Category Archives: Biology

Treatment for white-nose syndrome

Have you ever heard about white-nose syndrome? White-nose syndrome is caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus dstructans, or P. destructans, which resulted a significant decrease in the Bat population in North America. However, recently, a team of scientists from the U.S Forest Service, U.S. Department of New Hampshire found out that UV light could be a treatment for the white-nose syndrome.

P. destructans can only transmit white-nose syndrome to bats during hibernation because its growth temperature range is highly limited to 39-68 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem is that it is not easy to treat bats during hibernation.

During the research, the researchers supposed that P. destructans is a true fungal pathogen that evolved alongside bat species in Europe and Asia for a long time, allowing Eurasian bats to have immunity against P. destructans. When comparing P. destructans to six related fungi, the research team found that P. destructans cannot repair DNA damage caused by UV light and observed that less than 1 percent of P. destructans survived when they were exposed to moderate UV-C light. Using comparative genomics and previous data from the study, the researchers concluded that the P. destructans does not have the repair enzymes for UV light, and UV light can be a possible treatment for the white-nose syndrome. The director of the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the Forest Products Laboratory Tony Ferguson says that this research does not only affects bats, but also have a huge influence to people since bats are helpful in developing the health of forests and production of food.

Most organisms that live in dark have the ability to repair DNA damage; However, P. destructans does not. “It is an unusual case,” Jon Palmer, the lead author of the study, says, “we are very hopeful that the fungus’ extreme vulnerability to UV light can be exploited to manage the disease and save bats.” The only process left for the researcher is to develop the UV light treatment that can be applied practically to the bats.


The Brain That Changes Itself

“The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.”
Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.

The book The Brain that Changes Itself has not only affected the influentials of neuroscience but also has created the turning point for the laypeople to be informed about the complexity of our cognitive organ: the brain.

Until the late 19th centuries, people had believed that neuron cells were not capable of presenting any resilient activities; thus, people thought that once the brain cell has been damaged, the cell is permanently gone. The researchers struggled to understand even the basic 10% of the infrastructures/faculties of the brain, and even in that small percentage had errors.

However, as the emergence of the 21 century, scholars of the field has developed neuroscience technology to “observe” the pattern of brain activities. Well, renown Canadian psychiatrist Norman Doidge was also one of the vanguards of such. His book-The Brain That Changes Itself- is still renown as a prominent opus that amazes the readers within its context dealing with the basics of the functions, to a clear explanation of the answer to the title.

Contrary to the original belief that after childhood the brain begins a gradual process of decline, he shows us that our brains have the remarkable power to grow, change, learn, recover, and has latent effects to the human nature.

The huge leap in the study of neuroscience explained in the book occurs as Doidge explains the “brain’s plasticity”. Long before, scientists believed that each part of the brain takes charge of given function. In the 1860s, with Paul Broca’s discovery that damage to a specific part of the brain—the left frontal lobe which was associated with speech impairment— bolstered the “locational theory”. With further evidence created by other eminent scientists, such as Carl Wernicke, Gustav Fritsch, and J. L. Hitzig, brain locational theory seemed to be the only answer to the unsolvable conundrum that troubled the clique of neuroscience for ages. However, a new theory is given as a novel key to unlock the latch of the mystery.

Plasticity theory, further elaborated in the book, states that now scholars embrace the recognition that the brain is plastic and can actually change itself with exercise and understanding. Although a newbie theory compared to the former one with the paucity of empirical evidence, the theory now pervades the area, flipping every corner of the sects of neuroscience.


Read more: Localization (Brain Function) – Functions, Theories, Damage, and Mental – JRank Articles


Bacterium is receiving signals?

Caltech, one of the most competitive and educative schools in the States, discovered new, creative methods to communicate with bacteria from inside to outside of the body. Yes, it might be complicated; however, the mechanism that was implemented in this experiment was really simple. Mikhail Shapiro, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Schlinger Scholar, and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator illustrated as “We are engineering the bacterial cells so  that they can bounce sound waves back to us and let us know their location the way a ship or submarine scatters sonar when another ship is looking for it.”

Apparently, making a new medicine or treatment method that involves bacteria is not new. It is an ordinary method that was used even back in 1900’s when the antibiotics were invented. It still shares the common feature-using bacteria. However, this method is directly communicating with bacteria for the purpose of both to gather intel on what’s happening in the body and give the bacteria instructions about what to do next. Apparently, this was an impossible task. But, one of the eminent scientists found out the type of bacteria that receives an ultrasound signal and reflect back when it receives it. Luckily, ultrasound is able to penetrate into human’s body, thus making it valid to utilize the bacteria in order to communicate with it.

But, that was not it. The team faced on another impediment that bacteria needs buoyancy in order to receive it. At that moment, Shapiro had a eureka moment about six years ago when he learned about gas-filled protein structures in water-dwelling bacteria that help regulate the organisms’ buoyancy. The problem was solved, they were huddling each other, and the only goal was to make it happen in real life. They decided to utilize Escherichia coli, which is commonly used in microbial therapeutics, such as probiotics. After the numerous times struggling to make E-coli produce gas vesicles by themselves, the team finally made it happen.

This wonderful, astonishing discovery needs to be tested further and may be used in humans in short future.



Which is smarter?

People are wondering which is smarter, cat or dog. They can get a clear answer from neuroscientists. Intelligence is concerned with the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is a group of neurons where each of its section has different ability. The cerebral cortex is in charge of memory, concentration, and thought. Famous neuro-scientist Herculano-Houzel wanted to find the relationship between the number of neurons in the brain and size of the brain in his research.  According to the research, “dogs have about 530 million cortical neurons while cats have about 250 million.” The researchers concluded that the number of neurons in a dog’s brain is larger than that of a cat’s brain and it is not required for smarter animals to have bigger brains than less intelligent animals do. Herculano-Houzel and her companions studied the brain of eight carnivore species-ferret, mongoose, raccoon, cat, dog, hyena, lion, and brown bear. They thought the carnivores would have more neurons in their brain than herbivores’ brains do because  hunting is a challenging job. However, the result was different from their hypothesis.  The researchers concluded that the number of neurons in an animal brain is independent from the size of the brain. For instance, a bear has 10 times larger brain than that of a cat, but the bear has almost the same number of neurons.

The hunting is a challenging and demanding work, so it requires a lot of energy. The brain also demands a great deal of energy as its number of neurons increases. If the carnivores have a great number of neurons, it would consume too much energy, making them harder to survive. That is why the carnivore has a smaller number of the neurons; however, it is not always applicable to all cases: that for raccoons. Although the raccoon has a small brain, it has as many nerve cells as we find in a primate’s brain. According to the neuroscientist, “not every species is made in the same way. Yes, there are recognizable patterns, but there are multiple ways that nature has found of putting brains together-and we’re trying to figure out what difference that makes.”

Anesthetics is not just putting you into a sleep?

“Take a deep breath, count down from 10 to 0, start now!”

“10, 9, 8, 7….”

You guys might have or might have not yet experienced this situation. Actually, this is not a incident that people would want to encounter. However, it is more likely for people to experience it at least one time in the whole life.

Yes, this is the process of anesthesia, and it requires anesthetic to induce sleep during surgery. For this reason, most of the people tend to think that these anesthetics only induce sleep and reduce pain. However, recent study proved that anesthetics are not just like a sleeping pill that makes people go to sleep immediately.

Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen said his team have overturned previous understanding of what general anesthetics do to the brain, claiming the drugs did much more than induce sleep. The team utilized propofol – one of the most common anesthetics used during surgery- in order to find its effects on brain. They found out that this intervenes and interrupts presynaptic mechanisms, which might affect communication between neurons across the entire brain in a systematic way.

PhD student Adekunle Bademosi said the discovery was focused on an important protein involved in communication between neurons. This protein called syntaxin1A causes the neuron to transmit and send the signals to other neurons; however, anesthetic restricts the movement of the protein, causing neurons to be incapable of sending signals.

This explains the general phenomenon that occurs during anesthesia, when people experience grogginess and disorientation after coming out of surgery.

Future studies might lead to improved drugs for surgery or reduce after-effects of surgery, researchers said.


Importance of Gene Therapy


Genes that are defective and do not work properly can cause a genetic disorder. Gene therapy is a technique that corrects defective genes responsible for the development of a disease. Researchers may use one of many approaches to correct faulty genes:
-A normal gene is inserted into a generic location in the genome to replace non-functional gene.
– Through homologous recombination, an abnormal gene is swapped for a normal gene.
– An abnormal gene is repaired through selective reverse mutation, returning it to its normal function.
– The regulation of a specific gene could be altered
Researchers have been working for many years to bring gene therapy to a clinic. Although only a few patients have received any fruitful gene therapy treatments, gene therapy cannot be said to be an impossible dream. Despite the fact that gene therapy is taking longer to reach patients, its future is encouraging. Many years of research have taught people a lot about designing effective vectors, targeting various cells, and minimizing and managing immune responses in patients. Today, numerous clinical trials are underway. Researchers are carefully testing treatments to make sure that any gene therapy developed is both safe and effective.
Some of the genetic disorders that are treated successfully using gene therapy include Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID), Adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency, Leber congenital amaurosis, hemophilia, and blood diseases.

Do you burn more calories exercising in the cold? Here’s what the science says.

As the winter weather gets colder every year, people exercise less than other seasons. At the same time, they usually consume rich foods that will feed the body with a tremendous amount of calories. These pleasant habits in winter can dramatically increase your weight in just a few months. People who are aware of it dream of a way to lose weight more efficiently.
Some of you may have heard that exercising at the cold temperature can burn more calories. You might hear it from your E-mail ads, newspapers or magazines and it is true according to a press release from the University of Albany titled, “Winter Exercise Burns More Calories, Especially for Women.” Everybody knows that it consumes a lot of energy when it is cold. So from now on, we will look at the intuitive facts about it.
First, our body produces heat with burning calories when the temperature is below 0 degrees Celsius. We call it ‘thermogenesis’. Here’s a way of thermogenesis: shivering. Involuntary tremors of the muscles generate warmth and keep our body temperature (37 degrees Celsius). Or your body may generate the heat by burning off ‘brown fat,’ the kind of fat tissue whose main function is heat production. Brown fats produce heat while white fats preserve.Aaron Cypess, a metabolism and brown fat researcher at the National Institutes of Health, explained the difference between them with the following comparison. “They both have fuel or fat, but the oil tanker stores it for use later, and that’s the white fat. The sports car stores fuel to burn it, and that’s the brown fat.” We call this ‘non-shivering thermogenesis.’
“You don’t even know its happening, it’s below the radar of your conscious thought, but it’s there ticking away,” said Herman Pontzer, an associate professor at Hunter College who studies energetics. Going back to this topic again, assuming that you exercise in cold weather, we have an obstacle. When you exercise, your muscles can produce enough heat by moving. Therefore, when you exercise, enough heat is produced that you do not have to consume the extra calories by burning more brown fat. On the other hand, if you sit in thin clothes in cold weather, your body will start shivering its calories to keep its temperature. “The best way to use the cold to burn more calories would be to not exercise while you’re outdoors,” Pontzer added. “You’d get your brown fat cooking and making heat, and might even start shivering, all of which burns calories.”
Cypess imagined a scenario in which when a person wears light clothing at sub-zero temperatures, exercise cannot maintain body temperature and extra thermogenesis begins.But even in this case, Cypess said, you can generate additional calories. The study was conducted with all participants in a cold room all day, and participants burned 150-200 calories more. Again, that’s a full day of cold, not an hour’s worth of outdoor activity.
However, you must remember that physical activity makes up an extremely small part of the total calorie consumption during the day. There are three parts which use calories. First one is your basal metabolic rate. It is the energy used for basic functioning when the body is at rest. And the second one is the energy used to break down food. And then last, our body burns calories for the energy used in physical activity. For most people, the basal metabolic rate accounts for 60 to 80 percent of total energy expenditure. Digesting food accounts for about 10 percent. That leaves only 10 to 30 percent for physical activity, of which exercise is only a subset. Thermogenesis is an even more minor player, Cypess said, usually accounting for less than five or 10 percent of your total energy expenditure (depending on how much time you’ve spent in the cold). Therefore, exercising in cold weather might be not a very efficient idea than we expected.
So, if you want to make up for the overeating of the previous day, it will be more efficient to consider the amount of meal afterward rather than trying to exercise comfortably. Only consistent exercise will be the answer for the winter.