Genetic Signatures May Help Predictive Climate Models
One aspect of the climate change models researchers have been developing looks at how plant ranges might shift, and how factors such as temperature, water availability and light levels might come into play. Forests creeping steadily north and becoming established in the thawing Arctic is just one of the predicted effects of rising global temperatures.
A recent study published in Nature Genetics offers a more in-depth, population-based approach to identifying such mechanisms for adaptation, and describes a method that could be harnessed for developing more accurate predictive climate change models. For the U.S. Department of Energy, which is developing biomass crops for biofuels production, this knowledge could determine which genotypes – genetic makeup of an organism – of biomass crop may thrive better than others in certain environments.
Pomegranate Drug May Stem Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s
The onset of Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed and some of its symptoms curbed by a natural compound that is found in pomegranate. Also, the painful inflammation that accompanies illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease could be reduced, according to the findings of a two-year project headed by Univ. of Huddersfield scientist Olumayokun Olajide, who specializes in the anti-inflammatory properties of natural products.
Now, a new phase of research can explore the development of drugs that will stem the development of dementias such as Alzheimer’s, which affects some 800,000 people in the UK, with 163,000 new cases a year being diagnosed. Globally, there are at least 44.4 million dementia sufferers, with the numbers expected to soar.
Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientist Robert Gourdie developed a wound-healing peptide while researching how electrical signals trigger heartbeats. He never imagined that the peptide, ACT1, would prove to heal venous leg ulcers twice as quickly as the current standard of care.
The results of this phase 2, multicenter, randomized clinical trial, conducted by FirstString Research Inc., were recently published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is because of a slowdown in a normal brain “pruning” process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists at Columbia Univ. Medical Center (CUMC). Because synapses are the points where neurons connect and communicate with each other, the excessive synapses may have profound effects on how the brain functions. The study was published in Neuron.
A drug that restores normal synaptic pruning can improve autistic-like behaviors in mice, the researchers found, even when the drug is given after the behaviors have appeared.
Algae might seem easy to ignore, but they are the ultimate source of all organic matter that marine animals depend upon. Humans are increasingly dependent on algae, too, to suck up climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sink it to the bottom of the ocean. Now, by using a combination of satellite imagery and laboratory experiments, researchers have evidence showing that viruses infecting those algae are driving the life-and-death dynamics of the algae’s blooms, even when all else stays essentially the same, and this has important implications for our climate.
According to results, reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology today, a single North Atlantic algal bloom, about 30 kilometers in radius, converted 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into organic carbon via a process known as carbon fixation. Two-thirds of that carbon turned over within a week as that bloom grew at a very rapid rate and then quickly met its demise. A closer look at those algae revealed high levels of specific viruses infecting their cells.
Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. And yet, there are many faces that a majority would find beautiful, say, George Clooney’s or Audrey Hepburn’s.
Psychologists interested in mate selection and the visual processing of faces have long sought to understand why some faces are widely regarded as attractive. Researchers have identified several cues associated with facial beauty, including “averageness” – faces close to the population mean are judged attractive – and “sexual dimorphism” – faces that accentuate characteristics that distinguish males and females are desirable.
There has also been long-standing interest in facial symmetry. Most faces appear broadly symmetric. Close inspection, however, almost always reveals subtle deviations from perfect symmetry. It is common for one eye to be positioned slightly above the other, or further away from the mid-line, and features are rarely perfectly symmetric in shape. Having examined the relationship between degree of facial symmetry and perceived attractiveness, many studies have found that beautiful faces exhibit greater symmetry.
Stimulating nerves in your ear could improve the health of your heart, researchers have discovered.
A team at the Univ. of Leeds used a standard TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine like those designed to relieve labor pains to apply electrical pulses to the tragus, the small raised flap at the front of the ear immediately in front of the ear canal.
A new study suggests that colds and other minor infections may temporarily increase stroke risk in children. The study is published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“While the study does show an increased risk, the overall risk of stroke among children is still extremely low,” said Lars Marquardt, of the Univ. of Erlangen-Nuremberg, who wrote a corresponding editorial. “Minor infections are very common in children while strokes are thankfully very rare. Parents should not be alarmed whatsoever if a child catches a simple cold.”
Have you ever wondered why we give birth to live young rather than lay eggs? Scientists have pondered this for a long time and answers have come from an unlikely source: some of Australia’s lizards and snakes.
In research published this month in the American Naturalist, Oliver Griffith and colleagues at the Univ. of Sydney studied reptile pregnancy to identify the factors necessary for a placenta to evolve.
‘Chili-pepper Receptor’ May Be Key to Treating Pain
As anyone who has bitten into a chili pepper knows, its burning spiciness — though irresistible to some — is intolerable to others. Scientists exploring the chili pepper’s effect are using their findings to develop a new drug candidate for many kinds of pain, which can be caused by inflammation or other problems. They reported their progress on the compound, which is being tested in clinical trials, in ACS’ Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
There is nothing like a head cold to make us feel a little dazed. We get things like colds and the flu because of changes in our immune system. Researchers have a good idea what causes immune system changes on Earth — things like stress, inadequate sleep and improper nutrition. But the results of two NASA collaborative investigations — Validation of Procedures for Monitoring Crewmember Immune Function (Integrated Immune) and Clinical Nutrition Assessment of ISS Astronauts, SMO-016E (Clinical Nutrition Assessment) — recently published in the Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research suggest that spaceflight may temporarily alter the immune system of crew members flying long duration missions aboard the International Space Station. This is of concern as NASA looks ahead to six-month and multiple-year missions to asteroids, the moon and Mars because something as simple as a cold or the flu can be risky business in space.
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery, but mimicking the intricate networks and dynamic interactions that are inherent to living cells is difficult to achieve outside the cell. Now, as published in Science, Weizmann Institute scientists have created an artificial, network-like cell system that is capable of reproducing the dynamic behavior of protein synthesis. This achievement is not only likely to help gain a deeper understanding of basic biological processes, but it may pave the way toward controlling the synthesis of both naturally-occurring and synthetic proteins for a host of uses.
By finding a way to bind a slippery molecule naturally found in the fluid that surrounds healthy joints, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have engineered surfaces that have the potential to deliver long-lasting lubrication at specific spots throughout the body. The finding, described in Nature Materials, could eventually offer a new way to ease the pain of arthritic joints, keep artificial joints working smoothly or even make contact lenses more comfortable.
According to the investigators, scientists have long known that a biochemical known as hyaluronic acid (HA), found in abundance in joints’ synovial fluid, is an important component for naturally lubricating tissues. One form of HA also reduces inflammation and protects cells from metabolic damage. Diseased, damaged or aging joints in hips, knees, shoulders and elbows often have far lower concentrations of HA, presumably because a protein that binds HA molecules to joint surfaces is no longer able to retain HA where it is needed. HA injections into painful joints, known as viscosupplementation, have become a popular way to treat painful joints in the past several years. But without a way to retain HA at the site, the body’s natural cleaning processes soon wash it away.
A single factor can reset the immune system of mice to a state likely similar to what it was 500 million years ago, when the first vertebrates emerged.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics (MPI-IE) in Freiburg re-activated expression of an ancient gene, which is not normally expressed in the mammalian immune system, and found that the animals developed a fish-like thymus. To the researchers surprise, while the mammalian thymus is utilized exclusively for T cell maturation, the reset thymus produced not only T cells, but also served as a maturation site for B cells – a property normally seen only in the thymus of fish. Thus the model could provide an explanation of how the immune system had developed in the course of evolution.