Biology and Biotech

A couple of years ago we applauded Uganda for adopting the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill which will allow farmers to grow genetically engineered crops (GMOs), as a means of improving the quality of foods. In particular use of this modern technology could prevent a deadly fungus from wiping out the most widely sold type of banana, the Cavendish, as we explained here. And, genetically-engineered bananas could also help wipe out vitamin A deficency in Uganda, as described in a recent post from...

People with red hair tend to have a greater health risk from sun exposure, and for developing skin cancer. But now researchers at Boston University report that they've found a way to potentially reduce that risk by altering a protein involved with pigmentation in humans.

Scientists at BU's School of Medicine learned that this protein, called Melanocortin 1 Receptor, or MC1R, "is affected by a special modification process called palmitoylation," according to a BU news release, and that by "enhancing palmitoylation in the variant MC1R proteins of redheads cancer risk can be reduced."

The findings of the study, titled "Palmitoylation-dependent activation of MC1R prevents melanomagenesis,"...

Heparin is a mucopolysaccharide, which is a long chain sugar molecule, is found in mucous and fluid surrounding the joints. Heparin was first discovered in 1918 and has been used as an anticoagulant for the treatment of venous thromboembolism or VTE (blood clots in the veins of lower extremities and the lung) since the 1930s.  It is estimated that the annual incidence of VTE is about one in 1000 adults, making anticoagulants one of the most important classes of prescribed drugs. 

Research has revealed that heparin has a...

In the United States, we are largely sheltered from some diseases which have a great disease burden globally. Tuberculosis (TB) is one such disease, accounting for nine million newly diagnosed cases and two million deaths annually. TB is second to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as the top causes of death from an infectious disease according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and it is not uncommon for people with HIV to be co-infected with TB.

Even in this day and age, there is still a problem with delays in obtaining a timely clinical diagnosis. With a disease like TB, time is of the essence....

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. 

...

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...