AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: rebecafa12

DNA and Cave Paining?

Photo Credit: Flickr User Photography by Ayesha Hagerman

DNA and Cave painting seem like two things that are incredibly unlikely to go together.  However, a new study on DNA are proving that the cave paintings in France dating back 25,000 years show accurate portrayals of the horses in them rather than just symbolic portrayals.  The team which includes researchers from the University of York as well as researchers form the UK, Germany, USA, Spain, Russia, and Mexico, took the genotypes and analyzed nine different coat color loci in 31 horses (pre-domestic horses specifically) which were from about 35,000 years ago.  To do this they analyzed bones and teeth found in 15 locations.

What they found surprised them as they assumed, as most people did that there were only bay and black coats at this time, but they found four pleistocene and two copper age samples form europe which showed a leopard phenotype.  Though there were 18 bays and seven black horses the fact that they could prove that there were leopard phenotypes proved that the cave paintings were a true representation of what was around the people at this time, not simply symbolic.  This study showed not only the value of cave paintings, but also the importance of the relationship between science and history.

Don’t forget your sleep

Photo Credit: Me

Let’s face it there are many nights when we don’t get the sleep we need for some reason or other.  Not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep is pretty much the norm for students, but according to a new study this lack of sleep could really be hurting us later on.  This new study found that disrupted sleep appears to be associated with the build-up of amyloid plaques, which are a known to be a hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brains of people who did not yet have any memory problems.

The author of the study Yo-El Ju, who works with Washington University School of Medicine conducted the study by testing the sleep patterns of one hundred people, ages 45 to 80, who were free of dementia.  Half of this group had a family history of Alzheimer’s.  Sleep diaries and questionnaires were used to learn about the patients sleeping habits as well as a device placed on the participants for two weeks to measure sleep.

The study found that 25% of the participants had evidence of amyloid plaques, which are known to be able to show up years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.  Most of these people spend an average of eight hours in bed, but only 6.5 hours asleep due to waking up at night.  The study found that people who were waking up more than five times an hour were more likely to have the amyloid plaque build-up than the people who didn’t wake up much at all.  The study also said that people who slept less efficiently were more likely to have markers of early stage Alzheimer’s disease.  Dr.Ju says it will take more time and data to fully understand the link, but I think for now it is safe to say that sometimes we should put our homework down and get to sleep.

The Problem With Pain Killers

Photo Credit: Flickr user ragesoss

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I get injured… a lot.  As a sufferer of everything from neck and shoulder to hip pain I found a new study to be quite encouraging.  A study that was published in The Annals of Internal Medicineproves that exercise and chiropractic care are more effective in treating neck pain that pain killers.  Although exercise is more difficult and chiropractic care more time consuming than taking a pill for pain its is clear that both are better for your body, and your pain level.

Dr. Gert Bronfor who is the author of the study works as a research professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota got 272 people to participate in his study.  He took those people and split them into three groups, the first group went to chiropractors about 15 times in the three month span of the study for sessions lasting approximately 20 minutes.  The second group went to two physical therapy meetings and got a list of exercises to do at home (5-10 reps up to eight times a day).  The final group was told to take common painkillers, and if a doctor said it was necessary stronger narcotics and muscle relaxants.  At the end of the three month study 57% of people who visited the chiropractors and 48% of people who did the exercises reported feeling at least a 75% improvement while only 33% of people in the medicated group reported a 75% reduction in pain.

The study doesn’t end there Dr.Bronfor checked back in a year later and found that 53% of subjects who had chiropractic care, and about the same amount who did exercises, reported a 75% improvement in neck pain.  Only 38% of those who had been taking pain medicine reported feeling 75% better a year later, and most of the participants who had begun to use the pain killers had continued to use them and had increased the dosage and the frequency that they took the pain killers.  This alone lead to the participants having to deal with problems, as the side effects of the pain killers can cause a slew of issues all their own.  So now that you’ve read about the study next time you have a neck ache will you call the chiropractor or reach for that bottle of painkillers?

Forever Young

Photo Credit: Flickr user flatworldsedge

How would you feel if you discovered that your doctors may have found a real fountain of youth?  Well thanks to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh that could someday be a reality.

Dr. Laura Niedernhofer and her fellow researchers have discovered a way to slow down aging, for mice at least.  To conduct their experiment the researchers bred a line of mice with progeria, a disease found in chickens that rapidly increases the aging process.  Normally once a mouse contracts this disease they have only a few days left to live.  After the addition of stem cells as well as some progenitor cells (a similar type of cell) the mice survived up to 66 days.

Now don’t worry its not only some rare poultry disease that this study shows help for.  Mice with mild cases of progeria showed geriatric symptoms similar to those that older humans show, weak leg muscles, walking hunched over and trembling and saw a dramatic improvement.  In fact 75% of the symptoms the mice were experiencing were relieved with only two injections of the stem cell mix given over a period of a few weeks.  Imagine if 75% of an aging human’s symptoms could find relief!

These mice also appear to be showing evidence that the new stem cells didn’t replace their aging stem cells but rejuvenated them as they saw improvement in the brain’s of these mice although the stem cell mix was injected into each mouse’s stomach.  It’s too soon to tell if this stem cell therapy will be able to help humans, but if it did we may have found a real fountain of youth.

Controversial Cure

Photo Credit: Flickr User Paolo Camera

It’s no secret that stem cells

are incredibly controversial.  However, a new study is giving hope that they may be the new cure to the horrible and often fatal disease laminitis

,which is found in horses.  Laminitis is a vascular disease in which areas of ischemia or hemostasis occur with in lamina in a horse.  The lamina are found in the hoof of a horse and are responsible for holding the coffin bone in  place.  In severe cases of laminitis the coffin bone can begin to rotate, and if it becomes fully rotated the bone will come through the hoof if the laminitis is not stopped.  When this occurs the only option is euthanasia for the horse.  Even in horses who survive laminitis this disease can be career ending and will often leave horses only able to live out their lives in a field instead of as a riding horse.  Laminitis was the cause of death for the great horse Secretariat.

This new study

regarding stem cells and laminitis is being conducted by Scott Morrison DVM of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, this hospital is located in Lexington Kentucky and is often regarded as being one of the best in the country.  According to Dr.Morrison with tradition methods of treating laminitis he had an 18% success rate treating chronic uncompensated laminitis (this means that there was a loose coffin bone), an 88% success rate treating severe coffin bone rotation and sole penetration and a 44% success rate treating severe coffin bone diseases (bone loss).  In all of the three types of laminitis listed above success refers to a horse returning to pasture soundness, not necessarily being sound to be ridden again.  Dr.Morrison began using allogenic stem cells (harvested from umbilical chord blood) in common laminitis cases 14 months ago and has used it in 31 cases so far finding that he had a 65% (13/20) success rate treating chronic uncompensated laminitis, a 100% (3/3) success rate treating severe rotation cases and a 37.5% (3/8) success rate treating severe coffin bone diseases.  Although the last number is slightly down from traditional methods the other two numbers have been drastically increased showing that stem cells may be the way to go for treating laminitis.  This study is still pretty new and long term effects and success are still unknown but thus far the numbers seem to speak for themselves which leaves the question, despite the controversy over stem cells if they can save these horses lives are they worth using?

A big hearted snake

Credit: Flickr User Squamata55

For years the scientific community has been fascinated by the phenomena of snakes, such as pythons, eating massive meals at one time and breaking them down slowly over time.  Now thanks to a study by Leslie Leinwand there is an answer to how pythons manage this feat.  After the python eats its organs swell up to two times their size to accommodate this massive amount of digestion.  But what could cause an organ to swell this much?  Leslie and her team have an answer to this as well, fatty acids.  When they drew the snake’s blood after it ate they report that the blood was so filled with fat that it was opaque and it “looked like milk”.  Leslie and her team have not stopped their research here, in fact they learned that when they take three of the fatty acids found in the blood of these pythons and inject them into a living mouse the mouse’s heart will grow just like the pythons did.

This finding lead to another mystery for Leinwand and her team because they are still yet to discover how having large amounts of fat in the blood is harmless to a python while in a human it is incredibly damaging.  In an attempt to get answers Leinwand and her team have injected mice with heart disease with the three fatty acids that lead to heart growth to see if those lipids can have any effects on the condition.  Stay tuned…

Class Fox?


Photo Credit: Flickr user- Arudhio

As a kid visiting a zoo did you ever wonder what it would be like to pet the tigers?  Well as you know wild animals are dangerous and they aren’t meant to be tamed, patted or touched… or are they?  According to new studies domestication may not be a learned trait or a trait only found in our dogs, cats, birds and livestock, but a gene that can be bred into wild animals through selective breeding.

In Russia dating back to Stalin’s rule scientists began to wonder if they could breed domestication into a population of animals.   They decided to run their experiment, despite the risk of death because of the government’s aversion to studies on genetics, and started out by heading to fur farms and selecting the calmest foxes who showed the least amount of aggression toward humans.  They began to breed these friendlier foxes and with each generation they began to get friendlier and friendlier foxes to breed.  Today the foxes react to people much like a dog would; they start jumping at the front of their crates and wining for attention and will leap into your arms at the first chance they get.  In fact these foxes even resist going back into their cages because they hate to leave human attention that they love so much.

So how do we know that it’s genetic rather than behavior changes in these foxes?  The scientists thought of this and they kept a control population, for this population they continually bred the most aggressive foxes and got highly aggressive animals that hated human presence.  To test out their theory that this was in fact genetic these scientists took one of the pups bred to be aggressive and gave it to one of the friendly mothers, despite being raised by a mother that loved people this fox remained aggressive to people, as it was bred to do.

Another reason that they are confident that this is genetic is that the foxes physical appearance began to change, they started to look more puppy like for longer, their ears stayed floppy longer, they developed white specs on their coats and their tails curled, all of these traits are typically seen as traits that humans like and that would make the foxes more dog like and more appealing to people.

It may seem hard to believe that a wild animal can be tamed simply through breeding but the reporter of the original article fell so in love with these foxes she now has two sharing her home with her, and her golden retriever.  The scientists and now working to get permits that would allow them to sell some of the friendly foxes as pets (to help fund their research), which leads to the question if we are given the chance to buy them would you ever own a Pet Fox?



The race for success

Photo Credit: Flickr Paolo Camera

Ever since there has been horse racing there has been debate about what is fair to the horses as well as what is fair to the bettors.  For the past few years a debate about lasix has come back to light.  This debate features the pro-lasix debate that lasix help horses by preventing exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage while people who are against lasix claim that it weakens the thoroughbred bred and it gives horses on lasix an unfair weight advantage.  Now you’re probably wondering what this debate is doing on a science blog, the answer is that of the science behind the debate. Lasix is a diuretic, as most of you probably remember form studying the kidney a diuretic makes you urinate more and flush fluids for your body while and anti-diuretic (like ADH) leads to water reabsorbtion and retention.  People who are against lasix feel that because lasix makes horses urinate it gives them an unfair weight advantage (at times up to twenty seven pounds).  In horse racing any amount of weight loss is a huge advantage as horses in “handicap races” are usually spread over a 7lb weight range to carry and in most of the larger races all horses carry an equal weight so as not to give anyone to large of an advantage.  There is also the idea that horses have multiple causes for bleeding as there are exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage which is when the blood vessels in a horses lung rupture from very hard exercise, but there is also Patent pulmonary hemorrhage which is bleeding in the lungs due to an allergy, illness or hypertension and it has not been proven that lasix helps any of these conditions.  This side also argues that lasix allows horses that bleed to run better, and therefore weakens the thoroughbred breed because it allows horses who are prone to bleeding to pass on this trait.  Though the anti-lasix side has a lot of logic to back it up it is the pro-lasix side of the debate that has science behind them. The pro-lasix side of the argument is greatly based of a study from South Africa.  This study proved for the first time that lasix is effective in treating exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.  This is caused by a horses intestines swinging when a horse is running and hitting the lungs in an offbeat.  If the intestines swing into the lungs when the diaphragm is expanded then the lungs are compressed and capillaries and blood vessels hemorrhage leading the bleeding in the lungs.  This study followed 167 horses for two races, against the similar company and in similar conditions.  These horses received lasix before one race and placebo before another.  The results showed that horses who got lasix were 3 to 11 times less likely to bleed.  This study also proved that if a horse bled due to EIPH the first time and then received lasix they were 2/3 less likely to bleed in the next race showing that lasix can help horses that already have a history of bleeding.  The lasix debate is a complex one but now there is science to back up the use of lasix in horses with EIPH. As the US looks toward banning race day medications (lasix)  to become more competitive in the world of racing they will now be forced to question whether race day medication is a necessity.   So now I ask you to do the same after reading both sides of the argument what side are you on?

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