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We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for February, 2015

Life, NOT as we know it

alien life

Life as we know it, when we peer deep into the vastness of space we look for someone — or something — that resembles ourselves. Carbon based, needs water lifeforms, but what if we’re being narrow-minded? A new type of methane-based, oxygen-free life form that can metabolize and reproduce similar to life on Earth has been modeled by a team of researchers suggests we are being too closed minded about life.

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New compounds protect nerves from the damage of MS

multiple sclerosis

Autoimmune diseases are tough to live with, frankly we don’t really understand the reasons they start at all, how to treat them, or even where to start in forming a cure. Well there might be some good news — as far as a treatment goes anyway — a newly characterized group of pharmacological compounds block both the inflammation and nerve cell damage seen in mouse models of multiple sclerosis.

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Dr. Frankenstein might be impressed, the human head transplant

head transplant

Sure it sounds like something from the book Frankenstein, but Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group has made it known that he intends to announce at this summer’s American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons meeting, that he believes he has put together a group of techniques that should make it possible to attach a human donor body to a head.

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The food additive that may be promoting obesity and metabolic syndrome

food addtivesPeople say to avoid processed foods, while I don’t agree with that fully, a new study suggests that a common food additive may be causing problems. Emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life, can alter the gut microbiota composition and localization to induce intestinal inflammation that promotes the development of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome.

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Move over oil, new pretreatment could cut biofuel costs by 30 percent or more

biofuels

Alternative fuels have a few large problems making them horrible options over oil (which is already a horrible choice). However, researchers may have finally eliminated one of those problems, cost. The team has invented a novel pretreatment technology that could cut the cost of biofuels production by about 30 percent or more by dramatically reducing the amount of enzymes needed to breakdown the raw materials that form biofuels.

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Brain waves help memory formation

brain waves

Our brains generate a constant hum of activity: As neurons fire, they produce brain waves that oscillate at different frequencies. Long thought to be merely a byproduct of neuron activity, recent studies suggest that these waves may play a critical role in communication between different parts of the brain.

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New neurons in the adult brain help us adapt

neurons

The discovery that the human brain continues to produce new neurons in adulthood challenged a major dogma in the field of neuroscience, but the role of these neurons in behavior and cognition is still not clear. In a review article researchers synthesize the vast literature on this topic, reviewing environmental factors that influence the birth of new neurons in the adult hippocampus, a region of the brain that plays an important role in memory and learning.

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Mental illness and ultradian rhythms

sleep

In the relatively new 24 hour, always on the go, digital lifestyle we live — might living a structured life with regularly established mealtimes and early bedtimes lead to a better life and perhaps even prevent the onset of mental illness? Well according to a new study, it might do just that, you could have a better quality of life just by being a little more structured thanks to our circadian rhythm.

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Overriding muscles’ energy efficiency to burn more fat

diet

What started as an evolutionary protection against starvation has become a biological “bad joke” for people who need to lose weight. The human body doesn’t distinguish between dieting and possible starvation, so when there is a decrease in calories consumed, human metabolism increases its energy efficiency and weight loss is resisted.

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Predicting the effectiveness of cancer vaccines

cancer

Cancer vaccines, once they were science fiction and now they are designed to turn the body’s own immune system specifically against tumor cells. Particularly promising are vaccines that are directed against so-called neoantigens — which are proteins that have undergone a genetic mutation in tumor cells and, therefore, differ from their counterparts in healthy cells.

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Hipster liver wants to remind everyone

Hipster liver

A point of note, your kidneys and liver do a great job of “detoxing” the body. There is no special thing you need to do or buy to help it along; if you really want to give your liver a high five for being awesome, just drink in moderation.


Scientists find anti-HIV agent and possible start for a vaccine

hiv cure

We may just have found a missing link in the fight towards an HIV vaccine. No, this is not an over-hyped headline, in a remarkable new advance against the virus that causes AIDS, scientists have announced the creation of a novel drug candidate that is so potent and universally effective, it might work as part of an unconventional vaccine.

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Shopping while hungry leads to more non-food purchases

This comic by The Oatmeal, check out his site for more awesomeness.

This comic by The Oatmeal, check out his site for more awesomeness.

Ever go shopping when you’re hungry and notice you walked out with a lot more than you were expecting to buy? While most people know that when you are hungry, you typically will buy more food (as illustrated by The Oatmeal above), new research shows that there is a clear link between hunger and buying non-food items.  A team of international researchers has released a paper that describes five laboratory and field studies they conducted which showed how people respond to non-food objects when they are hungry.

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Why low-carb or fasting diets are good for your health

Low-Carb-Diet

While most research regarding fat loss focuses on the risks of being overweight, a new study shows that fasting, low-carb diets, or high-intensity exercise have specific health benefits. Specifically, researchers have found that a compound produced by the body when dieting or fasting can block a part of the immune system involved in several inflammatory disorders such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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The “successful aging” debate

aging

We see it everyday in advertising, turn back the clock, reverse aging — look, feel, and be younger. With all these standards, how do you define aging, or more importantly successful aging. Scholars have long debated what successful aging is, how to measure it, and how to promote it. But researchers are now laying the groundwork for building consensus on the topic — while pointing out that the answer may differ among academics and the general public, as well as across populations and demographic groups.

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A very Sciencey Valentine’s day

valentines-day

Happy valentines day! Okay maybe it’s turned into more of a reason to spend money on chocolate and flowers than it is about showing affection — which is probably why some people hate it — but it can still be a somewhat special day. Unfortunately I’ve been struggling on what I could do for my wife on valentines day. So I thought I would work it out here and maybe even help a few of you who are stuck as well.

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Interstellar helps physicists research spinning black holes

black hole inerstellar

There is a saying that life imitates art and while people like to disagree with the meaning of it, sometimes art can imitate life. For instance the team responsible for the Oscar-nominated visual effects at the centre of Interstellar, have turned science fiction into science fact by providing new insights into the powerful effects of black holes.

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Possible mechanism underpinning Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s type diseases found

alzhemers

Neurodegenerative diseases have remained stubbornly increasing in prevalence for sometime now. Unfortunately longer life does not mean a better quality of life. Thankfully that could change sooner than you think, scientists have for the first time discovered a killing mechanism that could underpin a range of the most intractable neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS.

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Music may reduce your ability to remember!

Music memory

Sometimes just turning on some background music really helps a person get things done. While music may help some people relax when they’re trying to concentrate, new research suggests that it doesn’t help them remember what they’re focusing on, especially as they get older.

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Seafood associated with autoimmune disease

fish

Autoimmunity is one of those great mysteries of the human body. We still aren’t sure what causes it and treating it can be painfully ineffective. Unfortunately my sister knows that one first hand, so here at the labs autoimmunity is a problem close to our heart. While we may not know what causes autoimmunity, a new study suggests one of the greatest risk factors for autoimmunity among women of childbearing age may be associated with exposure to mercury such as through seafood.

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Help on the horizon for treatment resistant depression

brain

Depression is like a kick while you’re already down. Sometimes there is no real reason for it, sometimes it is triggered by some serious life issues, but clinical depression always has very real neurological roots. Unfortunately, while we know that certain areas of the brain are smaller in a depressed person, we don’t know why or what effect it has on a person. Worse, SSRI’s the “gold standard” for depression can have no — or worse ill — effects on the person taking the drugs.

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‘Virtual virus’ unfolds the flu on a CPU

flu virus

The flu virus can be pretty nasty — it’s quick to evolve — which means yearly flu shots are needed and then it’s only a guess to which strain will be the most prevalent. Well new research aims to change all that, by combining experimental data from X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, cryoelectron microscopy and lipidomics (the study of cellular lipid networks), researchers have built a complete model of the outer envelope of an influenza A virion for the first time. So would that make it a computer virus, virus?

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Anorexia, it’s in your genes

eating disorder mirror

No one likes to talk about eating disorders — specifically anorexia nervosa — despite the increased prevalence in both men and women. Like depression people tend to think that you can “just get over it” or some other nonsense. However new research is shedding light on the truth behind anorexia, much like with depression, there is a biological component involved. Simply put, it gets written into your genes.

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Scientists find a way to treat hormone deficiency from an unlikely source

Cute Cow

Science has helped us to live longer and in some cases much fuller lives. Unfortunately for some with serious medical conditions, they may lead a long life, but a life of what? To that end a group of researchers set out to help people with hormone deficiencies and the team has developed a potential new therapy based on an unlikely model: immune molecules from cows.

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Meditation might mean more gray matter in later years

brain meditation

Since 1970, life expectancy around the world has risen dramatically, with people living more than 10 years longer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that starting when people are in their mid-to-late-20s, the brain begins to wither — its volume and weight begin to decrease. As this occurs, the brain can begin to lose some of its functional abilities.

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Study shows children and birds learn alike

Image credit goes to: John Petsel

Image credit goes to: John Petsel

Your child is your pride and joy — and why not, every parent should be a proud one, even if your child might be bird brained. Or maybe birds are baby brained? In any case, a new study has found that pigeons can categorize and name both natural and manmade objects–and not just a few objects. These birds categorized 128 photographs into 16 categories, and they did so simultaneously.

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Researchers discover viral ‘Enigma machine’

virus

Antibiotics are for infections, vaccines are for viruses, and unfortunately both bacteria AND viruses mutate. So when someone has AIDS for example it is hard to fight since a vaccine would be hard to produce given how rapidly it evolves. Well now researchers may be one step closer to solving the problem since they have cracked a code that governs infections by a major group of viruses which includes the common cold and polio.

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Scientists find the genetic trigger for immune system response

Immune-System

Mitochondria are the “powerhouse of the cell.” We all learn in biology that they have seemingly one function in the body, converting food and oxygen into energy. Well that might not be the case anymore; the thousands of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) molecules present in each cell have been identified in an unexpected relationship with the innate immune response.

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How social norms come into being

 

social norms

Fifteen years ago, the name “Aiden” was hardly on the radar of Americans with new babies. It ranked a lowly 324th on the Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names. But less than a decade later, the name became a favorite, soaring into the top 20 for five years and counting. Now, a new study provides a scientific explanation for how social conventions — everything from acceptable baby names to standards of professional conduct — can emerge suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, with no external forces driving their creation.

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Alternatives to antibiotics in an antibiotic resistant world

antibiotic resistance

super bugs

Let’s be honest, we’ve been getting a little fancy with the antibiotics, creating new and more relevant versions of old favorites like penicillin. Truthfully, we are the problem, how many times do we have to drive home the idea that antibiotics are for bacteria, not viruses. It is not all the consumers fault, the Doctors used to hand out antibiotics to placate angry parents of sick children.

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