his many achievements in life.

You can read full report of this announcement in the following 2 links:

http://physics.berkeley.edu/news-events/news/20151117/zettl-group-receiv...

http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2015/11/17/2015-rd-100-awards/

Keven Kahoussi (Kayvan) heads to London to play soccer

Our Persian School student, Keven Kahoussi (Kayvan) will go to London to play with storied clubs. Congratulation to his wonderful and supportive parents, Karen and Kourosh Kahoussi

http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/03/22/3724702/cary-youth-soccer-team-he...

Accomplishment of an Iranian artist - Erika Kymia Nawabi

Please join Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina to congratulate our very own, the talented Erika Kymia Nawabi who is the winner of the Next Great Artist, season 2 of "WORK OF ART: THE NEXT GREAT ARTIST" reality show on Bravo Channel.

Erika is daughter of Ms. Golnaz and Late Ardavan Nawabi and grew up in Durham before moving to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. You can read more about her http://www.bravotv.com/work-of-art/season-2/bio/kymia

Fourteen of the art up-and-coming artists came together to compete for $100,000 and a solo exhibit at the world renowned Brooklyn Museum. Kymia is the winner of this competition.

You can watch her interview after the announcement http://www.bravotv.com/work-of-art/season-2/videos/kymia-is-the-next-gre...

Congratulations to Kymia and her family.

 Please read her interview with Persian magazine, Persianesque

Down the memory lane (May 17, 2003)

School of Farsi Language 50 students completed the 2002-2003 school year on May 17, 2003. This accomplishment was made possible by many volunteer teachers, PTA members and parents. The 1992 founder of our school, Mrs. Habibeh Ghorbani Berenjian, was recognized by lighting the candle representing the school and joining two other candles, representing our language, teachers and parents. Each teacher then lit a candle from these candles and gave flowers to her/his students as their names were called. Students and teachers formed two arcs in front of the room and sang the “Ey Iran” anthem. Shanta Motamed then performed a “Deklameh” (soliloquy) about Iran. Performances began with our Research and Presentation Class. Mrs. Afsaneh Mirbaha (Erfani) introduced objectives, challenges and accomplishments. In addition she thanked her team of teachers, Mrs. Freshteh Nassehi and Mr. Shahrokh Erfani. Presentations for this class were divided into two segments. In the first section, Mahsa Kasiri discussed Iranian Poet Sohrab Sepehri; Abtin Erfani discussed Iranian Gold medalist Wrestler Takhti; and Hooman Noori presented Distinct characteristics of Persian Carpets from many Iranian cities. Mrs. Fahimeh Alavian’s class presented an eloquent poem from Pari Zanganeh about nature. Mrs. Maryam Mahoutchian then spoke about her class’ presentation of Shahnameh and the reasons behind her selection as well as many challenges and rewards. Mrs. Mahoutchian gave an explanation of the “Rudabeh and Zaal” story during the play to ensure continuity and comprehension. To the surprise of many adults several of the students knew their part by heart and most of the students did a very good job. The Shahnameh story was presented in 3 sections with a beautiful and refreshing dance from Mrs. Homeira Rahmatabadi’s class, separating the sections. Naudereh Noori also added to the program by playing her own composition on violin. The students then participated in “Moshaereh”. Moshaereh is the artful game of intellectual poetic Ping-Pong between 2 or more people. (Next poem starts with the same alphabet letter that concluded the last poem.) Afshin Alavian, Sanaz Asadian and Tara Davoodi from Mrs.Maryam Mahoutchian’s class had memorized many lines of poetry and did a wonderful job. The 2nd half of Research and Presentation class included Iman Motamed, who discussed the life and work of Rumi; Pedram Rahmatabadi, who presented another Iranian treasure Ferdowsi; Yasi Mirdamadi who talked about characteristics of Persian Cats; and Mahsa Kasiri who presented the life and work of a recent popular Iranian poet, Forough Farrokhzad. All R&P segments were accompanied with a background slide presentation from the students with assistance from Mr. Shahrokh Erfani and Mr. Hassan Dougani. Mr. Alavian managed the sound system for the day and Kamrani Studio videotaped the entire program. These accomplishments are the results of endless efforts by loving volunteer as well as supportive parents. Teachers who make our community a richer place to live are: Mrs. Alavian, Mrs. Lotfi, Mrs. Mahoutchian, Mrs. Mirbaha (Erfani), Mrs. Motamed, Mrs. Nassehi, Mrs. Rahmatabadi, Mrs. Sanaei, Dr. Taavoni, Mrs. Teymouri, Mr. Erfani and Mr. Naeymi-Rad. Our PTA members Dr. Alavian, Dr. Davoodi, Mr. Dougani, Dr. Hamzavi and Dr. Kasiri and our Vice Principal Mrs. Alavian ensured smooth day to day operations. We also thank Forest Hills Baptist Church for providing classroom space and other facilities to our School of Farsi Language. Registration for 2003 - 2004 school year will be on Saturday August 9, from 9:30 to 11:00 am at the International House of the Forest Hills Baptist Church (corner of Dixie Trail & Clark Ave., Raleigh) Ages 4 ½ to adult can register. Space is limited. Classes will begin the following Saturday on August 16. Annual registration is $100 ($80 ICSNC members). Please call 851-5223 if you have any questions or like to volunteer. Parviz Mahoutchian Outgoing Principal I continued to serve and jointly ran the 2004-2005 school year with Mr. Dougani before stepping down in 2005. Mr. Dougani has proven his leadership. /apm
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