Promising research on ecstasy in PTSD patients continues

By Allison Kannam

            In August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designated 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), more commonly known as ecstasy, “breakthrough therapy” status for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The FDA grants this status to interventions that show evidence of offering significant improvements for severe conditions, and helps speed up the process of development and review.

            The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has been the driving force behind research on MDMA for decades. Recently, the FDA approved two MAPS-funded phase III studies on MDMA’s effect on PTSD. If MAPS can raise enough money, these studies would begin in spring 2018 and finish in 2021. In addition to taking ecstasy, patients would attend psychotherapy sessions, some while under the influence of the drug. Individuals experiencing PTSD can become overridden by emotions attached to a memory, and MDMA may help diminish some of this emotional response to allow them to work through their trauma.

            Previously, MAPS funded phase II trials with favorable results; 61 of 90 patients in the experimental groups no longer experienced PTSD at 12-month follow up. In previous studies, researchers have grappled with how to minimize bias and avoid a placebo effect, since participants can often tell if they are taking the active drug. When researchers attempted to provide a low-dose of MDMA for the control group, it actually caused more discomfort for patients without any benefit, so they decided to keep the control group on an inactive placebo and implement measures to ensure that doctors do not know which group a patient is in.

            While interventions using ecstasy to treat PTSD are certainly innovative, David Null, a neuropsychopharmacologist at Imperial College London, indicates that the potential medicinal aspects of these drugs have been known for decades. Rather than a “big scientific step,” he states, “it’s a huge step in acceptance.”

 

Kupferschmidt, K. (2017, August 26). All clear for the decisive trial of ecstasy in PTSD patients. Science. doi:10.1126/science.aap7739

Positive Coping to Buffer Risk-Taking

By Kurtis Chien

Young adults with higher levels of testosterone in their early lives may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex, substance abuse, or illegal activities, according to research by Jacinda Dariotis at the University of Cincinnati. The research focused on the relationship between latent trait testosterone, which is a measurement of testosterone, and risky behaviors. An increase in latent trait testosterone was associated with an increase in risky behaviors, even across biological sexes. Dariotis rationalized this by noting that testosterone can mediate behaviors that are considered aggressive or dominant.

However, the same study showed that youth with high testosterone who engaged in sports had better outcomes. These activities were considered positive outlets for the inclinations tied to high levels of testosterone. Playing in team sports, for example, might represent healthy competition. Reading books and practicing mindful yoga were also observed to reduce risky behaviors. Both present positive, healthy coping mechanisms to combat stress, which is one of the factors that may also exacerbate risky behaviors.

Dariotis is currently researching the effects of life stressors on risk-taking, and hopes to apply mindful yoga as a possible treatment method for youth experiencing stress.

 

University of Cincinnati. "Mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 December 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171207182527.htm>.

Birth Control Breakthrough

By Meghan Mulvey

Although women have a wide variety of birth control options, men are left with relatively few for themselves. However, a recent study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that injections may provide men another option for birth control. In this study, men were given two shots to reduce sperm count every eight weeks, and then the men gave semen samples for analysis. One of the shots given contained a long-acting progesterone, and the other consisted of a long-acting androgen. After the sperm counts were lowered to a certain amount, the men in the study were instructed to use the injections for birth control with their partners. The study showed that the injections were 96% effective, and 75% of participants would be willing to use the injections as a birth control method again. However, there were some side effects that made the injections problematic for some men, including acne, pain at the injection site, muscle pain, and increased sex drive. Moreover, additional research needs to be done to examine the long term effects of these hormonal injections before they can be used. Despite the further research necessary, injections could provide men with a much needed additional birth control option to control their own fertility.

 

Endocrine Society. "Male birth control shots prevent pregnancy: Researchers call for further study to reduce risk of depression, side effects." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 October 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161027143337.htm. Accessed 9 Dec. 2017.

Living in Extreme Environments Increases the Risk for Cancer

By Amanda Moises

Scientists have already known that populations in some geological locations are more predisposed to cancer than others. According to researcher Konstantinos Voskarides at the University of Cyprus’ Medical School, populations living in cold climates or high altitudes, such as Norway and Denmark, have a higher risk for cancer. Voskarides believes that an evolutionary adaptation for living in extreme environments could have led to the increased risk of cancer in humans. In other words, cell resistance to cold temperatures or high altitudes increases the probability for malignant cancer cells.

In order to come to this conclusion, Voskarides examined data for incidents of cancer around the world and found that populations in the coldest environments had the highest incidence of lung, breast, and colorectal cancer. For example, Siberian Eskimos had high incidence of colorectal, esophageal, and lung cancer while the Oromi, a high-altitude population in Ethiopia, had high incidence of leukemia. 

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that these effects can be eliminated by natural selection because most cancers occur in older adults who have already had children. Nonetheless, the findings of this study are highly significant because they provide the first evidence for a relationship between higher cancer risk and extreme environments. Scientists are eager to use this new information to examine what adaptive forces are causing these genetic changes.

 

Molecular Biology and Evolution (Oxford University Press). (2017, December 6). Cold discomfort: Increasing cancer rates and adaptation of living in extreme environments. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 9, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171206174256.htm

New catalyst promotes artificial photosynthesis

By Alexander Pan

Researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered a new catalyst that converts carbon dioxide to stored chemical energy with 64% efficiency. To mimic photosynthesis, the researchers artificially created two reactions: one that separates water into protons and oxygen gas and the other reaction that turns carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide. Afterwards, the carbon monoxide can be converted into liquid fuels, which store chemical energy. The catalyst for the first reaction was engineered to operate at a neutral pH, increasing the efficiency of the overall reaction. By having the catalyst work in a neutral pH, less electrical energy is needed to drive the forward reaction, thereby increasing the overall efficiency of electrical to chemical energy conversion. The new catalyst is composed of low-cost elements such as nickel, iron, cobalt, and phosphorus and can be synthesized through inexpensive technology. The end goal is to generate an artificial photosynthesis system in order to remove carbon dioxide gas and convert it into a renewable energy source through a low-cost, efficient method. The next steps involve constructing the optimal operating conditions such as flow rate, electrolyte concentration, and electrical potential. If accomplished, this technology would combat pressing environmental issues by reducing pollution in the atmosphere and promoting clean, renewable energy sources.

 

University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. (2017, November 20). Artificial photosynthesis gets big boost from new catalyst: System takes inspiration from plants to convert electrical energy to chemical energy at 64 percent efficiency, the highest yet reported for renewable carbon fuels. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 3, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171120111324.htm

Xueli Zheng, Bo Zhang, Phil De Luna, Yufeng Liang, Riccardo Comin, Oleksandr Voznyy, Lili Han, F. Pelayo García de Arquer, Min Liu, Cao Thang Dinh, Tom Regier, James J. Dynes, Sisi He, Huolin L. Xin, Huisheng Peng, David Prendergast, Xiwen Du, Edward H. Sargent. Theory-driven design of high-valence metal sites for water oxidation confirmed using in situ soft X-ray absorption. Nature Chemistry, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2886

Cancer drug leads to ‘drastic decrease’ in HIV infection in lung cancer patient

By Katie Campbell

A team of researchers in France report that when treating a HIV-positive patient with the cancer drug nivolumab, there was also a significant decrease in cells found in the immune system, brain, bone marrow, and genital tract where the HIV virus can hide. These hidden, HIV-infected cells are not impacted by anti-retroviral therapy. This means that if treatment is stopped, these “reservoirs” of virus can replicate and begin to infect more cells.

A specific type of immune cell, the CD4 T cell, can become infected latently with HIV in the early stages of the disease. This means that the cell is infected with HIV, but not actively producing the virus; so that if the cell becomes activated it will produce HIV. Researchers are looking to tackle this problem by inhibiting a cell-replication checkpoint that can cause cell death. Drugs that inhibit this checkpoint (such as nivolumab) are frequently used in cancer treatment to intensify a patient’s immune response against the cancerous cells.

This case is the first in which a cell death inhibitor impacted a human’s latent HIV infection. The researchers described that at the start of treatment, his HIV was “undetectable” but it slowly increased and then declined. This follows the pattern of increased T cell activity which can attack and destroy the HIV cells.

Unfortunately, this team has also seen a case with no change in HIV infection after treatment with a similar drug. They are pursuing a clinical trial to evaluate toxicity, as well as identification of biomarkers that could personalize treatment. Additionally, they remain excited by these results as they suggest that we might be one step closer to controlling both HIV and cancer.

 

European Society for Medical Oncology. (2017, November 30). Cancer drug leads to 'drastic decrease' in HIV infection in lung cancer patient. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 3, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171130214929.htm

Novel method for the prevention of tumor progression and cardiac damage in pancreatic cancer patients

By Mohamad Hamze

Certain cancers have been found to cause stress and damage to body systems even outside the area of the tumor. Referred to as carcinoid diseases, they are the result of overproduction of certain hormones that, if not managed properly, can cause additional complications in cancer patients. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine have identified a novel treatment for cardiac carcinoid disease that results from pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, or pNETs.

Pancreatic tumors are caused in-part by mutations within the mTOR signaling pathway, which results in overproduction of hormones like serotonin that have been shown to cause valvular damage in the heart over time. mTOR inhibition has previously been accomplished by rapalog therapy, but eventually leads to tumor progression in many cases. The study by Dr. Hala Thomas and team looked to supplement rapalog treatment in mice with mTOR kinase inhibitor therapy, or mTORKi. When tumors treated with rapalog showed signs of progression, they were treated additionally with mTORKi, which was found to result in the slowing of tumor progression and decreased valvular damage than when treated with placebo or rapalog therapy alone.

The researchers claim that these results indicate a more effective inhibition of mTOR signaling than rapalogs alone and implicate new therapies for metastases in cancer patients with non-resectable tumors – therapies which also confer cardioprotective benefits. Currently, mTORKi therapies are being tested in clinical trials for pNET patients.

    

University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. "Targeted treatment could prevent spread of pancreatic cancer, heart damage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 November 2017. 

A Spa Day for Bowhead Whales

By Jacqueline Katz

In the summer of 2014, Ph. D. candidate at the University of British Columbia, Sarah Fortune, set out to study the feeding habits of Bowhead Whales and the role that climate change has played in their behaviors. But, her failure in this investigation spurred a new line of research.

Fortune had attached sticky tags on the whales’ backs to track their movement, and when the transmitter’s signal died on the second Bowhead she had tagged, Fortune thought nothing of it… until she noticed a group of whales “rolling onto their sides, lifting their flippers out of the water, doing headstands, lifting their tails out of the water” in the shallow, rocky waters of Cumberland Sound off the shore of Canada. And, she wasn’t the first; such observations were recorded by the Inuit and Whalers in the mid-1800s.

Upon closer investigation and with the help of drones, which provided an aerial view, Fortune determined that the whales had been molting. This shedding is not unheard of in whales – the beluga is known for the habit – but the behavior was never associated with Bowheads.  

It now makes sense why the Bowhead Whales migrate to the rocky bluffs off Baffin Island each year; scientists speculate that the warmer water boosts the metabolic activity in the whales, “speeding up the molting process and stimulating the growth of new hair and skin.”

Fortune hypothesizes that the Bowheads molt to remove the outer layer where harmful parasites, such as whale lice and diatoms, live or to rid themselves of unhealthy, sun-damaged skin. It is also a well-respected theory that the process may also help improve the whales’ hydrodynamic efficiency; removing the rough skin allows the Bowhead’s to move more rapidly and without as much effort.

 

Arnold, C. (2017, November 22). See What Happens at a 'Day Spa' for Whales. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/whales-skin-spa-oceans-animals-science/#close

Quenqua, D. (2017, November 22). Even Whales Have to Exfoliate. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/science/whales-rocks-exfoliating.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fscience

Research Highlight: Lymphatic System Therapy as a Prospective Treatment for Neurological Diseases

by Kurtis Chien

Cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds the brain.1 It is produced throughout the day in the cerebral ventricles and eventually drains out of the cranial cavity.1 Past researchers hypothesized that cerebrospinal fluid could drain through either veins or lymphatic vessels, but they were not adequately equipped to determine the exact pathway of drainage.1 Recent research by Ma et al. 2017 was able to determine the predominant pathway by which cerebrospinal fluid leaves the brain by using radiolabeled tracers.2 Researchers infused the lateral ventricles of mouse brains with tracer molecules of various sizes.2 When the brains were imaged, it was found that the tracer molecules were transported to the lymph nodes.2 The researchers also determined that the flow of cerebrospinal fluid exiting the cranial cavity decreased as the mice aged.2

The brain has few immune cells, so one of the purposes of cerebrospinal fluid is to wash out toxins.1 These toxins can include misfolded proteins, which could otherwise accumulate to cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.1 So, with the current mechanism of cerebrospinal fluid drainage in mind, a proposed method of treatment for these neurodegenerative diseases may be to increase the flow of the lymphatic system.1 The theory follows that a greater lymphatic flow would mean more cerebrospinal fluid exiting the cranial cavity, which would flush more toxic proteins from the brain.1

The concept would require further research, and a starting point could be to determine if mice with Alzheimer’s disease do express a slower rate of lymphatic flow, which would signify insufficient cerebrospinal fluid drainage.2 Such data could further clarify the role of the lymphatic system and support therapeutic techniques that interact with the lymphatic flow.2

 

References:

  1. ETH Zurich. (2017, November 10). Dementia treatment research: Exit through the lymphatic system. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 11, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171110084307.htm
  2. Ma, Q., Ineichen, B. V., Detmar, M., & Proulx, S. T. (2017, November 10). Outflow of cerebrospinal fluid is predominantly through lymphatic vessels and is reduced in aged mice. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01484-6

 

 

Diet and Exercise Improve Blood Flow to the Brain for Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

By Allison Kannam

            New findings from a 10-year-long study suggest that Type 2 diabetics who reduce their caloric intake and increase physical activity may experience increased blood flow to the brain. Many individuals with Type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, and while improving diet and exercise is widely recognized as a method to reduce many of diabetes’ negative effects, its impact on cognition and the brain is not well known. Researchers aimed to establish a clearer link between these interventions and blood flow to the brain given that Type 2 diabetes affects circulation and reduced brain circulation can influence decision-making and cognition.

             Recently, researchers investigated data from an existing 10-year study called Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD) in which participants learned to implement long-term behavior changes in their lives to improve management of their diabetes. In the first comparison group, the “Intensive Lifestyle Intervention” group, participants aimed to consume 1200 to 1800 calories per day and exercise 175 minutes per week and had frequent follow ups for several years. In the control group, participants completed Diabetes Support and Education classes. At the completion of Look AHEAD, 321 participants received an MRI brain scan.

            Participants in the intervention group showed greater blood flow to the brain, and the researchers believed their findings were most applicable to overweight rather than obese individuals. The Look AHEAD study also incorporated cognitive tests, and researchers noted that participants who had poorer performance on these tests showed greater blood flow to the brain, indicating how the brain may respond to cognitive decline.

 

American Geriatrics Society. (2017, October 30). For older adults with diabetes, losing weight with diet, exercise can improve circulation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 13, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030141329.htm

Increased involvement in Online Community is Correlated with Increased Likelihood to Quit Smoking

By Sidharth Anand

BecomeanEX.org is an online community created by Truth Initiative in partnership with Mayo Clinic. The community has over 800,000 users who share personal stories and information through various blogs and online forums. The site is focused on helping users quit smoking, and a study by the University of Iowa and the Truth initiative studied its success. The study tracked the tobacco use of 2600 participants in the community to see how varying levels of involvement impacted the likelihood of users to quit. Kang Zhao, a leader of the study from the Trippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, mentioned that studying online participation was key in determining the behavior of the users in real life. For those who were more involved in the website, this was a good indicator of increased quitting following participation. 21% of active participants, those who had actively posted their own content, quit smoking and 11% of those who had read other's blog posts alone quit smoking compared to only 8% of those who had never visited any of the blog posts. The study did not look at why an increased level of participation and involvement in the community correlated with an increased likelihood to quit smoking. However, it was surmised by Amanda Graham of Truth Initiative that the sense of community, and of supportive users encouraging one another was indicative of how these relationships could have a palpable impact on tobacco users.

 

University of Iowa. (2017, November 3). Kicking the habit, online. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 10, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171103105949.htm

Gecko’s can regrow their spinal cords, what about humans?

By Kaya Jordan

Matthew Vickaryous, a researcher and professor at the University of Guelph discovered the type of stem cell responsible for the gecko’s tail regeneration, which could be valuable information in the treatment of human spinal cord injuries. When a gecko is grabbed by a predator, it detaches its tail in order to escape unscathed. The gecko will then grow a new tail and spinal cord within 30 days. This phenomenon was simulated in the lab by pinching the gecko’s tail, which was followed by the natural process of new cell growth. From this experiment it was discovered that radial glia, a specific type of stem cell, was responsible for the regeneration. These cells usually maintain themselves in a resting state and only activate in response to an injury where they ultimately make a new spinal cord for the gecko. In contrast, the human body responds to a spinal cord injury by creating scar tissue, which inhibits any cell regeneration. It seems humans are missing the key cells responsible for healing their own spinal cords, but a lot can be learned from this incredible feat of spinal cord regeneration.

 

University of Guelph. (2017, November 2). Cells driving gecko's ability to re-grow its tail identified: Discovery of which cells are behind the gecko's ability to re-grow its tail has implications for spinal cord treatment in humans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171102120954.htm

potential fragile x treatment

By Machlan Sawden

Work at Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics has revealed a potential treatment for the most prominent genetic cause of intellectual disability and autism, Fragile X. This disease stems from a single defective gene called FMRP. Normally, FMRP binds to messenger RNA that codes for chromatin remodelers which are responsible for the rate of gene expression, limiting their production. The mutated gene cannot regulate chromatin remodelers, and uninhibited chromatin remodeling activity causes an increase in the production of proteins involved in neural function, specifically those associated with the synapses through which information is exchanged. Too much of these proteins alters the complex signaling chemistry of our neurons, which is the cause of Fragile X’s symptoms. However, Rockefeller’s study author and postdoctoral researcher Erica Korb and her team have identified a potential treatment for the condition. While drugs to inhibit the proteins causing the signaling errors have been mostly ineffective, Korb’s group found that inhibiting remodeling protein Brd4 led to a return to normal number of neuronal synapses and a decrease in the behavioral symptoms of Fragile X in animal models. The interfering proteins had been prevented from being synthesized in the first place, restoring normal function. This breakthrough has implications beyond that of just treating Fragile X, for other research done by Rockefeller’s Robert B. Darnell suggests that other autism spectrum disorders involve malfunctioning or overactive chromatin remodeling proteins as well. Their work further reveals the mystery of gene expression and how it affects human behavior.

 

Rockefeller University. (2017, November 3). Potential new treatment for Fragile X targets one gene to affect many. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171103134639.htm

You Can’t Have Your Cells and Age Them Too

By Kurtis Chien

Along the current model of evolutionary biology, it is mathematically impossible to stop aging. As people age, their cells gradually lose function and stop dividing. The accumulation of inefficient cells is expressed through changes in appearance and physical fortitude. A proposed method of slowing aging would be to remove cells that have lost function. In theory, this method could work to promote the development of healthy cells. However, each human body contains a minority of cancerous cells. These cells multiply rapidly, even as a person reaches old age. If an older person continues to generate dysfunctional cells that have to be removed, then their cancerous cells would quickly fill in the vacancy.

Joanna Masel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, explains it like this: “the basic reason is that things break.” As the number of healthy, functional cells in an aging human dwindles, they will inevitably be replaced by either obsolete cells or cancerous growth. The proposed solutions cannot both promote cell growth and hinder it at the same time. The unpleasant options are reality until some method of preventing the genetic breakdown in cell division is determined. Even then, such anti-aging methods may have unforeseen consequences.

 

University of Arizona. (2017, October 30). It's mathematically impossible to beat aging, scientists say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030154430.htm

Faster Drug Identification

By Anna Kolchinski

Frequently, drug screening in hospitals is a lengthy and expensive process that puts patients at risk, with results frequently coming back only when it is too late to effectively treat the patient. As drug abuse rates, especially those of difficult to identify drugs like synthetic opiates and new hallucinogens, rise, the need for a quicker and more effective method has become crucial. Current techniques cannot keep up with the chemistry of newer compounds, and they frequently come back with high false positives and negatives. This is also a problem in patient drug compliance. If a patient is not adhering to their prescribed drug regimen, the lack of medication in their system is just as crucial to identify as the presence of drugs in an abuser's body. Researchers at McMaster University have published a paper in the journal Analytical Chemistry detailing a possible solution. Their method uses mass spectroscopy, and is thus able to identify new drugs through their similarities to known drugs. This method also has significantly fewer false positives and negatives, eliminating the need for second rounds of screening. With the rise of drugs like fentanyl and molly, the possibility of a quicker and more effective method that could save thousands of lives is revolutionary. 

McMaster University. (2017, November 3). Chemists develop method to quickly screen, accurately identify fentanyl. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171103155212.htm

CARSs Enzyme Helping the Powerhouse of the Cell

By Meghan Mulvey

As cells perform their daily functions to support life, they produce waste materials that need to be removed. Various compounds, such as persulfates like CysSSH, are antioxidants that prevent cells from the damage of free radicals, harmful byproducts of cellular reactions. Until recently, the intricacies of these compounds were not known. However, a research team from Tohoku University along with others across the world studied a specific pathway where CysSSH is produced. They identified certain amino acid building blocks and enzymes, such as CARSs, that allow for the formation of CysSSH. Going even further, they discovered two different kinds of CARSs enzymes. The first is found within the cytoplasm of the cell and the second within the mitochondria. While both are important, the CARSs enzyme within the mitochondria produces the majority of CysSSH and helps with other crucial processes such as energy production and maintenance. By exploring CARSs, these researchers found an enzyme linked to energy and persulfate production. This research has important implications for treating diseases that involve mitochondria problems or abnormally high oxidant levels, such as diabetes, COPD, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, this enzyme can overall help with increasing the quality of life or even cancer diagnosis.

 

Tohoku University. (2017, October 30). Sulfur respiration in mammals and antioxidant activity: A common sulfur metabolite having antioxidant activity appears to be formed with the help of an enzyme found in mitochondria, highlighting a potential area of research for future treatments of various diseases.. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 3, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030092835.htm

Genome Sequencing of Pumpkins Reveals An Interesting Evolutionary History

By Amanda Moises

Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute and the National Engineering Research Center in Beijing have discovered the genome sequences of two pumpkin species known as Cucurbita maxima and Cucurbita moschata. This discovery is essential for further scientific research into the desirable traits of the two species as well as more information about breeding them. C. maxima is more desirable for fruit quality and nutrition while C. moschata is more desirable for resistance to disease. However, the hybrid of the two species, known as “Shintosa,” has an even higher resistance to disease and other stresses. Knowing the genomes of both species allows scientists to understand which genes are linked to these desirable traits and therefore maximize them for future hybrids.

The genome sequences also revealed an interesting evolutionary history about the ancestry of pumpkins. Researchers discovered that the pumpkin genome is actually a combination of two ancient genomes which combined to form an allotetraploid. In other words, pumpkins originally had four copies of each chromosome from two different species. However, modern pumpkins are diploid because the genome lost duplicated genes randomly from each ancestor over time. This is a strange occurrence for allotetraploid organisms because usually one genome dominates the other and retains the majority of its genes in the diploid species. Overall, the researchers were excited to uncover the pumpkin’s unusual evolutionary background and use the genome sequence to improve pumpkins for people around the world.

 

Boyce Thompson Institute. (2017, October 30). Pumpkin genomes sequenced, revealing uncommon evolutionary history. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030095428.htm

Could the annual flu shot see big changes?

By Grace Materne

Most individuals will receive a flu shot annually without much thought; however, recent studies suggest an overwhelming need for flu vaccine research.  Traditionally, flu vaccines are manufactured by injecting the virus into chicken eggs and allowing it to replicate; the virus found in the fluid of the eggs can then be isolated and used in vaccines. A recent study examining the H3N2 subtype of influenza found that when replicating inside the chicken eggs, the influenza virus must adapt and mutate in order to grow in the new environment. In the case of the H3N2 subtype, however, the mutations during replication are causing vaccines to be only 33% effective. To further study the mutation, researchers use X-ray crystallography, a high-resolution imaging technique. The data indicates that while inside the chicken eggs, the H3N2 subtypes mutates the protein L194P on the hemagglutinin glycoprotein (HA). This mutation results in the human immune system being less effective in recognizing the virus. Thus, if a vaccine for H3N2 subtype contains the mutated protein, it will be unsuccessful in establishing immunity against this strain of influenza. Current research is investigating alternatives to the chicken egg test method and instead looking at the possibility of mammalian cells and recombinant HA protein vaccines.

 

Scripps Research Institute. "How flu shot manufacturing forces influenza to mutate: Egg-based production causes virus to target bird cells, making vaccine less effective." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030134625.htm>.

Mefloquine and its Psychological Effects

By Ursula Biba 

Travelers to areas with high prevalence of malaria are commonly given drugs like atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline and mefloquine to prevent contracting the disease. However, practitioners are concerned with the safety of mefloquine. Introduced in the 1980s, the drug has been linked to various psychological side effects, prompting the creation of a large scale review with 50 randomized studies and 1 million total participants. Findings reveal that mefloquine is related to increased rates of sleeplessness, abnormal dreams, anxiety and depression. Although these links are primarily from patient self-reports, studies have also determined mefloquine to be the cause of one attempted suicide and associated with two deaths. As only less than 1% of travelers treated with mefloquine develop serious side effects, there is no proven increase in formal diagnoses. Thus, more studies need to be performed to determine the true link between the drug and psychosis.

 

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. (2017, October 30). New review looks at the effectiveness, side effects of mefloquine. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030112225.htm