BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: food

Drinking Tea Can Extend Your Lifetime

An article was written in the journal of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and refers to the recent work that some Chinese scientists have recently discovered: habitually drinking tea contributed to living a longer, healthier life. The data comes from 100,902 Chinese participants with no record of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. They were separated into two groups: those that drank tea habitually around and those that did not. The participants followed up for a median of 7.3 years per participant.

Generally, habitual tea consumption was linked to “more healthy years of life and longer life expectancy.”

The analyzed data reveals that “50-year habitual tea drinkers would develop coronary heart disease and stroke 1.41 years later and live 1.26 years longer than those who never or seldom drank tea.” And in comparison to non-habitual tea drinkers, habitual tea consumers “had a 20% lower risk of incident heart disease and stroke, 22% lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke, and 15% decreased risk of all-cause death.” In addition, tea drinkers “had a 39% lower risk of incident heart disease and stroke, 56% lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke, and 29% decreased risk of all-cause death compared to consistent never or non-habitual tea drinkers.”

The data points to the fact that drinking tea can certainly make one’s life healthier, decreasing the odds of potential heart issues in humans in the long run.

Dr. Dongfeng Gu, one of the main authors of the article, noted that “frequent tea intake over an extended period may be necessary for the cardioprotective effect.” The other authors found that green tea was the most beneficial, as it was linked with “approximately 25% lower risks for incident heart disease and stroke, fatal heart disease and stroke, and all-cause death.”

Green tea is a rich source of polyphenols, which “protect against cardiovascular disease and its risk factors including high blood pressure and dyslipidaemia.” High blood pressure usually exercises more strain on one’s blood vessels and heart and eliminating the risk to get high blood pressure can extend one’s life.

Drinking tea has shown to increase one’s lifespan and decrease potential heart issues. The ingredients of tea, specifically polyphenols in green tea, defend against the risk of heart diseases and problems.

Did ants originate from zombies? This fungus will give you the answers.

There is a certain fungus that turns ants into zombies, but afterward, they explode. When ants are just walking by minding their own business they step on fungal spores. It attaches to the ant’s body and the fungal cell goes inside of the ant. The fungus feeds from within and increasingly multiples cells and it is called, Ophiocordyceps,   mainly living in the tropics. The danger about this fungus is that the ant is unaware of this whole process, it goes about its daily life, searching for food and bringing back to its nest. However, the fungus takes up half of an ant’s body mass. It undergoes a parasitic relationship where the fungus benefits, while the ant is harmed.

Once the fungus is done feeding, the ant will feel a needle-like sensation. What is happening here is that the fungus is pushing on the ant’s muscle cells. And the cell signals also get sent to the ant’s brain, then the ant will climb upwards above its nest. Ophiocordyceps does something very weird where it allows the ants to move upwards to a leaf above ground and then the ant bites down, where it locks its jaw. Then it sends out “sticky threads that glue the corpse to the leaf.” The ant’s head then bursts open, called a “fruiting body”, where it looks like horns projecting from the ant’s heads and the horns disperse more of these fungal spores onto its nest below it leaving behind a trail of spores. 

Hornlike antlers that come out of the ant’s head

There is still so much that is unknown about Ophiocordyceps because scientists don’t even know what kind of chemical gets into the ant’s brain causing it to climb. There are ants that age back to 48 million years old gripped onto leaves.  Scientists thought there was one species that zombified ants but it turns out there are at least 28 different fungal species that attack other insects as well. Dr. Araújo drew out a family tree to see what was infected by Ophiocordyceps. It became known that all Ophiocordyceps species come from a common ancestor, first infecting beetles larvae, not hemipteran.

The beetles that are affected by the larvae live in eroding logs.

“They’re mostly solitary creatures, with a very different life history,” compared to ants, she said.

It can now be inferred that possibly millions of years ago when this was happening to beetles, ants picked up the fungus if they were living in the same logs. Thus a constant cycle and more spreading of fungal spores. Even though natural selection favored keeping the ant’s host healthy and away from parasites, Ophiocordyceps had to find a way to make the ant leave the nest, not far enough from its environment, but just in the right place to send out the spore to infect whatever other ants were living around it. 

Because this behavior is so unordinary it is not possible that only one gene is responsible for all of this. They keep finding new species. Dr. Hughes and Dr. Araújo are still researching to find that there are hundreds of other species of Ophiocordyceps that are yet to be discovered.

How our day-to-day food intake shapes our gut microbiota

Our diet is a significant modulator of changes in our gut microbiota structure, particularly at an individual level. The concept that what we eat is related to health is not a new idea. With new studies and experiments on the human gut microbiota, scientists are finally beginning to truly understand how exactly food impacts our health. The commonly heard phrase “you are what you eat” has been proven true. If you were to et a strawberry or hamburger, the food enters your digestive system and comes across the intestinal microbes. The way your body processes the food is influenced by the microbes that are living in your gut.

This is an image of food items that would help to create a balanced healthy diet.

Other than only being related to diet, levels of physical activity and sleep patterns can also affect the human gut microbiota. In a recent study, “for 17 consecutive days, 34 healthy participants were asked to self-record their food consumption using a food report.” From the results, the researches concluded that the variation in the daily microbiome is related to food choices, and not to standard nutrients.

For example, a vegetable such as spinach, which is rich in iron and also contains many other nutrients, such as fiber, minerals, and carbohydrates. All of these nutrients help to strengthen spinach’s relationship with the gut microbiome. Therefore, “nutritional advice should focus more on recommending people combine fruit and vegetables in their daily diet instead of prioritizing specific fibers.”

To conclude, a varied diet helps to maintain a well-balanced microbiome while also at the same time also giving your body the nutrients it needs in order to stay healthy.

Is it Time For a Raw Food Diet?

A recent article details a study by scientists at UC San Francisco details the effects of cooked food versus raw food on the gut microbiomes of mice. By feeding some mice raw potato and others cooked potato, scientists discovered that in mice, raw food damages certain microbes. Scientists discovered that raw foods contain antimicrobial compounds that damaged microbes in mice. Surprisingly, differences between the mice were due to chemicals found in plants. Turnbaugh’s is currently analyzing the specific chemical changes that occur after cooking in order to further understand how cooked food impacts the mice microbiomes.

 

Another interesting effect of the raw food on mice was weight loss. The researchers were curious as to whether the weight loss was due to the altered microbiomes. They were ultimately not due to the microbiomes, because when the altered microbiomes were put into mice eating a normal diet, those mice put on fat. The researchers are currently unsure of why this happens.

Interested in the possible ramifications of his discovery on human diets, Turnbaugh  conducted a second experiment using human test subjects. The raw food diets altered the microbiomes of the human test subjects, an exciting find for the researchers. The effects of these altered microbiomes are still unclear and is being further researched. For now, raw food diets don’t seem to have massive benefits and in cases of contaminated meat can be harmful to humans, but only further research will tell.

Should We Be Carbo-loading? The Effects of Resistant Starches on the Gut Microbiome.

What is Starch?

By definition starch is a polysaccharide composed of a chain of glucose molecules held together by glycosidic bonds. Starch is common in nearly all green plants and is used for short term energy storage.

Different Types of Starches

Starch can come in two distinct forms: amylopectin a compound with a complex system of branching glucoses, and amylose a simple straight chain of glucose molecules. Because of amylopectin’s larger and more complicated nature it has a much larger surface area than amylose making it significantly easier to digest. The amylose cannot effectively be broken down by the enzymes of the digestive system. Instead it is left to be dealt with by the human gut microbiome. For this reason it is commonly referred to as a resistant starch.

How are Resistant Starches Beneficial?

An international research article including authors from Harvard Medical School suggests that resistant starches have a myriad of benefits. Some resistant starches which thwart digestion in the stomach and small intestine, make their way all the way down to the large intestine where they are subject to fermentation by the microscopic bacteria of the human gut. The fermentation process can metabolize a multitude of different useful products. For example some significant and common place output of gut fermentation are simple fatty acids. One key short chain fatty acid created during this process is Butyrate, the preferred fuel oof the cells lining the colon. In addition to Butyrate there exist many other short chain fatty acids that help maintain and fuel the body. These fatty acids can be used for many different purposes, all beneficial to both the gut microbiome and the host. The benefits may range from weight loss to curbing the progression of chronic kidney disease.

In addition to their ability to be changed into more useful forms, resistant starches also serve to enhance the effectiveness of the gut microbiome. Constant ingestion of resistant starches can stimulate an increase in the size and health of gut microbiomes in addition to raising host metabolism.

Common Uses For Resistant Starches

Resistant starches are often used in weight reducing diets in order to encourage an increase in metabolic rates. Although results of these diets are often compelling, a diet must consist of all types of food groups and should contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. Eating only amylose and other resistant polysaccharides will not on its own help you achieve weight loss. It should be paired with exercise and an otherwise healthy diet.

Should resistant starches be used in dieting or do they promote malnutrition? There are many benefits to a diet high in resistant starches, including building up a healthy gut microbiome. However you cannot survive solely on carbohydrates. This is a complex question, and I would be interested in hearing your opinions in the comments.

 

 

 

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.

CRISPR Produce… the future of Food?

For years, people have been getting their food from, primarily, agricultural and cattle sectors; however, with CRISPR, everything is about to change. Or is it? Can CRISPR actually be used to make food in labs and completely change the way that the world receives their nourishment? These are questions that tech, scientists, and investor moguls have been asking for years, and Bill Gates’ new start up may have found the answer!  

Memphis meats, a new tech company that is backed two tech moguls, Bill Gates’ and Richard Branson, believes that they have found a new way to feed the world. The Memphis team have been successful in creating lab grown meat, using the CRISPR method. With their proprietary patented technique, Memphis meats could be changing the world. One may not understand how beneficial lab grown food would be. It would: save animals, lower the amount of water use (while raising the cattle), and be able to be made both healthier and tastier.

 

The company uses a special technique that allows them to manufacture skeletal muscle, that is edible, using cells from the poultry species Gallus gallus, and from the livestock species Bos Taurus. In addition, Memphis meats is also exploiting new and innovative ways to make their products better for the environment and public health, and more affordable, and in turn, scalable – mass produced. With all this great innovation and progress, Memphis Meats says that they are a long way from making a product that is ready for customers and consumers. However, the future of food and agriculture is promising.

What do you think? Could CRISPR and “lab meats” change the way that humans get their food? Only time will tell.

This article is by Jon Christian from Futurism. The research and technology is proprietary and patented and not for the public to see.

article: https://futurism.com/bill-gates-startup-crispr-lab-meat

Food For Thought!

 

A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. Construction is underway to extend a secondary fence over the top of this hill and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is some food for thought, what defines American Culture? Democracy? Freedom? As a matter of fact, for many immigrants, food is a defining factor of moving to the United States of America. Immigrants are fascinated by the combination of a wide variety and convenience of food. By the same token, the typical “American” diet is loaded with saturated fats, complex sugars and harmful chemicals. According to a recent Study from National Public Radio (N.P.R.), when immigrating to the United States of America, the typical “American” diet causes a completely new gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the natural bacteria found in the digestive system that assist the body in a wide variety of tasks.

In order for N.P.R. to test this hypothesis, they gathered 500 ethnically Hmong & Karen women, residing in either Thailand or the United States of America. Of these women, they were either a first or second generation immigrant. After recording their findings, N.P.R. moved back to the United States of America, solely. When observing the gut microbiomes of the of caucasian Americans, the researchers concluded that the presence of Bacteroides leads to the decreased function of the gut microbiome. Next, 19 of the 500 women from Thailand moved to the United States of America. After many observation hours and careful logging of food consumed, the gut microbiomes of the immigrants began to diverge from their natural affinity. When reviewing the food logbooks, the scientists/researchers concluded/discovered that the typical “American” diet leads to the disruption of the gut microbiome because of its lack of fiber and over use of sugars.

Although this is not an urgent issue, this is an issue that must be addressed in the near future; this article exploits a greater issue for the United States of America. The United States of America is in desperate need to change its diet, consisting rich in fats and sugars, the population is facing serious medical issues such as obesity, cancer, high blood pressure and more.  This article demonstrates the effects of the typical “American” diet has on the United States of America. The United States of America must work quickly to collaborate with citizens and the private sector in order to make healthy alternatives to food, cheaper and more convenient, in order to mitigate health issues as well as promote preventive medicine.

Thank you!

From your favorite bacteria,

     SAMonella

 

 

 

Whole-Grain Bread: The Healthy Choice…or is it?

Contrary to popular belief, whole-grain bread might not be healthier for everyone. A new study has determined that whether white bread or whole-grain bread is healthier for you depends on the microbes in your gut. After studying 20 people for one week each, researchers found that some people’s blood sugar levels raised after eating standard white bread while others did not. Similarly, they found that some people’s blood sugar rose when eating standard whole grain bread. The researchers, Eran Elinav and Eran Segal, studied the mix of microbes in the stool samples as well as their genetic makeup.

This study is part of a growing group of studies that support personalized nutrition that is customized to your genetic makeup rather than a plan for everyone. The same group has also done other research in the nutrition field in Israel, where they studied how people respond to eating certain foods.

Hunter-Gatherer to Westernized Human Gut Biomes

Somewhere between the time of early hunter-gatherer humans, and the present-day humans living in modernized Western societies, the human gut biome lost much of its diversity. New research has contributed another clue as to the evolution of the human gut biome.

An international team of scientists studied the fecal samples of an intermediary group between hunter-gatherers and Westernized humans. The Bantu community in Africa is a traditional, agricultural population that has incorporated some available Western practices, including the use of antibiotics and therapeutic drugs.

 

Bantu people; Steve Evans,  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Bantu#/media/File:Mozambique001.jpg

The scientists compared the Bantu gut biomes to those of the BaAka pygmy population, who resemble early hunter-gatherer populations and have no Western influences, and to the gut biomes of humans living in modern, Westernized societies.

By analyzing the sequence data of the three human biomes, the scientists placed the Bantu’s biome composition in between the BaAka’s and Westernized humans’. The Bantu shared similar bacterial species as the BaAka, but lacked many of the traditional bacteria that the BaAka possessed. In fact, the BaAka had such a different biome composition that their gut more closely resembled wild primate biomes!

 

Based on the functions of the variable bacterial groups between the three populations, the team hypothesizes that the boosted carbohydrate-processing pathways in Bantu and American biomes is a result of the sugars in our diet, whereas the BaAka do not have much access to such foods and thus do not have such bacterial populations.

Ultimately, the scientists have accepted that our diet contributes significantly to our gut biome composition.

Junk Food Encourages Disease

According to a recent discovery posted in Science News, a typical American diet, consisting of poorly nutritional foods, leaves one prone to getting sick by weakening their immune system. Interestingly enough, this issue is rooted in cells that are not your own. In your gut microbiome, there are countless varieties and numbers of bacteria, all working away at the food that passes through your gut. Now, these bacteria are actually quite manipulative, and besides from feeding off of the food that you eat, teach your immune system what to attack, like an instructor or tutor for your immune system, albeit a biased one. These bacteria have colonized your body. They’re not just going to let some pathogen get in the way of their free meal ticket.

(What it looks like in there)

What happens when you eat certain foods, like junk foods, is that your gut microbiome changes. Different bacteria thrive on the fatty or sugary foods while other bacteria that survive off of more complex starches and carbs fade away, changing the demographic of your gut microbiome. This limited variety also limits the amount of invaders your immune system knows as hostile, or understands how to deal with, and therefore, you are more susceptible to disease, or medical complications.

(Actual photo of a biofilm found in the gut)

This was proven by taking samples from fit and obese humans and inserting them in otherwise sterile mice. Their resulting microbiomes grew, and the mice with the obese implant suffered more medical problems than the mice with the fit implant. This is because there were not enough “trainer” bacteria in the first mice’s gut to help train it to fend off disease, and thus it got sick more easily. So don’t go blaming your immune system the next time you get sick. It may be your fault for avoiding real, nutritional food (not just salad), and not taking care of it.

The moral of the story is to eat your vegetables and serve the bacterial overlords that have taken host in your body.

They’re good for you.

Trust me.

 

Artificial Sweeteners: Safe or Sweet Misery?

Picture of Splenda

Picture of Splenda

Have you ever drunk a zero-calorie soda or eaten a sugar free dessert as a “healthier” choice or perhaps to even “cut calories”? If you’re like me, you have probably begrudgingly done this numerous times, maybe even at the request of your mom, despite your desire for that sweet snack. Well, new research has been conducted that suggests that the artificial sweeteners used to substitute sugar actually increase blood sugar levels-the exact condition they aim to avoid.

A study conducted by biologists, Segal and Elinav, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, showed that after 11 weeks of drinking water with the sweetener Saccharin, commonly found in Sweet’N Low, mice had higher glucose levels in their bloodstream, a symptom of diabetes. Additionally, the scientists conducted another experiment with seven volunteers who were given the maximum approved daily dose of saccharin for a week. This time Segal and Elinav found that four out of the seven subjects developed an unbalanced glucose metabolism similar to that of the mice. From this experiment, the scientists hypothesized that artificial sweeteners negatively affect our bodies and may promote disease.

Although these results are preliminary and are largely reflective of mice’s digestive systems rather than humans, the study raises a valuable caution for consumers to reassess their actions. As the science community continues to explore this study, are you going to continue consuming foods with artificial sweeteners.

For more information about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, please check out: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/artificial-sweeteners-may-disrupt-bodys-blood-sugar-controls/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Genetically Altered Soybean Might Be Just What America Needs

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bequer-B100-SOJA-SOYBEAM.jpg

Soybean oil

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs have long had an unfortunate reputation. Viewed on par with crops that make use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, and often thought to be unhealthy. Organic farmers and magazines scorn their use and consumers think twice before purchasing products that make use of them. However, Monsanto, an extremely large and influential agriculture company that is similarly often cast in a negative light, has teamed up with DuPont Pioneer to revamp the genetic makeup of the soybean to create a bean that produces oil completely free of trans fats. It’s new fat composition is similar to that of olive oil, and it can potentially be produced on a larger scale and cheaper than it’s olive counterpart. Companies believe that this new innovation will help to improve the public image of GMOs and other biotech. As most endeavors up to this point have focused on resistance to weeds and parasites, rather than health and taste, it has been easy for consumers to create a negative view of  GMOs, but this new soybean, more consumer oriented, might help to sway that view.

The specific genetic modifications to the oil are the alteration of a gene that converts oleic fatty acids into linoleic acid. This conversion causes soybean oil to have an extremely short shelf life. The problem used to be solved by treating the oil with hydrogen gas, but this caused it to become saturated. With the gene silenced, there is no need for the hydrogen treatment, and the oil can remain unsaturated and free of trans-fats.

Genetically Modified Food? Now You Can Know For Sure.

Whole Foods Market has officially become the first grocery store to require the labeling of all genetically modified foods. In an article published by The New York Times, on Friday, March 8th, Whole Foods Market announced that they will be labeling all genetically enhanced food products.

According to Whole Foods president A. C. Gallo, the new labeling requirement was implemente due to consumer demand. Mr. Gallo stated that that their “manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

Today, genetically modified foods are of great abundance in the global food supply. For example, most of the corn and soybeans grown here in the United States are genetically altered. The alterations make the soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Scientists are currently working on producing a genetically modified apple that will spoil less quickly, and genetically modified salmon that will grow faster.

What do you guys think of the position Whole Foods is taking with labeling their products? What are your thoughts on genetically modified food in general? Do you believe that genetically modified foods are safe for humans to consume? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

 

Virtual eating: Can it really work?

Credit: vernhart flickr

Have you ever had a strong craving for a food that you know is bad for you?  For many of us, we experience strong cravings for some type of food on a daily basis.  Sometimes these cravings are so strong that the particular food we are craving becomes all we can think about or focus on until that food is consumed.  These cravings are usually triggered by something in our environment that reminds us of the specific food and they can lead to overeating.

A recent study, conducted by Carey Morewedge, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, concluded that by imagining yourself eating a specific food, you can reduce your interest in that food and therefore eat less of it. This is known as habituation and is thought to occur naturally when we eat.  Habituation was previously thought to only occur while you are actually eating but Morewedge’s study has found that this can occur through the power of your own mind.

The answer to stopping a food craving does not come by thinking just about how the food tastes, smells and looks, but rather forcing yourself to actually imagine eating the food repeatedly.

Morewedge conducted five different studies and they all ended with the same result.  The people who imagined eating more of a specific food would want to physically eat less of that food.  In one of the experiments, 51 people were divided into three different groups. One group had to imagine inserting 30 quarters into a washing machine (this is simulating the motions of eating an M&M) and then thinking about eating three M&M’s.  The second group had to imagine putting three quarters into a washing machine and then think about eating 30 M&M’s.  The third group acted as the control and they had to imagine putting 33 quarters into a washing machine and eating no M&M’s.

The people were then given a bowl containing 1.5 ounces of M&M’s and were told to eat as many as they wanted.  When all of the participants said that they were finished the bowls were taken and weighed.  The results showed that the members of the group who virtually ate 30 M&M’s ate less actual M&M’s then the members of either of the two groups.  This proves Morewedge’s theory that thinking about eating a food has the same effects on your body as physically eating the food with none of the consequences.

If more people become aware of this study, dietary problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes could be greatly reduced.  This study may also be the key to helping people quit smoking.

The next time you have a craving something sweet or unhealthy try imaging yourself eating it first.  You may be surprised with the results.

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