Is Exercise really that important?

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Yes, exercise can have a ton of benefits not only for your heart, but for your overall health. First of all, cardiovascular disease (CVD-or heart disease) accounted for approximately 30% of worldwide deaths in 2008. Coronary heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death. Why such terrible statistics? Well, let’s just say some people don’t take care of their bodies as well as they should be.

Obesity rates are sky high in people, mostly in the United States. It can drastically increase the risk of certain diseases like heart disease and diabetes (type II). Sometimes obesity and heart disease is beyond peoples’ control, either being born with a very slow metabolism or diabetes. However in most cases, heart illness can be prevented. The best way to fend off heart disease would be to exercise. In combination with a healthy diet, exercise is essential to a healthy heart. The essential benefactors of exercise are that it lowers ones blood pressure and lowers ones resting heartbeat. Your heart isn’t working so hard to pump at higher pressures, but it is being conditioned as the muscle it is to pump faster at certain points. Since you are exerting energy, you burn calories and lower your cholesterol levels (cholesterol levels in bulk could lead to clogged arteries). Of course there’s still more to exercise. Exercise leads to the release of natural endorphins, which create a sense of euphoria. Some people describe this state as a “natural high”. The release of endorphins could be considered positive reinforcement to exercise since it makes people literally feel good physically and mentally. In turn people would keep coming back to exercise to feel great and be in shape. This is overall highly effective for helping people to burn more calories (which would mean burning fat and stopping obesity from occurring within themselves). If one does not participate in exercise, they are much more likely to feel worse and overall have a higher risk of heart disease. According to the CDC, over 9 million cases of cardiovascular disease were due to lack of exercise. So why not exercise? Protect your health and well being. Even for a little bit every day, exercising is a helpful tool for better health and better morale.

Do you exercise on a regular basis?

 

Helpful link: http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/exercise-healthy-heart

Newly Discovered Exoplanet Has Water

exoplanetbioedublogs

Recently, scientists discovered an exoplanet the size of Neptune that has water. The planet, HAT-P-11b, is roughly four times the size of Earth. It is the smallest known exoplanet to have water, as all the exoplanets outside our solar system that have been found to contain water are the size of jupiter. Scientists were able to discover the presence of water vapor due to its ability to absorb infrared light whenever it passed in front of the star it was orbiting. Currently, the possibility of other worlds containing living conditions similar to our own world is extremely important. We are constantly searching to prove the question “are we alone in the universe”. Only recently, however, have we been able to start finding these exoplanets. With the discovery of each new exoplanet we learn more and more about our universe, and the possibility of other habitable worlds. This newly discovered exoplanet may not be habitable, but the mere presence  of water on it allows us to realize there is a good chance that there are many worlds similar to ours with the possibility of sustaining life.

The Continued Spread of Ebola

 

Ebola_virus_em

The most recent epidemic that is spreading through Africa is Ebola. It has taken the lives of over a thousand people, but it could get much worse. Without proper isolation and treatment of the infection scientists predict the number of infected individuals could increase to more than 20,000 in just six weeks. Some scientists are even predicting more than a million deaths due to Ebola if  treatment and containment is not improved. Ebola is generally transmitted from animals to humans, who then pass the virus t each other by contact. Symptoms generally include fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat, which is then followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, and finally impaired kidney and liver function. The fatality rage for this contagion is about 70%. As of right now there is no vaccine for this virus, and the best way to stop the spread of it is to simply isolate those experiencing symptoms. This virus is currently being closely monitored as it is unknown whether the situation in Africa will get worse, and begin to spread to other countries, infecting people by the thousands. Hopefully scientists are able to discover a vaccine that will halt the spread of this deadly virus, saving the lives of thousands of individuals

Chemical Changes Triggering Allergic Reactions

A research team at Oxford University recently conducted a study to determine what conditions are more likely to trigger an allergic reaction to nuts in mice. The team used roasted peanuts and raw (regular) peanuts, purifying the proteins from both and then introducing the 2 types of peanut proteins multiple ways.

The response was shocking: the mice who were exposed to dry roasted peanut proteins had many more immune responses than the mice exposed to raw peanut proteins. This “immune response” closely resembles a human allergic reaction.

8483070167_1a90af12df_zThe actual act of roasting peanuts seems like it wouldn’t change much other than taste, but the science of the act shows that with heat, the proteins are chemically modified. The common concept of enzyme performance being altered by changing the temperature or pH applied in this experience. Peanuts contain the enzyme Cyp11a1,  a recurring link in allergic reactions. When heat was applied to the protein of a peanut, the enzyme’s shape changed and therefore the active site was altered and the enzyme was unable to perform its function. Therefore, an allergic reaction to the heat-modified (roasted) nuts was more easily triggered.

Being someone who suffers from a nut allergy (I know, I’m missing out on Nutella), I found this article very interesting because I’ve experienced certain situation with inconsistent reaction triggers, and I’m curious as to what they might be. I also found the geographical link regarding the allergy outstanding – the Western population of nut allergies is reportedly much higher than that of the Eastern population, but in the article, the distinction is made that as Westerners, we tend to eat our peanuts roasted/dry-roasted, whereas the Eastern population is likely to eat their food raw.

Photo by: Daniella Segura ; Some Rights Reserved https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921223617.htm

The Cambrian Explosion: An Evolutionary Arms Race

 

 

About two weeks ago I dropped in on a freshman Biology class on a college visit.  The professor was giving a lecture on something called “The Cambrian Explosion”, something I’d never heard of.  He described the “explosion” as an evolutionary arms race, a period in which the evolutionary process; the diversification of organisms accelerated from 0 to 60 in a “relative blink.”  Needless to say, the lecture piqued my interest, and so I searched the web for some more insight on the curious “explosion.”  I found a great article  from the innovative science blog nautil.us by Brooke Borel called “The Greatest Animal War”. Borel’s article gave me a better idea of what the Cambrian Explosion was all about.

mouth piece

Pictured is a Cambrian Age fossil of Anomalocaris canadensis from the Burgess Shale Formation.  The fossil preserves the mouthpiece of the organism in great detail, and the mouthpiece itself serves as evidence of useful trait acquired during the Cambrian Explosion.

 

 

claw

Above is the grasping claw of the very same Anamolacris canadensis from the Burgess Shale.  The claw is just another evolutionary tool used by the organism to predate and survive.

 

 

Scientists interpret the earliest fossil records (which date from about 580 million years ago) as evidence that early organisms were small, simple, and… soft.  The fossil record shows these early life forms to be defenseless and apparently harmless, lacking the “claws, teeth, limbs, or brains” that are characteristic of competitive, modern organisms (organisms that require these features to survive.)  Mysteriously, around roughly 542 million years ago evolution sped up, and so began what Borel describes as a “period of unprecedented one-upmanship.”  Organisms developed all sorts of mechanisms from eyes; to spikes in order compete with their rapidly diversifying and evolving contemporaries.  According to the nautilus article “most of today’s 30 to 40 animal phyla originated in the Cambrian, and have persisted through time with hundreds of variations on a theme.”  Meaning, that the majority of the ancestors of modern organisms all developed in this 54 million year span.

Now where the University Professor and Borel diverged was on the answer to the questions of “what caused this evolutionary arms race? and “Why did it take an extra billion and a half years for the first eukaryotic organisms to arrive?”  The professor was reluctant to commit to any theory that attempted to answer those questions, having to repeat the phrase “well, we just can’t know for sure,” in response to questions throughout the lecture.  Borel however is more definite in her answer, stating “certainly, the environment around the time of the Cambrian encouraged the explosion as well.  Oxygen had accumulated in the oceans after extreme ice ages… with plentiful oxygen, animals could grow large and absorb the air they needed to breathe through their skin.”  The lack of a definitive answer as to why the Cambrian Explosion occurred hardly undermines its significance as an unprecedented explosion of diversity that has never been repeated in Earth’s history.  The mystery shrouding its roots makes it all the more curious and exciting a topic to read about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Climate Change shouldn’t Always be the Scapegoat

Seychelles,

A certain purplish-blue banded snail was rediscovered after initially deemed extinct by the general scientific community, stirring up the minds of the many who continue to debate the effects of climate change and what living things directly suffer its consequences. Firstly declared extinct by a highly regarded Seychelles mollusk expert, Dr. Justin Gerlach, the snail’s reclassification has caused backlash in the scientific community. With such a confident course of action in not only the declaration of extinction, but also the citing climate change as the primary reason, it is understandable and necessary that scientists should view this case with scrutiny and care. Gerlach attributed an insufficient amount of rainfall to the snail’s extinction, which he suggested was in direct association with climate change. Not alone, other scientists also backed his claims, agreeing that climate change caused immediate ramifications for this banded snail.

However, with the rediscovery of this snail, it is now essential not to overestimate the weight of climate change when discussing extinction and habitat loss, although we know climate change is a very real and growing concern. According to the UN’s panel on climate change there are more than a few other factors that can impact a species that can also sit in the shadow of climate change in inappropriate manners. It is irresponsible to use climate change as a scapegoat in certain situations, as it can prove to be detrimental in the future when in hindsight it may not have been the primary causation of a species decline. The UN panel provides us with data that reinforces the notion that mollusks suffer from extinction based on factors like pollution or invasive species. As Bjorm Lomberg suggests “climate change is a real problem, but the way it is increasingly blocking sensible thinking is depressing.”

As for the future, the rediscovery of this species can hopefully serve as an example of the disillusionment that can arise from a hyped phenomenon. Yes, climate change is one great problem, but it is one of many, and we must hold ourselves accountable to where our conclusions derive from. The only current certainty is that we have to do a better job at limiting these debilitating  factors.

Further Reading/Sources:

http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/seychelles-snail-believed-extinct-due-to-climate-change-found-alive-and-well-1.1996871

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldabra_banded_snail

http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulrodgers/2014/09/20/extinct-snail-rediscovered/

http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0813-snail.html

http://islandbiodiversity.com/jg.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bjørn_Lomborg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seychelles

Invasive Rabbitfish

A team of researchers, lead by Dr. Adriana Vergés and Dr. Fiona Tomas, has recently discovered a species of tropical fish that “poses a major threat to the entire Mediterranean basin.” The species, called a rabbitfish has greatly harmed the algal forests in the Mediterranean Sea, primarily the eastern portion. The rabbitfish arrived in the waters of the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. The rabbitfish are not indigenous to the Mediterranean waters, which makes them so dangerous to the ecosystem. This phenomenon has also been observed in lionfish, snakehead fish, and other organisms that are not indigenous to the location that they are harming. The rabbitfish have been eating seaweed and other ocean plants, which provide shelter and food for other species.

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The scientists conducted their study by examining 1000 kilometers of coastline in the eastern Mediterranean specifically Turkey and Greece. Both places two separate species of rabbitfish have come to inhabit. The two areas focused upon were warm and cold regions. In the warmer regions the rabbitfish were present while in the colder regions they were not. The warmer regions filled with rabbitfish had a much lower abundance of seaweeds, and were mostly barren rocky bottoms. On the other hand the colder climates had a thriving ecosystem. There was a 60% reduction in algae and invertebrates and 40% reduction in overall species present in the warm rabbitfish filled environment. After filming rabbitfish as well as indigenous species scientists realized that rabbitfish didn’t actually eat more algae than other fish. However, the distinction was that rabbitfish ate both young and adult algae while indigenous species only ate adults. Eating the young and growing algae before it has a chance for reproduction quickly reduces the overall population.

This topic interested me not only because of my love for marine biology, but also because marine sustainability is extremely important to humans. Without oceans there would be no human life on Earth. The abundance of water is what separates a lush green planet like Earth from the rest of the planets in our solar system. In addition the marine ecosystems are very important, and there have become more and more invasive species due to changes in the environment. Fish such as the rabbitfish threaten whole ecosystems as well as hundreds or even thousands of species that rely on those ecosystems.

Should humans attempt to stop this infestation of rabbitfish? If so, what should be done?

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140918101635.htm

http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/environment/tropical-rabbitfish-denuding-the-mediterranean-sea/article/404034

http://www.liveaquaria.com/product/prod_display.cfm?c=15+1926+1449&pcatid=1449

 

 

Study Shows Link Between Enzyme and Spread of Breast Cancer

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 ”40,000 women in America will die of breast cancer in 2014.” This is a truly terrifying projection. Breast Cancer is an extremely deadly, and extremely prevalent cancer that affects the lives of millions each year. In my personal experience, I have many friends and family members that have battled against this cancer. So many are affected, and there is still no concrete cure. There is no cure, however, researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified an enzyme that is closely related to the metastasis of breast cancer cells. This is great news, for it suggests the possibility of further research using this finding to end breast cancer for good. Xuefeng Wu, a lead scientist involved with this research, has stated that the team has been able to “target breast cancer metastasis through a pathway regulated by an enzyme“. This enzyme is called UBC13 and it regulates the activity of a protein called p38.

This p38 protein, when not in use, prevents metastasis. By identifying the enzyme that prevents the use of p38, researchers have come one step closer to preventing the spread of breast cancer in the body, and therefore defeating it. With the use of a lentivirus injected into the mammary tissues of mice, the scientists were able to suppress the functions of both UBC13 and protein p38. The mice grew primary tumors, as was expected, however the primary tumors did not metastasize and spread breast cancer cells throughout the bodies, which means the cancer was stopped from spreading throughout the body. This prohibition of the cancer cells to spread is a major breakthrough in breast cancer research and will without a doubt contribute greatly to the ending of breast cancer.

Bioengineered Proteins Are Amphibious Adhesives

A group of researchers from MIT recently published their groundbreaking findings on specially engineered proteins that are able to stick to substances both in and out of water. Using naturally occurring adhesives secreted by mussels as a model for their research, the team combined those proteins with biofilms from certain bacteria to create an especially strong and sticky hybrid.

These new adhesives are much more complex than previously engineered proteins. While other scientists used the E. coli bacteria as a template to engineer proteins that resembled the mussel’s protein, leading researcher Timothy Lu described those methods as unable to “capture the complexity of the natural adhesives”. Therefore, the MIT research team uses several types of bacteria to separately manufacture components of different mussel proteins and then combines them with bacterial curli fibers into one complex adhesive.

There are numerous applications of this discovery. Once the team is able to concoct a method of generating the protein in great quantities, it can be used to repair holes in ships as well as to seal wounds after an accident or surgery. One of the team’s subsequent goals is to create “living glues” composed of bacteria that would react to a breach of a material and repair it through secretion of a protein adhesive. The potential of this discovery is demonstrated by the acclaim of the group’s sponsors, which include The Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

 

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Effect of ocean acidification: Coral growth rate on Great Barrier Reef plummets in 30-year comparison

GreatBarrierReef-EO

A new marine biological study conducted in Australia shows a correlation between rising ocean acidification levels and declining coral growth rates in the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists Ken Caldeira and Jacob Silverman carried out research testing growth rates from samples of current coral on the reef and records from the 1970′s. The findings were astounding. According to the comparison, coral growth rates have declined by almost 40% since the 1970′s and the scientists believe they have an explanation.

Coral produce their exoskeleton by utilizing aragonite, a naturally occurring calcium carbonate (CaCO3). This process is called calcification. However, when acid levels in the water become too high, the environment for producing healthy coral becomes compromised. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution about one third of all CO2 released into the atmosphere has made its way into the oceans. This lowers the Ph, causing the water to become more acidic, and creates an environment ill suited for coral growth. The scientists speculate that this acidification of the water is whats leading to decreased growth rates in not only coral, but also many other species of marine life.

Coral plays a vital role in underwater ecosystems, providing food sources and shelter for nearly 25 percent of all marine life. Some reefs admired and studied by scientists today began growing nearly 50 million years ago. There is no question that coral’s role is vital in the fabric of the ocean. However, recent studies similar to the research done by Caldeira and Silverman are prompting scientists to worry deeply about the future of our oceans. When quoted on the status of reefs today, Caldeira stated, “Coral reefs are getting hammered. Ocean acidification, global warming, coastal pollution, and overfishing are all damaging coral reefs. Coral reefs have been around for millions of years, but are likely to become a thing of the past unless we start running our economy as if the sea and sky matters to us very soon.”

Photo credit: Wikipedia Public Domain Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Barrier_Reef#mediaviewer/File:GreatBarrierReef-EO.JPG

Article:http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140917121225.htm

Links for further reading:

http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/Ocean+Acidification

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-ocean-acidification/

http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/

 

 

 

Directed evolution: Bioengineered decoy protein may stop cancer from spreading

Biomedical_Engineering_Laboratory

Researchers Jennifer Cochran and Amato Giaccia from Stanford University have recently made a breakthrough in cancer research. The Bioengineers have developed a synthetic form of the protein Axls that binds to the protein Gas6 in our blood. Cancerous cells have Axls proteins lining the cell membrane awaiting connections with Gas6 proteins. Once the two join together, the cancerous cells break away from the central cancer mass and spread through the body during a process known as Metastasis. However, the new synthetic Axls protein binds to Gas6 in the blood and inhibits Metastasis from ever beginning. This stops the original Axls cells on the cancer from receiving the chemical signals to break away and form new cancerous nodules.

The scientists conducted preliminary testing on lab mice with aggressive forms of ovarian and breast cancer. The Bioengineers found that, “Mice in the breast cancer treatment group had 78 percent fewer metastatic nodules than untreated mice. Mice with ovarian cancer had a 90 percent reduction in metastatic nodules when treated with the engineered decoy protein.” Scientists currently treat cancers with chemotherapy and radiation, however these early studies show that the synthetic protein Axls could prove to be a safe and effective alternative.

I believe that this type of Bioengineering, specifically directed evolution, holds the key to discovering cures for many of earth’s deadly diseases. Despite the recent breakthrough researchers have made at Stanford, it will still be years before synthetic Axls is approved for clinical studies and then for use in the medical field.

Original Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921145112.htm

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/

Photo Credit:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biomedical_Engineering_Laboratory.jpg

Useful Links:

http://engineering.stanford.edu/news/stanford-researchers-create-evolved-protein-may-stop-cancer-spreading

http://bioengineering.stanford.edu/

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389034405000055

Artificial Sweeteners: Safe or Sweet Misery?

Picture of Splenda

Picture of Splenda

Have you ever drunk a zero-calorie soda or eaten a sugar free dessert as a “healthier” choice or perhaps to even “cut calories”? If you’re like me, you have probably begrudgingly done this numerous times, maybe even at the request of your mom, despite your desire for that sweet snack. Well, new research has been conducted that suggests that the artificial sweeteners used to substitute sugar actually increase blood sugar levels-the exact condition they aim to avoid.

A study conducted by biologists, Segal and Elinav, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, showed that after 11 weeks of drinking water with the sweetener Saccharin, commonly found in Sweet’N Low, mice had higher glucose levels in their bloodstream, a symptom of diabetes. Additionally, the scientists conducted another experiment with seven volunteers who were given the maximum approved daily dose of saccharin for a week. This time Segal and Elinav found that four out of the seven subjects developed an unbalanced glucose metabolism similar to that of the mice. From this experiment, the scientists hypothesized that artificial sweeteners negatively affect our bodies and may promote disease.

Although these results are preliminary and are largely reflective of mice’s digestive systems rather than humans, the study raises a valuable caution for consumers to reassess their actions. As the science community continues to explore this study, are you going to continue consuming foods with artificial sweeteners.

For more information about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, please check out: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/artificial-sweeteners-may-disrupt-bodys-blood-sugar-controls/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

A Baby’s Immune System Might Be Stronger Than We Think

Lymphocyte_activation_simple

Mothers are often extremely protective of their newborn. Most moms are fearful that everything could potentially make their baby sick. Unfortunately though, there is no absolutely sure way to keep a child from getting sick. The immune system plays a huge role in keeping humans well. Two important parts of the immune system are antibodies and memory cells. Antibodies help kill harmful germs while memory cells help the immune system respond quickly to an infection and prevent disease. In fact, recent studies prove that the Immune system of newborn babies are stronger than people previously believed.

Scientists involved in a study led by King’s College London, are reporting that newborn immune T cells can trigger an inflammatory response to bacteria. Originally, it was believed that babies immune systems were immature and therefore couldn’t trigger the same inflammatory response adults normally demonstrate. The team discovered that whilst T cells in newborn babies manufacture a potent anti-bacterial molecule known as IL8. It activates neutrophils to attack the body’s foreign invaders.

In addition, Dr. Deena Gibbons, Lead author in the Department of Immunobiology at King’s College London believes that this “mechanism by which the baby protects itself in the womb from infections of the mother.” Next, she plans to better understand the reasons that there are many differences between the immune cells in newborns and those in adults.

The T Cell activity demonstrated by newborns could be used for future treatments to boost the immune system or neonates in intensive care (place with major risk of infection).

This article is very interesting and important because it is vital to keep newborn babies as healthy and safe as we possibly can. Sometimes it can be as simple as following common measures such as hand washing, avoiding people who are most likely to be sick, snotty noses or hacking coughs. A mother should try to do anything she can to limit the demands placed and a baby’s immune system in the early months to keep her baby healthy.

I chose this article because I know what it is like to be a patient in a Hospital and the precautions that doctors take to prevent further sickness when the immune system is not fully developed or strong.

Image links: 

Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008ISSN 20018762. - Image:Lymphocyte_activation.png

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system

Article: King’s College London. “Immune system of newborn babies stronger than previously thought.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 September 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921145104.htm>.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140921145104.htm

Other Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immune_system

http://www.wellness.com/reference/allergies/newborn-immune-system

http://www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/immunity/immune-detail.html

Mussel proteins may be the key to a groundbreaking adhesive

 

Mussels

Scientists at MIT have created their own adhesive that could revolutionize multiple aspects of life. This adhesive would be used for patching up multiple things ranging from ships to human wounds. The adhesive is made from the proteins found in mussels and the proteins in biofilms. The way mussels stick to ships is because the proteins act as a natural adhesive/glue like material. Biofilm is a group of organisms that stick to each other and other surfaces.

Separate, these both have strong attaching abilities, but when combined, the MIT scientists created the “strongest biologically inspired, protein-based underwater adhesives reported to date”. The new adhesive was created by using the foot proteins in the mussels. More specifically, they used the curli fibers which attach and form larger and stronger fibers, called fibrous meshes. The fibrous meshes can be used both in dry and aqueous solutions making it very versatile.

Timothy Lu, the associate professor of biological engineering and electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, is in charge of the research. Although the adhesive is produced in small amounts, Lu has high hopes as he has plans to make a “living glue” that can tell when there is an opening and secrete the adhesive by itself. This could be very useful if the adhesive is used for human treatment because the adhesive would know exactly when to activate and deactivate itself.

Do you think that this adhesive can make an impact on society?

 

Additional article: http://sciencenordic.com/synthetic-mussel-adhesive-sticks-anything

Dying Brain cells signal new brain cells to grow in songbird

BIRD

 

Original article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140923182051.htm

In a recent paper written by leading author Tracy Larson and co-authors Nivretta Thatra and Brian Lee, they discovered a brain pathway that replaces brain cells lost naturally. This study could further the progress of using replacement cells for the neurons lost during aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other natural causes.

These scientists used songbirds, specifically Gambel’s white-crowned sparrows, as a model and observed that the area of their brain that controls song increases during breeding season, and decreases during other times in the year. After breeding season the cells in the area of the bird’s brain that controls songs undergoes programmed cell death. What is noteworthy about these dying cells is that they are also releasing a signal that reaches certain stem cells in the brain that will eventually redevelop the singing part of the brain by the time the next breeding season arrives. This process of developing new neurons from stem cells called neurogenesis normally occurs in the form of “regenerative” neurogenesis post brain trauma in mammals; however, it also occurs in the hippocampus in small amounts.

These songbirds could provide insight on how the human brain can perform natural neurogenesis and help replace neurons lost because of aging and neurodegenerative diseases. These finding may pave the way to alternative treatment for repairing human brains using neurogenesis and replacement cells.

The Smell of Grass: A Cry for Help

http://www.flickr.com/photos/galant/2342220188/

grass

 We all love the smell of freshly cut grass.  However did you know that the delightful aroma given off by newly mowed grass is actually the plant’s cry of distress?  And that being so, does that make us all sadistic?  We may never know.  However, what we do know is that new studies have found that the smell given off by plants not only serves as a signal of harm but also as a summons for helpful insects.  The plants in distress release airborne chemical compounds that call nearby creatures to the rescue.

Dr. Michael Kolomiets,  a plant pathologist in the ARGlife research division of Texas A&M, has been studying these lipid-derived molecular signals that affect not only plants, but also humans and animals, and was recently granted $490,00 to continue his research.  We know a lot about how humans deal with these molecular signals, we get headaches and pains and then take aspirin to repress the symptoms; but we know little to nothing about how these same signals affect plants.  Kolomiets believes that a better understanding of this particular branch of plant biology could aid in many things such as insect resistance and drought tolerance.

Plants respond to all types of danger in the same way, weather the threat be a predator or a lawn mower.  They produce defense proteins that will make the plant either less appetizing to the predator or more appetizing to helpful insects and animals.  Kolomiets studied a mutant corn plant that could not produce one of the most important molecular signals called green leaf volatile.  Green leaf volatile is the combination of chemicals that get released when plants suffer tissue damage  Kolomiets found that not only did the signal make the plant less appealing to the insects that were eating it, but also attracted parasitic wasps that would attack the insect.  These findings may help farmers make plants that are more capable of protecting themselves from insects.

I think its really interesting that something as seemingly insignificant as the smell of grass could be the product of such a complicated biological process.  I also think that it is important to understand how we are affecting other organisms and how they are responding to human actions.  We take a lot of things nature does for granted and I think that this article gives us insight into the complicated biological reactions that go into all forms of life.

Article Link:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140922145805.htm

Related Links:

http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michael_Kolomiets/publications

http://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_leaf_volatiles

http://io9.com/5623112/the-smell-of-freshly-cut-grass-is-actually-a-plant-distress-call

Violent Chimpanzees

Chimpanzee

Scientists had wondered whether chimpanzees were naturally violent to one another or if human influence made the animals more aggressive. A recent study disproved the theory that chimpanzee violence was caused by human impact. Researchers analyzed chimpanzees and bonobos (pygmy chimpanzee) in Africa and noticed that the mammals killed other members of their species to provide themselves with more resources and territory, ultimately becoming a more dominant primate.

The argument was supported by Dr. Michael L. Wilson, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota and the study organizer for the research. Wilson led the 54-year study with 29 other authors and collected data on 18 chimpanzee groups in Africa. According to the researchers, there were 152 chimpanzee killings, the scientists observed 58, they inferred 41, and suspected 53 killings in 15 communities. Wilson contributed data from the Ngogo group of chimpanzees in Uganda and found that they were “the most violent group of chimpanzees there is,” even though their habitat is little disturbed by humans. The chimps just “go around and kill their neighbors.”

Other anthropologists from different universities wanted more data on the subject. Robert Sussman at Washington University continues to support the idea that humans pressure chimpanzees to act in violent ways because the statistics from Wilson’s paper did not tell him enough. “They haven’t established lack of human interference.” Humans are too involved in chimpanzee societies and the animals then reflect that human behavior. Brian Fergusan at Rutgers University held a similar view to Sussman and claimed that the impact humans have on the chimps “can’t be assessed by simple factors” organized by Wilson.

The new data changed this solid theory that human interference in chimpanzee society made the primates more violent. While some scientists remain dismissive on the paper, the data offers a new view on the argument.

 

 

 

 

Original Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/18/science/lethal-violence-in-chimps-occurs-naturally-study-suggests.html

Related Articles

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140917131816.htm

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/museums/chi-chimpanzee-aggression-not-linked-to-mans-presence-study-20140917-column.html

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/chimps-are-naturally-violent-study-suggests-n205651

http://www.livescience.com/47885-chimpanzee-aggression-evolution.html

Can Cats Help Fight AIDS?

Cat

Cats can in fact, unfortunately, get AIDS as well.  Their version of the HIV virus, FIV, is quite similar to the HIV virus. FIV and HIV are the same shape and have the same contents. This new discovery in cats may lead to new discoveries with anti-HIV drugs.

In an article titled “Cats lend a helping paw in search for anti-HIV drugs”, the American Technion Society explains how studying FIV can help scientists discover anti-HIV drugs. FIV and HIV use a protein, integrase, which puts the virus’ DNA into an infected cell’s DNA. Scientists and Professors can now study the Feline FIV virus and its interactions with integrase within cats to figure out important reasons how this deadly protein works. Through studying FIV and integrase, an amino acid change was found that tells us how integrase builds in its primary stages. Now those scientists know about this early assembly process, and can further learn how to terminate this process all together. About 40-45% of the proteins on the amino acid level are the same between FIV and HIV, allowing them to use this discovery on the human counterpart.

The feline virus, FIV, is a lot easier to study and researchers have already found a simpler form (than its HIV counterpart). By studying their 3-D model, they found that integrase’s simple and complex backbones are almost identical. These near identical backbones allow a much easier research path in FIV that will assist similarly with HIV integrase research.

HIV_attachment

 

Image of HIV Virus working

 

FIV and HIV are almost the same in how they work, but the more simple research on the feline version of the virus and integrase will greatly help the fight against AIDS. Who would’ve thought that cats could help fight such a deadly virus?!

 

More Information:

https://www.scripps.edu/newsandviews/e_20030414/elder.html

 

Pics:

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cat_Cute.JPG

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CCR5_receptor_antagonist#mediaviewer/File:HIV_attachment.gif

The Ebola Epidemic: When Will it End?

Ebola Virus

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has captivated international audiences the last few weeks.  Ebola Virus Disease is an often fatal disease which is systemic meaning it attacks all organs and tissue in the body. It can be spread through any human to human contact, making this disease highly contagious. The countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been heavily affected by this disease. On tuesday September 23th the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based in Atlanta Georgia released new projections on the Ebola epidemic in Africa based on computer modeling.  The CDC released a best-case scenario being that if proper measures are taken the disease could be eradicated by January 2nd and a worse-case scenario that if disease is left unmonitored and continues as is, there will be approximately 1.4 million cases by January 2nd.   Doctor Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Ebola epidemic, has stated that since the data was received in August conditions have improved slightly due to increased aid to the affected regions. Another report was released by the World Health Organization (WHO) which stated more conservative figures but also acknowledged that there could possibly be more due to unreported cases. The WHO report brings about the idea that the epidemic may not end and the Ebola virus will perpetuate in West Africa. It is obvious to health officials, such as Dr. Jack Chow, that even in a medium case scenario the amount of hospital beds and aid are rapidly being surpassed by the number of cases. The CDC does acknowledge this impending lack of bed and isolation unit crisis. One solution to this problem is to educate citizens on home care and send home care packages to support this movement.  Although some are dubious, Frieden states that home care had been effective in the smallpox crisis in the 1960s in Africa.  In addition to homecare, Doctor D. A. Henderson explains that funds and food play a huge roll in the containment and elimination of disease because when you give victims money and food there is no need for them to beg or go out to the market for food where they might encounter other human contact. How should this epidemic be handled? Is homecare an effective solution? Where should money be allocated, homecare or hospital expansion?

 

Link to Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/health/ebola-cases-could-reach-14-million-in-4-months-cdc-estimates.html?ref=health&_r=1

 

To Know or Not to Know: Cancer Risk Gene Testing

Breast Cancer Cells

Genetic mutation testing has been a hotly debated and controversial topic since its initial prevalence in 1990.  Originally genetic testing was used to test females who have cancer in their family history for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations.  Early detection of these mutations allowed for precautionary measure sure to be exercised prior to cancer even being diagnosed. The hereditary breast cancer risk testing was done mainly by Myraid Genetics but just last year the Supreme Court invalidated Myraid’s patents on the testing of the BRCA genes.  This ruling opened up many windows for the competition of Myraid in the field of genetic testing.  Many other companies and Myraid itself began not only offering BRCA testing but also more elaborate multi gene testing for the same price (apron $4000) as it would have been to test just the two BRCA genes.  This “bargain” influenced many patients to have more genes (up to 25) tested for mutations despite the fact that they may not have a family history to tendency towards certain cancers.  This multiplex testing has raised many eyebrows in the medical field because patients and doctors are getting information that sometimes they are unsure as to what they should do.  Doctor Kenneth Offit of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center stated when referring to multiple gene mutation testing, “because they could be tested,not necessarily because they should be…individuals are getting results we’re not fully educated to council them on. ” However Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is working on setting up a database for more knowledge on genetic testing.  This online forum, the Prospective Registry of Multiplex Testing (PROMPT) will allow for more research to be done and for patients to learn more.   Often genetic mutations are found and doctors are unsure how to react to the information due to lack of knowledge in that specific field of mutation leading to a specific type of cancer with out any family history.   Professor Mary-Claire King of the University of Washington voiced her opinion that, “We need to report back only what is devastating and clearly devastating.”  Meaning she felt that patients and physicians should only receive specific information as opposed to a full list of all the genetic mutations that tested position or inconclusive.  When do we know when to much information become frivolous? When it come to human health, the more we know the better the outcomes.  How will doctors be able to sift through extraneous data to find what truly are indications for higher risk of cancer?  Is this “extra” testing and information skewing the data and prognosis of many patients?

 

Main Article Used:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/health/finding-risks-not-answers-in-gene-tests.html?ref=health&_r=0