Scientist discover Virus that Makes People More Stupid – 43% of those tested were infected

Algal viruses attach, enter, and infect green alga (seen in series here).

Algal viruses attach, enter, and infect green alga (seen in series here).

Liz is a staff writer for Science.By Elizabeth Pennisi

27 October 2014 3:30 pm

It’s not such a stretch to think that humans can catch the Ebola virus from monkeys and the flu virus from pigs. After all, they are all mammals with fundamentally similar physiologies. But now researchers have discovered that even a virus found in the lowly algae can make mammals its home. The invader doesn’t make people or mice sick, but it does seem to slow specific brain activities.

The virus, called ATCV-1, showed up in human brain tissue several years ago, but at the time researchers could not be sure whether it had entered the tissue before or after the people died. Then, it showed up again in a survey of microbes and viruses in the throats of people with psychiatric disease. Pediatric infectious disease expert Robert Yolken from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and his colleagues were trying to see if pathogens play a role in these conditions. At first, they didn’t know what ATCV-1 was, but a database search revealed its identity as a virus that typically infects a species of green algae found in lakes and rivers.

The researchers wanted to find out if the virus was in healthy people as well as sick people. They checked for it in 92 healthy people participating in a study of cognitive function and found it in 43% of them. What’s more, those infected with the virus performed 10% worse than uninfected people on tests requiring visual processing. They were slower in drawing a line connecting a sequence of numbers randomly placed on a page, for example. And they seemed to have shorter attention spans, the researchers report online today in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The effects were modest, but significant.

The slower brain function was not associated with any differences in sex, income or education level, race, place of birth, or cigarette smoking. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the virus causes cognitive decline; it might just benefit from some other factor that impairs the brain in some people, such as other infectious agents, heavy metals, or pollutants, the researchers say. Continue reading “Scientist discover Virus that Makes People More Stupid – 43% of those tested were infected”

Chemical derived from broccoli sprouts shows promise in treating autism

At special request I am posting our video from our other operating site, Here.

– Most of those who responded to sulforaphane showed significant improvements by the first measurement at four weeks and continued to improve during the rest of the treatment. After 18 weeks of treatment, the average ABC and SRS scores of those who received sulforaphane had decreased 34 and 17 percent, respectively, with improvements in bouts of irritability, lethargy, repetitive movements, hyperactivity, awareness, communication, motivation and mannerisms.
– Zimmerman adds that before they learned which subjects got the sulforaphane or placebo, the impressions of the clinical team — including parents — were that 13 of the participants noticeably improved. For example, some treated subjects looked them in the eye and shook their hands, which they had not done before. They found out later that all 13 had been taking sulforaphane, which is half of the treatment group.
* Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder PNAS 10 2014 Continue reading “Chemical derived from broccoli sprouts shows promise in treating autism”

Equation to predict happiness

The happiness of over 18,000 people worldwide has been predicted by an equation developed by researchers at UCL, with results showing that moment-to-moment happiness reflects not just how well things are going, but whether things are going better

The happiness of over 18,000 people worldwide has been predicted by a mathematical equation developed by researchers at UCL, with results showing that moment-to-moment happiness reflects not just how well things are going, but whether things are going better than expected.

The new equation accurately predicts exactly how happy people will say they are from moment to moment based on recent events, such as the rewards they receive and the expectations they have during a decision-making task. Scientists found that overall wealth accumulated during the experiment was not a good predictor of happiness. Instead, moment-to-moment happiness depended on the recent history of rewards and expectations. These expectations depended, for example, on whether the available options could lead to good or bad outcomes. Continue reading “Equation to predict happiness”

WSU researchers chart an ancient baby boom / Southwest US experience holds a lesson in over-population

Pueblo Bonito

 

 

PULLMAN, Wash.—Washington State University researchers have sketched out one of the greatest baby booms in North American history, a centuries-long “growth blip” among southwestern Native Americans between 500 to 1300 A.D.

It was a time when the early features of civilization—including farming and food storage—had matured to where birth rates likely “exceeded the highest in the world today,” the researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A crash followed, said Tim Kohler, WSU Regents professor of anthropology, offering a warning sign to the modern world about the dangers of overpopulation.

“We can learn lessons from these people,” said Kohler, who coauthored the paper with graduate student Kelsey Reese. Continue reading “WSU researchers chart an ancient baby boom / Southwest US experience holds a lesson in over-population”

Health Research Report #171 27 DEC 2013

Health Research Report

 #171

Latest Health Research Report Click Image for Report

27 DEC 2013 /  White paper draft

Compiled by Ralph Turchiano

 

 

In this issue:

1.       Research shows how household dogs protect against asthma and infection
2.       Pain drugs used in prostate gland removal linked to cancer outcome, Mayo Clinic-led study finds
3.       An apple a day keeps the doctor away
4.       Diet rich in tomatoes may lower breast cancer risk
5.       A new — and reversible — cause of aging
6.       Government’s voluntary approach to improving hospital food is not working, argues expert
7.       Research linking autism symptoms to gut microbes called ‘groundbreaking’
8.       Chewing Gum is Often the Culprit for Migraine Headaches in Teens
9.       Inosine treatment safely elevates urate levels in Parkinson’s disease patients
10.   Antioxidant drug knocks down multiple sclerosis-like disease in mice Continue reading “Health Research Report #171 27 DEC 2013”

Breast milk protein may be key to protecting babies from HIV infection

DURHAM, N.C. – A substance in breast milk that neutralizes HIV and may protect babies from acquiring HIV from their infected mothers has been identified for the first time by researchers at Duke Medicine.

The protein, called Tenascin-C or TNC, had previously been recognized as playing a role in wound healing, but had not been known to have antimicrobial properties. The discovery could lead to potential new HIV-prevention strategies.

Reporting in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Oct. 21, 2013, the researchers describe how the TNC protein in breast milk binds to and neutralizes the HIV virus, potentially protecting exposed infants who might otherwise become infected from repeated exposures to the virus.

“Even though we have antiretroviral drugs that can work to prevent mother-to-child transmission, not every pregnant woman is being tested for HIV, and less than 60 percent are receiving the prevention drugs, particularly in countries with few resources,” said senior author Sallie Permar, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, immunology and molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke. “So there is still a need for alternative strategies to prevent mother-to-child transmission, which is why this work is important.”

Worldwide in 2011, an estimated 330,000 children acquired HIV from their mothers during pregnancy or birth, or through breastfeeding according to UNICEF. As international health organizations have set a goal of eliminating mother-to-child infections, researchers have worked to develop safe and affordable alternatives to antiretroviral therapy that can be used to block HIV transmission to infants.

Permar and colleagues focused on breast milk, which has long been recognized as having some protective quality that inhibits mother-to-child transmission despite multiple daily exposures over months and even years of nursing. Earlier studies had identified some antiviral properties in breast milk, but the majority of the HIV-neutralizing activity of breast milk remained unexplained. More recent studies pointed to a large protein that had yet to be identified.

In their study, the Duke team screened mature milk samples from uninfected women for neutralizing activity against a panel of HIV strains, confirming that all of the detectable HIV-neutralization activity was contained in the high molecular weight portion. Using a multi-step protein separation process, the researchers narrowed the detectable HIV-neutralization activity to a single protein, and identified it as TNC.

“TNC is a component of the extracellular matrix that is integral to how tissues hold themselves together,” Permar said, noting that co-author Harold Erickson, Ph.D., professor of cell biology at Duke, was among the first to identify and describe TNC in the 1980s. “This is a protein involved during wound healing, playing a role in tissue repair. It is also known to be important in fetal development, but its reason for being a component of breast milk or its antiviral properties had never been described.”

Further analysis described how TNC works against HIV by blocking virus entry. The protein is uniquely effective in capturing virus particles and neutralizes the virus, specifically binding to the HIV envelope. These properties provide widespread protection against infection.

“It’s likely that TNC is acting in concert with other anti-HIV factors in breast milk, and further research should explore this,” Permar said. “But given TNC’s broad-spectrum HIV-1-binding and neutralizing activity, it could be developed as an HIV-prevention therapy, given orally to infants prior to breastfeeding, similar to the way oral rehydration salts are routinely administered to infants in developing regions.”

Permar said TNC would also appear to be inherently safe, since it is a naturally occurring component of breast milk, and it may avoid the problem of HIV resistance to antiretroviral regimens that complicate maternal/infant applications.

“The discovery of the HIV inhibiting effect of this common protein in breast milk provides a potential explanation for why nursing infants born to HIV-infected mothers do not become infected more often than they do,” said Barton F. Haynes, M.D., director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. “It also provides support for inducing inhibitory factors in breast milk that might be even more protective, such as antibodies, that would completely protect babies from HIV infection in this setting.”

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In addition to Permar, co-senior author was S. Munir Alam. Other authors include Genevieve G. Fouda, Frederick H. Jaeger, Joshua D. Amos, Carrie Ho, Erika L. Kunz, Kara Anasti, Lisa W. Stamper, Brooke E. Liebl; Kimberly H. Barbas, Tomoo Ohashi, M. Arthur Moseley, Hua-Xin Liao and Harold P. Erickson.

The study was funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Clinical Scientist Development Award; Duke University School of Medicine; Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology; and the National Institute of Allergic and Immunologic Diseases (U19 AI067854) (K08AI087992) (CA047056).

Compound derived from vegetables shields rodents from lethal radiation doses

Contact: Karen Mallet km463@georgetown.edu Georgetown University Medical Center

WASHINGTON — Georgetown University Medical Center researchers say a compound derived from cruciferous vegetable such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli protected rats and mice from lethal doses of radiation.

Their study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests the compound, already shown to be safe for humans, may protect normal tissues during radiation therapy for cancer treatment and prevent or mitigate sickness caused by radiation exposure.

The compound, known as DIM (3,3′-diindolylmethane), previously has been found to have cancer preventive properties.

“DIM has been studied as a cancer prevention agent for years, but this is the first indication that DIM can also act as a radiation protector,” says the study’s corresponding author, Eliot Rosen, MD, PhD, of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

For the study, the researchers irradiated rats with lethal doses of gamma ray radiation.  The animals were then treated with a daily injection of DIM for two weeks, starting 10 minutes after the radiation exposure.

The result was stunning, says Rosen, a professor of oncology, biochemistry and cell & molecular biology, and radiation medicine. “All of the untreated rats died, but well over half of the DIM-treated animals remained alive 30 days after the radiation exposure.”

Rosen adds that DIM also provided protection whether the first injection was administered 24 hours before or up to 24 hours after radiation exposure.

“We also showed that DIM protects the survival of lethally irradiated mice,” Rosen says. In addition, irradiated mice treated with DIM had less reduction in red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets — side effects often seen in patients undergoing radiation treatment for cancer.

Rosen says this study points to two potential uses of the compound. “DIM could protect normal tissues in patients receiving radiation therapy for cancer, but could also protect individuals from the lethal consequences of a nuclear disaster.”

Rosen and study co-authors Saijun Fan, PhD, and Milton Brown, MD, PhD, are co-inventors on a patent application that has been filed by Georgetown University related to the usage of DIM and DIM-related compounds as radioprotectors.

###

 

This work was supported by U.S. Public Health Service Grants (CA104546 and CA150646), a grant from the Center for Drug Discovery at Georgetown University, and other Georgetown funding.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health).  GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis — or “care of the whole person.”  The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization, which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health

Why your brain tires when exercising : Excess Serotonin shuts down the brain causing fatigue

 

A marathon runner approaches the finishing line, but suddenly the sweaty athlete collapses to the ground. Everyone probably assumes that this is because he has expended all energy in his muscles. What few people know is that it might also be a braking mechanism in the brain which swings into effect and makes us too tired to continue. What may be occurring is what is referred to as ‘central fatigue’.

“Our discovery is helping to shed light on the paradox which has long been the subject of discussion by researchers. We have always known that the neurotransmitter serotonin is released when you exercise, and indeed, it helps us to keep going. However, the answer to what role the substance plays in relation to the fact that we also feel so exhausted we have to stop has been eluding us for years. We can now see it is actually a surplus of serotonin that triggers a braking mechanism in the brain. In other words, serotonin functions as an accelerator but also as a brake when the strain becomes excessive,” says Associate Professor Jean-François Perrier from the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology, who has spearheaded the new research.

Help in the battle against doping

Jean-François Perrier hopes that mapping the mechanism that prompts central fatigue will be useful in several ways. Central fatigue is a phenomenon which has been known for about 80 years; it is a sort of tiredness which, instead of affecting the muscles, hits the brain and nervous system. By conducting scientific experiments, it is possible to observe and measure that the brain sends insufficient signals to the muscles to keep going, which in turn means that we are unable to keep performing. This makes the mechanism behind central fatigue an interesting area in the battle against doping, and it is for this reason that Anti Doping Danmark has also helped fund the group’s research.

“In combating the use of doping, it is crucial to identify which methods athletes can use to prevent central fatigue and thereby continue to perform beyond what is naturally possible. And the best way of doing so is to understand the underlying mechanism,” says Jean-François Perrier.

Developing better drugs

The brain communicates with our muscles using so-called motoneurons (see fact box). In several diseases, motoneurons are hyperactive. This is true, for example, of people suffering from spasticity and cerebral palsy, who are unable to control their movements. Jean-François Perrier therefore hopes that, in the long term, this new knowledge can also be used to help develop drugs against these symptoms and to find out more about the effects of antidepressants.

“This new discovery brings us a step closer to finding ways of controlling serotonin. In other words, whether it will have an activating effect or trigger central fatigue. It is all about selectively activating the receptors which serotonin attaches to,” explains Jean-François Perrier.

“For selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs which are used as antidepressants, we can possibly help explain why those who take the drugs often feel more tired and also become slightly clumsier than other people. What we now know can help us develop better drugs,” concludes Jean-François Perrier.

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The new results have just been published in the renowned scientific journal PNAS. Read the article ‘Serotonin spillover onto the axon initial segment of motoneurons induces central fatigue by inhibiting action potential initiation’. DOI: 10.1073 PNAS article #: 201216150.

CONTACT

Associate Professor Jean-François Perrier Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology University of Copenhagen Telephone: +45 23 81 27 46 E-mail: Perrier@sund.ku.dk Skype: jfoboulot

Jean-François Perrier will be travelling until March 11. If you cannot reach him by phone, send him an email and he will call you back.

 

Communications Officer

Louise Graa Christensen Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences University of Copenhagen Mobile: +45 24 34 03 22 E-mail: louise.christensen@sund.ku.dk

FACTS

About the research

In addition to Jean-François Perrier, the research team responsible for mapping the braking mechanism includes Florence Cotel and two researchers from the University of Oxford (Stephanie Cragg and Richard Exley). In order to be able to study the motoneurons, the researchers have studied large American turtles. This is because the adult turtle’s spinal marrow, where the motoneurons are found, is accessible to experimentation but also resemble conditions in humans. It is in precisely this respect that that results obtained from  cross-sections of the spinal marrow in turtles, help researchers to understand central fatigue in the nervous system of humans.

Masterful motoneurons

In the human brain there are about 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons. Each neuron consists of a cell body with dendrites and a nerve fiber called the axon, and they communicate with one another via synapses. Nerve cells use nerve impulses to send signals with the axon from the cell body to the nerve ends, which form synapses with the dendrites of the receiving cell.

A special kind of neuron, the motoneurons, are extremely important as they are responsible for ensuring contact between the brain and the muscles. Every time a motoneuron sends impulses to the muscles, it leads to the contraction of the muscle fibres contacted and thus a movement. In order to control the body’s movements, the brain has to be able to control the impulse activity in groups of motoneurons so they are activated in the right sequence and to the right degree. It is here that serotonin plays a role as one of the neurotransmitters which are released from the synapses during the brain’s ingenious control of the motoneurons and thereby our patterns of movement.

Serotonin and central fatigue

Serotonin is well known for being involved in many different human functions: Appetite, sleep, sex and motor control. Serotonin is released as soon as you start moving, and the more you move, the more serotonin is released. In other words, serotonin functions as an accelerator for movement and makes the motoneurons more active. However, when large amounts of serotonin are released, it causes a glut at the synapses through which the neurons communicate. This means that the serotonin starts binding with the receptors lying outside the synapses. Some of these receptors sit at the initial part of the axon, i.e. where nerve impulses are formed. And when the serotonin activates these receptors, the nerve impulse is obstructed, the result being that the muscle contraction is weakened and fatigue occurs

BPA may affect the developing brain by disrupting gene regulation

Contact: Rachel Harrison rachel.harrison@duke.edu 919-419-5069 Duke University Medical Center

             IMAGE:   Exposure to BPA may disrupt development of the central nervous system by slowing down the removal of chloride from neurons. As an organism matures and the brain develops, chloride levels…

Click here for more information.     

DURHAM, N.C. — Environmental exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a widespread chemical found in plastics and resins, may suppress a gene vital to nerve cell function and to the development of the central nervous system, according to a study led by researchers at Duke Medicine.

The researchers published their findings – which were observed in cortical neurons of mice, rats and humans – in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 25, 2013.

“Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders,” said lead author Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., PhD, associate professor of medicine/neurology and neurobiology at Duke.

BPA, a molecule that mimics estrogen and interferes with the body’s endocrine system, can be found in a wide variety of manufactured products, including thermal printer paper, some plastic water bottles and the lining of metal cans. The chemical can be ingested if it seeps into the contents of food and beverage containers.

Research in animals has raised concerns that exposure to BPA may cause health problems such as behavioral issues, endocrine and reproductive disorders, obesity, cancer and immune system disorders. Some studies suggest that infants and young children may be the most vulnerable to the effects of BPA, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of the chemical in baby bottles and cups in July 2012.

While BPA has been shown to affect the developing nervous system, little is understood as to how this occurs. The research team developed a series of experiments in rodent and human nerve cells to learn how BPA induces changes that disrupt gene regulation.

During early development of neurons, high levels of chloride are present in the cells. These levels drop as neurons mature, thanks to a chloride transporter protein called KCC2, which churns chloride ions out of the cells. If the level of chloride within neurons remains elevated, it can damage neural circuits and compromise a developing nerve cell’s ability to migrate to its proper position in the brain.

Exposing neurons to minute amounts of BPA alters the chloride levels inside the cells by somehow shutting down the Kcc2 gene, which makes the KCC2 protein, thereby delaying the removal of chloride from neurons.

MECP2, another protein important for normal brain function, was found to be a possible culprit behind this change. When exposed to BPA, MECP2 is more abundant and binds to the Kcc2 gene at a higher rate, which might help to shut it down. This could contribute to problems in the developing brain due to a delay in chloride being removed.

These findings raise the question of whether BPA could contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders such as Rett syndrome, a severe autism spectrum disorder that is only found in girls and is characterized by mutations in the gene that produces MECP2.

While both male and female neurons were affected by BPA in the studies, female neurons were more susceptible to the chemical’s toxicity. Further research will dig deeper into the sex-specific effects of BPA exposure and whether certain sex hormone receptors are involved in BPA’s effect on KCC2.

“Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the Kcc2 gene. However, we expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from Kcc2 are affected by BPA,” Liedtke said. “This is a chapter in an ongoing story.”

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In addition to Liedtke, study authors include Michele Yeo and Ken Berglund of the Liedtke Lab in the Division of Neurology at Duke Medicine; Michael Hanna, Maria D. Torres and Jorge Busciglio of the University of California, Irvine; Junjie U. Guo and Yuan Gao of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.; and Jaya Kittur, Joel Abramowitz and Lutz Birnbaumer of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The research received funding from Duke University, the Klingenstein Fund, the National Institutes of Health (R21NS066307, HD38466 and AG16573), and intramural funds from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Plastic packaging containing chemical BPA ‘harming brain and nerve cell growth in babies’

 

Steve Connor

Monday, 25 February 2013

A chemical widely used in plastic packaging and food containers may be toxic to the central nervous system by interfering with a key gene involved in the development of nerve cells, a study suggests.

Scientists have found that bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in a variety of consumer products ranging from fizzy-drink cans to food mixers, affects the function of a gene called Kcc2 which is involved in the growth of neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain and spinal cord.

The study, based on rats and human neurons grown in the laboratory, found female nerve cells more susceptible to BPA than male neurons. This might explain why certain neurodevelopmental disorders in humans are more common in females, such as Rett syndrome, a severe form of autism found only in girls, the scientists said.

“Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Wolfgang Liedtke of Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina.

“Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the Kcc2 gene. However, we expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from Kcc2 are affected by BPA,” said Professor Liedtke, who led the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other scientists have, however, criticised the study for exposing neurons to relatively high doses of BPA that would not normally be encountered by the human body. They believe that suggestions of a link between BPA and human disorders are not supported by the evidence when it comes to realistic exposure levels.

“Interesting though the effects are from a mechanistic point of view, they have no relevance to human health because the concentration of bisphenol A used exceeds human exposure by about 100,000 times – and this is probably a conservative estimate,” said Professor Richard Sharpe of Edinburgh University.

“This study is reminiscent of many similar studies with bisphenol A in vitro or in animal studies. Many show convincing effects on various biological processes relevant to human health, but they always involve doses that are in a different ballpark to human exposure,” he said.

Despite many scientists’ claims that there is no evidence that BPA is toxic at low doses, the European Commission banned the chemical in baby bottles in 2011 and the US Food and Drug Adminstration followed suit last year.

BPA is known to mimic oestrogen, the female sex hormone, but fertility experts such as Professor Sharpe have dismissed suggestions that it could explain the rise in male infertility, along with many other disorders, because it is quickly broken down in the body.

“Although we are all exposed to BPA, the rapid inactivation of BPA in the gut and liver means that exposure elsewhere in the body is so low as to be immeasurable. So although it appears we’re exposed, effectively we are not,” Professor Sharpe said.

Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus of the University of Canberra in Australia, said that any BPA consumed in food or drink is completely metabolised before it enters the blood stream, which means that cells within the body are not exposed to “free” BPA.

Bisphenol A what it’s used in

Food and drink containers

Many food and drink cans are lined with a BPA resin, some glass jars include the chemical inside their lids, and many plastic bottles use the substance too.

Electronics

BPA is in the casings of many products including CDs and DVDs, telephones, televisions, laptops and personal computers, printers, cameras, shavers, hairdryers, irons, food mixers, microwaves and kettles.

Sports equipment

Sports helmets, ski goggles, binocular housings and equipment used  for golf and tennis can all  contain BPA.

Till  receipts

BPA is used to make ink visible on thermal till receipts. Some people have  raised concerns about  shoppers handling the paper  and then touching their mouths  or their food.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/plastic-packaging-containing-chemical-bpa-harming-brain-and-nerve-cell-growth-in-babies-8510638.html#

 

Designer bacteria may lead to better vaccines: Contaminated vaccines work better!!!

Contact: Daniel Oppenheimer daniel.oppenheimer@utexas.edu 512-745-3353 University of Texas at Austin

Designer bacteria may lead to better vaccines

61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria may improve the efficacy of vaccines for diseases such as flu, pertussis, cholera and HPV

AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a menu of 61 new strains of genetically engineered bacteria that may improve the efficacy of vaccines for diseases such as flu, pertussis, cholera and HPV.

The strains of E. coli, which were described in a paper published this month in the journal PNAS, are part of a new class of biological “adjuvants” that is poised to transform vaccine design. Adjuvants are substances added to vaccines to boost the human immune response.

“For 70 years the only adjuvants being used were aluminum salts,” said Stephen Trent, associate professor of biology in the College of Natural Sciences. “They worked, but we didn’t fully understand why, and there were limitations. Then four years ago the first biological adjuvant was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. I think what we’re doing is a step forward from that. It’s going to allow us to design vaccines in a much more intentional way.”

Adjuvants were discovered in the early years of commercial vaccine production, when it was noticed that batches of vaccine that were accidentally contaminated often seemed to be more effective than those that were pure.

“They’re called the ‘dirty little secret’ of immunology,” said Trent. “If the vials were dirty, they elicited a better immune response.”

What researchers eventually realized was that they could produce a one-two punch by intentionally adding their own dirt (adjuvant) to the mix. The main ingredient of the vaccine, which was a killed or inactivated version of the bacteria or virus that the vaccine was meant to protect against, did what it was supposed to do. It “taught” the body’s immune system to recognize it and produce antibodies in response to it.

The adjuvant amplifies that response by triggering a more general alarm, which puts more agents of the immune system in circulation in the bloodstream, where they can then learn to recognize the key antigen. The result is an immune system more heavily armed to fight the virus or bacteria when it encounters it in the future.

For about 70 years the adjuvant of choice, in nearly every vaccine worldwide, was an aluminum salt. Then in 2009, the FDA approved a new vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). It included a new kind of adjuvant that’s a modified version of an endotoxin molecule.

These molecules, which can be dangerous, appear on the cell surface of a wide range of bacteria. As a result, humans have evolved over millions of years to detect and respond to them quickly. They trigger an immediate red alert.

“In some of its forms an endotoxin can kill you,” said Trent. “But the adjuvant, which is called MPL, is a very small, carefully modified piece of it, so it’s able to trigger the immune response without overdoing it.”

What Trent and his colleagues have done is expand on that basic premise. Rather than just work with an inert piece of endotoxin, they’ve engineered E. coli bacteria to express the endotoxin in many configurations on the cell surface.

“These 61 E. coli strains each have a different profile on their surface,” said Brittany Needham, a doctoral student in Trent’s lab and the first author on the paper. “In every case the surface structure of the endotoxin is safe, but it will interact with the immune system in a range of ways. Suddenly we have a huge potential menu of adjuvants to test out with different kinds of vaccines.”

One form might work better with cholera vaccine, another with pertussis (whooping cough) and another with a future HIV vaccine. Trent, Needham and their colleagues should be able to fine-tune the adjuvants with increasing precision as more E. coli strains are engineered and tested, and as their understanding of how they interact with the immune system deepens.

“I think we’re at the dawn of a new age of vaccine design,” said Trent. “For a long time vaccinology was really a trial-and-error field. It was a black box. We knew certain things worked. We knew certain vaccines had certain side effects. But we didn’t entirely know why. Now that’s changing.”

Trent said that an additional advantage of their system is that the E. coli can be engineered to express key viral and bacterial antigens along with the endotoxin. A single cell could deliver both parts of the one-two punch, or even a one-two-three punch, if antigens from multiple diseases were expressed in a single E. coli.

“It makes possible a vaccine that provides protection from multiple pathogens at the same time,” said Trent.

Trent and his colleagues are working on a second round of designer E. coli. They have also filed a provisional patent on their system and are working with the university to find a corporate partner to pay for clinical trials.

“This is ready to go,” said Trent. “I can’t predict whether it will actually make it to the market. But it’s very similar to the adjuvant that has already been approved, and my instinct is that if a company will undertake to do the trials, it will get approved. A company could call us tomorrow, we could send them a strain, and they could start working.”

56 percent of female university students get drunk in record time

Contact: Press Office info@agenciasinc.es 34-914-251-820 FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

Female university students get drunk – on purpose – quicker than their male counterparts, and live a more sedentary life than they do, according to a study by the University of Vigo. Results show that 56.1% of female students are considered binge drinkers, as opposed to 41.3% of males.

Researchers from the HealthyFit group at the University of Vigo have studied university students’ lifestyles; their analysis, which includes alcohol and illegal drug consumption habits, sport and food, concludes that most students indulge in unhealthy behaviour. One of the main results of the study is the high consumption of alcohol.

“The amount drunk per unit of time is higher among women. In other words, even though male students drink more often, females do so more intensively in shorter periods of time, which is known as binge drinking”, explained to SINC José Mª Cancela Carral, co-author of the study published by the Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Researchers randomly selected 985 students from different degree courses and in different years at the University of Vigo.

Of the females interviewed, 51.2% lead a sedentary lifestyle, while the percentage in males is 41.7%. When analysing students who maintain an appropriate level of physical activity, 38.6% of males do physical exercise, as opposed to only 20.9% of women.

“We were also surprised by the high consumption of illegal drugs among university students – 44.9% of men and 30.9% of women – which we understand could lead to significant future health problems, mainly related to the nervous system”, underlined the researcher.

Anomalous attitudes to food were more evident among women (16.6%), although also present among men (8.8%). “However, the statistical analysis showed that this parameter depended on the degree the student was studying for”, added Cancela. Such attitudes were much more common among those studying degrees related to education (19.2%) than among those studying courses related to health (6.3%).

Health network

Spanish universities set up a Healthy University Network in 2008, a project for healthy living for universities from all over Spain, the Spanish University Rectors’ Association, the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport and some regional public health entities.

In the researcher’s opinion, at many universities this network was nothing more than “a simple first step to get on the list and nothing else”; hence transversal content should be implemented in study plans related to food, physical exercise and healthy habits.

“In the light of the results, training and information courses are required in these areas, together with healthy leisure – not just sports facilities – to set up university guidance services for a healthy student lifestyle”, concludes Cancela.

Genetic predisposition

A recent study published in the PNAS journal argues that the gene called RASGRF2 could be related to a predisposition to getting drunk.

According to scientists, this gene regulates the predisposition to drink excessive amounts of alcohol as it influences mesolimbic dopamine neuron activity, which is one of the ways dopamine is taken from one region of the brain to another.

Gunter Schumann, one of the main authors of the study, explained that even though we should not consider said gene to be the main cause – as there are many environmental factors and other genes involved – the study thereof helps to explain why some people are more vulnerable to alcohol than others.

###

References:

Verónica Varela-Mato, José M. Cancela, Carlos Ayan, Vicente Martín y Antonio Molina. “Lifestyle and Health among Spanish University Students: Differences by Gender and Academic Discipline”, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 9: 2728-2741, 2012. doi:10.3390/ijerph9082728.

David Staceya et al. “RASGRF2 regulates alcohol-induced reinforcement by influencing mesolimbic dopamine neuron activity and dopamine release”, PNAS 109 (51), 5 de diciembre. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211844110.

Contact:

José Mª Cancela Carral Universidad de Vigo Director del grupo de investigación HealthyFit Tel.: 34-986-801-700/1799 E-mail: chemacc@uvigo.es Web: www.healthyfit.es

Commercial organic farms have better fruit and soil, lower environmental impact: ozone-depleting methyl bromide, which is slated to be replaced by the highly toxic methyl iodide over the protests of health advocates and more than 50 Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences.

2010 report posted for filing

Contact: John Reganold reganold@wsu.edu 509-335-8856 Washington State University

Study finds commercial organic farms have better fruit and soil, lower environmental impact

Research team compared fields and fruits in heart of nation’s strawberry patch

             IMAGE:   John Reganold is lead author of a PLoS ONE paper finding organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries than conventional farms while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically…

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PULLMAN, Wash.—Side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional strawberry farms and their fruit found the organic farms produced more flavorful and nutritious berries while leaving the soil healthier and more genetically diverse.

“Our findings have global implications and advance what we know about the sustainability benefits of organic farming systems,” said John Reganold, Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of a paper published today in the peer-reviewed online journal, PLoS ONE. “We also show you can have high quality, healthy produce without resorting to an arsenal of pesticides.”

The study is among the most comprehensive of its kind, analyzing 31 chemical and biological soil properties, soil DNA, and the taste, nutrition and quality of three strawberry varieties on more than two dozen commercial fields—13 conventional and 13 organic.

“There is no paper in the literature that comprehensively and quantitatively compares so many indices of both food and soil quality at multiple sampling times on so many commercial farms,” said Reganold. Previous Reganold studies of “sustainability indicators” on farms in the Pacific Northwest, California, British Columbia, Australia, and New Zealand have appeared in the journals Science, Nature, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

All the farms in the current study were in California, home to 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries and the center of an ongoing debate about the use of soil fumigants. Conventional farms in the study used the ozone-depleting methyl bromide, which is slated to be replaced by the highly toxic methyl iodide over the protests of health advocates and more than 50 Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences. In July, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the EPA to reconsider its approval of methyl iodide.

Reganold’s study team included Preston Andrews, a WSU associate professor of horticulture, and seven other experts, mostly from WSU, to form a multidisciplinary team spanning agroecology, soil science, microbial ecology, genetics, pomology, food science, sensory science, and statistics. On almost every major indicator, they found the organic fields and fruit were equal to or better than their conventional counterparts.

Among their findings:

  • The organic strawberries had significantly higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid and phenolic compounds.
  • The organic strawberries had longer shelf life.
  • The organic strawberries had more dry matter, or, “more strawberry in the strawberry.”
  • Anonymous testers, working at times under red light so the fruit color would not bias them, found one variety of organic strawberries was sweeter, had better flavor, and once a white light was turned on, appearance. The testers judged the other two varieties to be similar.

 

The researchers also found the organic soils excelled in a variety of key chemical and biological properties, including carbon sequestration, nitrogen, microbial biomass, enzyme activities, and micronutrients.

DNA analysis found the organically managed soils had dramatically more total and unique genes and greater genetic diversity, important measures of the soil’s resilience to stress and ability to carry out

Going with Your Gut: Decisions based on instinct have surprisingly positive outcomes

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Decisions based on instinct have surprisingly positive outcomes, TAU researcher finds

Decision-making is an inevitable part of the human experience, and one of the most mysterious. For centuries, scientists have studied how we go about the difficult task of choosing A or B, left or right, North or South — and how both instinct and intellect figure into the process. Now new research indicates that the old truism “look before you leap” may be less true than previously thought.

In a behavioral experiment, Prof. Marius Usher of Tel Aviv University‘s School of Psychological Sciences and his fellow researchers found that intuition was a surprisingly powerful and accurate tool. When forced to choose between two options based on instinct alone, the participants made the right call up to 90 percent of the time.

The results of their study were recently published in the journal PNAS.

Value-added thinking

Prof. Marius Usher
Prof. Marius Usher

Even at the intuitive level, an important part of the decision-making process is the “integration of value” — that is, taking into account the positive and negative factors of each option to come up with an overall picture, explains Prof. Usher. One weighs the strengths and weaknesses of different apartments for rent or applicants for a job. Various relevant criteria contribute to the decision-making process.

“The study demonstrates that humans have a remarkable ability to integrate value when they do so intuitively, pointing to the possibility that the brain has a system that specializes in averaging value,” Prof. Usher says. This could be the operational system on which common decision-making processes are built.

In order to get to the core of this system, Prof. Usher designed an experiment to put participants through a carefully controlled decision-making process. On a computer screen, participants were shown sequences of pairs of numbers in quick succession. All numbers that appeared on the right of the screen and all on the left were considered a group; each group represented returns on the stock market.

Participants were asked to choose which of the two groups of numbers had the highest average. Because the numbers changed so quickly — two to four pairs were shown every second — the participants were unable to memorize the numbers or do proper mathematical calculations, explains Prof. Usher. To determine the highest average of either group, they had to rely on “intuitive arithmetic.”

Doing the math

The participants were able to calculate the different values accurately at exceptional speed, the researchers found. They were also able to process large amounts of data — in fact, their accuracy increased in relation to the amount of data they were presented. When shown six pairs of numbers, for example, the participants chose accurately 65 percent of the time. But when they were shown 24 pairs, the accuracy rate grew to about 90 percent.

Intuitively, the human brain has the capacity to take in many pieces of information and decide on an overall value, says Prof. Usher. He says that gut reactions can be trusted to make a quality decision — a conclusion supported by his earlier work with Prof. Dan Zakay and Dr. Zohar Rusou published in Frontiers in Cognitive Science.

Risky behavior

Of course, intuition is also subject to certain biases, explains Prof. Usher, and leads to more risks — risks that people are willing to take. That was shown when the researchers engaged participants in tests that measured their risk-taking tendencies, and were surprised to discover that the majority of the participants didn’t play it safe. When faced with a choice between two sets of numbers with the same average, one with a narrow distribution, such as 45 and 55, and another with a broad distribution, such as 70 and 30, people were swayed by the large numbers and took a chance on the broadly distributed numbers rather than making the “safe” choice.

Although this work was based on a behavioral experiment, Prof. Usher says that an interesting next step could be to measure brain activity throughout the task in an attempt to uncover the physiological aspects of value integration.

Penn Study Finds that Antioxidant Found in Vegetables has Implications for Treating Cystic Fibrosis : Thiocyanate

2009 study posted for filing

 

Thiocyanate Reduces Damage by Inflammatory Molecules in Lung, Nerve, Pancreas, and Vessel-Lining Cells

 

PHILADELPHIA – Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discovered that a dietary antioxidant found in such vegetables as broccoli and cauliflower protects cells from damage caused by chemicals generated during the body’s inflammatory response to infection and injury.  The finding has implications for such inflammation-based disorders as cystic fibrosis (CF), diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegeneration.

 

Through cell-culture studies and a synthesis of known antioxidant biochemistry, Zhe Lu, MD, PhD , Professor of Physiology, Yanping Xu , MD, PhD , Senior Research Investigator, and Szilvia Szép , PhD, postdoctoral researcher, showed that the antioxidant thiocyanate normally existing in the body protects lung cells from injuries caused by accumulations of hydrogen peroxide and hypochlorite, the active ingredient in household bleach. These potentially harmful chemicals are made by the body as a reaction to infection and injury. In addition, thiocyanate also protects cells from hypochlorite produced in reactions involving MPO, an enzyme released from germ-fighting white blood cells during inflammation. They published their finding this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Lu is also an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

 

“Dr. Lu’s work throws new light on how the genetic defect underlying CF leads to the lung illnesses that are the leading cause of death,” said Bert Shapiro, Ph.D., who oversees membrane structure grants at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). “His team’s findings suggest that the lungs of people with the disease are more susceptible to the damaging effects of cellular oxidants. While the idea is tantalizing and creative, further testing is needed to confirm it.”

 

The research team demonstrated that in three additional cell types used to extend their ideas to other inflammation-related conditions – cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration, and diabetes – thiocyanate at blood concentrations of at least 100 micromolar (micromoles per liter) greatly reduces the toxicity of MPO in cells, including those lining blood vessels. Humans naturally derive thiocyanate from some vegetables and blood levels of thiocyanate in the general population vary from 10 to 140 micromolar.

 

This comparison raises the possibility, the authors point out, that without an adequate dietary supply of thiocyanate, hypochlorite produced by the body during inflammation would cause additional collateral damage to cells, thus worsening inflammatory diseases, and predisposing humans to diseases linked to MPO activity, including atherosclerosis.

 

Connection to CF

 

For over a decade Lu and colleagues have been exploring the inner workings of ion channels and how this knowledge relates to the pathology of such diseases as CF. The CF disease originates from mutations in the CF transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein, an ion channel protein in the cell membrane commonly thought to transport mainly chloride ions. It has, however, remained a mystery why a defect in a chloride-transporting channel leads to cystic fibrosis, a disease with exaggerated inflammation in both the lungs and the digestive system.

 

Lung injuries inflicted by excessive inflammation and recurring infection cause about ninety percent of CF patients’ symptoms and mortality. Although known as a chloride channel, CFTR also conducts thiocyanate ions, important because, in several ways, they can limit potentially harmful accumulations of hydrogen peroxide and hypochlorite, chemicals produced by the body to fight germs.

 

In CF patients, there is also a high incidence of diabetes, partly caused by damage to the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is also associated with higher levels of MPO in the blood. The researchers found that the MPO-caused injuries to pancreas cells and endothelial cells used in their experiments can be greatly reduced by as little as 100 micromolar thiocyanate. Their finding raises the possibility that MPO, in the absence of adequate thiocyanate, contributes to diabetes.

 

In the cell-based experiments, thiocyanate at concentrations below 100 micromolar did not eliminate hypochlorite accumulation and did not fully protect against MPO toxicity. Conceivably, inadequate thiocyanate levels would aggravate MPO-produced injuries in patients suffering from inflammatory diseases, surmise the authors.

 

Links to Other Diseases

 

In other studies, MPO activity has been linked to lung cancers among smokers and also implicated in neurodegenerative diseases.  Intriguingly, people with congenital MPO deficiency are less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases.  The research team found that MPO-caused injuries to nerve cells, as well as to blood vessel-lining endothelial cells, can be greatly reduced by 100 micromolar thiocyanate.

 

Genetic defects in the CFTR predispose CF patients’ lungs to excessive inflammation entangled with recurring lung infection. Defective CFTR channels would be expected to result in lower thiocyanate concentrations in the affected regions within the respiratory, as well as the digestive systems, leaving tissues inadequately protected from accumulated hydrogen peroxide and overproduced hypochlorite.

 

Conceptually, delivering thiocyanate directly to the digestive and respiratory systems might be a therapy for CF disease, propose the researchers. As for the general population, individuals with low blood levels of thiocyanate may be at risk for chronic injuries by MPO, predisposing them to inflammatory or inflammation-mediated diseases. Many investigators have proposed developing drugs that specifically inhibit MPO-catalyzed hypochlorite production to combat these diseases, but natural thiocyanate not only decreases MPO-catalyzed formation of hypochlorite but also rapidly, once it is made, neutralizes it.

 

“In light of the obvious implications of this protective action of thiocyanate against the cell-damaging effect of MPO activity with regard to both CF disease and general population health, my colleagues and I will vigorously investigate the potential health benefit of thiocyanate,” says Lu. He emphasizes though, “until the research community acquires a better understanding of both positive and negative impacts of thiocyanate on human health, it would be unwise for anyone to self-administer thiocyanate because like many other chemicals, thiocyanate has adverse side effects at improper doses and/or under inappropriate conditions.”

 

The research was funded by NIGMS and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Scientific fraud: a sign of the times?

Are dodgy lab dealings a modern day dilemma or business as usual?

Skull of the famous hoax Piltdown Man
The infamous Piltdown Man skull. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty

If you read about scientific fraud in the recent news, it would seem that there is much to worry about. It’s on the rise, apparently! There has been a 10-fold increase in the number of retracted papers since the 1970’s, and a number of these are due to fraud or suspected fraud.

An investigation of retractions from the biomedical scientific literature database PubMed published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA (PNAS) found that a whopping 63.2% of health- and life-science related retractions were due to fraud, suspected fraud or plagiarism, with good old honest error retractions in the sound minority. This sounds scary – especially the ‘suspected fraud’. Is this just the tip of the scientific deceit iceberg? Just how many lies are lurking in the scientific literature?

Then there are the stories. Professor Marc Hauser (formerly) of Harvard was accused by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Research Integrity of inventing results to support his idea of a biological foundation for cognition in monkeys – specifically if they could recognize changes in sound patterns like human babies can. Hauser was a popular scientist too; he even has a best-selling book: Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong where he somewhat ironically argued that “policy wonks and politicians should listen more closely to our intuitions and write policy that effectively takes into account the moral voice of our species.” Which worked out in his case; he was busted for scientific misconduct. His book also tells us that “our ability to detect cheaters who violate social norms is one of nature’s gifts”. Nature’s gifts or not, his students and research assistants blew the whistle.

And this isn’t just in life science, it’s everywhere. Physics has its high profile cheaters too! There is Jan Hendrik Schön, the physicist who made up his data – 26 of his papers have been retracted and he has been stripped of his doctoral degree. And then there is the cold fusion boys who, to be fair, are probably more victims of faulty equipment and sticking to your beloved theory despite the facts, than perpetrators of actual fraud. Psychology is not immune either; Dirk Smeester, whose results seemed too good to be true, has also been caught just making stuff up.

Is no scientific discipline safe? Are scientists just incapable of keeping their modern houses clean? It has been argued that because of recent pressure for scientists to publish groundbreaking results that change the world, the temptation to commit fraud is perhaps bound to increase, implying that there was a simpler, more honest time for science. Dewy-eyed, there is a temptation to believe that scientists back in the day were only of high moral character and were purely duty-bound to pursue the truth. But this isn’t really true. Fraud in science isn’t new, just like fraud in anything isn’t new.

Take Piltdown Man, the famous Sussex fossil. In 1912, amateur archaeologist and premier forager Charles Dawson discovered the link between ape and man – Piltdown Man. He presented his results to the Geological Society and was much revered for his discovery – huzzah, a link which proved Darwin’s theory! Piltdown man was 1912’s version of high-impact science and as such had some legs. It was used as far abroad as Tennessee in 1925 by the theatrical Clarence Darrow during the Scopes monkey trial in defense of teaching evolution in schools. Piltdown man was finally proven to be a hoax in 1953. Not a mistake – a hoax. Orangutan jawbone, human skull. It turns out Dawson himself was somewhat of a serial fraudster; he also faked findings of Roman bricks and proof of early Roman iron casting. Serial fraudsters are modern too, according to the findings from PNAS, which found that 44% of the fraud-retractions are due to serial fraud.

Upon a slightly closer inspection, looking at the actual retraction numbers in the PNAS study, there have been a total of 2047 papers retracted (between 1977 and May 2012) from the biomedical literature. This is 2047 papers out of almost 25 million papers in the PubMed database – so 0.00008 % in total. This number is tiny. Yes, there has been a 10-fold increase in the microscopic number of retracted papers in 1977 (0.00096%) relative to the similarly microscopic number (0.0096%) in the period from 2007 to May 2012, but it is still a microscopic number. The PNAS study isn’t normalized against the total number of papers published per year in the biomedical sciences. Given that there has been an overall increase in the absolute number of papers published in the biomedical sciences since the 1970s, this 10-fold increase is even more microscopic. It is not an increase significant enough to even really worry about.

Still, fraud stories are scary, even if infrequent. Scientific works reported in academic journals undergo peer-review prior to publication, so on the surface it might seem that fraud should be more easily detected. In the peer-review process, or reading any scientific publication for that matter, trust is important. In the same way we trust people in general. Some people lie, some people don’t. If you meet a new person and they tell you they used to live say in Tennessee, you usually just believe them, without doing a background check. If they are lying, it usually becomes pretty apparent after a few minutes, especially if you have been to Tennessee. Unless of course they are pretty good liars or you have never been to Tennessee – then it might take a bit longer to work it out.

The same thing happens in scientific literature; when a paper is reviewed, no one goes for a visit to the laboratory where the work was done – there has to be some degree of trust. If someone is falsifying data they usually get found out. No one else can repeat the experiments, no one else can find any evidence for the authors’ claims. This is actually a standard part of science. Scientific experiments must be repeatable. Theories or hypotheses must verifiable in some manner to stand the test of time. If a scientific work cannot be verified or repeated then it tumbles off into oblivion, like most scientific theories (most people for instance have never heard of the theory of phlogiston, though it was a very popular scientific theory back in the day). Rather than heading for an iceberg that threatens to sink modern science in a wave of fraud and deceit, science is the same as it ever was. Errors in the science literature, whether a result of fraud or honest errors or faulty equipment, ultimately will either fall off into obscurity or get found out – like Schön, Hauser and Piltdown man. Science has a way of righting itself, as to be successful in the long run it must stand the test of time.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/occams-corner/2012/oct/12/scientific-fraud

Plastic additive ( BPA) damages chromosomes, disrupts egg development

Contact: Patricia Hunt
pathunt@wsu.edu
509-335-4954
Washington State University

Primate study adds to evidence of BPA harming human reproduction

PULLMAN, Wash.—A Washington State University researcher has found new evidence that the plastic additive BPA can disrupt women’s reproductive systems, causing chromosome damage, miscarriages and birth defects.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, WSU geneticist Patricia Hunt and colleagues at WSU and the University of California, Davis, report seeing reproductive abnormalities in rhesus monkeys with BPA levels similar to those of humans. By using an animal with the most human-like reproductive system, the research bolsters earlier work by Hunt and others documenting widespread reproductive effects in rodents.

“The concern is exposure to this chemical that we’re all exposed to could increase the risk of miscarriages and the risk of babies born with birth defects like Down Syndrome,” says Hunt. “The really stunning thing about the effect is we’re dosing grandma, it’s crossing the placenta and hitting her developing fetus, and if that fetus is a female, it’s changing the likelihood that that female is going to ovulate normal eggs. It’s a three-for-one hit.”

The research also adds to the number of organs affected by BPA, or bisphenol A, which is found in plastic bottles, the linings of aluminum cans and heat-activated cash register receipts. This May, Hunt was part of another paper in PNAS reporting that the additive altered mammary development in the primate, increasing the risk of cancer.

Hunt’s colleagues at UC, Davis exposed different groups of gestating monkeys to single daily doses of BPA and low-level continuous doses and looked at how they affected the reproductive systems of female fetuses. She saw that in the earliest stage of the adult’s egg development, the egg cell failed to divide properly. Earlier mouse studies showed similar disturbances translated into genetic defects in the mature egg.

A fertilized egg with the wrong number of chromosomes will almost always fail to come to term, leading to a spontaneous abortion or progeny with birth defects.

In monkeys exposed continuously, Hunt saw further complications in the third trimester as fetal eggs were not packaged appropriately in follicles, structures in which they develop. Eggs need to be packaged properly to grow, develop and mature.

“That’s not good,” says Hunt, “because it looks to us like you’re just throwing away a huge number of the eggs that a female would have. It raises concerns about whether or not she’s going to have a really short reproductive lifespan.”

 

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Out-Of-This-World Nanoscience: A Computer Chip That Can Assemble Itself?

This image shows the work by UD’s Eric M. Furst, who reports new findings of how tiny particle building blocks can be directed to self-assemble into specific structures. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Delaware)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 19, 2012) — Imagine a computer chip that can assemble itself. According to Eric M. Furst, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Delaware, engineers and scientists are closer to making this and other scalable forms of nanotechnology a reality as a result of new milestones in using nanoparticles as building blocks in functional materials.

Furst and his postdoctoral researchers, James Swan and Paula Vasquez, along with colleagues at NASA, the European Space Agency, Zin Technologies and Lehigh University, reported the finding Sept. 17 in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) online edition.

The article details how the research team’s exploration of colloids, microscopic particles that are mere hundredths the diameter of a human hair, to better understand how nano-“building blocks” can be directed to “self-assemble” into specific structures.

The research team studied paramagnetic colloids while periodically applying an external magnetic field at different intervals. With just the right frequency and field strength, the team was able to watch the particles transition from a random, solid like material into highly organized crystalline structures or lattices.

According to Furst, a professor in UD’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, no one before has ever witnessed this guided “phase separation” of particles.

“This development is exciting because it provides insight into how researchers can build organized structures, crystals of particles, using directing fields and it may prompt new discoveries into how we can get materials to organize themselves,” Furst said.

Because gravity plays a role in how the particles assemble or disassemble, the research team studied the suspensions aboard the International Space Station (ISS) through collaborative efforts with NASA scientists and astronauts. One interesting observation, Furst reported, was how the structure formed by the particles slowly coarsened, then rapidly grew and separated — similar to the way oil and water separate when combined — before realigning into a crystalline structure.

Already, Furst’s lab has created novel nanomaterials for use in optical communications materials and thermal barrier coatings. This new detail, along with other recorded data about the process, will now enable scientists to discover other paths to manipulate and create new nanomaterials from nanoparticle building blocks.

“Now, when we have a particle that responds to an electric field, we can use these principles to guide that assembly into structures with useful properties, such as in photonics,” Furst added.

The work could potentially prove important in manufacturing, where the ability to pre-program and direct the self-assembly of functional materials is highly desired.

“This is the first time we’ve presented the relationship between an initially disordered structure and a highly organized one and at least one of the paths between the two. We’re excited because we believe the concept of directed self-assembly will enable a scalable form of nanotechnology,” he said.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Delaware. The original article was written by Karen B. Roberts.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. W. Swan, P. A. Vasquez, P. A. Whitson, E. M. Fincke, K. Wakata, S. H. Magnus, F. D. Winne, M. R. Barratt, J. H. Agui, R. D. Green, N. R. Hall, D. Y. Bohman, C. T. Bunnell, A. P. Gast, E. M. Furst. Multi-scale kinetics of a field-directed colloidal phase transition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1206915109

From vitro to vivo: Fully automated design of synthetic RNA circuits in living cells

From vitro to vivo: Fully automated design of synthetic RNA circuits in living cells

September 14, 2012 by Stuart Mason Dambrot

Schemes of methodology and designs. (A) Thermodynamic scheme of RNA interaction, showing the different free energies at play and the progression of the reaction. We define the reaction coordinate as the size of intermolecular pairs (d). (B) Optimization scheme followed to design the RNA devices. (C) Secondary structures specified for the single species to obtain different RNA devices. Nucleotides shown were maintained fixed; RBS sequence yellow colored. Different devices were designed by imposing different structures for the riboregulator. Copyright © PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.1203831109 (Phys.org)

Synthetic biology combines science and engineering in the pursuit of two general goals: to design and construct new biological parts, devices, and systems not found in nature; and redesign existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. For synthetic biologists a key goal is to use RNA to automatically engineer synthetic sequences that encode functional RNA sequences in living cells. While earlier RNA design attempts have mostly been developed in vitro or needed fragments of natural sequences to be viable, scientists at Institut de biologie systémique et synthétique in France have recently developed a fully automated design methodology and experimental validation of synthetic RNA interaction circuits working in a cellular environment. Their results demonstrate that engineering interacting RNAs with allosteric behavior in living cells can be accomplished using a first-principles computation.

Drs. Alfonso Jaramillo, Guillermo Rodrigo, and Thomas E. Landrain had to address several challenges in their study. “It is common practice – and unavoidable – to use computational algorithms to aid in the design of RNA molecules,” Jaramillo tells Phys.org. For example, he illustrates, computing minimum energy conformation, since one single nucleotide can stabilize an alternative conformation. Until now researchers have used computer assisted design to design synthetic RNAs that could combine functional fragments from known RNAs.  “The combination of known fragments reduced the number of possible nucleotide sequences and would enable a human-driven iteration in reasonable time,” Jaramillo explains. This approach required a lot of significant human effort to design a single sequence, where the designer would combine the fragments with some educated guesses and random nucleotides to fill the gaps. At that point, other computational tools would be used to verify each possible prototype and improve it. “We wanted to go further, so we asked whether we could teach the computer to do all this design iterations automatically, such that it could suggest a solution that could be synthesized and transformed in living cells,” Jaramillo adds.  Jaramillo comments that if the computer performs all design iterations unsupervised, it can explore a larger search space, freeing researchers from having to use known sequence fragments, and thus attempt a full sequence design (where all of the nucleotides come from random suggestions followed by computer selection). “To instruct the computer to do this, we incorporated what we thought were the essential physical properties of interacting RNAs in living cells by employing the evolutionary computation techniques used in artificial intelligence to develop software that could code without human supervision. The computer could then explore millions of prototype sequences instead of a few.” This evolutionary computation technique relies on mimicking the relevant steps of natural evolution, that is, the iterative improvement of a given solution by using selection. “However, we don’t have to be slaves of analogy and are free to consider what we think is more relevant to our problem,” Jaramillo points out. “We would start from a random sequence and would randomly modify it by applying simulated annealing techniques, implemented by a Metropolis Monte Carlo algorithm,” which solves a problem by generating suitable random numbers and observing that fraction of the numbers obeying some property or properties. “Contrary to natural evolution, our walks would not be completely adaptive but we could allow a decrease in fitness. We aim at the engineering of an ensemble of RNA species that could interact in a predefined way. Our first challenge was that in living cells, such molecules are very prone to degradation if they do not have a stable structure.”

Schematic representation of the six different RNA devices we designed and engineered for riboregulation. Devices RAJ11 and RAJ12 were obtained by imposing the structure T4, device RAJ21 with T1, device RAJ22 with T2, device RAJ23 with T3, and device RAJ31 with T5. SI Appendix (Fig. S7) shows the helical structure of the different complexes together with the corresponding base-pairing probability matrixes. SI Appendix (Table S1) shows the sequences of species. SI Appendix (Table S4) shows the thermodynamic properties of the systems. Copyright © PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.1203831109

The scientists therefore imposed that all our RNA species would have such structure – but this produced another challenge. “Unlike unstructured RNAs, such structure prevents RNA molecules from mutually interacting. We approached this by including a nucleation site, allowing an initial intermolecular contact that could disassemble the folded structure of the interacting partners.” This nucleation site consisted of a small fragment of an unstructured sequence. “This stabilization could be seen in energetic terms as the lowering of the activation free energy barrier, where we lower the energy of a high energy intermediate state.” As they relied on structured RNAs that would undergo post-interaction conformational changes, the scientists tested it by exploring a challenging problem involving allosteric RNA p and so chose to work with Escherichia coli. “We selected the problem of designing positive riboregulators because, due to design challenges, only a handful of them have ever been engineered by humans. Such positive riboregulators are RNA that, once expressed, could activate translation machinery.” This problem was not only challenging, but also useful for biotechnology, where there are very few molecules genetically encoded able to activate gene expression (contrary to the relative ease of engineering gene expression repressors). “As our methodology relied on fixing the secondary structure of the interacting RNAs, we tested several possibilities as well as alternative interaction mechanisms where the initial hybridization could be done in different ways.” After publishing the PNAS manuscript, Jaramillo adds, the team further validated the orthogonality (the ability to selectively translate mRNA) of their RNAs in E. coli. They’re also constructing a XOR gate device working inside the cell – something never done in bacteria and just recently achieved in mammals1.  The researchers are planning to extend the methodology to include the RNA-small molecule interactions and the incorporation of known functional RNA sequence fragments (such as ribozyme sequences) to create complex RNA interactions never seen before. “We’ve already succeeded in experimentally validating in E. coli a new type of such an interaction, consisting of an inactivated riboregulator that could be activated by a ribozyme after the introduction of a small-molecule inducer.”In this type of reaction, the number of different species is not conserved, as after the introduction of the inducer we get a RNA cleavage. “We’ve named this new riboregulator-ribozyme chimera a regazyme, and have also validated the full design of a riboswitch. Jaramillo also notes that other research might benefit from their findings, including the high-throughput design of new regulators for large-scale engineering projects. “Also, we can foresee using allosteric RNAs to sense mRNAs by being subject to a conformational change after binding that could trigger a reporter.” This would open the way to genetically-encoded and non invasive monitoring of gene expression dynamics – an important and unmet challenge in biophysics. “We’re also exploring the use of RNA,” Jaramillo concludes, “to create artificial signal transduction cascades.” More information: De novo automated design of small RNA circuits for engineering synthetic riboregulation in living cells, PNAS September 4, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1203831109  1Related: Programmable single-cell mammalian biocomputers, Nature 487, 123–127 (05 July 2012), doi:10.1038/nature11149Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Nature Copyright 2012 Phys.org  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of PhysOrg.com.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-vitro-vivo-fully-automated-synthetic.html#jCp

Researchers discover mechanism related to negative emotions of cocaine withdrawal

Contact: Eric Sorensen
eric.sorensen@wsu.edu
206-799-9186
Washington State University

Emotional ‘brakes’ stay on after cocaine wears off

PULLMAN, Wash.—Washington State University researchers have found a cellular mechanism that contributes to the lack of motivation and negative emotions of a cocaine addict going through withdrawal. Their discovery, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a deeper look into the cellular and behavioral implications of addiction.

Bradley Winters, lead author of the PNAS paper and a freshly minted WSU doctor of neuroscience, says he, his major advisor Yan Dong, and colleagues at WSU, the University of Pittsburgh and the European Neuroscience Institute focused on cells that produce a signaling molecule called cannabinoid receptor 1, or CB1. Its main function is regulating the communication between nerve cells related to the functions like memory, motor control, perception, mood and appetite. Those same functions are affected by THC, the cannabinoid in its namesake cannabis, or marijuana.

“These receptors are not here just to make marijuana fun,” says Winters. “Their main function is changes in how nerve cells communicate with each other.”

The researchers studied the CB1 cells by producing a line of mice in which the cells that make CB1 were labeled fluorescently. The researchers could then identify the cells and target them with glass pipettes 1/100th the width of a human hair and record electrical currents they use to communicate with other nerve cells.

The CB1 cells act like brakes, slowing down activity in a brain region called the nucleus accumbens, which governs emotion and motivation.

“Cocaine causes profound cellular changes in the nucleus accumbens, but no one has ever looked at this type of cell, and these cells are important because they help organize the output,” says Winters.

The researchers found that cocaine increases the excitability of the CB1 cells, in effect stepping on the brakes of emotion and motivation. When an addict is high on cocaine, the brakes are struggling to slow things down. The problem is, they stay on even when the cocaine has worn off.

“As you do cocaine, it speeds everything up, pushing you to a highly rewarding emotional state,” says Winters. “It is kind of like going down a steep hill so you have to start riding that brake really hard. But then after the cocaine wears off and the hill levels out, you’re still riding that brake just as hard. Now you’re going down a regular, low-grade hill but you’re going 2 mph because your foot is still jammed on the brake.”

The result is a drag on the emotions and motivation of an addict in withdrawal — a drag that could be linked to sluggish activation of the nucleus accumbens.

“That state is like, ‘I feel terrible and I don’t want to do anything,'” says Winters. “You have the high and the crashing low and this low that you feel is what brings you back to the drug because you want to feel better and the drug is the only thing you feel motivation for.”

Plant flavonoid found to reduce inflammatory response in the brain: luteolin

Contact: Diana Yates
diya@illinois.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

IMAGE:Animal sciences professor Rodney Johnson, and graduate student Saebyeol Jang found that a plant flavonoid, luteolin, inhibited a key pathway in the inflammatory response of microglia.

Click here for more information. 

Researchers at the University of Illinois report this week that a plant compound found in abundance in celery and green peppers can disrupt a key component of the inflammatory response in the brain. The findings have implications for research on aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

The study appears this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Inflammation can be a blessing or a blight. It is a critical part of the body’s immune response that in normal circumstances reduces injury and promotes healing. When it goes awry, however, the inflammatory response can lead to serious physical and mental problems.

Inflammation plays a key role in many neurodegenerative diseases and also is implicated in the cognitive and behavioral impairments seen in aging.

The new study looked at  (LOO-tee-OH-lin), a plant flavonoid known to impede the inflammatory response in several types of cells outside the central nervous system. The purpose of the study was to determine if luteolin could also reduce inflammation in the brain, said animal sciences professor and principal investigator Rodney Johnson.

“One of the questions we were interested in is whether something like luteolin, or other bioactive food components, can be used to mitigate age-associated inflammation and therefore improve cognitive function and avoid some of the cognitive deficits that occur in aging,” Johnson said.

The researchers first studied the effect of luteolin on microglia. These brain cells are a key component of the immune defense. When infection occurs anywhere in the body, microglia respond by producing inflammatory cytokines, chemical messengers that act in the brain to orchestrate a whole-body response that helps fight the invading microorganism.

This response is associated with many of the most obvious symptoms of illness: sleepiness, loss of appetite, fever and lethargy, and sometimes a temporary diminishment of learning and memory. Neuroinflammation can also lead some neurons to self-destruct, with potentially disastrous consequences if it goes too far.

Graduate research assistant Saebyeol Jang studied the inflammatory response in microglial cells. She spurred inflammation by exposing the cells to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a component of the cell wall of many common bacteria.

Those cells that were also exposed to luteolin showed a significantly diminished inflammatory response. Jang showed that luteolin was shutting down production of a key cytokine in the inflammatory pathway, interleukin-6 (IL-6). The effects of luteolin exposure were dramatic, resulting in as much as a 90 percent drop in IL-6 production in the LPS-treated cells.

“This was just about as potent an inhibition as anything we had seen previously,” Johnson said.

But how was luteolin inhibiting production of IL-6″

Jang began by looking at a class of proteins involved in intracellular signaling, called transcription factors, which bind to specific “promoter” regions on DNA and increase their transcription into RNA and translation into proteins.

Using electromobility shift assays, which measure the binding of transcription factors to DNA promoters, Jang eventually determined that luteolin inhibited IL-6 production by preventing activator protein-1 (AP-1) from binding the IL-6 promoter.

AP-1 is in turn activated by JNK, an upstream protein kinase. Jang found that luteolin inhibited JNK phosphorylation in microglial cell culture. The failure of the JNK to activate the AP-1 transcription factor prevented it from binding to the promoter region on the IL-6 gene and transcription came to a halt.

To see if luteolin might have a similar effect in vivo, the researchers gave mice luteolin-laced drinking water for 21 days before injecting the mice with LPS.

Those mice that were fed luteolin had significantly lower levels of IL-6 in their blood plasma four hours after injection with the LPS. Luteolin also decreased LPS-induced transcription of IL-6 in the hippocampus, a brain region that is critical to spatial learning and memory.

The findings indicate a possible role for luteolin or other bioactive compounds in treating neuroinflammation, Johnson said.

“It might be possible to use flavonoids to inhibit JNK and mitigate inflammatory reactions in the brain,” he said. “Inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6 are very well known to inhibit certain types of learning and memory that are under the control of the hippocampus, and the hippocampus is also very vulnerable to the insults of aging,” he said. “If you had the potential to decrease the production of inflammatory cytokines in the brain you could potentially limit the cognitive deficits that result.”

 

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Editor’s note: To reach Rodney Johnson, call 217-333-2118; e-mail: rwjohn@uiuc.edu.

To view or subscribe to the RSS feed for Science News at Illinois, please go to: http://webtools.uiuc.edu/rssManager/608/rss.xml.

High doses of Vitamin D help tuberculosis patients recover more quickly: 23 days vs 36 days

Contact: Emma Mason e.mason@qmul.ac.uk Queen Mary, University of London

For decades before antibiotics became generally available, sunshine was used to treat tuberculosis, with patients often being sent to Swiss clinics to soak up the sun’s healing rays. Now, for the first time scientists have shown how and why heliotherapy might, indeed, have made a difference.

A study led by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, conducted in collaboration with the Medical Research Council’s National Institute for Medical Research, has shown that high doses of vitamin D, given in addition to antibiotic treatment, appear to help patients with tuberculosis (TB) recover more quickly.

The research, which will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), is the first to investigate the effect of vitamin D on the immune responses of patients receiving treatment for an infectious disease. The findings indicate that high doses of the vitamin can dampen down the body’s inflammatory response to infection, enabling patients to recover faster, with less damage to their lungs.

In addition to stimulating recovery in TB patients, the authors say their results suggest that vitamin D supplementation might help patients recover better from other diseases such as pneumonia.

Dr Adrian Martineau, senior lecturer in respiratory infection and immunity at the Blizard Institute, part of Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: “These findings are very significant. They indicate that vitamin D may have a role in accelerating resolution of inflammatory responses in tuberculosis patients. This is important, because sometimes these inflammatory responses can cause tissue damage leading to the development of cavities in the lung. If we can help these cavities to heal more quickly, then patients should be infectious for a shorter period of time, and they may also suffer less lung damage.

“More broadly, the ability of vitamin D to dampen down inflammatory responses without compromising the actions of antibiotics raises the possibility that supplementation might also have benefits in patients receiving antimicrobial therapy for pneumonia, sepsis and other lung infections.”

Dr Martineau and his colleagues from a number of London hospitals and institutions randomised 95 TB patients receiving standard antibiotic treatment into two groups: for the first eight weeks of their treatment, 44 received additional high dose vitamin D, while 51 received a placebo. Dr Anna Coussens at the MRC’s National Institute for Medical Research measured levels of inflammatory markers in blood samples taken from these patients, and conducted statistical analyses to determine the effects that vitamin D had on the immune response.

“We found that a large number of these inflammatory markers fell further and faster in patients receiving vitamin D,” said Dr Coussens.

The researchers also found that Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, was cleared from the patients’ sputum (the phlegm coughed up from deep in the lungs) faster in those who were taking vitamin D, taking an average of 23 days to become undetectable under the microscope compared to 36 days in the patients who were taking the placebo.

Dr Martineau said it was probably too early to be recommending that all TB patients should take high-dose vitamin D in addition to the standard antibiotic treatment for the disease; more research with more patients was needed before clinical recommendations could be made. “We are hoping to do more work to evaluate the effects of higher doses and different forms of vitamin D to see if they have a more dramatic effect,” he said.

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The study was funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council and the British Lung Foundation.

[1] “Vitamin D accelerates resolution of inflammatory responses during tuberculosis treatment”, by Anna K. Coussens et al. PNAS. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1200072109

[2] In addition to Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, University of London, the other institutions involved in the research were the MRC’s National Institute of Medical Research, Imperial College London, Homerton University NHS Foundation Trust, Newham Chest Clinic, Whipps Cross University Hospital, Northwick Park Hospital, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Lewisham Hospital, and King’s College Hospital

One third less life on planet Earth

Contact: F.Ossing ossing@gfz-potsdam.de 49-331-288-1040 Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

New estimate of living biomass

Previous estimates about the total mass of all life on our planet have to be reduced by about one third.  This is the result of a study by a German-US science team published in the current online issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

According to previous estimates about one thousand billion tons of carbon are stored in living organisms, of which 30% in single-cell microbes in the ocean floor  and 55 % reside in land plants. The science team around Dr. Jens Kallmeyer of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and University of Potsdam has now revised this number: Instead of 300 billion tons of carbon there are only about 4 billion tons stored in subseafloor microbes. This reduces the total amount of carbon stored in living organisms by about one third.

Previous estimates were based on drill cores that were taken close to shore or in very nutrient-rich areas. “About half of the world’s ocean is extremely nutrient-poor. For the last 10 years it was already suspected that subseafloor biomass was overestimated” explains Dr. Jens Kallmeyer the motivation behind his study. “Unfortunately there were no data to prove it”. Therefore Kallmeyer and his colleagues from the University of Potsdam and the University of Rhode Island, USA, collected sediment cores from areas that were far away from any coasts and islands. The six-year work showed that there were up to one hundred thousand times less cells in sediments from open-ocean areas, which are dubbed “deserts of the sea” due to their extreme nutrient depletion, than in coastal sediments.

With these new data the scientists recalculated the total biomass in marine sediments and found these new, drastically lower values.

Despite of the high logistic and financial efforts for marine drilling operations there are more data of the abundance of living biomass in the sea floor than of their abundance on land. “Our new results show the need to re-examine the other numbers as e.g. the amount of carbon in deep sediments on land,” Jens Kallmeyer states. In particular the research into the “Deep Biosphere” is still in the fledgling stages; this is life that can be found in kilometer’s depth inside the Earth’s crust.The new findings contribute to a better picture of the distribution of living biomass on Earth.

Scientists create a virus that reproduces

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
It is the stuff of science fiction and bioethical debates: The creation of artificial life. Up until now, it’s largely been just that.

But an important technical bridge towards the creation of such life was crossed Thursday when genomics pioneer Craig Venter announced that his research group created an artificial virus based on a real one in just two weeks’ time.

When researchers created a synthetic genome (genetic map) of the virus and implanted it into a cell, the virus became “biologically active,” meaning it went to work reproducing itself.

Venter cautioned that the creation of artificial human or animal life is a long way off because the synthetic bacteriophage — the virus that was created — is a much simpler life form. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

The project was funded in part by the Department of Energy, which hopes to create microbes that would capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, produce hydrogen or clean the environment.

But the questions ethicists have raised about such work are numerous: Should we be playing God? Does the potential for good that new life forms may have outweigh the harm they could do?

Arthur Caplan, who heads the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics, says yes. This technology “is impressive. It’s powerful and it should be treated with humility and caution,” Caplan says, “But we should do it.”

A genome is made up of DNA “letters,” or base pairs, that combine to “spell” an individual’s chromosomes. The human genome project was completed in April.

This summer, researchers at Venter’s Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives bought commercially available strands of DNA and, using a new technology, coaxed them together to form a duplicate of the genome of a bacteriophage called phi X.

“It’s a very important technical advance,” says Gerald Rubin, a molecular geneticist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “You can envision the day when one could sit down at a computer, design a genome and then build it. We’re still inventing the tools to make that happen, and this is an important one.”

Venter notes the synthetic bacteriophage has 5,000 base pairs in its genome. The human genome has 3 billion, so similar work in human form probably won’t happen in this decade, he says.

To date, the largest genome that was synthesized was the 7,500-base-pair polio virus. But that was only semi-functional and took three years to complete.

The researchers chose to put the new technology into the public domain for all scientists to use. It will appear in the next few weeks on the Web site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The technology raises safety issues, says David Magnus of Stanford’s Center for Biomedical Ethics. Even putting it in the public domain is “a double-edged sword,” he says. That presumes that allowing everyone access will keep the good guys ahead of the bad guys. “It’s a gamble. … It’s a bet that everyone has a stake in,” he says.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/science/2003-11-13-new-life-usat_x.htm

*Reposted for filing

UCSB scientists examine effects of manufactured nanoparticles on soybean crops: zinc oxide and cerium oxide

Contact: Gail Gallessich gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu 805-893-7220 University of California – Santa Barbara

IMAGE:These are soybean plants growing in a UCSB greenhouse.Click here for more information.

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– Sunscreens, lotions, and cosmetics contain tiny metal nanoparticles that wash down the drain at the end of the day, or are discharged after manufacturing. Those nanoparticles eventually end up in agricultural soil, which is a cause for concern, according to a group of environmental scientists that recently carried out the first major study of soybeans grown in soil contaminated by two manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs).

The team was led by scientists at UC Santa Barbara’s Bren School for Environmental Science & Management. The team is also affiliated with the UC Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN), a $24 million collaboration based at UCLA, with researchers from UCSB, UC Davis, UC Riverside, University of Texas at El Paso, Columbia University, and other national and international partners. The results of the study are published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our society has become more environmentally aware in the last few decades, and that results in our government and scientists asking questions about the safety of new types of chemical ingredients,” said senior author Patricia Holden, a professor with the Bren School. “That’s reflected by this type of research.”

She explained that the research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is helping to discover potential environmental implications of a new industry that includes nanomaterials. The ultimate goal is to help find more environmentally compatible substitutes, Holden said.

IMAGE:Pictured are Patricia Holden and John H. Priester.Click here for more information.

Soybean was chosen for the study due to its importance as a food crop –– it is the fifth largest crop in global agricultural production and second in the U.S. –– and because it is vulnerable to MNMs. The findings showed that crop yield and quality are affected by the addition of MNMs to the soil.

The scientists studied the effects of two common nanoparticles, zinc oxide and cerium oxide, on soybeans grown in soil in greenhouses. Zinc oxide is used in cosmetics, lotions, and sunscreens. Cerium oxide is used as an ingredient in catalytic converters to minimize carbon monoxide production, and in fuel to increase fuel combustion. Cerium can enter soil through the atmosphere when fuel additives are released with diesel fuel combustion.

The zinc oxide nanoparticles may dissolve, or they may remain as a particle, or re-form as a particle, as they are processed through wastewater treatment. At the final stage of wastewater treatment there is a solid material, called biosolids, which is applied to soils in many parts of the U.S. This solid material fertilizes the soil, returning nitrogen and phosphorus that are captured during wastewater treatment. This is also a point at which zinc oxide and cerium oxide can enter the soil.

The scientists noted that the EPA requires pretreatment programs to limit direct industrial metal discharge into publicly owned wastewater treatment plants. However, the research team conveyed that “MNMs –– while measurable in the wastewater treatment plant systems –– are neither monitored nor regulated, have a high affinity for activated sludge bacteria, and thus concentrate in biosolids.”

IMAGE:Pictured are soybean stem, leaves, bean pods, and roots. The roots contain nodules where bacteria accumulate and convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, which fertilizes the plant.Click here for more information.

The authors pointed out that soybean crops are farmed with equipment powered by fossil fuels, and thus MNMs can also be deposited into the soil through exhaust.

The study showed that soybean plants grown in soil that contained zinc oxide bioaccumulated zinc; they absorbed it into the stems, leaves, and beans. Food quality was affected, although it may not be harmful to humans to eat the soybeans if the zinc is in the form of ions or salts, in the plants, according to Holden.

In the case of cerium oxide, the nanoparticles did not bioaccumulate, but plant growth was stunted. Changes occurred in the root nodules, where symbiotic bacteria normally accumulate and convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, which fertilizes the plant. The changes in the root nodules indicate that greater use of synthetic fertilizers might be necessary with the buildup of MNMs in the soil.

Holden commented on the likelihood of high concentrations of these nanoparticles in agriculture: “There could be hotspots, places where you have accumulation, including near manufacturing sites where the materials are being made, or if there are spills. We have very limited information about the quantity or state of these synthetic nanomaterials in the environment right now. We know they’re being used in consumer goods, and we know they’re going down the drain.”

First author John H. Priester is a staff scientist in the Holden lab at UCSB. Other co-authors from UC CEIN are Yuan Ge, Randall E. Mielke, Allison M. Horst, Shelly Cole Moritz, Roger M. Nisbet, Joshua P. Schimel, Jose A. Hernandez-Viezcas, Lijuan Zhao, and Jorge L. Gardea-Torresdey. Co-authors Katherine Espinosa and Reid G. Palmer are affiliated with Iowa State University; Jeff Gelb is affiliated with Xradia Corporation; and Sharon L. Walker is with UC Riverside. NASA/JPL-Caltech, the USDA, and The University of Texas at El Paso were substantially involved in the research.

Lipstick chemical alert: Ingredient in hundreds of household products ’causes heart problems’ -Triclosan

By Tamara Cohen

PUBLISHED:19:56 EST, 13  August 2012| UPDATED:07:52 EST, 14 August 2012

chemical commonly used in lipsticks, face  washes and toothpaste may cause heart and muscle problems, according to  scientists.

They found triclosan, which is in hundreds of  household products, can hinder the process by which  muscles, including the  heart, receive signals from the brain.

In tests on mice, they noted a ‘dramatic’ 25  per cent reduction in heart function within 20 minutes of exposure, and warned  there is ‘strong evidence’ it could affect human health.

However regulators and other experts insist  triclosan levels in products are safe, and that the doses injected into the mice  were higher than those to which humans would ever be exposed.

Although previous studies have found that  triclosan may have links to thyroid and fertility problems, this is the first  time its effects have been tested on muscles.

Scientists had thought that the chemical – which was devised to prevent bacterial infections in  hospitals – was  metabolised quickly by the body without harmful effects.

However, the researchers at the University of  California say it may remain active and be transported to organs, causing  damage.

Professor Isaac Pessah, who led the study,  published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: ‘These  findings provide strong evidence that it is  of concern to both human and  environmental health.

‘For someone who is healthy a 10 per cent  drop in heart function may not have an effect, but if you have heart disease it  could make a big difference.’ His team injected a group of mice with triclosan.  They saw a ‘significantly reduced’ function in the heart’s left ventricle within  20 minutes.

Another test looked at the mice’s skeletal  muscles by getting them to grip wire mesh. Those injected in the past hour had  an 18 per cent fall in their grip strength – although it was restored within a  day

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2188012/Lipstick-chemical-alert-Ingredient-hundreds-household-products-causes-heart-problems.html#ixzz23a4GSuly

Antibacterial soap may hinder muscle function: study

A chemical found in soap, toothpaste, clothes and toys may cause muscle   problems and should be used with caution, experts have said.

By , Medical Editor 7:20AM BST 14 Aug 2012

Researchers found an antibacterial agent, called triclosan, hampers muscle   function in animals and fish and may have implications for human health.

After testing the substance on mice and fish they found muscle strength was   reduced, including heart function and fish were unable to swim as well.

The findings were published online in the Proceedings of the National   Academy of Sciences.

Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences   in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator of   the study, said: “Triclosan is found in virtually everyone’s home and   is pervasive in the environment.

“These findings provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern   to both human and environmental health.”

In experiments the researchers exposed animals and fish to levels of triclosan   equivalent to that which people may receive daily.

The team also found that triclosan impairs heart and skeletal muscle   contractility in living animals.

Anaesthetised mice had up to a 25 per cent reduction in heart function   measures within 20 minutes of exposure to the chemical.

Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis and a   study co-author, said: “The effects of triclosan on cardiac function   were really dramatic.

“Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like   a potent cardiac depressant in our models.”

Bruce Hammock, a study co-author and professor in the University of California   Davis’ Department of Entomology, said: “We were surprised by the large   degree to which muscle activity was impaired in very different organisms and   in both cardiac and skeletal muscle.

“You can imagine in animals that depend so totally on muscle activity   that even a 10 per cent reduction in ability can make a real difference in   their survival.

“Triclosan can be useful in some instances, however it has become a   ubiquitous ‘value added’ marketing factor that actually could be more   harmful than helpful. At the very least, our findings call for a dramatic   reduction in its use.”

Further studies are needed to establish the effect triclosan has on human   muscles, the researchers said.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9472481/Antibacterial-soap-may-hinder-muscle-function-study.html