Archive for April 2011
The search for the fountain of youth has been ongoing ever since man decided that dying wasn’t all that appealing. And now, it appears that this elusive holy grail has been found, albeit by a species that is not ours! So who is the lucky winner of the everlasting life sweepstakes? None other than the humble and dime-sized jellyfish known as Turritopsis nutricula. This creature has accomplished what no other biological being on our planet has ever been known to do: reverse it’s aging to become young again after reaching full maturity!
As early as 1992, scientists had observed this phenomenon in Turritopsis and research into its secrets was ongoing. However, a recent spike in the numbers and geographic distribution of this species has once again brought it to the attention of the greater scientific community because of the many important breakthroughs we have witnessed in stem cell research in the past decade. As regenerative medicine continues to grow into the future of medicine, it’s clear that this tiny jellyfish may hold the answers to not only addressing the many aging-related ailments we face, but also our own mortality!
Occasional water-only fasts may lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to new research presented at the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.
The study was conducted in Salt Lake City, where two-thirds of the residents are Mormons who fast once a month for 24 hours for religious purposes.
In a previous study, the same team of researchers found that people who answered “yes” to the question “Do you abstain from food and drink for an extended time?” had a lower prevalence of coronary disease.
Now researchers were able to replicate and expand upon these findings. “People who fast have lower rates of coronary disease, and fasting was associated with a lower prevalence of diabetes,” says study leader Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City.
Researchers at MIT have found a way to make significant improvements to the power-conversion efficiency of solar cells by enlisting the services of tiny viruses to perform detailed assembly work at the microscopic level.
In a solar cell, sunlight hits a light-harvesting material, causing it to release electrons that can be harnessed to produce an electric current. The new MIT research, published online this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, is based on findings that carbon nanotubes — microscopic, hollow cylinders of pure carbon — can enhance the efficiency of electron collection from a solar cell’s surface. Read the rest of this entry »
Spicing up your daily diet with some red pepper can curb appetite, especially for those who don’t normally eat the popular spice, according to research from Purdue University. Read the rest of this entry »
Blind Mexican cavefish sleep much less than closely related species that live near the surface, according to a study that involved shaking aquariums to keep fish awake.
By breeding the fish with their sighted counterparts, scientists determined that the difference in their sleep patterns is genetic. The discovery may help identify genes and pathways involved in insomnia and other sleep disorders in humans.
The bacteria growing on stacks of petri dishes in Daniel Gibson’s lab are the first living creatures with a completely artificial genome. The microbes’ entire collection of genes was edited on a computer and assembled by machines that create genetic fragments from chemicals and by helper cells that pieced those fragments together. Gibson hopes that being able to design and create entire genomes, instead of just short lengths of DNA, will dramatically speed up the process of engineering microbes that can carry out tasks such as efficiently producing biofuels or vaccines.
Until last year, biologists hadn’t been able to make large enough pieces of DNA to create an entire genome; though living cells routinely make long stretches of DNA, a DNA synthesis machine can’t do the same. In May, Gibson and his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute announced their solution to this problem. Gibson used yeast cells to stitch together thousands of fragments of DNA made by a machine, pooled the longer pieces, and repeated the process until the genome was complete. Next he inserted the genome into bacterial cells that were about to divide and grew the bacteria in a medium hostile to all cells except the ones harboring the synthetic genome.
Posted April 24, 2011on:
Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute have developed the first of a new class of highly selective compounds that effectively suppresses the severity of multiple sclerosis in animal models. The new compound could provide new and potentially more effective therapeutic approaches to multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases that affect patients worldwide.
Read the rest of this entry »
For years, breast cancer survivors were often counseled to avoid soy foods and supplements because of estrogen-like effects that might theoretically cause breast tumors to grow.
Now, a new study of more than 18,312 women shows that eating soy foods did not increase risk of breast cancer recurrence.
The new findings are being presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 102nd Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla.
In a breakthrough that may aid treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain, UT Dallas researchers have found that brain stimulation accelerates learning in laboratory tests.
Another major finding of the study, published in the April 14 issue of Neuron, involved tracking the changes detected after stimulation and learning were complete. Researchers monitoring brain activity in rats found that brain responses eventually returned to their pre-stimulation state, but the animals could still perform the learned task. These findings have allowed researchers to better understand how the brain learns and encodes new skills. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted April 22, 2011on:
Scientists seeking to understand the origin of the human mind may want to look to honeybees — not ancestral apes — for at least some of the answers, according to a University of Colorado Boulder archaeologist.
CU-Boulder Research Associate John Hoffecker said there is abundant fossil and archaeological evidence for the evolution of the human mind, including its unique power to create a potentially infinite variety of thoughts expressed in the form of sentences, art and technologies. He attributes the evolving power of the mind to the formation of what he calls the “super-brain,” or collective mind, an event that took place in Africa no later than 75,000 years ago.
Caption: CU-Boulder researcher John Hoffecker, shown here working at a site in Russia dating back 45,000 years, believes there is mounting archaeological evidence for the evolution of a human “super-brain” no later than 75,000 years ago that spurred a modern capacity for novelty and invention. Read the rest of this entry »
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Leicester, UK, in collaboration with researchers from Poland and Japan, has announced a breakthrough in the understanding of the ‘brain chemistry’ that triggers our response to highly stressful and traumatic events.
The discovery of a critical and previously unknown pathway in the brain that is linked to our response to stress is announced today in the journal Nature. The advance offers new hope for targeted treatment, or even prevention, of stress-related psychiatric disorders.
Caption: Newly discovered neurochemical cascade promoting stress-induced anxiety. Neuropsin interacts with cell membrane proteins NMDA and EphB2 to induce expression of the Fkbp5 gene.
As partners in the international research consortium named MetaHit, scientists from the University of Copenhagen have contributed to show that an individual’s intestinal bacteria flora, regardless of nationality, gender and age, organises itself in certain clusters. The cluster of intestinal bacteria flora is hypothesised to have an influence on how we react to both our diet and medicine absorbed through the gastro-intestinal tract. The results have recently been published in the journal Nature.
Most people know about blood types, some also know about tissue types. However, now we may need to consider intestinal bacteria types as well. As part of a large, international research consortium, scientists from the University of Copenhagen have recently contributed to map special “enterotypes”, which are three distinctive clusters of bacteria in the human distal gut. Each of these enterotypes reflects a certain balance between various categories of bacteria in the distal gut, and is thought to impact intestinal bacteria digest food leavings, and utilise these for energy delivery to the gut and the whole body energy metabolism, and on how various drugs are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. Read the rest of this entry »
People who eat meat may be at increased risk of developing cataracts compared to vegetarians, a new study shows.
Researchers at the University of Oxford in England say vegetarians and vegans are 30% to 40% less likely to develop cataracts than people who eat a lot of meat.
Other factors, such as smoking, diabetes, and exposure to bright sunlight, also have been linked to greater risk of cataracts.
Posted April 22, 2011on:
US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the cobas HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Test which identifies women at highest risk for developing cervical cancer. This test will help physicians make early, more accurate decisions about patient care, which may prevent many women from developing this deadly disease. Read the rest of this entry »
For most of us, managing our health means visiting a doctor. The more serious our concerns, the more specialized a medical expert we seek. Our bodies often feel like foreign and frightening lands, and we are happy to let someone with an MD serve as our tour guide. For most of us, our own DNA never makes it onto our personal reading list.
Biohackers are on a mission to change all that. These do-it-yourself biology hobbyists want to bring biotechnology out of institutional labs and into our homes. Following in the footsteps of revolutionaries like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer in Jobs’s garage, and Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who invented Google in a friend’s garage, biohackers are attempting bold feats of genetic engineering, drug development, and biotech research in makeshift home laboratories.
In Biopunk, journalist Marcus Wohlsen surveys the rising tide of the biohacker movement, which has been made possible by a convergence of better and cheaper technologies. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can send some spit to a sequencing company and receive a complete DNA scan, and then use free software to analyze the results. Custom-made DNA can be mail-ordered off websites, and affordable biotech gear is available on Craigslist and eBay.
Adding a dietary fiber derived from seaweed to a meal-replacement drink may reduce feelings of hunger by 30%, a team of industry researchers reports.
Researchers from Unilever’s Research and Development in the Netherlands compared the effects on hunger after drinking a meal-replacement drink with the fiber, alginate, at two different strengths and without it.
The higher concentration alginate drink reduced hunger longest — up to nearly five hours after drinking it.
The human gut is filled with 100 trillion symbiotic bacteria—ten times more microbial cells than our own cells—representing close to one thousand different species. “And yet, if you were to eat a piece of chicken with just a few Salmonella, your immune system would mount a potent inflammatory response,” says Sarkis K. Mazmanian, assistant professor of biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Salmonella and its pathogenic bacterial kin don’t look that much different from the legion of bacteria in our gut that we blissfully ignore, which raises the question: What decides whether we react or don’t? Researchers have pondered this paradox for decades.
Caption: The image depicts symbiotic microbes in the process of colonizing the mucosal surface of the mouse colon. Yellow cells are Escherichia coli; red cells are Bacteroides fragilis. Intestinal tissues are labeled in green with blue nuclei. Read the rest of this entry »
Children exposed to pesticides in the womb are more likely to have measurable problems with intelligence, memory, and attention, three new studies show.
The pesticides in question, a class of chemicals called organophosphates, have long concerned both scientists and regulators because they work by irreversibly blocking an enzyme that’s critical to nerve function in both bugs and people.
Even at relatively low levels, organophosphates may be most hazardous to fetuses and young children, where healthy brain development depends on a carefully orchestrated sequence of biological events.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have for the first time observed the activity of a single gene in living cells. In an unprecedented study, published in the April 22 online edition of Science, Einstein scientists were able to follow, in real time, the process of gene transcription, which occurs when a gene converts its DNA information into molecules of messenger RNA (mRNA) that go on to make the protein coded by the gene.
Do you belong to the one-half of the population that frequently uses dietary supplements with the hope that it might be good for you?
Well, according to a study published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, there seems to be an interesting asymmetrical relationship between the frequency of dietary supplement use and the health status of individuals. Wen-Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-Sen University decided to test if frequent use of dietary supplements had ironic consequences for subsequent health-related behaviors after observing a colleague chose an unhealthy meal over an organic meal simply because the colleague had taken a multivitamin earlier in the day. Read the rest of this entry »
In the early 1900s, scientists discovered that each person belonged to one of four blood types. Now they have discovered a new way to classify humanity: by bacteria. Each human being is host to thousands of different species of microbes. Yet a group of scientists now report just three distinct ecosystems in the guts of people they have studied.
“It’s an important advance,” said Rob Knight, a biologist at the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the research. “It’s the first indication that human gut ecosystems may fall into distinct types.”
Posted April 20, 2011on:
If a friend or relative won $100 and then offered you a few dollars, would you accept this windfall? The logical answer would seem to be, sure, why not? “But human decision making does not always appear rational,” said Read Montague, professor of physics at Virginia Tech and director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.
According to research conducted over the last three decades; only about one-fourth of us would say, “Sure. Thanks.” The rest would say, “But that’s not fair. You have lots. Why are you only giving me a few?” In fact, people will even turn down any reward rather than accept an ‘unfair’ share.
A mother’s diet during pregnancy can alter the DNA of her child and increase the risk of obesity, according to researchers.
The study, to be published in the journal Diabetes, showed that eating low levels of carbohydrate changed bits of DNA. It then showed children with these changes were fatter.
The British Heart Foundation called for better nutritional and lifestyle support for women. It is thought that a developing baby tries to predict the environment it will be born into, taking cues from its mother and adjusting its DNA.
The act of mind reading is something usually reserved for science-fiction movies but researchers in America have used a technique, usually associated with identifying epilepsy, for the first time to show that a computer can listen to our thoughts.
In a new study, scientists from Washington University demonstrated that humans can control a cursor on a computer screen using words spoken out loud and in their head, holding huge applications for patients who may have lost their speech through brain injury or disabled patients with limited movement.
By directly connecting the patient’s brain to a computer, the researchers showed that the computer could be controlled with up to 90% accuracy even when no prior training was given. Read the rest of this entry »
A new study shows how inflammation can help cause cancer. Chronic inflammation due to infection or to conditions such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease is associated with up to 25 percent of all cancers.
This study by researchers at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) found that inflammation stimulates a rise in levels of a molecule called microRNA-155 (miR-155).
This, in turn, causes a drop in levels of proteins involved in DNA repair, resulting in a higher rate of spontaneous gene mutations, which can lead to cancer. Read the rest of this entry »
The calcium supplements that many older women take to boost their bone health may increase their risk for heart disease, a study shows.
“Calcium supplements, with or without vitamin D, mostly increase the risk of cardiovascular events, especially [heart attack],” concludes study researcher Ian Reid, MD, a professor of medicine and endocrinology at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. “A reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in osteoporosis management is warranted.”
The study is published in the journal BMJ.
Just before Christmas a few years ago, Richard DiCarlo, MD, woke up in the night with burning pain on his left side. Turning on a light, he saw a row of red bumps and knew immediately that he had shingles, also known as zoster, caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, dormant since a childhood infection.
After shingles and a year of postherpetic neuralgia, a painful condition that made it difficult to sleep, DiCarlo, an infectious disease specialist at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, counts himself among the supporters of the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine Zostavax was licensed in the U.S. in 2006. Data from the Shingles Prevention Trial, which enrolled 38,000 adults aged 60 and over, showed that men and women who got the shingles vaccine were half as likely to get the ailment after an average follow-up period of three years compared to those given a placebo shot. Vaccinated study participants who did develop shingles also had reduced pain compared to participants given a placebo shot. The vaccine was most effective in people ages 60-69 with increased decline in effectiveness associated with older age.
Posted April 19, 2011on:
Stanford researchers have developed a new biosensor microchip that could significantly speed up the process of drug development. The microchips, packed with highly sensitive “nanosensors,” analyze how proteins bind to one another, a critical step for evaluating the effectiveness and possible side effects of a potential medication.
A single centimeter-sized array of the nanosensors can simultaneously and continuously monitor thousands of times more protein-binding events than any existing sensor. The new sensor is also able to detect interactions with greater sensitivity and deliver the results significantly faster than the present “gold standard” method.
This is a microchip with an array of 64 nanosensors. The nanosensors appear as small dark dots in an 8 x 8 grid in the center of the illuminated part of the backlit microchip. Read the rest of this entry »
Researchers at The Wistar Institute have found a new way to force cancer cells to self-destruct. Low doses of one anti-cancer drug currently in development, called Gamitrinib, sensitize tumor cells to a second drug, called TRAIL, also currently in clinical development as part of an anticancer regimen.
Their findings, published in the April issue of the Journal for Clinical Investigation, show how this combination approach kills tumor cells in both mouse models of glioblastoma and human glioblastoma cells. Glioblastomas are the most common and aggressive form of malignant brain cancer, affecting roughly 6 out of every 100,000 people. There is currently no effective treatment for glioblastoma, and patients rarely survive more than a year after diagnosis. Read the rest of this entry »
While scientists have identified proteins that drive myriad diseases, finding ways to control them is another matter. Thanks to structural and chemical limitations, only 20 percent of the body’s proteins can be targeted with existing drugs. Most existing pharmaceuticals are either small molecules that require very specific surface features to enter a cell or large biological molecules that are too big to gain entry. But new types of therapeutic molecules developed over the last decade, called stapled peptides, may be able to work their way into tissues that were previously inaccessible. In research presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in California last week, Harvard biochemist Gregory Verdine described two potential new drugs—one for colon cancer and one for asthma—that are capable of going where none have gone before
Stapled Up: A chemical bond (yellow) between two successive turns of this peptide (red) acts as a “staple,” creating a stable molecule that can enter cells that are inaccessible with current therapeutics.
Credit: Verdine Laboratory, Harvard University
People who take steps to alter their lifestyles and eat healthier diets can significantly reduce high levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat that is associated with heart and blood vessel problems and other diseases, the American Heart Association says in a new scientific statement.
Changes can include substituting healthy, unsaturated dietary fats for saturated ones, exercising, and losing weight, which could reduce triglycerides by 20% to 50%, the AHA statement says.
“The good news is that high triglycerides can, in large part, be reduced through major lifestyle changes,” Michael Miller, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, says in a news releas
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have pinpointed a reason older adults have a harder time multitasking than younger adults: they have more difficulty switching between tasks at the level of brain networks.
Researchers know that multitasking negatively affects short-term, or “working,” memory in both young and older adults. Working memory is the capacity to hold and manipulate information in the mind for a period of time. It is the basis of all mental operations, from learning a friend’s telephone number, and then entering it into a smart phone, to following the train of a conversation, to conducting complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning.
Researchers are stopping a study that tests a daily pill to prevent infection with the AIDS virus in thousands of African women because partial results show no signs that the drug is doing any good.
Women taking Truvada (true-VAH’-duh), made byGilead Sciences Inc., are just as likely to get HIV as other women who have been given dummy pills, an interim analysis of the study found. Even if the study were to continue, it would not be able to determine whether the pills help prevent infection, since the results are even this far along, researchers said.
The finding is disappointing because another study last fall concluded that Truvada did help prevent infections in gay and bisexual men when given with condoms, counseling and other prevention services. Many AIDS experts view that as a breakthrough that might help slow the epidemic.
The scientist: Jeanne Garbarino, a postdoctoral researcher in the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism at The Rockefeller University. Be sure to read her blog and follow her on Twitter @jeannegarb.
The idea: The operations of a cell depend on the interplay between a countless array of complex biomolecules. To comprehend life at its most basic level, scientists must track where these biomolecules go in cells to pinpoint what they interact with — what changes they might enable or undergo. The capability to understand the inner workings of cells might help grant the ability to control them as needed.
Posted April 18, 2011on:
For the first time, scientists have made star-shaped, biodegradable polymers that can self-assemble into hollow, nanofiber spheres, and when the spheres are injected with cells into wounds, these spheres biodegrade, but the cells live on to form new tissue.
Developing this nanofiber sphere as a cell carrier that simulates the natural growing environment of the cell is a very significant advance in tissue repair, says Peter Ma, professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and lead author of a paper about the research scheduled for advanced online publication in Nature Materials. Co-authors are Xiaohua Liu and Xiaobing Jin.Credit: Peter Ma
A single-letter change in the DNA code may spell ADHD, Korean researchers report.
ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — makes it very hard for about 5% of school-aged children to learn. Kids with ADHD are impulsive and can’t sit still. They can’t focus their attention and have trouble learning and remembering.
It’s not clear why some children get ADHD and others don’t. Now Korean researchers report that children with ADHD tend to have a particular DNA misspelling — a single-nucleotide polymorphism or SNP — that affects an important brain function gene called GIT1.
Mice genetically engineered to carry this SNP are hyperactive and have poor learning and memory skills. But when given stimulant ADHD drugs, the mice become normal.
By exploiting the rapid replicating power of viruses, researchers were able to make biological molecules in the laboratory evolve much more rapidly than they can with existing approaches. Their new method, called phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE), could be used to accelerate the development of therapeutic proteins, such as new cancer drugs, or to tackle unsolved questions about how evolution works.
Most traditional pharmaceutical agents are small molecules, but a number of promising new therapies are based on macromolecules, such as proteins. So-called “directed evolution” gives scientists a way to adapt a naturally occurring macromolecule to perform a specific therapeutically useful function, such as bind to a cancer-linked protein.
Researchers recently held out promise that a simple injection is being developed to limit the devastating consequences of heart attacks and strokes.
Described by the lead researcher as ‘a fascinating new achievement’, work has already begun to translate the research into novel clinical therapies.
The University of Leicester led an international team whose research has been published in the Early Online Edition of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read the rest of this entry »
Basic Yellow 1, a dye used in neuroscience laboratories around the world to detect damaged protein in Alzheimer’s disease, is a wonder drug for nematode worms. In a study appearing in the March 30, online edition of Nature, the dye, also known as Thioflavin T, (ThT) extended lifespan in healthy nematode worms by more than 50 percent and slowed the disease process in worms bred to mimic aspects of Alzheimer’s. The research, conducted at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, could open new ways to intervene in aging and age-related disease. The study highlights a process called protein homeostasis – the ability of an organism to maintain the proper structure and balance of its proteins, which are the building blocks of life. Genetic studies have long indicated that protein homeostasis is a major contributor to longevity in complex animals. Many degenerative diseases have been linked to a breakdown in the process. Buck faculty member Gordon Lithgow, PhD, who led the research, said this study points to the use of compounds to support protein homeostasis, something that ThT, did as the worms aged. Read the rest of this entry »
Long-term users of the street drug ecstasy may be at increased risk of structural brain damage, new research suggests.
Researchers in the Netherlands enlisted 10 men in their mid-20s and seven in their early 20s for the study. The 10 in the mid-20s were long-term users of ecstasy. The other seven men were healthy and had no history of ecstasy use.
Magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs) were used to measure the volume of a part of the brain called the hippocampus, considered to be responsible for long-term memory.
Though the ecstasy group had used more amphetamine and cocaine than the non-ecstasy group, both groups had used similar amounts of recreational drugs and reported they drank alcohol regularly.