BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: health (Page 1 of 2)

Secure Passcodes : Not Just For Your Computer… But For Your Gut

What is the Human Gut Microbiome?

Human gut microbiomes are made up of all the bacteria present in your gut. The Bacteria in your gut outnumbers the cells by a ratio of 10 to 1. While the presence of that much bacteria sounds like a bad thing, it can be confirmed that “the gut microbiome is very important for human health—that much we certainly know”.  The nearly 100 billion Bacteria cells per gram are actually what helps the body digest food and remove the bacteria that is bad for your gut.

 

(Left) Bacteria on vs not on the intestines       (Right) Gut Microbiome Graphic

A Unique Passcode

As said above, the human gut microbiome is essential to digesting food but more importantly keeping our body healthy. The thought of controlling a person’s gut bacteria in order to keep them healthy and fight illness is fascinating to scientists. The key to using the microbiome to fight sickness is in the “passcode” that is essential to unlocking its potential. Each microbe, according to recent research, requires a unique passcode. The research done by scientists according to phys.org says that once there is a way to determine the “passcode” it will unlock a whole new world of probiotic treatment in the future.

Why Else is the Microbiome important

According to other research done within the past few years, it has been found that sleep can also be linked to the human gut and stomach. The quality of sleep a person gets can be linked to their “biological rhythms, immune function, and nutrient metabolism” however it is still unknown to what extent the microbiome is affecting human sleep.

Conclusion

While researchers still have many questions about the human gut microbiome and how it contributes to health, wellness, and overall human biology, once they have come to some more concrete conclusions the impacts of controlling the bacteria in the human gut would exponentially improve the health of many people. It may sound weird that your bacteria have a “passcode” with which to be controlled, but hey, conclusive findings of the microbiome could even help you get a better night’s sleep! And who doesn’t want that?

Can your diet’s effect on gut bacteria play a role in reducing Alzheimer’s risk?

Could following a certain type of diet affect the gut microbiome in ways that decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? According to researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine, that is a possibility.

In a small study, researchers were able to identify several distinct gut microbiome signatures in study participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but not in the other participants with normal cognition. Researchers found that these bacterial signatures correlated with higher levels of markers of Alzheimer’s disease in the cerebrospinal fluid of the participants with MCI. Additionally, through cross-group dietary intervention, the study also revealed that a modified Mediterranean-ketogenic diet resulted in changes in the gut microbiome and its metabolites that correlated with reduced levels of Alzheimer’s markers in the members of both study groups.

“The relationship of the gut microbiome and diet to neurodegenerative diseases has recently received considerable attention, and this study suggests that Alzheimer’s disease is associated with specific changes in gut bacteria and that a type of ketogenic Mediterranean diet can affect the microbiome in ways that could impact the development of dementia,” said Hariom Yadav, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The randomized, double-blind, single-site study involved 17 older adults, 11 diagnosed with MCI and six with normal cognition. These participants were randomly assigned to follow either the low-carbohydrate modified Mediterranean-ketogenic diet or a low-fat, higher carbohydrate diet for six weeks then, after a six week “washout” period, to switch to the other diet. Gut microbiome, fecal short chain fatty acids, and markers of Alzheimer’s in the cerebrospinal fluid were measured before and after each dieting period.

The limitations of the study included the subject’s group size, which also accountns for the lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, and age.

“Our findings provide important information that future interventional and clinical studies can be based on,” Yadav said. “Determining the specific role these gut microbiome signatures have in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease could lead to novel nutritional and therapeutic approaches that would be effective against the disease.”

Each human contains trillions of organisms that influence our metabolism, immune function, weight, and even cognitive health. It is so fascinating to examine the role of gut microbiomes in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. I believe diets can be very controversial, and I find it interesting to see researchers in this study show how the Mediterranean-ketogenic diet may be effective against Alzheimer’s. However, I am so intrigued to see where these findings may take us with approaches that may be effective against Alzheimer’s, whether they be nutritional or therapeutic approaches.

Adapted Bacteria vs AI

In a recent article it has been found out by researchers at Washington State University that it is possible to find antibiotic resistant genes in bacteria with machine learning and game theory.

In the world of health and medicine one of, if not the biggest discovery is antibiotics. They were the most simple way of clearing out or slowing down the reproduction of bacteria in the human body. People a long time ago had been dying left and right to bacterial deseases and antibiotics helped the expectancy of everyone’s lives. However eventually after it started being used bacteria with DNA that has antibiotic resistance survived and reproduced. Eventually it could be problematic as there’s many ways to acquire resistances as said here. With certain bacteria that many people used to be infected with a lot and since people used antibiotics for it certain bacteria had vast resistances as there’s very limited antibiotics to kill one type of disease. If there was a strand of bacteria completely used to antibiotics it could wipe out the human race. If you want to learn more on that it could be found here

 

Although it isn’t too bad and we haven’t run into many bacteria that resist antibiotics, it can also be very dangerous if a person takes an antibiotic that the bacteria in their body is resistant to. The bacteria then wouldn’t die and thy would also expand and live on to reproduce and make the problem worse since it was technically not treated. However with what the people in Washington state university are doing computers would more and more be able to find the bacteria that have genes resistant to certain antibiotics.  The AI would learn more and more what genes are likely to be ones that resist antibiotics and they will be able to apply that to other situations. This method used worldwide would really help people know what type of antibiotics to give sick people. If a strain of bacteria is treated with antibiotics that most of it is resistant to not only could the person die but the existing bacteria in that persons body could be extremely dangerous if it reproduces as said before. So knowing if that bacteria does indeed have a resistance could be pivotal in many peoples lives. This could also happen at new speeds since that is one of the biggest advantages of using AI.

Not only is this new method very fast it is also very efficient. The researches at Washington state had been able to determine this at an accuracy rate ranging from 93% -99%. These constant advancements in health and technology show how the implementation of tech into health has changed life as we know it and will continue to forever.

Dogs Can Help You Live Longer, As If You Needed Another Reason To Get One

In a recent study, it has been proven that dog ownership has been associated with a decrease in cardiovascular risks. For example, high blood pressure, an aneurysm or heart disease in general. The study was performed with no consideration of previous cardiovascular diseases. The methods and results to the study led to the conclusion that “Dog ownership is associated with lower risk of death over the long term, which is possibly driven by a reduction in cardiovascular mortality.”

Many studies took place in order to help come to this conclusion. According to  Sandee LaMotte, “Dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in all cause mortality.” In this study, it was also discovered that people had better health outcomes after that had suffered from a heart attack or stroke.

In this photo, there is a golden retriever puppy.

This decrease in cardiovascular risks comes from the fact that when you own a dog you are more likely to play with it or take it on daily walks, constantly getting exercise and engaging in more physical activity. This study is not encouraging everyone to go out and purchase or adopt a dog because there are other conditions that were not taken into account throughout the research. For example, “the review’s authors mentioned in the analysis that some of the studies only featured small sample sizes, so the results are not totally indicative of the larger population. Some of the studies also did not take into account a number of other factors, like body mass index, smoking status and diet.”

All of these studies were based on observations which means that the researchers cannot directly prove that owning a dog causes people to live a healthier and longer life.

Can Too Much Sitting Affect The Shape Of Your Heart?

A new research article shows that the heart, besides humans’ joints and tendons, is also optimized for endurance. But, this depends on how active the person is. To conduct this study, scientist gathered 160 adult males from four different groups: football linemen, long-distance runners, inactive adults, and Native American farmers celebrated for their running ability, known as the Tarahumara. Scientist also looked at the hearts of 43 adult male chimpanzees for comparison. 

To examine the heart of these groups, scientist used an ultrasound. When examining the hearts of the four groups, researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that there were noticeable differences in the left ventricle-the thickest of the heart’s four chambers-where blood is pumped. The long-distance runners and Tarahumara farmers had long ventricles with thin walls. This helps to pump large volumes of blood for a long period of time. The inactive adults and the football linemen, who are trained for short, high-intensity exercise, had wider ventricles with thick walls. The same shape was found in the chimpanzees who participate in short, high-intensity exercises like climbing and fighting. They had the shortest and thickest ventricles. 

The wider ventricles and thick walls are beneficial to the chimps and football linemen because during high-intensity workouts when blood pressure in the arteries surge for a short amount of time, it ensures that enough blood is flowing to the brain to keep consciousness. 

The long-distance runners and the Tarahumara farmers are less likely to experience problems like high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases because of their heart shape.

Fortunately, People’s heart shape is not permanent! Scientists suggest that changes in the heart shape is possible with endurance activities like swimming and running over the course of many years. 

So stop procrastinating and go for that run!

Does Exposure to Toxins In the Environment Affect One’s Offspring’s Immune System?

A study has recently surfaced stating that maternal exposure to industrial pollution may harm the immune system of one’s offspring and that this impairment is then passed from generation to generation, resulting in weak body defenses against viruses.

Paige Lawrence, Ph.D., with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Environmental Medicine, led the study and conducted research in mice, which have similar immune system functions as humans. Previously, studies have shown that exposure to toxins in the environment can have effects on the respiratory, reproductive, and nervous system function among generations; however, Lawrence’s research is the first study to declare that the immune system is also impacted.

“The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health,” said Lawrence. “But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.”

“When you are infected or receive a flu vaccine, the immune system ramps up production of specific kinds of white blood cells in response,” said Lawrence. “The larger the response, the larger the army of white blood cells, enhancing the ability of the body to successfully fight off an infection. Having a smaller size army — which we see across multiple generations of mice in this study — means that you’re at risk for not fighting the infection as effectively.”

In the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to environmentally relevant levels of a chemical called dioxin, which is a common by-product of industrial production and wast incineration, and is also found in some consumer products. These chemicals eventually are consumed by humans as a result of them getting into the food system, mainly found in animal-based food products.

The scientists found the production and function of the mice’s white blood cells was impaired after being infected with the influenza A virus. Researchers observed the immune response in the offspring of the mice whose mothers were exposed to dioxin. Additionally, the immune response was also found in the following generations, as fas as the great-grandchildren (or great- grandmice). It was also found that this immune response was greater in female mice.  This discovery now allows researchers to have more information and evidence to be able to more accurately create a claim about this theory.

As a result of the study, researchers were able to state that the exposure to dioxin alters the transcription of genetic instructions. According to the researchers, the environmental exposure to pollutants does not trigger a genetic mutation. Instead, ones cellular machinery is changed and the immune response is passed down generation to generation. This discovery explains information that was originally unexplainable. It is obviously difficult to just avoid how much toxins you are exposed to in the environment, but it is definitely interesting to see the extent of the immune responses in subsequent generations. We can only hope that this new information, and further discoveries, help people adjust what they release into this world that results in these harmful toxins humans are exposed to, and their offsprings.

 

 

 

First Nanolaser That Can Function in Tissue With No Harm

Researchers in Northwestern and Columbia Universities, created a nanolaser that can be used in the near future for the imaging of living tissue. 

Being very thin, “1/1000th the thickness of a single human hair”, and made mostly of glass, which is biocompatible, the nanolaser is able to fit in the tissue with ease. 

Besides the specificity of the shape, the nanolaser can “effectively deliver visible laser light at penetration depths accessible to longer wavelengths,” said Northwestern’s Teri Odom, who co-led the research. The nanolaser has to not only be able to emit longer wavelengths in order to penetrate deeper into the tissues, but also be able to emit shorter wavelengths that are needed in the tissue.

Other scientists have created small-sized nanolasers before, but they all needed ultraviolet light to power them. “This is bad because the unconventional environments in which people want to use small lasers are highly susceptible to damage from UV light and the excess heat generated by inefficient operation,” says P. James Schuck, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia.

The researchers at Columbia and Northwestern were able to solve the issue using photon upconversion. This process creates a pattern of absorbing two or more photons that leads to a shorter wavelength and higher energy than the original. The researchers were able to generate visible photons from infrared photons. 

Pictured above is photon upconversion

With all these benefits, the nanolaser can be used potentially to create different types of laser therapy in order to help alleviate neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Furthermore, it can also help diagnose diseases. As discovered in University of Arkansas, the laser can be used to heat up tumor cells to be detected through ultrasound. 

 

Advancement in Modern Antiseptics

Before the 1870’s, sanitation was a huge problem in the growing world.  Doctors would clean tools with wine or hard alcohol, people’s teeth were falling out from not cleaning them, and people were getting infections from surgery at an alarming rate, etc.  Since so many surgeries resulted in infections, they then had to amputate that area.  Amputations had a 45-50% success rate.  This all means that if you needed surgery, you probably would die.  It wasn’t until many advances in microbiology that Joseph Lister introduced Carbolic Acid as an antiseptic in medicine.  He discovered that it cleaned surgical instruments extremely well, and prevented many infections from surgery.   This discover made the maternal death rates drop from 18% to 1%.  Later, another antiseptic, Listerine, was made by another scientist for a general sanitation, in which it was named after Lister, the father of antiseptics. 

Joseph Lister, Father of Antiseptics

You might be thinking, “All of this happened in the past, and our antiseptics are so good now, why do should I care?”  As it turns out, modern antiseptics don’t actually sterilize things 100%, and although they do a pretty good job, and there are still new antiseptics being discovered every year.  One of these recent discoveries is an antiseptic for caesarean deliveries.  A new solution of Chlorhexidine and alcohol (2% chlorhexidine gluconate with 70% isopropyl alcohol) cuts cesarean section surgical site infections by half compared with the usual solution of iodine and alcohol (8.3% povidone-iodine with 72.5% isopropyl alcohol). Dr. Methodius G. Tuuli, who is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, is responsible for this amazing discovery and has spoken at the Annual Pregnancy Meeting sponsored by the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and had his work published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

The experiment itself consisted of 1,147 patients who delivered a baby through a c-section.  The doctors then randomly used either the new solution or the old alcohol/iodine solution. Besides that, nothing else changed in the procedure for postpartum women; and then 30 days after being discharged from the hospital they were given a call to see if the surgery site had developed an infection. The only downside that is known about Chlorhexidine, is that it supposedly causes more allergic reactions than the iodine solution; however none were observed during the experiment. 

Antiseptics are often overlooked when it comes to the best inventions or discoveries in science because it is so mundane.  People never stop and think what life was like before we had all these amazing soaps and sanitary solutions. To me, it is mind-blowing that less than 150 years ago, if a person needed surgery on any of the limbs,  the odds are they would probably get an infection, then have to get it amputated, which gave them a 50% chance to live.  Do you readers agree that Antiseptics have been our greatest discovery? Let me know in the comment below!

Scientists developing ways to stop kidney failure?

In case you did not know, before week 34-36, the fetus develops 500,000-1,000,000 nephrons in the kidney. During these weeks, nephron progenitor (NP) cells are fully depleted and the body will no longer undergo nephrogenesis in its lifetime. Hence, if one were to lose a sufficient number of nephrons, the kidney would fail.

However, The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has found ways to isolate NP cells in order to investigate how they become renal cells. If scientists can develop an understanding of these cells, they might be able to figure out how to regenerate renal cells after a kidney failure.

This investigation can lead elsewhere, for example towards bioengineering and ways to regenerate other organs through these concepts. Overall, one can agree that this can lead to a breakthrough in future biology and medicinal studies.

 

 

Is Sleep Important?

Photoshop by Bryce Martin from google images.

The next time you decide to stay up at night to play video games or to watch Netflix, you might want to think twice!

Having enough sleep is essential to living a productive and healthy life. Without it, you will suffer in many ways. Sleep does not only make your body tired, but it also makes your brain cells tired. Sleep deprivation slows down brain function, which can result in mental lapses and loss of memory. Lack of sleep will cause the body’s neurons to slow down and not function as they should.

A study done by Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery at UCLA, showed just how harmful sleep deprivation is.

To study the effects of deprivation, Fried recruited 12 patients with epilepsy, who already had electrodes implanted in their brains from a surgery unrelated to this study. These electrodes gave researchers access to their individual brain cells.

The people in the study stayed up for an entire night. During this time, the researchers measured the participants’ brain activity as they performed different tasks. For example, the patients were asked to categorize various images of faces, places and animals as fast as possible. Each image created a unique pattern of electrical activity in the brain.  Specifically, the researchers focused on cell activity in the temporal lobe, which regulates visual perception and memory.

The researchers found that as the patients stayed up longer, they became more tired, and it became more challenging for them to categorize the images. Their brain cells were clearly beginning to slow down.

The results also showed that the people staying up all night were going through mental lapses because sleep deprivation affected different parts of the brain. For all of these people, parts of their brains were turned off even though the other parts were fully functional.

Fried’s research, in addition to other studies, proves that sleep deprivation is similar to being drunk. Insufficient sleep exerts a similar influence on our brains as drinking too much. Lack of sleep can prohibit people from doing many things such as driving safely. People who are tired are not as alert and cannot react and adapt to their surrounding environment. Kids cannot focus in school and participate in extracurricular activities without enough sleep. Kids will be putting their education at risk if they do not sleep.

Is the extra hour of Netflix really worth it? Absolutely…NOT.

Sleep is one thing that should never be sacrificed.

MRIs Catch Autism Prior to Symptoms

Mark Lythgoe & Chloe Hutton / Wellcome Images Image Link

Research

By using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers are now able to accurately study and predict which infants, among those with older autistic siblings, will be diagnosed by the age of 2. According to an article on Science daily, in the past couple of years, researchers have correctly predicted 80 percent of these infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age.

A study published in Nature, shows how early brain biomarkers can be very beneficial in identifying infants at the highest risk for autism prior to any symptoms. Joseph Piven, professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, explains how typically autism cannot be detected in infants until they ages 2-4, but for infants with autistic siblings, it can be determined at an earlier age.

People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), experience social deficits and  demonstrate very specific stereotypical behaviors. According to this study, it is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States and that  for infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births. Despite these high numbers, it remains a difficult task to detect behavioral symptoms prior to 24 months of age.

Piven, along with a couple of other researchers, conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age. They discovered that increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. This meant that brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year. The researchers then took the information they had and used a computer program that classified babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age, and developed an algorithm that they applied to a separate set of study participants.

The researchers found that there were brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism and infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.

Plans for the Future

This research and test would be very beneficial to a family who already has a child with autism and has a second child who may or may not be affected. The ideal goal would be to intervene and provide as much assistance to the infant and family prior to the emergence of symptoms. By intervening at early stages and when the brain is most susceptible, researchers hope to improve the outcomes of treatment.

In the nature study, Piven describes how Parkinson’s and Autism are similar in that when the person is diagnosed, they’ve already lost a substantial portion of the dopamine receptors in their brain, making treatment less effective.

One mother who has benefitted from this discovery and is extremely grateful is Rachel O’Connor. When interviewed by News12, she shared how early intervention “has brought out some language in [her] daughter,” and how her daughter “can now say what she wants and she desires. She makes better eye contact.”

 

Our Intestines Cure Cancer??

There are over one hundred trillion organisms- most are bacteria- living in our intestine today. These are referred to as the gut microbiota.

While trillions of bacteria sounds scary, they can actually be very helpful. Research has been done worldwide and the discovery has been that gut microbes actually can kill cancer cells all over the body. (Not just in the intestines) But how? Gut microbes and cancer actually cross paths. Gut microbes can manipulate the immune system and can either increase inflammation or lower it as needed. This means the bacteria can actually work with cancer treatments, boost T-cells, and control other factors that help cancer grow such as fungi, or viruses.

However, this is not all. While some cells help against cancer growth, others do the opposite. It varies cancer to cancer, and all have different results. As said by microbiologist and immunologist Patrick Schloss “What we really need is to have a much better understanding of which species, which type of bug, is doing what and try to change the balance.” So more research is still being done to decide how to control the microbiota, but a possible theory is that because it’s in the intestine it is related to our metabolisms and so what we eat controls the bacterium- this can also then effect the colon, thus effecting more cancer: colon cancer.

 

Dolly’s Legacy and the Healthy State of Sheep Clones

Over the past two decades, there has been much discussion around Dolly in the scientific community.  No, not Dolly Parton (although her name served as an inspiration), but Dolly the cloned sheep.  In 1996, researchers at the Roslin Institute, an animal sciences research center at the University of Edinburgh, made history by cloning the first mammal from an adult somatic cell via nuclear transfer.  The cell utilized for the cloning was from a mammary gland, and Dolly’s successful birth and 6 year longevity signified that cells other than gametes and germ cells could recreate an organism.  However, scientists and laymen alike have expressed concern regarding Dolly’s short lifespan in respective to the overage sheep’s of 10-12 years.  Does this mean clones are unhealthier versions of their “natural” predecessors?

dolly_face_closeupPhoto of Dolly’s taxidermied remains by Toni Barros, source

According to research conducted by Kevin Sinclair of the University of Nottingham, the answer is no.  Monitoring four sheep derived from the same mammary gland cells as Dolly in addition to nine cloned sheep of other breeds, Sinclair has dug up no evidence to suggest that the clones are less healthy than sheep born of natural processes.  In fact, all 13 of the sheep are now older than nine (equivalent to 70 or 80 years in the lifespan of a human) and are as healthy as their non-cloned counterparts according to tests scanning their bones, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure.

And so the question is posed, why did Dolly die young?  Scientists who interacted with Dolly claim that her life was taken by a contagious illness that ravaged the flock- not some defect as a result of her being a clone.  To address Dolly’s severe amounts of arthritis at the time of her death, geneticist Helen Sang from the Roslin Institute points to her indoor captivity and the excessive amounts of treats she was given.

While cloning might not be as efficient as traditional modes of breeding, this study exhibits that cloned animals which survive gestation and are relatively healthy during their infancy have the same chances of thriving and living to expected longevity as any other animal of the breed.  Additionally, cloning allows scientists to generate embryonic stem cells for further scientific research and to produce “high-value livestock”.  These advantages begin to show the importance of clowning and how beneficial it can become if it is accepted as an integral part of scientific studies. What animals are next to be cloned?  What impacts would cloning humans have on our society?

This new tropical virus is not as fun as it’s name sounds!!!

Although it may be fun to say, the Zika Virus is no laughing matter.

16735-close-up-of-a-mosquito-feeding-on-blood-pv

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the number of Zika Virus infections has increased to 147 in recent months (only 107 of which are from international travelers from Zika-infected areas). Moreover 117 more cases of Zika were reported from Puerto Rico after the CDC released those aforementioned numbers. The CDC urges that people refrain from traveling to highly infected areas like Puerto Rico and especially Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janero, Brazil is a hotspot for Zika infection through mosquito bites

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janero, Brazil is a hotspot for Zika infection through mosquito bites

 

Zika is spread through the bite of an infected female mosquito (typically of the Aedis Aegipty type) and 80% of the infected showed a variety of the following symptoms: mild fever, skin rash around area of bite and other, conjunctivitis (pink eye), muscle and joint pain that last for approximately 1 week, and fatigue.

 

Now you may be asking yourself, “What’s so dangerous about a virus that sounds like it should be a Pokémon? People get over viruses every day?” Well the answer is not with Zika itself, but rather with what Zika causes.

 

Several studies have emerged that claim Zika is directly connected to Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Microcephaly. Additionally, the PAHO (Pan American Health Organization) claims there is no evidence that Zika can cause death, but there have been several reports of it worsening pre-existing medical conditions.

CDC_map_of_Zika_virus_distribution_as_of_15_January_2016

Areas of Zika Virus infection and density of cases (the darker the purple the more amounts of cases in that area)

Guillain-Barre Syndrome – an extremely rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, systematically destroying it over a long period of time. Although weakness and tingling to extremities are first symptoms, they can quickly spread eventually leading to full-body paralysis. Most people with the rare disease must be immediately hospitalized for rigorous treatment.

 

Microcephaly – a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than average. Most often it can be detected at birth and sometimes avoided with late-stage abortions but recent U.S. laws have prevented such actions. Microcephaly results in abnormally low brain function and development (not growing enough in the womb and not developing at a normal pace after birth.) Children with Microcephaly have severe developmental issues and there is no treatment or cure.

 

Microcephaly can be caused by Zika if a woman contracts the virus in the first and second trimester of the pregnancy. 9 cases of pregnant women contracting Zika have been recorded and of those 9 cases, two women had miscarriages, two women terminated their pregnancies, one woman had a baby with very severe Microcephaly, and most other women contracted the virus in the late stages of the pregnancy and had generally healthy babies

 

In conclusion, if you are a pregnant woman try not to travel to exotic and/or tropical areas where Zika-infected mosquitos usually live.

 

Original Article: http://news.yahoo.com/factbox-why-zika-virus-causing-alarm-202231278.html;_ylt=AwrC1jHwztFW5m0AGIHQtDMD;_ylu=X3oDMTBydWNmY2MwBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM0BHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

Trust Your Gut and Exercise

 

File:Wild garden of the gut bacteria 5.jpg

According to an article on GEN news, the level of Microbiomes contained within the Gut is influenced by exercise as a young child. Microbiota are the organisms that share our body space, and the gut has a particularly concentrated region of these organisms. Scientists estimate that gut microbiomes make up anywhere from 1-3% of total body mass. As it turns out the saying, “trust your gut” has some scientific merit. Microbiomes promote healthy brain function and promote anti-depressant effects, as well as adding up to 5 million genes to the human genome. Having a healthy gut is a key to overall biological health.

A recent study by Colorado University claims a connection between early life exercise and healthy microbiome activity. This study was conducted with rats, with one group young of rats exercising daily contrasted against a control of rats who behaved normally. The younger exercising rats experienced a growth of probiotic bacteria in their guts, more so then the stationary rats or even older rats who exercised. Researchers “emphasize the ability of exercise” to promote a healthy brain and metabolic function. In the future, Colorado University will look for ways to promote healthy microbiome activity in adults who have a much more stagnant microbiome structure.

 

Sources:

1.http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/gut-microbiome-influenced-by-early-life-exercise/81252160/

2.http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/microbiome/

3.http://patient.info/health/the-gut

 

We Eat What We Are: The Importance of Microbes in Our Gut

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Photo of microbes (licensing information here)

Ever since the discovery of the microbes, scientists have become very aware of the miniature world of microbes. This early awareness was later translated to an understating of how bacteria and other microbes effect the world we live in. Of course, early scientific and medical research often focused on microbes that cause diseases and how to treat them. However scientists have become aware that each individual is in fact a biome of microbes living on our exterior and inhabiting our interior organs.  Bacteria also play an important role in digestion helping us break down certain foods, producing vitamin and allowing for efficient absorption of nutrients. Increasingly, investigators have began exploring how the micro biome in our digestive track impacts our health and wellbeing.

Gut bacteria appear to play a role in matters of obesity, the development of certain types of cancer and ulcers. They do so by producing certain chemicals that affect a variety of health outcomes. Gut bacteria also produce a wide variety of neurology related chemicals that affect mental processes such as depression and anxiety disorders. Some studies now point to a relationship between autism and particular levels of gut bacteria.

The recognition of the importance of gut bacteria in health and disease have implications in a number of areas. First of all it suggests that a healthy diet should involve the encouragement of the development of good gut bacteria. It also suggests that gut bacteria diversity is a positive goal. Lastly, the results of many of these studies of the significance of gut bacteria in regard to disease point to the need to incorporate the study of an individuals gut bacteria as part of the treatment regiment to fight particular illnesses

 

 

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.

 

What a Smelly Solution to a Smelly Predicament!!!!

The newest developments in scientific and medical research have been focused around a rather smelly purpose.

Fecal transplants are all the rage… and yes, it is what is sounds like. A fecal transplant occurs when the feces of a healthy donor are surgically transplanted into the colon of an individual who has various imbalances in the bacterial assortment of their gut. The feces with a healthy bacteria levels pass through the colon of the sick individual, replacing their “bad bacteria” with “good bacteria”, restoring the bacterial balances back to the way they should be.

Poop

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poop.jpeg

You may ask yourself, why can’t you just take some antibiotics to kill the dominating bacteria and even things out?

Well the problem is just that. Bacterial imbalances are usually caused by antibiotic use that kill one type of bacteria and not another, so taking more antibiotics on top of that would just add to the problem.

The transplant of fecal matter is an icky procedure but has shown to cure many more ailments other than JUST bacterial imbalances. Fecal transplants have showed to help various metabolic diseases, neuropsychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, allergic disorders, and even tumors.

E coli Ag Res Mag

E. Coli. – one of the most common bacterias in not only your colon, but also your whole body, is a key player in the Fecal Microbiota Transplantation

One specific study of Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) in metabolic syndromes, mixed microbiota from the feces of a lean donor with a sample of unhealthy, self-collected feces. After the mixed feces were then reinserted into the gut, the resultant excrement of the patient displayed increased insulin sensitivity and increased number of healthy butyrate-producing intestinal bacteria. In a sense, the resultant doo doo showed signs of improved health for the patient. Another report of FMT displayed favorable outcomes in abating the effects of:

  • Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder of the nervous system that negatively affects movement
  • Multiple Sclerosis – an autoimmune nervous system disease in which the human immune system attacks the central nervous system
  • Myoclonus Dystonia – a nervous and musculoskeletal disorder that results in involuntary and spontaneous muscle twitching and jerking
  • Chronic fatigue Syndrome – a cerebral disorder in which the brain excretes neurotransmitters that transmit the information to feel tired and fatigued. Can be extremely dangerous when mixed with everyday activities such as cooking and driving.
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura – a vascular disorder that results in excessive bleeding, internal hemorrhaging, and bruising from low levels of blood platelets.

While many think that poop is simply waste that ought to be disposed of immediately, the beneficial effects that Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) have spread all over the body. From regulating the bacterial levels in the colon, to helping alleviate the symptoms of various autoimmune, vascular, muscular, nervous, and skeletal diseases.

Who would’ve thought that putting poop BACK into the colon would be a healthy thing to do!?!?!

Original Article: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/22/fmt-film/

Funny, yet extremely informative, animation and additional article: http://www.openbiome.org/about-fmt/

 

ANOTHER new study on Coffee

As students in high school, many of us are familiar with the immediate advantage of drinking coffee which is a decrease in fatigue and increase of alertness. Since I was young, however, I have heard many myths and hypotheses about the bad side effect of coffee, like how it stunts your growth and stains your teeth. I have also heard of other, positive side effect of drinking coffee. Some articles have said that caffeine has some positive effects against some diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. Multiple studies and published articles have come up throughout the years on the various side effects of drinking coffee daily and whether or not it is good or bad for you. An article published on sciencenews.org explains the most recent research on this mysterious drink and its long term effects on us humans, while another article argues its bad effects.

This article describes a study and analysis of more than 200,000 professionals followed for almost 30 years. They concluded that drinking up to five cups of either decaf or caffeinated coffee a day has a strong correlation to reduced risk of early death from heart and brain diseases as well as suicide. This study had even accounted for lurking variables such as smoking, weight, and diet. By adjusting for these factors, the scientists discovered that the benefits were more pronounced for non-smokers. They also found that both decaf. and caffeinated coffee were had positive effects. This led the researchers to believe that the powerful components of coffee may stem from chemical compounds in the bean such as diterpenes and chlorogenic acids.

Another article I came across mentioned the known positive, as well as the harmful effects of caffeine. (On a side note, I find it relevant to point out that this article mentioned that studies proving harmful effects of caffeine are harder to find that the reported positive effects. This, I speculate, might have to do a little bit with the fact that people tend to want to hear reassurance on things that will permit them to continue on with habits or actions that might be seen as harmful or bad otherwise.) This website cited studies that were performed by the Mayo Clinic that found that coffee raised blood pressure, increased risk of heart attacks, caused headaches, reduced fertility in women, proved harmful to people with type 2 diabetes, worsened menopause symptoms, increased anxiety, and, most obviously, caused insomnia and more. Some of these correlations, like an increase in headaches due to drinking coffee, can be explained by obvious reasoning: caffeine is a diuretic, and therefore if you aren’t drinking enough water to compensate, your body will produce too much urine and you will become dehydrated which leads to headaches in some cases.

Because of this drug’s popularity, studies after studies have come out presenting new, or sometimes repetitive, information regarding the side effects of drinking coffee. Many people want to believe that it is good for them because they drink it on such a regular basis that if it proved to be very harmful they would be in real trouble. Therefore, people are looking for proof that it is good, so there are more articles, credible and not, showing proof that it is. Additionally, another potential issue with these studies is the amount of caffeine given to the patients. In study one, the subjects were given around 5 cups of coffee a day, which is 2 to 3 more than the average American, and therefore unrepresentative of what Americans actually consume. From this data, I have decided to continue drinking the relatively small amount of coffee I do on a weekly basis, paying attention to how my own body reacts and noting the changes with attention in order to learn more about how it affects me personally, as I feel I am the only reliable source of information to myself at the moment.

Sewage Does More than Just Gross You Out… It Carries a Signal For the Microbiomes of Humans

Who knew that sewage would ever be useful. Well, it is a successful way to collect fecal bacteria from people. It can monitor, through gut microbes, the public health of a population without invading people’s privacy. The human gut microbiome consists of huge amounts of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This gut bacteria has important functions in a healthy human. Recently, there has been much attention to the human microbiome, and more specifically, finding a “healthy microbiome” by identifying which bacterial communities are associated with healthy individuals. What has been hindering this experiment are financial concerns but also privacy concerns in terms of the individuals that can be screened.

Researchers from MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) and the UWM (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) School of Freshwater Sciences proposed the idea of using sewage as a population that consists of a signal for human microbiomes. The scientists used oligotyping to compare 137 healthy people’s gut bacteria (provided by the Human Microbiome Project) to the bacterial communities of more than 200 sewage samples from 71 different U.S. cities. Researchers realized that geographically distributed populations consists of a similar core set of bacteria and its members symbolize many different communities within U.S. adults. The percent of obese people in a city is used by the study as a measure of a lifestyle difference which indicates that this bacteria community structure is accurate in detecting obesity in a city. Lifestyle differences are important because they can change the human gut microbiome and an indicator of obesity is the microbial community composition. This process of working with microbiomes of individuals is similar to drawing a map of a specific geographical area and fishing out new understandings and patterns. If it weren’t for the sewage, the scientists wouldn’t have been able to differentiate the cities based on their level of obesity. This type of approach can be effective when it comes to answering concerns about public health, without undermining the privacy of individuals.

I found it interesting how this profound yet relatively small experiment is even part of a bigger plan to create better water pollution and public health assessments. Do you think it can lead a better water pollution and efficient public health assessments? Overall, it’s amazing how new technologies can aid in decrypting information from complicated environments. I’m excited to see where this experiment takes us as it leads researchers and scientists in a more knowledgeable outlook on our environment and in public health.

The original article can be found here.

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