Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Coral Reef Just Another Indicator of Detrimental Human Activities

The broad and extensive effects that humanity has had on the global environment is overwhelming, and whether it is melting ice sheets or the disintegration of coral reefs, we are responsible for much of these drastic and lasting environmental changes that loom over our future. For example, Reefs at Risk Revisited reports that nearly one third of the coral reefs in existence are at risk due to human activities such as over-fishing and acidification, and climate change. By 2050, it is estimated that 95% of coral reefs will experience a detrimental phenomenon known as bleaching . These reports are frightening to say the least, and while they beg for some solution, it is hard to imagine containing human-related environmental problems, especially with the human population estimated to grow by a matter of billions within the next fifty years. It will require an immense, all-encompassing effort, spanning across all manners of science and technology to solve these problems that face our planet, but at the moment it is troubling to think of some of the dangers we stand to face in coming years.

Posted by Luke Brewer

The mechanisms of obesity increasing the susceptibility of type 2 diabetes

Why the majority of patients who suffer from obesity also more easy to get diabetes and chronic inflammation? As we all know insulin is a hormone to regulate carbohydrate and fat metabolism in the body. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. From an article published on science, it figures out some parts of relevance between these two diseases.

In the article the researcher makes a contract test that when put on a high fat diet in mice, a secreted protein named Sfrp5 is decreased. This is the way how Sfrp5 works then you may know why obesity can increase the susceptibility of diabetes. First there is a group of proteins named Wnt, which are a family of secreted glycoproteins that signal through a cell surface receptor called frizzled (Fz). The Fz can stimulate the signaling pathway to stimulate guanosing triphosphatases (Rho A and Rac1), leading to activation of the JNK1. In short the Wnt activates JNK1, which triggered a proinflammatory response. Second in insulin target cell like fat cell, activated JNK1 can impair the activity of an insulin receptor substrate protein, leading to decreased insulin signaling and the development of insulin resistance. Then Sfrp5 can act as a decoy receptor that binds and sequester Wnt, thus preventing activation of Fz. In that case less JNK1 will be produced. Less JNK1 means less impairment of insulin receptor. Of course it will improve insulin sensitivity.

This observation can help the development of therapeutics, which could use Sfrp5 to treat obesity-related insulin resistance. From this article we also can know once you get a disease, other impairments will come along.

Posted by Minhui Dai

Energy Deregulation:Licensing Tumors to Grow

Cancer is something that has been studied for years now and the information gathered from research is quite interesting. Cancer cells can invade other tissues and grow exponentially. There have been many theories about cancer accepted and eventually discredited. For example, the Warburg effect. This was the idea that cancer cells used glycolysis to produce energy; also that it went through both an anaerobic and aerobic process to produce energy.

Although this was discredited scientist are going back to this idea by Dr. Warburg. In order for cancer cells to proliferate they need a large some of energy. These cells do not need any signal permission to take up nutrients they are just auto sufficient. With the cause of these cancer cells proliferating being glycolysis energy blockers can be formed. One way to is to stop the process from beginning and another way is to let citrate build up which in turn blocks the begining stages of glycolysis; both causing apoptosis. They have used an experimental drug on a mouse that had a tumor on its back and after drug administration it disappearing.

This is interesting in two ways; if this proves to be more successful there will be no more need for Chemotherapy. Another reason why it is interesting is because this is more of a nutrition approach. What i mean is that scientist most definitely worked with nutritionist on how glucose and glycolysis are used for cellular energy. That being said in turn a cancer patients diet would problem have less glucose intake. It seems as if the battle between nutrition (natural foods) and modern medicine will always have their bouts; but for this current news in seems like a draw. Imagine the possibilities.

posted by Louis Dumas (1)

Near End for Hepititis C Virus

Nearly 3% of the world's population suffers from the hepatitis C Virus (HCV). Most people who have hepatitis C received it from sharing needles or blood transfusions. There is currently no human vaccine for the hepatitis C virus because of the frequency of mutations it goes through.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen recently developed a vaccine which protects mice from HCV. Since the virus mutates so frequently, developers Peter Holst, Prof. Allan Thomsen and associate professor Jan Christensen found a way to stimulate and accelerating the immune system. Also, the vaccine allows the body to attack parts of the virus which mutates less frequently. The vaccine has not yet been tested on humans, but is effective for mice.

If the vaccine works for humans, the spread of the hepatitis C Virus could stop spreading, if people at risk receive the vaccine. Before the development for a human HCV vaccine is produced, researchers must make a vaccine that works on macaque monkeys. The world may be a safer place from the virus of hepatitis C.

Posted by Reed Allen (1)

Cell phones effect more than just your personal life.

Cell phones play a major role in everyone's daily life, they are with us where ever we go. But did you know that they effect brain activity? In this recent study, conducted by Henry Lai, researchers have found out that cell phones effect more than just your personal life , they are actually affecting the glucose metabolism of your brain, which increases brain activity. This is because of the electromagnetic radiation coming from the cell phone.
The research conducted was very interesting, in that the subject tested had 2 phones strapped to each of their ears. One phone was turned off, and the other was playing a recorded message. The interesting part is that the phone, which was playing the message, was actually switched to mute, so that there wasn't any way for the subject to even know which phone was effecting them. The message was played for a period of 50 minutes, after which the subject was put through a PET scan. This revealed that the region of the brain, that had the phone playing the message, had an increase of glucose metabolism of 7 percent. But this is not very accurate, because of variables like the distance of the nearest cell phone tower and the kind of phone used, not being controlled. It is also not known how harmful this may be, if harmful at all. But most people would have to agree that it is scary to know that talking on the phone might be doing harm to your brain. I for one will be texting a whole lot more!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Microendoscopy to Make Waves in Neuromedical Research

Mapping neurological disorders just got easier.

Last week, a research team from Stanford University unveiled a method in Nature Medicine that allows long term, real time—and, best of all, 3D—viewing of living brain tissue. While some similar techniques already exist, the development by Stanford is unique in that it allows researchers to see high resolution images of the brain, at any depth, without doing significant harm to the penetrated tissue region.

The technique involves the insertion of a guide tube into the brain at a pre-set depth, with the top portion of the tube raised out of the skull. The tubes themselves have a property called Total Internal Reflection (TIR), that allows light from the brain to be refracted through the tubes and into a laser scanning light microscope. Because the tubes are sterilized, they can be left in place indefinitely while the researchers monitor the long term progression of neurological disease. The candidate for the first test was Glioma, a deadly neurodegenerative disease rarely studied with the mouse model. Using a line of infected mice, researchers could create a time-line of disease progression, from zero day to death.

The stunning 3D resolution generated by the microscopy is the first of its kind; safe, effective and reliable, this technique may generate a more refined understanding of many neurological disorders, with an emphasis on cerebrovascular disease and epilepsy. Of course, Fluorescene Microendoscopy, while intriguing, is not a silver bullet. Because of limits on the microscope, dendrites are still the only structure that can be effectively viewed. Meanwhile, more comprehensive clinical trial results must be examined before the technique can be used on human subjects. Nonetheless, the technique represents a paradigm shift in applied microscopy and holds significant potential for the future of neurological medicine.

Unstoppable Global Warming Trends

In the last decade, there has been a rising concern about the average temperature of the world and how it is changing for the worse. This article discusses greenhouse gases and other emissions that contribute to the rising temperatures of the Earth. The main statement is that even if all emissions were stopped immediately, Earth will continue to get warmer.

Kyle Armour, a doctoral physics, suspects that the Earth will never be below the temperatures pre-Industrial Revolution. The average temperature has already increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century and may increase an additional 2.5 degrees. This level of increase is worrisome due to the potential damaging effects on the climate. The amount of greenhouse gas emissions will likely remain in the atmosphere for at least several hundred, if not thousands of years. The immediate removal of all greenhouse has emitting items such as cars is implausible and unrealistic. So it seems as though the climate is stuck in a downward spiral that will only continue to get worse.

The healthiness of Earth changes constantly and our current actions make a difference in the near and far future. Even if there can not be drastic action taken immediately, any effort to reduce the amount of emissions can have a positive influence on the climate.

Posted by Liz Stangle (3)

Newly Discovered Molecular, Spy, Helps Bacteria in Producing Stable Proteins

While bacteria are used in manufacture proteins for medicine and industry, the bugs often disrupt its production of proteins. Due to disruption, proteins fall apart, get cut up inside the bacteria, get unfolded and tangled which results in unstable proteins that is not good for maintaining their functions.

A research team led by James Bardwell, who is a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology and of biological chemistry, as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, at the University of Michigan, discovered a molecular helper to assist bacteria in making larger quantities of stable and functional proteins. During the first part of the research, the team designed biosensors, which directly link protein stability to the antibiotic resistant of bacteria, bugs. When a poor functional protein was inserted into the middle of the biosensors in the bacterium, the antibiotics resist bugs. When the protein is stabilized that resistance of bug, which gets disrupted, is restored.

The research team then experimented this unstable protein with E. Coli. They inserted this protein in E. Coli, which forced the bacteria to either adapt by improving protein stability or die when exposed to antibiotics. The scientists then increased antibiotic resistance and protein stability, which helped them isolate the bacteria that produced up to 700 times more of the previously unstable protein.

While looking back to see why these bacteria were so much better at producing proteins, the scientists found that the cradle-shaped molecular called Spy assists in protein refolding and protects unstable proteins from being cut up or colliding with other proteins. With a molecular assistant, the bacteria will produce better and stable proteins with protection provided by Spy.

Posted by Arpita Patel

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

A new breakthrough has been made in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a deficiency of dopamine in the brain. One of the major issues in treating this disease is successfully transplanting transplanting dopamine into the brain without negative side affects. A new treatment that is in development is using stem cells and transplanting them through intranasal delivery. This method is non-invasive and stops the brain swelling, tissue trauma and other issues that can occur when the stem cells are transplanted surgically. This could be a very beneficial treatment for those suffering from this disease.

This study was done on rats that had been given Parkinson’s disease. The rat that had the procedure performed on them saw a 68% normal motor function. Besides this substantial find this procedure was more successful in getting the stem cell to the proper place in the brain. The stem cells transplanted also survived up two 6 months. This procedure would allow those suffering from this disease to have multiple treatments over time.

study can be found here

article can be found here

Posted by: Jessica Kusmirek

Scientists Uncover 95 Year-Old Snake Fossil with Vestigial Legs

Paleontologists in Lebanon have recently uncovered the 95 million years-old fossil remains of a snake. No ordinary specimen, however, this snake was equipped with vestigial legs, giving scientists an excellent look at the regressive evolutionary processes that resulted in the anatomical structure of the modern snake. Using a process known as computed laminography, whereby hundreds of 2D X-ray images of the fossil where compiled into a single 3D representation, scientists at the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, were able to acquire a detailed and high-resolution 3D image of the leg bones. These images showed that, while the legs did articulate with the pelvis, they lacked bones for both ankles and feet, indicating that their function as mobile appendages had been long before this creature's existence.

While fossil and molecular evidence shows quite conclusively that snakes began to transition towards ‘leglessness’ around 150 million years ago, there are two competing hypothesis regarding the selection pressures that drove the leg regression. The first is known as the burrowing lizard hypothesis, which proposes that a shift towards burrowing lifestyles in ancestors of varanid lizards, such as monitor lizards, caused their legs to become obsolete. The fused eyelids that now make up the thick, transparent covering of the snakes’ eyes, the loss of external ears and the ability to hear by sensing terrestrial vibrations are characteristics of snakes that are also suggestive of transitions towards a fossorial, or burrowing, lifestyle. The second hypothesis is known as the Aquatic Mosasaur Hypothesis, which suggests that the aforementioned characteristics points to adaptation to an aquatic environment. Increased corneal thickness to hold off osmotic pressure, loss of external ears, and the ability to hear by sensing changes in pressure, much like the lateral line in fish, are characteristics that can also be construed as consistent with a transition towards an aquatic lifestyle.

The Aquatic Mosasaur hypothesis has long been touted as the most likely, but modern molecular studies have shown that snakes may not be as closely related to mosasaurs, a family of extinct marine lizards, as was once thought. Snakes are still show greater genetic relatedness to mosasaurs than to varanid lizards, though, giving the upper hand in the debate. Unfortunately, it does not appear as of yet that the legged fossil provides any substantial evidence for either hypothesis. Still, it is quite fascinating to see a fossil such as this, one of three legged snake fossils in the world, as it gives us an excellent look into one of the numerous dilemmas that makes the debate over the origin of species so interesting.

Posted by Connor Finnerty (2)

Simple Water Fleas More Unique Than One Would Think

Simple Water Fleas More Unique Than One Would Think

Most would agree that humans are the most genetically diverse species out there and that a measely water flea definitly falls short on the list of diverse species. However, a study in Discovery News reported that it actually is true that the water flea (Daphnia pulex), is the most genetically diverse species known. The tiny crustacean possesses approxiametly 31,000 genes. This beats out the amount humans have by 8,000. Not only do these water fleas have the highest amount of genes of all species, but they also have a large number of genes never before discovered by scientists.

The high count and the uniqueness of the fleas' genes came as a suprise to me as I am sure it did to many others because the species seems like such a simple organism. This type of water flea is asexual and dwells in ponds and lakes in North America, Europe, and Australia. So what made it so the fleas' genome is so large? Scientists discovered that the high amount of genes possessed by the water flea is actually due to their genes copying and multiplying at an extremely fast rate, much faster than other species genes replicate. Even though however, their ambundant number of genes isn't soley because their genome is extremely diverse, the water flea still contains more than a third of genes that have not been discovered in other organisms. Scientists believe that the fleas' genome is so large due to homeostasis with their environment. The fleas live in wetland areas and apparently these conditions called for unique genes to help the little critters cope with their surroundings.

This study shows how something seemigly so small and miniscule may actually have a lot more to it. It is a good thing scientists did experiments on this species of water fleas and sequenced their genes which led to the discovery of such a huge genome. This study is now expected to help scientists study effects of environmental pollutants on humans. It is amazing to think that a pesky little flea could benefit the human race.

Posted by: Teryn McCook (2)

Cuticular hydrocarbon pheromone cues cause aggression in male Drosophila

The insect cuticle is composed of several layers. One layer in particular called the wax layer, is composed of hydrocarbons (approximately 90%), which are molecules important in the communication between insects especially those that are social. In a study presented in a 2010 PLOS Biology publication, the hydrocarbons found on the cuticle of Drosophila were manipulated to test behavioral and pheromonal cues that cause aggression between males. In general, Drosophila use chemical cues to determine the sex of other individuals and behave accordingly based on these cues: they behave aggressively towards other males and compete to gain access to females, and do not attack females. Since the cues that cause aggression towards other males is not clearly understood, the authors of the publication decided to alter the genetic makeup of female Drosophila and de-feminize their pheromones and behavior. To de-feminize females, pheromone producing cell genes were targeted along with genes found in the nervous system that determine the behavior of both sexes.

The results of this study demonstrated that when female Drosophila are de-feminized and genetically made to be perceived as males, male Drosophila attack females. Males attacked females that only had their pheromone genes altered right after copulation, suggesting that chemical cues can overturn physical sensation. Males also attacked females that were genetically made to behave like males, despite of pheromone cues. When both genes were altered, males attacked females rather than trying to copulate first. Therefore, this study proves that aggression is not only mediated by pheromone cues, but by behavioral activity as well and demonstrates the importance of behavioral feedbacks.

Posted by: Nelson Milano

Thinking Twice About Your Diet

In most cases, parents will do whatever it takes to secure a happy and healthy life for their children. Commonly, this involves maintaining a reliable income, providing food and shelter, and giving their children unconditional love. But what if doing everything to benefit the health of the child starts way before that child is even conceived? The idea behind this involves a phenomenon called epigenetics. Epigenetics is the means by which an individual’s genotype combines with environmental exposure and resultantly influences that individual’s phenotype and gene expression. A great and incredibly interesting documentary explaining epigenetics can be viewed here. Whether certain genes are “on” or “off” is a matter of a simple methyl group being attached to the gene, which effectively silences that particular gene. Research has proven that methyl groups can be added or removed from genes in response to environmental triggers. Scientists are now beginning to look at how these altered methylation tags are being inherited from generation to generation. In other words, it is becoming evident that experiences and exposures in one person’s lifetime are occasionally reflected in the gene expression of their future children (or grandchildren). This is especially pertinent to diet and nutrition. In the words of researcher Randy Jirtle, “You’re not only what you eat, but potentially what your mother ate and possibly even what your grandparents ate.” This outlook could certainly lead to revolutionary changes in the way we live life.

One study being done on these sort of inheritance patterns has made advances in looking at the effect obese parents have on the health of their children simply by conceiving them. In this study , which was published in Nature, researchers found that fathers who had been exposed to a fatty diet produced daughters with smaller than normal islets. Islets are the groups of beta cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin, which regulates glucose levels. Essentially, these daughters were being sentences to extremely high risks of Type II diabetes before their lives had even begun! Researchers were then able to determine that the cause of the small islets was due to altered expression of over 600 genes with an unchanged sequence in the DNA code. One gene in particular, Il13ra2, was found to have only 25% of the levels of methylation of the control gene.

The reliability of these results and whether or not this study can be applied to humans has been highly debated. For instance, it is unclear if the sensitive period of the fatty diet (of the father) is throughout the individual’s entire lifespan or just before the onset of puberty when sperm is forming. Although this is one of the first findings of a nutritional effect being passed on to offspring in mammals, the need for such studies is vital. With a drastic increase in obese men and women conceiving children, we are directly putting the generations to come at a higher risk for diabetes, kidney disease, birth defects and other things which have been linked to obesity. Not to mention, parents leading unhealthy lifestyles are setting poor examples for their children. With more and more research looking into the science behind obesity, it is very likely that we can one day end this epidemic.

Posted by Brianna Lee (2)

Dark Matter: the Invisible 23% of the Universe

Dark Worlds,” by Jonathan Feng and Mark Trodden, is an article from the November 2010 issue of Scientific American. This article discusses how scientists explain the existence of dark matter, even though it is indeed invisible. Dark matter can be indirectly seen through its gravitational effects on bodies such as planets and stars. For example, if light in space is inexplicably distorted, dark matter may very well be to blame. Although it is invisible, it has gravitational force, may have weak nuclear force, and there may also be other possible dark forces that are currently unknown. Dark matter weighs six times normal, baryonic matter, which makes up only 4% of the universe. Dark matter is made up of particles which very rarely interact with baryonic matter or even other nonbaryonic matter, which comprises a whopping 23% of the universe. Astoundingly, dark energy is said to represent 73% of the universe, where space that looks empty could be holding much energy.

On another note, WIMPs are ‘weakly interacting massive particles’ that react to the weak nuclear force and gravity. What is hypothesized about the weak nuclear force is that baryonic force-carrying particles, W and Z, are heavier than they ought to be, so something must be acting on them, i.e. the weak nuclear force. These force-carrying particles such as W and Z are known as these WIMPs, which were created by the big bang. The big bang caused many particles to collide so very high in energy; this both created and sometimes destroyed these WIMPs. An interesting fact is that all the WIMPs that existed 10ns after the big bang still exist today, no more, no less!

Physicists have even went as far as to calculate the number of WIMPs that are still with us today, and this precise number exactly accounts for the dark matter today. Another interesting possibility is that particles called Super-WIMPs are also involved in explaining missing mass in the universe. WIMPs may have decayed into these Super-WIMPs, which are hypothetically particles that are akin to WIMPs except in that Super-WIMPs exert NO weak nuclear force. Their gravitational exertion may still be seen in their impact on galaxies’ shapes and how these Super-WIMPs bend/stretch them with their pulling. Interestingly enough, these Super-WIMPs can explain why the universe has less visual lithium than anticipated.

Dark matter is observed through its gravitational effects on bodies in space or even in the laboratory. There is six times as much dark, nonbaryonic matter than normal, baryonic matter in the universe. Discovering evidence for WIMPs is very much at the forefront in astrophysics today, where scientists aim to find these particles’ annihilation, direct detection, and production. Annihilation is where two WIMPs collide and destroy each other, leaving remnants that consist of electrons, antielectrons/positrons, and neutrinos. Direct detection aims to pinpoint instances where WIMPs bump into particles and transfer their energy. Cryogenics slows molecular vibrations, so that this recoil (energy transfer) may be observed and documented. Finally, the goal in production is to synthesize WIMPs with particle colliders like the Hadron Collider, colliding protons with great speed and energy in the hope of creating a WIMP. This would be seen through protonal collisions where mass, speed, and energy all disappear from these protons in an instant.

Posted by Derek Melzar (2).

A World Without Polio?

According to an article in Nature, we could soon live in a world where the wild poliovirus doesn't exist. Many people may be somewhat shocked to know that it does still exist, though. Polio isn't a particularly prominent virus anymore, much in the way that smallpox has been exterminated, polio has been eliminated from civilized nations. In the article it estimates roughly 99% of poliovirus has been exterminated. It is a problem that has mostly been relegated to the past. But with the recent announcement from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations that it is dedicated to the complete eradication of the wild poliovirus by 2012, it may soon be that polio truly is a problem of the past to everybody.

However even with the backing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the various other organizations that are currently at work trying to get rid of this sickness, there still are possible speedbumps for the 2012 goal as the article points out. Financing is the first problem any sort of campaign will face. The projected amount required rests at $1.81 billion (US), though $1.1 billion has already been raised for this objective. Various sources such as the Gates Foundation and several governments have pledged additional sources in the last few weeks.

Logistics is yet another issue that the campaign against polio will face. It is endemic chiefly to 4 nations: Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. But it is often very difficult to truly declare an area polio-free. This is due to the fact that polio only causes notable symptoms, including paralysis, in about 1% of its hosts. The rest are simply carriers for the virus. The silent nature of the virus also appears in the fact that it often reappears in areas that have previously been free of reported cases for a long time. However, these outbreaks are often short-lived as a relatively small number of people are not vaccinated and the virus burns out quickly.

Polio, much like many diseases that can be treated quite well, manages to squeeze by assisted by the fact that it is common in areas of conflict and poverty. This makes getting the means to vaccinate people to the people can be a challenge in and of itself. On top of this, in many of these regions there are demographics of people who fear that the oral vaccination of polio will cause medical problems and simply refuse to take it.

Even once the proclaimed 'last push' to get rid of polio is underway, it is likely that it will not be the final 1% to put the wild poliovirus at 100% eradicated. Experts say that there is more than likely other small, undetected pockets of people still are risk of infection that will have to be cleaned up and vaccinated before we can claim that polio is gone. What's more, there is still a risk of polio making flares from people who respond poorly to the vaccination and see the effects of polio from being vaccinated. These cases have been documented in the past to be able to transition to virulent stands of the virus. However, this sort of problem could be counteracted towards the movement away from the orally-administered vaccine to that of an inactive/weakened strand of polio that will not be able to make the jump to a 'vaccine derived polio virus'. It is an incredibly intensive process to be able to stamp out a virus from the face of the planet, but it may not be too long before the world can say goodbye to polio.

-Phillip Hunt

Violence, Sex, and Mice

According to an article in Nature, a study shows that sex and violence are linked to one another deep within the hypothalamus of a mouse’s brain. This study showed that, when these specific neurons were shut off or silenced, these territorial animals paid no attention to intruding males they would have normally attacked. However, when these neurons were activated, the mice became overly aggressive and not only attacked other males but females and even inanimate objects. These neurons are located within the hypothalamus in an area known to be associated with aggressive and violent behavior. Similar studies to this involved shocking that area of the brain in cats and rats but these shocks stimulated an area too large to identify specific neurons involved in aggression. This study was able to narrow down the area of stimulation by using a different technique.

The first part of the study involved examining the areas of the brain that were activated when a male mouse encountered an intruding male and when he encountered a female mate. The scientists accomplished this by labeling brain cells with fluorescent markers capable of identifying recently active neurons. This experiment produced interesting results. An area known as the ventromedial hypothalamus, or VMH, was activated during both encounters. This left the researchers with more questions. To better understand what exactly was going on, they created another experiment. This experiment was aimed towards which specific cells, if any, fired during both encounters and which ones did not. This was accomplished by inserting electrodes capable of reading individual neuron firings into a male mouse’s brain. The results showed that the majority of neurons were specific to either the sex or the violence. Yet, there were some that fired during both of these seemingly different behaviors.

Now that the researchers discovered specifically which neurons fired during these actions, they designed another experiment that would allow them to control the firing of those neurons. Through a technique known as optogenetics, the researchers inserted a gene into these neurons that responds to blue-light. They then implanted an optic fiber into the brain that produced a blue light when activated. When the researchers turned on the blue light, the mice immediately became aggressive attacking males, females, and even a laboratory glove. The males always attacked the females when these neurons were switched on with one exception- while they were having sex. It did not matter how much the researchers stimulated that area, the mice were completely unresponsive to the activation. When the mice were finished, the male would attack the female again if the signal was on.

How does this research relate to humans? Scientists believe that these VMH neurons that control aggressive behavior are part of a brain circuit. This brain circuit controls their responses to male and female intruders of their territory. This can be seen through a mouse’s need to protect his territory and his need to reproduce. He is constantly protecting his territory in order to provide room for his offspring. Many scientist believe that this circuit system exists in humans as well. One study showed a link between defensive and aggressive behavior to the VMH in humans. Another revealed that VMH is also linked to aggression in monkeys. More research in this area could provide biological answers to why people commit heinous acts such as rape or murder.

Posted by Kevin McLaughlin (2)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Malaria Inside and Out

According to a new article in Nature, a recent discovery of a subspecies of mosquito may mean that eradicating malaria could be next to impossible. Malaria kills roughly 710,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa every year. The disease is caused by the parasite plasmodium falciparum, which is carried most often by the Anopheles gambiae mosquito. Researchers have recently discovered a subspecies, nicknamed Goundry, which they believe lives outside the home. Malaria-carrying adult mosquitoes have originally thought to live inside the home, where most cases of malaria are contracted. This data is biased due to collection of adults in the home only. The idea of outdoor-dwelling malaria-carrying mosquitoes is not a new idea. It has been floating around since the 1970s; however, only recently has this new subspecies been in the spotlight.

Finding evidence that Goundry is both outdoor-dwelling and responsible for human cases of malaria is hard to do. Outdoor capture of adult mosquitoes is near impossible. Bait traps rarely work, and using humans as bait is understandably not allowed. Instead, researchers have been catching aquatic larval mosquitoes, raising them in a laboratory, and looking for genetic markers of the Goundry subspecies. While the scientists have been able to identify the new subspecies and its outdoor-living behavior, there is still no conclusive evidence that this mosquito is a threat to humans as humans may not even be its target; many malaria-carrying mosquitoes do not feast on humans.

So what does this mean if Goundry does bite humans? It could mean a perpetual step backwards in the fight against malaria. Indoor insecticide sprays have been used in the past in hopes of decreasing the rate of malaria, but this has no effect on the outdoor subspecies. However, this issue is small compared to the fact that the Goundry subspecies acquires the malaria parasite more easily than other malaria-carrying species. When fed blood infected with the parasite, 58% of Goundry mosquitoes picked up the parasite, compared to only 35% with other mosquitoes. While the efforts will still continue to find out more about this mosquito and methods of eradicating malaria, people in the infected areas of the world could be at more risk than they think.

Posted by Marlena Grasso (2)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

13% of Biology Teachers Are Not Apolobiologizing for Their Beliefs:

It is currently 10:39pm on a Wednesday evening. Make that 10:40. Right now, as we speak, a teacher is mapping out his or her lesson plan for their next biology class, and intends on referencing creationism in a positive light . Indeed, 13% of American biology teachers speak vehemently in favor of the theory of creationism, while a surprisingly small portion of biology teachers (28%) spoke favorably of Charles Darwin's theory of Evolution. The rest of that pie belongs to teachers who undermine Charles Darwin's theories, or do not take a vehement stand for either theory. That is at least according to the findings of Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, who have recently published these findings in Science Magazine, and who have denounced this continued presence of creationism within the American educational system.
However, my growing interest in this story was not how 13% of teachers could actively be teaching Creationism, but in the 59% of teachers who were not inclined at all. It would seem to me that there is not too much space to fall between in terms of ones orientation as a believer in creationism or as a believer in Evolution, and the general gap in unity seems to be a result of something other than just the beliefs of the teachers. Eric Plutzer notes how some teachers simply side-step the issue of Evolution in class: "Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, which makes them risk-averse," ( This in itself is a concern, as many teachers may simply not be well educated enough on the topic to feel comfortable teaching it. Considering that the National Assessment of Educational Progress recently reported only 36 % of 4th, 8th, and 12th grader are "proficient or better" in the sciences (, it leaves open the fear that our teachers are not being properly trained to do the job they are paid to do.
posted by: Luke Brewer (1)

"Food" Environmental Science

Jean Fedna

Imagine going into a supermarket and you are shopping for food. You go into the aisle and everything is labeled: chips, milk, orange juice, meat, soda, spaghetti. All of these items just have their objective names as their labels, but nothing is specified. Can you imagine meat being sold with no specification? Or milk? It is true that people can tell by the thickness of milk what percent they are drinking, but from what farm is this milk coming from, being pasteurized, or is it pasteurized? We could ask the same amount of questions, if not more for the rest of the items listed. When it comes to food it is important to know the process by which your food is being prepared and handled. Most importantly is to understand production. There are plenty of issues that surround food when it comes to public health. Epidemics have broke out, where without the understanding the processes of food, would make the handling of these disease outbreaks impossible to control. When it comes to food our health is at serious risks. We have to consider structure, food’s contents; the environment food is handled or kept in, and unpreventable outside components that sometimes get caught in food.
“Concurrently, estimates are that the consumption of contaminated food in the United States leads to each year to the illness of about 76 million people, of whom more than 325,000 are hospitalized and about 5,000 die.(Moeller, 129) There are a multiple amount of health problems that can derive from contaminated food. Contaminated can mean many things, sometimes it can be bacteria in the food due to insanitary environment. Viruses can get into the food from other people who are sick, people can also contaminate food by letting bodily fluids and hair particles get into the food. Sometimes people will consume food that is old and they will eat it mold and all. Sometimes in the process of making sure that foods are safe for sale for consumers to eat, within that process chemicals will get into the food such as lead or mercury. And of course, people tend to say too much of anything is bad for you.
There have been some popular outbreaks in the past years that always seem to rare their ugly heads every once in a while. Food borne diseases such as mad cow disease, salmonella poisoning, and biotech foods are the most commonly known. “Salmonella infections occur in an estimated 1.4 million people in the United States each year.” (Moeller, 133) Incubation period for salmonella is about a week if not shorter. People who get infected with salmonella experience diarrhea, back pain, and usually get high fever. The tricky thing about salmonella’s properties is that it can exist for a period of long period of time in places that most organisms cannot. It is commonly found in the intestines of animals such as dogs and can be in rodents. Chicken at times is a common source as well. For example, eggs can even be infected with salmonella because the chicken is infected first from the ovaries. There are a number of infectious diseases that can come from food and all are caused and come from different things. It is common to here that people who ate at the same restaurant will be diagnosed with salmonella in the same week. At times it is not only food borne diseases that come from food but bacteria that get into the food because of improper handling. This being said, when a restaurant worker sneezing your meal it can cause an alarming amount of sickness in the population that are eating at that restaurant or food place.
With children viruses can be prominent because they spend time in camps and other concentrated area, because they are still learning cleanliness they spread germs to each other easily. Also because the immune system of a child is still developing they tend viruses in their case can be more fatal. If high concentration can cause a for a concentrated area to easily be infected with viruses from food contamination than the not only children are affected. A population of people in general can experience viral infection if they are in an exclusive situation. For example if there are passengers on a plan who’s food is contaminated, like a salad or meat entrée, everyone on that plane could possibly get infected thus creating a population of maybe adults and children alike who experience food poisoning. People even think that eating at a restaurant is safe because in order for that restaurant to still be in business it would have to be in proper standing with the laws put in place by the health department.
When it comes to chemical illness, it is no wonder there is an expiration date on containers of food. Sometimes the chemicals used to create these containers get into canned foods, such as lead. Still that is not the only way that people become ill from food. They also can get ill from chemical occurrences in the environment. The like how mercury is converted into a salt but one that is harmful to humans, this is important when we think of the food that we get from these waters.
The new trend is to eat healthy in order to have a long life, diabetes free. Well, not only are organic foods expensive but sometimes pose a risk to human health. There sometimes preservatives or salts added to these foods to keeps them fresh as they are natural. For some time it has been discussed and debated upon what would come out of this fact that animals are given too many hormones. We want to have a large chicken because the more meat packages we can make form that chicken, hence the more money. But in the long run we do not think of the side effects that we will have to face when we eat that chicken with all its hormones. There are a number of ways that humans alter the goodness of food making food our worst enemy. It can be from the way we cook our food too much too little, to what we use to cook our foods with. Either way, with every decision that we make, it is a risk we take when we do not handle or understand how to protect ourselves in how we eat.
In light of the fact that we humans are placed in quite a dilemma, we realize that we have to eat if with it comes disease we will handle it. Because there are so many factors that can result in food contamination and cause illness in an environment, there have to be agencies put in place to regulate. For this reason there are many agencies put in place to regulate such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and another common one National Institute of Health (NIH). All of these agencies are responsible for regulating a different aspect of the food industry. (Moeller) Regulation of foods and food industries people can take the risk of eating from restaurants and purchasing foods from the market, still the risks we take can be the same ones that take us to our graves. The scary part is you never know, it is when we are infected with food poisoning that the other public health subjects come into play whether it is toxicology or air in the home community. Food doesn’t only affect are health but our environment.
Moeller, Dade. "Food." Environmental Health . 1992. Reprint. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2005. 129-157. Print.

Need Less Oxygen?

Each food reacts with the human body differently, but there is little knowledge of how individual nutrients effect our bodies. Even nutrients that are known about may have underlying causes or contribute to the body in a different aspect, potentially negatively. Nitrates are of one of the newest studies being conducted to further knowledge of nutrition.

On February 1st, 2011 an article from Science Daily, researchers report another positive aspect that fruits and vegetables should be a large portion of the human diet. Nitrates found in fruits and vegetables, in particular spinach and red beets, have been found to decrease a healthy individual’s oxygen intake during exercise. Previously it had been reported that nitrates were harmful to the body. The article warns that researchers are not recommending taking nitrate dietary supplements, but rather more vegetables that contain nitrates.

Athletes in particular may be interested in nitrates with the positive effects. There should be a warning on changing an already effective diet drastically; there is so little information available about what a body needs. But people had been healthy and not overweight when they consumed more fruits and vegetables.

Posted by Reed Allen (1)


Evolution has always been a sore subject. It is a nuisance to those who do not favor evolution and, in turn, a massive gateway for those who indulge in this topic. As humans we have the natural fondness to uncovering mysteries; and why not the unknown is fascinating. Evolution is of utmost importance in the science field. The only question is where do we start; is it here on earth or is it in space. For many years it has been question is there life beyond our own and is that life or system structured the same way as ours. The Big Bang started the cascade of events that we now live today. Moreover, the point I'm trying to make is somewhere in the ever expanding void of space there maybe a similar system like ours. With that said i have stumbled upon an interesting article about a newly found solar system.

Kepler-11 is a telescope and spacecraft made by NASA. It was launched in March of 2010 with the sole purpose of finding planetary systems that circle a star much like ours. NASA has seen a various amount of interesting systems but none like the one that made these headlines. It is a system of six planets orbiting around a star much like ours. However, the only difference is these planets are tightly pack and are rather large. This has been deemed the most tightly packed planetary system where five out of the six orbit closer than mercury does in our solar system. New mysteries have unfolded, however, scientists can learn more about "space" from Kepler-11 than through traditional means.

The finding of Kepler-11 sparks a new stepping stone for researchers and scientists. They can now use this newly found information to better understand how planets are formed and evolve. One theory that has already developed from this is that gas giants form far from their parent star (where Jupiter and Saturn are) and eventually move in-ward. If scientist can figure out this phenomena of evolution what is to say they can't find or figure out how life can start on other planets. Furthermore, if this theory proves to be true what does it mean for our own planetary system.

posted by Louis Dumas (1)

Orcas With a Whale of a Tooth Problem

[by Alexander Simolaris]

According to a report released in Nature last month, Orcas (Orcinus orca) of the Pacific U.S. have been actively predating on sleeper sharks (Somniosus pacificus). This development is contrary to the popular notion that Killer whales feed almost exclusively on marine mammals and large schools of small fish. However, the catch for the whales is severe damage—and often times complete destruction—of their teeth.

While interesting, the find is reminiscent of the discovery that some whale pods feed on sea-otters—a sign of desperation stemming from a crippling reduction in biomass. If the cost of predating sharks is equally high, then the results of the study suggest that the the whales' situation is more alarming than previously imagined—or is it?

Interestingly enough, seals pose a more direct risk to whales than sharks. Seals, among other prey, are more maneuverable and defensive during an attack; they are more likely to bite an oncoming whale than any other prey item. As counter-intuitive as this may be, sleeper-sharks—during the actual hunt, anyway—are rather innocuous targets. Incurring accelerated tooth decay may simply be a worth-while trade-off that has no significant, net effect on the whales' fitness.

Under this paradigm, there is an argument in the marine community to classify the shark-eating orcas, collectively known as “residents,” as a separate species from the “transients,” which predate almost exclusively marine mammals. These populations do not exchange vocalizations or genetic material despite being fully capable of doing so, indicating the potential development of incipient species. Should the designation be made official, conservation efforts in the region may be, at the very least, administratively affected by the change.

While these possibilities are both interesting and timely, the results of the study are difficult to interpret with any degree of certainty. Populations of pacific whales were discovered in the 70s, specific designations to residents and transients classified in the 80s while dietary habits have only been analyzed in the last decade. Despite years of work, scientists really know very little about the nuances of regional whale behavior. This problem, in addition to the notable absence of a second longitudinal study, forms only one line in a laundry list of variables that makes the data so difficult to interpret. As the pace of research is dictated by ever dwindling numbers of slowly reproducing whale pods, the important implications of the article's results may take decades before coming to fruition.

L-carnitine: The best supplement for weight loss?

Posted by Minhui Dai

Nowadays you can find lots commercials about weight loss anywhere. L-carnitine defeats other well-known supplements and is named as the fastest and safest way to lose weight. Firstly, L-carnitine transports long-chain acyl groups from fatty acids into the mitochondrial matrix, so they can be broken down through β-oxidation to acetyl-CoA to obtain usable energy via the citric acid cycle. That’s the way to metabolize fats and to prevent futile cycling between β-oxidation and fatty acid synthesis directly. Secondly, we can get L-carnitine from everyday food like red-meat, dairy and synthesized by our own healthy body. It is not a component that we made of but one that we original have. So L-carnitine is considered as the safest supplement.

In recent studies, L-carnitine is proved to have effect to protect the cell from oxidation damage which can be considered to use in antitumor medicine. Also L-carnitine treatment can reduce the neuronal loss and number of neuronal intranuclear aggregates. It is now used to prevent or treat Huntington’s disease.

More and more people get to know L-carnitine and are attracted by its intermediate effect in fatty biosynthesis and fat catabolism. But there is no evidence that carnitine supplements can improve weight loss performance in healthy individuals. Which I think does make sense. Here are some reasons I summarize from what I read and what I think.

The body can make enough carnitine to meet most people’s need. How many fats you burn considered the energy you use then how many carnitines will be produced. In recent animal experiments, it shows that L-carnitine consumption can influence the renal reabsorbtion of cartinition. Renal reabsorbtion is the way for kidney to retake useful components in initial urine. Some components’ reabsorbtion needs transporters, which can combine those components and be reclaimed by the body. L-carnitine is one of them. The number of its transporter called OCTN2 is limited. A study shows that treatment with L-carnitine affected neither the activity of carnitine transport into isolated renal brush border membrane vesicles, nor renal mRNA expression of the carnitine transporter OCTN2. In contrast, in carnitine deficient rats, carnitine transport into isolated brush border membrane vesicles was increased 1.9 fold compared to untreated control rats. So more extra carnitine you eat more you just urinate. And because of the decrease of transporters when you stop consuming this supplement the rate of fat catabolism will be lower than that before consumption. That’s why only carnitine deficient patients who suffer from peripheral vascular disease, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and kidney diseases and diabetes will take carnitine as medicine under doctor’s supervision.

On the other hand, some clinical cases show that carnitine supplements can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and a “fishy” body odor. And in some animal studies, carnitine persistently increases dopamine outflow in the nucleus accumbens. Dopamine dysregulation in this pathway has been shown to cause psychotic symptoms.

As the conclusion, in the theory, L-carnition is an efficient way to help lose weight. But it won’t and it causes some bad side effects. So do not believe those weight loss commercials. Eat healthier and exercise more!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Unfortunately the human body is not always perfect and does not always work properly, and even sometimes generates forms of abnormal cells called cancer. Research on cancer has become one of the most interesting and mind bottling experiences in science. Taxol, generic name paclitaxel, is one of the drugs that were lab generated to treat various types of cancer such as, breast cancer, lung cancer and ovarian cancer. But what if you could use one drug for two different causes?

Researchers claim that Taxol is able to reduce the deterioration of the cytoskeleton in injuries of the spinal chord. You see, when someone completely injures their spinal cord, the vertebrae is dislocated and/or damages that are made to pieces of the vertebrae will be misplaced in cord tissue and they will press down on nerves that carry signals which will result in the cord not being able to pass messages below the area of the injury and the person will end up paralyzed.

Through lab research on rats, scientists have come up with the idea that small amounts of Taxol can stabilize microtubules and also reduce the scar tissue formed so that neurons can pass through the injury area and make the connection necessary for complete healing. The drug has only been tested on recent injuries and researchers say that the next step could be testing the drug on older spinal cord injuries. Talk about a scientific advantage! Making two unfortunate scenarios into treatable, and potentially curable situations.

Article can be found here

Posted by Cleopatra Duque (1)