Jan132012

Bye bye bye to animal testing?

Many have heard and provided concerns for the use of animal testing in labs. Whether it be with vaccines or medications, millions of animals have been sacrificed over the years in the name of science. For example, labs in Germany use and ultimately kill about 2.41 million animals per year, including rats, mice, and rabbits, and the number is continuously increasing. There have always been attempts to discover a new method of testing that doesn’t involve killing so many animals, but not many have been successful until now. In Munich, Germany at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies (EMFT), researchers have discovered that the use of novel nanosensors may be used to decrease the number of tested and killed animals. By taking isolated living cells from humans and animals and placing them in test tubes, they can distribute whatever substance they may be testing and study the effects by observing what occurs in the test tubes. Through the use of sensor nanoparticles developed by a group of scientists in Germany, the state of well being of the cell can be monitored by detecting the amount of ATP in a cell to help determine the cell’s activity. Similar to our glowing bacteria lab, the nanoparticles are given two types of fluorescent dyes where one of the dyes is sensitive to ATP and the other is used as a reference or a control. These nanoparticles are then added to the living cells and they are observed under a fluorescence microscope to view their ATP concentration. As one example in the article, this can be helpful for future chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients. http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2012/01/11/fewer_animal_experiments_thanks_to_nanosensors.html

Jan102012

Super Bacteria

Lurking is the cleanest wastewater?

At the University of Minnesota, they have studied that tested wastewater from technology has been a anti-biotic resistant for bacteria. The study also suggests that wastewater treated using standard technologies probably contains far greater quantities of bacteria with antibiotic-resistant genes than is generally recognized, but this likely goes unnoticed because background levels of bacteria are normally much higher than the water studied in this research.

Antibiotics are widely used to treat bacterial infections, but the ever increasing presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has raised substantial concern about the future effectiveness of antibiotics.
For this study, researcher LaPara says that, the treatment of wastewater should be carefully examined throughly for it to be safe.

Jan092012

Natural Sex Change?

Competing for mates is a large part of nature and biology in general.  It determines who gets to reproduce and therefore which genes get passed on to new generations.  These are fundamentals of natural selection.  But what happens to those who can’t find mates? Do they just die? or do they find a way?  In the instance of the male clownfish, creativity may save ones genes.  Clownfish are known for having monogamous relationships, meaning that like humans, they only mate with one person and stay with them.  So when a male clownfish can’t find someone to be his other half, or his mate dies, it has a trick up its sleeve.  It turns into a female.  It puts on weight to match the size of the larger female clownfish and changes sex.  Now a female, the clownfish has more options. For other mating tricks, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/evolution/creature-courtship.html

Jan092012

The Hitchhiker Snail

It has been discovered that tiny Japanese snails, Tornatellides boeningi, are able to survive being eaten by birds. These tiny gastropods make their way through the digestive system and out the other end while staying perfectly healthy. This is very shocking considering the harmful digestive fluids and feces produced as well as the long digestive process. It can take up to two hours before the snails leave the body.  It is assumed that the snails survive because of their small size and compact shells. They are less than a tenth of an inch long. It is also believed that the snails shield themselves with a mucus film called the epiphragm which seals their bodies from digestive fluids. The ability to survive this harrowing event allows these snails to colonize quickly and over a great area. They are very widespread. Biologist Shinichiro Wada of Tohoku University found these snails at opposite ends of Hahajima Island, an island south of Japan. It also allows for survival of the fittest. Over time the strong Tornatellides boeningi will survive and continue passing through birds but the weak will die. The strong snails will proceed to mate and reproduce their strong offspring. Many snails are known to live through fish guts but this is the first snail known to pass through a bird. When Wada fed 174 live snails to Japanese bulbuls more than 15 percent of them lived. One snail was said to even give birth shortly after emerging from the bird! This is how tough these little snails are.

http://discovermagazine.com/2011/oct/13-the-scatological-hitchhiker-snail

Jan092012

Discoveries offer first new hope for lethal pediatric brain tumor

DIPG or Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma is a cancerous tumor located in the middle of the brain stem.

This disease takes away control of basic body functions such as talking, swallowing and moving one’s eyes or limbs, but leaves victims aware of what is happening as their condition declines. The cancer primarily affects children ages 5 to 9, striking 200 to 400 children per year in the United States. This cancer is really hard to treat because of its location in the brain. Surgery is impossible, there is no affective chemotherapy drugs, and radiation on offers temporary remission. However, there is still hope! A Stanford University medical research team received donations of DIPG tumors from two DIPG victims. They believe that the area known as the hedgehog pathway is the key to the driving development of the DIPG cells. They have isolated the tumor cells and are growing them for further studies of DIPG biology and to conduct early stage tests of potential drugs. Many pharmaceuticals are trying to develop a drug that could inhibit the hedgehog signaling pathway. There is new hope!

Dec202011

We weren’t the smartest, but perhaps the luckiest

Today, it’s very hard to imagine a species that even comes close to our intelligence, but there actually was a hominid that was even smarter than us. The Boskop species were a group of hominids who lived in southern Africa that hosted a childlike face and a brain 30% larger than our own. This type of size difference would mean that the intelligence of a Boskop compared to ours would be like our intelligence opposed to homo erectus! It is speculated that one of the things that made the Boskops superior to even humans today was their amazing memories. When we walk around the street or school, we remember a few sights and familiar people. With a Boskop’s memory, we would remember small details of our surroundings, any conversations or music that went on, and maybe even information from other senses like smell.

But even with this gifted intelligence, our species still was the sole survivor of the hominids- not the Boskops. Which makes you wonder how lucky we are to be in the position we are on this earth and how different our lives may be if our smarter relatives had survived.

Dec202011

Mike Brooks’ Zombie Ant Survival Guide

So, we have all heard about zombies, yes? Imagining our fellow humans reverting to an almost feral state, searching to consume our brains and/or other major body organs is terrifying to be sure. Luckily for humanity, the undead are not a major issue in our society. For the society of Camponotus Leonardi ant, however, the walking dead threaten their very way of life. Well, maybe it’s not safe to say “dead”, more like “brainwashed”.  The bacterial spore Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis requires very specific conditions to grow, which includes temperature, humidity, and even distance from the ground. To this end, O. Unilateralis infects surrounding ants and soon gains control of their muscular systems. Then, it forces the ant to go to a specific leaf, where the ant bites on in a “death grip”. Eventually, the ant dies, and the fungus inside of it grows to the point where it breaks through the ant’s exoskeleton and releases its spores.

Curiously, ants who manage to detect an infected member of their colony often move it to a different location, away from where it could do the most harm. It appears that, in response to the invasion of O. Unilateralis, ants have developed basic quarantine procedures. Luckily for us humans, The “Zombie Fungus” has not spread to humans yet, and in fact may have some effects against hypoglycemia and tumors. Still, C. Leonardi ants face a scenario every day that most of us can only have nightmares about.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fungus-makes-zombie-ants

Dec202011

Possible Cure for Hemophilia

Hemophilia is  a disease whose victims could potentially bleed to death from simple injuries. People with hemophilia can’t successfully clog their own wounds, like most people without it can. They could easily bleed internally to death, or externally from simple injuries. This disease has been around for an extremely long time, and many people have had to deal with it. Earlier this year there was a trial done, that ended up with curing hemophiliac mice. In order to test this out on humans, scientists gave six patients a gene therapy treatment. This was done by injecting them with a virus that was carrying a functioning version of the gene for the defective clotting issue. The virus put this gene into liver cells of the hemophiliac patients. This then caused the building of the clotting factor and the patients were able to keep high levels of this for over 6 months. The good news is, that four of the patients were able to stop receiving injections altogether! Could this be the new potential cure for hemophilia?

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/12/12/four-hemophiliac-patients-successfully-treated-with-gene-therapy/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+80beats+%2880beats%29

Dec202011

Cure For Breast Cancer?

With breast cancer effecting 1 in 8 people it seems like there is no way to stop it. Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and the University of Georgia may have found an end. They have developed a vaccine that radically reduces tumors in a mouse model that mimics 90 percent of human breast and pancreatic cancer cases. When cells become cancerous, the sugars on their surface proteins undertake changes that set them apart from healthy cells. Scientists have tried to enable the immune system to distinguish those differences to eliminate the cancer cells. But since cancer cells originate within the body, the immune system generally doesn’t recognize them as foreign and therefore doesn’t attack them. The vaccine has been developed to train the immune system to distinguish and kill cancer cells based on their different sugar structures on proteins such. They are presently testing the vaccine’s success against human cancer cells. If all goes well, stage I clinical trials to test the safety of the vaccine could begin by late 2013.

Dec202011

Ants Kill With Airborne Chemical

Many types of insects have venom that kills theyre prey or enemies. Aline Rifflet from Jean-Francois Champollin University Center studied the African ant, Crematogaster striatula. This ant isn’t like any ant we’d find in our area. These ants have flexible stingers that are attatched to their back end that they can aim in any direction. They are able to raise their stingers and project an airborn poison to attack. They mainly attack against termites so they can raid theyre nest. When this toxin is relaesed into the air, termites quickly begin to feel its deadly affects. Just after ten minutes of the ants deadly projection, the termite begins to shake; rolling onto their backs with their legs scurrying in the the air. And shortly after that they are paralyzed, no longer able to move. If they were smart like most, they would retreat from the ants, but it is in their nature to defend their homes no matter what kind of danger they may face. I can imagine you know who won the battle. The ants are then able to move in on the termite nest once the enemy is down.  With the information researchers have gathered, they may be able to make a new insecticide (a pesticide used against insects).

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/12/15/look-no-hands-ants-kill-termites-with-airborne-chemical-weapons/