Biology and Biotech

Endorphins are neurotransmitters in the brain that, when paired with their receptors, can block pain and also stimulate a feeing of pleasure, thus, the “runners’ high” and other sources of pain and stress. In particular, one hypothesis suggests that since eating can stimulate the release of endorphins, they might be responsible for over-eating — a person might eat more than necessary to enhance his or her levels of these pleasure-inducing chemicals. Although it sounds reasonable, a recent Finnish study suggests that we can’t blame our overeating on endorphins.

It wasn’t until the development of a technique called the PET scan (for Positron Emission Tomography) that we have been able to learn what is happening inside the...

Biologists have long known that small animal species, if they migrate from the mainland to an island or other isolated habitat, will evolve over time to become larger. Conversely, large animal species evolve to become smaller, a phenomenon referred to as "insular dwarfing." Combined, these two observations have led to the "island rule," which suggests that animals on islands evolve to an intermediate size.

Like most evolutionary modifications, changes to the average body size of an entire species generally take thousands of years. But now, researchers describe wild cattle on Amsterdam Island in the southern Indian Ocean that lost about 25% of their body size in just over 100 years.

In 1871, five...

Cancer cells are smart.  Very smart.  They can evade the immune system using several different methods that shield them from detection.  Thanks to the brilliance of scientists such as Jeff Bluestone, Jim Allison and Carl June, the rapidly flourishing field of cancer immunotherapy is providing an avenue for the immune system to overcome cancer's subversion.  Revising features of immune cells enables the immune system to recognize cancer cells for what they are – and destroy them. 

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In parts of Africa, it is common for older boys to undergo ritual circumcision as a passage into manhood. Unfortunately, the practice occasionally costs them their manhood.

The reason is that the person performing the circumcision is rarely medically trained. If the penis is improperly bandaged, it can become necrotic -- i.e., penile tissue can die. This leaves the man vulnerable to infections. If that occurs, the outcome could be very bad: Amputation or death from blood infection are possibilities.

If a man has his penis removed and wants a new one, there are two options available. The first is reconstructive surgery, often using an implant combined with tissue taken from his forearm to build a new penis. The problem is that the penis is hairy and ugly and doesn't...

Over 1.5 million people have been infected with the Zika virus in the past two years and more than 2,200 babies born with Zika-related microcephaly. Numbers like that call for a clear understanding of how Zika virus is spread from person to person - something that we are still not totally sure about. 

We are sure that the main route of infection of Zika virus is mosquito bites - the runner up is sexual intercourse. It is known that Zika virus is present in urine, saliva, tears, and breast milk. Zika virus can stay in blood and saliva for about two weeks after infection, longer in breast milk (more weeks) and semen (months). Even though the duration of the virus in each of these different fluids may be known, the relative risk of transmission associated with each one remains...

The next time you reach for your handy kitchen sponge to mop up a spill on the countertop, remember the message in a recent article in Science Reports entitled "Microbiome analysis and confocal microscopy of used kitchen sponges reveal massive colonization by Acinetobacter, Moraxella and Chryseobacterium species," and perhaps reconsider your move. That's because what this report tells us is that used kitchen sponges are typically chock full of bacteria — some of which can cause disease.

To be honest, this isn’t really new news — we’ve known for quite a while that sponges can harbor microbiological threats. That said, we certainly don’t mean to scare you from using your sponge, or imply that you are likely to get...

One of the troubles with agriculture is the need for farmers to apply fertilizer. The plants don't soak up all of it, which inevitably results in fertilizer running off into lakes and rivers.

That's problematic not just because it is wasteful of the farmer's precious financial resources, but because it is also wasteful of the planet's finite supply of phosphorus. Worse, when phosphorus and other nutrients make their way into bodies of water, they can trigger nasty algal blooms, which kicks off a chain reaction known as eutrophication. As the algae die off, they are decomposed by bacteria that use up...

Menopause often has some pretty negative effects on women. Their risks of heart disease, osteoporosis and obesity all increase, to say nothing of the hot flashes that can make life a misery. And while we do have drugs that can prevent or treat osteoporosis effectively, the same is far from true about obesity. A recent report in Nature provides preliminary evidence that a means of dealing with both obesity and bone loss might just be in the pipeline — an antibody that blocks receptors for the hormone FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone). The research was carried out by Dr. Peng Liu from the Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City and colleagues from a number of institutions.

When a...

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...