Biology, Genetics, News

Whole organ ‘grown’ in animals for the first time


A whole functional organ has been successfully grown in animals for the first time; a group of Scottish researchers created a group of cells which, when transplanted into a mouse, developed into a fully functional thymus – a critical part of the immune system. The findings could lead to a revolution in organ transplant. The thymus is a specialized organ of the immune system. Within the thymus, T-cells mature. T cells are critical to the adaptive immune system, where they adapt specifically to foreign invaders. Each T cell attacks a specific foreign substance which it identifies with its receptor. Scientists at the Medical Research Council centre for regenerative medicine at the…

Animals, Genetics, News

Scientists find how lizards regenerate their tails

The green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis) can lose and then regrow its tail, using cartilage and fat to replace the bone.

It’s one of the most remarkable adaptations in the animal world – growing a tail or a limb. Some lizards do it, salamanders do it, and by learning how they do it, we may soon be able to do it as well; with technology, that is. A team of researchers have discovered the genetic “recipe” for lizard tail regeneration which, at the very basic level, comes down to the right combination and quantity of genes. To make things even more interesting, we humans have the same genes used in tail regrowth, so the study has a lot of potential. “Lizards basically share the same toolbox of genes as humans,” said lead…

Genetics, News

Resetting the immune system back 500 million years

The normal mouse thymus (left) contains only a small fraction of B-cells (red). If the gene FOXN4 is activated, a fish-like thymus with many B-cells develops. Image: Max Planck

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics (MPI-IE)  re-activated the expression of an ancient gene in mice. To their surprise, the gene in question which is dormant in all mammalian species caused the mice to develop  fish-like thymus. The thymus is an organ of paramount importance to the adaptive immune system, but in this particular instance, the thymus produced not only T cells, but also served as a maturation site for B cells – a property normally seen only in the thymus of fish. So, what we’re seeing is a resetting of the immune system to a state similar to what it was like 500 million years ago, when…

Genetics, Health & Medicine, News

PMS may have evolved to disrupt infertile relationships


A brave Australian professor of molecular biology thinks he may have found out  why women get premenstrual syndrome (PMS). According to his findings, following genetic screenings, PMS has evolved as a mechanism for breaking up infertile relationships and thus increase the chance of fostering a fertile relationship in the future. Effectively, nature designed PMS to give men hell. As a male, I salute this effort. I’ll leave you to Sun Tzu: “know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”. “In the past, women had many fewer menstrual cycles than women in modern societies, because they did not have control over reproduction and were either…

Biology, Genetics, News

Fish oil could be grown in plants


When you think about fish oil, you probably wouldn’t think of the English countryside – but that’s exactly where scientists are trying to grow it; yep, grow it! They’re using Camelina sativa plants genetically modified to produce long chain omega-3 fatty acids—the primary component of “fish oil.” Things you didn’t know about fish oil Most of the fish oil we use goes to fish farms, because fish don’t actually make fish oil. What we call fish oil are long chains of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. These acids are very important in human diet, especially for the well functioning of the brain – but fish don’t produce them. It’s actually algae and fungi that…

Biology, Discoveries, Genetics, News

Genetic response to starvation is passed down to at least three generations


In 1944, the Nazis caused widespread famine in Western Netherlands after they blocked food supplies. A group of pregnant women living in the Netherlands, labouring under starvation conditions imposed by a harsh winter and food embargo, gave birth to relatively small babies. When their children grew up, in relative prosperity, to have children of their own their babies were unexpectedly small. …

Genetics, Mind & Brain, News, Technology

Computer games sometimes better than medication in treating elderly depression


Computer games could be the key to treating elderly people who have been diagnosed with depression, but who aren’t responding to conventional treatment. A new study has shown that playing a certain type of computer games was more effective at reducing symptoms of depression than the “gold standard” – the antidepressant drug escitalopram. Recently, we’ve been bombarded about the positive effects that video games can have: they lead to brain thickening (that’s a good thing), they improve the players’ spatial perspective, they improve orientation and strategic planning,  and overall, gamers tend to be more educated and even polite. We were also lucky enough to get the chance to discuss the effects of video games…

Diseases, Genetics, News, Science

Potential HIV-1 cure works by deleting the virus’ DNA from the genome


HIV is maybe one of the most resilient and tenacious viral infections known to medical science. Unlike other infections, even if all traces of HIV are gone from the body – the virus itself – it can still resurface and infect the patient later on. That’s because HIV inserts itself permanently into the patient’s genome, slumbering in a latent state until it is ready to instruct cells to produce the virus. Then all hell breaks loose. This is why most HIV treatments fail; they provide a way to treat the effects, but not the cause, so while HIV may temporarily be eradicated from the body, it will eventually return to…

Animals, Genetics, Health & Medicine, News

Mutated cat poop parasite treats cancer

A new cancer fighting vaccine could come from an unlikely place. Photo:

Right now, I’m the happy caregiver of seven cats (five kittens. Yey!) which in most people’s books makes me socially challenged and insane. I do take special notice of my pets, and this means looking after them so they don’t get infected by parasites. Cats are typically clean animals, but when infested can spell trouble for family health – ZME cat owners, do be careful! Some cat parasites, however, can prove to be extremely useful if manipulated to our needs. For instance, researchers at the  Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center have mutated a strain of parasite found in cat poop that they used to treat cancer in mice with extremely promising results….

Genetics, Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain, News

Mutant worm that doesn’t get drunk could help end alcoholism

Scientists have grown mutated worms that don't get drunk. mage courtesy of Jon Pierce-Shimomura of The University of Texas at Austin.

An unlikely worm might help millions of people fighting alcohol addiction. No, you won’t find it in tequila, but in the labs of neuroscientists at University of Texas at Austin who have engineered  Caenorhabditis elegans – one of the most popular animal models in science – to become insensitive to alcohol intoxication. The findings, if replicated on mice and then humans in clinical trials via a drug, could help devise treatments for  people going through alcohol withdrawal.  The researchers achieved this feat by inserting a modified human alcohol target – any neuronal molecule that binds alcohol. The target in question was a neuronal channel called the BK channel, regulates many important functions including…