BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: michaelchondria

Can Processed Foods Soon Be Harmless?

Any discussion of processed foods usually revolves around the negative effects of consuming them. However, a new study has found a specific human gut bacterial strain called Collinsella intestinalisthat is capable of completely reducing the drawbacks of eating processed foods.

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that Collinsella intestinalis breaks down the chemical fructoselysine into pieces that do not affect the host’s body. Fructoselysine is one of the chemicals that are formed during food processing. It is commonly found in numerous processed foods that we eat, such as pasta, chocolate, and cereals. In the study, mice were given samples of Collinsella intestinalis as well as processed foods to see how the human gut bacteria would interact with the fructoselysine.

The primary function of the human gut microbiomes is to “digest food otherwise indigestible by human enzymes and deliver nutrients and metabolites for the biological benefit of the host.”

Results from the study showed that mice with the Collinsella intestinalis in their system showed “an increase in the gut microbial communities’ ability to break down fructoselysine into harmless byproducts.” The fructoselysine was “metabolized more efficiently” in the presence of the Collinsella intestinalis.

One scientist from the study noted that “future studies are required before scientists will be able to identify specific capacities of individual microbes to clean up potentially deleterious chemicals produced during modern food manufacturing.”  Humans aren’t completely immune to processed foods just yet.

However, it is still promising that scientists have found that Collinsella intestinalis is in our foreseeable future in terms of being able to eat processed food without any negative effects. Processed foods are consumed by many people throughout the world, and with this recent study they may not be as harmful as people think.

Nobel Prize awarded to Researchers for Key Discoveries in Cellular Respiration

Recent findings about the change in oxygen levels in cells show new important factors about oxygen that translate to one’s well-being. William G. Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter J. Ratcliffe and Gregg L. Semenza discovered how cells can “sense and adapt to changing oxygen availability,” and are now being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Oxygen is a crucial aspect to how a cell’s functionality. Mitochondria in cells use oxygen to aid in converting food into ATP (energy), a process known as cellular respiration.

A representation of the reaction of cell respiration.

 

Gregg Semenza wanted to further look into the rise of levels of the hormone erythroprotein (EPO), a response to low levels of oxygen, or hypoxia. He found that “oxygen sensing mechanisms were present in virtually all tissues, not only in the kidney cells where EPO is normally produced.” While Semenza analyzing cultured liver cells, Semenza found a protein complex that was unknown to science. He named unidentified DNA segment the “hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF).”

Over the course of 24 years, Semanza continued to explore aspects of HIF and found two different DNA-binding proteins, now named “HIF-1a and ARNT.” Researchers worked with Semanza in finding out which parts of the HIF assist in cellular respiration. While Semenza and Ratcliffe were researching regulation of EPO, Kaelin Jr. was researching von-Hippel-Lindau’s disease (VHL). Kaelin Jr.’s research showed that VHL gene “encodes a protein that prevents the onset of cancer,” and that cancer cells lacking a functional VHL gene have “abnormally high levels of hypoxia-related genes.” But when the VHL gene was reintroduced into cancer cells, “normal levels were restored.” Eventually, Kaelin Jr. and his team found that VHL needs HIF-1a for degradation at normal oxygen levels.

Kaelin Jr. and Ratcliffe both published articles that center around protein modification called prolyl hydroxylation which “allows VHL to recognize and bind to HIF-1α degradation with the help of oxygen-sensitive enzymes.” The papers also wrote that the gene activating function of HIF-1α “was regulated by oxygen-dependent hydroxylation.” The researchers now had a much clearer idea of the effects of how oxygen is sensed within cells.

These groundbreaking finds give the science world more information about how oxygen levels are regulated in cells in physiological processes. Sensing oxygen levels is important for muscles during physical exercise, as well as the generation of blood cells and strength of one’s immune system.

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