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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for October, 2014

New Genetic Editing Technique Offers Novel Treatment of Defects

gene_editing

The promises of genetic modifications are endless, longer life, better health, cures for genetic based diseases that would otherwise cause an unimaginable amount of suffering all wiped out. We’ve come a long way in genetic alteration thanks, in part, to the ever faster moving pace of science. While genetic modification is the thing of horror movies, it also can change the world in ways we cannot even imagine  — unfortunately getting genome-editing proteins into cells, where they need to be to access the genome, is a major challenge, especially in live animals or human patients.

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Zombies: Science Fiction vs. Fact

Zombies: Science Fiction vs. Fact

zombies

Well in the spirit of Halloween I thought I would make a nice little zombie post. Zombies, those brain loving little guys, [and girls] are everywhere. From shows like The Walking Dead — a zombie show where they call them anything but zombies– to video games, music videos, and weird romance stuff. Even the zombie itself takes on a different life depending on the person and film.

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More Genetic Links Behind Autism

autism

Vaccines do NOT cause autism. One more time, vaccines DO NOT cause autism. So what does cause autism, that problem has been plaguing scientists for awhile now. Thankfully two major genetic studies of autism and involving more than 50 laboratories worldwide, have newly implicated dozens of genes in the disorder. The research shows that rare mutations in these genes affect communication networks in the brain and compromise fundamental biological mechanisms that govern whether, when, and how genes are activated overall.

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Scientists resurrect 700-year-old viruses, Just in time for Halloween!

virus

You know how some zombie movies start with a discovery of a virus, it gets loose, and things quickly spiral out of control from that? Well in breaking news a team of researchers have found two 700-year-old viral sequences in frozen caribou dung in an arctic ice patch. The group isolated part of a viral RNA genome and the complete genome of a DNA virus. Then they infected living plants with the DNA virus, what could go wrong?

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Research Shows Synapses are Always Ready to Go

firing_neurons_close2

The inner workings of the brain are quick, but really they have to be. Neurons need to be able to rapidly propagate information in their interior via electrical signals and they communicate with each other at special contact points known as the synapses. These chemical messenger substances (known as neurotransmitters) are stored in vesicles at the synapses. When a synapse becomes active, some of these vesicles fuse with the cell membrane and release their contents. To ensure that valuable time is not lost, synapses always have some readily releasable vesicles on standby.

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The Cause Behind Seizures post-Vaccination

Baby-vaccination

The anti-vaccination movement is a dangerous one. Children are falling ill (and in certain cases dying) over nothing more than fear and misinformation. The problem is science doesn’t have all the answers and it is tempting to look to someone — or in this case a group of someones– who claim to have those answers, true or not. Well science eventually gets the answers we need and now scientists have found genetic clues to explain why a small number of children have febrile seizures—brief convulsions—after receiving the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

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The Oceans Link to Climate Change

An estimated 35,000 walruses are resting on land because the sea ice has melted Photo credit goes to: Corey Accardo NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/ANML.

An estimated 35,000 walruses are resting on land because the sea ice has melted
Photo credit goes to: Corey Accardo NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/ANML.

Hold on to your hats folks, we can all agree that most of the concerns about climate change have focused on the amount of greenhouse gases that have been released into the atmosphere. But in a new study a group of researchers have found that circulation of the ocean plays an equally important role in regulating the earth’s climate. Keep in mind this doesn’t mean global warming isn’t a man-made problem, please.

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The Genetics of Congenital Heart Defects Slowly Emerge from Down Syndrome Study

October-is-DSAM

Down syndrome, of all the genetic defects people are born with, is the most common (as far as chromosomal abnormalities go). Down syndrome involves having a third copy of all or part of chromosome 21 (for those who do not recall we are typically born with 23 pairs of chromosomes). In addition to intellectual disability, individuals with Down syndrome have a high risk of congenital heart defects. However, not all people with Down syndrome have them – about half have structurally normal hearts.

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The Genes Responsible for Immune System Reset after Infection

sick man

We’ve all been sick before, the aches and pains that come with it– most of the time including a fever — are all responses to our immune system kicking into high gear. But what if your body didn’t reverse course and go back to a, let’s call it” relaxed state.” Once the battle is won, the body’s efforts would be wasted on energy costing defense. A bad thing when the body really should be focusing on repairing the damage done by the foreign invaders.

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Converting Skin Cells to Neurons: A Fight Against Huntington’s

Photo credit goes to: Huntington Society of Canada PSA

A sad thought indeed.
Photo credit goes to: Huntington Society of Canada PSA

Neurological diseases are some of the hardest to fight against (in my opinion). The big reason is the brain, we still know so little about it and treatment for anything effecting it can be difficult to say the least. Take Huntington’s disease, an ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disorder. There is no cure and no real treatment, but that might change relatively soon thanks to a new discovery.

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Dude, wheres my Hover Car? Oh wait…

Hoverboard

Photo from Back to the Future

We all (of a certain age) remember the Jetsons, a futuristic family with hi-tech gadgets and gizmos. However, nothing said, “the future is here” quite like things hovering. Even in the movie Back to the future, they have hover boards and flying cars. Unfortunately we don’t, which is a shame because according to the 1950’s we are the future, we should have hover-cars and hover boards… well the wait is over. Yep, introducing the first real hover board!

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A Venusian Mystery Explored Once More

Photo Credit goes to NASA. Venera 13 Russian Probe, offering some of the only color photos on the surface of Venus.It only operated for about an hour.

Photo Credit goes to NASA. Venera 13 Russian Probe, offering some of the only color photos on the surface of Venus. Fun fact: It only operated for about two hours before it died.

Venus, the place where women are from… supposedly. To say Venus has a harsh climate would be an understatement, this is one of many reasons why we will never (or maybe not soon) see a “long lasting” Venus rover counterpart to our Mars rover missions. Still, the planet (much like all the other plants) can teach us a lot about not just our own origins, but the origins of the universe. Also like all our neighbor planets Venus is hiding something beneath its brilliant shroud of clouds, a mystery that might be soon solved, all thanks to a new re-analysis of twenty-year-old spacecraft data.

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DNA Nanotech: The First Large DNA Crystals

DNA nanocrystals

DNA is the stuff of life as we know it, but it is the potential as a programmable material platform that could spawn entire new and revolutionary nanodevices in computer science, microscopy, biology, and more. Researchers have been working to master the ability to coax DNA molecules to self assemble into the precise shapes and sizes needed in order to fully realize these nanotechnology dreams. A dream that been going on for 20 years now and was just realized.

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New Genetic Test to help Solve Rare Disease Diagnosis

Photo credit goes to the Lapidus family

Photo credit goes to the Lapidus family

My sister suffers from a rare disease which causes small fiber polyneuropathy, or the killing of nerves in her hands and feet. As it progresses she has trouble standing or using her hands. If that was the worst of it, then it might be liveable given the time between severe attacks is years or more. Unfortunately, it also causes intense and mostly constant pain and burning sensations, pain so bad that conventional narcotic painkillers have trouble controlling it. After some time working with the hospital I narrowed it down to autoimmune mediated. Her Doctors finally agreed, but only after first dismissing it as anything from she was faking it, all the way to lupus.

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A look at Air Pollution and Your Body

CHINA-ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION-HEALTH

We have all probably seen stories from China on the horrid air pollution there. Accompanying those reports of course are the statistics for air pollution that deaths have caused. For the record, the World Health Organization estimated that ambient air pollution caused 3.7 million premature deaths (worldwide) in 2012 alone – yet what exactly happens to your body when it encounters pollutants?

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The “New” Roots of our Friends the Mitochondria

Image credit goes to biovisions, by Harvard University [see video below]

Image credit goes to biovisions, by Harvard University [see video below]

Mitochondria, the proverbial “powerhouse” of the cell, mitochondria is found in virtually all eukaryotic cells, plant, or animal. Scientists thought that was pretty much the end of the story of our little friend. It was not a great explanation, but it was an explanation. Now new research is turning the idea– that our ancestor cells simply “swallowed up” bacterial cells that eventually became mitochondria– on its head.

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You can tell [my mood] by the way I walk

cat walking off counter

Ever see a guy walking down the street and know he’s depressed? Or how about someone happy, with a little bounce in their step? The way we walk says a lot and by some estimates roughly 90% of what we are telling people isn’t coming out our mouth, it’s all body language. Our walk says a lot about the kind of mood we are in, but in the question of what came first our mood or our walk, researchers have now shown that it works both ways.

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Carbon’s Place in a Silicon World

silicon

Everything is silicon based, well mainly your computer, your TV, your ipad, and pretty much every piece of electronics in existence. Still the world turns and so does technology; at a similarly fast pace no less. Even as the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics has enshrined light emitting diodes (LEDs) as the single most significant and disruptive energy-efficient lighting solution of today, scientists around the world continue unabated to search for the even-better-bulbs of tomorrow. In this search we are now ditching silicon for new carbon-based electronics.

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Free Radicals and Wound Healing

funny

Free radicals, said in the right crowd and you might hear someone scream for their life. Of course, to be perfectly transparent antioxidants have already shown to be bad in plenty of cases, so maybe it’s just bad PR. Still they were long assumed to be destructive to tissues and cells causing a host of age related problems with them. Well new research is showing that “free radicals” generated by the cell’s mitochondria—the energy producing “powerhouse” structures in the cell—are actually beneficial to healing wounds.

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Nothing Sticks to a new Bioinspired coating for medical devices

implant

Putting things in the body can be tricky, I mean we need things from joint replacements to cardiac implants and dialysis machines, these medical devices are needed to enhance or save lives on a daily basis. However, any device implanted in the body or in contact with flowing blood faces two critical challenges that can threaten the life of the patient the device is meant to help: blood clotting and bacterial infection. Problems that sound easier to fix than they actually are.

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Poop Pills, Yeah they are a Thing Now

Pills

When someone is lying it isn’t too abnormal to hear someone say, “you’re full of sh…” well you get the idea. Our poop defines us, the microbes that live in our digestive tract make it possible for us to digest food, absorb nutrients, and stay healthy. Heck they may even cause your cravings! Unfortunately sometimes –whether due to abuse of  antibiotics or some medical condition like C. diff infection– gut bacteria can work against us, leading to all sorts of problems. As of now, the only real way to fix it is a poop transplant, which can be invasive and the most effective poop transplants are not done anally, but orally.

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How the Brain Heals After a Stroke

stroke simulation

You have all the brain cells you’ll ever have when you reach adulthood. That was the science lesson I was taught in high school from, maybe a misguided teacher, or maybe just misinformed, I do not know. That statement however is not true, we know that the brain is very plastic and ever changing. It’s resilience still amazes us, even today with all that we know about it. Now a previously unknown mechanism through which the brain produces new nerve cells after a stroke has been discovered, showing us just how resilient the brain truly is.

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Solar Panel Hybrid is Cheap and Super Efficient

Solar Power

Solar cells are inefficient, it’s a sad fact. With todays technology they boast about a 10-15% efficiency, compare that to todays gas engine at roughly 20-25% and you can see it’s not quite up to par. Well that could all change very soon thanks to a new method for transferring energy from organic to inorganic semiconductors. This could boost the efficiency of widely used inorganic solar cells to as close as 100% efficiency as they can get.

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tRNA lookalikes in the Human Genome

Transfer-RNA

There was a time not long ago when we knew we had the longest genome. It was an obvious assumption because we are “in fact” the most intelligent and complex species on the planet. Boy were we wrong, as genetics progressed we came to realize that we weren’t as genetically special as we thought we were. We found that we had tons of “junk” DNA. Of course we continue to be wrong and we now know that we may not be the biggest genome on the planet, but we are still very complex and new research is proving that once again.

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The Blood-Brain Barrier and the Future of Medicine

The blood-brain barrier, not quite a brick and mortar defense from the outside world, but strangely enough it is extremely effective. The blood-brain barrier (BBB) acts as a bouncer, it keeps the bad things out, while helping to regulate certain aspects of the brain. To circumvent the BBB thousands of people have stimulators placed deep in their brains in the hope of curing their ills. Many require tubes, catheters, and shunts penetrating deep into their brain ventricles to deliver medicine or to drain over pressurized cerebral fluids. These devices have a crude and bulky insertion that is simply plowed through healthy brain tissue, sparing little in its path. In other words, we need to do better.

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Orange Corn Aims to Fight Vitamin A Deficiency

vitamin A blind

Corneal blindness often affects people at a young age, such as this twelve year old girl who is blind from vitamin A deficiency. She has had a penetrating corneal graft in her left eye; this has unfortunately failed. Image credit goes to: Lance Bellers

GMO food is still a hot button topic, honestly for no other reason than fear. Sure Monsanto is a big evil corporation, but the science is only as bad as what you do with it. In the modern fortified world we don’t think about vitamin deficiency or the horrible things that come with it, however vitamin A deficiency is a huge problem in developing countries. To combat this researchers have identified a set of genes that can be used to naturally boost the provitamin A content of corn kernels, a finding that could help combat vitamin A deficiency and macular degeneration in the elderly.

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Using “Programmable” Antibiotics to Attack Drug-Resistant Microbes

evolving

The body is pretty great at self regulation, that is up until it isn’t. The antibiotic era was one that improved human health hundreds of times over. Unfortunately health is a joint effort, a multitude of microbes scientists have found populating the human body have good, bad and mostly mysterious implications for our health. But when something goes wrong, we defend ourselves with the undiscriminating brute force of traditional antibiotics, which wipe out everything at once like a wild fire, regardless of the consequences.

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The Path of Antibiotic Resistance

resistance

MRSA, not that long ago we had no idea what MRSA was… mostly because it hadn’t come into prevalence. With an increase in the use and abuse of antibiotics there has been an ever growing pressure for the pathogens we treat to mutate in order to survive, this pressure is called selective pressure and helped cause drug-resistance in pathogens. In response to the rise of these drug-resistant pathogens, doctors are routinely cautioned against over prescribing antimicrobials. But when a patient has a confirmed bacterial infection, the advice is to treat aggressively to quash the infection before the bacteria can develop resistance.

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The Neurobiological Basis of a Human-Pet Relationship

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My wife adores our cats. Now, I’m not a cat person, but my wife loves them. In fact if we had children and someone held a gun to her head and said choose between the kid or the cats, there would likely be an uncomfortable amount of time before a response. The big question is, why do we love animals like we do our own children? Well a small study helps try to answer this complex question by investigating differences in how important brain structures are activated when women view images of their children compared to images of their own dogs.

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The Mysterious Origins of HIV Discovered

aids_hiv

There have been a lot of theories on where HIV came from, anywhere from the mundane, it spread from other animals. To the down right crazy, the government created it to wipe out homosexuals. Well bad news for conspiracy theorists, a new study suggests that the HIV pandemic with us today is almost certain to have begun its global spread from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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The Ever Plastic Brain and Intellectual Disabilities

brain

The plasticity of the brain is always somewhat of a shock. It’s near incredible what the brain can achieve, look at people who have strokes, or any other sort of brain injury and yet still somehow manage to get up and move, or perform tasks. So I guess it should be no surprise, but still amazing that studying mice with a genetic change similar to what is found in Kabuki syndrome (an inherited disease of humans) researchers report they have used an anticancer drug to improve mental function.

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