Do viruses make us smarter?

Inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterize the human brain, researchers say. They have found that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain, more specifically in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when.

Retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain, more specifically in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when, researchers say.

A new study from Lund University in Sweden indicates that inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterise the human brain.

Researchers have long been aware that endogenous retroviruses constitute around five per cent of our DNA. For many years, they were considered junk DNA of no real use, a side-effect of our evolutionary journey.

In the current study, Johan Jakobsson and his colleagues show that retroviruses seem to play a central role in the basic functions of the brain, more specifically in the regulation of which genes are to be expressed, and when. The findings indicate that, over the course of evolution, the viruses took an increasingly firm hold on the steering wheel in our cellular machinery. The reason the viruses are activated specifically in the brain is probably due to the fact that tumours cannot form in nerve cells, unlike in other tissues.

“We have been able to observe that these viruses are activated specifically in the brain cells and have an important regulatory role. We believe that the role of retroviruses can contribute to explaining why brain cells in particular are so dynamic and multifaceted in their function. It may also be the case that the viruses’ more or less complex functions in various species can help us to understand why we are so different,” says Johan Jakobsson, head of the research team for molecular neurogenetics at Lund University.

The article, based on studies of neural stem cells, shows that these cells use a particular molecular mechanism to control the activation processes of the retroviruses. The findings provide us with a complex insight into the innermost workings of the most basal functions of the nerve cells. At the same time, the results open up potential for new research paths concerning brain diseases linked to genetic factors.

“I believe that this can lead to new, exciting studies on the diseases of the brain. Currently, when we look for genetic factors linked to various diseases, we usually look for the genes we are familiar with, which make up a mere two per cent of the genome. Now we are opening up the possibility of looking at a much larger part of the genetic material which was previously considered unimportant. The image of the brain becomes more complex, but the area in which to search for errors linked to diseases with a genetic component, such as neurodegenerative diseases, psychiatric illness and brain tumours, also increases.”

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The above story is based on materials provided by Lund University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Liana Fasching, Adamandia Kapopoulou, Rohit Sachdeva, Rebecca Petri, Marie E. Jönsson, Christian Männe, Priscilla Turelli, Patric Jern, Florence Cammas, Didier Trono, Johan Jakobsson. TRIM28 Represses Transcription of Endogenous Retroviruses in Neural Progenitor Cells. Cell Reports, 2015; 10 (1): 20 DOI:10.1016/j.celrep.2014.12.004

Space-Time Warp Measured With Aid Of Vanishing Neutron Star

It’s not easy to weigh a star, but an international team of astronomers has done just that.

In fact, they’ve measured the masses of both stars in an odd binary star system some 25,000 light-years from Earth–and gauged the space-time warp resulting from the system’s intense gravitation.

“Our result is important because weighing stars while they freely float through spaceis exceedingly difficult,” Dr. Joeri van Leeuwen, a University of Amsterdam astrophysicist and the leader of the team, said in a written statement. “That is a problem because such mass measurements are required for precisely understanding gravity, the force that is intimately linked to the behavior of space and time on all scales in our universe.”

The binary system under study is known to astronomers as J1906. It features a fast-spinning neutron star, or pulsar, in orbit around another star that is believed to be either another neutron star or a white dwarf. Neutron stars are the smallest, densest stars known to exist. Each of the stars in the system is more massive than our sun, and they are 100 times nearer to each other than the Earth is to the sun.

To gauge the pulsar’s mass and measure the warping of space within the system, the team tracked the pulsar’s rotations using observations from the Arecibo Observatoryin Puerto Rico (where the original observations were made) and four other radio telescopes around the world.

The measurements showed that the pulsar’s mass is about 1.29 times the mass of the sun, Dr. Ingrid Stairs, a professor of physics and astronomy at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told The Huffington Post in an email. Its companion star is about 1.32 times as massive as the sun.

The extreme gravity within the system causes a wobble in the axis of the pulsar’s spin (see video above), meaning the portion of the pulsar’s emission that we are able to see changes over time.

“We have observed this, and in fact it turns out that we are starting to get close to the edge of the emission region, so that the pulsar is getting fainter and fainter,” Stairs told The Huffington Post in an email. “We were lucky to catch it before it disappeared.”

But the pulsar isn’t gone forever.

“This cosmic spinning top is expected to wobble back into view,” van Leeuwen said in the statement, “but it might take as long as 160 years.”

Watch the video. URL:

Study links lifespan and solar activty .

A study of births in Norway reports that people born when there was low solar activity lived longer on average than those born during times when there was more solar activity.

sun emitting a mid-level flare
This image shows the sun emitting a mid-level solar flare on 4 December 2014 .

The researchers behind the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today, analysed births and deaths in 2 parts of Norway between 1676 and 1878. They compared the lifespan of individuals to the amount of solar activity in the year of the person’s birth. Their results show that people born in times when the sun was at its least active lived on average 5 years longer than those born when the sun was most active.

The sun goes through cycles of activity every 11 years, with 8 years of low activity followed by 3 years of high activity. During peak times when the sun is most active the amount of ultraviolet radiation people on earth are exposed to can increase. This increased ultraviolet radiation could have damaging consequences on health and longevity.

“Ultraviolet radiation can suppress essential molecular and cellular mechanisms during early development”, say the authors of the study. “Variations in solar activity during early development may thus influence their health and reproduction.”

The team say the detrimental effects of high ultraviolet radiation during development are unclear but that high levels of ultraviolet radiation might cause degradation of vitamin B which is needed for healthy gestation, DNA damage and membrane damage in developing foetuses.

The team analysed data from church records of more than 8,500 people born in Norway between 1676 and 1878. Of all the children, around 20% died before they reached 20. Those born in years with high solar activity had a lower probability of surviving to adulthood than those born in years with low solar activity.

How Does Yoga Keep Brain Healthy?

Yoga can boost memory because it improves blood flow to the brain and helps in making it work better. Hence, yoga and similar practices can be very helpful in staving off diseases like Alzheimers and other mental disorders.

Dharana, otherwise known as the practice of concentration in the yoga-meditation world is the perfect way to clear your mind and calm your senses. As you remove the static noise in your head and focus your mind, you’ll find that you’re able to remember things, concentrate, and perform much better. The padahastasana (standing forward bend yoga), a yoga pose is very useful to improve memory.

In the study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, 30 college students were asked to complete two cognitive exercises that involved identifying shapes on a computer screen. The first time through, the participants conducted the experiment without working out beforehand; the second time, they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes before doing the exercise; and the third time they preceded the exercise with a 20-minute hatha yoga session that included yoga poses, seated meditation, and deep breathing.

Researchers found that yoga outperformed both aerobic exercise and no exercise when it came to keeping the students sharp. The single 20-minute bout of yoga improved their focus and helped them process information faster and more accurately than they did without it. Plus, its brain benefits kicked in more quickly than compared with cardio—they students got a cognitive boost about 30 minutes after completing their last pose.

These researches, thus prove that the plasticity of the brain can be utilized by keeping the brain healthy by participating in exercises like yoga. Practicing yoga and meditation gives a protective effect against degenerative disorders of the cognitive nature.

Insecticide-treated mosquito nets may have given rise to resistant hybrid .

In Mali, insecticide-laced bed nets are being used to stave off mosquitoes and the malaria parasites they carry. The increased availability of the nets has been a great boon to public health in the region, but recently scientists noticed that some of the malaria-carrying Anopheles coluzzii were showing signs of resistance. The resistance genes appear to have been gleaned from a different mosquito, A. gambiae (above), in a hybridization of the two species,The Verge reports. The emergence of the hybrids appears to coincide with the introduction of the nets, and although it doesn’t necessarily prove a causal relationship, the study again highlights the challenges of racing against the evolutionary speed of infectious diseases and their vectors.

Insecticide-treated mosquito nets may have given rise to resistant hybrid

Why You Should Sleep In A Cold Bedroom.

From the desk of Zedie.

Steam Machine Turns Poop into Clean Drinking Water

Bill Gates wants to turn your poop into clean drinking water, and he’s got just the machine to do it.
In a recent blog post and video, the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist showed off what he called an “ingenious machine,” a steam-powered sewage processor that burns up solid waste and creates both potable water and electricity.
Dubbed the “Omniprocessor,” the machine was designed and built by the Washington-based engineering firm Janicki Bioenergy, which is now receiving funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to further develop the technology. Gates believes the machine can help solve one of the developing world’s biggest problems — access to clean water. [Top 10 Craziest Environmental Ideas]

At least 2 billion people the world over relieve themselves in bathroom facilities that aren’t properly drained, according to Gates, who also noted that many others don’t have access to bathrooms at all and must defecate out in the open. All of this improperly processed waste contaminates the drinking water of millions of people in communities around the globe. This results in disease that kills about 700,000 children every year, and stunts the physical and mental development of many more, Gates wrote in his blog post.
But the solution to this devastating problem isn’t to build more toilets. Western-style sewer lines and sewage treatment plantsare not feasible options in most poor countries, according to Gates. But, a sewage treatment machine like the Omniprocessor may work in such places, he said.
Measuring about 75 feet (23 meters) long and 26 feet (8 m) across, this small processing plant can handle about 14 tons of waste every day. That means it’s large enough to continually process sewage from a community of about 100,000 people, according to the Gates Foundation.
The machine is loaded up with sewer sludge, which travels up a conveyor belt and is fed into large tubes known as dryers. The dryers boil the sludge, removing all the liquid and capturing it as water vapor, which is then heavily processed, making it suitable to drink.
The solid waste is dumped into an incinerator, which burns up the rest of the waste, creating a good deal of heat. This heat, in turn, is funneled through a steam engine, which produces high-temperature steam that fuels a generator. The generator creates electricity that is used to power the machine. There’s even a little extra electricity left over that can be transferred into the power grid.
This self-sustaining machine will soon be launched in a pilot project in Dakar, Senegal, where Janicki engineers will study the Omniprocessor’s operation in a real-world setting. Eventually Omniprocessors will be sold to local entrepreneurs who will purchase the machine for about $1.5 million, according to a report by Wired. In addition to testing out different locations for the machine and communicating with local community members about how it works, the Janicki team’s trial run in Senegal will also test out a system of sensors and webcams that will let engineers in the United States control the machine remotely.
“It might be many years before the processor is being used widely,” Gates wrote in his blog post. “But I was really impressed with Janicki’s engineering. And I’m excited about the business model. The processor wouldn’t just keep human waste out of the drinking water; it would turn waste into a commodity with real value in the marketplace. It’s the ultimate example of that old expression: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

watch the video. Bill Gates is really enoying.


Anthrax could deliver the cancer drugs of the future .

Anthrax, a potentially fatal disease caused by the Bacillus anthracisbacterium, infamous for being used as a biological weapon inside letters in 2001, is back – but scientists have now managed to turn it into a non-toxic, efficient drug delivery platform.

“Anthrax toxin is a professional at delivering large enzymes into cells,” Bradley Pentelute, a chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US and senior author of the paper, told Anne Trafton for an MIT story on the discovery. “We wondered if we could render anthrax toxin nontoxic, and use it as a platform to deliver antibody drugs into cells.”

Now the scientists have successfully shown that they can do just that, and their research is published in ChemBioChem.

In the study, Pentelute and his team showed that they could use a “disarmed” version of the anthrax toxin to deliver two cancer-killing proteins known as antibody mimics into cells. These antibody mimics are important because they disrupt specific proteins inside cancer cells and are therefore capable of destroying them, but until now scientists haven’t been able to work out how to get them into cells.

This is the first demonstration of an effective antibody mimic delivery system, and it could allow research to develop new drugs for cancer and a range of other diseases, Pentelute explains in the MIT release.

Antibodies are proteins that are produced by our immune system to bind to pathogens, and in recent decades, scientists have designed their own antibodies that can disrupt proteins such as the HER2 receptor found on the surface of some cancer cells. Researchers have already developed a drug designed to bind to the HER2 receptor, called Herceptin, and it’s being successfully used to treat breast cancer tumours.

But the big hurdle in antibody drug research is that many of the potential drug targets are inside the cell – and scientists haven’t worked out how to get the antibody drugs there, until now.

The MIT team managed to successfully target several proteins inside cancer cells, including Bcr-Abl, which causes chronic myeloid leukaemia. The cancer cells that had the antibody mimics injected into them by the anthrax toxin underwent programmed cell suicide.

The researchers also managed to use anthrax to block a protein called hRAf-1 that’s overactive in many cancers.

“This work represents a prominent advance in the drug-delivery field,” Jennifer Cochran, a bioengineer at Stanford University in the US who wasn’t involved in the study, told Trafton for MIT. “Given the efficient protein delivery Pentelute and colleagues achieved with this technology compared to a traditional cell-penetrating peptide, studies to translate these findings toin vivo disease models will be highly anticipated.”

The MIT researchers are now testing the anthrax delivery method in mice and investigating ways they can target particular cell types.

This bruise is the result of the only confirmed meteorite strike on a human ever

Back in 1954, Ann Hodges became the only confirmed person in history to be hit by a meteorite.

tumblr ni0s64PNnM1sdi1nlo1 1280 1

On a crisp November afternoon in the small town of Sylacauga, Alabama, in 1954, Ann Hodges was napping on the couch when a softball-sized chunk of rock crashed through the ceiling, bounced off her radio and hit her in the thigh.

Other than the roughly 30-cm bruise above her hip that you can see being examined by doctor Moody Jacobs above, Ann was relatively uninjured.
But the attention that followed was so intense that she ended up being admitted to hospital. Not only had she potentially been hit by a meteorite, but she was also struck during a period of Cold War hysteria – and in her small town, this sent neighbours flocking to her house, convinced the object had been sent by the Soviet Union.

Earlier that day, people in Sylacauga had seen a “bright reddish light like a Roman candle trailing smoke” according to an Alabama Museum of Natural History publication. Others had seen a fireball “like a gigantic welding arc”. But the cause was unclear.

A government geologist was sent in to inspect the object and eventually determined that it was a meteorite, and not a communist weapon. But that was even more rare, and Ann became the only cofirmed person in human history to have been struck by a meteorite.

As Michael Reynolds, an astronomer from Florida State College, told Justin Nobel for National Geographic, being hit by a meteorite is an incredibly unlikely event.

“Think of how many people have lived throughout human history,” Reynolds told Nobel. “You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”

But unfortunately, the meteorite continued to cause drama. Although the government agreed to give it back to Ann and her husband Eugene, the couple were renters, and so their landlord sued them for custody of the space rock.

After much public fighting, Eugene and Ann did end up with the meteorite, and in 1956 donated it to the natural history museum, where it’s still on display.

But the frenzy had taken its toll, and Nobel reports that Ann later suffered a nervous breakdown and died at the age of 52 of kidney failure.

Scientists use ‘NanoVelcro’ and temperature control to extract tumor cells from blood

An international group led by scientists at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute has developed a new method for effectively extracting and analyzing cancer cells circulating in patients’ blood.
Scientists use ‘NanoVelcro’ and temperature control to extract tumor cells from blood

Circulating are cancer cells that break away from tumors and travel in the blood, looking for places in the body to start growing new tumors called metastases. Capturing these rare cells would allow doctors to detect and analyze the cancer so they could tailor treatment for individual patients.

In his laboratory at the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute, Hsian-Rong Tseng, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology, used a device he invented to capture circulating tumor cells from blood samples.

The device, called the NanoVelcro Chip, is a postage-stamp–sized chip with nanowires that are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair and are coated with antibodies that recognize circulating tumor cells. When 2 milliliters of blood are run through the chip, the tumor cells stick to the nanowires like Velcro.

Capturing the tumor cells was just part of the battle, though. To analyze them, Tseng’s team needed to be able to separate the cells from the chip without damaging them.

In earlier experiments with NanoVelcro, the scientists used a technique called laser capture microdissection that was effective in removing from the chip without damaging them, but the method was time-consuming and labor intensive, and it required highly specialized equipment.

Now Tseng and his colleagues have developed a thermoresponsive NanoVelcro purification system, which enables them to raise and lower the temperature of the blood sample to capture (at 37 degrees Celsius) and release (at 4 degrees Celsius) at their optimal purity. Polymer brushes on the NanoVelcro’s nanowires respond to the temperature changes by altering their physical properties, allowing them to capture or release the cells.

Because it could make extracting the cancer cells much more efficient and cost-effective at a time in a patient’s life when information is needed as quickly as possible, Tseng said it is conceivable that the new system will replace laser capture microdissection as the standard protocol.

“With our new system, we can control the blood’s temperature—the way coffeehouses would with an espresso machine—to capture and then release the in great purity, ” said Tseng, who is also a member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We combined the thermoresponsive system with downstream mutational analysis to successfully monitor the disease evolution of a lung cancer patient. This shows the translational value of our device in managing non–small-cell lung cancer with underlying mutations.”

The study was published online by the journal ACS Nano.

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