No, we aren’t.
Tiny, naked astronauts were recently exposed to the vacuum environment, harsh temperatures, and dangerous radiation of space for a period of several days. The space travelers went into an almost entirely dormant state for the duration, slowing their metabolisms to .01% of their normal levels.
After they were brought back into the low-orbit space vessel, most of the astronauts were completely revived. (Some died. It was very sad.) Aside from enduring the vacuum of space, and the extreme temperatures outside of a space capsule, the astronauts’ ability to survive the radiation of space most surprised scientists. On the surface of earth, solar radiation (as you no doubt are aware) is strong enough to give us sunburn, and cause genetic damage to our skin cells (leading to skin cancer). The levels of radiation in space are 1,000 times higher, enough to sterilize an organism, yet the astronauts did fine with it, and were even able to successfully reproduce on their return to earth. Scientists hope to isolate whatever mechanism allowed the astronauts to repair the genetic damage they likely incurred while in space. Such research might be applied to radiation therapy techniques.
We salute you, tiny, naked challengers of the unknown.
Using the new induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) technique, researchers from Harvard Stem Cell Institute produced a robust new collection of disease-specific stem cell lines. Having these disease-specific iPS cells will allow researchers to watch the development of diseases in petri dishes, outside of the patients. HSCI iPS Core will produce these disease-specific cell lines for use by scientists around the world.
The cell lines the researchers produced carry the genes or genetic components for 10 different diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease, Type I diabetes, Huntington’s Disease, Down Syndrome, a form of combined immunodeficiency (“Bubble Boy’s Disease”), Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, Gaucher’s Disease, and two forms of Muscular Dystrophy, among others. Havard Stem Cell Institute Spotlight
The work is described in a paper published in the online edition of the journal Cell. Click here to read the full text of the paper titled, Disease-Specific Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells.The chief researchers were George Q. Daley, associate director of the Stem Cell Program at Children's Hospital Boston, and Chad Cowan and Konrad Hochedlinger of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Click hear to listen to an 08/06/08 press conference with George Daley and Doug Melton (who is also co-chairman of Harvard's new interfaculty Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology).
Courtesy FIR0002New research coming out of Britain shows eating broccoli may reverse damage done by diabetes to heart and blood vessels. I’m always glad to hear anything new about the benefits of broccoli. Not that I have diabetes – I don’t. But broccoli is my favorite vegetable, and besides its potentially new vascular benefits, the leafy vegetable is high in fiber, full of vitamins C and K, and nutrients that have been found to reduce the risk of some cancers. A member of the cabbage family (Brassica), broccoli, along with other vegetables in the genus (including brussel sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi, and mustard seed) has been linked to the reduction of strokes and heart attacks.
Diabetes is a serious metabolic disorder resulting in abnormally high levels of blood sugar (hyperglycemia). The disease can affect nearly every part of the body, and left untreated can lead to blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, and loss of limb. Diabetics have up to 5 times the risk of suffering from vascular diseases such as heart attacks, strokes because of damaged blood vessels.
The current research involves the anti-cancer compound sulforaphane, a product of another compound found in broccoli called glucoraphanin. Sulforaphane encourages production of enzymes that protect blood vessels, and reduce levels of cell-damaging molecules. When researchers at the University of Warwick tested the effects of sulforaphane on blood vessels damaged by hyperglycemia (high sugar levels), they noticed a nearly 75% reduction of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) molecules in the body. High levels of ROS -the result of increased blood sugar- can damage cells. The researchers noted sulforaphane also protected cells by triggering a protein that activated antioxidant enzymes.
“Our study suggests that compounds such as sulforaphane from broccoli may help counter processes linked to the development of vascular disease in diabetes,” said Professor Paul Thornalley of the University of Warwick. His team’s appears in the journal Diabetes. Thornalley added that he expects future tests of a brassica vegetable-rich diet could yield further health benefits for diabetic patients.
"It is encouraging to see that Professor Thornalley and his team have identified a potentially important substance that may protect and repair blood vessels from the damaging effects of diabetes,” said Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK. "It also may help add some scientific weight to the argument that eating broccoli is good for you."
That brings to mind the time when the first president Bush said since he was president he didn’t have to eat broccoli anymore. (I think the quote was “Read my lips: no more broccoli”) Well, good for him. It just means more of the natural, leafy panacea for the rest of us.
Stephen Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that destroys motor neurons. So far, progress in understanding this disease has been relatively slow, mainly because it has been difficult to obtain a decent supply of living motor neurons affected by the condition. New research done by John Dimos and Kit Rodolfa from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute has created in the laboratory a plentiful supply of cells that have the same genetic makeup as a patient with a particular disease.
A paper published online in the journal,Science, describes how they created the first stem cell lines from the skin of an elderly sick person, then coaxed these cells to become nerve cells genetically matched to those that had gone bad in a patient's spinal cord. By comparing diseased cells to normal cells in a Petri dish, scientists hope to better understand what causes disease and test new drugs.
This research builds upon the research we posted Jan. 18 titled Human embryo cloned from skin.
Courtesy CDC/Jim Gathany
Did you know back in February scientist and medical professionals selected the influenza virus strains for the upcoming flu season? Now that it is July the pharmaceutical companies are well into manufacturing, purification and testing the vaccine. Meanwhile, it is winter and flu season in the southern hemisphere and the virus is busy mutating. The big question on everyone’s mind is will it mutate so much that the northern hemisphere vaccine will be ineffective?
I agree with Dr. Steven Salzberg remarks in his recent Nature commentary…
"The current system, in which most of the world’s vaccine supply is grown in chicken eggs, is an antiquated, inefficient method requiring six months or more to ramp up production, which in turn means that the vaccine strains must be chosen far in advance of each flu season. More crucially it sometimes prevents the use of the optimal strain, as it did in 2007."
Influenza (the flu) is a serious disease
Each year in the United States, on average:
Some vaccine problems in the past
In recent years the match between the vaccine viruses and those identified during the flu season has usually been good. In 16 of the last 20 U.S. influenza seasons, including the 2007-08 season, the viruses in the influenza vaccine have been well matched to the predominant circulating viruses. Since 1988, there has only been one season (1997-98) when there was very low cross-reaction between the viruses in the vaccine and the predominate circulating virus and three seasons (1992-93, 2003-04, and 2007-08) when there was low cross-reaction (CDC). So after last year’s miscalculation the committee picked three new strains for the vaccine this year. One is a current southern hemisphere vaccine virus which they expect will still be present next year. In addition, they predict a second new Type A strain, known as H1N1/Brisbane/59, to also hit, along with a newer Type B/Florida strain.
Dr. Salzberg feels last year’s miscalculation was a failure…
"The harm was thus twofold; people fell ill and their trust in the vaccine system was undermined. This failure could have been predicted, if not prevented, through a more open system of vaccine design, a stronger culture of sharing in the influenza research community and a serious commitment to new technologies for production. The habits of the vaccine community must change for the sake of public health."
He goes on to suggest…
"The process of choosing flu-vaccine strains needs to be much more open. Other scientists, such as those in evolutionary biology with expertise in sequence analysis, could meaningfully contribute to the selection. At present, external scientists cannot review the data that went into the decision, nor can they suggest other types of data that might improve it."
Even with all of these miscalculations, I still feel getting the vaccine is worth the risk. But that doesn’t mean the process shouldn’t be improved. So once again I will be vaccinated and I will make sure my family is too—but what can we do as citizens to improve this process? What will you do?
Courtesy J.Vinther/YaleResearchers at Yale University are reporting the discovery of pigmentation within the fossilize feather from a bird or dinosaur. Using a powerful electron microscope, paleobiologist Jakob Vinther and his team claim that particles seen in the 100-million-year-old fossil appear to be similar to those seen in the feathers of living birds. This could mean that color - a characteristic long-thought lost in the fossil record - could someday be determined from the remains of pigment.
Vinther’s colleagues included Yale paleontologist Derek E. G. Briggs and Yale ornithologist Richard O. Prum. The results of their study will appear in an upcoming issue of Biology Letters. The research shows that dark stripes in the Cretaceous-aged feather display many similarities to the make-up of black melanin particles found in modern bird feathers. Melanin compounds determine color in plants and animals, a trait useful for such things as camouflage, species identification, and courtship display. In humans, melanin colors our skin and also protects us from overexposure to sunlight.
For a long time, the dark granules seen in fossilized feathers were thought to be the carbon remains of bacteria that had worked at decomposing the organism prior to fossilization. But advances in electron microscope technology have given scientists a closer - and clearer – picture of the feather’s structure, and instead show them to be fossilized melanosomes containing melanin pigment.
"Feather melanin is responsible for rusty-red to jet-black colors and a regular ordering of melanin even produces glossy iridescence,” Vinther said. “Understanding these organic remains in fossil feathers also demonstrates that melanin can resist decay for millions of years."
Under the scope, the lighter bands of the fossilized feather showed only the rock matrix, while the darker bands displayed traces of residue closely resembling the organic compounds found in the feathers of modern birds.
“You wouldn’t expect bacteria to be aligned according to the orientation of the feathers,” said Vinther.
Another bird fossil showed similar organic traces in the feathers surrounding its skull. The 55-million-year-old fossil from Denmark also preserved an organic imprint of the eye that showed structures similar to the melanosomes found in eyes of modern birds.
Nanostructure studies could one day provide paleontologists with evidence of colors other than just black and gray tones, and not just in fossil feathers. Vinther figures other organic remains such as fur from prehistoric mammals or fossil skin impressions from dinosaurs could prove to be the remains of the melanin.
Courtesy FasterDixOkay. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Every scene in Willow is frightening. Each scene is, in fact, somehow the most frightening scene. Will all of that become real too?”
Don’t worry, my doves, don’t worry.
You won’t be pursued through the forest by horrible pig dogs.
You won’t be puked on by a magic baby.
Your ethnicity won’t be slandered by drunks and soldiers.
You will not be captured and molested by hideous little rat men.
Monkeylike trolls will not chase you through derelict castles.
You won’t have to watch one of those awful trolls turn inside out and morph into a dragon. And you will not have to fight that dragon.
A shirtless Val Kilmer will not threaten you.
There will not be epic battles, nor attempted baby sacrifices.
You will not be stabbed by a man with a skull mask and an unspeakable caveman face.
A metal brazier will not chase you around a lightning-lit tower.
No wands will be brandished at you.
The town loudmouth will not belittle you in front of your family.
So, all in all, there’s relatively little to be concerned about. That said, there is one more most frightening scene to consider.
Do you remember when the army of Madmartigan and Airk Thaughbaer first laid siege to the fortress of Nockmark? Before Willow was able to fully control the powers of Cherlindrea’s wand and return Fin Raziel to her human, albeit greatly aged, form? You’ll recall that as soon as Airk, Madmartigan and Sorsha confront Bavmorda at the gates of Nockmark, the evil enchantress turns the whole of the attacking army into pigs. Once they were pigs things don’t seem so bad, but the process of turning into pigs was horrible to watch. There were hoof-hands everywhere, and emerging piggy snouts, and tusks, and oinking, and everybody looked really sweaty. It was very frightening to see, and it’s happening in our own plane of existence: human-pig hybrids have been given the go-ahead in England.
Careful examination of the story clearly indicates that half human, half pig creatures like those in Willow are neither the intent here, nor are they actually possible from these experiments. But I tend to believe what I imagine is the case more than what I’m old is the case.
If you do want to waste your time with what you’re told, however, listen up:
The aim of this research is in no way to create a weird pig man. Or a weird man pig. The goal is actually to put human DNA from skin cells into a pig egg that has had its chromosomes removed, and then let it develop into an embryo. In fact, the scientists involved are attempting to create an embryo with no animal DNA left in it at all (kind of ironic, I suppose).
There’s more to it, of course, but the idea is this: the human DNA put into the eggs will be DNA taken from people with a genetic heart disease. As the scientists observe the transformation from egg to embryo, they hope to better understand the molecular mechanics of the disease. That information could then be used to create better treatments for people living with related heart conditions. None of the “hybrids” will develop past the very first stages of being an embryo (basically a featureless sphere of cells).
Or, if you’re into letting your gut and imagination do your critical thinking for you…prepare yourself for Island of Doctor Moreau Earth.
Courtesy DistortedSmileThe more I learn about meditation, the more intrigued I am by it. I mean, meditation has it all: it can allow you to freeze yourself in a block of ice, walk across a bed of hot coals, and look like you’re asleep without actually being asleep (this is all according to what I learned from television, anyway).
Now there’s a new item, to add to the list of meditation-induced superhuman qualities: a huge, swollen brain. Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted? A rippling, throbbing, , Humungus, brain? Now’s your chance.
Researchers at Harvard have shown that regular meditation thickens your cortex. Generally the cortex thins as we age, but this area of gray matter, or, as some scientists call it, “thought goo,” seems to get thicker with age, at least in folks who meditate.
The study took a group of 20 experienced meditators, and compared their brain scans with those of 15 nonmeditators. During the brain scanning, meditators meditated, and nonmeditators “thought about whatever they wanted” (so, like, cigarettes, animals in clothing, detergent commercials, and clouds shaped like stuff. You know: stuff we normals enjoy).
All participants were adults, and came from a range of professions (except for 4 of the meditators, who actually were teachers of meditation or yoga).
The scans indicated that people who meditated an average of 40 minutes a day had gray matter of increased thickness, compared to the nonmeditators. What’s more, people who had been in the habit of meditating for a longer period of time had “the greatest changes in brain structure,” suggesting that meditation was the cause for the increase in gray matter, and not that people with thick gray matter are more inclined to meditate.
The increase in thickness, it should be said, only amounts to 4 to 8 thousandths of an inch—sadly not enough to make your brain bulletproof. The difference was consistent, however between people who meditated and those who did not, and further studies are planned to examine how this change might affect the health of a meditator.
Because meditation seems to counteract thinning of the brain over time, there’s some thought that the practice could slow—or reverse—the aging of the brain.
Monks and yogis, a researcher points out, suffer from the same ailments as they age as the rest of us, but they claim an increased capacity for attention and memory.
It’s still a toss up, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, monks may enjoy a lucid old-age, but that means they sacrificed tons of time meditating in their youth, when they could have been taking hard drugs and listening to rock and roll. I suppose it just depends on where your priorities are.
For decades, scientists have been growing microbes in their labs and watching them evolve new traits. Most of the changes tend to be simple things, like an increase in size or growth rate.
But Dr. Richard Lenski of Michigan State University (just 2 miles from my house!) recently witnessed a major evolutionary leap--as it was happening. Twenty years ago, he took a colony of E. coli, a common bacteria, and split it into 12 identical populations. He’s been watching ever since to see if the strains evolve in different directions.
A few years ago, one of them did. One of his study strains suddenly evolved the ability to eat citrate, a molecule found in citrus fruits. No other E. coli in the world can do this, not even the other strains in Dr. Lenski’s lab. Even given several extra years and thousands of extra generations, the other strains are still citrate-averse. What’s more, the bacteria evolved this mutation entirely on their own, without any prodding or genetic manipulation from the researchers.
Lenski had saved frozen reference samples of all of his strains at regular intervals. Going back and growing new cultures from these samples, he again finds that only those from one strain ever evolve the citrate-eating habit – and only those sample less than about 10 years old. Lenski figures that some mutation happened around that time in one strain – and one strain only – that would later lead to citrate eating. He and his lab are now working on figuring out exactly what that mutation is.
Courtesy Matt & Helen HammA new study out of Ohio State University has shown that pigs raised outdoors, antibiotic-free, on “animal friendly” farms are more likely to be infected with parasites and bacteria than animals from conventional farms. That’s sort of a surprise—that pigs without antibiotics would have more…biotics
Two of the infections found in the pigs have been seen around Science Buzz recently: toxoplasma gondii, the cat poop parasite, and salmonella, that troublesome bacteria that’s been getting in our tomatoes.
Also found in the antibiotic-free pigs was the parasite Trichinella spiralis, a round worm that can cause very serious illness in humans. Only two of the six hundred or so pigs tested were found to be hosts to trichinella, but this is still a surprising figure for an organism that has been nearly eradicated on conventional farms (veterinarians usually expect perhaps one pig in fourteen thousand to contain trichinella).
So that’s kind of yucky.
But consider this: even pigs treated with antibiotics were not free of salmonella and toxoplasma. 54% of untreated pigs had salmonella in their bodies, but so did 39% of treated pigs, and while about 7% of untreated pigs carried toxoplasma bacteria, over 1% of the treated pigs did too. Also, if you’re into the cruelty-free part of natural farming (not me—I’m all about cruelty to animals) it should be noted that the piggies aren’t actually sick, they’re simply carriers of these organisms.
The scientists behind the study are careful to point out that they aren’t recommending one form of pork production over the other—each has its benefits as well as its downsides. While pigs raised antibiotic-free are more likely to have higher rates of common bacteria of food safety concern, treated pigs can “create a favorable environment for strains of the bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.” So that’s no good.
The thing is, you shouldn’t really be worried about any of these pathogens, assuming that you handle and cook your pork properly, and don’t go around licking pigs and things.
But far be it from me to judge that sort of thing.