BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: allergies

What came first, the chicken, the egg, or the allergic reaction?

A new study showed the beneficial effects CRISPR/Cas9 can have on those with allergies… in this case, to chickens! For those who don’t know, CRISPR/Cas9 is a gene-editing tool that is used to target certain parts of DNA and modify, disable or enable them. The tool haScreen Shot 2016-04-11 at 12.45.11 AMs been used all across science to inhibit diseases, fix problems with fetuses, change traits, and now to help genetically modify food. Using CRISPR/Cas9 is different than the current definition of genetically modified, which includes injecting chemicals into the food to maximize the amount or change some part of it. This means we humans are ingesting the chemicals; this has led to many concerns. However, CRISPR/Cas9 uses a different approach.

In this specific example, CRISPR/Cas9 creates knockout chickens, or chickens that have had their genes “knocked out”, turned off. Specifically, the ovalbumin (OVA) and the ovomucoid (OVM) genes.  These genes code for proteins that are found in egg whites. It has been discovered that many people are allergic to the proteins produced, so CRISPR/Cas9 targets the genes and turns them off and no proteins are produced. These “genetically modified” eggs are the same as regular eggs just hypoallergenic. In addition, some vaccines are made with egg whites, CRISPR/Cas9 will make it possible for the people who usually have an immune response to the egg whites in those vaccines, to safely receive them. One of the most notable vaccines that uses egg whites is influenza, a very popular vaccine that most of the population receives, and those who couldn’t were at a disadvantage before CRISPR/Cas9. The scientists have said they will continue to cross the modified chickens to see if they are able to knockout more common allergens. So no matter if the chicken or the egg came first, they are now both safe to consume by humans.

 

Infants’ Feces Says a Lot about the Gut Microbiome

Who knew studying babies’ poop can actually lead to amazing discoveries about childbirth, breastfeeding, antibiotics, allergies, and asthma?

That’s exactly what scientists Fredrik Bäckhed and Jovanna Dahlgren at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Wang Jun at the Beijing Genomics Institute-Shenzhen, China recently learned when they conducted a study analyzing feces from 98 Swedish infants.

But before we get into the details of the study, let’s get down the basics first. What exactly is the gut microbiome?

Gut microbiome is the name given to the population of microbiota organisms that live in the human intestine. These microorganisms are unique, not only because there are trillions of them but also because they have milliions of genes, and can function as a person’s identity card (much like a fingerprint or a strand of hair).

Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 10.45.15 PM

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fecal_bacteriotherapy#/media/File:E_coli_at_10000x,_original.jpg)

Recently there’s been a lot of buzz in the science world about the gut microbiome because it seems as though it plays various crucial functions, and this study is just one of many. The Swedish and Chinese scientists discovered a few ways in how the gut microbiome affects childbirth, breastfeeding, and development.

There are two ways to give birth: vaginally or via a cesarean section, or C-section. Comparing the feces collected from babies born vaginally and from babies born via C-section, scientists discovered that the feces from the latter contains a significantly less similar microbiome to the microbiome of their mothers.

They also determined that nutrition during the early stages of an infant’s life is a core factor in the development of the gut microbiome.

Our findings surprisingly demonstrated that cessation of breastfeeding, rather than introduction of solid foods, is the major driver in the development of an adult-like microbiota

-Fredrik Bäckhed, lead study author

Bacteria rely on the mother’s milk to grow. Once the bacteria’s access to that milk stops, the bacteria stops growing. In its place, adult-like microorganisms emerge.

In addition, the gut microbiome acts as nutrients and vitamins to the infant’s growth and development, and gives aid to important processes such as making amino acids.

The study also critiques the amount of antibiotics given to babies when they’re born. There’s speculation that the baby’s gut microbiome is negatively impacted by the overabundance and overexposure of antibiotics. Besides the obvious risk of antibiotic resistance, one hypothesis is that when exposed to antibiotics early on, the gut microbiome loses important bacteria that helps immune cells mature. This is believed to be the reason why allergies and asthma are now widely prevalent.

Though this study is just a preliminary, it’s amazing just how big of an effect the gut microbiome has on us, and how much new research is coming out.

Want to learn more about the gut microbiome? Check out other sources about the microbiome, such as it’s relationship on the brain, and how it can change the brain’s function, how it can help reduce weight, and junk food’s negative impact on it, and make sure to comment below!

 

 

Original Article

A Breath of Fresh Air: Epigenetic Studies Help Asthmatics

Asthma and allergies affect many people worldwide. Up until recently, treatments for both asthma and allergies were administered without an appropriate prediction of responses; However, this is about to change. In a recent study conducted by scientists at Imperial College London, “30 new genes that predispose people to allergies and asthma” were found. The discovery of these genes means that new treatments for allergies are possible and more accurate predictions for current treatment responses will be available.

Photo by Author

Photo by Author

By observing the epigenetic changes, ones that influence gene activity- not genetic code, the scientists were able to identify genes which are linked to triggering allergic responses. Such genes regulate specific antibodies. Genes become inactive through methylation: the attachment of methyl molecules to DNA. The scientists studied white blood cells of families with asthma to see if methylation levels in specific genomic locations were associated with levels of an antibody in the blood. Immunoglobin E (IgE) is the antibody studied in the case. The antibody IgE was known prior to this study, but the genes which activities it regulates were not. After monitoring the IgE levels in the blood, researchers saw a strong correlation between IgE and low methylation at 36 places in 34 genes. These genes are overstimulated in asthmatics, thus the production of IgE is increased, contributing to asthma symptoms. In expanding the investigation, researchers came to believe that IgE-involved genes may activate eosinophils, a type of white blood cell which in asthmatics promotes airway inflammation by gathering and releasing chemicals in airways/lungs. Researchers believed that these genes, and their ability to activate eosinophils, then cause the most damage. In order to test this, researchers isolated eosinophils from the blood of subjects and demonstrated that all 34 genes have high activity levels in asthmatics with high IgE levels. Thanks to the findings of new activation signals, patients can avoid high costs and ineffective “treatment-trials” because we’ll be able to predict responses to treatments with more accuracy. Professors Cookson and Moffatt, the leaders of the investigation, give credit to epigenetics for allowing them to make a breakthrough in discovering new potential drug targets for allergies and asthma and sharpening the accuracy of treatment-response predictions. Professor Cookson explained that, “the genetic code that can influence disease and DNA sequencing can only take you so far. Our study shows that modifications on top of the DNA that control how genes are read may be even more important.”

As someone who suffers from allergic asthma, I find it intriguing how the disease-triggering genes aren’t inactive, thus leading to poor lung function, but rather they are overstimulated. Our genes’ ability to regulate disease-triggering antibody activity is amazing. With new studies like this one, we can see that the solution to proper activity regulation is in epigenetic changes, rather than the broad expectations of “our genes”.  This just goes to show that epigenetics is helping us make strides in the ever-changing world of medicine. It should be interesting to see how epigenetic medical-solutions, the current gold mine of Biological research, evolve in the near future.

 

Biggest Ever Epigenetics Project!!

 

Marian_and_Vivian_Brown

Identical Twins

 

This article is about a project that has recently been planned out with respect to

epigenetics. It is the largest project to date and will cost around $30,000,000 to complete. Epigenetics is the study of cellular and psychological trait variations that are not caused by DNA sequence, but rather what within the DNA is triggered and shown. It is a relatively new field and has exploded in recent years. The heads of this project are TwinsUK and BGI, both very credited organizations in the realm of epigenetics. Epigenetics is the newest and recently the most popular field of all genetics and the goal of this project is to use the twins and the resources given to understand why and how epigenetics occurs.

The plan is to review the patterns of 20,000,000 sites in the DNA of each identical twin (they must be identical because their DNA must be the same and not vary) and compare the DNA with the other twins. The aim is to not look at similarities, but to look at differences and figure out how twins get different diseases if their DNA is identical. They will focus on obesity, diabetes, allergies, heart diseases, etc. at first. Until recently, science did not understand why twins could receive different diseases since their DNA is identical to their other twin, but by studying epigenetics and how genes can be triggered to do different things based on surroundings and circumstance, this idea is plausible.

Being able to locate what genes turn on to trigger certain diseases along with how to control this is something that will benefit not only our general knowledge but will also advance health care to levels that it has never seen. Experiments such as this have been done before but only with a handful of twins. The goal in this experiment is to increase the amount of twins tremendously in order to increase the accuracy of their data.

The Executive Director of BGI, Professor Jun Wang stated that the goal of this experiment is to “unlock many secrets about human genetics that we don’t currently understand, and to accelerate research and applications in human healthcare.”

 

Anti-bacteria or Pro-allergy?

Remember triclosan? You know, that anti-bacteria agent we once talked about? Well, according to a new story in the Norwegian Environment and Childhood Asthma Study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and an American study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, triclosan can contribute to an increased risk of allergy development in children.

As we know it, triclosan

  • is used to prevent bacterial growth
  • does not work against all types of bacteria
  • added mostly to cosmetic products such as toothpaste, deodorant and soap
  • also added to kitchen utensils and textiles
  • little triclosan is absorbed through the skin
  • significant absorption through the mucous membranes in the mouth (toothpaste)
  • has been in use for over 40 years in some products
  • from animal experiments we know that triclosan acts to reinforce the development of Immunoglobulin (IgE) towards allergens

In the study, 623 urine samples were collected and measured at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA. Approximately 50 per cent of the Norwegian children had detectable levels of triclosan, while 80 per cent of American children had measurable levels. The children had approximately the same amount of triclosan exposure. The new Norwegian study found similar associations between allergies and triclosan levels measured in children’s urine. The study found that triclosan levels measured in urine were associated with elevated levels of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) and rhinitis (blocked nose/hay fever) in 10 year-olds.

When in contact with triclosan, ones bacteria on the skin, in the mouth, and in the intestines can be compromised. Some of the bacteria destroyed is “good” bacteria which can cause an increased risk of developing allergies (hygiene hypothesis). Therefore, increased use of triclosan and antibacterial products has generally been associated with an increased incidence of allergies.

In a study of triclosan use in Norway in 2001, it was found that 85 per cent of the total amount of triclosan came from cosmetic products, of which 75 per cent were toothpaste. Since this study, triclosan has been removed from a variety of products.

For products to make sure you stay away from, please visit this link.

 (Taken by Nationaal Archief)

 

Your child isn’t nuts, he just can’t eat them!

Have you ever been immunized? If you are reading this, live in the United States, and attended any form of schooling of course the answer is yes! You have taken precautions to ensure that you do not get sick from things like the Flu or Chicken Pox. Just like you wouldn’t want to get sick from the flu, you shouldn’t want to get sick from allergies!  As a young woman who has intolerances to gluten, corn, soy, lactose and a tree nut allergy, I know allergies should not be taken lightly. Parents are beginning to diagnose food allergies and do not bother to inform their child’s physician.

Photo by Hannah W.

According to a study done by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the official publication of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

  • 70 percent report receiving a physician’s diagnosis for their child’s food allergy
  • Lower income and minority households were more likely to have a child with an undiagnosed food allergy.
  • Of the physician-diagnosed children, 32 percent did not receive diagnostic testing — such as a blood, skin or oral food challenge test.
  • A skin test was the most popular diagnostic test with 46 percent. A blood test was second with 39 percent.
  • Only 1 in 5 of reported that their child received an oral food challenge test — the gold standard of food allergy diagnose

Parents, for the most part, do not have the degrees or the smarts to fully treat their children’s allergies and keep their children safe without knowing the gravity of the allergies.

Here are key findings on the kind of reactions children had to the top nine food allergies, which are: egg, finfish, milk, peanut, sesame, shellfish, soy, tree nut and wheat:

  • Cutaneous symptoms, such as hives, puffy eyes or lips, and eczema occurred in 80 percent of food-induced anaphylactic reactions.
  • During severe, life-threatening reactions, hives only occurred in 40 percent of the cases and puffy eyes or lips in 34 percent of the cases
The findings show us that 20% of the time, it is not obvious that a child is in a life threatening situation due to food. That is why you need to 20% of the time anaphylaxis occurs.  If you have a young child, they also may not be able to communicate how they are feeling so it is important to be informed and stay safe. If you, or someone you know have discovered any food allergy or have had hives, puffy eyes, puffy lips, or eczema but don’t know the reason visit a doctor! There is no reason to not be safe and informed about your allergies.
To learn more about food allergies please visit this website.
Help yourself and your loved ones- get tested for food allergies!

Spring Allergies?

Photo Credit Flickr user: spakattacks

I don’t know about you but, I tend to have very severe environmental allergies in the spring. And spring is right around the corner! These allergies are often called hay fever. I came across an article that sheds light on some things one might be doing to aggravate spring allergies.

I found it very surprising that one of the things that can aggravate your allergy suffering is “noshing of fruits and veggies.” One of my favorite snacks is strawberries, but could this cause me more suffering during my allergy season? Many people who have seasonal allergies also suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome (also known as oral allergy syndrome). About 70 percent of people with birch tree allergies and about one in five people with grass allergies suffer from this condition. (my odds are pretty high).

You  might be wondering how you can tell if you have allergies or just a common cold. Here is an article that has more information on how to determine if you are sick with a cold or have allergies.

Now that I may have to stop snacking on fruit so much, I researched meals to help fight allergies. I also researched just some foods in general that will help with spring allergies, cause I most likely won’t have time to cook all those meals. Who knows maybe these foods could actually make a difference!

The best advice is not to procrastinate and start taking medicine before your symptoms will appear. There are many over the counter allergy medicines, but your allergist or doctor could always prescribe something stronger if necessary. Some experts are predicting spring of 2012 could be one of the worst allergy seasons in ten years due to the warmer temperatures in January. This increase in temperature has caused plants to begin blooming ahead of time. So I better stock up on some yogurt and fish!

 

Would you like allergies with that C section?

New born delivery baby photo

Although winter is annoyingly cold, at least there are some upsides, Christmas, hot coco, and a break from allergy season. For some people,the months from March to September can be horrible…if they have allergies. Their bodies feels sickly, their noses feel itchy, and their snot is icky. The loud sneezing can be so embarrassing, and they begin to wonder what they did to deserve this cruel and unusual punishment? NOTHING! If you are one of those people, don’t feel bad, it isn’t YOUR fault. Like most things in life, you can blame it on your parents. For keeping you too clean?

Scientist in Denmark have related the amount of allergies people have to the lifestyle they had growing up. According to studies done at Gentofte Hospital, the more babies and infants are introduced to bacteria at a young age, the more likely they won’t be as allergic to things.  “Reduced diversity of the intestinal microbiota during infancy was associated with increased risk of allergic disease at school age..But if there was considerable diversity, the risk was reduced, and the greater the variation, the lower the risk.” said Gentofte Hospital consultant Professor Hans Bisgaard.

The time to being exposing babies starts right at birth and up to three months later. Wait, does this mean after birth we should make babies visit EVERY wing in the hospital.

Stranger, the fact someone has allergies could rely on how they were delievered. In the womb, the infant is protected by the mother’s immune defences. As an infant is delivered it is surrounded by new bacteria. A study showed, that those babies who were born vaginally, and were exposed to all the bactieria in the mother’s rectum,  have much less allergies than the babies from a C section who weren’t as exposed to the bacteria in their mother.

However, Professor Bisgaard isn’t stopping his research at connecting early life factors to allergies, he has also connected it to asthma and hay fever. Bisgaard’s continued research might be able to tie diseaseas such as obesity and diabetes to another early life factors as well.

Who knows what other things we’ll be able to fault are parents with in the future?

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