Biology and Biotech

If you're a fan of your new, wearable fitness tracker, it must be reassuring to glance down at your wrist and see your heart rate measurement as you start your run. And as the numbers climb, there's gratification knowing that your heart is pumping – and your calorie burn is underway.

For purchasers of these cutting-edge products, real-time feedback on personal, physiological changes in your own body is thrilling to witness. That's a big reason why fitness trackers comprise a hot and growing market, with worldwide expected sales this year to reach 44.1 million units.  

OK now, while having this newfound access to your personal health data is exciting and empowering, there's just...

Vitamin-A deficiency around the world leads to between 250,000 and 500,000 children going blind – every single year. Half of them die within a year of losing their sight. And several other health problems stem from this urgent issue.

Yet, a solution to this global health threat is available today, and it could quickly help 250 million preschool children around the world who are vitamin-A deficient, as estimated by the World Health Organization

That said, exactly how many countries today are growing "Golden Rice" – a genetically-modified seed with three genes that produce beta-carotene, a vitamin-A precursor – to assist their underfed and vulnerable populations?

Zero.

Yes, it's difficult to fathom,...

When we order food at a restaurant or buy it from a grocery store, we expect that we are getting what is listed on the menu or label. But a growing body of evidence suggests that simply isn't the case.

A scandal in the UK broke out when it was discovered that some beef had been replaced by horse meat. Hot dogs in Malaysia may contain unexpected things, like buffalo meat. Cheese classified as Parmigiano-Reggiano is possibly fraudulent. In fact, food fraud appears to be a particular problem in the seafood industry, where cheap fish is regularly substituted for...

One final observation on our great post-war successes in controlling malaria by targeting its vector, the Anopheles mosquito. By using that most marvelous insecticide DDT, we were beginning to gain the upper hand in our conquest of malaria as clearly demonstrated in the table below.

...

Country

Malaria occurrence per annum prior to introduction of DDT

Malaria occurrence per annum after the introduction of DDT

Sardinia

Immunology studies how we maintain our body’s integrity. When one thinks of immunology, it is the mechanisms of our defense that first come to mind. White blood cells converging on bacteria, antibodies identifying a biological threat. But hidden within these mechanisms is “immunity’s central motif,” our definition of self and other. I think every parent has a moment when speaking with their child, that they begin channeling their parents. Why am I hearing my father’s words and tone as I counsel or console my son? How did my father come to reside within my ‘self?’ What boundary conditions separate us from other? Why, does it feel at times so clear-cut and others so amorphous? Differentiating self from other has many scales, not just immunology or my internalized parent’s voices. Self...

For athletes and others who exercise, glucose is the key energy source that powers their activity. Since it's what makes them go – and keeps them going – maintaining proper levels are essential to achieving the desired performance.

Glucose and fat are essential to powering muscles. But glucose is the only energy source that fuels the brain and sustains motivation to keep going. "Hitting the wall," the common term used among athletes who realize that they can go no further, is a result of the brain having no more glucose to draw upon.

Therefore, scientists believe, if the depletion of glucose in the brain could be reduced or slowed, running into "the wall" could be theoretically be delayed. In practical terms, that would translate into pushing it back long enough to...

Causes of obesity are not as simple as a lack of exercise or overindulging. It has been known for some time that a predisposition for obesity has been linked to certain genes, however, specific mechanisms have been more difficult to elucidate. 

Some changes in our DNA, called mutations, alter the sequence of the bases in our DNA which can result in changing a trait or a disease. Other changes in our DNA - epigenetic changes (changes to our DNA that do not have to do with the sequence of bases) - can lead to the same result without the DNA sequence being changed. In this process, DNA gets marked with epigenetic 'tags' that can make the DNA alter its conformation. The result is that genes are expressed more or less which has an effect on the amount of proteins that they produce...

Judging from our readers' strong response to a recent article on why pancreatic cancer kills so quickly, we thought we'd turn our attention to another form of fast-acting cancer and what takes place at the cellular level.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, claims between 9,000-10,000 American lives annually. And a primary reason it does is that, like in the pancreas, its cancer cells swiftly coalesce into tumors. Another important reason: like pancreatic cancer, early diagnosis often eludes its victims, of which there are many thousand in the U.S. each year.

However, we might soon see progress in defending against both of these killers.

That's...

Part of the global effort to discover new antibiotics involves inventing new techniques to analyze the ones we already have. The idea is that the more we learn about how antimicrobials work at the molecular level, the easier it will be to find or synthesize novel ones.

One way to learn about how antibiotics work is to visualize their accumulation within bacterial cells. But this is no easy feat. Several imaging techniques already exist, such as monitoring fluorescence or tracking molecules using radioactive labels, but these methods suffer from various drawbacks. So, a team of researchers from Penn State University and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology giant Novartis set about inventing a new technique.

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The Dutch are famous for windmills, impressive feats of geoengineering, and being tall and blonde. At a towering 183.8 cm (just over 6 feet tall), Dutch men are widely hailed as the tallest in the world. But new data suggests that men from regions within the Balkan country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) are even taller.

The inhabitants of B&H display a large variation in average height. This is due to a combination of factors, such as genetics, religion, and socioeconomics. B&H is a multiethnic country, so the genetic background of its citizens is varied. Religion influences a person's dietary choices (e.g., Muslims avoid pork), while socioeconomic status affects the nutritional value of the food that a person can obtain. Just...