Biology and Biotech

Scientific experiments require subjects - which are infrequently humans for many (obvious) reasons.

Although closely related, non-human primates are expensive and have serious ethical questions. Other, smaller mammals are used more regularly, but are limited as they are expensive to house and its hard to use a large number of them at the same time. In experimentation, more "n" or data points is almost always better. 

Because of this, researchers look to a host of alternatives. One of the most popular is the roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans).

It may seem strange that many important, scientific questions are being answered using a worm that is the size of a comma on this page, but it is indeed, an incredibly powerful experimental system...

So are baldness and height related? 

When one considers the category of bald men, are there more Dwayne Johnsons, Steve Ballmers and Samuel L. Jacksons out there ... or would we find the majority of hairless men to be like Jason Alexander, Andre Agassi and Danny Devito? 

German researchers from the University of Bonn are now giving us the answer – or more appropriately, shall we say ... the low down.

After studying the genetic material of more than 22,500 adult males from seven countries, they determined that "short men have an increased risk of becoming bald prematurely," according to a statement announcing today's publication of the...

Mendel's theories of inheritance came from making careful observations while crossing pea plants. One observation was that the traits of the offspring (progeny) pea plants were determined by their parents' traits. And, that crossing plants with different traits resulted in different offspring. 

This observation was, in large part, because we have two copies of each gene. We inherit one copy of a gene on the chromosome inherited from our mother and the other copy of the gene on the other chromosome inherited from our father. The trait that we have is determined by how these two inherited genes interact with each other. 

When we look at traits through generations, genes fall into just a few patterns of how they are inherited. These modes of inheritance, as determined by...

For years, researchers viewed body fat as just a passive storage depot — it was there to hold all those excess calories we consume. And while we've been aware for quite some time that too much of this excess adipose tissue can lead to problematic changes in metabolism, blood sugar control and blood pressure, many thought it was only because of changes to other types of tissues.

Over the last decade or so, however, we've seen somewhat of a paradigm shift, with adipose tissue being acknowledged as a much more active participant in metabolism. For example, it's the source of the hormone leptin (fat as an endocrine organ, anyone?) which acts on the brain to signal satiety.

More recently, researchers have been delving into the mechanisms that adipose tissue uses to affect...

A company in Boston, MA, wants to change the way that vaccines are administered, and Bill and Melinda Gates are lending them a hand to make it a reality. 

Vaxess Technologies, Inc. received two grants from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, totaling $6 million dollars, to fund their innovative work in vaccine stabilization and delivery technologies. 

In vaccine administration, even with an incredibly effective vaccine, there are perpetual hurdles to overcome. One, for example, is the availability of syringes and needles. This was an issue just last year when, despite the long awaited arrival of the yellow fever...

The World Health Organization released their first ever report on the antibiotic resistant bacteria that are of the greatest global concern - the global priority pathogens list (global PPL).

The report was compiled by eight leading international experts in infectious disease, clinical microbiology, R&D, public health and infection control.  The team used both expert opinion and evidence-based data to choose the twelve most concerning antibiotic resistant bacteria. They also implemented a three-tiered ranking system, placing the bacteria into either 'critical', 'high' or 'medium' priority rankings. These classifications were based on several characteristics,...

Pest control and microbial disinfection protocols often utilize ultraviolet (UV) light. The reason is because UV light is extremely damaging to cells. Not only does it trigger the production of toxic compounds (such as reactive oxygen species), but it also causes weird structural changes in DNA (known as thymine dimers). The results are fatal.

UV light, however, is also dangerous to humans. So there is widespread interest in discovering light sources that can kill unwanted organisms while leaving humans unscathed. Farmers may be able to take advantage of the fact that fruit fly pupae are killed by blue light (wavelength = 467 nm), while public...

The winners of the 'Open Science Prize' are two scientists who developed an online tool that will use the changes, or mutations, that occur in viral genomes (DNA or RNA) to track an outbreak as it happens. 

Dr. Trevor Bedford from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Dr. Richard Neher of the University of Basel designed the tool to provide open access to a 'tracker' of how an epidemic is growing and spreading. They will receive $230,000 to make the platform a reality. 

Viruses mutate, or alter their genomic material, very quickly. In doing so, certain properties can change — such as how lethal they are or how easily they are spread. Knowing which changes are occurring and being able to have access to the information — as the virus spreads — will give the people...

For the last decade or two, people have been looking for something to attribute to the increase in the number of people with allergies and autoimmune diseases. A lot of ideas have been floated around - cell phones, vaccines, hand sanitizers or anything else that we use more now than we did 20 years ago. 

On that list is also the increase of births done by Cesarean section.

The hypothesis is that babies born by Cesarean have a different microbiome (or set of bacteria) on them than those born vaginally. And, that those bacteria that are first to establish themselves in the newborn impact the health of the baby for the rest of their life.  

The idea that has taken hold is that babies born by Cesarean section are missing exposure to important microbes because they do...

There is nothing like a good ole scientific debate about microbes to make my day. The one happening at the moment is as good as they get for one reason - good science is being done on both sides of the issue.

The hot topic of where a baby gets its bacteria (or microbiome) is scientific discourse at its best - and it's only going to get better as each side fills in their gaps and pushes the questions further. 

The debate will be presented in two articles - one for each side. Here, we present the landmark paper that established the original paradigm seven years ago. This work suggests that the route of delivery of a baby (vaginal vs. cesarean) determines which bacteria will colonize their bodies. The establishment of the microbiota dictates the amount, type and variety of...