May 162015

Bionews 12

#Bionews 12- News for Science GCSE and Biology A Level students

The Biology of ‘The Dress’

Back in February you would have seen pictures of ‘The Dress’ all over the internet and social media. The big question was did you see blue and black stripes or white and gold stripes. I have always wondered whether we all perceive the same colours- I often find I describe something as a blue when someone else calls it a green but is it just a matter of the labels we are putting on the same colours or are we seeing them differently? Three Biology research papers have just been published on why the image is seen differently by different observers, and what this tells us about the complicated workings of color perception.

Conway surveyed 1400 indivduals and found that people identified the colours of the dress as blue/black, a white/gold, or a smaller number of people blue/brown. They found that perception differed by age and sex. Older people and women were more likely to report seeing The Dress as white and gold, while younger people were more likely to say that it was black and blue. Conway also believes that these differences in perception may correspond to the type of light that individuals’ brains expect to be in their environment (natural daylight and artificial light in different proportions before seeing The Dress).

The research led by Karl Gegenfurtner only used 15 but used controlled lighting. For the lighter stripe, participants reported seeing a continuous range of shades from light blue to dark blue, rather than white and blue, the two dominant colors reported so far.

“The question should thus not be whether the dress is blue or white, but whether it is light blue or dark blue, write Gegenfurtner and his co-authors. Despite the continuous choice of matching colors, observers are consistent in calling the dress ‘white’ when their match lies above a certain brightness and ‘blue’ when it lies below.”

Would The Dress have gone viral had it been #greenandblack or #orangeandblack? Not likely, argues cognitive scientist Michael Webster at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research is part of a growing body of evidence showing that the human eye is more likely to confuse blue objects with blue lighting.
Read the original article- ‘Three perspectives on ‘The Dress’

Infectious Diseases

Battle against drug-resistant malaria in south-east Asia

The rise of drug-resistant malaria in south-east Asia is leading to new strategies to eliminate the disease from the region. Researchers across the region are concerned that, without a comprehensive, targeted approach to elimination, the disease could once again take hold in the area. Watch the video at

Malaria’s Doorway to Infect Blood Cells Identified; Potential to Close it, Lock it, Throw Away the Key

Severe malaria is one of the leading causes of mortality among children globally. During infection, parasites invade and replicate within red blood cells. With resistance to malaria drugs increasing, researchers are desperate to find new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

Scientists have identified a protein on the surface of human red blood cells that acts as an essential entry point for the malaria parasite. If this essential host factor is removed it prevents all parasite strains from entering red blood cells. This discovery opens up a promising new avenue for the development of therapies to treat and prevent malaria. Read more… Malaria’s Doorway to Infect Blood Cells Identified; Potential to Close it, Lock it, Throw Away the Key.



Antibody’s unusual abilities might inspire vaccine strategies

The recent discovery of a novel antibody that works in an unusual way might inspire ideas for designing more effective vaccines.  Among the common pathogens that might be targeted are disease-causing strains of E. coli (such as those causing urinary tract infections).  The antibody appears to keep bacteria from adhering to cell surfaces, and also can dislodge those already attached. This attachment is a necessary first step the bacteria must take to cause an infection.

To attach to human cells, E. coli has hair-like structures, called fimbriae, on the end of which sit pocket-shaped proteins. These proteins, called adhesins, grasp and hold onto sugar-like molecules found on the surface of human cells. For many years, researchers have sought to develop a vaccine that would generate antibodies to bind to and block an adhesin called FimH. This has been hampered by issues with competition which the researchers have now overcome and is described in full in the paper. It will be useful for you to read to check your understanding of competition for binding sites in biomolecules such as receptors and antibodies. Read more…

Frontline immune cells can travel for help

A new study shows that cells which form the bulk of our fast-acting ‘innate’ immune system behave differently, depending on whether an injury is infected or not. It is well known that paparazzi-like ‘neutrophils’ swarm to sites of injury within minutes to undertake damage control and kill invaders. However, researchers have now shown that in certain cases neutrophils can also enlist reinforcements in their fight against pathogens by priming the slower adaptive immune system.

“In theory, this new finding could help us prevent microbes from exploiting neutrophils as Trojan horses to spread infection. It might also allow us to enhance neutrophil migration, and so generate a faster and more effective anti-microbial response.“At the very least, the finding helps clarify an aspect of how the innate and adaptive arms of the immune system work together in the initial stages of infection.” Read more…

Microbiology and autoimmune diseases

Definitive Tests for Irritable Bowel Syndrome Developed at Cedars-Sinai

Millions of people afflicted by irritable bowel syndrome can now be diagnosed quickly and accurately with two simple blood tests developed by a Cedars-Sinai gastroenterologist. The tests confirm when a patient has developed IBS because of food poisoning, a major cause of the disorder. Toxins produced by bacteria, such as salmonella, can severely harm the digestive system by damaging nerves critical to healthy gut function. The new blood tests identify the presence and amount of specific antibodies reacting to the toxins.

“Most IBS patients have been told at one time or another that the disease was psychological, all in their head,” said Pimentel. “The fact that we can now confirm the disease through their blood, not their head, is going to end a lot of the emotional suffering I have seen these patients endure.”

For more information on IBS and the new blood test for the disorder, watch this video: First Ever Blood Test for IBS

Educating the immune system to prevent allergies

Many people suffer fromlifelong allergies which start in childhood where their immune system responds to a chemical as if it is dangerous. A research team at the Montreal Children’s Hospital is bringing them hope with a potential vaccine that nudges the immune response away from developing allergies.

“The study offers a potential way of preventing allergies by using a molecule that redirects the immune response away from the allergic response”, says lead author Dr. Christine McCusker. “This discovery is very promising since the molecule we developed can be administered by a drop into the nose as a spray. What’s beautiful about our approach is that you do not have to couple it with a specific allergen, you only use this peptide. It just redirects the immune system away from the allergic response and then it will not matter if the child is exposed to pollen, cats or dogs, because the immune system will not form an aggressive allergic reaction anymore”.Educating the immune system to prevent allergies

Infant antibiotic use linked to adult diseases

A new study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota has found a three-way link among antibiotic use in infants, changes in the gut bacteria, and disease later in life. The imbalances in gut microbes, called dysbiosis, have been tied to infectious diseases, allergies and other autoimmune disorders, and even obesity, later in life. The study, led by Biomedical Informatics and Computational Biology program graduate student fellow Pajau Vangay, also developed a predictive model with potential clinical importance for measuring healthy development of bacteria in the gut of young children.Read more…

The infant gut microbiome: New studies on its origins and how it’s knocked out of balance

This new study supports previous observations that most early bacterial colonizers of the gut are derived from the mother. The investigators noted that while C-section babies receive less of their mother’s microbes, they are still able to be passed on through the skin and mouth. Once bacteria take hold in an infant’s gut, their populations shift depending on what a child eats. The researchers believe that the cessation of breast-feeding is such a significant moment in microbiome development because certain types of bacteria thrive on the nutrients breast milk provides. Once these nutrients are no longer available, other bacteria emerge that are more commonly seen in adults.
Read more…

The Infant Gut and Antibiotics: Long-Term Effects

Antibiotics account for one quarter of all medications given to children, with a third of prescriptions considered unnecessary. In addition to concerns about antibiotic resistance, these drugs are known to disrupt a child’s gut microbiome in ways that a growing amount of evidence suggests may have long-term consequences, including obesity, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.

Based on a review of the literature, biotechnologist Dan Knights, of the University of Minnesota, and colleagues developed a framework for how antibiotics may be acting in the gut to cause these outcomes. In the case of allergies, for example, the use of antibiotics may eradicate key gut bacteria that help immune cells mature. These cells would have been essential for keeping the immune system at bay when confronted with allergens. Even if these bacteria return, the immune system remains impaired.Read more…

New insight into inflammatory bowel disease may lead to better treatments

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) afflicts up to 620 000 people in the UK, causing abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding and other potentially debilitating symptoms. The most common forms of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD is an autoimmune condition that is thought to develop based on genetic and environmental factors.

The microbes that colonize the gut are likely an important environmental factor. In most cases, these bacteria are beneficial to humans. However, certain bacteria can get through the protective layer of mucus that covers the inner lining of the gut. Scientists have theorized that under the right conditions, such bacteria burrow their way into the gut lining, inciting immune cells to attack and harm the intestine. This study shows that the bacteria do not directly cross the gut lining and cause the reaction but vesicles released by the bacteria do. Deeper understanding of this mechanism may lead to new treatments and the researchers’ results highlighted a bacterial enzyme that could be a target for IBD treatments. Read more…

A trigger that likely unleashes autoimmune disease

Australian researchers believe they have discovered a group of cells that trigger autoimmune disease, as well as the molecular ‘trigger guard’ that normally holds them in check. These previously undetected cells are renegade versions of the cells that make the ‘high affinity’ antibodies required for long-term immunity.Read more…

Joslin Research Discovery Provides Insight into Development of Autoimmunity

Researchers have uncovered the action of a gene that regulates the education of T cells, providing insight into how and why the immune system begins mistaking the body’s own tissues for targets in autoimmune diseases. The gene, Clec16a, is one of a suite of genes associated with multiple autoimmune disorders, suggesting it is fundamental to the development of autoimmunity. The gene plays a role in the process known as autophagy, in which cells digest their own internal proteins and then recycle them onto their cell surfaces. Read more…

Finding Should Enhance Treatments That Stop Immune System Attacks

Their research detailing how regulatory T cells can cure inflammatory disease has been published in the journal Immunity. T cells are important in fighting infection as they’re mostly designed to act against foreign invaders to the body such as pathogens. Regulatory T cells are crucial cells in stopping these harmful T cells from causing disease, and are therefore being used as potential therapies to treat autoimmune diseases.

Dr Travis explains the importance of their work: “Regulatory T cells are already being used in clinical trials where the cells are taken from the patient, multiplied and then given back to the patient to suppress their illness. By understanding the mechanisms behind how regulatory T cells work, we could improve on these therapies, which can be potentially useful in conditions ranging from type 1 diabetes to multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.”Read more…

Potential obesity treatment targets the two sides of appetite: Hunger and feeling full

Our bodies’ hormones work together to tell us when to eat and when to stop. But for many people who are obese, this system is off-balance. Now scientists have designed a hormone-like compound to suppress hunger and boost satiety, or a full feeling, at the same time. They report in ACS’ Journal of Medicinal Chemistry that obese mice given the compound for 14 days had a tendency to eat less than the other groups. Read more…

Genetics and ethics


Embryo engineering a moral duty, says top scientist

Last month, a group in China announced it was the first to successfully edit the genome of a human embryo. The breakthrough showed the errors in the DNA that led to a blood disorder, beta thalassaemia, could be successfully corrected in non-viable embryos.

UK law would allow embryos to be modified for research purposes, but not for implantation into a woman. Any change to the law would almost certainly face fierce ethical and religious opposition.

Cloning pioneer Dr Tony Perry told the BBC that advances in genetics posed a wonderful opportunity for eliminating diseases such as cystic fibrosis. He argued that it would be unethical and a sin of omission to prevent the genetic engineering of embryos. Other scientists say it is unnecessary and a line that should not be crossed.Embryo engineering a moral duty, says top scientist

Seasons affect ‘how genes and immune system work’

The seasons appear to have a profound effect on how about 1/4 of human genes work, according to scientists. They found genes involved with immunity were more active in cold months. This helps fight off viruses such as flu, but it may trigger or worsen conditions, such as arthritis, where the body attacks itself, they say.
The gene changes that interested the researchers the most were ones involved with immunity and, specifically, inflammation. During cold, winter months these genes were more active. Prof John Todd, one of the study authors, who is based at Cambridge University in the UK, said the findings could explain why people were prone to certain diseases at particular times of year. Inflammation plays a significant role in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, type-1 diabetes and heart disease, which peak in the winter in countries such as the UK.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said: Another dimension that could be as important are our gut microbes, which also change between seasons and could be driving these changes because of seasonal changes in diet.Seasons affect ‘how genes and immune system work’

New age of genome editing could lead to cure for sickle cell anemia

People produce two different kinds of haemoglobin – the vital molecule that picks up oxygen in the lungs and transports it around the body. During development in the womb, the foetal haemoglobin gene is switched on. This produces foetal haemoglobin, which has a high affinity for oxygen, allowing the baby to snatch oxygen from its mother’s blood, says Professor Crossley. After we are born, the foetal haemoglobin gene is shut off and the adult haemoglobin gene is switched on.

Mutations affecting adult haemoglobin are among the most common of all human genetic mutations, with about five per cent of the world’s population carrying a defective adult haemoglobin gene. People who inherit two mutant genes – one from their mother and one from their father – have damaged haemoglobin and suffer from life-threatening diseases such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassaemia, which require life-long treatment with blood transfusions and medication.

However, a small number of people with damaged adult haemoglobin have an additional, beneficial mutation in the foetal haemoglobin gene. This good mutation keeps their foetal haemoglobin gene switched on for the whole of their lives, and reduces their symptoms significantly, says Professor Crossley.

The researchers introduced this beneficial single-letter mutation into human red blood cells using genome-editing proteins which can be designed to cut a gene at a specific point, as well as providing the desired piece of donor DNA for insertion. This switches on the foetal haemoglobin which could consequently reduce symptoms.The genetic changes to cells would not be inherited, making the approach very different to the recent controversial Chinese research in which the DNA of human embryos was altered.Read more…

Geneticists clock genetic differences between ‘larks’ and ‘owls’ — University of Leicester

A new study by geneticists from the University of Leicester has for the first time identified the genetic clues behind what makes you a ‘lark’ or an ‘owl’. Based on analysis of a fruit fly, the scientists have discovered nearly 80 genes associated with ‘morningness’ and ‘eveningness’. A great variation in this diurnal preference is found, from early risers ‘larks’ to late night ‘owls’. The study could pavethe way to better diagnostics, and ultimately personal medicine, where larks and owls will receive their tailored therapies. Geneticists clock genetic differences between ‘larks’ and ‘owls’ — University of Leicester.

Zoology, animal behavior, botany and conservation


New research reveals first warm-blooded fish

New research has revealed the opah, or moonfish, as the first fully warm-blooded fish that circulates heated blood throughout its body much like mammals and birds, giving it a competitive advantage in the cold ocean depths. The silvery fish, roughly the size of a large car tire, dwells hundreds of feet beneath the surface in chilly, dimly lit waters. It swims by rapidly flapping its large, red pectoral fins like wings through the water. It is unusual in that blood vessels that carry warm blood into the fish’s gills wind around those carrying cold blood back to the body core after absorbing oxygen from water.Read more…


Could the water vole become extinct in the UK?

The water vole once populated our riverbanks and waterways in the UK, but in the last 15 years water vole numbers have halved, bringing them to the brink of extinction.Read more…


Gene regulation underlies the evolution of social complexity in bees

A new study offers insights into the genetic changes that accompany the evolution of social complexity in bees, including honey bees. A new genomic study of 10 species of bees representing a spectrum of social living – from solitary bees to those in complex, highly social colonies – offers new insights into the genetic changes that accompany the evolution of bee societies. By sequencing and comparing the genomes of ten bee species that vary in social complexity, the researchers made important discoveries.Read more…


Baboons prefer to spend time with others of the same age, status and even personality

New research shows that chacma baboons within a troop spend more of their time with baboons that have similar characteristics to themselves: associating with those of a similar age, dominance rank and even personality type such as boldness. Research teams tracked the same two baboon troops from dawn until dusk across Namibia€™s Tsaobis Nature Park over several months each year between 2009-2014 to observe patterns of behaviour. The research team then measured the time spent on investigating the new foodstuff, and whether they ate it, to determine a scale of boldness for members of the baboon troops.Read more…

School-Grown Vegetables Increase Salad Selection

If kids grow vegetables, they’re more likely to eat them.  A small Cornell study published in Acta Paediatrica shows that when school garden grown vegetables were added to school salads, pupils were over four times as likely to take a salad. This study implies the larger potential benefits of the school garden programs. “We see great promise with this research. The first hurdle in increasing vegetable consumption is simply getting kids to put them on their plate,” concluded co-author Drew Hanks of Ohio State University.School-Grown Vegetables Increase Salad Selection


The Mighty Seed

Seeds are also important for conserving rare species, from trees to shrubs to other flowering plants. For example, the recently discovered Trillium tennesseense is only known in three locations in East Tennessee. But seeds must be saved the right way.

Including a species’ biology in sample guideline calculations can dramatically improve sampling effectiveness, according to a new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. In the new study, published today in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers tested the importance of three factors in seed sampling: a species’ selfing rate, or rate at which a species pollinates itself, its seed and pollen dispersal distances, and whether an annual or perennial.

The first key finding is that sample size should be different for species’ with different reproductive biology in order to capture enough genetic diversity, which is critical for biodiversity. Specifically, species that are highly selfing and have low seed dispersal distances appear to need sample sizes five times as large, the study found. And species that are perennial may also need larger sample sizes. Thus, a single guideline applied to all species as has been typically used in the past may lead to sub-optimal seed collections, the study’s authors concluded. Read more…

Which Baby Animals Look Cute? It May Be No Accident

Konrad Lorenz, an Austrian zoologist, proposed in the mid-20th century that human infants are cute for a reason. He said evolution has created adorable babies so that their parents will take care of them. It’s easy to look at a wide-eyed puppy or kitten and imagine that other animals have evolved in the same way. This seems so obvious that until now it has not been tested.

In this study subjects rated animals that need parental care as cuter than the animals that don’t. Even the care-requiring reptile baby scored higher than the self-sufficient one. Students also had a greater desire to hold or pet the animals needing parental care, thought these animals would appreciate being held or petted, and said they’d be more willing to adopt one of them. (Compared to men, women rated the baby animals slightly higher in cuteness, and were more excited about taking them home.)See more and decide which animals are cutest…



May 082015


Hit the Gym after Studying to Boost Recall

Regular exercise boosts brain health, and a fit brain is generally able to learn, think and remember better. But a few recent studies offer an additional exercise-related tip: time your workouts for just after a study session, and you might better retain the information you just learned. In a variety of experiments, people who biked, did leg presses or even simply squeezed a handgrip shortly after or before learning did better on tests of recall in the hours, days or weeks that followed.

Experts think the crucial component is physical arousal. Exercise excites the body in much the same way an emotional experience does—and emotional memories are well known to be the most long lasting. The researchers caution, however, that at most exercise can have a supportive effect—the important thing is to study well first. This is curated content- read more at Hit the Gym after Studying to Boost Recall

Botany and environmental biology

Fungus enhances crop roots and could be a future ‘bio-fertiliser’

New research has found that the interaction of rice crop roots with a common soil fungus changes the genetic expression of the rice€“ triggering additional root growth that enables the plant to absorb more nutrients. In addition to causing extra root growth, the mycorrhizal fungus also enmeshes itself within individual plant root cells. The fungus grows thin tendrils called hyphae that extend into surrounding soil and pump nutrients, particularly phosphate, straight into the plant cells. This means that in future fungus could be used as ‘bio-fertiliser’, replacing phosphate in the soil. This is curated content and you can read more at Fungus enhances crop roots and could be a future ‘bio-fertiliser’

Importance of forests.

Forests play an important role in offsetting climate change. A new report underlines the crucial role that forests play in food security and poverty reduction with one billion people worldwide dependent on forests and trees for balanced diets and sustainable incomes. Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary‐General for Policy of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said: “this report reminds us of the vital role of forests in building food security. It makes a convincing case for multi‐functional and integrated landscape approaches and calls for community level engagement to reimagine forestry and agriculture systems.” This is curated content and you can read more at Forests could play a vital role in efforts to end global hunger.

Bees prefer foods containing neonicotinoid pesticide

The impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on insect pollinators such as bees is highly controversial. Sublethal concentrations alter the behaviour of social bees and reduce survival of entire colonies. However, critics argue that the reported negative effects only arise from neonicotinoid concentrations that are greater than those found in the nectar and pollen of pesticide-treated plants This research shows that bees preferred foods with these insecticides even though the consumption of these pesticides caused them to eat less food overall. This work shows that bees cannot control their exposure to neonicotinoids in food and implies that treating flowering crops with IMD and TMX presents a sizeable hazard to foraging bees. This is curated content- read more at Bees prefer foods containing neonicotinoid pesticides



Fish born in larger groups develop more social skills and a different brain structure

New research on cichlid, a highly social fish, shows that those reared in larger social groups from the earliest stage of life develop increased social skills and differences in the brain, which lingers into the later life of the fish. Dr Stefan Fischer, from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology, said

“Social animals need to develop social skills, which regulate social interactions, aggression and hierarchy formations within groups. Such skills are difficult and costly to develop, and only beneficial if the early social environment predicts a high number of social interactions continues to be critically important later in life,” he said. This is curated content and you can read more at Fish born in larger groups develop more social skills and a different brain structure.


Stanford biologists discover that large whales have nerves that stretch like bungee cords

Stanford biologists have discovered how fin whales can inflate their mouths by 150 percent: unique extensible nerves which can stretch to more than double their length without damage. It is no surprise that an animal the size of three school buses takes very big bites. Hundreds of times a day, a fin whale gulps in a swimming pool’s worth of water containing it’s food, krill. The underlying physiology that allows this manner of feeding includes nerves that stretch like bungee cords. This nerve construction is unlike any other in the animal kingdom, and could help scientists understand nerve damage in humans. This is curated content and you can read more at Stanford biologists discover that large whales have nerves that stretch like bungee cords.

Clues contained in 500 million-year-old brain point to the origin of heads in early animals

The discovery of a 500 million-year-old fossilised brain has helped identify a point of crucial transformation in early animals, and answered some of the questions about how heads first evolved.

A new study from the University of Cambridge has identified one of the oldest fossil brains ever discovered and used it to help determine how heads first evolved in early animals. The results, published in the journal Current Biology, identify a key point in the evolutionary transition from soft to hard bodies in early ancestors of arthropods, the group that contains modern insects, crustaceans and spiders.

“Heads have become more complex over time,” said Ortega-Hernández, who is a Fellow of Emmanuel College. “But what we’re seeing here is an answer to the question of how arthropods changed their bodies from soft to hard. It gives us an improved understanding of the origins and complex evolutionary history of this highly successful group.” This is curated content, to read more see Clues contained in 500 million-year-old brain point to the origin of heads in early animals.

Immunology, health and medicine


Meditation may relieve IBS and IBD

Researchers found that patients with the gastrointestinal disorders IBS or IBD who used the relaxation response saw improvement in their quality of life.

A pilot study has found that participating in a nine-week training program including elicitation of the relaxation response had a significant impact on clinical symptoms of the gastrointestinal disorders irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and on the expression of genes related to inflammation and the body’s response to stress. These diseases can be impacted by stress but can also cause significant stress.

Both in patients with IBS and those with IBD, participation in the mind/body program appeared to have significantly improved disease-related symptoms, anxiety, and overall quality of life, not only at the end of the study period but also three weeks later. While there were no significant changes in inflammatory markers for either group of participants, changes in expression were observed in almost 200 genes among participants with IBS and more than 1,000 genes in those with IBD. Many of the genes with altered expression are known to contribute to pathways involved with stress response and inflammation.

Co-senior author John Denninger of the Benson-Henry Institute at MGH noted, “One interesting clinical impact was a decrease in both IBS and IBD patients in what is called pain catastrophizing — a negative cognitive and emotional response to pain or the anticipation of pain. In other words, participants became more resilient in the face of the pain they were experiencing. But before we can offer a program like this to patients with these disorders, we’ll need to conduct a longer, randomized trial with a control group and enough participants for statistically significant results.”This is curated content and you can read it in full at Meditation may relieve IBS and IBD.


A Little Bit of Walking Can Add up to Improve Your Health

Want to reduce your risk of dying at a young age? Try walking casually for as little as 2 minutes per hour. While it is well known that intense exercise can help you get fitter, a new study has found that even a little exercise can still go a long way. Study participants who traded time on the sofa for a total of 30 minutes of walking during the day reduced their risk of dying over a three-year period by 33 percent.

“We are not advocating for a total of 2 minutes per hour of light activity,” the author said. “If a person is already doing 10 minutes per hour of light activity, going to 12 minutes per hour might further decrease their mortality risk.”This is curated content- read more at A Little Bit of Walking Can Add up to Improve Your Health

Great Gut Extinction: Has modern life destroyed our health?

Our modern lifestyle is often blamed for the explosion in conditions like asthma, diabetes and obesity – but the evidence that our predecessors didn’t suffer such ailments has been hard to come by – until now. A remote Venezuelan community offers clues to what modern life has done to the microorganisms in our guts. This is curated content- read more at Great Gut Extinction: Has modern life destroyed our health?

Naked mole-rats anti-cancer gene is unique among mammals

Researchers have found that the gene which gives naked mole-rats€™ their natural resistance to cancer is unique among mammals. Naked mole rats are unusual in many ways as a result of adaptations to living underground, with extreme longevity and a lack of the normal signs of ageing. They found that while all African mole rats share some mutations in the HAS2 gene, the naked mole-rat has a unique combination of mutations. Read the full story at Naked mole-rats anti-cancer gene is unique among mammals.

New screening technique could pick up twice as many ovarian cancer cases

A new screening method can detect twice as many women with ovarian cancer as conventional strategies, according to the latest results from the largest trial of its kind led by UCL. The method uses a statistical calculation to interpret changing levels in women’s blood of a protein called CA125, which is linked to ovarian cancer. This gives a more accurate prediction of a woman’s individual risk of developing cancer, compared to the conventional screening method which uses a fixed ‘cut-off’ point for CA125.This is curated content and you can see the full article at New screening technique could pick up twice as many ovarian cancer cases.

Blood markers could help predict outcome of infant heart surgery

New research suggests it may be possible to predict an infant\’s progress following surgery for congenital heart disease with a blood test. Congenital heart disease is relatively common, affecting between four and 14 babies in every 1, 000 live births. The study, carried out at Royal Brompton Hospital, followed children undergoing surgery for congenital heart disease, and found that by analysing metabolites in the blood (molecules created as a result of metabolism) it was possible to predict a child’s clinical outcome. This is curated content- read more at Blood markers could help predict outcome of infant heart surgery

New Malaria vaccine shows promise in field trial

A vaccine against Malaria, developed at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, has shown promising results in its first field trial in Kenya. The vaccine was found to be 67% effective against infection with Plasmodium falciparum, one of the parasites known to cause Malaria. A safe and effective malaria vaccine would reduce the huge social and economic burden that malaria imposes every year. The researchers used what is known as a T cell-inducing vaccination strategy among adults to stimulate the body’s immune system to produce particular disease-fighting cells (known as T cells) to protect the body from malaria.

Healthy adult male volunteers were randomly allocated to vaccination with either the T cell–inducing vaccine candidates or a control vaccine. Antimalarials were given to clear parasites from the blood and frequent blood tests were done to identify new infections with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The authors found that the volunteers receiving the T cell-inducing vaccine had a 67% reduction in the risk of malaria infection during 8 weeks of follow-up.

Professor Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford said: “This is an exciting and very positive result with this new type of malaria vaccine that targets the parasite in the liver by inducing protective T cell responses. Such high efficacy in this first field trial is encouraging for further testing in children and infants who most need a malaria vaccine”. This is curated content and the full story can be read at New Malaria vaccine shows promise in field trial.

A deadly shadow: Measles may weaken immune system up to three years

The measles virus can cause serious disease in children by temporarily suppressing their immune systems. This vulnerability was previously thought to last a month or two; however, a new study shows that children may in fact live in the immunological shadow of measles for up to three years, leaving them highly susceptible to a host of other deadly diseases. There is evidence that during this period essential memory cells that protect the body against infectious diseases are partially wiped out. With regard to policy, the research findings suggest that — apart from the major direct benefits — measles vaccination may also provide indirect immunological protection against other infectious diseases. This is curated content and you can read the full article Princeton University – A deadly shadow: Measles may weaken immune system up to three years.

With the public’s help, Imperial researchers are tackling the rise of superbugs

Scientists at Imperial have outlined how they can combat the rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) with the public’s help.  In this film Professor Alison Holmes, at Imperial College London, explains why AMR research is important and how the public can get involved.


Probiotics May Ease Hay Fever Symptoms

Some scientists think the rise in allergies may be caused by a lack of bacteria in the gut due to cleaner living conditions. Living in a super-clean environment that doesn’t put you in contact often enough with microscopic living things called microbes might make your immune systems go haywire when it has to deal with harmless allergens, their theory goes.

The so-called “friendly bacteria” known as probiotics may help take some of the misery out of hay fever, or seasonal allergies, according to a new review of studies. But the doctors who did the review say more research is needed before they’d be able to recommend probiotics as a treatment option. Read in full at Probiotics May Ease Hay Fever Symptoms.


Ebola experience is a wake-up call for the WHO

In the wake of the recent Ebola outbreak this opinion piece in the New Scientist states that the World Health Organization is in need of both reform and money to give it the best chance of dealing with potential global health threats in future. Read more at Ebola experience is a wake-up call for the WHO

Metabolic effects of fructose and the worldwide increase in obesity.

While virtually absent in our diet a few hundred years ago, fructose has now become a major constituent of our modern diet. Our main sources of fructose are sucrose from beet or cane, high fructose corn syrup, fruits, and honey. Fructose has the same chemical formula as glucose (C(6)H(12)O(6)), but its metabolism differs markedly from that of glucose due to its almost complete removal by the liver and its conversion into glucose, glycogen, lactate, and fat. Fructose was initially thought to be advisable for patients with diabetes due to its low glycemic index but there have been links to insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure.
Epidemiological studies show growing evidence that consumption of sweetened beverages (containing either sucrose or a mixture of glucose and fructose) is associated with a high energy intake, increased body weight, and the occurrence of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders. There is, however, no unequivocal evidence that fructose intake at moderate doses is directly related with adverse metabolic effects. This is curated content- read more at Metabolic effects of fructose and the worldwide increase in obesity. – PubMed



Oxygen and glucose deprivation lead to altered gene expression.

Oxygen and glucose metabolism play pivotal roles in many (patho)physiological conditions. In particular, oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD) during ischemia and stroke results in extensive tissue injury and cell death. This research reveals how this triggers widespread changes in translation of genes and the mechanisms by which this happens. Read more…

Neurology and Psychology

Link between serotonin and depression is a myth, says psychiatrist.

The widely held belief that depression is due to low levels of serotonin in the brain — and that effective treatments raise these levels — is a myth, argues a leading psychiatrist in The BMJ. David Healy,
Professor of Psychiatry at the Hergest psychiatric unit in North Wales, points to a misconception that lowered serotonin levels in depression are an established fact, which he describes as the marketing of a myth.

He stresses that serotonin is not irrelevant but says this history raises a question about the weight doctors and others put on biological and epidemiological plausibility.

Does a plausible (but mythical) account of biology and treatment let everyone put aside clinical trial data that show no evidence of lives saved or restored function, he asks? Do clinical trial data marketed as evidence of effectiveness make it easier to adopt a mythical account of biology?

These questions are important, he says. In other areas of life the products we use, from computers to microwaves, improve year on year, but this is not the case for medicines, where this year’s treatments may achieve blockbuster sales despite being less effective and less safe than yesterday’s models. See the full article in the BMJ at Link between serotonin and depression is a myth, says psychiatrist

Fuzzy thinking in depression & bipolar disorder: New research finds effect is real

People with depression or bipolar disorder often feel their thinking ability has gotten “fuzzy”, or less sharp than before their symptoms began. Now, researchers have shown in a very large study that effect is indeed real – and rooted in brain activity differences that show up on advanced brain scans.

The number of patients involved is large for this kind of mental health study – which makes the findings more meaningful. On the brain scans, the researchers found that the women with depression or bipolar disorder had different levels of activity than healthy women in a particular area of the brain called the right posterior parietal cortex. In those with depression, the activity in this area was higher than in healthy individuals, while in those with bipolar disorder it was lower. The area where the differences were seen helps control “executive function” — activities such as working memory, problem solving and reasoning.

The results add to the mounting evidence that these conditions both fall on a spectrum of mood disorders, rather than being completely unrelated. That could transform the way doctors and patients think about, diagnose and treat them. This content is curated and the original article is at Fuzzy thinking in depression & bipolar disorder: New research finds effect is real


Locating the brain’s SAD center.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. Biologists have known that variations in the amount of sunlight a person receives and her or his circadian clock play a role in the disorder. Vanderbilt biologists have localized the seasonal light cycle effects that drive seasonal affective disorder to a small region of the brain called the dorsal raphe nucleus. Find out more at Locating the brain’s SAD center.

Viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma

Viewing violent news events via social media can cause people to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives. These included the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks, school shootings and suicide bombings. Read more at viewing violent news on social media can cause trauma

Brain Chemical May Offer New Clues in Treating Chronic Pain

A chemical in the brain typically associated with cognition, movement and reward-motivation behavior may also play a role in promoting chronic pain, according to new research at The University of Texas at Dallas. The chemical, dopamine, sets the stage for many important brain functions, but the mechanisms that cause it to contribute to chronic pain are less well understood.

Pain signals travel like electricity from an injury to the spinal cord where they pass on electrical or chemical pain signals to other cells. Those pain signals then travel upward and relay that information to neurons in the brain where they can be distributed throughout. There is no single pain center in the brain, but there is substantial evidence that chronic pain changes how these pain centers are activated. In people with chronic pain, neurons continue to send pain signals to the brain, even in the absence of injury, but the causes of this are not known.

Researchers followed the sequence of pain impulses traveling from the brain to the spinal cord in mice. They found that by removing a collection of neurons called A11 that contain dopamine, chronic pain was selectively diminished.

“These findings demonstrate a novel role for how dopamine contributes to maintaining chronic pain states,” said Dr. Ted Price, associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. “This may open up new opportunities to target medicines that could reverse chronic pain.” This is curated content- read more at Brain Chemical May Offer New Clues in Treating Chronic Pain

Drugs and medicines

Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?

The “gateway hypothesis” refers to the idea that marijuana leads users to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. Is it true? It is a topic that you may be asked to evaluate in GCSE science. Read arguments for and against at Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?


Withdrawal drug could help cannabis addicts kick the habit

Although cannabis is considered a soft drug an increasing numbers of people are seeking help for cannabis addiction and there is growing interest in finding treatment. Unlike most forms of drug addiction, there are no medical treatments to help people reduce their cannabis use.
Paradoxically, the most promising treatment may be an extract of cannabis. Last month, researchers at the British Neuroscience Association meeting in Edinburgh, UK, described how the compound, called cannabidiol, helped one person who was severely addicted. A clinical trial is underway with a placebo in 48 people, expanding to 168 people if the first results are positive. “We shouldn’t overstate the results of a single case”, says Freeman. “But it’s going to be exciting to see what happens with this study”.
This content is curated and you can read the article at Withdrawal drug could help cannabis addicts kick the habit.

Anatomy, physiology and cell biology.

Artificial muscles created from onions

From soup to insect repellent, there’s a lot you can do with a humble onion, but nothing so strange as this latest use: making artificial muscles.   Researchers at National Taiwan University have devised a way of turning onion cells into tiny muscles that expand or contract at the flick of a switch. “One day, we found that the onion’s cell structure and its dimensions were similar to what we had been making, ” he says. Don’t get too excited though- at the moment they can only lift a cotton wool ball!This is curated content- read more at Artificial muscles created from onions

New Type of Stem Cell Could Make It Easier to Grow Human Organs

A newly discovered type of stem cell could help provide a model for early human development—and, eventually, allow human organs to be grown in large animals such as pigs or cows for research or therapeutic purposes. Scientists previously knew about two other types of pluripotent stem cells, but growing them in large numbers or guiding them to mature into specific types of adult cells has proven difficult. Writing in Nature, Izpisua Belmonte and his colleagues report a type of pluripotent cell that is easier to grow in vitro and grafts into an embryo when injected into the right spot. They call them region-selective pluripotent stem cells (rsPSCs). This is curated content- read more at New Type of Stem Cell Could Make It Easier to Grow Human Organs


Amazing Images of Proteins May Help Scientists Design Drugs

A new imaging technique has allowed scientists to view molecules in finer detail than ever before, which may help them design medications.

“This represents a new era in imaging of proteins in humans with immense implications for drug design,” Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said in a statement. “This near-atomic level of imaging provides detailed information about the keys that unlock cellular processes.”See more at Amazing Images of Proteins May Help Scientists Design Drugs


Newly found microbe is close relative of complex life

A newly discovered life form could help resolve one of the most contentious conundrums in modern biology. All organisms on Earth are classified as either prokaryotes, which have simple cells, or eukaryotes, which have larger, more complex cells. But the two cell types are so divergent that understanding how one evolved from the other has foxed biologists. The new microbes, reported in Nature journal, go some way to bridging that gap. This is curated content- read more at Newly found microbe is close relative of complex life

Jun 022014

‘Quadrapeutics’ works in preclinical study of hard-to-treat tumors

The first preclinical study of a new Rice University-developed anti-cancer technology found that a novel combination of existing clinical treatments can instantaneously detect and kill only cancer cells — often by blowing them apart — without harming surrounding normal organs. The research, which is available online this week Nature Medicine, reports that Rice’s “quadrapeutics” technology was 17 times more efficient than conventional chemoradiation therapy against aggressive, drug-resistant head and neck tumors. “We address aggressive cancers that cannot be efficiently and safely treated today, ” said Rice scientist Dmitri Lapotko, the study’s lead investigator.Via

Podcasts worth listening to this week

The Naked Scientist Podcast Special: The Cost of a Life

We often hear about amazing new medical developments which could improve disease treatment. But what about the ethical considerations involved in deciding how to use these advances? In this episode Hannah Critchlow and Ginny Smith discuss:-
In the UK our National Health Service has limits on its budgets. How do we decide which treatments we can afford to offer?
How do developing countries gain access to treatments? And why do drugs cost so much in the first place?
With more and more people getting their DNA sequenced, Yaniv Erlich from MIT discusses how to keep the data private.
How genetics are used to screen embryo’s for disease, could couples create designer babies, and should the government interfere? Listen via


Nature podcast

We may soon be living in a ‘post-antibiotic’ world. Nature reports on the scale of the problem, and one way to monitor outbreaks. Mice with mutated pain receptors live longer and stay slimmer and record melting in Greenland exacerbated by soot from forest fires.Listen via


Naked Scientists Podcast

This week the episode includes a new treatment for epilepsy; vaccine testing to save gorillas and chimps; and computer education during the Year of Code. Listen via


New epilepsy treatment offers ‘on demand’ seizure suppression

A new treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy with the potential to suppress seizures ‘on demand’ with a pill, similar to how you might take painkillers when you feel a headache coming on, has been developed by UCL researchers funded by the Wellcome Trust. The treatment, described in Nature Communications, combines genetic and chemical approaches to suppress seizures without disrupting normal brain function. The technique was demonstrated in rodents but in future we could see people controlling seizures on-demand with a simple pill.Read more…


Nanotechnology takes on diabetes

A low-cost, reusable sensor which uses nanotechnology to screen for and monitor diabetes and other conditions, has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Cambridge, for use both in clinics and home settings. The sensors use nanotechnology to monitor levels of glucose, lactate and fructose in individuals with diabetes or urinary tract infections, and change colour when levels reach a certain concentration. They can be used to test compounds in samples such as urine, blood, saliva or tear fluid. Read more…

Speaking two languages slows brain ageing

People who speak more than one language are more likely to stay sharp in old age, according to a study. Tests carried out in a group of native English speakers suggest that speaking an additional language slows down the decline of thinking skills in later life. Intelligence tests Researchers examined the results of standardised intelligence tests taken by the group at age 11, and compared them with results of thinking tests taken when group members were 73. Read more…

Scientists use 3D scans to uncover the truth about Richard III€™s spinal condition

Historical and literary references to the physical deformities of Richard III, who ruled England from 1483-1485, are well-known, but debate has raged for centuries over the extent to which these descriptions are true. Various historical and literary references refer to Richard III as €œcrook-backed€ or €œhunch-back€™d€ , but until now, it was unknown whether these descriptions were based on Richard€™s actual appearance, or were an invention of later writers to damage his reputation. Early examinations of the remains of Richard III, discovered in 2012 by archaeologists at the University of Leicester, showed that the king had a condition called scoliosis, where the spine curves to the side.Read more…

Drug offers huge potential for women€™s health

A recent clinical study on a drug designed at Bath University has confirmed its potential in targeting the gynaecological disease endometriosis. With an estimated 80 million sufferers worldwide, the disease is still poorly understood. The discovery of new drugs is critical as most treatments have unpleasant side effects and current therapies have proved inadequate.Read more…

Creatures of habit: disorders of compulsivity share common pattern and brain structure

In a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry and primarily funded by the Wellcome Trust, researchers show that people who are affected by disorders of compulsivity have lower grey matter volumes (in other words, fewer nerve cells) in the brain regions involved in keeping track of goals and rewards. For example, when driving home from work, we tend to follow habitual choices €“ our €˜autopilot€™ mode €“ as we know the route well; however, if we move to a nearby street, we will initially follow a €˜goal-directed€™ choice to find our way home €“ unless we slip into autopilot and revert to driving back to our old home. However, we cannot always control the decision-making process and make repeat choices even when we know they are bad for us €“ in many cases this will be relatively benign, such as being tempted by a cake whilst slimming, but extreme cases it can lead to disorders of compulsivity.Read more…

Smokers and passive smokers more likely to suffer hearing loss, study shows

Giving up or reducing smoking and avoiding passive exposure to tobacco smoke may reduce your risk of hearing loss, new research shows. Passive smoking also increased the likelihood of hearing loss by 28%. This means the association with smoking and hearing loss maybe under estimated, the researchers say.Smokers and passive smokers more likely to suffer hearing loss, study shows

Impact of pesticide residue hard to track, experts say

Researchers face steep challenges in trying to pinpoint the long-term effects of pesticides in the food supply, said panelists at Harvard School of Public Health. Pesticides have been linked to Parkinson’s disease, declines in cognitive performance, developmental disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. Their application has also been tied to environmental issues, such as the collapse of honeybee colonies and the development of resistant pests and weeds. “We can’t tell for sure if you eat a bowl of salad today for lunch if it will lead to cancer in 10 to 20 years, ” said Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard School of Public Health.Read more…

Light-coloured butterflies and dragonflies thriving as European climate warms

Butterflies and dragonflies with lighter colours are out-competing darker-coloured insects in the face of climate change. Darker coloured species are retreating northwards to cooler areas, but lighter coloured species are also moving their geographical range north as Europe gets warmer. In 2010, the Dainty Damselfly was also sighted in England for the first time in over 50 years.Read more…

Sperm against the stream

Like salmon travelling upstream to spawn, sperm cells are extremely efficient at swimming against the current. In a new study, researchers from the University of Cambridge and MIT have identified the physical mechanisms which may allow sperm to navigate inside the human body and stay on course through a variety of environments. The research may help us to understand how some sperm travel such long distances, through difficult terrain, to reach and fertilise an egg.Read more…

Ebola vaccine success highlights dilemma of testing on captive chimps to save wild apes

The first conservation-specific vaccine trial on captive chimpanzees has proved a vaccine against Ebola virus is both safe and capable of producing a robust immune response in chimpanzees. €œHalf of deaths among chimps and gorillas that live in proximity to humans are from our respiratory viruses. For us it€™s a sore throat – for them it€™s death.€ €œWe need to be pragmatic about saving these animals now before they are wiped out forever, and vaccination could be a turning point.Ebola vaccine success highlights dilemma of testing on captive chimps to save wild apes

Hypertension: an urgent need for global control and prevention : The Lancet

Hypertension is estimated to contribute to 9·4 million deaths each year worldwide. These three papers illustrate some of the important areas of uncertainty about treatment. Which treatment should be used to maximise outcome and adherence?Read more…

Summary of the medical news in The Lancet

A summary of the news stories from the Lancet- including the NHS masterchef!Via


How to Erase a Memory – And Restore It

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have erased and reactivated memories in rats, profoundly altering the animals’ reaction to past events. The study is the first to show the ability to selectively remove a memory and predictably reactivate it by stimulating nerves in the brain at frequencies that are known to weaken and strengthen the connections between nerve cells, called synapses.Read more…

Leptin influences brain cells that control appetite

Twenty years after the hormone leptin was found to regulate metabolism, appetite, and weight through brain cells called neurons, Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that the hormone also acts on other types of cells to control appetite.

Leptin, a naturally occurring hormone, is known for its hunger-blocking effect on the hypothalamus, a region in the brain. Food intake is influenced by signals that travel from the body to the brain. Leptin is one of the molecules that signal the brain to modulate food intake. It is produced in fat cells and informs the brain of the metabolic state. If animals are missing leptin, or the leptin receptor, they eat too much and become severely obese.

Leptin’s effect on metabolism has been found to control the brain’s neuronal circuits, but no previous studies have definitively found that leptin could control the behavior of cells other than neurons.Read more…

Subtle change in DNA, protein levels determines blond or brunette tresses- Office of Communications & Public Affairs

A new study by Stanford researchers is the first to describe the molecular basis for how human hair color is determined. The study describes for the first time the molecular basis for one of our most noticeable traits. It also outlines how tiny DNA changes can reverberate through our genome in ways that may affect evolution, migration and even human history. “We’ve been trying to track down the genetic and molecular basis of naturally occurring traits — such as hair and skin pigmentation — in fish and humans to get insight into the general principles by which traits evolve,” said David Kingsley, PhD, professor of developmental biology. “Now we find that one of the most crucial signaling molecules in mammalian development also affects hair color.”Read more…


Smokers with gene defect have one in four chance of developing lung cancer

Around a quarter of smokers who carry a defect in the BRCA2 gene will develop lung cancer at some point in their lifetime, a large-scale, international study reveals. The defect in BRCA2 – best known for its role in breast cancer – increases the risk of developing lung cancer by about 1.8 times. Smokers as a group have a high lifetime risk of around 13 per cent (16 per cent in men and 9.5 per cent in women).The new study therefore suggests around one in four smokers with the BRCA2 defect will develop lung cancer.Read more…


Caught by a hair

Dr. Beauchemin (Chemistry) and student Lily Huang (MSc’15) have developed a cutting-edge technique to identify human hair. Their test is quicker than DNA analysis techniques currently used by law enforcement. Early sample testing at Queen’s produced a 100 per cent success rate. Blood samples are often used to identify gender and ethnicity, but blood can deteriorate quickly and can easily be contaminated. Hair, on the other hand, is very stable. Elements in hair originate from sweat secretions that alter with diet, ethnicity, gender, the environment and working conditions. Dr. Beauchemin’s process takes 85 seconds to complete and involves grinding up the hair, burning it and then analyzing the vapour that is produced.Read more…

Powerful New Tool Combs Family Genomes to Identify Disease-Causing Variations

pVAAST was designed to search the sequenced genomes of families to find shared mutations and thus identify the gene with the highest probability of causing disease. Unlike other gene-finding tools, pVAAST accounts for people being related as it searches for gene variations that have the highest probabilities of causing disease. A big advantage of pVAAST, according to Huff and Yandell, is its ability to simultaneously search multiple families with the same disease to find mutations; this reduces the amount of time and effort to find a disease-causing variant. For example, if three families have the same disease, two might have different mutations damaging the same gene, while the third family might have a different damaged gene. “pVAAST has the power to determine the true disease-causing mutations across all those families in one analysis,” Yandell says.Read more…

Light bedrooms ‘link to obesity’

Sleeping in a room with too much light has been linked to an increased risk of piling on the pounds, a study shows. A team at the Institute of Cancer Research in London found women had larger waistlines if their bedroom was “light enough to see across” at night. However, they caution there is not enough evidence to advise people to buy thicker curtains or turn off lights.Read more…

Footage shows wasp’s zinc fruit drill in action

Footage captured by scientists has revealed the power of a parasitic wasp, which has evolved a zinc-tipped drill to bore into fruit. The wasp penetrates the fruit in order to lay their eggs inside. A team from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore found that the wasp\’s fruit-drilling and egg-laying tool – which is thinner than a human hair – has teeth enriched with zinc.

Researchers try to develop 3D printing of body parts

It is hoped one day the technology could make it possible to print replacement body parts or organs. BBC Click’s Jen Copestake went to the Netherlands to meet some of the scientists working on the project and find out more.Watch via

New biodiversity study throws out controversial scientific theory

Researchers have today released ground-breaking findings that dismiss the ‘Neutral Theory of Biodiversity’. €œThe aim of neutral theory is to explain diversity and the relative abundances of species within ecosystems. The theory has dominated biodiversity research for the past decade, and been advocated as a tool for conservation and management efforts. Researchers studied a wide range of abundant and rare species.

“The aim of neutral theory is to explain diversity and the relative abundances of species within ecosystems. However, the theory has an important flaw: it fails to capture how important the highly abundant species that dominate marine communities are.”Read more…

Scientists provide insight into the pathology of Sanfilippo A syndrome

Sanfilippo A syndrome or Mucopolysaccharidosis IIIA (MPS-IIIA) is a rare genetic lysosomal storage disease inherited from the parents of the patient. Lysosomes are the body’s vehicle for breaking down many of its by-products such as proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, lipids and cellular debris. The spherical vesicles are known to contain 50 different enzymes which are all active around an acidic environment of about pH 5. Scientists have determined the structure of the enzyme involved in this disease.Read more…

 June 2, 2014  Posted by at 1:56 pm Summary Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
May 292014


NICE approves MS drug developed by University of Cambridge researchers

A new drug based on decades of research at the University of Cambridge has today been approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for use in people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Clinical trials have shown that Alemtuzumab, marketed under the name Lemtrada, reduces disease activity, limits the accumulation of further disability over time and may even allow some existing damage to recover.

Read more…

Seeing is believing…but does it involve hearing?

‘Seeing is believing’, so the idiom goes, but new research suggests vision also involves a bit of hearing. Scientists studying brain process involved in sight have found the visual cortex also uses information gleaned from the ears as well as the eyes when viewing the world. They suggest this auditory input enables the visual system to predict incoming information and could confer a survival advantage.Read more…

Many mental illnesses reduce life expectancy more than heavy smoking

Serious mental illnesses reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, an analysis by Oxford University psychiatrists has shown – a loss of years that’s equivalent to or worse than that for heavy smoking.Oxford researchers say their figures on life expectancy should galvanise governments and health and social services to put a much higher priority on how mental health services can prevent early deaths. Mental health has not seen the same public health priority as smoking, say the Oxford scientists, despite these stark figures and the similar prevalence of mental health problems. One in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, it is estimated.
Read more…

New technique helps identify proteins involved in immune response

A new technique developed at the University of Cambridge allows researchers to identify clusters of proteins on immune cells which are key to fighting off the body’s invaders. When our bodies are under attack from foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, our immune system orchestrates a complex fight-back involving many separate parts. One important component of this response is a type of cell called the B-lymphocyte – it is this cell that is at the forefront of our defence as it identifies and attempts to neutralise invaders. The B-lymphocyte produces a protein called the B-cell receptor on its surface. The receptor recognises and attaches itself to molecules from the invading organisms, known as antigens.Read more…

Volunteers needed for chocolate, orange and blackberry research

Scientists at UEA are seeking young men and women to help investigate the benefits of eating certain food types, including chocolate. Those who have come forward to help so far have generally been older, so the study now requires a further 90 volunteers in the 18-35 year age group to take part. Those who have already taken part have told us that it has been an enjoyable experience, and the study team would like to thank everyone who has helped out so far.” Volunteers will be provided with free meals, a lunch voucher, travel expenses and £25 for their time.Read more…

Antibiotic crisis needs global response

Growing resistance to antibiotics and other drugs demands a coordinated global response on the same scale as efforts to address climate change, experts say. Without an international commitment to tackle the issue, the world faces a future in which simple infections that have been treatable for decades become deadly diseases, they warn. Drug resistance spreading Resistance to antibiotics to tackle bacterial infections and antimicrobial drugs used to treat parasites, viruses and fungi is spreading at an alarming rate.Read more…

Stanford researchers discover immune system’s rules of engagement

A study led by researchers at Stanford’s School of Medicine reveals how T cells, the immune system’s foot soldiers, respond to an enormous number of potential health threats. It also may lead to a better understanding of what T cells recognize when fighting cancers and why they are triggered to attack healthy cells in autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.Read more…

Computer models helping unravel the science of life?

Scientists have developed a sophisticated computer modelling simulation to explore how cells of the fruit fly react to changes in the environment. The research, published today in the science journal Cell, is part of an on-going study at The Universities of Manchester and Sheffield that is investigating how external environmental factors impact on health and disease.   The model shows how cells of the fruit fly communicate with each other during its development.Read more…

Fruit flies ‘think’ before they act

Fruit flies show a mark of intelligence in ‘thinking’ before they act, suggests a study by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour. In experiments asking fruit flies to distinguish between ever closer concentrations of an odour, the researchers found that the flies don’t act instinctively or impulsively. Instead they appear to accumulate information before committing to a choice.Read more…

Functional nerve cells from skin cells

A new method of generating mature nerve cells from skin cells could greatly enhance understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, and could accelerate the development of new drugs and stem cell-based regenerative medicine. The nerve cells generated by this new method show the same functional characteristics as the mature cells found in the body, making them much better models for the study of age-related diseases such as Parkinson€™s and Alzheimer€™s, and for the testing of new drugs. Eventually, the technique could also be used to generate mature nerve cells for transplantation into patients with a range of neurodegenerative diseases.Read more…

Andrew Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences

Ricardo Dolmetsch was awarded the Andrew Carnegie Prize in Mind and Brain Sciences. Ricardo Dolmetsch has built models of genes associated with autism, setting the foundation for the development of new therapies to address unmet medical needs. Dolmetsch, who originally worked in biophysics, changed the direction of his research to focus on autism after his son was diagnosed with the disorder. Read more…

Imperial Podcast

Recorded from the 2014 Imperial Festival, the latest podcast explores how to extract copper from mud using nothing but bubbles. We also hear from Professor Gary Frost about dietary fibre and why it makes us feel less hungry, and look down the microscope to find out how bacteria swim.Listen via

Key genetic link between chronic pain conditions like IBS discovered

Researchers at King’s College London have discovered a link between four common chronic pain syndromes (CPS), suggesting that some people may be genetically predisposed to suffer from conditions of this type. The study, published in the journal Pain, examined identical and non-identical twins and established that IBS, musculoskeletal pain, pelvic pain and dry eye disease may have hereditary links. Migraine was shown, as previously, to have a degree of genetic susceptibility but was not genetically linked to the other conditions.Read more…

Universal approach to tackling lifestyles more appropriate for combating diabetes than focusing on genetic risk

Over 380 million people worldwide are estimated to be affected by diabetes, with serious consequences for the health and economy of both developed and developing countries. Type 2 diabetes is thought to originate from a complex interplay of a large number of genetic risk variants and lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. Lifestyle interventions can reduce the risk of developing diabetes in high-risk individuals by 50%; however, whether there is value in targeted lifestyle interventions according to a person€™s genetic susceptibility is unclear.Read more…

Imperial pledges to end mental-health discrimination

Imperial has added its voice to a national campaign to end discrimination linked to mental illness by signing the Time to Change pledge. Professor Debra Humphris signed the pledge on behalf of the College on Thursday, marking Imperial’s commitment to ending discrimination and breaking the silence around mental health issues. These include workshops designed to help staff and students manage stress, as well as an increased number of Mental Health First Aiders – members of staff trained to provide information and guidance about mental health issues.Read more…

Female pigs can recognise the sex of sperm and influence the sex of their offspring – News releases – News

Female pigs’ reproductive systems recognise whether a sperm will produce a boy or a girl before it reaches and fertilises the egg, and their oviduct (fallopian tubes) change in response, according to new research from the University of Sheffield and University of Murcia. Scientists think this may be a way females unconsciously influence the sex of their offspring.Read more…

E-cigarette use for quitting smoking is associated with improved success rates

People attempting to quit smoking without professional help are approximately 60% more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum, finds a large UCL survey of smokers in England. The study, published in Addiction, surveyed 5, 863 smokers between 2009 and 2014 who had attempted to quit smoking without the aid of prescription medication or professional support. 20% of people trying to quit with the aid of e-cigarettes reported having stopped smoking conventional cigarettes at the time of the survey.Read more…

Why you need olive oil on your salad

A diet that combines unsaturated fats with nitrite-rich vegetables, such as olive oil and lettuce, can protect you from hypertension, suggests a new study led by King’s College London. The findings, published in the journal PNAS, help to explain why some previous studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet can reduce blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet typically includes unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados, along with vegetables like spinach, celery and carrots that are rich in nitrites and nitrates.Read more…


Study to explore whether mobile phones affect children’s cognitive development

A study launching today will investigate whether the use of mobile phones and wireless technologies might affect children’s cognitive development. Scientific evidence available to date is reassuring and shows no association between exposure to radiofrequency waves from mobile phone use and brain cancer in adults in the short term (less than 10 years of use). Most research to date on mobile phones has focused on adults and risk of brain cancers.Read more…

Improving Crop Production

Farmers could improve crop production by pairing up plants with complementary traits, allowing them to harness the ‘phosphorus bank’ already present in soils. A new £1.2 million, three-year project led by Lancaster University, will explore the potential of ‘collaborative roots’ which will hopefully find new ways of unlocking organic phosphorus stored in the soil and making it available to crops.Read more…


Spatial Generalization in Operant Learning

In operant learning, behaviors are reinforced or inhibited in response to the consequences of similar actions taken in the past. However, because in natural environments the “same” situation never recurs, it is essential for the learner to decide what “similar” is so that he can generalize from experience in one state of the world to future actions in different states of the world. The computational principles underlying this generalization are poorly understood, in particular because natural environments are typically too complex to study quantitatively. In this paper they study the principles underlying generalization in operant learning of professional basketball players. Read more…

NIDA offers tools for talking to teens about marijuana

Marijuana Facts for Teens discusses the often confusing themes of health consequences of marijuana use in this age group, its effect on the developing brain, its addiction risk, and what we know about its potential as a medicine. Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know has updated tips for parents on how to tell if their child is using marijuana and how to talk about the issue with their teen in a climate of heated public debates over legalization. Both revised publications are now available online. Read more…

 May 29, 2014  Posted by at 10:46 am Summary No Responses »
May 012014

Sorry to have missed a couple of weeks but I haven’t been well. Hopefully I’m back on track now and trying out a Monday release!

Improve your sleep

Scientists from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey universities warn cutting sleep is leading to “serious health problems”. Cancer, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, infections and obesity have all been linked to reduced sleep.

Emerging evidence suggests modern technology is now keeping us up later into the night and cutting sleep. Energy efficient light bulbs as well as smartphones, tablets and computers had high levels of light in the blue end of the spectrum which is “right in the sweet spot” for disrupting the body clock.
“Light exposure, especially short wavelength blue-ish light in the evening, will reset our circadian rhythms to a later hour, postponing the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin and making it more difficult for us to get up in the morning. Read more…

Explore the eight body clock phases and take the quiz to see if you are a morning-type “lark” – or an evening “owl” Via

This is something I considered in my blog post on making a revision timetable as to revise effectively you need to schedule tasks according to your body clock.

Chronotherapy: The science of timing drugs to our Body Clock

Doctors are becoming increasingly interested in the science of chronotherapy – aligning medical treatment to our circadian rhythms. Cancer and rheumatoid arthritis are two disease areas where chronotherapy is showing promise.Read more…


Statins: investigation into claims over side effects

Two articles claiming cholesterol-reducing statins may be unsafe are to be investigated and could be retracted by the British Medical Journal. Two articles claiming cholesterol-reducing statins may be unsafe are to be investigated and could be retracted by the British Medical Journal. The authors have withdrawn figures suggesting up to 20% of users would suffer harmful side effects such as liver disease and kidney problems. About 7m people in the UK at risk of heart disease are prescribed statins. Experts fear the articles, which were widely reported in October, will have discouraged people from taking them.Read more…

Two meals a day ‘effective’ to treat type 2 diabetes

Only eating breakfast and lunch may be more effective at managing type 2 diabetes than eating smaller, more regular meals, scientists say. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin, which controls the amount of sugar in the blood, meaning blood sugar levels become too high.Read more…


Anti-depressants ‘could slow onset of Alzheimer’s disease’

An anti-depressant drug could be used to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, say scientists in the US. Research into 23 people, and transgenic mice, found citalopram hampered a protein which helps to build destructive plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Scientists said they hoped the study could help prevent the disease.Read more…


Sense of purpose ‘adds years to life’

Research suggests having a sense of purpose may add years to your life. Not only does it contribute to healthy aging, but it may also stave off early death, according to a study of 7,000 Americans. The “findings point to the fact that finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose”Read more…

Red wine health benefits ‘overhyped’

Red wine may not be as good for you as hoped, say scientists who have studied the drink’s ingredient that is purported to confer good health. The team tracked the health of nearly 800 villagers from the Chianti region of Italy to see if their local tipple had any discernable impact. They found no proof that the wine ingredient resveratrol stops heart disease or prolongs life. Experts say more research is needed to get a definitive answer.Read more…

The huge cost of developing drugs

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry estimates that it costs on average £1.2bn to bring a new drug to market – and takes 12 years. So that’s why there are such a lot of big numbers circulating linked to the potential takeover of Astrazeneca and why companies keep merging so they can shoulder the costs of research. Some scientists reckon that the costs linked to bringing out new drugs are just too high, making them unaffordable for patients, and that a new approach is needed if the new drugs the world needs are to be discovered.
Read more…

‘Biggest dinosaur ever’ discovered in Argentina

Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been unearthed in Argentina, palaeontologists say. Based on its huge thigh bones, it was 40m (130ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Watch the video via


Opening the doors on animal testing

UK animal researchers have signed a pledge to be transparent about the nature of their experiments. The Concordat on Openness on Animal Research has been signed by 72 organisations initially, including universities, bio-industry companies, charities and research councils. The scientific community has long recognised the need to engage with the public about animal research, but many held back for fear of being targeted by those opposed to testing. Watch the video at


Ground breaking hip and stem cell surgery in Southampton

Doctors and scientists in Southampton have completed their first hip surgery with a 3D printed implant and bone stem cell graft.

The implant will provide a new socket for the ball of the femur bone to enter. Behind the implant and between the pelvis, doctors have inserted a graft containing bone stem cells. The graft acts as a filler for the loss of bone.

See more…

Negative iron balance predicts acute heart failure survival

Professor Ewa Jankowska, first author of the study, said: “Patients with acute heart failure have a major collapse in homeostasis. Iron is a key micronutrient that is required for the maintenance of homeostasis. Iron is needed for cellular metabolism and deficiency leads to severely impaired energy metabolism and mitochondrial dysfunction.”Read more…

Cognitive behavioral or relaxation training helps women reduce distress during breast cancer treatment

It appears that a brief, five-week psychological intervention can have beneficial effects for women who are dealing with the stresses of breast cancer diagnosis and surgery. Intervening during this early period after surgery may reduce women\’s distress and providing cognitive or relaxation skills for stress management to help them adapt to treatment. Researchers at the University of Miami recruited 183 breast cancer patients from surgical oncology clinics in the Miami area in the weeks following surgery and prior to adjuvant treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and anti-hormonal therapy). Read more…

Molecules involved in rheumatoid arthritis angiogenesis identified

Two protein molecules that fit together as lock and key seem to promote the abnormal formation of blood vessels in joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, who found that the substances are present at higher levels in the joints of patients affected by the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease in which the body\’s own defenses attack the tissues lining the joints, causing painful swelling and bone erosion that can ultimately lead to joint deformities. One of the hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis is the development of new blood vessels, or angiogenesis, in the joints. Joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis can become hypoxic, so the researchers wanted to see if the protein and its receptor could be found in patients\’ affected joints. Read more…

Learning from sharks

Genetically engineered antibodies are deployed successfully in cancer diagnostics and therapy. Therapeutic antibodies against Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis are currently under development. An important criterion when designing suitable antibody fragments is their stability. Comparisons between shark and human antibodies allowed researchers to identify areas conserved in evolution.Read more…


Single episode of binge drinking can adversely affect health

It only takes one time. That’s the message of a new study by scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School on binge drinking. Their research found that a single episode of binge drinking can have significant negative health effects resulting in bacteria leaking from the gut, leading to increased levels of toxins in the blood. Published online in PLOS ONE, the study showed that these bacterial toxins, called endotoxins, caused the body to produce immune cells involved in fever, inflammation, and tissue destruction. Read more…

Cancer€™s Potential On-Off Switch

A team of Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) researchers have proposed that an “on and off” epigenetic switch could be a common mechanism behind the development of different types of cancer. Epigenetics is the phenomena whereby genetically identical cells express their genes differently, resulting in different physical traits.

The current paradigm states that cancer develops from environmental and genetic changes to cancer progenitor cells. These changes are the result of mutations, exposure to toxic substances or hormonal imbalances.Read more…

Where Have all the Mitochondria Gone?

It’s common knowledge that all organisms inherit their mitochondria – the cell’s “power plants” – from their mothers. But what happens to all the father’s mitochondria? Surprisingly, how – and why – paternal mitochondria are prevented from getting passed on to their offspring after fertilization is still shrouded in mystery; the only thing that’s certain is that there must be a compelling reason, seeing as this phenomenon has been conserved throughout evolution.

Read more…

How your brain works during meditation

Mindfulness. Zen. Acem.  Meditation drumming. Chakra. Buddhist and transcendental meditation. There are countless ways of meditating, but the purpose behind them all remains basically the same: more peace, less stress, better concentration, greater self-awareness and better processing of thoughts and feelings. But which of these techniques should a poor stressed-out wretch choose? What does the research say? Very little – at least until now.Read more…

Breaking Through the Barrier

Like a bouncer at an exclusive nightclub, the blood-brain barrier allows only select molecules to pass from the bloodstream into the fluid that bathes the brain. The barrier also ensures that waste products are filtered out of the brain and whisked away. The blood-brain barrier helps maintain the delicate environment that allows the human brain to thrive. The blood-brain barrier helps maintain the delicate environment that allows the human brain to thrive. There’s just one problem: The barrier is so discerning, it won’t let medicines pass through. Researchers haven’t been able to coax it to open up because they don’t know enough about how the barrier forms or functions.Read more…

To wilt or not to wilt?

You might be familiar with this situation: At the florist you spot a pot of roses. The plant is bursting with flowery vibrancy. You buy the potted plant, bring it home, and proudly place it in a windowsill. It looks lovely! But then, already after a day or two, the leaves and blooms start to sag. What has gone wrong? At Aarhus University the scientist Habtamu Giday Geraegziabher has an explanation. The secret lies in the stomata – the tiny pores on the leaves of all plants. The stomata play a role in water loss and CO2 uptake from the leaves. The plant hormone abscisic acid underlies the differences in certain critical features of plant-water relations. These plant-water relations include control of water loss through the stomata and aspects of restoration of water uptake after the plant has been dehydrated – in other words, whether the plant will wilt or not. Read more…

Many schools are neglecting students’ health and wellbeing, warn experts

Education policy shouldn’t focus solely on academic attainment Many schools in England are neglecting – and may be actively harming – students’ health and wellbeing, warn experts. Professor Chris Bonell at the Institute of Education and colleagues argue that education policy shouldn’t focus solely on academic attainment. Education policy in England “increasingly encourages schools to maximise students’ academic attainment and ignore their broader wellbeing, personal development, and health, ” they write.Read more…

A link is found between cell death and inflammatory disease

A team of Melbourne researchers has shown a recently discovered type of cell death called necroptosis could be the underlying cause of inflammatory disease. The research team discovered that a previously identified molecule involved in necroptosis, called RIPK1, was essential for survival by preventing uncontrolled inflammation. This finding could lead to future treatments for inflammatory diseases including Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.Read more…

PODCAST: Pain, gene therapy, and regenerating worms

In this episode of the eLife podcast we hear about neuropathic pain, gene therapy, insulin production, ageing in worms, and how flatworms grow new body parts.

00:40 – Getting to grips with neuropathic pain
07:03 – Gene editing and repair kit
13:33 – Reprogramming pancreatic cells
18:47 – Worms that regenerate themselves
24:19 – Ageing effect on worm reproductionListen via

Nature podcast

This week, transforming baby-killing mice into caring dads using a genetic switch, how using male cells and animals could bias results, and how water loss in California may be moving mountains. Listen via

Baffling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Set for Diagnostic Overhaul

More than one million people in the U.S. suffer from a poorly understood, difficult-to-diagnose condition that can leave them debilitated by unshakable exhaustion, pain, depression and cognitive trouble. Researchers, however, are still unsure what causes chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), how to treat it, how best to diagnose it and even what to call it. A new study is now providing hope for better understanding—and potentially better diagnosing—the disease. It has revealed a striking pattern of brain inflammation in CFS patients. In your head Chronic fatigue syndrome was first formally described in the late 1980s.Read more…

Successful Stem Cell Therapy in Monkeys is First of Its Kind

Mice have been poked, prodded, injected and dissected in the name of science. But there are limits to what mice can teach us – especially when it comes to stem cell therapies. For the first time, researchers have turned skin cells into bone in a creature more closely related to humans: monkeys.Read more…


Five Brain Challenges We Can Overcome in the Next Decade

Forty specialists from different areas, including neuroscience, mental health, innovation and technology were asked what they thought was a significant and important problems in neuroscience which could be answered in the next ten years? Five themes emerged from their answers, which were published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.

  1. Smart and wearable tech
  2. Knowing why treatments work
  3. Alzheimer’s disease
  4. Understanding genetic causes
  5. Mapping the brain

Read more…

 May 1, 2014  Posted by at 3:34 pm Summary Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 242014

Podcast about Huntington’s Disease- excellent for GCSE students!

In a special show from Cambridge and New Zealand, Hannah Critchlow investigates the research into Huntington’s Disease. How has the search to correct a single gene enhanced our understanding of how the brain functions? How are sheep helping to unpick the puzzle of the human mind? Plus we visit a brain bank to find out how tissue donors are supporting the scientific research. Listen via

Scientists discover brain’s anti-distraction system

Psychologists have made a brain-related discovery that could revolutionize doctors’ perception and treatment of attention-deficit disorders. This discovery opens up the possibility that environmental and/or genetic factors may hinder or suppress a specific brain activity that the researchers have identified as helping us prevent distraction. Read more…

New information on myelin

Loss of myelin is a feature in a number of devastating diseases, including multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia. “Myelin is a relatively recent invention during evolution,”. “It’s thought that myelin allowed the brain to communicate really fast to the far reaches of the body, and that it has endowed the brain with the capacity to compute higher-level functions.” But the new research shows that despite myelin’s essential roles in the brain, “some of the most evolved, most complex neurons of the nervous system have less myelin than older, more ancestral ones”. Read more…

Flesh-eating bacterium is a child of the 80s

To the usual list of terrible things that appeared in the 1980s – bad hairdos, pleated acid-washed jeans, Miami Vice – we must now add flesh-eating bacteria. It was in the early 80s that an innocuous bacterium gained the weapons it needed to cause flesh-eating disease, or necrotising fasciitis. Read more…

Uniter of Sperm and Egg Is Found

A newly discovered protein is found to play a crucial role in conception. Scientists have identified a long-sought fertility protein that allows sperm to dock to the surface of an egg. The finding, an important step in understanding the process that enables conception, could eventually spawn new forms of birth control and treatments for infertility. Read more…

Study expected to find maternal diet could have an impact on food allergy in later life of children

A long-term study evaluating maternal diet’s impact on food allergy in later life is expected to uncover causes of allergy in children.
Read more…

Study Sheds Light on How the Immune System Protects Children from Malaria

Children who live in regions of the world where malaria is common can mount an immune response to infection with malaria parasites that may enable them to avoid repeated bouts of high fever and illness and partially control the growth of malaria parasites in their bloodstream. The findings may help researchers develop future interventions that prevent or mitigate the disease caused by the malaria parasite. Read more…

Overnight home use of artificial pancreas €˜feasible and beneficial€™

The artificial pancreas promises to dramatically improve the quality of life for people with type 1 diabetes, which typically develops in childhood. All previous artificial pancreas trials, in hospitals and in home environments, have seen researchers strictly monitor patients. The latest trial, funded by JDRF, has shown for the first time that unsupervised use of the artificial pancreas overnight can be safe. Read more…

The malaria pathogen€™s cellular skeleton under a super-microscope

The tropical disease malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite. For its survival and propagation, Plasmodium requires a protein called actin. Actin is found in nearly all living organisms where it is one of the most abundant proteins. Inside cells, it assumes numerous tasks: It confers stability, allows cell division, and makes movement of single cells possible. Read more…

Is Parkinson’s an Autoimmune Disease?

The cause of neuronal death in Parkinson€™s disease is still unknown, but a new study proposes that neurons may be mistaken for foreign invaders and killed by the person€™s own immune system, similar to the way autoimmune diseases like type I diabetes, celiac disease, and multiple sclerosis attack the body€™s cells. The new hypothesis about Parkinson€™s emerges from other findings in the study that overturn a deep-seated assumption about neurons and the immune system. Read more…


Building ‘Smart’ Cell-Based Therapies

A Northwestern synthetic biology team has created a new technology for modifying human cells to create programmable therapeutics that could travel the body and selectively target cancer and other sites of disease. Engineering cell-based, biological devices that monitor and modify human physiology is a promising frontier in clinical synthetic biology. Read more…

Neurons in the Brain Tune into Different Frequencies for Different Spatial Memory Tasks

Your brain transmits information about your current location and memories of past locations over the same neural pathways using different frequencies of a rhythmic electrical activity called gamma waves, report neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Austin. The research may provide insight into the cognitive and memory disruptions seen in diseases such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s, in which gamma waves are disturbed. Read more…


7 ways chronic illness imposes an extra burden on the young

Although this article is not research based and is largely anecdotal I think it is a really interesting read. Hidden disabilities can be very difficult to deal with, especially for young people. This article helps us to empathise and understand some of the additional issues they face as well as the illness itself.
7 ways chronic illness imposes an extra burden on the young

Airport security-style technology could help doctors decide on stroke treatment

A new computer program could help doctors predict which patients might suffer potentially fatal side-effects from a key stroke treatment. The program, which assesses brain scans using pattern recognition software similar to that used in airport security and passport control, has been developed by researchers at Imperial College London. In a pilot study funded by the Wellcome Trust the computer program predicted the occurrence of bleeding with 74 per cent accuracy compared to 63 per cent for the standard prognostic approach. Read more…

How Cells Take Out the Trash

Cells rely on garbage disposal systems to keep their interiors neat and tidy. If it weren’t for these systems, cells could look like microscopic junkyards—and worse, they might not function properly. So constant cleaning is a crucial biological process, and if it goes wrong, it can cause serious problems. Via

New method to analyse how cancer cells die

Manchester scientists have improved a way of analysing how cancer spreads and how effective drugs are at killing the cells.   The number of cells within tissue is controlled through apoptosis – a process where cells shrink and their components break up, also known as programmed cell death. Cancer is often characterised by a disruption to the normal process of this cell death. eing able to study this process accurately would allow doctors to more effectively diagnose and monitor cancer and to test and develop new treatments designed to kill cancer cells.

The coolest biology is under the microscope- A book review

This is a book review for The Amoeba in the Room by Nicholas P. Almost everything important takes place in the microbial world, argues Nicholas Money in his lively but rather disorganised book. Almost everything important – most of the biodiversity, most of the important ecology, almost all of the interesting biochemistry – takes place in the microbial world. Via

Stanford scientists observe brain activity in real time

Stanford scientists have created new tools that let researchers read brain activity by observing glowing trails of light spreading between connected nerves. Observing the glowing trails of light spreading between connected nerves will help scientists understand how those individual signals add up to the complex collection of a person’s thoughts and memories. Read more…

Animals with Bigger Brains Have More Self-Control

Researchers tested 36 different species on two self-control tasks. In the first, the researchers hid treats in one of several containers. In the second, they hid treats in a transparent cylinder. See the video here…

First genetic link discovered to difficult-to-diagnose breast cancer sub-type

Scientists have identified the first genetic variant specifically associated with the risk of a difficult-to-diagnose cancer sub-type accounting for around 10-15 per cent of all breast cancer cases. The largest ever study of the breast cancer sub-type, called invasive lobular carcinoma, gives researchers important clues to the genetic causes of this particular kind of breast cancer, which can be missed through screening. It used gene chip technology and complex statistical analysis to compare the DNA of more than 6, 500 women with invasive lobular cancer with the DNA of more than 35, 000 women without the disease. Via

A chick off the old block? Probably not

Modern domestic animal traits that set them apart from their wild ancestors, such as small dogs, or the gnarled combs on chickens heads, may have appeared far more recently than previously thought, according to new research. Many believe such common characteristics may have dated back to when humans first domesticated animals thousands of years ago, but a new analysis of ancient DNA from chicken bones suggests they may only have been around for a few hundred years. The study, involving academics from the University of Aberdeen and led by Durham University, suggests that humans have been able to alter the appearance of domestic animals much more rapidly than previously thought. The team says that the results of the ancient DNA analysis call into question many long held preconceptions about the evolution of animals we share our lives with. Read more…


Medicine Matters Podcast

Headlines this week claim that ‘thousands of patients die in hospital of thirst’ but did the authors of the study actually analyse hydration? Mark Porter investigates the evidence for using Baclofen to treat alcoholism and hears how it helped a listener drinking 6-8 bottles of wine a day. Why did NICE question the use of Paracetamol – the UK’s favourite painkiller – in the treatment of osteoarthritis? And are saturated fats really bad for us? Listen via radio 4

Blue-Footed Boobies Are Declining in the Galapagos

The population of blue-footed boobies — the seabirds with characteristically colorful feet — has been declining in the Galápagos islands. The birds’ numbers have dropped more than 50 percent in less than 20 years, according to a study published in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology. The researchers speculated that a lack of sardines, a source of food for the boobies, might be to blame for the decline. Read more…

Protein that shrinks depressed brains identified

Could preventing the brain shrinkage associated with depression be as simple as blocking a protein? Post-mortem analysis of brain tissue has shown that the dendrites that relay messages between neurons are more shrivelled in people with severe depression than in people without the condition. This atrophy could be behind some of the symptoms of depression, such as the inability to feel pleasure. Via

Surprise! Biodiversity Benefits the Economy

After the discovery of a bacterium that lives at extremely high temperatures in Yellowstone National Park’s hot springs, scientists extracted a heat-resistant enzyme that helps copy DNA. This enzyme was used to develop a lab technique for rapidly duplicating DNA with the help of repeated heating and cooling cycles. Known as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), this technique enables DNA fingerprinting, an essential forensics tool, and much of the biotechnology industry, worth more than $95 billion today. See more…

Renewable energy: Biofuels heat up

A new generation of industrial plants can make liquid fuels from almost any organic scraps — from corn stalks and wood chips to urban rubbish. Via

RNA interference rebooted

Gene-silencing technique yields promising treatments for liver-linked disorders. After a rocky start, RNA interference (RNAi), a gene-silencing technique that won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, is gaining momentum. In November, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced its first major success: evidence that an RNAi-based treatment drastically reduced levels of a toxic liver protein in people with a rare neuro­degenerative disease. That opened up the floodgates: biotechnology firms have already raised nearly US$1 billion this year for RNAi-based drug development, and roughly 150 therapies are being tested in patients. “It’s no longer a question of if RNA therapeutics will become a reality” but when, says John Maraganore, Alnylam’s chief executive. Via

Biofuel Made From Corn Waste Less ‘Green’ Than Gasoline

Biofuel created from corn waste may not be the clean, eco-friendly oil alternative the United States government is hoping for. A new study has found that fuel generated from harvested corn leftovers creates more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline — at least in the short term. The fuel under study, called cellulosic ethanol, has been touted in recent years as a promising successor to current corn-based ethanol. Read more…

Tamiflu report comes under fire

The drug Tamiflu is prescribed as the front-line treatment for serious cases of influenza. A study that calls into question the stockpiling of billions of dollars€™ worth of antiviral drugs to mitigate the threat of influenza pandemics has been criticized by flu researchers. Via

Mantis Shrimp Stronger than Airplanes

Photo credit: Carlos Puma
The peacock mantis shrimp, or stomatopod, is a 4- to 6-inch-long rainbow-colored crustacean with a fist-like club that accelerates underwater faster than a 22-calibur bullet. The force created by the impact of the mantis shrimp’s club is more than 1, 000 times its own weight. Also, the acceleration of the club creates cavitation, meaning it shears the water, literally boiling it, forming cavitation bubbles that implode, yielding a secondary impact on the mantis shrimp’s prey. Inspired by the fist-like club of a mantis shrimp, a team of researchers led by University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with University of Southern California and Purdue University, have developed a design structure for composite materials that is more impact resistant and tougher than the standard used in airplanes. Read more…

The Surface Area of the Digestive Tract “only” as Large as a Studio Apartment

The internal surface area of the gastro-intestinal tract has long been considered to be between 180 and 300 square meters. Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy have used refined microscopic techniques that indicate a much smaller area. “Actually, the inner surface of the gastro-intestinal tract is only as large as a normal studio apartment, ” says scientist Lars Fändriks. Read more…

Cougars€™ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion | Research News @ Vanderbilt

Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion. That is the conclusion of a new analysis of the microscopic wear marks on the teeth of cougars, saber-tooth cats and American lions. Read more…

New Drugs Offer Hope for Migraine Prevention

Two new studies may offer hope for people with migraines. Both studies involve drugs that are aimed at preventing migraine attacks from occurring, rather than stopping the attacks once they have started. These studies are the first to test monoclonal antibodies for the prevention of migraine, and both are directed against a relatively new target in migraine prevention, the calcitonin gene-related peptide, or CGRP. CGRP has been thought to be important in migraine, but never have drugs been developed to specifically target the protein. Read more…

Nature podcast

This week, the function of the Y chromosome, helping corals breed in the face of climate change, and the scientific life of author Beatrix Potter. Read more…

Genetics explain why some boys and girls are bigger than others

This research, published in the journal Obesity, combined twin and genomic analyses in 2556 pairs of twins from the Twins Early Development Study. Data were collected in England and Wales in 1999 and 2005 when the twins were 4 and 10 years old respectively. The twin analysis confirmed previous studies with a doubling of genetic influence, called ‘heritability’, showing that the reasons that some boys and girls are bigger than others are 43% genetic at age 4 and 82% genetic at age 10. Via

‘Completely fresh’ approach to osteoarthritis research announced

Researchers in Manchester are embarking on ‘a completely fresh approach’ to new research that could one day lead to more effective treatment for the common joint disease, osteoarthritis. More than eight million people in the UK are affected by osteoarthritis, which occurs when cartilage at the ends of bones wears away, leading to stiff, swollen and painful joints. They aim to ‘stratify’ or segregate patients into different disease groups by identifying the pattern of genes that are active in their joints. Via

 April 24, 2014  Posted by at 4:04 pm Summary Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 182014

A shortened version of #Bionews this week as I have just lost most of the links I planned to use!!

Have a good Easter.

Science and Technology at Lancaster University

A new free “massive” online course explores how we can feed an extra two billion people by 2050. Four hundred students from around the world signed up on the first day of enrollment and the number is rising daily. Find out more or sign up at FutureLearn, or use the hashtag #FLfoodsecurity to join Twitter conversations about this course. Read more…

Brain cell find points to new therapies

Insights into how brain cells are produced could lead to treatments for brain cancer and other brain-related disorders. Scientists have gained new understanding of the role played by a key molecule that controls how and when nerve and brain cells are formed – a process that allows the brain to develop and keeps it healthy. Read more…

World-leading scientists develop new approach to bird conservation

A new approach to species conservation which could change how we protect the world’s most endangered birds has been developed by a team of the world’s leading scientists, including the University of Sheffield. World-wide, nearly 600 species of birds are currently in danger of becoming extinct. This new approach to conservation relies on an idea called evolutionary distinctiveness to prioritise which endangered birds should receive particular conservation or research attention. Read more…

Study finds prostate cancer tests underestimate disease in half of cases

Scientists from the University of Cambridge compared the staging and grading of cancer in over 800 men before and after they had surgery to remove their prostate. They found that of the 415 men whose prostate cancer was classified as slow growing and confined to just the prostate after an initial biopsy, half (209) had cancer which was more aggressive than originally thought when assessed again after surgery and almost a third (131) had cancer that had spread beyond the prostate. €œThis highlights the urgent need for better tests to define how aggressive a prostate cancer is from the outset, building on diagnostic tests like MRI scans and new biopsy techniques which help to more accurately define the extent of the prostate cancer. Read more…

Wow! The Most Amazing Images in Science This Week

A new species of crayfish discovered in southeast Australia’s coastal lakes and swamps is one of the world’s smallest crayfish species, researchers report. The tiny, blue-black crustacean resembles its larger cousins that end up in cooking pots, such as lobsters and crawdads. The biggest one found was just 0.8 inches (21 mm) long, and weighed 0.2 ounces (7 grams). Check out other amazing images here. See more…

Emily Anthes discusses how biotechnology is shaping the future of our furry and feathered friends : Soapbox Science

Emily Anthes is a science journalist and author who has just released her new book Frankenstein’s Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech’s Brave New Beasts. When the American science journalist started her journey exploring the technological advances in the world of biotechnology, more than three years ago, she had conflicting views of her own on the reengineering of animals’ bodies. Read more…

Laboratory-Grown Vaginas Implanted in Patients

“This pilot study is the first to demonstrate that vaginal organs can be constructed in the lab and used successfully in humans, ” said Atala. “This may represent a new option for patients who require vaginal reconstructive surgeries. The treatment could also potentially be applied to patients with vaginal cancer or injuries, according to the researchers. Read more…


How nerve cells flexibly adapt to acoustic signals

How nerve cells flexibly adapt to acoustic signals: Depending on the input signal, neurons generate action potentials either near or far away from the cell body. In order to process acoustic information with high temporal fidelity, nerve cells may flexibly adapt their mode of operation according to the situation. Read more…

Researchers Discover Possible New Target to Attack Flu Virus

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a protein produced by the influenza A virus helps it outwit one of our body’s natural defense mechanisms. That makes the protein a potentially good target for antiviral drugs directed against the influenza A virus. Better antiviral drugs could help the millions of people annually infected by flu, which kills up to 500, 000 people each year. Read more…

Podcast Extra – The man who couldn’t stop

In this Podcast Nature editor David Adam discusses his experience of obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD and his new book, The man who couldn’t stop, in which David describes life with OCD and sets out the scientific understanding of the condition. Listen via

Nature Podcast for the week

This week, how egg and sperm hook up, how the countryside benefits biodiversity, and harnessing the sun’s power for the developing world. Listen via

Podcast on Artificial Photosynthesis

How can government, industry and business better work together to invest in long-term research to harness solar energy and transform carbon dioxide into energy fuel? In this lecture, Global Chair at the University, Professor Geoffrey Ozin talks about using carbon dioxide as a source of fuel rather than treating it as a waste product and pioneering advances in nano-chemistry. Listen here.

 April 18, 2014  Posted by at 8:12 pm Summary Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 102014

‘Sewing machine’ idea gives insight into origins of Alzheimer’s

Researchers at Lancaster University have invented a new imaging tool inspired by the humble sewing machine which is providing fresh insight into the origins of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. These diseases are caused by tiny toxic proteins too small to be studied with traditional optical microscopy. Existing techniques are not sufficient to get a good look at these proteins; optical microscopy does not provide enough resolution at this scale, and electron microscopy gives the resolution but not the contrast. Read more…

 Behind the scenes of an international climate report, with Stanford scientists

Stanford’s Chris Field has spent five years leading a large team of international scientists as they prepared a major United Nations report on the state and fate of the world’s climate. The hours were long, the company was good and the science is crucial. Behind the scenes of an international climate report, with Stanford scientists.


Light-activated neurons restore function to paralysed muscles

The technique involves transplanting specially-designed motor neurons created from stem cells into injured nerve branches. These motor neurons are designed to react to pulses of blue light, allowing scientists to fine-tune muscle control by adjusting the intensity, duration and frequency of the light pulses. In the study, published this week in Science, the team demonstrated the method in mice in which the nerves that supply muscles in the hind legs were injured. Read more…

The teenage brain – work in progress

A European wide study which aims to identify and learn more about the biological and environmental factors that might influence mental health in teenagers is recalling its 2, 000 volunteers for the second stage of the research. Now, at 18, the same volunteers are back to see how their brains have changed over the last four years. The aim is to investigate factors that lead to the emergence of mental health issues such as mood disorders and substance abuse in adolescents. Read more…

European study reveals new causes of mouth and throat cancer

Poor oral health and failure to have regular dental checks could increase the risk of mouth and throat cancer, according to a pan-European study. The research also suggests – based on a small number of tumour patients – that excessive use of mouthwash may also cause this particular form of cancer. Excessive use is defined as more than three times a day. It has been established for some time that smoking and heavy alcohol consumption, particularly in combination, are strongly related to mouth and throat cancers. The study of 1, 962 patients with mouth and throat cancers, with a further 1, 993 people used as comparison control subjects, was conducted in 13 centres across nine countries and supported by EU funding. Read more…

A book review. Loving the alien: A defence of non-native species

We have all heard a lot of bad stuff about introduced species: they run rampant through our ecosystems, costing billions to control each year. They are also accused of driving native species extinct. Indeed, alien species are often cited as one of the big threats to biodiversity. In Where Do Camels Belong? The story and science of invasive species, plant biologist Ken Thompson argues that most alien species – even some topping the eco-horror lists – cause little or no lasting damage and aren’t worth the angst, effort or money we devote to controlling them. Read more…

How to Fix a Gene [Video]

Short stretches of RNA paired up with key proteins are fundamentally changing what cells can do. To get a better visual sense of exactly how one group of RNA molecules can affect the way genes work, watch the following animation, created by Arkitek Studios for Nature Reviews Genetics. See more…

Smart Bulb Helps You Sleep and Wake on Schedule

Melatonin is the hormone in charge of making you feel sleepy, and your levels go up and down on a 24-hour cycle each day. When you wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed, your melatonin levels tend to be low. Lighting Solutions’ good night bulb is shaped like a regular incandescent bulb, but is much smarter. Read more…

Hummingbird Evolution Is Booming

Hummingbirds took just 22 million years to diversify from a single common ancestor into 338 tiny, colorful species. And they have not finished yet. Evolutionary biologist Jim McGuire of the University of California, Berkeley, and his collaborators have found that although some hummingbird groups have saturated the available space in their environments, others are still developing into new species at an extraordinary rate. By comparing their rates of speciation and extinction, McGuire’s team calculated that the number of hummingbird species could double before reaching an equilibrium in the next several million years. Read more…

Ladybirds sold online to tackle garden pests

With their brightly coloured shells, ladybirds are a distinctive insect in our gardens. But as well as being pretty, they are also a useful tool for the green fingered, a natural way to control pests that attack plants. See more…

Is your smartphone ruining your sleep?

New technology such as smartphones and tablets could be affecting how much sleep people get, a survey suggests. More than three quarters of those surveyed use devices with screens before going to sleep. The blue light they emit disrupts the body’s natural processes. See more…

Bacterial Gut Biome May Guide Colon Cancer Progression

Colorectal cancer develops in what is probably the most complex environment in the human body, a place where human cells cohabitate with a colony of approximately 10 trillion bacteria, most of which are unknown. Researchers from The Wistar Institute present findings that suggest the colon “microbiome” of gut bacteria can change the tumor microenvironment in a way that promotes the growth and spread of tumors. Read more…

Toward a clearer diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome, which is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a debilitating condition characterized by chronic, profound, and disabling fatigue. Neuroinflammation—the inflammation of nerve cells—has been hypothesized to be a cause of the condition, but no clear evidence has been put forth to support this idea. Now, in this clinically important study, published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, the researchers found that indeed the levels of neuroinflammation markers are elevated in CFS/ME patients compared to the healthy controls. Read more…

Does too much time at the computer lead to lower bone mineral density in adolescents?

The skeleton grows continually from birth to the end of the teenage years, reaching peak bone mass – maximum strength and size – in early adulthood. There is consequently growing concern regarding the possible adverse effects of sedentary lifestyles in youth on bone health and on obesity. Read more…

Discovery of a mechanism that makes tumor cells sugar addicted

For almost a hundred years ago is known that cancer cells feel a special appetite for glucose. The tumor uses this molecule is like the gasoline which depends a sports car to burn faster and grows and multiplies rapidly. Read more…

Some long non-coding RNAs are conventional after all

Not so long ago researchers thought that RNAs came in two types: coding RNAs that make proteins and non-coding RNAs that have structural roles. Then came the discovery of small RNAs that opened up whole new areas of research. Now researchers have come full circle and predicted that some long non-coding RNAs can give rise to small proteins that have biological functions. A recent study in The EMBO Journal describes how researchers have used ribosome profiling to identify several hundred long non-coding RNAs that may give rise to small peptides. Read more…

Extinctions reduce speciation

The same factors that increase the risk of species extinctions also reduce the chance that new species are formed. We often see alarming reports about the global biodiversity crisis through the extinction of species. The reasons why species become extinct is much discussed, particularly the consequences of human activities. Less often discussed is how environmental changes affect the chances that new species are formed. Read more…

The Naked Scientists Podcast

In this episode vaccination using hypodermic needles might be replaced by a breathable nanoparticle vaccine, rotating antibiotics stop superbugs and super microscope watches living brain cells…
Listen via

Games linked to aggression if players can’t master technology

Playing electronic games can make people feel aggressive, but new research finds that the reason has little to do with violent content. They found that the deciding factor was how the volunteers were able to master the electronic game after 20 minutes of play.   Games that were too difficult or where players had trouble mastering controls that were too complicated were the most likely to leave players feeling aggressive afterwards. Read more…

Tamiflu: an analysis of all the data

Was the government right to spend half a billion pounds in stockpiling the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza in preparation for a flu pandemic? These drugs were handed out via a phoneline during the swine flu pandemic of 2009 as part of a wider public health strategy. The decision to stockpile the drugs might have been different had we had access to all the clinical data on their effectiveness. Read more…

Cooking crystals and breaking good science

TV star Mel Giedroyc has teamed up with Oxford University scientists to explore the shapes and structures of proteins: vital building blocks of life on Earth. In a new animation launched, entitled ‘A case of crystal clarity’, the presenter of shows such as The Great British Bake Off is the voice of a mysterious magician who introduces viewers to a different kind of cookery: the science of crystallography. Read more…

Skin scan offers new insight into drug transport

A technique that can follow the progress of topical drugs as they penetrate skin could help to improve formulations, avoid drug wastage and reduce the risk of overdoses. The laser spectroscopy method, known as coherent Raman scattering (CRS) microscopy, quickly yields information about the mechanism of drug transport, and how the formulation of topical medicines changes after they are applied. Medicinal creams or gels are most often used to treat skin diseases or local inflammation, but it is a tough route for a drug to take. Read more…

Living organ regenerated for first time

Medical procedures that can rejuvenate human body parts have moved a step closer with the completion of a new study.
A team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh has succeeded in regenerating a living organ for the first time.
The team rebuilt the thymus – an organ in the body located next to the heart that produces important immune cells. Read more…

Targeting sperm protection in mosquitoes could help combat malaria

Researchers have discovered a way of reducing the fertility of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, potentially providing a new tactic to combat the disease. Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes are the main transmitters of malaria, which affects around 200 million people every year. The females mate only once during their lives. Read more…

Scientists identify part of brain linked to gambling addiction

During gambling games, people often misperceive their chances of winning due to a number of errors of thinking called cognitive distortions. In a random sequence like tossing a coin, a run of one event (heads) makes people think the other outcome (tails) is due next; this is known as the €˜gambler€™s fallacy€™. In this study, the researchers examined the neurological basis of these beliefs in patients with injuries to different parts of the brain. Scientists identify part of brain linked to gambling addiction

Human ‘missing link’ fossils may be jumble of species

ONE of our closest long-lost relatives may never have existed. The fossils of Australopithecus sediba, which promised to rewrite the story of human evolution, may actually be the remains of two species jumbled together. The first fossils of A. sediba were found at Malapa, South Africa, in 2008. Read more…

Meet your unborn child – before it’s even conceived

WILL my baby be healthy? It’s a question that concerns every prospective parent. Now a service that creates digital embryos by virtually mixing two people’s DNA will give a clearer glimpse of their possible child’s health, and perhaps much more – before it has been conceived. The Matchright technology will be available in two US fertility clinics later this month, allowing people to screen out sperm donors who, when their genes are combined with those of the intended mother, could increase the risk of a child inheriting genetic diseases. Read more…

Amoeba Takes Bites of Human Cells to Kill Them

Amoebae — a group of amorphous, single-celled organisms that live in the human body — can kill human cells by biting off chunks of intestinal cells until they die, a new study finds. This is the first time scientists have seen this method of cell killing, and the new findings could one day help treat parasitic infections that kill children across the globe, the researchers said. Read more…


 April 10, 2014  Posted by at 9:16 pm Summary Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Apr 032014

How Real Is the ‘Game of Thrones’ Medieval World?

Spot-on, in some aspects, experts say, but the real medieval Europe was likely far more boring and somewhat less brutal than Westeros. Comparing Westeros with real medieval Europe is not intended as criticism of the stories; fantasy is obviously not concerned with historical accuracy. In actuality, medieval armor did a good job of protecting against the weapons of the time. Read more…

Eating organic food doesn’t lower your overall risk of cancer

Scientists found no increase in overall cancer risk for women who never eat organic food Women who always or mostly eat organic foods have the same likelihood of developing cancer as women who eat conventionally produced foods, according to an Oxford University study. Kathryn Bradbury and colleagues in Oxford’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit found no evidence that regularly eating a diet that was grown free from pesticides reduced a woman’s overall risk of cancer. The researchers asked around 600, 000 women aged 50 or over whether they ate organic foods as part of the Million Women Study. Eating organic food doesn’t lower your overall risk of cancer


Quality early childhood programs help prevent chronic diseases in later life

Disadvantaged children who attend high-quality early childhood development programs including healthcare and nutrition have significantly improved health as adults, reports a new study. These findings build upon existing evidence that high-quality early childhood programs produce better economic and social outcomes for disadvantaged children. Read more…

Smoking bans improve child health

Banning smoking in public places has helped to cut premature births by 10 per cent, new research shows. The study of data from parts of North America and Europe where smoking bans have been introduced also showed a 10 per cent fall in hospital attendance for childhood asthma attacks. The findings reveal that the impact of anti-smoking laws varies between countries but overall the effect on child health around the world is very positive. Read more…

Statistical significance doesn’t always warrant a miracle headline

Often you find what might be statistically significant translated into headlines that might not really get at the nuance of the study or the results. Read more…


Disorganized cortical patches suggest prenatal origin of autism

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 27, 2014, this study suggests that brain irregularities in children with autism can be traced back to prenatal development. “While autism is generally considered a developmental brain disorder, research has not identified a consistent or causative lesion, ” said Thomas R. “If this new report of disorganized architecture in the brains of some children with autism is replicated, we can presume this reflects a process occurring long before birth. Read more…

Images of the Month from Nature

Images of the month from Nature. Read more…

Epigenetics is associated with major depressive disorder

Epigenetics is increasingly believed to play a major role in the development of common clinical phenotypes, including major depressive disorder. This study shows that major depressive disorder is associated with significant hypermethylation within the coding region of a gene called ZBTB20. The study of 50 monozygotic twin pairs was replicated in an independent cohort of 356 unrelated case-control individuals. The twins with major depressive disorder also show increased global variation in methylation in comparison with their unaffected co-twins. Read more…

Video: Dancing Bees Reveal When to Plant Flowers

Adding more flowers to the landscape is one way to help ailing honey bee populations, but just when should these flowers be planted? To answer that question, researchers spent 2 years eavesdropping on more than 5000 waggle dances; the duration and direction of the dances (seen in video) indicate where flowers are and how far away they are, respectively. The mean foraging distance increased from 493 meters in the spring to 2156 meters in the summer, then back down to 1275 meters in autumn. See more…

Redesigned crops could produce far more fuel

The very compound that keeps plants standing tall has been redesigned to make them easier to break down. This genetic tweak has made it far easier to unlock the valuable chemicals held inside plants. Traditionally, getting at the chemicals in plants is tricky. If this method scales up, it could be used to make more environmentally friendly biofuels, and more products extracted from wood. Read more…

Morning Rays Keep Off the Pounds

A new Northwestern Medicine® study reports the timing, intensity and duration of your light exposure during the day is linked to your weight — the first time this has been shown. People who had most of their daily exposure to even moderately bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day, the study found. “The later the hour of moderately bright light exposure, the higher a person’s BMI.”  The influence of morning light exposure on body weight was independent of an individual’s physical activity level, caloric intake, sleep timing, age or season. Read more…

Top doctor backs ‘garden gym’ idea

One of the UK’s top doctors says an accumulating body of evidence supports a link between urban green space and benefits to human wellbeing. Read more…

Chowing down on watermelon could lower blood pressure

A new study by Florida State University Associate Professor Arturo Figueroa, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, found that watermelon could significantly reduce blood pressure in overweight individuals both at rest and while under stress. Read more…

Mitotsis and preparing for cell division

In textbooks, the grand-finale of cell division is the tug-of-war fought inside dividing cells as duplicated pairs of chromosomes get dragged in opposite directions into daughter cells. This process, called mitosis, is visually stunning to observe under a microscope. Equally stunning to cell biologists are the preparatory steps cells take to ensure that the process occurs safely. Read more…

Researchers identify how zinc regulates key enzyme involved in cell death

The molecular details of how zinc, an essential trace element of human metabolism, interacts with the enzyme caspase-3, which is central to apoptosis or cell death, have been elucidated in a new study led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dysregulation of apoptosis is implicated in cancer and neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease. Zinc is known to affect the process by inhibiting the activity of caspases, which are important drug targets for the treatment of the above conditions. Read more…


E-cigarettes: No Smoke, No Danger?

We don’t yet know they’re safe, and using e-cigs to stop smoking may just help you put off quitting Smokers turn to e-cigs to ease nicotine withdrawal, or to avoid harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. Some believe e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking tobacco since e-cig vapor doesn’t contain the chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Norris Cotton Cancer Center researchers take a look at what we know about e-cigarettes and health. Read more…

Infants Are Sensitive to Pleasant Touch

Infants show unique physiological and behavioral responses to pleasant touch, which may help to cement the bonds between child and parent and promote early social and physiological development, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Read more…


Why Ebola is so dangerous

Ebola is a viral illness whose initial symptoms can include a sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and a sore throat, according to the World Health Organization. The disease infects humans through close contact with infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope.Out of 122 cases recorded in Guinea so far, at least 80 patients have died, with a further four deaths in Liberia. Read more…

Scientists ID Genes that Could Lead to Tough, Disease-Resistant Varieties of Rice

In an era of climate change, pollution and the global spread of pathogens, these new grains must also be able to handle stress. Now, researchers at Michigan Technological University have identified a set of genes that could be key to the development of the next generation of super rice. A meta-data analysis by biologist Ramakrishna Wusirika and PhD student Rafi Shaik has uncovered more than 1, 000 genes in rice that appear to play key roles in managing its response to two different kinds of stress: biotic, generally caused by infectious organisms like bacteria; and abiotic, caused by environmental agents, like nutrient deficiency, flood and salinity. Read more…

Gene therapy improves limb function following spinal cord injury

The findings suggest that, with more confirming research in animals and humans, gene therapy may hold the potential to one day treat people with spinal cord injuries. The spinal cord is the main channel through which information passes between the brain and the rest of the body. Most spinal cord injuries are caused by damage to the axons, the long extensions that brain cells use to send these messages. Read more…

UCL study finds new evidence linking fruit and vegetable consumption with lower mortality

Eating seven or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces your risk of death at any point in time by 42% compared to eating less than one portion, reports a new UCL study. Researchers used the Health Survey for England to study the eating habits of 65, 226 people representative of the English population between 2001 and 2013, and found that the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating seven or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively. Read more…

Major breakthrough in stem cell manufacturing technology

Scientists at The University of Nottingham have developed a new substance which could simplify the manufacture of cell therapy in the pioneering world of regenerative medicine. Cell therapy is an exciting and rapidly developing area of medicine in which stem cells have the potential to repair human tissue and maintain organ function in chronic disease and age-related illnesses. There are two distinct phases in the production of stem cell products; proliferation (making enough cells to form large tissue) and differentiation (turning the basic stem cells into functional cells). The material environment required for these two phases are different and up to now a single substance that does both jobs has not been available. Major breakthrough in stem cell manufacturing technology

Scientists build chromosome in the lab

Edinburgh scientists have helped build a fully functioning chromosome from scratch. Biologists have successfully constructed one of the complex thread-like structures that carry genes in yeast. An international team of scientists redesigned a chromosome found in brewer’s yeast using computer software, and rebuilt it by piecing together a series of short segments they made in the lab. Read more…

Epigenomics starts to make its mark

Analysis of chemical patterns on DNA shows promise for explaining disease, but few results have yet been replicated. Epigenomics starts to make its mark : Nature News & Comment

The Naked Scientists Podcast

In this weeks podcast- how handedness spans the scientific world, from the smallest particles in the Universe to the drugs that cure disease and even the way you hold a pen, goes under the microscope this week as we explore the realms of asymmetry. Plus, in the news, the world’s first synthetic chromosome, the goo that stops bones breaking, is there a giant planet lurking beyond Pluto, aircraft black boxes and anti-aphrodisiacs… Listen at

 April 3, 2014  Posted by at 7:52 pm Summary Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
Mar 272014


Economic growth no cure for child undernutrition

A large study of child growth patterns in 36 developing countries finds that, contrary to widely held beliefs, economic growth has little to no effect on the nutritional status of the world’s poorest children. “Our study does not imply that economic development is not important in a general sense, but cautions policymakers about relying solely on the trickle-down effects of economic growth on child nutrition,” said Sebastian Vollmer, assistant professor of development economics at the University of Göttingen, adjunct assistant professor of global health at HSPH, and lead author of the study. Read more…

Cell-saving drugs could reduce brain damage after stroke

Long-term brain damage caused by stroke could be reduced by saving cells called pericytes that control blood flow in capillaries, reports a new UCL-led study. Until now, many scientists believed that blood flow within the brain was solely controlled by changes in the diameter of arterioles, blood vessels that branch out from arteries into smaller capillaries. The latest research reveals that the brain’s blood supply is in fact chiefly controlled by the narrowing or widening of capillaries as pericytes tighten or loosen around them. Read more…

New maps for navigating the genome

Scientists have built the clearest picture yet of how our genetic material is regulated in order to make the human body work. They have mapped how a network of switches, built into our DNA, controls where and when our genes are turned on and off. The study is a step change in our understanding of the human genome, which contains the genetic instructions needed to build and maintain all the many different cell types in the body. The team studied the largest ever set of cell types and tissues from human and mouse in order to identify the location of these switches within the genome. Read more…

A new international study has revealed how genetics could explain why different environmental exposures can trigger the onset of different forms of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious inflammatory form of arthritis, affecting almost 400, 000 people in the UK, which causes painful, swollen joints, and in severe cases, considerable disability. Read more…


Large ocean predators evolved into gentle giants 520 million years ago

Large creatures roamed the Earth’s oceans more than 520 million years ago filtering food from the water in a similar way to today’s blue whales, according to new research involving Durham University.
Newly discovered fossils from North Greenland showed that these ancient giant marine animals used bizarre facial appendages to trawl for nekton and plankton from the seas. Read more…

Research produces strong evidence for new class of antidepressant drugs

Scientists have shown for the first time that a chemical in the brain called galanin is involved in the risk of developing depression. Galanin is a neuropeptide (a small protein) that was discovered and investigated over 30 years ago by various groups including the Swedish scientist Tomas Hokfelt. Professor Hokfelt and others made the fundamental discovery that neurones can release peptides alongside their classical transmitters and that galanin and noradrenaline are one such pair. Read more…

In-fly movie: 3D video from inside live flying insects

The flight muscles moving inside flies have been filmed for the first time using a new 3D X-ray scanning technique. The movies offer a glimpse into the inner workings of one of nature’s most complex mechanisms, the blowfly’s flight motor, and could inspire new designs of micro air vehicle and other micromechanisms. See more…

Scientists seek to safeguard trees

Edinburgh scientists are to join a £1.4 million project to help trees adapt to and resist novel pests and diseases. They will seek to do this both by understanding why disease problems have increased so dramatically, and by pinpointing tree genes that confer resistance to damage. Scientists seek to safeguard trees

MRI reveals genetic activity

Doctors commonly use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose tumors, damage from stroke, and many other medical conditions. Neuroscientists also rely on it as a research tool for identifying parts of the brain that carry out different cognitive functions. Now, a team of biological engineers at MIT is trying to adapt MRI to a much smaller scale, allowing researchers to visualize gene activity inside the brains of living animals. MRI reveals genetic activity – MIT News Office

Shock-absorbing ‘goo’ discovered in bone

Latest research shows that the chemical citrate €“ a by-product of natural cell metabolism €“ is mixed with water to create a viscous fluid that is trapped between the nano-scale crystals that form our bones. This fluid allows enough movement, or ‘slip’, between these crystals so that bones are flexible, and don’t shatter under pressure. It is the inbuilt shock absorber in bone that, until now, was unknown. Read more…

Why males stray more than females

Do males have more to gain than females from mating with additional partners? The theory that they do, and that this can help to explain different sex roles observed in the males and females of many species, is known as ‘Bateman’s principles’, named after the work of English geneticist Angus John Bateman. Why males stray more than females


Natural Killer cell findings should help fight against diseases like leukaemia

New insights into disease-fighting ‘Natural Killer’ cells should help scientists to produce them more effectively. The Natural Killer (NK) cell is a type of white blood cell that scans the human body for cells that are cancerous or infected with a virus or a bacterial pathogen, to target and destroy them. Scientists have already developed a form of immunotherapy using NK cells, which works by isolating NK cells from donated blood then expanding them in sterile conditions, before injecting them into a patient. Read more…

Scientists find mechanism to reset body clock

Researchers from The University of Manchester have discovered a new mechanism that governs how body clocks react to changes in the environment. The team’s findings reveal that the enzyme casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon) controls how easily the body’s clockwork can be adjusted or reset by environmental cues such as light and temperature. In mammals including humans, circadian clocks are found in most cells and tissues of the body, and orchestrate daily rhythms in our physiology, including our sleep/wake patterns and metabolism. Read more…

Making waves in water research

With an ever growing demand on limited water resources, it is essential that we approach sustainable water management in an innovative and integrated way. Academics at the University of Bath are working extensively with the water industry to address the major challenges faced by the sector and apply their research findings. Water research projects currently happening at Bath include turning sewage into fuel, using new technologies to clean water and detecting diseases in drinking water. Making waves in water research

First Ever ‘Designer Chromosome’ Built From Scratch

Scientists have synthesized one of the 16 chromosomes in baker’s yeast. In a significant step forward for synthetic biology, researchers have built a synthetic yeast chromosome—the first ever from a eukaryotic cell. This could help geneticists better understand how genomes work and stretch the existing limits of synthetic biology to make novel medications, more efficient biofuels and perhaps even better beer. Read more…

Fact or Fiction?: The 5-Second Rule for Dropped Food

There may be some actual science behind this popular deadline for retrieving grounded goodies. Read more…

Neurobiologists find chronic stress in early life causes anxiety, aggression in adulthood

In recent years, behavioral neuroscientists have debated the meaning and significance of a plethora of independently conducted experiments seeking to establish the impact of chronic, early-life stress upon behavior – both at the time that stress is experienced, and upon the same individuals later in life, during adulthood. The new CSHL research touches on a highly controversial subject in neurobiology: what are the behavioral consequences of early-life stress? Read more…

Gout Isn€™t Always Easy to Prove: CT Scans Help Catch Cases Traditional Test Misses

The standard way to check for gout is by drawing fluid or tissue from an affected joint and looking for uric acid crystals, a test known as a needle aspiration. That usually works, but not always: In a new Mayo Clinic study, X-rays known as dual-energy CT scans found gout in one-third of patients whose aspirates tested negative for the disease. The CT scans allowed rheumatologists to diagnose gout and treat those patients with the proper medication. Gout Isn€™t Always Easy to Prove: CT Scans Help Catch Cases Traditional Test Misses

Last drinks: brain’s mechanism knows when to stop

Our brains are hardwired to stop us drinking more water than is healthy, according to a new brain imaging study led by The University Of Melbourne and the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. Read more…

Faecal transplant safe for gut treatment, says watchdog

A treatment using faecal matter is a safe and effective procedure for people with a recurring gut infection, the NHS medicines watchdog has said. Read more…


Danish zoo that culled giraffe kills family of lions

A zoo in Denmark that provoked outrage after putting down a healthy giraffe has killed a family of four lions to make way for a new young male lion. The 16-year-old male and 14-year-old female were nearing the end of their natural lives in captivity, it added. Last month, the zoo killed a healthy giraffe because it was deemed surplus to requirements. Read more…

For neurons in the brain, identity can be used to predict location

A new mathematical model uses gene expression data to predict where neurons are located throughout the brain. Throughout the world, there are many different types of people, and their identity can tell a lot about where they live. The type of job they work, the kind of car they drive, and the foods they eat can all be used to predict the country, the state, or maybe even the city a person lives in. Scientists at CSHL have developed a new mathematical model that makes predictions about where different types are neurons are located throughout the brain. Read more…

Scientists find a molecular clue to the complex mystery of auxin signaling in plants

Graduate student David Korasick commuted between the Strader Lab, which specializes in genetics, and the Jez Lab, which has expertise in structural biology, to learn how plants control the effects of the master hormone auxin. Sculpting leaves is one of many roles auxin plays in plants. Among other things the hormone helps make plants bend toward the light, roots grow down and shoots grow up, fruits develop and fruits fall off. Read more…

Gene silencing instructions acquired through ‘molecular memory’ tags on chromatin

The discovery made by a 12-member all-Indiana University team of scientists led by IU biologist and biochemist Craig Pikaard provides important new insight into how plant cells know to silence a genetic locus — that specific place on a chromosome where a gene is located — in every successive generation. Addition, or removal, of one-carbon (methyl) or two-carbon (acetyl) chemical tags are ways of modifying chromatin that can impart additional, epigenetic (literally, “above genetic”) information to a locus beyond the genetic information encoded in the DNA. “Importantly, this work shows that silent locus identity is required for, but separable from, actual gene silencing, ” Pikaard said. Read more…

Nature podcast

This week, how gastric band surgery really works, a dwarf planet in the outer Solar System has a friend, and a physicist suggests a way to make quantum physics less puzzling. Listen via

Devouring Raspberry Pi – The Naked Scientists Podcast

2014 is the Year of Code, with the UK even becoming the first major economy to introduce computer programming to the school timetable. This week we investigate why coding, and getting kids into computer science has become so important. Plus, in the news, why the estimated number of smells a human can detect has gone from 10, 000 to a trillion and is bioethanol commercially viable… Listen here – The Naked Scientists

 March 27, 2014  Posted by at 9:15 pm Summary Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »