BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

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Insulin Resistance Reversed by Removal of Protein

By removing the protein galectin-3 (Gal3) from the insulin receptor cells, a team of investigators led by University of California School of Medicine researchers were able to reverse diabetic insulin resistance and glucose intolerance in mice with diabetes. This could be the beginnings of a break threw in the cure for type 2 diabetes.

By binding to insulin receptors on cells, Gal3 prevents insulin from attaching to the receptors resulting in cellular insulin resistance. A research team led by Jared Olefsky MD, discovered that by genetically removing Gal3 or using pharmaceutical inhibitors to target it, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance could be returned to normal. Olefsky stated, “Our findings suggest that Gal3 inhibition in people could be an effective anti-diabetic approach.”

Gal3 is secreted by microphages (specialized cells that destroy targeted cells).The researchers pinpointed macrophages coming from bone marrow as the source of the Gal3 that causes insulin resistance. The accumulation of macrophages in the liver cells, fat cells, and skeletal muscle cells, leads to chronic inflammation and insulin resistance. The Gal3 released by macrophages causes insulin resistance by binding to insulin receptors on cells, preventing insulin from attaching. The worst part is that Gal3 also acts as a signaling protein, attracting more macrophages to the area, which then produce even more Gal3.

This discovery although untested on humans yet, could be the beginnings of a cure for type 2 diabetes. As a member of a family plagued by Type 2 diabetes, this study can offer hope to us and millions around the world. My main question/ concern, would be is this a one time procedure? Or a recurring treatment?. Either way, this discovery is a huge step for the diabetic community around the world.

 

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ALS Patient Gets a New Chance for Communication

While many of us heard about the existence of ALS through the ice-bucket challenge two summers ago, the intricacies and details of the disease are not as well known. A diagnosis of A.L.S. (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is devastating for the patient and his/her family. As the disease progresses, the patient will slowly lose their ability to use their muscles, until eventually, they can no longer control their own body movements.

A patient with this disease often would have little hope for improvement. Recently, Hanneke De Bruijne, a doctor of internal medicine from the Netherlands who received a diagnosis of ALS in 2008, received just that: a glimmer of hope. In this article from the NY Times, Steph Yin explains the exciting technology giving this particular patient  a new way to communicate. With a brain-computer interface surgically implanted into her brain, she can utilize electrical signals to type out words on a computer screen in front of her. Incredible, right?

Taken by Dr. Frank Gaillard.

Taken by Dr. Frank Gaillard.

Nick Ramsey, one of the researchers and a professor of cognitive neuroscience, has deemed this tool a “remote control in the brain.” Using the system, De Bruijne was able to type two to three words a minute, allowing her to use it in her daily life with remarkable success.

What makes the system so ingenious is that while De Bruijne suffers from locked-in syndrome as a result of her ALS diagnosis, her brain still fires electrical signals when she feels the desire to move. The brain implant computer system capitalizes on this, allowing her to spell out her desires with a “brain click” (thinking about the hand gesture that would click that button).

While there are risks with this surgery, like any invasive procedure, the development of this new software brings hope for many ALS patients who may suffer from even more extreme locked-in syndrome, without even the ability to move their eyes. Utilizing the brain signals that still function fully allows a patient to retain control over some aspect of their life and will hopefully be able to bring light to other patients as this approach is tested further.

Other relevant articles:

The ALSA organization

2014 breakthrough for ALS

2016 Groundbreaking study signals news hope for ALS Patients

“What Does Light Taste Like?” I Don’t Know, Ask A Nematode.

csiro_scienceimage_2818_group_of_nematodes

by Entomology on scienceimage.csiro.au

The vision of light is a beautiful blessing brought to us by our sight receptor cells. Since the sight of light is so great, the taste of it must be even better. Though we don’t know the taste of light, there may be a very tiny someone who does, the nematode. In the article Tasting Light: New type of photoreceptor is 50 times more efficient than the human eye, published on sciencedaily.com, it states that, at the University of Michigan, researchers have discovered a new photoreceptor amidst a bunch of taste receptor cells in nematodes and other invertebrates. This new receptor is called, LITE-1. Because of the receptor’s unusual location, it is believed that these animals have an ability to taste light. New studies have also shown that LITE-1 is no average photoreceptor.

LITR-1 was discovered in nematodes, which are eyeless roundworms only measuring about a millimeter in length. You might be thinking, “Nematodes don’t have eyes. So why would they need photoreceptors?” Shawn Xu, a senior study author who has a lab at University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, where he is also a faculty member, demonstrated in his lab that even though nematodes are  eyeless, they still move away from flashes of light. The purpose of photoreceptors is to transform light into a signal that is usable for the body. This fact leads scientists to believe that it’s possible for that the roundworm uses this photoreceptor, located among its taste receptors, so that it can convert light into something that the worm can taste in order to perceive it. Xu also says that “LITE-1 actually comes from a family of taste receptor proteins first discovered in insects.”

Though these nematodes are extremely tiny, their peculiar LITE-1 photoreceptors are nothing to be looked over. Something that makes LITE-1 strange is that it has the astounding ability to absorb UVA and UVB light. Another unusual trait of LITE-1 is that it is unlike other photoreceptor proteins. Photoreceptors consist of two parts: a base protein and a chromophore. Breaking these two sections apart does not destroy all of their ability to function. However, LITE-1, when broken apart loses its ability to absorb light entirely.

LITE-1 also has a range possible future uses, such as being applied as a sunscreen that can absorb harmful rays or being used to promote the development light sensitivity in new types of cells. The future of LITE-1 shows great promise  and could open doors for the potential of other animals, besides invertebrates, to have a new and possibly delicious way of sensing light.

 

http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(16)31518-5

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/32317/20161119/animals-taste-light-new-type-photoreceptor-found-invertebrates.htm

 

 

Are Rats Ticklish?

Up until now, ticklishness has been a mysterious physical sensation.  Michael Brecht, professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin and Animal Physiologist, headed a research project along with Shimpei Ishiyama to help understand the sensation of tickling. Many questions have been asked about this mysterious physical sensation for many years without sparking answers. Even Aristotle and Charles Darwin were curious about tickling. Why are certain body part more ticklish than other? Why does the body react with smiles and laughter? Why can you not tickle yourself? Can other animals be ticklish as well?

Tickle Tickle

This image was originally posted to Flickr by Yogi at http://flickr.com/photos/34427468531@N01/113215143

Turns out, rats are ticklish too! (Click HERE for video!) In the Study, Brecht and Ishiyama, tickled the rats.  The subjects responded really well to the researchers tickling them, emitting “laughter-calls” and playfully chasing the the researcher’s hand.  The calls are ultrasonic and can not be heard by the naked human ear.  According to their laughter calls and the “unsolicited joy jumps” after being tickled, the rats are most ticklish on their bellies and on the bottom of their feet.  Brecht observes, “It’s remarkable the similarities between rats and humans – the fact they vocalise and clearly enjoy tickling so much.”  

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British Pest Control Association

To further the research, Brecht and Ishiyama studied the brain to see what area of the brain reacts to tickling.  Cells are activated in the somatosensory cortex of the brain causing the rats to giggle.  The somatosensory cortex is part of the brain that registers touch and Brecht remarks that “we managed to pinpoint the ticklish spot in the brain.” During this study, they were able to discover that rats ticklishness is dependent on their mood.  Rats response to being tickled was far less measurable when the rats were stressed  This finding could lead to very important future research on the brain because there has been little research about how moods affects the brain.  

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Jkwchui

Evolution of Human Lifespans

human_evolution_scheme

(Locutus Borg, Wikimedia Commons)

Humans have started living longer and healthier lives. According to research conducted by various international teams, the last two centuries have had a greater percent increase in human lifespan than the past millions of years did.

The research teams compared the average lifespan of the most developed societies to the average lifespan of modern-day hunter-gatherer populations, which most closely resemble the lifespan and lifestyle of early humans. The researchers found that developed countries, such as Sweden, have average lifespans of eighty years now (an increase from the mid-thirties range it was in 200 years ago). On the other hand, hunter-gatherer populations such as the Hadza in Tanzania live only ten to twenty years longer than wild primates.

Such drastic improvements in human longevity are attributed to the advent of several post-industrial era features, including modern medicine and supermarkets. However, males trail behind females in terms of lifespan by at least three to four years– something that has not changed since the beginning of primate history.

The exact reason for the lifespan gender gap is unknown. Some hypotheses propose that males are more at-risk because they carry one X-chromosome and one Y-chromosome, as opposed to the females’ two X-chromosomes, which makes males more susceptible to disease. Another possible explanation centers around harmful male-related behavior, such as fighting. What do you think is the most likely reason for the gender gap?

IS THAT POISON IVY???

Scientists have discovered a possible new treatment to prevent itching from poison ivy, a painful nuisance that affects up to 50 million Americans annually. Using an antibody for the protein interleukin-33, scientists were able to drastically reduce itching in test mice. As treatment now generally doesn’t do much to combat the discomfort of itching, this is a major breakthrough in poison ivy treatment.

What is Poison Ivy?

 Poison Ivy is a plant that produces resinous oil called urushiol that covers the entire plant: stems, leaves, and roots. When this oil comes into contact with human skin, either directly or through a secondary source like an animal or tool, it triggers an allergic reaction in 85% of people, causing your immune system to attack and create an itchy rash. This rash can escalate into hives and blisters.

What is this discovery?

So far there is treatment such as antihistamines and corticosteroids that help swelling, pain and accelerate recovery, but there is no real cure for the itchiness and discomfort this rash can cause. However, by blocking a certain protein in the immune system with an antibody, one can block the signals to the brain communicating an itch on the skin. This protein is interleukin 33 (IL-33), a common protein that acts directly on the nerve fibers in the skin, exciting them and telling the brain that the skin is severely itchy. When blocking this protein, scientists conducting an experiment on lab mice were able to reduce not only inflammation, but the amount of scratching.

What does this mean?

If this treatment could be used on humans, it would provide a far more affordable and effective treatment for victims of this pesky condition, and eliminate the doctors visits, lost time at work or school, and costs of only partly helpful drugs that are now necessary for people suffering from this rash. Hopefully, the pain and annoyance that comes with Poison Ivy will soon be a thing of the past.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poison_ivy-20141524-038.jpg

Science Proven Fact: The Older Sibling is the Best

As it is very clear to see, I am the alpha sibling. I am better than my brother in all ways. I always knew this, but now I can prove it with science!

Exhibit A: My parents just love me the most.

The main difference in the upbringing of an older sibling and a younger sibling is the quality of parental investment. With their first child, parents (on average) put a greater effort into reading with their child, playing music/listening to music, or taking them places. However, with next child, parents decrease the level of cognitive stimulation. The Home Observation Measure of the Environment, used to assess the quality of a child’s learning environment, shows that the first-born child has higher quality cognitive stimulation from the parents compared to the younger siblings.

Zach Chisolm, https://www.flickr.com/photos/artifishall/3948899806

 

Exhibit B: The Birth Order Effect

The Birth Order Effect is when earlier-born children make higher wages and have better occupations as adults than their younger siblings. The more years between the birth of the first child and the birth of the second child, the more benefit to the older sibling. This is because as parents have more children, they need to divide up their time and resources among more offspring. Although as time passes, parents generally make more money and gain experience, their attention must be divided among all of their children.

Differences in the social and physical development of children as a result of the Birth Order Effect can arise even before the age of three. These differences become more apparent as the children grow older, and can be seen in verbal, reading, math, and comprehension tests.

 

Exhibit C: Oprah is an older sibling. You get a car!

 

Disclaimer: Regardless of birth order, parents generally put in the same amount of effort for each child to ensure appropriate emotional development. So don’t worry! There is hope for my brother and all of the younger siblings out there!

 

 

 

 

Could drinking milk reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s?

While it may seem like a stretch, researchers have recently discovered a link between probiotics, or good bacteria, in our intestinal tracts and neurological function. A study done at Kashan University of Medical Sciences and Azad University in Iran has revealed that probiotics can improve cognition in those suffering with Alzheimer’s.

Many studies done in the past have shown that probiotics in mice have resulted in improved memory and learning as well as reduced depression, anxiety and OCD- related behaviors. These surprising findings have led scientists to be curious about weather or not humans would benefit in the same ways. Prior to this most recent study however, no research has been done on the effects of probiotics in human brains.

 

52 men and women between 60 and 95 years old with Alzheimer’s participated in this groundbreaking study. Half of the participants were randomly chosen to receive 200 ml of milk enriched with probiotic bacteria, while the other half were given untreated milk daily for 12 weeks. Prior to beginning the study, participants and were given a questionnaire testing cognitive function, which included tasks like repeating a phrase, giving the current date and naming objects. While these may seem like simple tasks to us, patients suffering with Alzheimer’s have great difficulty completing such actions.

 

Over the course of the 12-week study, the participants were repeatedly given the same questionnaire. The scores of the group who received the enriched milk increase significantly, averaging from an initial 8.7 increasing to 10.6 out of 30, while the scores of the group that received the un-enriched milk mostly remained the same or decreased.

 

While this area of research is still in its primary stages, the findings of this study helped us discover an important connection between the gastrointestinal tract and neurological function, as well as how probiotics have a direct effect on cognition. Researchers have hope that further study can reveal more about the affects of probiotic on Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.

Probiotics: The Real Brain Food

While it is nearly common knowledge that probiotics give partial protection against certain colds, allergies, infectious diarrheas, and other health issues, scientists were not able to prove until recently that probiotics can potentially improve cognition. This is possible since there is communication between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain via the nervous system, the immune system, and hormones.

Scientists have seen that in mice, probiotics have caused an improvement in learning and memory. Researchers from Kashan University of Medical Sciences, Kashan, and Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran, completed a double-blind experiment where 52 men and women with Alzheimers (between 60 and 95 years old) either received milk enriched with four probiotic bacteria, or untreated milk. As predicted by several researchers, by the end of the 12 week period, those who received the milk with Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. fermentum, and Bifidobacterium Bifidum displayed an improvement in cognition. To determine these results of the study, the scientists asked the participants of the study to complete tasks such as giving the current date, repeating a phrase, and counting backwards from 100 by sevens. Those who received the probiotics earned a “score” on these tasks ranging from 8.7 to 10.6 on the scale out of 30, whereas the participants who did not receive the probiotics scored slightly lower ranging from 8.5 to 8.0. Despite the seemingly minute difference, these results provide scientists with an insight as to the fact that probiotics can improve human cognition.

alzheimers_disease_brain_comparison

In the near future, scientists hope to test these results based on longevity of their intake to test whether or not the effects of probiotics grows throughout prolonged treatment. The patients who received the probiotics also demonstrated lower levels of triglyceride, Very Loy Density Lipoprotein (VLDL), high sensitivity C-Reactive protein (hs-CRP) in the blood of the Alzheimer patients, and a reduction in two common measures of insulin resistance and the activity of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. These results also signify that this change in metabolic adjustments might be a way that the probiotics impacts other cognitive and neurological disorders.

Further Reading:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314044.php

http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/731021/yoghurt-Alzheimers-symptoms-improve

Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Can Animals Recognize Themselves At All?

Eat. Drink. Excrete. Sleep. Repeat.

We humans often reduce the lives of animals to these common processes. However, scientists in recent decades have broadened the horizons for animals by looking into their ability to self-recognize.

Developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr., the mirror self-recognition (MSR) test has been the most common method of testing animals’ awareness of themselves.  The test entails the placement of a red spot on a sedated animal in a location which the animal cannot see without a mirror.  The spot must be smooth and odorless as to not excite any olfactory or tactile cues. Once the sedation wares off, the animal is presented with a mirror.  If the animal makes a movement towards the red spot, the test makes the assumption that the animal recognizes itself.  Most species tested have failed the MSR exam with only great apes, an individual Asiatic elephant, orcas, dolphins, and Eurasian magpies passing as of 2016.

The mirror test - a Baboon looking at at his own reflection

Baboon observing itself during MSR test by Moshe Blank, source

However, the “red spot” test has come under scrutiny with many scientists claiming that it is not a true indicator of self-recognition.  For the exam to be applicable, one must make the assumption that animals know the reflective properties of a mirror, an object which they may have never seen before. Additionally, many animals (especially wild one’s) do not have a clue as to what they look like as an individual. Rather than visuals, they can often recognize certain smells and sounds. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, conducted “yellow snow” experiments in which he deducted that his dog Jhetro could recognize its own urine and would respond differently when presented with the urine of other dogs.  “Animals such as Jethro may fail the red dot test but still possess some sense of self or ownership over their body and smells.”

Strengthening the case against the MSR test, naturalist legend Charles Darwin claimed in his theory on evolutionary continuity that the differences among species come in degree, not kind.  This means that if humans are self-aware creatures, other animals are most likely self-aware as well but to a different extent.

Although animals may not have the same reaction when looking into a mirror as humans do, most creatures understand that they possess their own body which does not belong to another.  For example, animals must know the placement of their bodies in space to effectively navigate as a pack or flock. Lastly, one can look to his/her four-legged friend on the floor to see how animals display ownership over food, territory, family, and body parts with which they associate.

So, can animals really recognize themselves?  Yes, they can.  Just not always in the same ways humans do.

This area of research opens up the gates to even more complicated questions about animals.  How do different species think and feel? How do they grapple with emotion?

Number of strokes increased in children!

Sean Maloney stroke brainscan

Intel Free Press Image Link

Statistics 

According to new studies, strokes have been affecting younger generations more than ever. The average age for people having a first stroke has dropped from  71.1 in 2000 to 69.3 in 2012.What’s interesting is that in general, the number of strokes in the U.S. has actually gone down over the last few decades, according to Chengwei Li, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. However, Li’s study, shows that the rate of strokes in people under the age of 65 have not gone down, and that the rate of strokes in people under the age of 55 has actually increased.

Treatment

According to a study on WebMD, it is in some ways easier to treat the younger patients affected. People who get to the hospital within 4 and a half hours of their episode, or attack, can receive a drug that breaks up the clot in the brain and restores the blood flow. However, studies have shown that this treatment is more likely to benefit younger patients opposed to elder patients. Although this may be the case, young adults and females in particular, are often not eligible for the treatment because they ignore early symptoms or wait until the symptoms get severe, before they seek help.

As stated in an article from Live Science  and a journal from NCBI, the increase in stroke incidents at younger ages has great significance because strokes in younger patients carry out for a greater lifetime burden of disability.

While the total number of strokes in the U.S. has decreased, the number and severity of strokes in younger generations has increased. As a result, researchers, doctors, and medical staff continue to work together in order to seek ways to treat the newer generation of stroke patients.

Would you eat food made from natural gas?

Methane Gas

Every since we were little we have been told that plants are a source of food and energy created by photosynthesis.  Humans eat plants and we eat animals that eat plants.  This is how energy is passed on, but what if I told you there was a way to get energy not from plants but from gas?  Seems kind of gross, right?

Michael Le Page wrote an article on the biotechnology company, Calysta, that has been working to use natural gas as forms of food for different animals.   They experiment with creating feed for farmed fish.  The process of creating this feed requires microbes that are put in a big area with methane.  Microbes feed off the methane and convert the digested methane into energy.  At the biotechnology company they specifically used a type of bacteria called Methlyococcus capsulatus which feeds off of the methane.  This process releases energy that can then be combined with other molecules to create food.  What is the point of this process?

This process of creating energy and food in a different way compared to photosynthesis has both positive and negative effects.  The reason for preforming such a strategy is to decrease a demand for land use (for example all of the farms used to grow plants and other crops), and to lower the amount of water used.  Another positive is the way in which methane is being used to create this feed.  Normally, in order to rid of methane it is just burned, but the way in which it is used for microbes to feed on it is much more productive and less wasteful.  Methane is a green house gas and is bad for the environment.  Instead of just burning it these studies have shown that it can be a useful source of food.  On the negative side using methane gas to produce energy results in the emission a lot of CO2.  CO2 is a also a greenhouse gas that increases the earths temperature, and adds to the problem of global warming.

Fish Farm

This process of creating feed when microbes convert methane to food has been pretty successful; some farm animals are eating this feed.  You never know, maybe one day humans will be eating food made from natural gases.  It really depends on where the world puts its priorities due to both negative and positive outcomes of the process.  What do you think is our most important priority?  Should factories go ahead and make this feed, despite the high levels of CO2 released?

 

 

If You Didn’t Already Know, You Shouldn’t Eat Sharks

Can sharks give you Alzheimer’s disease? Do people actually eat sharks?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-12-47-10-pm

NOAA, national ocean service image gallery flicker.com/photos Licensed for reuse/public domain

The answer to both of these questions is yes. A recent study by the university of Miami found large amounts of toxins that are linked to brain disease. It has been recently found that about 10 types of sharks have high concentrations of these toxins and that the consumption of these sharks can actually lead to the development of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Though it is very uncommon for someone to be found eating a shark in the U.S, shark is widely consumed across Asia so many asians may be at risk of developing brain diseases. The shark population is rapidly decreasing due for the desire to have shark fin soup, a delicacy across Asia, and this new information may be used to help the argument against the killing of sharks. Since sharks are becoming more and more endangered, this discovery could help save the lives of sharks and of people. So people, especially ones that consume shark, must learn that eating shark can have real negative effects on peoples lives and by killing sharks they are helping the endangerment of the species. This killing and consuming of sharks needs to stop to help save sharks and people.

Hammer Head Shark 1893 No Known copyright restrictions flicker.com/photos

Hammer Head Shark
1893
No Known copyright restrictions
flicker.com/photos

Obesity Related to the Brain

Lauri Nummenmaa has done research the connects obesity to the brain.  This research shows that people struggling with obesity have a lower amount of μ-opioid receptors available for binding in the brain.  (To learn more about μ-opioid receptors click here.)  Due to evolution, our brains are still “wired” to search for food and nutrients.  Since eating gives off a sensation in the brain, related to the opioid receptors, people with fewer receptors that are able to bind will therefore eat more to make up for the loss in sensation.  This reaction is the same as a reaction to an addiction would be, causing more neurotransmitters to be secreted.  The next step that scientists are taking is to discover whether being obese causes a lack in opioid receptors, or if a lack in opioid receptors, caused by another source, is what causes obesity.  One test that scientists did was testing μ-opioid receptors in people that had bariatric surgery.  Bariatric surgery causes more receptors to work again, shown by the fact that scientists could not distinguish between the μ-opioid receptors or healthy people and the μ-opioid receptors of people who had the surgery.

Some body fat, however, is helpful to the brain.  This article describes that “fat tissue in the bodies of mice releases an extracellular form of nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (eNAMPT), an enzyme that travels to the hypothalamus, and gives animals energy during fasting.”  (To learn more about eNAMPT click here.)

This photo shows how a neurotransmitter is sent from neuron to neuron generally.

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(Link to Photo Page and Link to Licensing Page)

Just Keep Swimming…and Fixing Paralysis!

 

Zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Zebrafish (Danio rerio)- from Flickr

The zebrafish may just look like a cute aquatic animal, but they actually have a unique power that humans don’t: they can heal a severed spinal cord. While this uncanny ability sounds almost magical, it can be explained by the work of a certain protein, CTGF (connective tissue growth factor), that humans have as well. Because of this commonality, recent research conducted by Duke University suggests that by learning from the mechanism that allows the Zebrafish to do this, humans may eventually be able to regenerate their lost spinal tissue!

Essentially, the zebrafish is able to regenerate their spinal cord by forming a cellular bridge across the damaged or missing area. They can be fully healed in as little as 8 weeks! But how is this “bridge” possible on a molecular level? When the fish get injured, dozens of genes get activated. Seven of these genes code for proteins that are secreted from cells. The researchers at Duke found that CTGF, one of these proteins, is crucial to the bridge-making process. They found this by looking at the glia, which are the supporting cells that help initially form the bridge before the arrival of nerve cells. After forming the bridge, CTGF levels rose marginally in these glia. When the researchers genetically deleted CTGF from the glia, the whole regeneration process failed. This research proved exciting because humans also have a very similar form of CTGF, and when they added this human-version of the gene to the glia, regeneration was even faster, only taking 2 weeks! The researchers even discovered which of the four parts of CTGF was the important one in this regeneration phenomenon, which in the future would make it easier to create therapies modeled after this part for humans.

However, using this knowledge to help human tissue regeneration is not as straightforward as it may seem. Mammals such as ourselves form scar tissue around damaged areas, complicating the matter further. The group plans on experimenting with other mammals, namely mice to compare and contrast their CTGF levels with those of zebrafish. Do you think that CTGF research is the best way to achieve human tissue regeneration? Is there any way to prevent scar tissue from forming around our wounds? Let me know in the comments!

 

Original Article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161103142321.htm

Photo Credit to Tohru Murakami: https://flic.kr/p/nb2gGH

Meet Charlotte’s Cousin (She’s Coming to the Web this Year for Thanksgiving)

You’re taking a nice autumn walk, enjoying the scenic pathway covered in red, yellow, and brown beautiful leaves. You stop at tree and notice one small, shriveled up decaying leaf still hanging. In a whimsical motion, you decide to pluck the final leaf… Aaaaaahhhh! Spider!

Folks, you’ve heard of the stick bug. Let me introduce you to the leaf spider (it has yet to be officially named!). Don’t worry, you’re unlikely to find one unless you’re in China.

The Leaf Spider’s Cousin: The Barn Spider                                      Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tmh9/233350520

On a research excursion in Yunnan, China in 2011 (they published their findings on November 11), researcher Matjaz Kuntner* and his team came across an unusual species unidentified by the likes of man, the only known spider to resemble a dried up leaf!

Camouflage isn’t new in the animal kingdom; it’s a popular survival trait. But its more common with insects like the stick bug than arachnids.

However, roughly 100 species of spiders have bodies that don’t resemble your typical halloween decoration, ranging from a jumble of twigs to bird poo. But nothing like this!

They described the spider’s back as looking like a healthy green life while its underside resembled a dead brown leaf. And a hairy, stalk like structure branches out of its abdomen like the stem of a leaf! Take a look for yourself!

After searching for another specimen for two weeks, the researchers found only one more: a juvenile male. Searching the world’s museum for another sample, only one resembling the new specimen could be found (in a museum in Vietnam) but it is suspected this specimen comes from a known species whereas these two new individuals are a brand new discovery!

But the icing on the cake… as the title suggests, this spider is a cousin of Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web! Yes, the barn spider (Araneus cavaticus) and this new spider both belong to the Poltys genus along with 3,000 relatives (what a family reunion!).

One thing to note: the researchers noticed leaves stuck to the branch the spider was resting on by silk, indicating that the spider might have placed the leaves there on purpose. Keep an eye out for new research on the matter in the future.

So, the pivotal question I ask anyone who reads this… what should the spider be called? Do you know of any cool arachnids or insects that use camouflage in unique ways? Let me know in the comments.

Original Article: http://www.livescience.com/56910-leaf-mimicking-spider-found.html

 

*Matjaz Kuntner is a principal investigator with the Evolutionary Zoology Lab at the Biological Institute Jovan Hadzi, Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Why don’t Naked Mole Rats Feel Pain?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nacktmull.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nacktmull.jpg

This question is currently being researched because of the mole rats amazing inability to feel pain the way that most animals do. The reason lies in sensory nerves. An ion channel is sensitized when molecules bind themselves to receptors which is TRPV1. Scientists performed a test to see what exactly what makes these animals different than others.

They tested the thermal hyperalgesia of both the common rat and the naked mole rat at TRPV1. What do you think the difference is? From this experiment and by looking at the DNA of other animals as well, they concluded that the switch of 1 to 3 amino acids has a great effect on the naked mole rat. This change causes the receptors to be less sensitive to pain. This unique receptor may be the reason that they are able to survive better than other animals with genetic mutations. Also because they do feel as uncomfortable in the heat compared to others, they are able to live in small tightly packed spaces underground.

This topic is very important because it shows how a small genetic difference can be the basis for a species. It is proven that through evolution, they have a slow metabolic rate and that they do not have anything that is not necessary for their survival, including extra pain receptors. More research is being done on this topic to help us better understand why some animals feel pain and some do not.   

Beauty is Pain: and naked mole rats have neither

The naked mole rat is the ugly duckling of the rodent family. These small rodents can live up to 32 years, are virtually resistant to cancer, and have evolved to become immune to certain types of pain. Beneath its wrinkled, fleshy surface, the naked mole rat is the closest animal we have to an indestructible species.

A new study published October 11 in Cell Reports offers some reasons behind the rodent’s abilities. Minor evolutionary changes to the amino acids in their pain receptors make the naked mole rat highly insensitive to pain after birth.”We think evolution has selected for this tweak just subtly enough so that the pain signaling becomes non-functional, but not strong enough that it becomes a danger for the animal,” says lead author Gary R. Lewin, a professor at the Max-Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany.

Much of this is due to the environment and behaviors present in the mole rats life. Naked mole rats often live in large colonies, with up to 300 members. The constant digging of tunnels and over crowding should leave the mole rat in great discomfort, and highly prone to a condition called thermal hyperalgesia. Humans have the same condition, which we generally call heat sensitivity. Imagine entering a hot bathtub with a bad sun burn. When this happens, it’s because sensory receptors on your skin have been chemically “sensitized” by inflammation or high temperatures. Once those receptors are sensitized, even the smallest amount of heat will cause sensory nerves to send signals to the  brain that register this as painful. Naked mole rats lack this reaction.

Through a series of calculated and carefully designed experiments, Lewid and his team were able to pin point what differentiates naked mole rats from all other rodents- a change in their TrkA receptor. They discovered a switch of just one to three amino acid changes on one section of the naked mole rat TrkA receptor that make it less sensitive.

“Even though the naked mole rat’s version of the TrkA receptor is almost identical to that of a mouse or a rat, it has a very significant effect on the animal’s ability to feel pain,” says Lewin. The naked mole rat is built for efficiency. It’s an animal built to survive the toughest of conditions. Evolution has shut down everything that is not necessary in the naked mole rat, including nerve receptors.

In my opinion, the naked mole rat is pretty cool. It has learned to evolve in order to survive. Maybe this trait is why the this species of rodent in particular outlives all of its fellow rodents by over 25 years. My one question would be, “Is the ability to not feel pain always an advantage? Or can this sometimes lead an animal into dangerous situations?” Whatever the answer, the naked mole rat is an evolutionary success.

 

 

A Brand New Dinosaur? Just When You Thought There Were No More Dinosaurs.

 

Yep, you read that correctly, a brand new dinosaur(…’s skull) has been found in the Patagonia region of south America. Its amazing that after millions and millions of years new dinosaur fossils are still being discovered which can lead to the recognition of a whole new species of dinosaur. In this case, the dinosaur was part of the pterosaurs group, which is a extinct group of “flying reptiles”. This brand new type of dinosaur was named Brain Ancient; just kidding, its name translates to “brain ancient” its really called “Allkauren Koî”. But why was the dinosaur named this? These two additional websites may help answer that as well as show what the dinosaur might have possibly looked like. The name was probably given to this extinct animal because all that was found of it was an ancient brain(in reality the skull and part of the backbone and vertebrae was found). This find shows just how interesting the world used to be and it still amazes me that we are able to find remains of the beasts that ruled the world before humans.

 

williston_pteranodon

 

Here is the fossil of a close relative of this newly found dinosaur (this dinosaur is in the same group, pterosaurs). S.W. Williston’s reconstruction of Ornithostoma ingens, a synonym of P. longiceps

 

To clarify, if you would like to see pictures, that can’t be shown on this article due to copyright issues, of what this new dinosaur Allkauren Koî might have looked like, you can use these two links that are shown below.

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/27867/20160831/fossil-of-new-species-of-flying-dinosaur-found-in-argentina.htm

http://www.sci-news.com/paleontology/allkauren-koi-argentina-04145.html

 

 

 

1930’s Dust Bowl (MARS EDITION)

 

Mars has experienced dust storms for years now, so a simple one is nothing new; however, by October 29th of this year, the dust storms will be at their all time high according to NASA. The dust storms on Mars are so strong that back in 2007 (the most recent larger one), the storm dimmed the sun, reducing the solar power available to two rovers on different sides of the planet. This continues to be an issue as the storms increase, limiting the power available to the rovers, and leaving them alone. Not only do dust storms threaten rovers, but astronauts too. Future astronauts will have to face tremendous winds, extreme dust, and lack of solar energy like the rovers. Furthermore, research from the past will now to indicate a pattern to predict future storms as the storms have thus far indicated a cycle and with further observation will continue to prove true.

I chose to write about the mars dust storm because besides the fact that I am utterly obsessed with space, the dust storms and the recent water finding on mars bring us closer to finding a planet just like ours, and thusly in the far future a refuge planet in the event of disaster on earth. By creating a history of dust storms we can evaluate the safety and conditions of this planet as we continue to learn about it.

 

 

NASA develops model to predict global dust storms on Mars

 

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