Biology and Biotech

Early on October 3, 2016, the world-famous committee in Stockholm announced that Japanese scientist Yoshinori Ohsumi had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering autophagy. So, what is it?

Autophagy is a type of programmed cell death. Some of the cells in multicellular organisms, like animals and plants, choose to self-destruct for the greater benefit of the organism. This can occur for a variety of reasons. If a cell outlives its usefulness, is nutrient deprived, or becomes infected, the cell considers suicide a viable option.

There are several different ways in which a cell can die. Two...

If you, like most others, are under the impression that Watson and Crick discovered DNA, you have plenty of company, but you all happen to be wrong.

Watson and Crick's 1953 paper, where they solved the structure of DNA, earned them fame and fortune - more than most Nobel Prize winners. While knowing the structure of such an important biomolecule was an historic accomplishment, they were able to solve it only because of the impressive body of work that preceded them. That said, this discovery is no different than any other breakthrough in science. 

The discovery of DNA took place over the course of 100 years, during which time at least a dozen different scientists played key roles. Here are some of the discoveries that enabled Watson and Crick to...

Credit: Shutterstock

With antibiotic resistance a growing threat, scientists are on the hunt for new ways to treat bacterial infections. One of these, called phage therapy, uses a special kind of virus that only infects and kills bacteria. (These viruses are called "bacteriophage" or simply "phage.")

The original idea for this therapy is actually quite old. It was pioneered by Félix d'Herelle in the 1920s (and is still used in Eastern Europe today) but it fell mostly out of favor with the advent of antibiotics like penicillin. However, with antibiotics becoming less effective today, scientists are increasingly turning to unconventional treatments.

Acinetobacter baumanii, often referred to as "Iraqibacter", gained notoriety in recent years due to its causing wound infections in...

Smarter than the average orangutan

Though reality TV would seem to challenge the notion, highly social creatures tend to be more intelligent than non-social creatures. The reason is because it takes brain power to communicate and thrive in a society. A successful wolf, for instance, must be bright enough to pick up on behavioral cues from the alpha male and to understand his place in the social hierarchy.

Cognitive scientists believe that social learning -- i.e., learning behaviors from others -- enhances an animal's ability to learn new things by itself. In other words, social intelligence helps promote individual intelligence. This idea, called the cultural intelligence hypothesis, also has a corollary: Social species should have evolved to be better at problem-solving than related, non-social species. 

...

The international protest "March Against Monsanto" (MAM) was never based on truth. The movement perpetuated myths about GMOs to demonize a company that has a really bad PR department. But now that Bayer is buying out Monsanto, what is MAM to do? These angry activists must channel their rage somewhere. So, March Against Monsanto has decided to become hard-core anti-vaccine.

With over 1.2 million followers, the influential group's Facebook page is dangerously unhinged from reality, featuring posts promoting everything from anti-vaxxer propaganda to historical conspiracy theories. See this post, for example:

...

In light of the discouraging stories we're continually faced with about the imperiled environment, or the threats to nature and our planet, it was certainly uplifting to hear recently about the successes of one giant tortoise happily prospering in the Galapagos Islands.

Often times, news stories originating from this Pacific Ocean archipelago off the coast of Ecuador focus on animal preservation efforts that have fallen short, fragile habitats spoiled by humankind and endangered species of one form or another. But this week, it was about a slow-moving, four-legged centenarian known as Diego, who unlike his famous yet late counterpart (see chart below) has been credited with single-handedly bringing his subspecies back from the brink of extinction. 

Now, that's not easily...

The German conglomerate Bayer has agreed to buy the Monsanto seed and pesticide company for $66 billion, putting an end to months of speculation about who would acquire it. Now the speculation has turned to American anti-science groups and how they will continue to demonize a company that isn't part of evil America, but instead is based in the Europe they love to invoke.

Monsanto has been a ready target for those groups, who claim that its products have caused suicides in India, lawsuits against wholesome farmers across North America, and bees to keel over at the mention of the name. One of those groups, the Non-GMO Project, has even made a fortune charging companies to put a label on saying they don't have any GMOs.

So if you want to buy Non-GMO rock salt, you...

Tens of thousands of women have mastectomies to treat breast cancer each year and a new study lends hope to the idea that reconstructive surgery could make breastfeeding possible afterward.

In experiments, researchers induced breast cells to self-assemble into aligned, ductal shapes, overcoming the "subtrate stiffness" problem in cell alignment; the stiffness of the tissue scaffold to which cells bind. They built 3-D scaffolds out of protein gel by placing the gel over silicone molds. Depending on each mold’s shape, the gel solidified into different shapes with various levels of stiffness throughout. Then, breast cells were placed on top of the gel and the researchers recorded time-lapse microscopic video of the...

We all know you're adults and hate guessing games so I'll get right to the answer: 58. 

Fifty eight countries/territories currently have active Zika transmission. That has to alarm you as much as it does me.

And those do not include those countries where someone brought it back home after becoming infected on a trip (such as France.) These 58 are the countries where a person in the country contracted Zika while in that country. 

The breakdown is as follows: 

  • 1 country in Africa (Cape Verde)  
  • 8 in the Pacific Islands 
  • 48 in North, Central and South America 

Map courtesy of www.cnn.com

That's worrisome. Even more...

There is something nauseatingly ingenious about the Huffington Post. A website that rose to prominence by shamelessly copying and pasting other people's work, it proudly refuses to pay most of its writers and has almost no editorial standards. In 2011, this journalistic dumpster fire was sold to AOL for $315 million. Utterly brilliant. It's like robbing a bank and having the police pay you for community service.

One of the latest contributions from HuffBlow to the national dialogue comes courtesy of self-described teenage "food safety activist"...