Archives for posts with tag: research

Plants can do basic maths and this helps them to know how much stored starch to use overnight.

Researchers have sequenced the coelacanth genome. This deep-sea fish has changed little physically in the last 300 million years, and the genome analysis shows few changes in its protein-coding genes.

The research could tell us more about how animals evolved from fish. Read more in the paper in Nature.

The barley genome has 5.3 billion bases (letters of genetic code) – this makes it almost twice the size of the human genome. This is the first complex grass genome to be sequenced and annotated.

Not so much a science fact now as a maybe one day – Craig Venter (the genetics visionary behind the first cell with a synthetic genome) has suggested that we could have 3D DNA printers at home that could download and print out a vaccine for us to administer ourselves.  Tests are under way.

You can learn while you are asleep. Israeli researchers wafted pleasant or unpleasant odours over sleeping volunteers, making them sniff,  and then played a tone more than a second later. They were careful to make sure that the volunteers didn’t wake. In the morning, they played the same tones and the volunteers sniffed but weren’t aware why.

There have been experiments showing that you can learn to link two stimuli together (such as a sound and a puff of air) during sleep, in classical conditioning.  This experiment is known as trace conditioning because of the time delay, and is the most advanced form of learning demonstrated during sleep – so I’m afraid it doesn’t mean you can stop revising for exams quite yet.
The original paper is in Nature.

Gibbons who inhale helium sing like sopranos. Researchers looked at the vocal cords of gibbons that had inhaled helium and saw that they could control their vocal tracts in the same way that soprano singers can – this was thought to to be unique to humans. See the original research in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Helium is a natural gas that cannot be synthesised, and it is vital for MRI scanners and radiation monitors. There is a helium shortage worldwide, and it could run out in 25-30 years. Because of a US law passed in 1996, according to Robert Richardson, professor of physics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, helium became too cheap to recycle, and was no longer regarded as precious.  Professor Richardson believes that our reserves of helium have been “squandered”.

According to researchers from Tel Aviv and Los Angeles, they can work out where you originate from using software and your genes, creating a kind of genetic ‘GPS’.  The researchers have used a software tool called spatial ancestry analysis (SPA) to locate mutations from the past that can be linked with a specific geographic location, even down to finding your parents’ ancestry too.

CompassThis could be used to trace a change that leads to disease in a specific population, or track the historic movement of human and animal populations. Read the original research in Nature Genetics.

Researchers have created a drug that specifically targets a protein in the testes and stops sperm production in mice, and is reversible – so has potential as a male contraceptive pill. However… one of the effects is shrinking testes, and though it’s reversible, how would people cope with that? And the age old question too – would women trust their partners to take the pill? These aren’t questions that need answering quite yet as it has only been tested in animals so far. As Professor Moira O’Bryan, the head of male infertility at Monash University in Australia, said to BBC News: “Although there is undoubtedly an urgent need for additional contraceptive options, the path between this paper and a new product is likely to be long.”

Read the original research in the journal Cell, and there’s more information here and here.

The antidoping labs, created by GlaxoSmithKline and supported by analysts from King’s College London for the Olympics, will become a biomarker centre for biomedical research. The MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre is reported to be the first of its kind in the world.

London 2012 unveils anti-doping laboratory with laboratory service providers GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and laboratory operators King's College London

Source: London 2012

The phenome is the sum total of the physical characteristics and chemical markers in the body, and by looking at the patterns in the phenome, researchers will aim to find new biomarkers to predict disease risk and outcomes, helping doctors to create better-tailored treatments.

Children brought up with animals, and youngest children in families, are often the least likely to get asthma,  and this may be down to the microbiome (all the bacteria) in the home’s house dust. Mice fed house dust from homes with dogs were more likely to be immune to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) than mice fed with dust from non-dog homes. RSV is a common childhood infection, and children exposed to it are more likely to get asthma.The microbes in their gut were also different.

The hygiene hypothesis suggests that we get more allergies now because our immune systems don’t have enough to do. Hookworms might be able to cure allergies – but a dog is much more fun to take for a walk!

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