Biology and Biotech

There may be a way to lose weight while eating a high-fat diet and you wouldn't even have to sell your soul to the devil. But, you would have to stop smelling for a while. 

Let me explain. 

If you have walked by a summertime BBQ with the grill going or a bakery with hot ovens full of baked goods, you know the role that smell plays in our appetite and subsequently, our weight. 

So, it makes sense that an effective way to lose weight would be to remove the ability to smell. If you smell less you eat less. And, that is exactly what happened to some obese mice in the labs at the University of California at Berkeley. But, there was one big surprise in the results that came from the experiment. 

The mice that could not smell ate as much of the same food (which was...

Environmental contamination with heavy metals is often the result of various types of industrial processes. Because heavy metals can be dangerous to humans and other wildlife, contaminated sites need to be cleaned up. This isn't easy. Chemical extraction methods can introduce different types of pollutants into the environment.

Bioremediation -- using biological organisms to clean polluted areas -- is a hot area of research. Some plants can naturally sop up heavy metals without any ill effects, but plants don't always grow large enough to soak up all the pollution. Besides, plants can't be used to clean up contaminated water.

So, scientists have increasingly chosen to use the techniques of biotechnology to create genetically engineered microbes capable of gobbling up...

The race is on as to where the first genetically modified (GM) organisms will be released into the environment in the United States.

Florida came close last year with a plan to release GM mosquitoes from the company Oxitec to combat viral infections such as dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. However, the plan was foiled when a "no" vote from one area's constituents, Key Haven, put the plan on hold for a few more years. 

The release of GM organisms is not limited to mosquitoes or warm climates, however. In fact, New York is well on its way to release GM diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella) in an effort to keep its crops safe from destruction. If it happens, this will be the first release of GM organisms in the United States.  

The permit application for a...

There are many questionable aging-related products on the market. One of the more recent is TeloYears, a test that supposedly determines your "true age" by measuring the length of a structure on your chromosomes called telomeres.

Telomeres can be thought of as a protective cap. Each time your cells divide, the telomere caps on the DNA that makes up your chromosomes shorten just a bit. When the telomeres get too short, the cell dies. If your telomeres are shorter than they ought to be, the thinking goes, then your body is actually "older" than your chronological age would suggest. On the flip side, if your telomeres are longer than they ought to be, then your body is "younger" than your chronological age would suggest.

Is this test accurate? Probably not. There doesn't...

To people living in the Caribbean, a mosquito bite is far more than an itch. Each one brings the potential of contracting a deadly disease. Facing that daily reality could make even the most science-averse person jump onto the biotech bandwagon, including the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to prevent infection, and the people of the Caribbean island of Saba are leading the way. 

To investigate some concerns about the release of genetically modified mosquitoes, the Executive Council of Saba requested an evaluation by The Netherlands National Institute of Public Health and the Environment's (RIVM) Genetically Modified Organisms Office. Saba is one of the three Caribbean special municipalities of The Netherlands (along with Bonaire...

Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), with its mere ~4,000 genes, has been outsmarting us for decades. One look at the numbers illustrates this clearly. The disease caused by Mtb, tuberculosis (TB), is one of the top 10 causes of death in the world. It currently infects roughly 1.5 billion people worldwide and causes 1.8 million deaths every year - most commonly in India, Indonesia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.

As if these numbers were not staggering enough, there is a steady increase in the number of cases of TB with strains that are resistant to antibiotics, or multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB). The half a million cases annually make the need for new TB drugs critically important. 

The lab of Dr. Brian VanderVen at Cornell University is working on just...

Women suffer about twice as many severe headaches and migraines as men.

Genetics likely plays a role. According to a review published in The Lancet Neurology, migraines are polygenic (i.e., many different genes contribute to migraines.) Indeed, a meta-analysis in Nature Genetics identified several dozen genes, mainly associated with blood vessel and smooth muscle tissue.

But genetics probably does not explain the difference in migraine prevalence between men and women. That discrepancy appears to be the fault of hormones, especially estrogen. According to...

For the last 100 years, slicing a single cell into two equal parts has proven to be a process that's tedious, time-consuming and one that required to be done by hand.

But a young, observant scientist and her fellow researchers at Stanford University have just come up with a method that's 200 times faster, with similar survival rates, and one, according to the school that "could eventually help scientists study and treat a variety of human diseases related to cell regeneration, such as cancer."

The researchers, led by Sindy Tang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, have created a "microfluidic guillotine" that channels single cells down a tight corridor before they are bisected by a pointed blade, creating two evenly-sliced cells...

There's new data to suggest that women with breast implants could receive an incorrect diagnosis for a heart attack when undergoing an electrocardiogram. That's according to research released today at a medical conference in Austria.

Doctors could not say with certainty that implants were the only cause for false readings. But their research, presented as "Electrocardiographic modifications induced by breasts implants: a comparative study" at ERHA EUROPACE - CARDIOSTIM 2017 in Vienna, indicated that they could very well be the cause. 

Researchers were interested in this investigation because previous work using echocardiography showed that seeing the heart, using ultrasound, was compromised because breast implants blocked the view. As a result, “We wanted to find...

When an artery feeding the heart (coronary artery) becomes blocked by plaque or a blood clot, the heart muscle fed by that artery suffers from lack of oxygen and nutrients. If the block goes on long enough, that area of muscle dies — and that’s what we call a heart attack or myocardial infarction. If the area is large enough, the person dies too, unless something is done to quickly restore blood flow.

Of course, lowering cholesterol with drugs and decreasing incipient blockages by angioplasty are two effective ways to prevent such events.  A new study suggests that a particular type of bacterium — Synechococcus elongates (SE) — just might be the key to preventing damage when a blockage does...