BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 2 of 33)

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 scientists 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

They can be considered the “godfather” of superbugs. Enterococci were found during the 80’s 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.

 

Worried about BPA in your water? Don’t be.

Life developed on Earth because of its rare abundance of water. While we do need water to survive, our water must also be clean and potable, without contaminants or other substances. Recently, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have conducted surveys on our drinking water. The USGS-EPA study has brought to light the disproportionate representation in the media of the toxicity of BPA in drinking water. BPA, or bisphenol A, is used to make epoxy resin and polycarbonate plastic, which is commonly used to make plastic water bottles. BPA in drinking water is commonly covered in the media, even though it was only found in less than 40% of the streams tested in the USGS-EPA study. Contrary to what most people believe, an adult would have to drink over 5,600 gallons of water in one day to reach the safe intake level for BPA set by the EPA. BPA is estrogenic, which means it contains estrone, a toxic estrogen that is naturally produced in the human body. Therefore, concerns of BPA’s toxicity in our drinking water are not nearly as imminent as many people believe.

Source: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/tap/

So, what should we be worried about in our water? The USGS-EPA study found that all streams tested contained at least one toxin. The organizations tested 38 streams and searched for 719 substances. Some streams contained only one substance, yet others contained 162. 66-84% of the toxins found in the streams were results of human activity. Though the USGS and EPA found these toxins, the toxicity of these toxins must be taken into account. This new data sheds light on our drinking water, and takes the spotlight off of BPA.

 

Original article: http://www.science20.com/steve_hentges/do_you_know_whats_in_your_water-225060

Could a new bacterial test reduce the chances of new superbugs emerging?

We’ve all suffered from a nasty bacterial infection of some sort, like strep or a sinus infection. Usually, we go to the doctor and are prescribed antibiotics, and are cured in a few days. The problem with this is that bacteria are becoming multi-drug resistant and skipping over weaker antibiotics and immediately using stronger ones to increase the effectiveness. This is because to test out if an infection is resistant to antibiotics, a doctor would have to send a sample to a lab and wait 2-3 days for the results (Fore more information on standard bacterial lab tests, click here). The more antibiotics that are overused and misused, the more super-bugs (multi-drug resistant bacteria) will emerge.

Luckily, there is a new advancement in testing bacterias resistance to antibiotics. A new test has been developed at Caltech that can identify antibiotics resistant bacteria in as little as thirty minutes. The test was focused on UTI’s; they took a sample of infected urine and divided into two groups. One group was incubated, and the other was exposed to antibiotics for fifteen minutes. The bacteria were then lysed, or broken down, to release their cellular contents. The contents are then run through a process combining d-LAMP and Slip chips. This process replicates specific DNA markers which are imaged and counted as fluorescent spots on the chip.

This Photo is credited to Wikipedia

The logic behind this test is that antibiotics affects the DNA replication of bacteria, so there will be less fluorescent spots on the chip for bacteria that is not resistant to bacteria. If the DNA are resistant to bacteria, the DNA replication, fluorescent spots, will be the same in both groups. The tests had a 95% match with the standard two day test, (hyperlink info about standard test) and was tested on 54 subjects with UTI’s caused by the same bacteria, Escherischia Coli.

The creators of this test, Ismagilov, Schoepp, and Travis Schlappi, are continuing to test other bacterial infections, and hope to modify the test to be able to test blood infections. Blood infections are more difficult to test because the presence of bacteria in blood is significantly less than in urine. Having a test like this, for many types of different bacteria, which could be performed in one doctors visit would help reduce the overuse and misuse of bacteria, thus decreasing the chance of new superbugs emerging.

For more information and visuals click here.

 

Fish might be shrinking!

To all the seafood lovers, you are being warned here first! The tiny piece of tuna on your plate will soon become even smaller due to climate change. Fish in the ocean will struggle to breathe due to the increasing water temperature, and many species of fish will likely shrink. According to a study published in Global Change Biology, the author predicts a decrease in sizes of the fish by as much as 30 percent. As Nexus Media explains, fish are cold-blooded animals, which means that they cannot regulate their own body temperature. Daniel Pauly, the study’s lead author and a University of British Columbia research initiative, say that due to the increase in ocean temperature, fish will have a higher metabolic rate and have to consume more oxygen. The whole metabolisms in the fish’s body, all the chemical reactions, are accelerated.

Credit:  Attribution license: Taras Kalapun,

Source

So if the fish need to have more oxygen intake, why not just grow bigger gills? In Pauly’s research, he suggests that growing bigger gills won’t help. According to the article, the gills being mostly two-dimensional, just cannot keep up with the three-dimensional growth in the rest of the fish’s body. When a fish grows 100 percent larger, its gill could only grow about 80 percent or less, according to the study. When a gill can no longer supply enough oxygen for a fish’s larger body, the fish will just stop growing larger all together, according to William Cheung, a director of science for the Nippon Foundation. In order to match the decreased supply of oxygen, fish will have to lower their demand, which means that fish of all kinds will shrink as a result of climate change.

There is already evidence to the phenomena of fish shrinking due to climate change, researchers in the North Sea have found that fish stocks like haddock and sole had decreased in body size over the past couple decades, and it is primarily due to climate change since commercial fishing and other factors have been corrected. Furthermore, the entire ecosystem will be affected since the larger fish eat the smaller ones, and a change in body size would alter food web interactions and structure.

To read more about other impacts of climate change on marine species.

Sources:
https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/climate-change-might-shrink-fish/

Ladies…Put Down the Cheese and Pick up the Yogurt!

Diet has been known to play a key role in breast cancer risk. A study done by Karin B. Michels, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, at Medical News Today links a poor pro-inflammatory diet during adolescence, to a greater risk of developing breast cancer. A pro-inflammatory diet consists of foods such as red meats, butter, cheese, etc.  Because breast estrogenic hormones are found in these kinds of foods, researchers hypothesize that these compounds fuel breast cancer cell growth.

Photo taken by “kaboompics”: Karolina Grabowska

A case-control study, comparing breast cancer patients to women unaffected by the disease, by Roswell Park Cancer Institute also shows that there may be an association between types of dairy foods, specifically yogurt and cheese, consumed and breast cancer development.  Susan McCann, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control at Roswell Park, says “dairy foods are complex mixtures of nutrients and non-nutrient substances that could be negatively and positively associated with breast cancer risk”. 

In the case-control study, scholars examined the association between the types of dairy food consumed among 1,941 women diagnosed with breast cancer between the years 2003-2014. Taking into account factors such as demographics, menopausal status, energy intake, and family history researchers found that women who consumed high amounts of yogurt were found to have a 39% lower risk of cancer development while women who consumed high amounts of cheese, particularly cheddar and cream cheese, had the opposite effect with a 53% increased risk of breast cancer. 

Connecting this case-control study to the study done with Medical News Today the results support the idea that a pro-inflammatory diet may cause a greater risk of developing breast cancer. Cheese is known to be part of the pro-inflammatory diet while yogurt is part of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Although more information is needed to definitely confirm these variables as a cause and effect, the correlation found provides us with more information about the possible causes of cancer. “This study of the differences among women and their consumption of dairy products offers significant new understanding into the potential risk factors associated with breast cancer. While diet is thought to be responsible for 30 percent of all cancers, we hope that further research will help us to more fully understand which food products are most valuable in terms of reducing risk for this disease.” (Senior author Christine Ambrosone: chair of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control). 

As someone who has seen the impacts of breast cancer first hand, knowing all different correlational factors that may lead to the development of breast cancer is extremely important.

 

Potential New Treatment Strategy for Brain Cancer!

Cancer is a disease characterized by the up-regulation of cell growth and it usually develops when normal cells are not able to repair damaged genetic material. New studies are revealing insights into the function of genetic mutations commonly found in a form of brain cancer, specifically the IDH mutation. Isocitrate Dehydrogenase(IDH) is a metabolic enzyme found in more than 70% of low grade gliomas and secondary glioblastomas, types of malignant brain tumors. In a normal cell, IDH enzymes help to break down nutrients and generate energy cells. When mutated, IDH creates a molecule that alters cells genetic programming and instead of maturing, the cell remain primitive. Studies have shown that cells holding this mutation also have an impaired ability to repair DNA. Strangely enough, low grade gliomas that have the IDH mutation are typically more sensitive to chemotherapy than those that lack the mutation. Why does this occur? We still don’t really know the answer.  Yet, researchers have discovered a potential new treatment option for the glial cells harvesting the IDH mutation– PARP Inhibitors.   A super cool future is waiting ahead.

When treating the IDH mutated cells with PARP Inhibitors, a substance in the form of a drug that blocks an enzyme called PARP, the cells were effectively killed. When the drug blocks PARP, it keeps the cancer cells from repairing their damaged DNA, and eventually they die off. The cells are extremely sensitive after the effects of the inhibitors, especially after taking the most common PARP drug called oliparib. PARP inhibitors are a form of targeted therapy–meaning the inhibitors work within a similar approach as radiation and chemotherapy– they simply damage or prevent the repair the DNA. Researchers have also found the up regulation of the unusual molecule called  2-HG(2-Hydroxyl-glutarate) within the IDH mutated enzymes. In a study with Dr. Brinda’s team at Yale, they found that 2-HG may be responsible for the defect, DNA repair inabilities, in these cells. When the production of 2-HG was blocked in these cells, the DNA repair defect was reversed and cells became unresponsive to the PARP inhibitor treatment. This finding further solidifies that PARP inhibitors may be the best new effective brain cancer treatment method. What do you think? I think this is pretty cool news!

Jto410 is the username of the radiologistwho took the picture

Low grade glioma MRI scan. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

There are also many clinical trials occurring currently to observe 2-HG as a definite IDH biomarker for cells that are sensitive to treatment with PARP inhibitors. In addition, labs are also designing a clinical trial of olaparib and temozolomide, two PARB inhibitor drugs, in patients with low-grade gliomas. The results of these trials, are for sure going to make headlines within the Biology and Medical field! Even though, there are still many questions to answers and studies to conduct regarding brain cancer and the IDH mutation, we are definitely on the right track to cure the monster a.k.a “cancer.”

Birthday Cakes: the New Bacterial Hangout

Various media outlets have been warning readers about the various unexpected places that germs like cold viruses and bacteria can be found: on a cellphone, the kitchen sink, and a toothbrush. Cake frosting can now find itself on that very list, because according to a study by food safety professor Paul Dawson, blowing out birthday candles can increase bacteria growth on the surface of cake icing by 1,400%.

Dawson conducted the study as a series around common questions regarding food safety. After preliminary tests showed that blowing on nutrient agar (edible sugar-based foods) may be a source of bacterial transfer, Dawson and his Clemson University students conducted a formal study in which the research objective was to “evaluate the level of bacterial transfer to top the of a cake after blowing out the candles”. Rather than using a real cake, they frosted a piece of foil over a cylindrical styrofoam base. In attempt to simulate an authentic birthday party, Dawson and his team had test subjects consume pizza in order to stimulate their salivary glands, then extinguish lit candles by blowing. This process was repeated multiple times Once the icing samples were sterilely recovered, they found that the bioaerosols in human breath led to a definitive increase in bacterial transfer. On average, the amount of bacteria on the frosting increased by 14 times. In one trial, it increased the number of bacteria by more than 120 times.

However, birthday cake lovers should not despair. Dawson says, “It’s not a big health concern in my perspective.” Human saliva is already abundant with bacteria, most of them harmless. If blowing out candles on birthday cakes posed a significant risk in the spread of bacterial diseases, it would be extremely apparent due to the popularity of the tradition. But if need be, especially paranoid germaphobes now have the option of “germ-proofing” birthday cakes with sanitary birthday cake covers especially equipped with holes for candles. So we can have our cake, and eat it too.

 

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/blowing-out-birthday-candles-increases-cake-bacteria_us_5989fde1e4b0f25bdfb31ffc?utm_hp_ref=health-and-wellness

Scientists Edit a Mutation from Genes in Human Embryos

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/Embryo%2C_8_cells.jpg

Did you know that there are over six thousand genetic disorders? Have you ever wondered whether it was possible to prevent or “cure” a genetic disorder? Well, for the first time in history, a group of scientists have succeeded in editing a dangerous disease-causing mutation out of human embryos.

Read More

Hair Saving Option with Chemotherapy

Scientists have been finding a way to prevent hair loss after the painful process of cancer treatment, Chemotherapy (Chemo). Hair loss is one of the biggest feared side-effects. A recent study showed that 75% of female patients who had breast cancer feared the side effect of losing hair. Hair loss scored the highest in a Swedish nurse’s study that investigated the quality of life in patients who had breast cancer. With the help of Sung-Jan Lin, a scientist at National Taiwan University, a protein was made that could withstand the distressing effects of Chemotherapy.

There are a few other options for people receiving this treatment. Some will try to put on scalp-cooling caps to freeze the chemo drugs from entering the hair follicles. However, this process is expensive and only works for 50% of the people. The treatment could end up being longer than expected, and can cause mild to severe headaches and discomfort.

Lin describes that part of the problem is that we have such a limited knowledge of how Chemotherapy damages hair follicles.

In short, his team looked at a protein called p53. This protein functions to limit tumor growth, but also helps suppress hair growth (hair cells divide rapidly like tumor cells)

Studying P53, Lin found out that the protein was blocking a hair-promoting protein WNT3A. This stimulated his team to ask the following question. Is injecting WNT3A directly into the scalp while administering Chemo prevent hair loss?

The team decided to experiment with mice with a chemotherapy agent, and soon enough the results matched their hypothesis. One group of mice were injected with WNT3A soaked beads. And sure enough, that group sustained their hair. While the other group that was not given WNT3A loss all their hair.

Lin and his team are now working to adapt his studies on human patients. As stated by Lin it would be unsafe to inject WNT3A in bead form. As a result, they are working to create the protein in a gel or cream solution.

With this new hair saving option, the cancer treatment will seem less fearful for some patients. This treatment could be a big help for the future. Scientists are working to expand their knowledge on how to effectively provide treatment without endangering our human traits.

So after hearing all this, what do you feel about this new idea? Will the “power of proteins” eliminate other side effects provided by Chemotherapy? If so, what kinds? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo link and photographer:

www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/6025359063

Liz West

Design Your Own Organelle!

What?

All eukaryotic cells consist of compartmentalized organelles, each with a specific function. We’ve all heard of mitochondria, chloroplast, and lysosomes, but, what if we could design a new organelle?! That’s exactly what scientists are working on right now – modifying or hijacking existing organelles to fit new specific functions.

Why?

Scientists currently have the technology to alter the DNA of cells to manufacture proteins they couldn’t “naturally” make. However, this technique has a few flaws. The proteins produced or their intermediates could damage the cell and chemicals in the cell could damage the proteins. If we could compartmentalize the production of these new proteins, this problem would be avoided. So, we look to organelles!

How?

Stuart Warriner, a chemical biologist at the University of Leeds, and his colleagues believe peroxisomes are the key. Current techniques allow scientists to manipulate these organelles. Their experiments show that they could deliver certain proteins into the peroxisomes of most cells. These selective proteins are ones that are not usually made; therefore, we say that humans have “hijacked” the cell.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:OSC_Microbio_03_04_Peroxisome.jpg

What’s Next?

Scientists are hopeful that future research could lead to the ability to use peroxisomes to manufacture compounds by importing specific proteins into them. Currently, when an organelle is modified, every organelle of that type must be modified. Future research could ensure that modified and conventional organelles could coexist in the same cell. In addition, Warriner and his team are working on the modification of peroxisomes in yeast to produce desirable compounds. Despite these studies, Warriner believes that this technique of hijacking organelles will not be implemented in humans for decades, if not never, because it wouldn’t be particularly useful. To learn more, check out their findings!

Who Cares?

We have the ability to alter DNA and cells! That is amazing! Although peroxisome altercation may not prove to be essential to humans, it is still an impressive exploratory feat and a step toward greater modification in microscopic organisms. What do you think similar cell modification research should be focused on?

The First Ever Human Head Transplant

Exactly 200 years after Marry Shelley’s Frankenstein, neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has announced that he will be performing the first ever human head transplant in 2017, until recent reports say that it will not take place until early 2018. However, this is not the first head transplant, as nearly 50 years ago a rhesus monkey was the first recipient of such an operation. Additionally, Canavero has found a partner for the operation, Xiaoping Ren, who states that he has practiced this on over 1,000 mice.

Until April 28th of 2017, our human guinea pig was 31 year old Russian man, Valery Spiridonov. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a form of muscular atrophy. However, the Italian neurosurgeon announced that Spiridonov will not be the head donor, but in his place a volunteer from China. Canavero stated the reason for this is due to the surgery taking place in China, and getting a Chinese donor is much more convenient/practical.

As for the procedure, the operation is said to take 36 hours. During these hours, the donor head and body will have to be cooled down to a temperature of -15˚C so the cells last more than a few minutes without oxygen. They will cut the tissue around the neck, having the major blood vessels linked by tiny tubes. Then, the spiral cord on both the head and body will be severed cleanly with an extremely sharp blade to minimize damage to the spinal cord. Finally, the head is ready to be connected. The two ends of the spinal cord will be fused with a chemical known as polyethylene glycol, a chemical used in certain medicines such as laxatives, but has been shown to act as a catalyst to the growth of spinal cord nerves. Following the connection of the muscles and blood vessels, the patient will be put into a coma for a month to decrease and limit any movement so that the electrodes can stimulate the spinal cord to grow and strengthen connections.

Sergio Canavero, Photo taken by 诗凯 陆 (@flickr)

As for the reaction to this so called “taboo-medicine”, the scientific community is not only skeptical but horrified as well. Many argue that the procedure is simply unethical and a twisted, gruesome form of medicine. However, Canavero states that it is simply giving a chance for paralyzed people to hopefully be able to walk and function on their own. What do you think of this? Is it unethical and taboo? Or is it an opportunity for progress?

For more information visit these sources:

http://www.alphr.com/science/1001145/human-head-transplant
http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/human-head-transplant
http://www.newsweek.com/head-transplant-sergio-canavero-valery-spiridonov-china-2017-591772

The journey to find a cure for cancer

What exactly does ‘epigenetic’ mean? Well epigenetic literally means “in addition to changes in genetic sequence.” The term now means any procedure to change genetic activity without changing the sequence of the actual DNA. So why is this important? Epigenetics can affect a lot of scientific research. For example DNA methylation is a hugely important epigenetic modification.

DNA methylation is where a methyl group would be added to a cytosine in a DNA sequence changing its function. This can be used in embryonic development, X-chromosome inactivation, genomic imprinting, gene suppression, carcinogenesis and chromosome stability. This means DNA methylation is very vital to growth and development- as it is a natural process- however can affect bad cells.

Examples of this are with cancer cells. DNA Methylation patterns- adding a group- are interrupted and changed when cancer is present. DNA methylation done on the promoters in tumor cells can turn off the expression of genes. In humans this can cause disruption of vital developmental pathways. This was then tested in an experiment (for now we will only observe human results because it was tested on mice as well) They tested human normal brain tissue vs. cancerous.

After testing the DNA methylation patterns on tumors, they found that 121 loci (loci is the central “hot spot” of genes) had strong methylation compared to the normal brain tissue which had 60% less. So what does all this mean??

Basically DNA methylation is a good thing in a normal environment. When cancer is present DNA methylation can change and be harmful in a negative environment such as a tumor because it causes hypermethylation.

While the take away is essentially the obvious- cancer is bad- scientists can use this data to find a correct cure for cancer and to create better medicine as some can harm even more by increasing DNA methylation in tumors. For more information on this click here.

 

 

 

What is CRISPR-Cas9?

CRISPR-Cas9 is a new(ish) technology that is used for knocking out human genes in cell lines for the purpose of seeing what these genes do. CRISPR-Cas9 has a “protein scissor”, the cas-9 protein, and a location that shows the cas9 where to bind to. The “location” is actually a strand of RNA that is complementary to a specific strand of DNA. This RNA strand is like glue in that it binds to the DNA and allows the Cas9 to cut the DNA. This process or the CRISPR-Cas9 technology is like an endless cycle of cutting and repairing DNA until the repair enzyme can no longer repair the DNA or makes a mistake. This technology can make the process of cutting and disabling genes five times faster. It allows scientists to edit parts of a genome by altering, removing, or adding certain sections of DNA. While this technology can be very useful in trying to understand what genes do it does have a downside, “these approaches are costly and time-consuming to engineer, limiting their widespread use, particularly for large scale, high-throughput studies.” The picture below shows what this process looks like on a very basic scale. Hopefully this technology will eventually allow us to fully understand what every gene does.

 

Blame your Parents for your Stress?

Epigenetics is the study of inheritable changes in gene expression not directly coded in our DNA. Scientists at Tel Aviv University have shown that stress, induced by traumatic events, can be passed on to offspring. The study refers to this stress as passing on “memories.” The study finds the exact way that the inheritance of environmental influences is turned “on” and “off.” RNA sequences that regulate gene expression are partially responsible for deciding when the inheritance is on or off.

Scientists found that C.elegans worms only passed on inheritable epigenetic responses for a few generations (using small RNAs that target green fluorescent protein). This led them to believe that epigenetic responses die out eventually. However, this did not account for the possibility that inheritance could be regulated.  Scientists discovered that in order to create new small RNAs that allow a response to be passed on to multiple generations, they needed RdRP enzymes. These amplify heritable RNAs for generations. Certain genes that they called “MOTEK” (Modified Transgenerational Epigenetic Kinetics) were involved in turning on and off epigenetic transmissions. They switched on and off the small RNAs that the worms use to regulate genes using a feedback interaction between gene-regulating small RNAs and MOTEK. This determines whether an epigenetic memory will be passed on, and for how many generations.

Even though this study was done on worms, these scientists have said that these basics can possibly lead to discovery of inheritance for all organisms. This small bit of research can lead to endless amounts of knowledge for similar mechanisms in humans.

Overview of Epigenetics:

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

Link to Original Page     Link to Licensing

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/30884756422

If You Want the Bull, Take its Horns

Everyone loves milk. It’s the foundation of Ice Cream, it’s an essential component in any good bowl of cereal, it’s the foundational ingredient in the creamy center that unites the Oreo, and pro tip: you can put chocolate syrup in it (I thought of that; I call it “ChocoLeche” I think it could really catch on).

 

Before I continue, I’d like to take a moment of silence for those cursed by the demon known commonly as lactose intolerance. Your lives are a miserable nightmare that I don’t even want to think about. #findacure .

 

Like I said everyone loves milk, and everyone knows it comes from cows. Few people however are aware of the fact that the cow that produces milk is different than the cow that produces the much beloved meat products such as steak and hamburgers. The Cows that are used for meat are of the Angus variety. The Cows for dairy products are Holstein Cows. One major difference that used to exist between the two is that Holstein, or dairy cows, had horns, unlike the meatier Angus cows which did not have horns. Thanks to Crispr-Cas9, scientists from UC Davis lead by Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam have rid Holstein cows of their horns, and in doing so have granted dairy cows everywhere with a higher quality of life.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/30884756422

Source

Photo by

U.S. Department of Agriculture

The first question that needs to be answered is why would this be important. Why does it matter that we got the horns off of Holsteins? It’s important first because these horns put cows at risk from each other. Cows with horns might advertently or inadvertently use them to injure themselves, other cows or their handlers. Many previously solved this problem by dehorning the cows, which involves burning the horns off and is extremely painful for the cows. Without horns to begin with no cows need to be dehorned and fewer cows are injured. As Dr. Jeff Burkhardt puts it “From the animal welfare perspective, Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam’s research is worthy of high praise: The prospect of reducing the pain associated with de-horning, which itself was introduced to eliminate risks of animals hurting themselves and others, is exactly the kind of thing that animal scientists should be doing” – Jeff Burkhardt. The Ethics of Gene editing in general is a complex and hotly debated issue right now due to the novelty of the CRISPR system, however, in this instance I feel as though the researchers are on very sound moral ground. They have made a change that safely and indisputably decreases the pain a dairy cow experiences. If you disagree I’d invite you to burn two holes in the side of your head, and reconsider whether you’re comfortable bestowing that treatment on another living creature.

The second question is how did they do this. The answer is deceptively simple. As I formerly noted, Angus cows do not possess horns. What they do possess is a gene that prevents the growth of a horn. The group of researchers at UC Davis first identified this gene and its cause. They then used CRISPR-Cas9 to cut it out of an Angus Cow’s DNA and inserted it into the DNA of a Holstein cow. The Angus cow gene prevents horn growth in Holstein cows, and the Holstein cows officially became a GMO, or genetically modified organism. A GMO that no longer has horns.

 

DYING to Know Your Predicted Lifespan? Look No Further!

Have you ever wondered how long you’ll be around for? Well, scientists at the German Cancer Research Center, Saarland Cancer Registry, and the Helmholtz Research Center for Environmental Health have made great strides in predicting human mortality. How so? Through a controlled study in which they analyzed patterns in DNA methylation.

DNA methylation, an epigenetic phenomenon, occurs in the body in order to inhibit the transcription of DNA. Methyl groups attach to specific combinations of DNA building blocks called CpGs. In this experiment, the scientists analyzed the DNA from blood cells taken from 1,900 participants fourteen years prior. As they were all older adults, many of the participants had died within that fourteen years. The scientists analyzed methylation at 500,000 of the CpGs, trying to figure out if there was a correlation to chances of survival. Spoiler alert: at 58 of these CpGs there proved to be a strong correlation between methylation level and mortality.

One interesting discovery was that 22 out of the 58 influential CpGs were identical (in terms of amount of methylation) to the CpGs of smokers that the scientists had analyzed in a previous study. What does this mean? Smoking definitely leaves its mark on your genome. However, the good news is that DNA methylation can be reversed, so if a smoker quits his or her risk of dying could drop significantly.

The second major finding of this study was that only 10 out of the 58 CpGs can actually determine mortality risk. The scientists took the 10 CpGs with the strongest correlation with mortality and created an epigenetic risk profile. This profile can predict “all-cause mortality”. Participants who were overly-methylated at five or more of these spots were seven times more likely to die in the fourteen year span than their properly-methylated counterparts.

This study is a major breakthrough in understanding human mortality, because analyzing DNA methylation is so much more accurate than looking at SNPs. The researchers plan on using their new knowledge to find out how to improve methylation profiles at these CpGs.

Does it surprise you that only 10 spots on the genome can have such a profound effect on duration of life? Do you think there could be an even more accurate predictor of mortality than DNA methylation levels? Let me know in the comments!

Don't Smoke!

Credit: Nina Matthews Photography, URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/21560098@N06/5642711277

Original Article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170320104008.htm

Epigenetics Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most deadly forms of of Pancreatic Cancer with a less than 10 percent, 5-year survival rate. Unfortunately, it is the most common form of Pancreatic Cancer.  However, scientist were given hope to increase the survival rate when a protein was identified as a aid to the development of PDAC. The protein is Arginine Methyltransferase 1 (PRMT1) and it is involved in gene transcription, DNA signaling, and DNA repair.

It is said that research done by Giulio Draetta, M.D., PhD “strongly suggest a role for PRMT1 in PDAC development and illuminate a path toward the development of therapies for patients in desperate need of innovative solutions”. Draetta’s  team developed a platform called PILOT, Patient-Based In Vivo Lethality to Optimize Treatment. The PILOT technology allows researchers to systematically identify epigenetic drivers in patient-derived tumors. The research found hat PRMT1 is a epigenetic driver for PDAC. Using CRISPR, the team was able to confirm that when the proteins were removed from DNA, the growth of the cancer cells were significantly impaired. There is hope that this recent development can save many lives and increase the survival rate of Pancreatic Ductal Andeocarcinoma.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diagram_showing_stage_T4_cancer_of_the_pancreas_CRUK_267.svg

 

Page 2 of 33

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar