News & Press releases 2013
Big plans for a small box: What became of the Mars spectrometer?
Science is just like real life – many plans fail and some projects turn out completely differently than planned. ISAS has a nice example for the unexpected ways research sometimes takes: a small LIBS spectrometer (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) which is only 17 centimeters long and was originally developed by the Optical Spectroscopy group at ISAS to fly to Mars with the European ExoMars mission in 2011. The small spectrometer was to be installed on board of a rover to help analyzing the composition of the planet’s surface via LIBS and Raman spectroscopy.
ExoMars, however, ran into financial difficulties and was delayed – as was the completion of the necessary CCD detector for the spectrometer, which was to be constructed by one of the project partners. And while the European ExoMars mission is still nowhere near starting, the NASA has taken the chance and sent its own Curiosity rover to Mars. This rover is, by the way, working with a similar technology.
Even so, there is a happy ending for the spectrometer that never went to Mars: The LTB Lasertechnik company from Berlin has taken up the ISAS spectrometer design and has recently launched a compact device called "Aryelle 150" for entirely terrestrial applications such as process analytics or fast material sorting. The method works without contact and sample preparation and therefore permits fast and straightforward analyses. Thus, an ISAS development for planetary research now benefits a broad range of users.
Survival training for T cells: ISAS in Nature Immunology
At the end of last year ISAS achieved a nice publication success: Just before Christmas, the journal “Nature Immunology” published a study on T cell development (Advanced Online Publication) with ISAS involvement. The research team, led by scientists from the University of Würzburg, describes a novel pathway to activate the so called NFAT factor which plays a major role in early T cell development.
T cells belong to a group of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and are an essential component of the immune system. The T cell precursors develop in the bone marrow. Later they migrate to the thymus where they mature and form several specialized T cells types such as killer cells that destroy pathogens or memory cells that “remember” intruders for a long time and can trigger a fast immune response.
The NFAT proteins (nuclear factor of activated T-cells) are known to activate mature T cells in case of an immune response by activating the necessary genes at the right moment. The signaling cascade inducing this reaction is well studied. But NFAT proteins seem to have some other tasks in T cells independent of this activation pathway: The scientists were able to show that there is an alternative NFAT activation pathway which is critical for young, unspecialized T cells. Its deficiency causes a so called lymphopenia, a term that describes a general lack of T cells or other lymphocytes. Lymphopenia occurs, for example, in harmless virus infections like a simple cold, but also in severe diseases like AIDS, leukemia and some autoimmune disorders.
Link to the Advanced Online Publication:
An alternative NFAT-activation pathway mediated by IL-7 is critical for early thymocyte development (Subscription required!)