BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Welcome to America, here is a risk of obesity?

Each individual has a personalized micro-biome with trillions of bacteria weighing about half a pound. We receive this microbiome at birth as a departing gift from our mothers, but this microbiome does not remain the same through the years. Studies by Dan Knights from the University of Minnesota have shown, however, that geographic location and diet results in shifts in our gut microbiota.

         Figure 1

 

So what does this mean?

The study by Dan Knight shows that immigration is causing dramatic shifts in new arrivals to the country. These new arrivals surveyed through stool samples are from places in Southeast Asia including 500 women of Hmong and Karen descent. These 500 women varied from individuals remaining in Thailand where most Hmong and Karen people live currently, first- and second-generation U.S. immigrants, and even included 19 Karen women followed through their first six to nine months in their new nation. All of these samples were then compared to 36 European Americans born in the United States.

On the microscopic level, the aforementioned immigrants are facing a shift in the gut microbiota from Prevotella bacteria to Bacteroides. “Prevotella bacteria produce enzymes that digest fibrous foods more common in Asia than the United States. In Thailand, the women ate more palm, coconut, a fruit called tamarind and the bulbous part of a plant named konjac.” This shift in bacteria causes a loss of 15% of microbiome diversity and furthermore does not shows signs of compensating for the loss of native microbes.

As the diversity shifts towards that of European American, obesity rates seem to spike among the population. The immigrants’ obesity rates increased by nearly six times, which is a drastic shift for the immigrants who held an originally low risk of metabolic disease. This shift, however, is still a complete mystery. The researchers cannot pinpoint the true cause as diet, location, medicines, water composition, or an unknown but there is a clear correlation between obesity and the lessened diversity in the gut microbiota. This correlation was discovered through an experiment involving mice injected with germs from obese women. These mice subsequently became heavier despite having the same food as their lean equivalents. Knight and his colleges plan to continue their studies in hope to possibly provide a solution to obesity through the injection of Prevotella, as they are driven by the intense sensitivity and stake of their subjects’ health.

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Figure 2: Experiment on Obesity with Mice

 

 

While immigration to the United States, a place of opportunity, may appear a blessing it does not come without risks. As the leading nation in obesity, it comes as no surprise that something is causing a drastic shifting in newly immigrated individuals’ gut microbiota and larger micro-biomes resulting in a higher risk of obesity. A gift and a curse, however, this phenomena has resulted in research that could possibly grant new insight on how to prevent obesity.

 

 

Our Life After Death: The Postmortem Microbiome

Research in the field of the human microbiome has lead to very interesting discoveries which could revolutionize forensic science, and add to our growing knowledge of human health. Our postmortem microbiome gives us much insight into the life of the person, based on the diversity of bacteria which remain in a given person’s system. A study, presented in a Live Science article, conducted in Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office in Detroit found that different sites on the body had different populations of bacteria. These cultures of bacteria can allow us to study the health of specific parts of a person more closely. For example, the bacteria found in a person’s mouth would vary greatly from that of the person’s eye, and the diversity of certain bacteria in these areas can correlate to a high probability of infection.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skin_Microbiome20169-300.jpg

Pie charts mapping diversity of bacteria in human microbiome in various areas of the body

Specifically in the realm of forensics, a major reduction in diversity of the postmortem microbiome occurs after 48 hours of the person dying, a valuable indicator of time of death to detectives, according to study co-author and forensic entomologist at Michigan State University, Eric Benbow.

 

Additionally, the postmortem microbiome of a given person can act as a record of one’s heart health, in particular, whether or not that person had a heart infection in their life. Researchers of the changes in the postmortem microbiome find strong links between the lack of diversity in a person’s microbiome and susceptibility to heart disease. In particular, an abundant presence of Rothia bacteria has been linked with endocarditis, an infect of the heart’s valves. The ability to have records of human heart health after has larger implications than one may realize. It is a convoluted process to track national heart health because of the sheer number of people which must be addressed, all while they are still living. A given person would only be properly diagnosed with a heart issue like endocarditis if they were alive and had issues necessitating an intense medical processes, thus making it difficult to accurate record data on a larger scale. Now with this resource of our postmortem microbiome as a record of our heart health, large scale data collection and analysis can be conducted, thus advancing our knowledge of the topic.

We Don’t Control the Weather…Microbes Do

Humans are continuing to alter the atmosphere by their activities and most human-induced methane comes from livestock and landfill.  But what people might not know is that micro-organisms have been doing this for billions of years.

Microbes are responsible for producing the methane. Microbes found in wetlands produce 160 million tons of methane a year and microbes that live in termites release 20 million tons.

Microbes also play a role in the amount of carbon absorbed and released from the atmosphere by the ocean, which is about 90 million tons a year. The combination of primary production and microbial decomposition on land leads to 120 billion tons of carbon taken in every year and 119 billion tons of carbon released.

Photo of climate change from Pixabay.

Dr. Reay claims, “The impact of these microbially-controlled cycles on future climate warming is potentially huge”. It is important to better understand these processes in order to take more carbon out of the atmosphere by using microbes in the sea as well as on land.

Picture of Cyanobacteria from Wikimedia Commons.

Bacteria can be used to catch methane that is released from landfill, Cyanobacteria could potentially provide us with hydrogen fuel, and plankton are continuing to become a feedstock for some biofuels. Either way, it is crucial to understand microbes in order to know whether they will help us to avoid climate change or will push us faster towards it.

 

 

 

Can Bacteria in Your Gut Cause Obesity?

Bacteria in your gut, aka gut microbiota, is made up of tens of trillions of microorganism, including 1000 different species of known bacteria. Although scientists are currently not incredibly knowledgeable on gut microbiota, an increasing amount of research has shown that it is plays a significant role in our health.

https://pixabay.com/en/anatomy-bacteria-bacterium-bowels-160524/

In a recent study at Lund University in Sweden, researchers have found correlation between gut bacteria and obesity. The purpose of the study was to identify metabolites in the blood that can be linked to obesity and see if they affect the composition of the gut microbiota in stool samples. The researchers studied blood plasma and stool samples from 674 participants and found 19 different metabolites that could be linked to the person’s BMI. Their data showed that Glutamine and BCAA (branched-chain and aromatic amino acids) had the strongest connection to obesity and that four different intestinal bacteria, Blautia, Dorea, Ruminococcus, and SHA98, were linked to the obesity related metabolites. Glutamine, “the strongest risk factor in the study”, has been linked with obesity in previous studies as well. Marju Orho-Melander, professor of genetic epidemiology at Lund University, summed up the study by stating, “The differences in BMI were largely explained by the differences in the levels of glutamate and BCAA. This indicates that the metabolites and gut bacteria interact, rather than being independent of each other.” Therefore, the metabolites they found are potential mediators between gut microbiota and obesity, and may be consequential in ultimately preventing obesity.

A NEW “Organ” Has Been Discovered!

What is it?

In March of last year, scientists discovered a new organ inside humans. It is called an Interstitium. Located all over the body from under the skin to lining the digestive track, these fluid filled spaces are believed to act as shock absorbers to protect tissues during daily functions.

These sacs do not appear on standard microscope slides because the process of treating tissue samples with chemicals drains away the fluid which explains why they have been missed for so long. They were discovered by using newer imaging techniques that did not require the use of chemicals.

The Interstitium could help cancer research as these findings explain why cancer tumors that invade this layer of tissue which are filled with lymph spread to the lymph nodes.

lymph and lymph nodes

Is it an organ?

In order for a body part to become an organ, there needs to be a general consensus in the research community. Thus it will take a little time in order to characterize it as an official organ. One case for calling it an organ is the fact that 1/3 of the body’s water called interstitial fluid is in this connective network of the interstitium. In addition, the interstitium helped cast a light on what the other 1/3 of the body’s water does.

Personally, I do believe it should be categorized as an organ as an organ is defined according to the Webster Dictionary as a part of an organism that is typically self-contained and has a specific vital function. The interstitium is self contained and while there is no definitive answer to what it does yet, it does seem to play a vital role in shock absorption and containment of lymph. As it becomes more clear what the interstitium specifically does.

I am also excited to see future research on it because it might lead to new medical advances especially in the field of cancer.

 

Kombucha: More Than Just a Trend

With its bitter flavor, supposed health benefits, vague origin, and aesthetic presentation, Kombucha has become the nation’s latest trend. In Williamsburg on a sunny day, you are bound to see someone sipping on this beloved probiotic tea. While hipsters, health nuts, and myself have all jumped on the Kombucha bandwagon, it seems that science is not too far behind. Researchers at McGill University have found that a combination of probiotics and an herbal supplement called Triphala led to 60% prolonged life expectancy in fruit flies.

This study suggests evidence that the gut microbiome and health may be intertwined, a notion widely believed in the practice of holistic health. Senior author of the study, Satya Prakash, stated “Probiotics dramatically change the architecture of the gut microbiota, not only in its composition but also in respect to how the foods that we eat are metabolized”.

Fruit flies have 70% similarity to humans in regard to their biochemical pathways, making the study promising for fellow Kombucha drinkers! The authors of the study cite the “gut-brain axis” , a communication system between the brain and microorganisms of the gut, as an explanation for their findings.

While Triphala may be hard to come by, some foods with a high probiotic content include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and of course, my personal favorite– Kombucha. So while it seems science may catch up, you and I can be well ahead!

Food For Thought!

 

A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. Construction is underway to extend a secondary fence over the top of this hill and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is some food for thought, what defines American Culture? Democracy? Freedom? As a matter of fact, for many immigrants, food is a defining factor of moving to the United States of America. Immigrants are fascinated by the combination of a wide variety and convenience of food. By the same token, the typical “American” diet is loaded with saturated fats, complex sugars and harmful chemicals. According to a recent Study from National Public Radio (N.P.R.), when immigrating to the United States of America, the typical “American” diet causes a completely new gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the natural bacteria found in the digestive system that assist the body in a wide variety of tasks.

In order for N.P.R. to test this hypothesis, they gathered 500 ethnically Hmong & Karen women, residing in either Thailand or the United States of America. Of these women, they were either a first or second generation immigrant. After recording their findings, N.P.R. moved back to the United States of America, solely. When observing the gut microbiomes of the of caucasian Americans, the researchers concluded that the presence of Bacteroides leads to the decreased function of the gut microbiome. Next, 19 of the 500 women from Thailand moved to the United States of America. After many observation hours and careful logging of food consumed, the gut microbiomes of the immigrants began to diverge from their natural affinity. When reviewing the food logbooks, the scientists/researchers concluded/discovered that the typical “American” diet leads to the disruption of the gut microbiome because of its lack of fiber and over use of sugars.

Although this is not an urgent issue, this is an issue that must be addressed in the near future; this article exploits a greater issue for the United States of America. The United States of America is in desperate need to change its diet, consisting rich in fats and sugars, the population is facing serious medical issues such as obesity, cancer, high blood pressure and more.  This article demonstrates the effects of the typical “American” diet has on the United States of America. The United States of America must work quickly to collaborate with citizens and the private sector in order to make healthy alternatives to food, cheaper and more convenient, in order to mitigate health issues as well as promote preventive medicine.

Thank you!

From your favorite bacteria,

     SAMonella

 

 

 

Microbiomes… an Athlete’s Key to Success!

For years, scientists have been trying to see what makes a professional athlete different from someone who didn’t quite make the cut. Is there something that professional and elite athletes have that other athletes or inactive individuals don’t? Is it possible to give a mediocre athlete a supplement to improve their performance? Dr. Jonathan Schieman and George Church from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University believe the answer is yes, and they think they’ve found the answer, microbiomes.

Dr. Schieman and his team conducted thorough research on NBA players, marathoners, and Olympic rowers to see if there was a common microbiome that these high-level athletes all shared that sedentary individuals did not. After immense amounts of testing and making sure the proper controls were in place to avoid confounding, and lurking variables, Schieman and his team were able to find one particular organism that was elevated in the guts of athletes’ bodies more than sedentary individuals.

Schieman and his team were able to isolate a particularly abundant organism in athletes that feeds off lactic acid. Lactic acid is a naturally occurring chemical compound that generates during particularly intense and strenuous muscle exercise. Thus, the researchers believe that the organism they isolated has a particularly important effect on making athletes stronger. In addition, the researchers have recently conducted a new study on rugby players and found that rugby players have more of this organism in their body as well as a more diverse range of microbiomes than a sedentary individual.

The microbiome space is particularly new, so one cannot conclude that these findings will be significant to athletes in the future, a realization that Schieman has come to terms with. However, if Schieman and Church find more conclusive and concrete evidence that these, and other, organisms can yield a much better athlete, the sports world could change forever.

What do you think? Can microbiomes be used to make more elite athletes? Only time will tell.

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The research is from Jonathan Schieman and George Church from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. A comprehensive scientific journal entry has not been released to the public due to intellectual property concerns, as the findings are part of a privately-owned company.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EscherichiaColi_NIAID.jpg

Genetic Engineering on Gut Bacteria!?

E. coli on MAC – Photo credit to VeeDunn on flickr under Creative Commons License

Researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University has successfully tested a genetically engineered signaling bacteria within a mouse’s gut. Having known that the many types of bacteria in the human gut can communicate through “quorum sensing” , researchers set to observe a particular type of quorum sensing, acyl-homoserine lactone sensing, which has not been observed in the mammalian gut. They wanted to test if using that particular type of signaling could create a genetically engineered bacterial information transfer system.

Using a strain of E. coli bacteria, they created two different colonies, each with a different genetic change: one was the “signaler”, it contained a copy of the luxl gene which produces a quorum-sensing molecule when activated, and the other was the “responder”, which contained a “cro” gene turning on a “memory element” in the responder.  This “memory element” expressed another copy the the pro gene, which allowed for the loop to continue, and the LacZ gene, which made the bacteria turn blue!

LacZ gene expression – Photo credit to Viraltonic on Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License

The researchers analyzed fecal samples of mice given signaler and responder E.coli and they were happy to see the signal transmission, blue coloring, was evident in the samples. This result meant that they had created a functional communication bacteria system in the mouse’s gut.

The researchers then repeated their experiment with a different type of bacteria, S. Typhimurium, as the “signaler” and E. coli as the “responder”, and they were pleased to see similar successful results.  They were able to successfully confirm that is possible to genetically engineer these communication circuits between different species of bacteria in the mammalian gut microbiome.

These tests are merely stepping stones for the bigger goal of creating genetically modified bacteria that will help humans in various different ways: detecting and or curing diseases, improving digestion, and so on. Isn’t it cool that something we barely realize is inside us has such a developed communication system that we might soon be able to cultivate more benefits from? What do you think would be some other benefits to be being able to genetically modify our gut microbiomes?

 

 

I Can’t Sleep Because of… My Gut?

The Issue at Hand:

Unfortunately, the following scenario is all too common for some of us: We lie in bed, eyes closed, pacing our breath, all in a failed attempt to fall asleep. We periodically check our alarm clock, only to see the time get later and later. 2:30 a.m.? How could it be?! Well fellow reader, as Kate Leaver points out in her article ‘Could it be your gut keeping you awake at night?,’ there is a potential (and perhaps surprising) explanation to such restlessness… microbes.

So What Exactly Are Microbes?

In essence, microbes are microorganisms, such as bacteria. There are trillions in the small intestine alone. Despite their microscopic size, they have the ability to impact mood, digestion, and, as previously mentioned, sleep.

Above is an image of gut microbes. (Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories)

Ongoing Studies:

As Matt Walker, the director of the Center of Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, points out: “…we don’t fully understand yet…the role of the microbiome in sleep.” However, various studies are currently exploring this phenomenon. Among these include a study conducted by scientists at the University of Colorado, which links microbes and quality of sleep by utilizing both probiotics (i.e. live bacteria) and prebiotics (i.e. carbohydrates such as fiber). Essentially, probiotics and prebiotics supplement the ‘good’ bacteria/microbes in our guts. In fact, after taking supplements for five days, insomniac Dr. Michael Mosley calculated that his time awake in bed decreased drastically from 21% to a mere 8%. Other sleep experts, such as clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Breus, attest to the link between sleep and microbes. Dr. Beus believes that, “…the microbial ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness.” Finally, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, points out how people with depression and people with poor sleeping schedules often have, “…abnormal microbes in the gut.”

What to Do Going Forward?

Given that the aforementioned studies are ongoing, and thus lack solidity, it can be difficult to determine how to improve one’s sleeping schedule. However, Mr. Spector adamantly believes that a healthy diet is the key to eliminating sleep disturbances. More specifically, he proposes the consumption of ‘gut-friendly’ foods, which are unprocessed and high in fiber. These include, but are not limited to, berries, green tea, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Hopefully, with these tips, along with future discoveries, you will find yourself fast asleep in no time!

Microbiome Genes have Macro-significance

Ever been told that the little things matter in life? This same proclamation that you’ve been told by your elders rings true in your gut: one small modification to your human gut microbiome (a batch of bacteria that call your digestive tract home) can have drastic effects on your metabolism.

A. Sloan Devlin, assistant professor at Harvard medical school, carried out a study that proved the importance of the gut microbiome. She first located the gene in “an abundant gut bacterium” for an enzyme that processes bile acids. She then removed that gene from the bacterium. Next, she “colonized” “germ-free” mice with one of two types of the gut bacterium: either with the bile-processing enzyme or without the bile-processing enzyme. The results were surprising.

Credit: mcmurryjulie on pixabay

After both mice were fed the same high-fat, high-sugar diet, the mice without the bile-processing enzyme “had more fat in the liver and gained weight much more slowly than the other group. They also used proportionately less fat and more carbohydrate for energy.” Changing one single enzyme in a gut bacterium appears to change “whether the host is using [primarily] fats versus carbohydrates” for energy.

Even more staggering was the “correlation of lean body mass to energy expenditure.” Typically, in humans and mice, the more lean body mass an organism has, the more energy it expends. However, for the mice without the bile-processing enzyme, this relationship “broke down.” Devlin hypothesizes that this change could be due to a “signaling,” a process in which “physical states in the body trigger a cascade of genes to switch on or off.” Researchers can use this knowledge to treat diseases: figure out which microbiome bacteria activate which genetic switches, and better treatment for genetic problems such as, acid imbalances, metabolic disorders and obesity, may become a reality.

Devlin is sure to stress that this groundbreaking microbiome research is just her “first step.” Although this study was carried out on “germ-free” mice, Devlin dreams that one day she may use her research to improve the health of her own species: as Devlin states, her research brings her “one step closer to humans.”

 

Does Immigration Alter the Microbiome?

Each human has our own microbiome; one that is unique to us. However, recent research has shown that the microbiome of someone’s body is not static, but highly subject to alteration. Microbiomes change depending on the atmosphere you are in- and they change very quickly, taking only nine months in the U.S. The University of Minnesota has found that, in people emigrating to the US, microbiomes “rapidly westernize”; aka, their native microbes are replaced with new ones. However, this shift in microbes is not equal- there aren’t enough new microbes to replace the old, resulting in a harsh decline in diversity; diversity that stimulates metabolism, digestion, and immune system development.

Dan Knights, a computational microbiologist at the University of Minnesota, states that in moving to another country, you pick up new microbes native to that country, and new disease risks as well. In this case, the shift in the microbiome makeup can be beneficial, as the new microbes may aid in defense against new disease. However, it has also been found that “Obesity rates among many of the study immigrants increased sixfold. Those who became obese also lost an additional 10 percent of their diversity.” This fact links diet shifts to microbiome shifts, yet Knights states that “diet alone wasn’t enough to explain the rapid Westernization of the microbiome,” and that other things such as water and antibiotic use factor in as well. However, diet is still an important part in microbiome health and diversity. Knights studied microbiota of Hmong and Karen women who had immigrated to the U.S., these immigrants’ American-born children, and white American controls. Their microbiomes shifted to Prevotella to Bacteroides, coming to resemble those of the white Americans who acted as the control. The immigrants’ children were even more susceptible to changes in and loss of microbial diversity.

Obesity statistics worldwide from the years 1996-2003.

We as Americans are highly aware of our obesity epidemic and are doing all we can to find a way to fix it. Research that links it to a cause relieves people- it provides hope that there is a way to change it. Knights remarks that “we do see that Westernization of the microbiome is associated with obesity in immigrants, so this could an interesting avenue for future research into treatment of obesity, both in immigrants and potentially in the broader population.” However, it cannot be used as an excuse for our problem as Americans- it is simply a breakthrough in a long journey that may help us in the long run.

Genetic Engineering will Create Super Humans?!

“Synthetic microbiome? Genetic engineering allows different species of bacteria to communicate”

Before seeking to analyze how genetic engineering enables the alteration of the microbiome, it is essential to understand the nature of the microbiome. Humans’ microbiomes consist of “trillions of microorganisms (also called microbiota or microbes) of thousands of different species.” Initially, peoples’ microbiomes are solely determined by their DNA; however, as time goes on, a person’s microbiome can be shaped by other factors, including the environment in which they live, or their diet. The microbiome contains both helpful and deleterious microbes, but “In a healthy body, pathogenic and symbiotic microbiata coexist without problem.”

According to researchers from the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School (HMS), and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, it may now be possible to create a “synthetic microbiome.” The team did a study in which they utilized a particular type of quorum sensing known as acyl-homoserine lactone sensing. Quorum sensing allows bacteria to regulate the expression of genes and to detect the size of bacterial colonies, through signal molecules. First, the team inserted “two new genetic circuits into different colonies of a strain of E. coli bacteria.” One of the circuits acted as a “signaler” and the other acted as a “responder.”

File:E. coli Bacteria (16578744517).jpg Picture of E. Coli bacteria

In short, the team inserted a single copy of luxl, a gene activated by the molecule anhydrotetracycline (ATC), into the signaling circuit. The signaling molecule formed by this gene then binded to the receptor circuit, which activated another gene, known as cro. The cro gene creates Cro proteins, and these proteins triggered a “memory element” within the responder circuit, in which two more genes, LacZ and another cro, were produced. If the signaling molecule is received (which it was), the presence of LacZ causes the bacterium to turn blue. Most importantly, the additional cro gene essentially keeps the “memory element” on, so this cycle continues.

To make sure that this system works in living organisms, the researchers tested it in mice. Signs of signal transmission in the mouse’s gut between the signaler S. Typhimurium bacteria and E. coli responder bacteria were detected. In other words, the engineered circuits allowed the bacteria to communicate with one another.

While these findings are extremely exciting, scientists have yet to discover whether or not other genetically engineered species of bacteria will also be able to facilitate communication between molecules. A Founding Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute said that “[They] aim to create a synthetic microbiome with completely or mostly engineered bacteria species in our gut, each of which has a specialized function.” If this is achieved, we will move one step closer to becoming super humans!

Feature Image: “Free for Commercial Use” and “No attribution required”

Rotavirus Vaccine Leads to Important Human Microbiome Experiment

     The journal Cell Host & Microbe recently published Vanessa Harris’s and her team’s (scientists from the Netherlands) research regarding a rotavirus vaccine. Over 200,000 children each year die from rotavirus. It is the prominent cause of diarrheal death in children. Therefore, this line of research is essential to help ensure the global health of all people, especially children.

      Harris’s study consisted of sixty-three, healthy male adults. They were randomly assigned one of three possible arms (branches of types of antibiotics): a broad spectrum (with vancomycin/ciprofloxacin/metronidazole treatments), a narrow-spectrum (with a vancomycin treatment) or the control with no vaccine. After this treatment, the results of the antibodies were tested by the subjects’ viral shedding. The three treatment arms led to similar antibody levels although there was a small increase in viral shedding with the narrow-spectrum antibiotic. Most importantly there was an overall difference in between the antibiotic-treated groups compared to the control arm, with the antibiotic treatments resulting in higher viral shedding. Their results showed an impact of antibiotics on microbiomes reaction to the vaccine.

      The research team also worked with children in Ghana and Pakistan which found a correlation between immunity to the rotavirus vaccine and the presence of a specific, intestinal bacteria. A vancomycin arm was added to attempt to recreate similar results to the earlier study with the adult men. Because rotavirus is a childhood disease, the main outcome of this second half of the study was that further, more detailed and specific research is necessary.

        I believe that the scientists are correct in saying that more research is necessary in order to support any large conclusion, yet it seems to me that bacteria can clearly alter microbiomes reaction to rotavirus vaccine. In my opinion, whether that is a mostly positive or negative effect must be the next step in the research in order to use this information to help children in developing countries like Ghana. Most important, the fact that “…[Harris’s] team believes that understanding that triangulation between bacteria, virus, and the human immune system has the potential for vaccinology and can lead to important uses of the microbiome”, should be the driving factor behind research into human microbiomes.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Rotavirus_replication.png

Could Hygiene Be Making Us Sick?

In today’s world, people are more cautious than ever about cleanliness and hygiene. One would be hard- pressed to walk into an elementary school where hand sanitizer lined the halls and a plethora of foods weren’t avoided. It seems as if the parenting goal of the 21st century is to sterilize every surface that their child tries to touch. But could this shelter of cleanliness actually be making these children more susceptible to illness?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nut_warning_1.jpg

 

The National Microbiome Initiative has reason to believe so. Via attentive study of the diversity of bacteria that call the human body home, scientists have determined that sterilizing the world of a young child may inhibit the development of his or her microbiome and consequent immune abilities. Scientists have determined that proper exposure to “dirt” plays a vital part in “training” the immune response to bodily intruders. Although a human’s bacterial microbiome is mostly formed within the first 100 days of life, continued exposure to foreign substances is vital for its proper development. Whether it be a strain of bacteria, a peanut, or a certain animal, when children aren’t exposed to the full range of microbes that the world has to offer they develop with a lower capability to manage them.

Since this generation of children are growing up in an increasingly sterile world, it is intuitive that the prevalence of allergies has skyrocketed. In a 2016 study at the University of California San Francisco, researchers found that one- month old children who lacked particular gut microbes were three times as likely to develop an allergy by age two. Their immune response is not properly trained to distinguish between what belongs in the human body and what is an intruder, and thus is more likely to mistake something as banine as a peanut or gluten for an intruder.

Although pediatric hygiene is important, maybe it’s time for parents to stop putting a Clorox wipe to every surface their children touch. Who knows? A tumble in the playground dirt may help develop a toddler’s microbiome and not just scuff up their jeans.

60 Million Year Old Farmers

Microbial ecologist Cameron Currie of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has made an intriguing discovery about the lives of some South American leaf-cutter ants. He found that long before humans cultivated fruits and vegetables for food ancient leaf cutter ants where cultivating fungus. The ants farm the fungus as a food source, but there are pathogenic bacteria that can kill the fungus. To thwart these malicious bacteria, the ants have formed a symbiotic relationship with a different bacteria known as actinobacteria. These actinobacteria fight off the pathogenic bacteria and protect the fungus.

File:Leafcutter ant.jpg

Leaf Cutter Ant

But how could we possibly know if fungal-farming ants existed millions of years ago?

File:Baltic amber inclusions - Ant (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)10.JPG

Ant Trapped In Amber

Well, I am glad you asked. Curries research focused on a 20-million-year-old sample of amber that had a few of these green-thumbed ants trapped inside. The ants had specialized pockets in their heads called crypts where the ants store these actinobacteria. These leaf cutter ants are walking pharmaceutical factories.

It is intriguing that some of the smallest insects on the planet where farming and cultivating food millions of years before we even thought of it. Not only that, but they have been using anti-biotics for millions of years whereas humans have only started using them 60 or 70 years ago.

What lessons do you think humans today can take away from these ants? Could they be the key to our anti-biotic overuse crisis?

C. Difficile Colitis: How To Prevent It

What is Clostridioides difficile Colitis, or C. difficile Colitis, and how can you get it? C. difficile Colitis is an infection of the Colon caused by an excess amount of the Clostridioides difficile bacterium in your intestines. Some symptoms of the infection include diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and blood in stool. C. difficile Colitis is spread by feces, it usually comes from touching a contaminated surface, then touching your mouth. As repulsive as it sounds, it’s actually a lot more common than you might think. Statistics reported by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2015, more than 148 out of every 1,000 people contracted C. Difficile Colitis.

Clostridium Difficile Bacteria

 

Experiment:

Confused and concerned by these findings, Kashyap, a Gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, alongside her team, decided to conduct an experiment on mice to get to the bottom of this infection. It is known that a disturbance in the combination of gut microbes within a mouse, can, in many cases, cause a C. Difficile infection inside of them. That being said, the researchers, at random, extracted and transported fecal matter from people’s colons with either normal or disturbed microbiomes, and transplanted the gut microbes into the mice’s stomachs.

Results of the experiment, as they predicted, showed that the mice that received transplants from people with disturbed microbiomes were not able to fight off the C. Difficile infection as well as the mice who received transplants from people with normal microbiomes, could. The results showed that, anteceding the experiment, the mice who had received the transplant of disturbed gut microbiomes, experienced an increase in a few specific amino acids found in their gut, especially proline. Proline is a major food source of C. Difficile bacteria, which in turn, strengthens the bacteria, giving it an advantage over other microbes found in the gut, that do not consume proline. This proved that proline-deficient people have much less C. Difficile bacteria in their intestines, thus making them far less susceptible to contracting the infection.

All that being said, the best way to prevent C. Difficile Colitis, is to avoid any and all antibiotics containing proline and to consider taking probiotics with proline-eating bacteria in order to hopefully outrun and weaken C. Difficile bacteria within the intestines, helping to restore the balance of microbes. Please don’t hesitate to comment what you think!

Saturated Fat Myth

 

I chose this article because my whole life my grandparents have told me that the “unhealthy saturated fat myth was a lie” and after seeing on our biology test last week that it caused atherosclerosis I decided to see for my self.

This article looks at a couple of experimental studies done in 2016 and 2017 on saturated fat. They came to the conclusion that the consumption of saturated fat saw little to no association with the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. They actually found that the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and carbohydrates seemed to pose a greater risk for developing these diseases. This article describes a meta analysis of a number of studies researching this topic which I believe is one of the best ways to prove something. The articles also talks about the over exaggeration of cholesterol in the diet as the cholesterol in your body is tightly regulated by the body, especially if you’re young, and you need a lot of it to function properly. It also talks about the power of exercise in preventing these diseases –  it states that even a brisk walk each day can have a dramatic effect on insulin levels. Do you like butter? Do you like hamburgers, or even coconuts? Research  shows that there is no issue consuming them, so munch away. if you want to do more research here are 2 more articles touching upon the same findings(article1 article2)

 

Can a Fox Be Your New Pet?

The big difference between your dog and a wild animal is the relationship that it has with humans. For example, both dogs and foxes come from the canidae family, however foxes are generally scared of humans  while dogs are “ a man’s best friend”. So why is the fox’s response drastically different than a dogs?

 Scientists may have figured it out. The study was originally started in Russia where a scientist wanted to see if he could domesticate foxes like people had domesticated dogs. He started to breed silver foxes with domestic traits: ones that were more tamed and friendlier towards humans.  But at the same time he also bred foxes that were aggressive to humans in order to make an aggressive breed of foxes. He then started to compare the two breeds as the generations went on. He studied only 10 generations but 50 generations of silver foxes later Cornell did a study on the same foxes.

Cornell studied the tamed foxes’ brains in comparison to the fox’s brain that were aggressive towards humans.  The scientist obtained brain tissue samples from 12 tamed foxes and 12 aggressive foxes looking for differences between the two brains. The particular part of the brain they studied was the prefrontal cortex and basal forebrain which are known for processing more complex information. The prefrontal cortex processes social behavior and personality expression, while the basal forebrain is a critical component to processing memories. The neurotransmitters from those regions were what the researchers mostly focused on. In particular, they focused specifically on the neurotransmitters that release dopamine and serotonin in the foxes brains  which are responsible for feelings of happiness because they trigger the pleasure center of the brain.

Through the study of the neurotransmitters, the researchers found that genes from these sections of the brain from the tamed foxes were altered through the breeding of the foxes but not the ones that they expected.  The variant genes in fact coded for alterations in the  function of the serotonergic neurons and the glutaminergic neurons. Those neurons coincide with learning and memory. This shows that tamed animals learn and memorize differently than their aggressive equals.  Now that we know this do you scientists through genetic modifications will be able to tame or domesticate any animal by simply changing a gene in their brain?

Pesticides Possibly Killing Farmers

Men farming dry, lowlands throughout Central America, Sri Lanka, India, and Egypt are suffering from the epidemic of the disease CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease, a.k.a. CKD).  CKD is usually experienced by those who suffer from diabetes and hypertension, yet these farmers have neither. Researchers are at a loss for what could be the specific common denominator causing this widespread effect. The world is just starting to understand the extent of people affected by this disease. For example, in Sir Lanka, around 2.9 million people are expected to be at high risk of developing deadly CDK. As CNN reports,  “the Sri Lankan government has had enough of the mystery, convening experts from around the world…to find answers, in collaboration with the World Health Organization”. Stanford nephrologist Shuchi Anand, MD, is one scientist who is trying to do something about it. She has founded a working group through the university in order to further research on CDK as a disease, its definition, and the exact cause. Research has determined that it could be possibly an environmental factor that is causing this particular group of men to develop this deadly disease. However, agrochemicals, vegetation, infectious agents and heat stress are all possibilities. While there is no real answer to this mystery yet, the Sri Lanka government has taken matters into their own hands by banning one pesticide and adding labor laws to limit heat exposure. Anand urges governments and the general population to consider that immediate action might not be the best course until there is more research. I believe that Anand is wrong in this account. All possible action must be taken immediately as this is an issue that is affecting many of the working class in these developing countries, and because of disputes between labor and management, it is an issue that has long been ignored. These responses must also be balanced with continuous in-depth research which continues to elaborate on all possible causes.

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