BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: research (Page 3 of 4)

The Real Scoop on Artificial Food Coloring

Although artificial colors and dyes have been used in foods since the early 1900’s, the FDA has banned many of them due to health concerns. Thirty-seven artificial colors still remain approved for general food use in the USA, many of which are now prohibited in some European countries. Many of these chemicals have been researched and found to have harmful side effects, but they are still used in popular candies, soft drinks, cereals, and other processed foods.

Americans are now consuming more processed foods and drinks than ever before, and therefore more artificial colors and dyes. Many scientists have researched these common chemicals and found shocking results. The most common blue 1 & 2, citrus red 2, green 3, red 3 & 40, and yellow 5 & 6, have been found to cause a wide degree of side effects. Some have been found to cause cancer, ADHD, neurochemical and behavioral effects, allergies and more. Because of link between artificial dyes and the frequently seen side effects of cancer and ADHD, many European countries such as Norway, France, Finland, The U.K., and Sweden have banned a number of these chemicals from their foods.

It is no secret that these additives have harmful side effects, so why do companies still choose to use them? It is a very simple marketing tactic. “You eat with your eyes”, therefore companies will try to make their food look visually appealing to convince you to buy their products. Using artificial dyes and colors is just one method companies use to attract buyers. Artificial dyes like Yellow 5 have more vibrant and concentrated color than natural ones like saffron or turmeric. They are also much cheaper than natural dyes because companies do not need to use much in order to get the color they want. Artificial colors are also easier to use and their results are more reliable because they are much less sensitive to heat than naturally-derived food dyes are.

Silly Rabbit

(A bowl of Trix cereal made with artificial colors and flavors. The new Trix will go on sale later this year, without its blue and green puffs.)

This news may seem very alarming and upsetting to the average consumer, but there is hope. The FDA requires that companies put their ingredients on the food labels, so you know which foods are organic and which ones have artificial coloring. Research on artificial food dyes has led many consumers to cut out harmful processed foods and sodas from their diet and led to more awareness among buyers. And although there are companies such as Coca-Cola that use harmful cancer causing dyes such like 4-MEI, there are brands like General Mills that are promising to soon cut out all artificial dyes from their cereals by 2017. The new direction American consumers are taking now towards organic and health foods is slowly leading the food industry to change their foods in a healthy way. No longer are some food companies looking for the most vibrant look with their presentation, but rather the healthiest.

 

 

Epigenetics and Dopamine Activity

Researchers at the University of California in Irvine have correlated erratic dopamine activity as an underlying cause of complex neuropsychiatric disorders, specifically because of the epigenetic alterations caused by low levels of dopamine. This study, overseen by Emiliana Borelli, a UCI professor of microbiology & molecular genetics, provides clues to the possible causes of complicated disorders like schizophrenia.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (and hormone) that fuels our daily life, acting as our prime motivator and pleasure inducer, while also being linked to memory, and cognitive function. Many addictive drugs increase the amounts of dopamine released to exhausting levels, eventually wearing out the neurotransmitters notwithstanding the negative effects of the drugs themselves. High dopamine levels can also be achieved via everyday pleasures like exercise or sex, which can also spur addiction.

Dopamine_3D_ball

Dopamine, therefore, has an irrefutable role in our everyday lives, and according to Borelli, “Genes previously linked to schizophrenia seem to be dependent on the controlled release of dopamine at specific locations in the brain. Interestingly, this study shows that altered dopamine levels can modify gene activity through epigenetic mechanisms despite the absence of genetic mutations of the DNA.”

In short, it is quite likely that Dopamine is an epigenetic hub of sorts, that can cause powerful changes in gene regulation when functioning in a disrupted or excessive manner. Borelli, knowing the consequences of excess dopamine release, tested the opposite effect on mice, hindering dopamine release by turning off mid brain dopamine receptors in rats, leading to mild dopamine synthesis. The results were profound, as Borelli found there to be decreased expression in approximately 2,000 genes in the prefrontal cortex. This epigenetic surge of decrease in genetic expression was reinforced by the increase in change of DNA proteins called histones, which are associated with reduced gene activity. The now mutated mice suffered from ranging psychotic behavior and episodes, and were then treated with dopamine activators for a duration of time before seeing their behavior normalize.

Borelli’s and others’ work will provide useful clues for understanding these complex neurological disorders, while serving to reinforce the newfound importance of comprehending gene regulation and expression. These studies seem to point to a new era in which it is not just your genetic make up that determines your future, but also the regulation of your genes.

 

 

Genetics and Mental Illness

Brain Lobes

Scientists have tirelessly searched through the genetic makeup of people with metal illnesses trying to find a common variation(s) that could account for conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However this has been inconclusive so researchers have turned to epigenetics, the study of how experience and environment effect the expression of certain genes. Epigenetic marks regulate when and how much protein is made with out actually altering the DNA itself. It is believed that these “marks” can affect behavior, and thus may interfere with metal health. This idea was tested in a study with rats.  Researchers proved that affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress, which was then passed on to the next generation. This is thought to be similar in humans and these markers develop as an animal adapts to its environment.  Epigenetic research led scientists to prove that offspring of parents who experienced famine are at a higher risk for developing schizophrenia. Additionally, some people who have autism, epigenetic markers had silenced the gene which helps produce the hormone oxytocin which helps the brain’s social circuit. And therefore a brain that lacks this hormone would most likely struggle in social situations. Thomas Lehner of genomics research at the National Institute of Mental Health says that studies and research have shown that epigenetic modifications impact behavior and he also believes that these effects can be reversed. By studying genes at the “epi” level, researchers are hoping to find patterns that were hidden at the gene level.  Finding and targeting these patterns can lead to more effective treatment of and management of certain mental illnesses. There are many projects and studies at some of the most prestigious institutes, such as Tufts and Johns Hopkins, that are focused on the study of things at the epigenetic level.

Original Article

Further Information:

Epigenetic Markers and Heredity

Epigentetics and Autism 

Genetics and the Brain

 

 

 

 

The New Source of Mental Illness

a three dimensional recreation of DNA methylation

a three dimensional recreation of DNA methylation

For years scientists were convinced that the root cause of diseases such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia lay somewhere hidden in the human genome. But the particular genetic sequence that would supposedly be linked to these illnesses remained elusive.  So researches turned to the developing theory of Epigenetics.  Studies from King’s College in London and related in this article have shown that Epigenetic (changes in gene activity caused by the environment) changes might be responsible for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  Jonathan Mill and colleagues scanned the genome of 22 pairs of identical twins.  For each pair of twins, one of the twins was diagnosed with either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. With the understanding that chemical methyl groups attached to particular sites on a genome are responsible for the “turning of” and “turning on” of genes, Mill and his team “scanned for differences in the attachment of methyl groups at 27,000 sites in the genome.”  The researches found variations in the amount of methylation of up to 20 percent in the gene ST6GALNAC1 (which has been connected with schizophrenia) and differences in the amount of methylation of up to 25% in the gene GPR24 (which had previously been linked to bipolar disorder).  Interestingly Mill’s team found that “a gene called ZNF659, showed over methylation in people with schizophrenia and under-methylation in those who were bipolar, suggesting that the conditions might result from opposing gene activity.  These findings certainly support the theory of Epigenetic’s being a real factor in behavior and mental illness.  They also serve to confirm that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are related disorders.  This relates to our unit in the sense that Epigenetics deals with the expression of the DNA and genetic sequence we are learning about.  While we read about how the nucleotides are sequenced, Epigenetics could potentially be responsible for how DNA is expressed.

Related reading:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/health/09brain.html?_r=0

http://bipolarnews.org/?tag=epigenetics

http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/bipolar-disorder/psychiatric-epigenetics-key-molecular-basis-and-therapy-psychiatric-disorders

Does long-term endurance training impact muscle epigenetics?

800px-Nucleosome_1KX5_2

 

Epigenetics translates to “above” or “on top of” genetics. To be more specific, Epigenetics is the study of how modification of gene expression can cause changes in many organisms.

A new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden explores the theory that long-term endurance training alters the epigenetic pattern in the human skeletal muscle. The team that conducted the research also explored strong links between these altered epigenetic patterns and the activity in genes controlling improved metabolism and inflammation.

The study was conducted using 23 young and healthy men and women. The men and woman would perform one-legged cycling – where the untrained leg would be the control of the experiment. Four times a week and over the course of three months, the volunteers would participate in a 45 minute training session. Though skeletal muscle biopsies, supervisors would measure their markers for skeletal muscle metabolism, methylation status of 480,000 sites in the genome, and activity of over 20,000 genes.

At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that there was a strong relationship between epigenetic methylation and the change in activity of 4000 genes in total. Epigenetic methylation is defined as the “addition of a methyl group to a substrate or the substitution of an atom or group by a methyl group. ” Moreover, it was determined that methylation levels increased when involved in skeletal muscle adaptation and the metabolism of carbohydrates. However, methylation levels decreased in regions associated to inflammation.

Furthermore, Carl Johan Sundberg found that “endurance training in a coordinated fashion affects thousands of DNA methylation sites and genes associated to improvement in muscle function and health.” He believes that this determination could be vital to understanding the treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as how to properly maintain good muscle function throughout life.

This article relates very much to our work in class as we learn the Molecular Genetics Unit. It connects because we are learning what happens when mutations occur in one’s genome and the impacts those mutations have on someone. For example, cancer is one of the most researched and explored topics in regard to how modification of gene expression alters organisms. Oncogenes and Tumor suppressor genes have vital impacts on cellular division, changes to cellular function, and the growth of tumors.

Could There be Good Gene Mutations?

Is there an epic battle occurring within our bodies right now? The classic battle royale between good and bad? I suppose in the body’s case the fight between good and bad genes.  There is a new field in medical research in which researchers are on the quest to find good gene mutations that fight against the disease causing mutations.  One individual, Doug Whitney, sparked the interest of a few doctors because he has fought his genetic odds to be health at 65 years old.  Whitney has a gene mutation, presenilin, that causes early onset Alzheimer’s disease in those who has inherited it. Whitney’s mother and 9 out of his 13 siblings were killed by this mutation and so Whitney’s fate seemed to be sealed.  However when Whitney reached his 40s and 50s having no symptoms he assumed he did not have the gene.  At 62 years old, Whitney, decided he would get a gene test.  He did have the gene.  This was an anomaly, He was doomed to have early onset Alzheimer’s Disease but had absolutely no symptoms. Although Whitney still have changes of getting Alzhiemers but the effects of his bad gene have been greatly delayed by another gene in Whitney’s DNA.  Whitney joined a study at Washington University in St. Louis led by Doctor Randall Bateman which recruited people with the early onset Alzheimer’s disease gene. This attracted the attention of Doctor Eric E. Schadt and Doctor Stephen H. Friend.  Doctor Schadt said that searching for good genes that protect against bad gene mutations is completely turning genetic research on its head.  Researchers have found gene mutations that partially protect diseases like osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.  These good gene mutation’s partial protect have help to develop drugs to help fight certain diseases. Finding good gene mutations are substantially more difficult to find than bad genes, but the search has gotten a little easier with fast and inexpensive methods of sequencing DNA. Doctor Schadt and Doctor Friend decided to start the Resilience Project and search for good gene mutations that counteract bad gene mutations to help develop new break though treatments and drugs. They have contacted the researchers at Washington University, the research that Whitney is currently participating in.

For more information:

Article from NYT

Prokaryotic positive genetic influences

Genetics used for intrusion protection

About genetic testing

 

Petri Dish Brain Models…Endless Possibilities.

Side View of the Brain

Who would have thought that modern science could develope a brain stimulation with actual brain cells in a petri dish? Well researchers led by Doctor Rudolph E. Tanzi have done just that.  They have made substantial steps in the field of medical brain research specifically in the Alzheimer’s research field. Rudolph E. Tanzi is a prominent neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. One of Tanzi’s colleagues and also a neuroscientist, Doo Yeon Kim, suggested that they grow brain cells in gel. From this suggestion researchers under Tanzi’s lead created a brain scenario in a petri dish and then gave this model Alzheimer’s disease. Tanzi and his group took embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to become any type of cell in the body, and grew them with a mixture of chemicals. Said chemicals cause the stems cells to become neurons, which they then gave those neurons Alzheimer’s genes and were all growing in a commercially available gel in a petri dish. Those genes then caused plaques and later tangles which are indicative characteristics of Alzheimers. Dr Tanzi was quoted, “Sure enough, we saw plaques, real plaques…We waited, and then we saw tangles, actual tangles. It looks like you are looking at an Alzheimer brain.” This manufactured real Alzheimer’s brain stimulation opens new doors for research that was hindered because previously on mice with imperfect formsof the human Alzheimer’s genes. Doctor P. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University states, “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates.” Although the Petri Dish Model lacks some real life qualities it can still be utilized as a start for quick, cheap, and easy drug testing. Doctor Sam Gandy of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York states that the new discovery is, “a real game changer.” Tanzi is now starting to test 1,200 drugs on the market and 5,000 experimental drugs, a project that was impossible to perform on mice. Tanzi also wishes to test a protein, amyloid, that clumps into the plaques. He found an enzyme, that when blocked prevents tangles from forming. Dr. Gandy wishes to use the the system to study the influence of genes, such as ApoE4, which contributes to about 50% of Alzheimer’s cases. Dr. Doraiswamy of Duke stated, “The lack of a viable model for Alzheimer’s has been the Achilles’ heel of the field.” Tanzi’s model is the first step towards defeating this “Achilles’ heel” which opens infinite new doors in the research of finding new medications to cope with the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease.

For more Information: 

Official Alzheimer’s Research Page

Neuroscience Research 

Actual Article

 

 

 

Dying Brain cells signal new brain cells to grow in songbird

BIRD

 

Original article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140923182051.htm

In a recent paper written by leading author Tracy Larson and co-authors Nivretta Thatra and Brian Lee, they discovered a brain pathway that replaces brain cells lost naturally. This study could further the progress of using replacement cells for the neurons lost during aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other natural causes.

These scientists used songbirds, specifically Gambel’s white-crowned sparrows, as a model and observed that the area of their brain that controls song increases during breeding season, and decreases during other times in the year. After breeding season the cells in the area of the bird’s brain that controls songs undergoes programmed cell death. What is noteworthy about these dying cells is that they are also releasing a signal that reaches certain stem cells in the brain that will eventually redevelop the singing part of the brain by the time the next breeding season arrives. This process of developing new neurons from stem cells called neurogenesis normally occurs in the form of “regenerative” neurogenesis post brain trauma in mammals; however, it also occurs in the hippocampus in small amounts.

These songbirds could provide insight on how the human brain can perform natural neurogenesis and help replace neurons lost because of aging and neurodegenerative diseases. These finding may pave the way to alternative treatment for repairing human brains using neurogenesis and replacement cells.

The Ebola Epidemic: When Will it End?

Ebola Virus

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has captivated international audiences the last few weeks.  Ebola Virus Disease is an often fatal disease which is systemic meaning it attacks all organs and tissue in the body. It can be spread through any human to human contact, making this disease highly contagious. The countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been heavily affected by this disease. On tuesday September 23th the Center for Disease Control (CDC) based in Atlanta Georgia released new projections on the Ebola epidemic in Africa based on computer modeling.  The CDC released a best-case scenario being that if proper measures are taken the disease could be eradicated by January 2nd and a worse-case scenario that if disease is left unmonitored and continues as is, there will be approximately 1.4 million cases by January 2nd.   Doctor Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Ebola epidemic, has stated that since the data was received in August conditions have improved slightly due to increased aid to the affected regions. Another report was released by the World Health Organization (WHO) which stated more conservative figures but also acknowledged that there could possibly be more due to unreported cases. The WHO report brings about the idea that the epidemic may not end and the Ebola virus will perpetuate in West Africa. It is obvious to health officials, such as Dr. Jack Chow, that even in a medium case scenario the amount of hospital beds and aid are rapidly being surpassed by the number of cases. The CDC does acknowledge this impending lack of bed and isolation unit crisis. One solution to this problem is to educate citizens on home care and send home care packages to support this movement.  Although some are dubious, Frieden states that home care had been effective in the smallpox crisis in the 1960s in Africa.  In addition to homecare, Doctor D. A. Henderson explains that funds and food play a huge roll in the containment and elimination of disease because when you give victims money and food there is no need for them to beg or go out to the market for food where they might encounter other human contact. How should this epidemic be handled? Is homecare an effective solution? Where should money be allocated, homecare or hospital expansion?

 

Link to Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/health/ebola-cases-could-reach-14-million-in-4-months-cdc-estimates.html?ref=health&_r=1

 

Sensing neuronal activity with light

neurons

Researches have recently developed a tool that may help in mapping the neural networks of living organisms using light. Observing these electrical signals of neurons can lead to numerous advancements in our understanding of neural circuitry.

In a collaborative study between Viviana Gradinaru, Frances Arnold and Barbara Dickinson, they developed a method to sense neuronal activity with light. These researchers used a protein named Archaerhodopsin (Arch) and exploited its light responsive qualities. They were able to optimize Arch through a process known as directed evolution. Using this method they created a variant of the Arch protein, called archer1 that acted as a voltage sensor under a red light and an inhibitor under a green light, while generating a light intensive enough to detect. When this protein acts as a voltage sensor it can show which neurons are active and synaptically connected and which aren’t under certain stimuli.

These researchers were able to test Archer1 in the worm C. elegans, which was chosen for its near transparent tissue that made it ideal for observing the luminescent protein. This was the first place they were able to observe the circuits of the neurons light up if they were expressed and dim down if they were repressed. For future studies they hope to make Archer1 bright enough to be detected through opaque tissue and accurate enough to detect voltage changed in more complex, behaving mammals. This study can prove to help us in our understanding of neural networks.

Original papers:

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/36/13034

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140915/ncomms5894/full/ncomms5894.html  (You can only read abstracts; you have to pay to read the full text)

What We Can’t See Is Just As Important As What We Can!

Taken by Ron Lute http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en

Taken by Ron Lute
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en

Many students of biology know that life comes in all shapes and sizes, and even though we can’t see some organisms, they are most certainly present.  If you don’t know this, and you are a biology student, you might want to go back and read the first chapter of your textbooks to learn a big chunk of information that will come around in either next week’s test or your midterm.  For now, you’ve already come this far, so you can just learn the basics later.

As it turns out, some of those little organisms, located just under the soil’s surface,  are vital to the health and safety of the the plant-life they surround.  In an effort to raise awareness of the many effects a microbiome can have on plant performance, Marnie Rout (University of North Texas Health Science Center) and Darlene Southworth (Southern Oregon University) brought together a series of works by different authors on the subject, all placed in a special section of the American Journal of Botany called “Rhizosphere Interactions: The Root Microbiome.”  As a basic understanding of the concept, the rhizosphere is the layer of soil around a plant root.  It contains microbes that affect the plant on basically every scale, from the genes to the ecosystem.  It’s important to note that the microbiome works through the rhizosphere, effectively turning this “metabolically diverse” collection of microbes into a supply source should the plant need anything.  Interestingly enough, the rhizosphere also can act as a type of self-defense grid, similar to how human microbiomes function, where in some cases plants have been known to shed their root’s outer cell layers into the rhizosphere in order to form a “layer of immunity” to the plant.

Perhaps, one day in the future, these microbiomes can offer different types of bacteria that can be used for “crop production… in areas likely to be affected by global climate changes.”  What do you think we still have to learn about microbiomes before uses like this are possible?  Do any of you know someone currently researching in this field?  Are you students who didn’t know that there were organisms that you couldn’t see ever going to look at your textbooks?

 

 

Blue Morpho Butterfly Wings: More Than Just Pretty Faces

Morpho ButterflyThe beauty of butterflies, especially their wings, has captivated many a person. One butterfly, the Blue Morpho, has particularly stunning iridescent wings. Besides their beauty, these wings feature a unique characteristic, which could led to a variety of innovative technologies. Funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a team of researchers from the University of Exeter along with General Electric (GE) Global Research Center, University at Albany and Air Force Research Laboratory, has found the Morpho butterfly’s wings to include a physical structure and surface chemistry that provide amazing properties, which could present a diverse set of applications such as photonic security tags, self cleaning surfaces, protective clothing or industrial sensors. As noted in the journal PNAS, the study discovered that vapor molecules adhere differently to the top of the nanostructures on the scales of Morpho wings than to the bottom. A by-product of its wing scale development, this selectiveness to vapor molecules is what allows for the various bio-inspired technological applications described above. Dr. Radislav Potyrailo of GE and the Principal Investigator for this research program reported that this interdisciplinary team “unveil[ed] the existence of surface polarity gradient on the…butterfly scales,” which then allowed for the “multivariable perspective for vapor sensing, where selectivity is achieved with a single chemically graded nanostructured sensing unit, rather than from an array of separate sensors.”

In speaking about the iridescent properties of butterflies and moths and their relation to natural photonics, Professor Pete Vukusic of the University of Exeter said, “design ideas from nature [allow us] to work towards the development of applications in a range of different technologies.” I agree with this statement and believe it is important to not only come up with new technologies based on man-made ideas, but also from the natural phenomenons that already occur.

Do you know of any similar adaptions of natural properties? What are some of those naturally inspired technological (or other) innovations?

Photography credit: Ken Slade -http://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/7023938029/in/photostream/

Article reference: http://goo.gl/EyvMUa

Why We Love Music

We have all experienced it; hearing a new song that you really like, and rushing to your preferred digital music distributor to buy it. Researchers at Science Magazine have recently determined why we have this feeling. Hearing a new song activates a part of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens. This part of the brain is used to make predictions, which it tries to do with a new song as well. When it correctly predicts where the song will go, it stimulate the feeling of pleasure, given that it is located within the reward center of the brain. However, the nucleus accumbens doesn’t work alone. It has been found that it works in conjunction with three other parts of the brain: one looks for patterns, another compares the music to sounds previously heard and the last checks for emotional ties. According to Robert Zatorre of the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University, these four regions of the brain “work overtime” when listening to a new song. This development has been taken further, and now researchers believe that they can correctly predict what a person is willing to spend on a new song judging by the amount of activity that their nucleus accumbens displays. Aniruddh Patel of Tufts University commented that a music store such as Google Music and iTunes was “a very clever idea” that plays to “an old theory in music cognition”. Some researchers believe that these discoveries will lead to breakthroughs in speech and sound recognition in the future.

Primary Source Article

 

HeLa Cells Sequenced!

Photo By: University of Arkansas
Wellcome Trust

The immortal cell, also known as HeLa cells, have been used by scientists for years for various medical research. But, until today the genome of HeLa cells was never known. Jonathan Landry and Paul Pyl, from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, performed the study to sequence Henrietta Lacks‘ genome, and what they found was quite remarkable. They found striking differences between her cells and the cells of a normal human being. The genome had abnormalities in both chromosome number and structure. They also found that countless regions of the chromosomes in each cell were arranged in the wrong order and had extra or fewer copies of genes, all telltale signs of chromosome shattering. Chromosome shattering has recently been found to be linked to 2-3% of cancers. Seeing as how Henrietta Lacks’ cells were taken from a cervical tumor, this is not a surprising find. However, because her genome had never been sequenced this was all new to Landry and Pyl. They said, “The results provide the first detailed sequence of a HeLa genome. It demonstrates how genetically complex HeLa is compared to normal human tissue. Yet, possibly because of this complexity, no one had systematically sequenced the genome, until now.” Another scientist, Lars Steinmetz, who led the project, added, “Our study underscores the importance of accounting for the abnormal characteristics of HeLa cells in experimental design and analysis, and has the potential to refine the use of HeLa cells as a model of human biology.” Although this study is nowhere near groundbreaking, it still helps to highlight the importance of the extensive differences that cell lines can have from their human references.

For more information on this study and HeLa cells in general, you can go to:http://www.science20.com/news_articles/genome_hela_cell_line_sequenced-106181

 

Fluent in another language? Studies show your brain will likely be stronger than average when you’re old!

Photo by: “Barefoot Liam Stock” on Deviantart.com
Find through “Free to use and share” on Google.com http://barefootliam-stock.deviantart.com/art/Huge-map-book-open-book-82979234

A recent study released by the University of Kentucky in Lexington aimed to better understand why “being fluent in more than one language protects against age-related cognitive diseases.”

Researchers used fMRI’s to compare the brains of monolinguals to life-long bilinguals, “LLBL”, (people fluent in two languages since the age of at least 10)  during various activities. Of the 110 participants, they found that mostly all monolinguals and LLBL preformed the same on tests that required simple memory, however on tests which required them to switch between activities, the older LLBL were much faster and quicker to respond than the older monolinguals.

The researchers explained that the results they saw from the older generation of monolinguals and LLBL during the two main testing categories (simple memory and switching tasks), were about the same to the results of the younger generation that they tested in a different study. They concluded that the older LLBL’s experienced less activation in several frontal brain regions linked with effortful processing, meaning that the “older bilinguals used their brain more efficiently than the older monolinguals“.

The scientists also explained that they are not sure if learning a language later in life will give a person the same cognitive benefits when they are older compared to a person who is a LLBL. They are also unsure if it’s the “knowledge of two languages that leads to benefits in aging or if there is some underlying characteristics that bilinguals have” which allows them to be more neurally efficient.

Although researchers still have a lot to learn about the increased neural efficiency found in bilinguals, this study made a vast contribution to the understanding of “the cognitive advantage of bilinguals at an old age.”

 

Read more at: http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/01/08/lifelong-bilinguals-may-have-more-efficient-brains/?hpt=he_bn2

http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/122/12/2207.full

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121008082953.htm

 

 

Enzyme Protects Against Dangers of Oxygen

Yes, you read the title correctly: Oxygen can be dangerous.

As you may (or may not) remember, Oxygen is needed for two parts of cellular respiration. 1) For the Pyruvate made in Glycolysis to enter the mitochondria for the Krebs Cycle 2) As the final electron acceptor in the electron transport chain during Chemiosmosis. If there isn’t enough oxygen around (say, you’re running and there’s not enough oxygen to go to your muscle cells), the pyruvate made in glycolysis will not enter the mitochondria, but will instead undergo fermentation, which basically turns the NADH back into NAD+ so cycle of cellular respiration can continue.

Oxygen becomes dangerous when unhealthy cells fail to undergo cellular respiration, despite plentiful oxygen and instead undergo fermentation. This leads to uncontrollable cell growth: cancer. Luckily, scientists just discovered the enzyme superoxide dimutase, or SOD1 for short, regulates cell energy and metabolism by  transmitting signals from oxygen to glucose to repress respiration. This happens through cell signaling, when SOD1 protects the enzyme Kinase-1 gamma, of CK1Y, an important key from switching from respiration to fermentation. The results of this study were published in the Journal “Cell” on January 17th.

 

 

This diagram shows how enzymes, like SOD1, work. The substrate binds to the active site of the enzyme and the enzyme either breaks the substrate in two or puts two substrates together.

 

The interesting thing about this study is that SOD1 is not a new discovery. Scientists have known about SOD1 since 1969, but they thought it only protected against free radicals. Researcher Valeria C. Culotta calls SOD cells “superheroes” because of their many powers: protecting against free radicles and regulating cellular respiration.

According to Vernon Anderson, PhD, the result of this study might find out why cells turn to fermentation, casing cancer and some other diseases.

 

How the “guardian of the genome” falls:

 

 

 

p53 is a protein that plays a vital role in the G2 checkpoint phase before mitosis begins. This checkpoint “ serves to prevent the cell from entering mitosis (M-phase) with genomic DNA damage.” (http://www.cellsignal.com/reference/pathway/Cell_Cycle_G2M_DNA.html) The role of p53 is to trigger repair for damaged DNA if possible and to hold the cell in the G1/S checkpoint until it is repaired and if the repair of the DNA is not possible p53 triggers apoptosis. Therefore, p53 plays a large role is preventing cancer because a cancerous cell starts with a mutation in DNA.  However mutant p53 allows cells who have DNA damage and have “tranformed” to be cancerous to enter into M-phase and proliferate thus forming a tumor.

Biologists, chemists and computer scientists at UC bolder however have discovered a “an elusive binging pocket” in the quaternary structure of p53 which is open “5 percent of the time.” (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130131121312.htm) The reason the pocket is only open 5 percent of the time is because the p53 protein undulates, meaning it sways so this pocket was hard to find and target. Their team then screened almost 2,500 molecules and tested out 45 molecules to see if any of them could fit into this pocket and trigger the normal tumor-suppressing abilities found in p53 in a mutated p53 molecule. They found that stictic acid fit and triggered the tumor-suppressing abilities. Although stictic acid is not able to be used as a drug, they can now scan other molecules that have similar properties as stictic acid making this a large step in cancer research because mutated p53 is found in over 40 percent of diagnosed cancer cases. (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130131121312.htm)

 

Sources:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130131121312.htm

http://www.cellsignal.com/reference/pathway/Cell_Cycle_G2M_DNA.html

That Song’s Stuck In My Head!

 

 

Has there ever been a song that you just can’t seem to stop humming?

Well thats due to stuck song syndrome. This syndrome is caused by earworms in your brain. Not to worry though, these are not actual worms! New research by Simon Brown of Simon Fraser University is shedding some light on this phenomena. In the last five years, earworms have become the subject of peer-reviewed scientific studies. In 2008, Finnish researchers published a study that used the Internet to survey age, gender, personality and musical competence of 12,420 countrymen who experienced the endless loops in their heads. The study also included an analysis of 271 responses to online questionnaires from BBC sites as well as radio networks in the U.S. and Australia. The results demonstrated that almost any thought or sensory perception can hit the “on” switch. Hearing The Village People’s “YMCA” can get the mental loop rolling. Other head music may be induced by a memory from summer camp, the stresses of work or simply the boredom of school. So, next time you can’t get a song out of your head you can thank your earworms!

For more information on the subject please go to: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Researcher-confirms-existence-of-earworms-98-2561479.php

Is it Time for a New Hot Chocolate Mug?

Hot Chocolate in front of a fireplace on a cold winter’s day is one of life’s finest delights. And, according to research done at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Oxford, the flavor of your mom’s famous hot cocoa can be enhanced by the color of the mug you drink it out of. It has been found that drinking hot chocolate out of a cream or orange colored cup can improve the flavor. Researchers had fifty-seven people drink the same hot chocolate (unbeknownst to them) out of four differently colored cups: white, cream, red and orange with white on the inside. Most participants found that the beverage tasted best when had out of the orange and cream colored cups. This shows that the brain also takes into account visual stimuli, on top of flavor and aroma, when processing taste. Similar effects have been seen with other beverages as well. For instance, a yellow color improves the lemon flavor in certain soft drinks, a pink cup makes some drinks taste more sugary, and brown cups seem to give coffee move flavor. So, the next time you go to drink hot chocolate, make sure that you pick the cream or orange colored cup!

Trial for New ALS Treatment Failed

Photo by: Nemo

Biogen Idec, a drug developing company, has recently discontinued their work on a new drug that was, hopefully, going to help patients with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A recent article explained that a new drug, known as dexpramipexole, was not effective in the phase 3 trial of the study.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease where nerve cells “waste away and die.” These cells are unable to send messages to muscles, therefore symptoms include paralysis and muscle weakness. The progression of the disease is slow and “once the patient loses the function of muscles in the chest area, it becomes hard to breathe.” There is no known cure for this disease but scientists are looking for ways to prolong the disease.

Biogen Idec believed that the drug, dexpramipexole, was hopefully going to “slow the progression of loss of muscle function and prolong the lives of people with the disease.” While the phase 3 trial was not successful, the phase 2 trial of patients receiving dexpramipexole showed some success. 50% of the patients, in the second trial, showed a slower decline of muscular function. This was a big accomplishment for Biogen Idec but the phase 3 was not as effective. Therefore, Biogen Idec’s study involving a new treatment for ALS ended.

Even though Biogen Idec’s study was not effective, other companies have successfully found a way to slow the progression of ALS. Thus far, only one drug has been approved to help patients with ALS. This drug is known as Rilutek/Riluzole and it is only modestly effective.

Doctors are in need of a new drug that will help patients with ALS. I think its great that companies like Biogen Idec are involved in finding a way to treat this rare disease. I hope that researchers will use the information from the failed trial to find another way to treat ALS.

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