BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 1 of 33)

Predetermined diagnosis of PTSD and Depression can lead to prevention of psychological disorders

According to Science Dailyquestions that tests the psychological attributes that deal with coping ability, adaptability, and optimism. The questions are used to identify high-risk individuals and provide them with psychological and social resources to help them cope with the troubles dealing with deployment.

Researchers created an individual score that composites the soldier’s risk using baseline psychological attributes and demographic information such as martial status, gender, race, education and military occupation group.They found out of those whose score classified them as being at highest risk for psychological health disorders , which is at the top 5% of the score, 31% screened positive for depression, while 27% screened positive for PTSD after return from deployment.

 Professor Yu-Chu Shen, lead author of the study said: “We found that soldiers who had the worst pre-military psychological health attribute scores — those in the bottom 5% of scores — carried much higher odds of screening positive for depression and PTSD after returning home than the top 95%. Soldiers who score worst before deployment might be more susceptible to developing debilitating mental health disorders when they are later exposed to combat environments.”

The results suggest that psychological screening before deployment can be helpful in identifying the individuals who carry significant risk for psychological health disorders. Being aware of this risk could enable interventions to improve soldiers’ psychological health prior to exposing them to combat.

 

Learn From the Greeks: The “Trojan Horse” Method to Cure Ebola

The study to find a cure for the dangerous virus Ebola has resulted in a promising new find: a new strategy has shown positive results.  This new technique involves the placement of antibodies into the cell with the Ebola virus and then it binds to the NPC1 protein before the virus can, essentially rendering it useless.

To understand exactly how these special rainbow unicorn antibodies work, it is essential if we know how the Ebola virus spreads.  The different strains of the Ebola virus (Sudan, Zaire, Tai Forest, Bundibugyo, and Reston) are genetically a little different but they do the same thing.  The virus enters the cell through glycoproteins and gets engulfed into a lysosome. Once inside a lysosome, the virus transforms into a new state where it can bind to a human protein called NPC1.  Once bound to this protein the virus can eject its information into the cytoplasm of the cell and spread.

The solution lies in the binding of the special antibody.  The antibody ZMapp can effectively destroy the Ebola virus, but it is only effective on the Zaire strain. The other strains of Ebola are a little genetically different that the ZMapp antibody does not detect the other strains. Thus, a different approach is required to fight the virus.  The virus can be stopped if an antibody is able to enter the cell with the virus and either bind to the NPC1 protein before the virus does or bind to the virus to disable its ability to bind to anything else.

When the Ebola virus is in a cell’s lysosome it structurally alters itself to enable it to bind with the NPC1, and an advantage that scientists have discovered is that between the different strains of Ebola virus, the transformed versions are very similar, thus an antibody can be made that can bind to all of the different strains.  The problem with this, however, is that antibodies cannot enter the cell the same way that viruses can.

Ebola Virus

The solution that the researchers came up with stems back to the Trojan Horse story from Ancient Greece. The researchers added an extra arm to the antibody, enabling it to latch onto the virus and hitch a ride with it into the lysosome.  Once in the lysosome with the virus, the virus alters and the antibody can then bind again and disable the virus.  This method can potentially be a cure for all of the strains of the Ebola virus, causing an end to a very dangerous virus.

The Silent Extinction: How an invasive species is likely to destroy the Ash Tree

There is a mass extinction occurring right now all across North America that millions of people have never hear of. First discovered in North America in 2002, the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive species native to Mongolia and northern China, has destroyed tens of millions of Ash Trees across North America; and it is likely to destroy millions more.

The Emerald Ash Borer does its damage as larvae. They burrow into the bark of Ash Trees to protect against the cold and in the process of this, cut off the nutrients and water the Ash Tree needs. Scientist suspect that the Emerald Ash Borer has been in North America at least ten years before it was detected.

The devastating effects of the Ash Borer go far beyond losing a tree on your property or favorite hiking trail. The destruction of Ash trees could have a chain effect that leads to the endangerment of numerous plant and animal species. The removal of the canopy that the Ash Trees create leads to sunlight hitting spots of the forest floor that it previously did not. This could lead to invasive species of thickets and bushes covering the forest floor, preventing native plants from growing. Which, in turn, would lead to animals that inhabit the forest going without some of their primary food sources.

In the past, invasive insects have been fought by a combination of insecticides, awareness, and felling of infected trees. This proved fairly successful with the Asian long-horned Beetle in Chicago, but the Emerald Ash Borer presents a different set of challenges. Firstly, the Emerald Ash Borer is march harder to spot than the more distinctive Asian Asian long-horned Beetle. Secondly, it is much easier to deal with an invasive species when it is still localized. While the long-horned beetle was still mostly confined to Illinois, the Ash Borer has spread all across the Upper Midwest.

All factors considered, it may seem that there is nothing that can be done. However, with increased awareness, improved insecticides, and new containment techniques there is hope. The fate of millions of Ash Trees depend on that hope.

For more information click here

 

 

 

A Cure for Zika? Scientists successfully test a DNA-based Zika Vaccine

The Zika virus, widely known for its 2015 Latin and North America outbreak, is a mosquito-borne and transmitted virus that develops neurological complications and birth-defects in those infected. The Zika virus is able to be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing microcephaly– abnormal development of the brain. Currently, there exists no vaccine that would fully treat the virus, however, a solution may be in the works.

(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

David B. Weiner, Ph.D., an executive vice president of The Wistar Institute and a developer of the Zika vaccine notes that, “Synthetic DNA vaccines are an ideal approach for emerging infectious diseases like Zika”. Synthetic DNA vaccines are vaccines with genetically engineered DNA. They work in the same way as regular vaccines, inciting cells to produce specific antigens for immunological responses. Synthetic DNA vaccines can also have potential benefits over traditional vaccines, including a higher predictability, stability, and ability to be manufactured and distributed safely and rapidly.

The current Zika vaccine in development, GLS-5700, houses multiple strains of genes with DNA instructions that tell a hosts’ cells how to react and fight off a Zika virus antigen. In late 2016, researchers tested the vaccine on 40 participants. Two groups of 20 received different does of the vaccine at zero, four, and twelve week intervals. At the end of the experiment, researchers found that all participants had developed Zika-specific antibodies and 80 percent of the participants developed neutralizing antibodies against the Zika virus.

Zika 2015-2016 Outbreak (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Although rare in the United States, Zika continues to threaten millions living in South and Central America. Despite being in its last stages of development, GLS-5700 and other Synthetic DNA vaccines are still prohibited from being used in the United States- although this may change with the introduction of the Zika vaccine. The future of Synthetic DNA vaccines and viral disease prevention lies in the success of the GLS-5700.

 

 

 

 

Yawning: Why is it Contagious?

Have you ever wondered why we yawn even if you’re not tired, or if someone else yawns? The University of Nottingham published an article called “A Neural Basis for Contagious Yawning” in Current Biology. This study was led by Stephen Jackson, a professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University.  The research group worked to find reasons as of why yawning is contagious.

The group concluded that yawning is a form of echophenomena. An echophenomenon is an automatic action without awareness. It is a result of external stimuli. Yawning is an echophenomena because people yawn when they see other people yawn.

This study did not find the neural basis for yawning, but used tests to try and figure out what the neural basis is. The team used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on 36 adults to test for the neutral basis. TMS is a procedure that uses magnetic fields to activate nerves in the brain. The stimulation increases the need to yawn. The adults were shown videos of people yawning and were told to yawn when needed or to resist the yawn. The number and the intensity of the yawns was recorded. Georgina Jackson, a professor of cognitive neuropsychology in the Institute of Mental Health, quoted that “this research has shown that the ‘urge’ is increased by trying to stop yourself. Using electrical stimulation we were able to increase excitability and in doing so increase the propensity for contagious yawning.” This method can me used to figure out when contagious yawning will occur.

Yawning is a natural human function that happens daily. It is interesting to learn about how it works and how one’s yawn can affect other people. Although there is not yet a clear answer of how this works, it is fascinating to learn about different theories from different researchers. For more information on contagious yawning click here and here. Based on reading this research, what do you think the best explanation to contagious yawning is?

 

 

 

 

 

Alien DNA?

Our DNA has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. This evolution was usually the result of natural selection. Scientists have discovered another way our genetics have been altered: virus DNA. Our DNA consists of 100,000 pieces of viral DNA and altogether those pieces make up about 8 percent of our DNA. Most of these genes are from endogenous retrovirus. Many viral genes produce proteins that affect our health in unexpected ways. Some of our ancient virus DNA may be protecting us from diseases and others may be raising our risks for cancer.

Viral DNA is neither good nor bad. It’s not that simple and the research being done on this part of our genome is just being started. In a recent study scientists engineered healthy cells to make a viral protein that is found in tumors. They concluded that the protein caused the cells to behave in a “cancer like way”. There are other viral proteins that play a crucial role in reproduction, known as syncytins.

This caused scientists to investigate other viral proteins. Five years ago Dr. Heidmann, a French cancer researcher, found a stretch of viral DNA that has gone overlooked and named it Hemo. She also found that versions of this protein was in other species and that the gene behind is have barley changed over thousands of years. The consistency of the gene throughout species shows that the protein must play an important beneficial role. Some preliminary research has shown it to be involved with helping the embryo develop a variety of tissue from stem cells.

Many things are still not known about this part of our DNA and how it affects us but researchers are working hard to find out everything they can. They are actively trying to figure out which viral proteins are beneficial and which are harmful. This research will help us understand a lot about our genome, evolution, and maybe even cancer prevention.

For access to other articles about this topic click here and here.

 

Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife, ‘Devil Weed’ is Coming.

No, it’s not what you’re thinking, but Devil Weed is invasive brown algae disrupting ecosystems across the globe. This seaweed, Sargassum horneri, has existed along Japanese and Korean shores and has now popped up along California coasts. The major concern in each location is the Devil Weeds rapid and unstoppable growth. It pops up in rocky reef areas, harms and alters surrounding wild life, and completely takes over like a weed. Evidently, its controlling nature inspired its name and has raised great concern for affected ocean life as it continues to grow at an unbelievable rate.

S. horneri  is a 10 to 50 foot tall annual species, completes its life cycle in one year, though there are “overlapping generations” in the same seasons. This allows it to remain in the same habitats for years and years, forming dense ‘forests’ and hijacking specific areas.

Image Credit: Sargassum

Researchers at the Santa Barbara Costal Long Term Research Project (LTER) and National Science Foundation (NSF) used various approaches to try and learn how to clean and control Devil Weed in the most efficient and powerful way. This proved a challenge because of the seaweeds unpredictable and unknown behavior, but the researchers were able to tests some ideas. They experimented and discovered that partially cutting the stems of the seaweed, instead of completing removing the plant, would stop the plant from self-reproducing and it would later die off. They also discovered that the best way to remove a lot of the Devil Weed was to use an underwater suctioning machine though this only allowed two scuba divers to work at once and it was very time consuming and costly. Lastly, they figured out that the plant thrives in warmer climates and reproduces the most during those times, but overall they couldn’t find an efficient and effective removal approach like they had hoped for.

The biologists concluded that it’s better to attack S. horneri during the early winter by slashing the stems of the seaweed and using an “underwater suction device”, though these tactics only slow down its spreading and make no significant long-term impact. This issue should be of concern of many and I believe we all should care about our underwater ecosystems. So with that being stated, if more research isn’t done, awareness isn’t raised, and action isn’t taken S. horneri  will continue to grow at rapid rates. It will most likely harm and take over big portions of our underwater life and this intrusive and cynical behavior is only typical, of a Devil.

Ancient Viruses Do Good?

Photo Source

Viral DNA. Sounds like something awful, but it isn’t. One type of viral DNA called endogenous retroviruses is something that can be passed down from generation to generation.

Recently a new protein, called Hemo, in the veins of pregnant women has been discovered. This protein is believed to be made by the fetus in the placenta. But, the effect of it is unknown. The cause of this is a gene from a virus that was formed more than one hundred million years ago. In fact, human DNA consists of 100,000 pieces of viral DNA. But, it is unknown exactly what the effect of viral DNA has overall.

Some are good as they protect from disease while others are believed to cause cancer. So, is it believed that Hemo is good or bad? Well, one theory is that it is a message from the fetus to the mother that dampens the mother’s immune system so that it does not attack the fetus, which is good. But, any mutations of Hemo could be harmful or even fatal. Other viral proteins play a role in the development of a fetus. Such as how viral proteins help embryos develop tissues. Early embryos may have come to depend on tricks that viruses once used to manipulate them. Scientists are currently trying to find out more about the topic themselves

 

This Scary Spider Could Save Your Life!

This Scary Spider Could Save Your Life!

In current times, more and more people are suffering from cardiac insufficiency. Since cardiac tissue is unable to be revived (once its dead), researchers have been struggling to figure out how to create a structure similar to cardiac tissue, that can mimic the tissue’s function. A recent discovery made by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Iniversitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU) an their colleagues from the University of Bayreuth, led to idea of using spider silk to recreate dead cardiac tissue. Their results are published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

What is so important about spider silk?

Fibroin, the protein that gives spider silk its mechanical stability and special structure, could be the missing piece to creating artificial cardiac tissue. The indian silk worm was observed first by  Dr. Felix Engel of the Department of Nephropathology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, its specific properties make it eligible to help create cardiac tissue. In addition to indian silk worm, Prof. Dr. Thomas Scheibel, holder of the Chair for Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth, discovered that garden spiders’ silk along with the help of E. coli, can produce the proper protein needed.

Do they really work?

These silks were put to the test, when Jana Petzold, of the Erlangen team headed by Prof. Engel and Tamara Aigner from Prof. Scheibel’s Bayreuth, placed a thing layer of the silk protein—(eADF4(κ16) onto a film, since the silk protein is positively charged, the idea is that it would then adhere or stick to anything negatively charged. Cardiac functionality was their main interest during the experiment; they compared plain cardiac tissue applied to a film, to spiders silk applied to a film of fibronectin. They did not find any functional differences between the two! Furthermore, the cells cultured on a film of eADF4(κ16) grew in response to factors responsible for hypertrophy (enlargement of cardiac cells), this discovery reinforces the similarities and potential for spider silk proteins to help reverse the effects of cardiac damage.

The Future:

Although the idea of using spider silk was just discovered, do you think scientists will pursue this theory? If so, how long will it take? I was particularly intrigued while reading this article because spider silk seems like the most random match for something so intricate and complex. Scientists are now realizing why this silk is important. Another use for spider silk is in antibiotics. Who knows, there could be many more uses for spider silk to soon be discovered!

 

Tree Lobsters Are Back!

Image result for Stick insects Tree lobsters Lord Howe

Lord Howe Tree Lobster

Tree Lobsters are actually not lobsters at all. Nor are they crustaceans.  They are actually just insects with a similarly shaped exoskeleton. But that’s not what makes them interesting. What does, is that Tree Lobsters have seemingly come back from extinction.

The Species, originally from the Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, went extinct during the 1920’s due to becoming the main food source for an invasive rat species that came onto the island. The Tree Lobsters were only formally declared extinct in 1960 though. Since then scientist had pretty much forgotten about them.

Image result for Stick insects Tree lobsters Lord Howe

Ball’s Pyramid Stick Insect

Thus, when scientists found a small group of stick insects similar to Lord Howe Tree Lobster’s on Ball’s Pyramid, a volcanic stack 12 miles away from Lord Howe Island, in 2001, they were quite surprised. The Ball’s Pyramid stick insects were skinnier and darker but scientists were still hopeful the newly discovered insects were, in fact, the same species as the extinct Lord Howe Tree Lobsters. Scientists tested the genes of the stick bugs from Ball’s Pyramid with genes extracted from preserved Lord Howe Tree Lobsters and found out that despite some morphological variance, they are still the same species. They speculate that diet, age, and environment had caused the Ball’s Pyramid Stick Insects to look a little different. How the species got to the volcanic stack is still a mystery as the insects cannot swim but they infer that they had been carried over by birds.

The newly discovered Tree Lobsters are now being bred at the Melbourne Zoo and elsewhere in an attempt to reintroduce the species to Lord Howe Island. However, the invasive rat species on Lord Howe Island still remains a problem as it threatens the lives of over 70 different native species. In order to successfully reintroduce the Tree Lobsters back to Lord Howe, the rat problem needs to be taken care of first.

The SHOCKING Truth About Tattoos!

Dying to get a tattoo? You might want to hold that thought.

It might seem cool to have something permanently tattooed on your body, whether it represents an important symbol or not. People get tattoos for various reasons but many people see them as works of art that they want to display on their bodies. People spend much time to think about what images or symbols they want to display. However, few think about what happens after they get this tattoo. Yet, the after effects should be the most important consideration.

What effects does ink have on the body?

Tattoo artists inject ink into the dermis, the layer of skin under the epidermis, filled with blood vessels and nerves. But does the ink really just stay on the surface of the skin? Research and testing on rats has shown that some ink particles can travel through the bloodstream and enter the lymph nodes within minutes, which can cause major harm to the body. Ines Schreiver, a scientist who is part of a team of German and French scientists, found Titanium dioxide along with metal particles such as nickel and chromium (shocking) in the lymph nodes. These ink particles can cause complications such as enlargement of lymph nodes and blood clotting.

What about contamination of ink?

Furthermore, tattoo ink production is highly unregulated. So, no one knows for sure what companies are putting in the ink. According to Dr. Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors, there is no fool-proof way of telling whether tattoo ink is contaminated. A study in Denmark showed that about 10% of unopened tattoo ink bottles were infected with bacteria.

So, what’s the verdict?

This study alone should make you think twice about getting a tattoo. Although tattooing has been part of human culture for countless years, these recent findings should create a more cautious attitude towards tattoos. There are many other ways to symbolize something that’s important to you or to make yourself look different.  You need to always think first about your health.

For more information click here.

Stem Cells to the Rescue

Nerve damage has always been thought of to be permanent.  Now, recent studies show that stem cells are actually able to help the regrowth of nerve cells, and restore function to damaged areas.  The discovery of stem cell ability to do this has not only stunned the scientific community, but in the years to follow will have a gargantuan effect on the diagnosis’ and treatments of many nerve related diseases.

Stem cells can be found throughout the body in numerous locations: Bone marrow, blood, blood vessels, and skeletal muscles.  What make stem cells unique to other types of cells is there ability to replicate and evolve into different types of tissue.  With this ability, scientists have taken stem cells to research them, hoping that one day that will be a common treatment for nerve damage, which currently is thought to be permanent.

A study from the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine has recently tested the compatibility of stem cells to aid damaged nerve areas on mice.  The study consisted of scientists injecting human muscle-derived stem cells into surgically created right sciatic nerve defects in mice, in charge of controlling movement in the right leg.  The study found that six weeks post injection the mice that were treated with the human stem cells had recovered full nerve functionality, while the mice that were left untreated experienced limited nerve regrowth and functionality.

The process in which stem cells can be injected into a individual are as follows: Firstly, a hollow tube filled with stem cells is placed in the injured site.  This is the most common, and most studied process of how to inject stem cells.  There are alternative ways in which to do so which involve injecting the cells into hydrogel prior to inserting them into a hollow tube, but this method seems to be far more tedious and expensive, and not delivering the same results.

These findings can prove to be absolutely revolutionary to treatments for diseases such as MS and ADEM.  As of now, patients diagnosed with MS know that they will have that disease for the rest of their life.  Stem cells will now be able to be injected into the CNS to help regrow the damaged nerves.  I believe that this is one of the most game-changing discoveries in science, altering the way we look at the nervous system as something that cannot be fixed once damaged.

What is your take on the recent discoveries of usage of stem cells?  Post your thoughts, comments, or critiques in the comments.

MAIT Lymphocytes: An Asset to the Future of Type 1 Diabetes


Well, let’s start with what exactly Type 1 Diabetes is. Most notably found in young children (peak ages are 4-7 and 8-10), type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin. Insulin production is crucial because it allows sugar to pass through your cells, lowers the amount of sugar in your blood, and when your blood sugar drops, the pancreas secretes insulin. Can you imagine what this might feel like as a young child?

However, the detection of MAIT lymphocytes could serve as new biomarkers for early detection and prevention for the illness. If you didn’t know, MAIT cells are found in the blood, liver, lungs, and mucosa, defending against microbial activity and infection. Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong illness without a cure, therefore with this crucial discovery, I believe that this will be one of the great steps toward the findings of a potential cure. This lead can serve as an outstanding aspect to the enhancement of one’s quality of life.

Experiments have been conducted where the presence of the MAIT cells, within the data, showed a link between the MAIT cells and metabolic disorders. This paved the way for the discovery of how MAIT cells are directly linked to the destruction of pancreatic beta cells

Additionally, a functional defect in MAIT cells is linked to the modifications of the gut mucosa which is seen in type 1 diabetes patients. The team’s discovery will hopefully translate to a developmental process dedicated to searching for new strategies to treat type 1 diabetes. Overall, we now know that the MAIT cells are early biomarkers for this form of diabetes due to the changes they undergo before the presence of the disease is developed. Do you think more break-throughs will arise in this field? Will there eventually be a formal prevention for type 1 diabetes? Finally, do you think there will ever be a cure to diabetes as a whole?

Saving our planet, one fart at a time

Cows are really cute. They just stand there in the grass, four-legged and everything, eating their grass, mooing, and just living life like cows should. They taste good, and they make milk, which means that we (humans, if you needed that clarification) love to farm them. As a result, there’s a LOT of them (more than 1.5 billion) all over the planet. Seems like a good thing right? I mean, how could too much of this be a bad thing?

Look at this cutie just chillin’. Photo by Daniel Schwen.

Unfortunately, cows have a dark side. Cattle are a type of animal called a ruminant, which have specialized stomach to digest plant material by storing it and fermenting it. Once fermented, the food, known as cud, must be chewed again before digestion is complete. In the cow’s stomach aiding it in this process are tiny microbes known as methanogens. These guys allow cows to digest things like cellulose (plant matter), but produce methane as a waste products. Cows then either burp or fart out this gas.

With all the cows on the planet, the methane being emitted has become a major problem. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, meaning it warms the planet at a much higher rate. Livestock account for 14.5% of all anthropomorphic (human) greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle account for 65% of all livestock emissions. So obviously, cows’ farts and burps are a problem. So how can we fix it?

Our cute friends are a large part of this… Made by Al Rodger.

The three issues, according to microbiologist Lorenzo Morelli, are diet, genetics, and the microbiology of cows. Phil Garnsworthy of Ruminomics, an organization with a goal of reducing cows’ emissions, looks to selection to help lessen the problem. According to him, cattle vary by a factor of two to three on the amount of methane given off. By simply favoring and only breeding those cattle that only emit low amounts of methane, the problem can be immediately mitigated. Dairy Farmers have an extra incentive to reduce methane by breeding low methane cows separate from the environment, as well. The methane represents lost energy that could go into producing more milk, and so adding low-methane to a list of attractive cow characteristics would not only help the environment, but also farmers’ wallets. But plain ol’ artificial selection isn’t the only option.

Changing cows’ diet may also help reduce the problem. Scientists at Aarhus University are looking into producing a genetically-engineered grass to give to cows. By changing and running tests on the DNA of the grass and eventually finding the optimal type, the scientists hope to make grass less stiff and easier to digest for the cows, which would not only decrease methane production due to less activity from the microbes, but also increase milk production.

Cows grazing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

There is an also an option of dealing directly with the microbes themselves and their methane release. For example, Researches at Penn State are studying the effects of  3-nitrooxypropanol (3NOP) on cows’ methane emissions. 3NOP, when put into cow feed, would in theory stop the microbes from producing methane when it binds to the cows’ digestive tracts. Cattle saw a 30% reduction of methane when fed 3NOP.

And finally, there is always the prospect of genetically modifying cows themselves to produce less methane. The tricky part about this is that it’s the microbes that actually produce the methane, not the cows. Morelli says, “We think that animal genetics may well influence their gut microbiology. However, this link has not been proved and we are still in the data collection phase.” Essentially, though we might be far from a GMO cow that produces less methane, it is not outside the realm of possibility. Even now, the Genome Canada project is looking into the genes responsible for lower methane emissions, with the hope of spreading the gene to other populations of cows.

Personally, I believe scientists should be doing whatever they can to reduce methane emissions. This is our planet, and we need to do everything we can to save it. This includes GMO research, which I realize makes some people uneasy, but in my opinion is a great, new way to help our planet and help ourselves. However, any solution that would hurt cows, reduce lifespan, or ruin milk or beef taste should only be used as a last resort. Even then, I would be hesitant to implement such changes. Essentially, what route is the most efficient and practical, and what are you willing to sacrifice? These are the two questions that must be answered in finding a way to reducing cows’ methane emissions.

All in all, it seems cows are on their way to being lesser burdens on our environment. And that’s a great thing, because then I would be able to appreciate their cuteness more without feeling a bit of guilt.

 

 

New Type of Sponge(Bob) can Help the Environment!

Scientists have discovered new sponges living in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (C.C.Z.), a specific area in the Pacific Ocean, 13,000 feet below the sea level! These sponges live on rock nodules that are targeted for deep-sea mining.

Plenaster craigi is the name of these new tiny sponges partly because of the abundant amount of stars that make up their backbones. Scientists Dr. Lim, a sponge taxonomist from the National University of Singapore, and a research team led by Adrian Glover characterized and classified the sponges based on both their appearance and genetics. Dr. Glover says, “They’re living in a very food-limited environment…It’s quite remarkable that they can survive.” What makes these guys fascinating, despite the conditions they are living in, is not only are they a new species, but also a new genus. This is similar to discovering not just dogs also a group that contains wolves, coyotes, and jackals.

Why is this important you ask? Dr. Smith says, “This is one of the most abundant animals found living on the nodules and we didn’t even know it existed.” In the past 40 years, over hundreds of scientific expeditions have visited the C.C.Z. where nodules lie half-buried on the seafloor, and we have just found them! The abundance makes it important because “Every animal you collect from the seafloor seems to be a different species,” says Dr. Vanreusel, a marine biologist at Ghent University in Belgium.

The International Seabed Authority has allocated 15 areas for exploration in the C.C.Z. to several mining companies affiliated with nations that include China, Japan, and Singapore. Thankfully, none of these licenses have been granted for actual mining yet. The Plenaster craigi grow on the nodules and are vulnerable if mining for nodules commences. The International Seabed Authority has already reserved wide swaths of the seafloor for protection, but you cannot protect the living marine life on the seafloor if you do not know what animals live down there.

Another more pressing issue is the huge sediment plumes that mining activities will generate, says Dr. Vanreusel. Plenaster craigi could be useful as an indicator species because of its abundance. This sponge will clearly be disturbed from the plumes and abundant enough to count, and therefore Plenaster craigi could help researchers figure the effects of deep-sea mining and maybe the possibilities for recovery.

In conclusion, researchers are racing against mining companies to study life on the seafloor, but lack the number of scientists with the expertise to characterize and classify new species. Since for three years, the research group has been calling them sponge species A.

Back from the (almost) dead: Burmese Star Tortoise

The Burmese Star tortoise trade is very lucrative, but also very harmful. Poachers make money by capturing them in there natural habitat of Myanmar (formally Burma) and selling them as exotic pets. The Burmese Star tortoise was classified functionally extinct, meaning their population was so small that it was no longer able to sustain itself.

Herpetologist, Steven Platt, set up breeding colonies in Myanmar. In 2004, they captured less then 200 tortoises from the wild and put them into three breeding colonies. This was a large enough starting population to avoid inbreeding. Today the number of tortoises they have has grown to 14,000! In 2013, about 1,000 tortoises were reintroduced into protected land. In 2016 these colonies produced over 2,000 hatchlings per year.

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Despite the massive success of the breeding colonies there have been setbacks. At first, poachers broke into the breeding colonies to steal the tortoises. Modifications, such as 10 foot concrete walls, were installed to protect the tortoises from the thieves. After the tortoises are reintroduced into a protected area there is still the concern of poachers. However, with the success of the breeding colonies, that were started by confiscated tortoises, there is a lot of promise that this species will survive going forward. A new idea to reintroduce this species is the bury their eggs and let them hatch in nature. Dr. Platt hopes this will speed up the re-establishment of the population.

Dr. Platt recognizes that he and his team can not reintroduce the Burmese Star tortoise effectively without community support. By sharing there work with the near by community, members of it look of for illegal activity and are willing to help in any way they can. Dr. Platt’s group also gets local monasteries to bless the tortoises which supports the local theory that harming a tortoise will result in “divine retribution”.

 

 

The 450 Million Year Old Superbug

The first superbug may have occurred 450 million years ago when animals decided to leave the water and begin to live on land.  The scientist at the Broad Institute found evidence displaying a group of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which are as old as the first land animals. Like us humans, the animals possessed these superbugs in their guts. Since the bacteria has been around for so long it has given it time to adapt and develop necessary traits to make it resistant to antibiotics like penicillin. The specific superbug which has lasted since the first land animal is Enterococci.

Photo by Eric Erbe

can be considered the “godfather” of superbugs. Enterococci were found during the 80s and were one of the first pathogens to be known to resist antibiotics. Enterococci bacteria today is a major cause of hospital infections in the United States and infects up to 70,000 Americans and kills up to 1,000 each year. Enterococci is so special because it possesses a number of genes which are focused on “hardening and fortifying” the cell wall. The reinforced cell wall allows for the bacteria to fight off disinfectants and not dry out. Research also shows that the fortification was added around the same time that animals began to come ashore. Since the two events happened around the same time it is assumed that the new fortification was to assist the survival of the bacteria in the new environment.

Enterococci had to create new fortification against new elements on land which was not present in the water. Since Enterococci is located in the gut some are excreted through feces. In water, the excreted Enterococci would end up at the bottom of the ocean floor which was moist and filled with nutrients, similar to the guts of a marine animal. When the Enterococci was released on land it would meet a harsher environment where they were exposed to Ultra-violent light from the sun. This caused the bacteria to dry up and die. Eventually, the bacteria developed and picked up the fortification needed which now helps them to thrive in hospitals. Their shell from 450 million years ago allows them to be resistant to the typical effects of cleaning measures in hospitals. The protection the bacteria has is what causes it to be considered a superbug. Even though superbugs are becoming more prominent the understanding of the so-called “godfather” of superbugs may help us to find ways to defeat Enterococci and hopefully other superbugs.

Pythons to Blame for Increase in Dangerous Mosquitoes in Florida

The Invasion of Burmese Pythons in Southern Florida has been well documented over the last few years, and as they increase in number in the Everglades, numbers of many mammals have diminished. The addition of an extra top predator such as the Burmese Python, the second largest snake in the world, growing up to about 19 (19!!!) feet long, has dire implications for the ecosystem of the Everglades and of Florida, but they pose a danger to the humans in the area as well!

That’s right, the Burmese Pythons are causing problems for Floridians. No, Floridians are not soon-to-be victims of a Python takeover, but the disruption of the Everglade ecosystem has begun to become apparent. As Burmese Pythons have lowered numbers of countless different mammals across the Everglades, mosquitoes have less variety among the animals they drink the blood from, per ScienceDaily. As a result, Mosquitoes have been taking more blood from the mammals that remain, most notably the hispid cotton rat. Mosquitoes in the area are now taking more than 75 percent of their meals from this rat, which is a massive 422 percent increase since 1979. Burmese Pythons were first reported in the area in the 1980s. The hispid cotton rat, which so many mosquitoes feed on now, hosts the Everglades Virus, which is transferred to humans by mosquitoes. As if we didn’t have enough reasons to hate mosquitoes. The hispid cotton rat is one of the only hosts for the virus, which causes “fever, headache and even encephalitis” in humans, according to the same ScienceDaily Article.Sigmodon hispidus1.jpg

This new research is not only  relevant because of the increased hatred we all now have for mosquitoes, though. It also represents a landmark in research on invasive species. Nathan Burkett-Cadena informs ScienceDaily that “As far as I am aware, this is the first time that researchers have found that an invasive predator (such as the python) has caused an increase in contact between mosquitoes and hosts of a human pathogen.”

So, python invasions lead to more virus-carrying mosquitoes in the Everglades. Does this make you as uncomfortable as it makes me? Let me know what you think, leave a comment. I for one am glad to be far away from both the pythons and the Everglade mosquitoes.

 

Photos:

James Gathany for CDC https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sigmodon_hispidus1.jpg

Susan Jewell for USFWShttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burmese_pythons_in_Florida#/media/File:Burmese_python_(6887388927).jpg

 

Everyone Poops (for approximately 7 seconds)

Everyone poops. Despite sometimes causing discomfort and being the subject of juvenile humor, pooping is a necessary, crucial function of our body that removes wastes and can share a lot about a person’s health. All animals poop: Lions, tigers, bears. Celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian, they poop, too. Every species has their own unique way of pooping, with a variety of sizes, shapes, smells, and consistencies. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have analyzed these differences between animals’ feces and have gained insight on these varieties with a focus on the speed at which animals poop at.

The experiment began at Zoo Atlanta where two undergraduates had the glorious task of examining 34 different species’ poop measuring their density and viscosity. In addition, the animal feces were placed in a rheometer in order to test the consistency of each.

The main finding of the experiment concerned the speed of poop. They found that all animals dedicate in approximately the same amount of time, 7 seconds, despite the varieties is size, consistency, etc. The scientists have found that the reason larger animals, with larger feces, poop at a much faster rate than small animals is because they have thicker mucus lining their large intestine. This mucus is slippery and allows for poop to easily pass; thicker amounts allow pooping to happen faster.

Deficiencies in large intestine mucus can lead to chronic constipation or bacterial infections.

Another source has identified an equation for the speed of poop: “the time it takes to poop is equal to said poop’s length divided by its velocity.” For example, an elephant poops at a rate of 6 cm/sec whereas dogs poop at a rate of 1 cm/sec.

As a young child, I read a book called Everyone Poops.  This wonderful children’s story set to normalize pooping and show that all living things are connected in this way. I am delighted that not only does everyone poop, but everyone poops for about 7 seconds.

Do you feel more connected to other animals knowing we all poop for about the same amount of time?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APooping_Elephant_in_Delhi_Zoological_National_Park.jpg Author: Shubhaish kanodia

 

Original Article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-physics-of-poop/

The Mysterious Linkage between Antidepressants & Weight Loss

       

Humans are constantly debating the extent of which we can control our belly fat. Common lifestyle trends include implementing more exercise, cutting foods or using supplements, as various ways in order to increase weight loss. As the risks and growing concerns associated with obesity increase, the answers to these questions become more significant to the fate of our health.

A new study yields data suggesting that weight is caused by immune cell inflammation, and there may be an unexpected cure. In a study of macrophages in belly fat, conducted by Yale school of medicine, it was discovered that these immune cells responsible for tracking and engulfing pathogens, may become inflamed with aging. To further test this finding, they separated young and old mice into two groups, and isolated their macrophages from their fat tissue. In proceeding to sequence the DNA of both groups of these cells, it was found that the genomes of the older mice macrophages showed more genes that lessen catecholamines. Catecholamines are a group of molecules that distribute signals across nerve cells. This is possible because of the blockage of neurotransmitters, caused by the genes that turn on enzymes. Therefore, the increased activation of these in the older group of immune cells, blocks messages that tell the body that fat is present and available for use, resulting in energy.

     So, what is the cure?

Evidence shows that the known antidepressant: Clorgyline, is commonly given for depressive symptoms and low catecholamine levels. When this drug was given to the mice, the older mice could successfully start-up belly fat burning again, as it blocked the enzyme found in older immune cells.

This study demonstrates that it is possible to decrease inflammation and change fat metabolism of animals by way of Clorgyline. Side-effects of both appetite decrease and increase have been recorded to have affected humans. But I believe it is still hopeful with more research similar results to that of the mice, can be attained in humans. 

I was interested in this article, because psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression are prevalent across all populations, including adolescents and adults. Common side effects of many of the drugs used to treat these disorders, include weight gain. It seems that weight gain could directly worsen these disorders, counteracting the positive effects of the medications. For this reason, the findings presented from this study seemed like a positive advance in science.

How do you think the findings of this study will effect future future depression medication research? Does it seem likely that results similar to the mice will occur in humans?

Photo Source: Flickr.com

Primary Source Article: Common antidepressant found to reduce belly fat in older mice 

Secondary Source Article: Treatment with the MAO-A inhibitor clorgyline elevates monoamine neurotransmitter levels and improves affective phenotypes in a mouse model of Huntington disease

Secondary Source Article: Effects of the monoamine oxidase inhibitors clorgyline and pargyline on the hyperphagia of obese mice.

 

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