BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

A Painful Death for Lobsters?

The Swiss government has just passed a law that is illegal to boil a live lobster. The government of Switzerland believes that lobsters can feel pain.  Dr. Richard Elwood says, “there should be a more humane approach with lobsters.”  Dr. Elwood says that crustaceans, like lobsters, guarded their wounded areas. They also avoided areas were they would be shocked and live crabs crawled off of a hot barbecue grill. These are some of the main pieces of evidence that support Dr. Elwood’s theory. Dr. Elwood believes that these responses are the crustacean equivalent to expressing being in pain.

Dr. Ayers disagrees with the notion that lobsters can fell pain. He believes they lack the brain anatomy need to feel pain. Dr. Micheal Tlusty, a lobster biologist, says although lobsters do not have the brain anatomy that we associate with pain there is no way to be certain because  crustacean brains are so different from the human brain.  Even though a lobster will continue to twitch after loosing a limb, there is no way to be certain if it is out of discomfort or a natural reflex.

According to the Swiss government says electrocution, by Crustastun, is the preferred option

 

White Nose Syndrome

White Nose Bats

What causes the disease?

Exposure to UV light is the cause of a devastating disease found in North America. According to USDA Forest Service, the disease”can only infect bats during hibernation because it has a strict temperature growth range of about 39-68 degrees Fahrenheit”. Bats are very sensitive to the ultra-violet light which causes the P. destructans fungal pathogen(any disease-producing agent) to trigger the disease.

A bat affected by White Nose Syndrome.

When is a bat most at risk?

During hibernation, bats face a high risk of the white nose syndrome. WNS officials claim that the bats act strangely during cold winter months, including flying outside in the day and clustering near the entrances of hibernacula (winter quarters for a hibernating animal).

Effects of WNS

Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines. WNS has killed more than 5.7 million bats in eastern North America.

This bat is in hibernation and at risk of WNS.

What is being done?

A research team has identified in the pathogen an enzyme that repairs DNA causing the team to expose the fungi to DNA damaging agents, including different wavelengths and intensities of UV light. Consequently, they found that a low dose exposure of UV-C light resulted in about 15 percent survival of P. destructans.

Whole-Grain Bread: The Healthy Choice…or is it?

Contrary to popular belief, whole-grain bread might not be healthier for everyone. A new study has determined that whether white bread or whole-grain bread is healthier for you depends on the microbes in your gut. After studying 20 people for one week each, researchers found that some people’s blood sugar levels raised after eating standard white bread while others did not. Similarly, they found that some people’s blood sugar rose when eating standard whole grain bread. The researchers, Eran Elinav and Eran Segal, studied the mix of microbes in the stool samples as well as their genetic makeup.

This study is part of a growing group of studies that support personalized nutrition that is customized to your genetic makeup rather than a plan for everyone. The same group has also done other research in the nutrition field in Israel, where they studied how people respond to eating certain foods.

280 Million Year Old Trees in Antarctica

Geologists have discovered 280 million year old tree fossils, which could be evidence of the oldest polar forest in Antarctica. The scientists had previously found 260 million year old tree fossil fragments, and returned to find out how a forest could have flourished there.

Credit: Erik Gulbranson

Professor Gulbranson, one of the geologists on the expedition, believes the trees must have been an extremely hearty species to survive, and “The trees could turn their growing cycles on and off like a light switch. We know the winter shut off happened right away, but we don’t know how active they were during the summertime and if they could force themselves into dormancy while it was still light out.” The polar forest grew at a latitude (geographic coordinate– location) where plants can no longer grow today, and they grew in nearly half a year of darkness and five months of continuous light. They were able to grow in these conditions because they grew during the Permian Period, where Antarctica was much warmer than today and part of Gondwana (A supercontinent which was part of Pangea).

One of the biggest challenges for the team was dating the trees. The trees could be 20 million years older or younger than their dated age of 280 million years because of the margin of error. They are still researching why polar ecosystems changed during the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period, but their current theory is that 90% of all species were wiped out because of higher global temperatures and ocean acidification. Professor Gulbranson believes his work could help understand the effects of contemporary climate change.

For more information click here.

Bacteria Not So “Bad”, After All?

Photo Link: Wild Garden of Gut Bacteria, By: Nicola Fawcett

Most of us are used to the common notion that bacteria may not be the most beneficial factor in maintaining your health.  Thats why the results of a recent research study conducted by scientists at Babraham Institute in collaboration with colleagues in Brazil and Italy, yielding evidence that in fact good bacteria in the gut can control gene expression in our cells, is game-changing!

The research team, led by Patrick Varga-Weisz, made this discovery by studying the gut bacterias found within various mice. Their attention was quickly drawn to the mice that had lost most of their gut bacteria. It became apparent that in the mice with a very low amount of the bacteria within their gut, contained increased amounts of the “HDAC2 protein”.  When investigating deeper into HDAC2, it was found that increased amounts of this particular protein are associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer.

This new research also resulted in the finding that the amount of chemical markers on our genes, are increased by short fatty acids. These specific chemical gene markers, known as “crotonylations”, were only recently discovered and are newly classified as genome “epigenetic markers”. The researchers then found that by shutting down the HDAC2 protein, short chain fatty acids increase the number of crotonylations.

Ingestion of fruits and vegetables into ones healthy diet are vital – ultimately determining how chemicals produced by gut bacteria, affect genes in the cells of the gut lining. In other words, the short fatty acids, which come from those dietary elements, have the ability to move from bacteria into our own cells, and from there cause changes in gene activity and cell behavior.

In the end, the scientists were strongly convinced that the ability to turn off and on genes, is determined by changes in crotonylation. This inferred that the existence of crotonylation in the genome of cells is vital to protect the body from cancer. Therefore, the pretense of good bacteria is very important for the prevention of disease and illness in the body!

As someone with a strong passion for the science, and also very influenced and intrigued by medicine, I very much enjoyed this study. As the boundary to curing cancer is still a hurtle doctors and scientists try to transcend everyday, studies like these, are both hopeful and fascinating, to me. Also, as someone curious about how the human diet ultimately affects the functions and inner workings of the body, this research again was very engaging and interesting!

Primary Source Article: How good bacteria controls your genes

Secondary Source: Wikipedia – Gut Flora (Gut Bacterias)

 

The Science Behind Decision Making!

I consider myself, like most people, to be extremely indecisive. I also do not do very well when I find myself in stressful last minute decision making scenarios. A study done proves that it has to do with science!! According to a study done at Johns Hopkins University, it has been concluded that last-minute decision making and changing your mind is a complicated neural process involving complex neural coordination and communication among multiple brain areas.

Photo Credit: Affen Ajlfe (www.modup.net/)

 

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, (a technique that monitors brain activity in real time), the research group found that changing your mind about a decision requires ultrafast communication between specific zones of the prefrontal cortex and a region of your brain called the frontal eye field. The frontal eye field is involved in controlling eye movements and visual awareness. The study found that the longer a decision takes to make, the longer it is held in the brain, and therefore the harder it is to reverse. This means that we are less likely to change our minds about a decision we have thought long and hard about.

Kitty Xu, the leader of experiment says  “If we change our mind about pressing the gas pedal even a few milliseconds after the original “go” message has been sent to our muscles, we simply can’t stop.  If we change our minds within roughly 100 milliseconds of making a decision, we can successfully revise our plans. If we wait more than 200 milliseconds, however, we may be unable to make the desired change—”. This finding is used to explain why sometimes, with age, adults are more likely to fall. As we age, our neural communicators slow which contributes to a message not reaching our muscles, or elsewhere fast enough to change our behavior.

The study’s next goal was to identify the brain regions involved in canceling a decision entirely. Participants took part in a fMRI and were instructed to watch a screen and stare at a black dot when it appeared. After focusing on the black dot, a colored dot would appear. The addition of a new stimulus caused the participants to abandon the original directed plan. The researchers watched on the fMRI which parts of the brain lit up during the decision making step to disregard the directions and look at the new dot. They found the prefrontal cortex and the frontal eye fields were the most active brain regions.

Xu hopes that these insights on how difficult it is for the brain to quickly change original plans can eventually lead researchers to find a way to lead us, specifically seniors, to safer decision making!

A Pill That Lasts for a Week!

A Pill That Lasts for a Week!

HIV budding from a Lymphocyte
http://https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HIV/AIDS#/media/File:HIV-budding-Color.jpg

 

Cutting edge research from MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital has discovered a new way to deliver HIV medicine. They designed a new type of capsule that can deliver a certain dosage of medicine for over a week. This discovery makes it easier for patients to stay consistent with treatment and is beneficial to the patient because less frequent doses improves adherence.

How Does it Work?

The idea stemmed off of another older study using similar capsules to gradually release ivermectin, the malaria drug. This type of capsule could stay in the stomach for as long as two weeks! The new version the researchers designed is a star structure with a specific backbone that has six arms. Different drug-loaded polymers can fill each of the six arms. “In a way, it’s like putting a pillbox in a capsule. Now you have chambers for every day of the week on a single capsule,” Traverso says. These capsules were tested on pigs, and fortunately worked perfectly. The capsules were able to release three different HIV medications over a period of one week and then disintegrated and passed through their digestive tract.

Why is it Important?

The significant drop in mortality rate of HIV since the 1990’s shouldn’t stop researcher from striving to end the epidemic. In 2005 there were 1.2 million HIV-related deaths and 2.1 million new HIV infections. Antiretroviral drugs have been tested in multiple trials to see if they can prevent HIV infection in healthy populations. Although the success in theses trials is mixed, a constant obstacle in this treatment is having people stay consistent with taking the pills.

The Future?

Researchers have also attempted to predict the efficiency and benefits of a weekly drug. They determined that switching from a daily dose to a weekly dose could potentially improve the efficiency by 20%! The prediction also showed that over the next 20 years, 200,000 to 800,000 new infections could be prevented in South Africa! Could this new drug capsule help solve this problem and potentially other dosage problems with other diseases? Could it be the start to new universal dosage methods? This article sparked my interest because the HIV epidemic is something discussed a lot in the 21st century, however there haven’t been many groundbreaking discoveries. Coming across this article gave me hope for the future of medicine and curing this epidemic!

What is that? Oh, it is the first ever hybrid bird species from the Amazon!!

According to the Science Daily article, A team of researchers from Scarborough revealed ,through a series of tests, a golden crowned manikin. This bird was first discovered in Brazil in 1957 ,but not seen until 2002.

“While hybrid plant species are very common, hybrid species among vertebrates are exceedingly rare,” says Associate Professor Jason Weir, senior author of the research.

A hybrid species forms when two parental species mate to produce a hybrid population, which then causes the birds to stop being able to freely interbreed with the parental species

The teams gathered genetic and feather samples over two trips to Brazil. They sequenced a large portion of the golden-crowned manakin’s genome including 16,000 different genetic markers. This led to the finding that 20 percent of its genome came from the snowy-crowned, and about 80 per cent came from the opal-crowned. In addition to that, the researchers used coalescent modelling to figure out at what point the golden-crowned split off from its parental species.

“The golden-crowned manakin ended up with an intermediate keratin structure that does a poor job of making either the brilliant white or the reflective iridescence of the parental species,” says Weir.

In its early existence, The golden-crowned manakin likely had duller white or grey feathers due to its keratin structure ,but eventually grew into yellow feathers to attract females. This led to unique color of the species.

“Without geographic isolation, it’s very likely this would never have happened because you don’t see the hybrids evolving as separate species in other areas where both parental species meet.”

 

 

 

Are E-Cigarettes Worth the Hype???

In America, electronic cigarettes are all the rage as they come in a wide range of flavors and intricate and discreet devices. Yes, they are less harmful than regular cigarettes but do they have the ability to make the users quit smoking altogether? This is the question that the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina aimed to answer.

In this study, 68 smokers were evaluated over four months. 46 were randomly selected to use different e-cigarettes however they wished and the other 22 were in a control group where they could only use the e-cigarette as instructed. All were either given a device with low amounts of nicotine or high amounts (like the one pictured above). After the four months and the study was complete, the results were as expected.

Published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the 46 smokers who could freely use the e-cigarettes had a seemingly positive response to them. With  high frequent usage, the majority purchased their own electronic cigarettes and ditched the regular traditional cigarettes they used to smoke. They also were more likely to quit smoking overall compared to those in the control group. Additionally in the control group, since the smokers were confined to only to using the e-cigs when instructed, it only increased their urge to go back to non-electronic cigarettes. Also stated in the article, “Of the two e-cigarette models used in the study, the more powerful device, with a higher dose of nicotine, showed stronger outcomes. People using e-cigarettes throughout the study smoked an average of 37 percent fewer cigarettes, showing a positive effect when making the switch and potentially serving as a tool to help smokers quit.” This shows that e-cigs can make a difference, especially with a higher amount of nicotine. Lead researcher Matthew Carpenter was happy with the positive response and people who switched to e-cigs since smoking traditional cigarettes is the leading cause of cancer.

Don’t get it twisted, electronic cigarettes are still harmful!!!  Yes they are safer than the conventional cigarette but they still expose the lungs and body to harmful toxins and chemicals that we all know should not be there. Especially with the variety of flavors, sizes, and customizable appearances of these devices (pictured below), they are now made specifically to target adolescents. Big companies create a product crafted to draw more and more adolescents in, with the sole purpose of making money at the expense of the consumer’s health. Terrible! So ask yourself, will you fall for it? (DON’T!!!)

Scientists developing ways to stop kidney failure?

In case you did not know, before week 34-36, the fetus develops 500,000-1,000,000 nephrons in the kidney. During these weeks, nephron progenitor (NP) cells are fully depleted and the body will no longer undergo nephrogenesis in its lifetime. Hence, if one were to lose a sufficient number of nephrons, the kidney would fail.

However, The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has found ways to isolate NP cells in order to investigate how they become renal cells. If scientists can develop an understanding of these cells, they might be able to figure out how to regenerate renal cells after a kidney failure.

This investigation can lead elsewhere, for example towards bioengineering and ways to regenerate other organs through these concepts. Overall, one can agree that this can lead to a breakthrough in future biology and medicinal studies.

 

 

Breakthrough in Type 1 Diabetes Treatments!

A new study demonstrates that a gene therapy approach can lead to long-term survival of functional beta cells as well as normal blood glucose levels for extended periods of time in mice with type 1 diabetes. Researchers used an adeno-associated viral (AAV) vector to deliver to the mouse pancreas two proteins, Pdx1 and MafA, which reprogrammed the alpha cells into functional, insulin-producing beta cells.

Beta-cell replacement therapy is likely to fail because adding new cells will fall victim to the same autoimmunity that destroyed the original cells. The solution is to reprogram other cell types to functional beta-like cells, which can produce insulin but are distinct from beta cells and therefore are not attacked by the immune system.

Researchers Gittes and first author Xiangwei Xiao of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine engineered an AAV vector to deliver proteins called Pdx1 and MafA, which support beta cell maturation, proliferation, and function, to the mouse pancreas. The reason why they picked alpha cells to reprogram is because they are plentiful, resemble beta cells, and are in the correct location, all of these factors facilitate reprogramming of cells.

Comparing the gene expression patterns of normal beta cells and insulin-producing cells derived from alpha cells, the researchers confirmed that it was nearly complete cellular reprogramming. The gene therapy produced normal blood glucose levels in diabetic mice, for typically four months. Also, the therapy was able to generate functional insulin-producing cells from human alpha cells.

Unfortunately, the mice did eventually return to the diabetic state, suggesting that it would not cure the disease. But viral vectors can be delivered directly to the human pancreas through a routinely performed non-surgical endoscopic procedure; however, this procedure can elicit pancreatic inflammation. Also, the longevity of the treatment is unknown considering that some studies suggest that processes in mice are highly accelerated. Therefore, four months could translate to several years for humans according to Gittes.

Currently, researchers are testing the therapy on non-human primates. If they are able to produce intended results, researchers will begin work with the FDA to get approval for use of this viral gene therapy for diabetic, type 1 and 2, patients. This could be the breakthrough that leads to the cure for diabetes!

Humans and Our Fellow Fishy Friends – More Alike than We Suppose?

The origin of teeth in vertebrates, therefore including in humans, has been long wondered and debated. Scientists have questioned whether teeth descended as part of the origin of the jaw, or if they had their own unique formation. More clarification has just been released to this mysterious question of our anatomy, with new recent data leading scientists to believe that teeth in the animal kingdom evolved from the scales of ancient fish, due to the shared characteristic of neural crest cells. The scales are still present today, covering the bodies of fish such as sharks, skate and rays.

The specific linage of sea life possessing skeletons fully made of cartilage consists of sharks, rays and skates. These fish still have primitive characteristics, such as “dermal denticles”, which are embedded into their skin. Dermal denticles share an extremely similar appearance of jagged teeth, as they are small sharp scales.

Recently, research scientists at the University of Cambridge tracked the cell development in the embryo of a the cartilaginous skate fish, using have used fluorescent markers. Through this method, they uncovered the new linking piece of information: the thorny scales are created from “neural crest cells”, the same type of cells that make up vertebrate teeth! This information provides further support to the theory that evolution of jawed teeth found currently in the mouths 99% of sea and mammal vertebrates, evolved from the scales of these fish.

Though the scales found on fish currently appear very different from teeth, the scales of ancient fish were much more similar to the tooth like structure of today. The reason for this, in the words of Dr. Andrew Gillis from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, is that the scales of most fish that live today, like the cartilaginous fishes of skate and shark, have only retained some lineages to the primitive scales. Researchers at Cambridge hypothesize that amour plates consisted of many different layers of foundation of bone, an outer layer of dentine and cells in unborn embryos. They propose that this composition underwent many reductions and modifications. Shark’s scales do however further support this theory, as the dermal denticles they are covered in, give them a much rougher feel, than other fish. It is very possible that this also is because the denticles found on these fishes are remnants of superficial amour plating, of the early ancient skeletons of vertebrates.

This article and data finding was very thought provoking to me. I was not aware that of the uncertainty of the origin of teeth, in the world of science. Also because I am extremely interested in evolution and the origination of our species, this finding specifically intrigued me, as this data may be useful for new advances in evolutionary theories. It is fascinating to me consider the possibility of such a key part of vertebrates, specifically of humans, being so closely linked to fish, as that is a species of animal than I have ever considered having ties to human descent before. I think this data is a gateway to future discoveries that will be beneficial to the science world.

(Be sure to check out the second secondary source article linked below, as it discusses even more data on specially teeth enamel evolving from fish scales!)

Primary Source – Original Article: Ancient fish scales and vertebrate teeth share an embryonic origin

Secondary Source Article: Fish scales to fangs: Surprising tale of how teeth got their bite

Secondary Source Article: Your Tooth Enamel Might Have Started As Fish Scales

Photo Article Link (Photo taken by: Albert Kok)

Menstruation Does Not Affect Cognitive Performance…Period.

Mood swings, abdominal pain, nausea, acne, and bloating.  Do any of these sound familiar?  These are all some of the most common effects of menstruation and, until recently, a drop in cognitive function was widely accepted as another one.

Despite what old assumptions might have been, new scientific research is transforming the way that we look at the menstrual cycle.  According to a study led by Professor Brigitte Leeners, menstruation does not actually negatively affect your cognitive functions.  It is common for people to believe that hormones that are released during the cycle have a significant effect on cognition, but Leeners learned that estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone do not actually consistently inhibit cognitive performance.

Leeds measured cognitive ability at four different points during the menstrual cycles of 68 different women.  The participants were tested on their abilities through tests that specifically measured their cognitive bias, memory, and attention.  The test spanned the courses of two consecutive menstrual cycles.

As one can expect from an experiment, there were outliers, so some women experienced cognitive changes as a result of their periods.  According to Leeds, however, “Although there might be individual exceptions, women’s cognitive performance is in general not disturbed by hormonal changes occurring with the menstrual cycle.” So, even though certain women were affected by their cycle, the overwhelming trend showed that, typically, women are able to perform just as well whilst menstruating as they would if they were off of their cycle.

So, your period affects a lot of things.  It can cause discomfort, fatigue, gas, vomiting, and more.  But one thing it cannot do is prevent you from taking your next biology test or attending your 8 AM classes.  Oh well.

Gut Microbiome is Responsible for PTSD?

Recently, there have been many studies linking gut microbiome to PTSD. But how exactly are they connected?

Humans have an infinite number of organisms creating a unique composition of bacteria in the gut. It has been suspected before that any number of combinations of these gut microbiome can affect our health in different ways. One way is that they can cause neuropsychiatric disorders like PTSD or even just weaken mental toughness. Either way, the topic of gut microbiomes is definitely worth researching.

A recent study conducted by 22 scientists at Stellenbosch University in South Africa showed that compared to healthy, unaffected people, those with PTSD had noticeably lower levels of three gut bacteria: Actinobacteria, Lentisphaerae, and Verrucomicrobia. However, it was also noted from that study that the loss of these three gut bacteria may have occurred in earlier stages of life rather than the later stages when people generally develop PTSD.

According to a study conducted by researches of Oregon State University, when someone suffers from stress, their gut microbiomes become disordered and start to act oddly. Therefore, the lower levels of the three gut microbiomes could indicate that the levels of those microbiomes are throwing off the balance that is needed to maintain a stress and anxiety free mind which can prevent PTSD.

There is one catch about this result: that correlation does not confirm anything. Scientists conducting studies could only identify a correlation with gut microbiome and PTSD, but could not determine a cause.

Many are hopeful that these results will lead to discovery of future treatments because the microbiome can easily be changed with prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, or just dietary changes.

Although we do not know if these three gut microbiomes cause PTSD or come with PTSD, we do know that we are now one step closer to finding a cure or at least a better treatment for PTSD.

For more information click here or here!

Don’t be a victim of a pHatty diet!

 

Are you guilty of a pHatty diet?

What is the pH scale?

The human body can only function correctly with a pH level around 7.4. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and spices all can negatively contribute to poor health conditions because, due to their low pH levels, they are more acidic. If something is acidic, it is a substance that donates hydrogen ions; when an acid is dissolved in water, the balance between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions is shifted and now there are more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions in the solution. However if the substance is not acidic. it is considered a base. A base is is a substance that accepts hydrogen ions so when it is dissolved in water, the balance between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions shifts the opposite way. Because the base “soaks up” hydrogen ions, there are more hydroxide ions than hydrogen ions. This kind of solution is alkaline.

pH Affects Health and Wellness

According to FoodandNutrition, because the kidneys and liver work to control the acidity levels but when big amounts of acidic food is consumed, it’s difficult for the body to accustom to the acidity which could be detrimental. It is important to understand that ” Lemon juice and tomatoes, for example, are acidic. But when ingested, they promote alkalinity. The pH of the actual food does not dictate the net effect on the body. Rather, it’s the “potential renal acid load” which measures acid in excretion/urine.

Even though there are parts of the body that can handle highly acidic materials, such as the stomach, it is important not to consume too much acid food because effects can be long term: : kidney stones, increased chance of cancer, liver problems and heart disease. A person is also at risk of acidosis which is a disease where your body fluids contain too much acid because the kidneys and liver are not functioning properly.  Symptoms of this are…

  • rapid and shallow breathing.
  • confusion.
  • fatigue.
  • headache.
  • sleepiness.
  • lack of appetite.
  • jaundice.
  • increased heart rate.

Here shows examples of liquids and where they fall on the pH scale. As you look down the scale, the liquids become more acidic but if you look up the scale, the liquids become less acidic.

What can you do?

To get away from a high acidic diet, you could try a plant-heavy diet with reduced refined sugar.  An example of a healthy meal with low levels of pH would be mushrooms, corn, beef and collard greens. It is really important to make sure you have a balanced diet, based on acidity, because the riscks are quite dangerous.

 

What do you think makes the human body not capable of consuming and maintaining large amounts of material with pH levels below 7.4?

Goodbye Leukemia– We Are Getting Closer!

A new finding suggests that the protein nup98 found in mouse cells may have another job. This is big in the biology world! Scientists already know this protein helps control the movement of molecules in and out of the nucleus, but they didn’t know it is directly involved in the development of blood cells. After further study, scientists from the Salk Institute found that nup98 enables immature blood stem cells to differentiate into mature cell types. However, this was not even the biggest finding– this differentiation process can contribute to the formation of leukemia!

The journey to make this discovery Salk’s Chief Science Office, Martin Hetzer calls, “combined genomics, proteomics, and cell biology.” It was a complex process at the least. It all started with the Hetzer’s lab focusing on a class of proteins called nucleoproteins (nups), part of the nuclear pore complex, which regulates the space between the nucleus of the cell. Why is this space so important? Because it is where the genetic material is located and the cytoplasm contains multiple important structures! There are about 30 of these proteins and some of them even have functions beyond forming the nuclear pore as transcription factors. Thus, the idea that a protein has more than one function (like nup98) was not a total surprise for the researchers (I still would have been surprised).

Although we know that nup98 has plays a role in hematopoietic (blood) cells, we do not know how yet. That is a question of the future. However, “The investigators found that it acts through a link with a protein complex called Wdr82-Set1/COMPASS, which is part of the cell’s epigenetic machinery.” Wait what do those numbers and epigenetic machinery mean? It is basically just a process that controls when genes are transcribed and when genes are blocked (hope that helped). The other big question is how this study will parallel in primates and humans, but the future is bright.

The continuation of this study in regard to Leukemia is now left in the hands of leukemia researchers, but cancers driven by a single genetic change like this have been proven easier to treat with drugs than cancer driven my multiple genetic changes. Although this discovery is only the first of many, there is hope for an even bigger finding in the future! I am excited to see what research is to follow. What about you?

How Ground Squirrels Are Bracing For The Cold

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mandj98/7647426240

As we enter the heart of winter, puffy coats, hats, and gloves make it out of our closets to protect us from the frigid air. While we trudge along shivering, the ground squirrel lives happily in the cold weather, resistant to the low temperatures.

The Phenomenon:

A new study shows that when the ground squirrel wakes from hibernation, it is less sensitive to the cold than its non-hibernating relatives. Why? A cold-sensing protein, TRPM8, in the sensory nerve cells is partly responsible for the amazing phenomenon.

The Evidence:

In an experiment conducted with mice (non-hibernating), ground squirrels, and Syrian hamsters (hibernating animals closely related to the ground squirrel), the animals were given the choice between a hotter plate and a colder plate. Whereas the mice gravitated toward the hot plate, the ground squirrel and Syrian hamster did not react to the cold temperature of the plate until it dropped below 10 degrees Celsius.

The Biology:

Part of the squirrel’s and hamster’s intolerance to cold has to do with the TRPM8 protein. TRPM8 is a cold-sensing protein that sends a signal to the brain when something is too cold. Researchers turned to the gene responsible for turning on the TRPM8 protein to find the differences between a ground squirrel and a rat. They found a chain of six amino acids in the squirrel gene that caused the adaptation to cold. When they switched that section with one from a rat, the squirrel was more sensitive to the cold.

It is quite amazing that scientists can extract and switch such small portions of DNA to find the exact cause of a trait. What else do you think this technology could be used for?

The Effect on Life:

Tolerance to cold may help the squirrel and hamster transition from an awake state to hibernation state. This is true because if an animal senses or feels cold, it will expend a lot of energy trying to warm itself up. This process counters they physiological changes needed to transition into hibernation, a state of low metabolic activity. Hence, since the hamster and squirrel don’t sense the cold, it will be easier to hibernate.

Further Research:

There is still a lot unknown about the TRPM8 protein and ground squirrel temperature sensitivities. It is believed that TRPM8 is only a part of their intolerance to cold. Furthermore, the structure and function of TRPM8 is still being studied and could lead to more breakthroughs. Want to learn more about ground squirrels, hibernation, or the TRPM8 protein? Click here to read the full article!

A Possible Way to Prevent Asthma in Infants

Did you know that asthma in infant boys may soon be able to be prevented? Infant boys whose mother’s have asthma are at a higher risk of developing asthma due to genetics. However, according to a study published by the University of Alberta in Canada, the structure of the gut microbiome may also play a role in the development of asthma in these boys. Microbiomes are the bacteria that live in human digestive tracts. The research team, led by epidemiologist Anita Kozyrskyj, studied the characteristics of the gut microbiome in 1000 infant boys born to mothers with asthma.

The team discovered that these boys were one-third as likely to have certain characteristics in their gut microbiome when they were 3-4 months old. The boys had a significantly less amount of Lactobacillus microbes. This evidence suggests that maternal asthma can be associated with the lack of Lactobacillus. The team believes that this discovery could lead to modifying the gut microbiome in these infants to reduce their risk of developing asthma.

The team started this research because they wanted to study the sex-based differences between boys and girls born to mothers with asthma. The gut bacteria on infant girls was affected differently. Girls have more bacteria than boys that maintain a mucus barrier and protect the gut cells. The team believes that this barrier protects the girls from developing asthma as babies, but are more prone to developing it during puberty.

Asthma is a breathing disease that affects many people. It is interesting to learn about how this sometimes deadly disease may be able to be prevented in infants. Although there it is not definite that this can be prevented, it is fascinating to read about this possibility. For more information on gut microbiomes, click here and here. Based on this research, do you think that scientists will be able to find a way to modify the gut bacteria?

 

Changing a baby’s DNA profile by physical contact?

Photograph by Vera Kratochvil, License: CC0 Public Domain

Recent research from the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute proved that the amount of physical contact between infants and their caregivers can affect children at the molecular level. The study demonstrated that children who had been more distressed as infants and received less physical contact had an underdeveloped molecular profile for their age. This is the first study to show that the simple act of physical touching on human children can result in deeply-rooted changes in genetic expression.

The researchers measured a biochemical modification called DNA methylation in which parts of the chromosome are tagged with small molecules made of carbon and hydrogen. These molecules act as “dimmer switches” that help control how active each gene is and affect how cells function. The extent of methylation and where on the DNA it takes place can be impacted by external conditions, especially in childhood.

The team analyzed DNA methylation of 94 healthy children with records of received caregiving from the age of five weeks to four and a half years. The DNA methylation patterns the scientists gathered presented consistent differences between high-contact and low-contact children at five specific DNA sites. Two of the five sites are related to genes: one involves in the immune system, and the other in metabolism. The children who experienced higher distress and received little contact had a lower “epigenetic age” than what’s expected from their age. Such low epigenetic age is conceived as an underdevelopment of the child’s molecular profile. As medical genetics professor Michael Kobor said, “In children, we think slower epigenetic aging might indicate an inability to thrive.”

The researchers intend to further examine whether the “biological immaturity” – epigenetic changes resulted from low physical contact – carries broader implications for children’s health, especially their psychological development. According to the lead author Sarah Moore, “If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

You’re a Jerk!!!

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night because you felt like you were falling?? What about waking up from sudden muscle spasms you’ve experienced in your sleep?? If you answered yes to either or both questions, that means you’ve experienced a hypnagogic jerk!

A term referencing to the period between wakefulness and sleep, called the hypnagogic state, hypnagogic jerks are involuntary muscle spasms that occur during light sleeping. These jerks are also known as ‘sleep starts’ and effect 70% of the population. Some factors scientists know to cause and increase the amount of twitches one can experience are high caffeine intake, stress, fatigue, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and intense activity and exercise right before sleep. Additionally, it is surmised that these spasms can also be induced by sound, light, and other external factors.

In a recent study, different people have reported that with these jerks comes hallucinations, vivid dreams, or even ringing noises inside of their heads! Though, with the acknowledgement of hypnagogic jerks and what comes with them, the actual main cause in the body is unknown. Here are two popular theories from the researches:

  1. The first idea is that the jerks are just natural when transitioning from alertness to sleep by nerves in the body ‘misfiring’.
  2. The second idea is that hypnagogic jerks result from evolution. It’s argued that the spasms are a primitive reflex where the brain at one time in history misinterpreted the transition from movement to relaxation and sleep as a sign of the primate falling, making the muscles quickly react.

Even with those two theories the actual cause is still a mystery and scientists continue to try and find it. Though don’t be scared if you experience a hypnagogic jerk once in a while that causes you to wake up, but if this starts to happen on a more frequent and repetitive basis seek a sleep specialist!

Feel free to comment your experiences with hypnagogic jerks!!

Original Source: https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html

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