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Genetics

The science behind real life zombies

Zombies: Science Fiction vs. Fact

zombies ahead

In the spirit of Halloween we bring you the science fact and fiction behind the undead. Zombies, those brain loving little guys, (and girls) are everywhere. Sure, we are all familiar with the classic  zombie, but did you know that we aren’t the only zombie lovers out there? It turns out that nature has its own special types of zombies, but this isn’t a science fiction movie, this is science fact! Sometimes fact can be scarier than fiction, so let’s dive in.

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Vitamins A and C help erase cell memory

epigenetics

epigenetics

Vitamins A and C aren’t just good for your health, they affect your DNA too. Researchers have discovered how vitamins A and C act to modify the epigenetic ‘memory’ held by cells; insight which is significant for regenerative medicine and our ability to reprogramme cells from one identity to another.

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Mental illness genetically linked to drug use and misuse

anxiety depression

anxiety depression

There are many reports of drug use leading to mental health problems, and we all know of someone having a few too many drinks to cope with a bad day. Many people who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder indulge in drugs, and vice versa. As severity of both increase, problems arise and they become more difficult to treat. But why substance involvement and psychiatric disorders often co-occur is not well understood.

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Largest-ever study reveals environmental impact of genetically modified crops

gmo crops

gmo crops

According to new research, widespread adoption of genetically modified crops has decreased the use of insecticides, but increased the use of weed-killing herbicides as weeds become more resistant. This is the largest study of genetically modified crops and pesticide use to date. The team of economists studied annual data from more than 5,000 soybean and 5,000 maize farmers in the U.S. from 1998 to 2011, far exceeding previous studies that have been limited to one or two years of data.

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A microRNA plays role in major depression

mental health

mental health

A tiny RNA appears to play a role in producing major depression, the mental disorder that affects as many as 250 million people a year worldwide. Major depression, formally known as major depressive disorder, or MDD, brings increased risk of suicide and is reported to cause the second-most years of disability after low-back pain.

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Trauma’s epigenetic fingerprint observed in children of Holocaust survivors

I swear I didn't kill anyone
I swear I didn't kill anyone

Image credit goes to the one and only — very talented — Lora Zombie

The children of traumatized people have long been known to be at increased risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mood and anxiety disorders. However, there are very few opportunities to examine biologic alterations in the context of a watershed trauma in exposed people and their adult children born after the event.

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Microcephaly discoveries in non-Zika cases explain abnormal brain growth

microcephaly

microcephaly

Long before Zika virus made it a household word, the birth defect called microcephaly puzzled scientists and doctors — even as it changed the lives of the babies born with it during the pre-Zika era. But new discoveries reported by an international team of scientists may help explain what happens in the developing brains of babies still in the womb, causing them to be born with small brains and heads.

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From Sci Fi to reality: Unlocking the secret to growing new limbs

growing new limbs

growing new limbs

Many lower organisms retain the miraculous ability to regenerate form and function of almost any tissue after injury. Humans share many of our genes with these organisms, but our capacity for regeneration is limited. So scientists are studying the genetics of these organisms to find out how regenerative mechanisms might be activated in humans.

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FAMIN or feast? Newly discovered mechanism influences how immune cells ‘eat’ invaders

macrophage

macrophage

A new mechanism that affects how our immune cells perform – and hence their ability to prevent disease – has been discovered by an international team of researchers. To date, researchers have identified hundreds of genetic variants that increase or decrease the risk of developing diseases from cancer and diabetes to tuberculosis and mental health disorders.

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Embryonic gene Nanog reverses aging in adult stem cells

aging

aging

The fountain of youth may reside in an embryonic stem cell gene named Nanog. In a series of experiments, the gene kicked into action dormant cellular processes that are key to preventing weak bones, clogged arteries and other telltale signs of growing old. The findings also show promise in counteracting premature aging disorders such as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome.

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Stem cells feel the force

funny stem cell comic

funny stem cell comic

All cells share the same genetic code, no matter if they are skin or brain cells. However, these cells are exposed to very different types of mechanical environments and mechanical stresses. For example, brain tissue is very soft, whereas bone is hard. Researchers know that cells respond to extrinsic forces by changing their structure and their gene expression to be better suited for their particular environments and to be able to execute their specific functions.

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Erasing unpleasant memories with a genetic switch

erasing memories

erasing memories

Researchers have managed to erase unpleasant memories in mice using a ‘genetic switch’.  Dementia, accidents, or traumatic events can make us lose the memories formed before the injury or the onset of the disease. Researchers have now shown that some memories can also be erased when one particular gene is switched off.

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Alzheimer’s genetics point to new research direction

Genetics of alzheimer's

Genetics of alzheimer's

A analysis of genetic mutations which cause early-onset Alzheimer’s disease suggests a new focus for research into the causes of the disease. Previous research has revolved around the idea that accumulation in the brain of a small, sticky protein fragment — amyloid beta — causes Alzheimer’s disease.

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Genetic repeats suggest role for DNA instability in schizophrenia

schizophrenia

My friend has a glass eye and unless you knew the story you might not think anything of it. His older brother did it. You read that correctly, in a schizophrenic induced confusion he tried to killed him. He never held what happened against his older brother, he was sick, how could he? The courts say, he cannot visit his brother while he’s in prison. This could’ve been avoided with early detection and now international researchers have used a new technique to identify significantly more DNA sequence repeats in patients with schizophrenia than in control individuals.

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Fear factor: A new genetic candidate for treating PTSD

I swear I didn't kill anyone
I swear I didn't kill anyone

Image credit goes to the very talented: Lora Zombie

Researchers have identified a new genetic candidate for testing therapies that might affect fear learning in people with PTSD or other conditions. Individuals with trauma- and stress-related disorders can manifest symptoms of these conditions in a variety of ways. Genetic risk factors for these and other psychiatric disorders have been established but do not explain the diversity of symptoms seen in the clinic – why are some individuals affected more severely than others and why do some respond better than others to the same treatment?

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The truth is out there: Scientists unlock X-Files DNA mystery

x files

x files

Scientists have unlocked a crucial part of the mystery as to how our DNA can replicate and repair itself – something which is essential for all life forms. The new research has revealed how branched DNA molecules are removed from the iconic double-helical structure -a process which scientists have been looking to unlock for over 20 years.

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Converting cells to burn fat, not store it

carb loading cat

carb loading cat

Researchers have uncovered a new molecular pathway for stimulating the body to burn fat — a discovery that could help fight obesity and cardiovascular disease.By focusing on a protein known as folliculin, and knocking out the gene that produces it in fat cells, the researchers triggered a series of biomolecular signals that switched the cells from storing fat to burning it.

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Epigenetic study of lactose intolerance may shed light on the origin of mental illness

mental health

mental health

A new study on the epigenetics of lactose intolerance may provide an approach to understanding schizophrenia and other complex, serious illnesses. While that may seem odd, both lactose intolerance and schizophrenia are inherited. In addition, neither condition emerges in the first years of life, but rather both appear years or even decades later.

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Bad news, fructose alters hundreds of brain genes

high sugar milkshake

high sugar milkshake

Got a sweet tooth? Maybe you even have some sugary goodness with you right now… as you are reading this. Well you may want to put that down.We know a range of diseases — from diabetes to cardiovascular disease, and from Alzheimer’s disease to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — are linked to changes to genes in the brain. Unfortunately for those who love their pop tarts, a new study  has found that hundreds of those genes can be damaged by fructose, a sugar that’s common in the Western diet, in a way that could lead to those diseases.

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Celiac disease: ‘Junk’ DNA not quite junk

celiac disease

celiac disease

Despite the fad to go ‘gluten free,’ the only people who actually suffer from consumption of gluten are those with coeliac disease — so if you don’t have the disease and like to limit yourself to gluten-free foods, you are missing out, and no gluten intolerance is not a real thing. The problem comes from the immune system and is manifested as intolerance to gluten — tasty proteins present in wheat, rye, and barley that help give baked goods their fluff. The intolerance leads to an inflammatory reaction in the small intestine that hampers the absorption of nutrients.

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Uncovering the genetic elements that drive regeneration

deadpool tiny hand
deadpool tiny hand

It’s still growing, but it’s already bigger than Trumps….

Lose a hand or a leg? It will grow back… oh wait, it won’t, but why not? Trace our evolution — long before the shedding of gills or the development of opposable thumbs — and you will likely find a common ancestor with the amazing ability to regenerate lost body parts. There is theoretically no reason why we shouldn’t be able to regenerate, not quite like in the movie Deadpool, but come on, would you really complain at that point?

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Stopping organ rejection: An end to the medication

organ transplant medicaitons

organ transplant medicaitons

If you’re a transplant recipient you know that transplant organs are a veritable ticking time bomb waiting to be rejected by your well-meaning (but stupid) body. Not only can you do everything right and still have the organs rejected, you have to take a steady stream of expensive pills to inhibit the immune system and stop the body from launching its attack. Don’t throw your pill organizers away just yet, but soon.

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Spoiler alert: Water bears do not have extensive foreign DNA

apocalypse champion

apocalypse champion

Tardigrades, they are cute and cuddly — okay maybe not cuddly — but they have earned their nicknames, such as moss piglets or water bears. Mostly because they look like, well bears (although I don’t see a piglet personally). These guys are eight-legged microscopic animals that have long fascinated scientists for their ability to survive extremes of temperature, pressure, lack of oxygen, and even radiation exposure. Talk about a thrill seeker they can even survive in space, without a suit, where were humans when they were handing out those genes?

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Ancient viruses lurk in our DNA

ancient viral DNA

ancient viral DNA

Think your DNA is all human? Think again. And a new discovery suggests it’s even less human than scientists previously thought. Nineteen new pieces of non-human DNA — left by viruses that first infected our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago — have just been found, lurking between our own genes.

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