Preventing a Population Crash: Stem Cells Battling Jumping Gene Invasions

By Yassi Khorsandian

Even though over half of our genome consists of jumping genes, little is known about their functionality and how cells have adapted to survive from their invasions. Since their discovery in 1983, these genes that are now more commonly referred to as transposons, have been found to trigger mutations in the DNA, resulting in sterility or death. A team of researchers at the Carnegie Institution have discovered a novel ability of stem cells to increase the production of non-coding RNAs that decrease the activity of these genes. They studied transposons under different temperature settings in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster because temperature has been proven to affect the sterility of these organisms. The results showed that the rate of transposon mobilization was seven times greater at 25° C, the temperature at which the fruit fly offspring are sterile. The search for the underlying adaptive mechanism that causes this reaction led them to a DNA checkpoint component named Chk2, which was found to be the main constituent of the stem cell response to the transposon invasion. Activating this DNA damage checkpoint momentarily pauses the cell cycle before cell division in order to repair the damaged genome. This interruption in the cell cycle also boosts the production of piRNA elements that suppress transposons, allowing fruit flies to resume normal egg production. This pause period has proven to be critical for increasing the organism’s adaptability and counteracting the genomic instability caused by jumping genes.


Carnegie Institution for Science. (2018, November 1). How invading jumping genes are thwarted. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2018 from

Insect Repellents May Be Increasing Mosquito Populations

By John Fraser

The use of chemical insect repellents internationally is both increasing and adversely affecting the development of salamanders exposed to the deterrent, a recent study uncovers. Emma Rosi, co-investigator of the study and an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, explains the routes and prevalence of toxic agents in the environment: “Chemicals in repellents enter aquatic ecosystems through sewage effluent and are now common in surface waters.” Exposure to contaminated water sources occurs because salamanders are amphibians and an ‘aquatic juvenile phase’ is necessary to their development. The stage of growth spent primarily in water is also the main point of the salamander life cycle where mosquito larvae are consumed.

Researchers tested the effects of exposure to picaridin, a chemical agent commonly found in mosquito repellents, on both mosquito and salamander larvae. Picaridin appeared to have no impact on the mosquito larvae, but demonstrated a significant amount of harm towards the salamander population: “After four days of exposure to replant with picaridin, salamanders in all of the treatment groups began to display signs of impaired development such as tail deformities. By day 25, 45-65% of picaridin-exposed salamander larvae died.” Considering the dominating role that insects play as vectors of disease transmission, the consumption of mosquito larvae by salamanders is a key contributor in keeping the mosquito population in check. The introduction of picaridin-containing mosquito repellent into an ecosystem may then actually lead to an increase in the prevalence of mosquitos as salamanders, their natural predator, are killed off.  

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. (2018, October 31). Widely used mosquito repellent proves lethal to larval salamanders: By harming mosquito predators, picaridin may help mosquitoes survive. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2018 from


By Alyssa Quinlan

In a recent issue of medical journal ‘Science Translational Medicine,’ researchers at Duke University reported new developments in the search for a cure of an illness that currently plagues the lives of approximately half a million individuals worldwide.

Spinocerebellar ataxia type 7, or SCA7, is an inherited neurodegenerative disease resulting from an excess of CAG nucleotide repeats in the DNA of a gene called Ataxin-7. Due to their faulty structure, the proteins produced by this gene in SCA7 patients misfold and eventually accumulate in the retina – consequently causing a gradual loss of vision.

While no cure for SCA7 currently exists, the research team at Duke is in the process of testing a new therapy in mice that uses single stranded DNA fragments called antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) to decrease the effects of the disease. Upon injection into the eye, ASOs detect the faulty RNA that codes for the accumulated proteins and eradicates them before they reach the point of misfolding, which potentially slows or stops SCA7’s progression. After undergoing this new treatment, mice that received ASOs demonstrated improved visual function over time in comparison to mice not receiving the therapy.

While current research involving ASOs is far from conclusive, these initial results not only provide hope to those affected by SCA7, but also to those living with other neurodegenerative illnesses caused by a build-up of misfolded proteins, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Duke Department of Neurology. (2018, November 1). New study offers hope for patients suffering from a rare form of blindness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 10, 2018 from

Combination-drug treatment of depression may pose more harm than help to those unresponsive to single SSRI treatment

By Mohamad Hamze

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are commonly prescribed for the treatment of depression, but an increasing number of clinically depressed patients fail to respond to single antidepressant regiments. Thus, physicians have come to supplement SSRI/SNRI treatment in these patients with atypical antidepressants like mirtazapine.

Earlier this month, a study funded by the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research was published in the British Medical Journal and sought to explore if this combination had a significant effect on depression severity in patients who did not respond to single-medication SSRI/SNRI regiments after six weeks. The double-blind trial studied how 480 adults with treatment-resistant depression responded to combination- versus single-drug treatments. While around four out of ten patients showed a 50% improvement in depression severity after 12 weeks of treatment, the study did not find a clinically significant difference between the group treated with mirtazapine and the group treated with placebo at this or any later time points.

This study’s results imply that psychiatrists and general practitioners should limit the use of combination-drug treatments in patients whose depression does not respond to single treatments on the basis of both cost and patient wellness. Instead, clinicians are urged to consider non-pharmacological alternatives like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which, according to study co-author Dr. David Kessler, “has been shown to be effective in this group of patients” where combination-drug therapy has been poorly tolerated.

University of Bristol. (2018, November 1). Drug combination for treatment resistant depression no more effective than single. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2018 from

Combatting “Blackout” Culture

By Corey Bryton

Across college campus nationwide, “blackout” drinking is rampant. A “blackout” occurs when someone drinks so heavily that they lose memory of that time. Even though most college students do not drink with the intention of impairing their memory, it still occurs frequently.

Researchers at Brown University sought to investigate what college students know about what causes blackouts and the culture of blacking out. Three separate studies were carried out using several focus groups of college students. In the first study, it was found that most participants were aware that heavy drinking at a fast pace contributed to alcohol-induced memory loss. That being said, not many students knew that biological factors and mixing alcohol with other substances also can induce blackouts.

In the second study, the participants were asked to describe a person’s reaction when he/she blacks out. The researchers observed a mix of negative and positive reactions. Some referred to blackouts as “scary” while others said they can be “exciting”. Regardless, it was determined that social factors, most specifically the opinions of one’s friends, that influences someone’s perspective of blacking out.

In the third study, the researchers studied the language used to describe “blacking out”. They found that the term “blackout drinking” simply refers to heavy drinking, whereas “a blackout” is a period of time when a drinker loses memory. A “brown-out” is also used to describe periods of incomplete memory loss. Finally, a survey was given to 350 college students, and it was found that 49% experienced some alcohol-induced memory loss in the past month, 32% had only “brown-outs”, 5% had only blackouts, and 14% did not experience any alcohol-related memory loss.

Lead researcher, Kate Carey, hopes that this information can be used to improve alcohol education for college students and to help reduce dangerous drinking habits.

Brown University. (2018, November 2). New studies on student alcohol use can inform interventions to reduce blackouts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2018 from

Investing at the Cost of a Human Life: More information is needed to determine the cause of rising prices of insulin for diabetic patients

By Patrycja Sztachelski

Unfortunately, the cost of insulin has tripled in the last 15 years, creating a large barrier for patients who need access to it as a result of their diabetes diagnoses. The Endocrine Society has indicated that more information is needed about all parties involved in these cost increases before the cause for price hikes can be determined. More importantly, once the cause is determined, it will be possible to devise a plan to reduce such costs and optimize the quality of patient care.

The Society has recommended policy changes to resolve this financial issue, such as limiting patient costs to a co-pay, with rebates passed along to those without increasing premiums or deductibles, limiting future list price increases, with all stakeholders striving for reasonable financial incentives, and encouraging healthcare providers in their efforts to prescribe lower-cost human insulins whenever possible.

Three particular insulin manufacturers are actively pursuing these changes: Sanofi is expanding its savings program to include nearly all of its insulins, Eli Lilly is working to help patients with high out-of-pocket costs by examining financial plans for each individual, and Novo Nordisk has been limiting price increases. In addition, government involvements to resolve this problem include the efforts of the Congressional Diabetes Caucus, which held a hearing to examine the cause of cost increases as well as possible solutions to this issue. Congress also passed legislation last month that cut rules that prohibited pharmacists from informing patients about the possibilities of purchasing their medications for less money.

Clearly, there is an imminent need to reduce the costs of insulin--more than 30 million Americans have diabetes, and an additional 84 million have prediabetes. And for patients diagnosed with diabetes, it is crucial to maintain a health care regimen to avoid costly hospital visits. One study indicates that adherence to such a regimen can prevent a significant number of emergency department visits and hospitalizations, so it is imperative that a solution to the increasing costs of insulin is reached soon.


The Endocrine Society. (2018, November 1). Supply chain transparency needed to combat soaring insulin costs: Endocrine Society recommends policies to lower costs for people with diabetes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2018 from

The “Career Man” Also Causing Problems: A Direct Correlation Between Delaying Fatherhood and Adverse Health Outcomes Among Infants and Mothers

By: Jacqueline Katz

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, having compiled a decade of data on 40,529,905 live births in the United States, are seeing a relationship between delaying fatherhood and the health of the infant and mother. Dr. Michael Eisenberg and his team have observed a direct correlation between the risk of adverse birth outcomes – such as low birth weight, premature birth, and seizures – and paternal age. However, it should be noted that while studies have detected an uptick in such risks with increasing paternal age, the chances of complication remain low regardless of the father’s age.

Researchers speculate, though the Stanford study was observational, that poor birth outcomes are related to genetics; a man, on average, accumulates two new DNA mutations in the male gamete each year. We have found among female populations, as studies more often address the effect of maternal age on birth defects, that women approaching the end of their childbearing years have higher rates of errors during chromosomal separation in meiosis, which is associated with trisomy.

Interestingly, the study also found a correlation between advanced paternal age and poor maternal health outcomes, specifically the development of gestational diabetes. There are less concrete theories on the biological causes of this relationship, but Dr. Eisenberg suggests the mother’s placenta may play a role.

Stanford Medicine. (2018, November 1). Older fathers associated with increased birth risks, study reports. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2018 from

Hassold, T., & Hunt, P. (2009). Maternal age and chromosomally abnormal pregnancies: What we know and what we wish we knew. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 21(6), 703-708. doi:10.1097/mop.0b013e328332c6ab

A Novel Non-Invasive Method to Measure Heartbeat During Fetal Stages of Life

By Eliana Rosenzweig

Electrocardiogram, or ECG tests are an integral part of medicine because they are used to determine irregularities in the rhythm of the heart. Unfortunately, fetal cardiac electrical activity cannot be measured with an electrocardiogram because there is no feasible technique to place the electrodes needed during an ECG on the chest of a fetus. Historically, medical professionals have turned to the use of ultrasound technology; however, ultrasounds are unable to provide any diagnostic information beyond whether or not a heartbeat is irregular. Recent research conducted at the University of Copenhagen offers a potentially less invasive method to measure cardiac electrical activity with diagnostic significance.

This novel method, called magnetocardiography, yields a clear image of the cardiac electric activity with the alignment of a human subject, including a pregnant mother, with cesium atoms in a hermetically, or airtight, closed glass cell. Observations made at the quantum level can be recorded when laser light at a particular wavelength is transmitted through the atom cloud created by the cesium atoms and accordingly, small magnetic fields projected by fetal heartbeats can be recorded. In this study, magnetocardiography was conducted on isolated guinea-pig hearts. Guinea pig hearts are the same size of a human fetal heart at approximately twenty weeks and heart rhythms are extremely similar, down to the regulatory proteins controlling it. In addition, the isolated heart mimicked a fetal heart; it was supplied with necessary substances such as oxygen and water, and was kept at body temperature. Clinical trials are in the works to incorporate a diagnostic sensor into the device, which could potentially identify life-threatening conditions in during the fetal stage of development such as AV block, a treatable, yet potentially serious heart block.

Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen. (2018, November 2). Scientists figure out how to measure electrical activity in a fetal heart. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 4, 2018 from

Why living longer is not enough

By Sanjana Puri

With the evolution of modern medicine, people in the United States are living longer than ever before. This is a tremendous achievement, but as we continue to progress through this era, there is an increased need to define the term “healthy living.” This definition should extend beyond medical care and sheer quantity of gained life years and grow to encompass a myriad of factors. A new report by the American Geriatrics Society, led by Dr. Paul Mulhausen, explores what essential elements should fall under the umbrella term of “healthy aging.” The report highlights promoting individual advocacy and fostering an environment where seniors can stay connected to their communities, remain active citizens within them and remain mobile and engaged even as physical conditions change. Additionally, health professionals must be trained to remain undiscriminated in their work, keeping the independence of their aging patients in mind when providing care. The scope of geriatrics must also be widened to not only address biological factors of aging, but take measures to mitigate the socio-economic and psychological consequences that come with it. As with all aspects of healthcare, increased attention must be paid to the social determinants that govern the lives of individuals well into their later years of life. Geriatrics is uniquely equipped to lead the movement to revolutionize “health aging,” as it is a field of work that encompasses clinicians, educators, health systems experts and caregivers, all of whom are necessary players in tackling such a complex and far reaching issue.

American Geriatrics Society. (2018, November 1). We all want 'healthy aging,' but what is it, really? New report looks for answers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 8, 2018 from

New Study Addresses Financial Literacy Gap Among Students

By Nicole Loranger

According to new research from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a lack of proper financial responsibility education could be the missing link when it comes to lightening the burden of student debt. About one in four adults in America is estimated to be paying off student loans, with the average student from the Class of 2016 owing $37,172. Add in the fact that the price of a college education continues to increase with each passing year, and it becomes clear that transparency about options are absolutely necessary in order for students to properly manage their debt going forward. But according to Lu Fan, assistant professor of financial planning at the University of Missouri, this is precisely what the American people are lacking. In fact, only 30% of all who graduate with student debt say they were ever educated in the process of paying back their loans. To demonstrate the impact this reality has on the people it affects, Fan worked with University of Georgia professor Swarn Chatterjee using the 2015 National Financial Capability Study dataset, from which they looked at over 2,600 responses. The overall trends in the data indicated increased feelings of worry in women facing student debt, while men were less likely to worry about it but more likely to be late making payments. Additionally, those with loans who did not complete college were also more likely to be worried about paying back their student debt. When asked about the goal of the project, Fan said she hopes policymakers take these results and use them to develop stronger financial education programs, allowing for a population of better informed borrowers.

University of Missouri-Columbia. "Financial education key to reducing student loan stress." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 October 2018. <>.

Study Suggests That Being Tall May Not be as Desirable as We Thought

By Eliana Rosenzweig

Have you ever told someone you were a few inches taller to impress them, or wished you could be like Lebron James or tall models? Well, a recent study, conducted by evolutionary biologist Leonard Nunney at the University of California, Riverside, challenges this prevalent desire to be tall. Nunney studied four meta-analyses covering 23 different cancer categories, and found that not only did each study prove tall individuals are at an increased risk of developing cancer, but that this risk increases by approximately 10% per every 10 centimeter increase in height.

Nunney tested a novel hypothesis that increased cancer prevalence among taller people directly correlates with an increased number of cells in the body. It was discovered that in taller individuals, risk for developing cancer significantly increased in nearly all twenty-three cancer categories. In addition, taller women and men were found to have an increased risk for thyroid cancer and melanoma, respectively. Researchers believe higher prevalence of melanoma in men can be attributed to the growth factor hormone IGF-1, which not only triggers cell division in taller men at greater than average rates, but also divides cells rapidly. Nunney estimates that the effect of IGF-1 on tall men adds up to greater than two times risk for susceptibility to melanoma. This can also potentially provide insight as to why men get cancer at higher rates: men are, on average, taller than women.

Research correlating height to cancer risk is not only limited to humans. Studies have found that larger dogs are at an increased risk of developing cancer than smaller dogs. However, a phenomenon called Peto’s Paradox remains largely unexplained: longer-lived animals, which are larger versions of smaller, short-lived animals do not show increased incidences of developing cancer. In the future, Nunney plans to study larger dogs and how larger sized animals, through the process of evolution, have developed biological defenses against cancer.


University of California - Riverside. (2018, October 26). Study explains why tall individuals are more prone to cancer. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 2, 2018 from

Electronic Medical Records Show Ability to Reduce Unnecessary and Costly Medical Testing

By Janie Ingrassia

A recent effort by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation known as the “Choosing Wisely Campaign” has successfully pushed many medical institutions to begin developing electronic medical records that will assist in the recommendation of specific tests. The goal of this initiative is to reduce the amount of unnecessary (and costly) tests that are performed in hospitals. The Boston Medical Center (BMC) chose five areas to focus their study on, the overuse of chest x-rays, routine daily labs, red blood cell transfusions, urinary catheters, and the proper neutralization of pain and prevention of pneumonia for patients after surgery. The BMC developed their electronic system by examining the effects of these tests between July 2014 and December 2016.

Six months following the activation of their electronic system, there was a slight decrease in both x-rays and routinely daily labs. There was also an 20% increase in postoperative patients who received correct pain prevention treatments. Nicholas Cordella, the study’s corresponding author, and others suggest that although using the electronic system has the potential to improve high-value care, it should not be the only method used. Cordella explains that “in order to move the needle on reducing unnecessary healthcare costs, we need to consider multi-pronged approaches in order to engage providers in ways that can truly make a difference in how we deliver exceptional, high-value care to every patient."

Source: Boston Medical Center. (2018, October 19). Electronic medical records show promise in reducing unnecessary testing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2018 from

Research Highlight: Napping Associated with Subconscious Processing

By Kurtis Chien-Young

It’s no surprise that sleep enhances waking performance. However, certain types of tasks may be more affected by sleep. University of Bristol researchers Netasha Shaikh and Elizabeth Coulthard conducted a study on how short periods of sleep, such as naps, could affect the brain’s ability to process subconscious information.

The study placed participants in an “Affective Priming Task,” where participants were first primed with a positive or negative word in a manner that would be too fast to consciously process. Despite the brevity of the priming, certain brain regions still activated in response. Shortly after, the participants were shown a target word that was either positive or negative, and asked to quickly evaluate if the word was good or bad.

Participants would theoretically respond less accurately and more slowly to incongruent words, such as with a negative primed word and a positive target word. However, Shaikh and Coulthard hypothesized that sleeping prior to the experiment could improve processing speed and reaction time.

Since sleep could improve overall reaction time, a control test was administered to measure participants’ reaction times to a color-matching task.

Data from the study showed that, indeed, participants who had napped prior to the implicit priming task responded faster whether the primed and target words were congruent or incongruent. The effect was specific to the implicit task, as those participants responded with the same speed in the control test as groups who had not napped. The results of this study imply a connection between sleep and performance on tasks involving subconscious memory.

Though Shaikh and Coulthard looked into how sleep affected the brain’s processing speed, they did not offer any data on how accurately each group responded. For example, if participants who took the implicit task after napping matched words more accurately than other groups did, then that data could support that napping may enhance subconscious error detection.


Shaikh, N., & Coulthard, E. (2018). Nap-mediated benefit to implicit information processing across age using an affective priming paradigm. Journal of Sleep Research. doi:10.1111/jsr.12728

Decades of environmental health efforts yield impressive public health

By Mohamad Hamze

In one of the first studies of its kind, a team of researchers at UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health have published hopeful results regarding air quality and public health in the United States. Using a computer simulation to estimate deaths resulting from exposure to air pollution, the analyses showed a 47 percent decrease in US pollution-related deaths from 1990 to 2010. The study – which was included in last week’s journal for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics – shares a heartening outlook for the health of both ourselves and the planet, reporting the trends of increasing air quality and decreased mortality year after year due to environmental health efforts in the last two decades.  

The simulation used in the study identified air pollutants such as ozone and the industrial waste product PM2.5 as possible causes of various diseases, such as heart disease, COPD, lung cancer, and other respiratory diseases. However, while the study has shown clear improvements in these levels of pollution from 1990 to 2010, the efforts are far from over – especially given recent national developments that could threaten to undo decades of work. Study co-author Jason West of UNC warns that “even though we've seen some tangible success, there are still people dying” and “new federal policies curtailing air pollution regulations likely will slow the improvement in air quality or possibly make air quality worse.”


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2018, October 19). US air pollution deaths nearly halved between 1990 and 2010. ScienceDaily.


By Alyssa Quinlan

Requiring more oxygen per weight than any of the body’s other organs, the heart plays a critical role in human survival that cannot be executed without sufficient oxygen. In patients with certain cardiovascular complications however, oxygen flow to this vital organ may be obstructed, leading to potentially fatal hypoxic (oxygen-starved) conditions.

In recent years, researchers have attempted to combat this issue by testing out various mechanisms, like transporting oxygen to the heart with the blood protein hemoglobin. Unfortunately, due to hemoglobin’s tendency to both bind to nitric oxide (causing additional issues) and supply too much oxygen to the heart, this particular experiment proved unsuccessful – as have those of many other drugs.

However, with the combined efforts of biopharmaceutical company Ominox, Inc. and researchers at the University of California San Francisco, a new drug some consider a ‘holy grail of medicine’ is in the process of being tested – OMX-CV. Unlike hemoglobin-based drugs, OMX-CV avoids furthering cardiovascular complications by utilizing a bacterial protein called H-NOX. Carefully engineered to bind extremely well to oxygen but bypass nitric oxide, H-NOX has been proven to increase oxygen flow and drastically improve heart function without causing detrimental side effects.

While OMX-CV has yet to be approved for human clinical trials and continues to undergo testing in animal tissue, researchers remain hopeful that the drug could revolutionize cardiovascular care in both children and adults.

University of California - San Francisco. "New drug could sustain oxygen-starved hearts: A promising new oxygen-delivery therapeutic has a wide range of potential applications." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 October 2018. <>.

The Importance of School-Based Interventions for Children with ADHD

By Ursula Biba

            Around 5% of children have ADHD and generally struggle with attention focusing and impulse control. In an ideal world, schools should support children with ADHD and other learning disabilities with innovative lesson plans and activities. In a step toward that direction, researchers at the University of Exeter recently finished a systematic review of all non-medical, school-based interventions for children with ADHD. Findings reveal that the most effective interventions that led to improved academic outcomes were those that focused on self-regulation in the classroom with one-on-one support by teachers. Though medication is an option, results are variable for different children, making non-medical interventions integral to a child’s schooling. Self-regulation-based interventions help children understand their personal triggers and reflect before responding to them. Daily report cards have also shown promising results, as children are more motivated to meet daily targets through rewards. Though children with ADHD are unique and require individualized lesson plans, standardization of the most effective interventions can help schools create baseline programs to aid as many students as possible with their current resources.


University of Exeter. (2018, October 19). How schools can optimize support for children with ADHD. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2018 from

Unlocking the Secrets of Deadly Bacteria: Rathayibacter toxicus and the CRISPR locus

By Annmarie Hoch

At Oregon State University, scientists have been looking at the genome of Rathayibacter toxicus bacteria for clues about its capabilities and ways we can detect it. R. Toxicus is a highly toxic agent that infects plants through worm vectors. It is quite dangerous, and it can only be studied in secure government facilities. It could pose a huge risk on the agricultural yield of Oregon if it becomes prevalent there. Scientists have been using the bacteria’s genome to identify its presence in different locations. So far, it has not been detected in Oregon.

Another finding from the genome of R. Toxicus is that despite having lost a large portion of its genes, the bacteria still persists and maintains its threat to agriculture and livestock. Researchers have identified a “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) locus” as a possible reason for its continued success. The CRISPR locus appears to only be present in the Toxicus strain of Rathayibacter and this adaptation has been linked to increased protection against viruses.

Researchers are hopeful that they can use the R. Toxicus genome to stop its spread to other locations where it can cause a lot of damage, as well as use it to understand the workings of R. Toxicus and the reason for its success. Researchers are investigating a possible evolutionary event that led to R. Toxicus diverging from the other Rathayibacter strains.

Oregon State University. (2018, October 18). Researchers propose CRISPR as influencer of low genetic diversity in deadly bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 27, 2018 from

The Difference a Touch Can Make: Premature Infants and Their Parents

By Leili Najmabadi

While parents are always finding new ways to connect with their newborn, a study from Advances in Neonatal Care has found a hormonal relevance between skin-to-skin contact and familial engagement. Dr. Dorothy J. Vittner from the University of Connecticut School of Nursing has established that the likelihood of a neurodevelopmental delay is increased in preterm births in neonatal intensive care units; however, skin-to-skin contact (SSC) may be able to minimize these adverse outcomes.

Twenty-eight preterm newborns, with an average gestational age of 33 weeks, were exposed to SSC for with each parent for two days. Oxytocin levels from parent and infant saliva were collected in order to analyze if this hormone related to maternal-infant attachment would show any changes based on SSC.  In addition to understanding the development of attunement through expression of oxytocin, cortisol was also monitored to understand stress’ relationship with emotional health. In comparison to the decrease of cortisol levels, oxytocin levels were increased in mothers, fathers, and infants in the SSC group. Mothers’ increased oxytocin was correlated with an increase of sentiments of parental engagement, while fathers’ increased oxytocin was negatively correlated to the same sentiments, perhaps due to the novelty of physical attachment with the infant. When taking the Parent Risk Evaluation and Engagement Model and Instrument questionnaire, parents felt moderate to high levels of engagement with their newborn. Using a questionnaire and promoting skin-to-skin contact between parents and children can better facilitate future holistic approaches to offer premature newborns optimal social and physical benefits.

Wolters Kluwer Health. (2018, October 19). For preterm infants, skin-to-skin contact affects hormone levels -- and may promote parental engagement. ScienceDaily. Retrieved

New Study Identifies Brain Region Implicated in Food-Related Decisions

By Nicole Loranger

New research out of Johns Hopkins University has begun to reveal exactly what goes on in the brain every time it’s processing a particular (and important) type of decision: what to eat. Specifically, this area of neuronal communication seems to apply to moments when many options are available, such as at a buffet or when looking in the fridge. The identified region is known as the ventral pallidum, an area previously known to be associated with pleasure and reward but was originally assumed to play more of a secondary role in that response.

The project was lead by graduate student David Ottenheimer, and the experiment was comprised of a series of experiments during which rats were presented with different solutions. First, a sucrose drink and a maltodextrin drink were each given to the rats. Their preference for the sucrose was noted, and simultaneously, heightened neuronal activity was recorded in the ventral pallidum. When presented with maltodextrin solutions and water, the rats’ preference switched to the maltodextrin, which also incited increased activity in the same region. This lead the researchers to conclude that the ventral pallidum plays a crucial role in the decision making process an organism goes through when presented with multiple food options. Whether the activity is reinforcement of the action or encoding for future reference remains to be seen, but what is clear is that this new find has opened the door to a whole new world of research regarding food and the choices we make everyday.

Johns Hopkins University. "Scientists find brain signal that might help us judge the holiday buffet." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 October 2018. <>.

Why do mucinous pancreatic tumors selectively impact women?

By Sanjana Puri

A mucinous tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer, appears as a large cyst in the body. In most cases, this cyst can be surgically removed if the cancer is caught in time. However, in particularly dire instances, the cyst is at risk of bursting and spreading the cancer through the abdomen, creating tumorous areas that are highly resistant to chemotherapy. One key characteristic of this tumor is that it affects only women aged 30 to 40 - a particularly confounding element seeing that the pancreas comes into minimal contact with sex hormones. How is it then that this cancer selectively impacts a single sex? Dr. Kevin Elias, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston began to formulate an answer to this question with the observation that the genetic profile of mucinous pancreatic tumors had the same genetic alterations as mucinous tumours of the ovary. In conjunction with researchers Petros Tsantoulis and Intidhar Labidi-Galy from the Université de Genève and Ronny Drapkin from the University of Pennsylvania, Elias was able to establish a transcriptomic profile from which he was able to compare the first gene expression levels in primordial germ cells at 6, 7, 11, 16 and 17 weeks of pregnancy, with those of tumoral and healthy ovarian and pancreatic cells. In the case of both profiles, the tumor, despite being far from the ovary and pancreas, was extremely close to the primordial germ cells. Similar cases have been reported elsewhere, where tumors settle in the part of the body where the primordial germ ends up. Though, this results will likely not impact the surgical treatment of patients afflicted with this cancer, it offers the ability to understand the pathogenesis of the tumor in greater detail and therefore establish more effective methods of chemotherapy.

Kevin M Elias, Petros Tsantoulis, Jean-Christophe Tille, Allison Vitonis, Leona A Doyle, Jason L Hornick, Gurkan Kaya, Laurent Barnes, Daniel W Cramer, Giacomo Puppa, Sarah Stuckelberger, Jagmohan Hooda, Pierre-Yves Dietrich, Michael Goggins, Candace L Kerr, Michael Birrer, Michelle S Hirsch, Ronny Drapkin, Sana Intidhar Labidi-Galy. Primordial germ cells as a potential shared cell of origin for mucinous cystic neoplasms of the pancreas and mucinous ovarian tumors. The Journal of Pathology, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/path.5161