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The Power of Two

Play to Win
September 18, 2014 11:59 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

Every blue moon, when the money prize skyrockets, I purchase a lottery ticket. Generally, what drives me is the multi-million dollar money prize. However, just recently I learned that our gambling impulses may actually be driven by our genes.

Scientists uncovered that there are two major areas of the brain, namely the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum, that control our competitive thinking.

Collaborative studies conducted by both the University of California (UC)-Berkeley and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) involved performing brain scans on several genes which affect how gamblers deal with trial-and-error and betting learning.

The upshot of their research is that it suggests that people’s gambling and stock market investing strategies are determined, for the most part, by their genes and the release of a dopamine neurotransmitter chemical. This chemical is released by brain cells to signal other brain cells during the reward and pleasure-seeking activities.

The researchers pointed out that previous research has clearly shown the important function of neurotransmitter dopamine in social interactions. The UC/UIUC scientific endeavor is the first study to illustrate the interactions to specific genes which regulates dopamine functioning.

Eight Hour Nap
September 16, 2014 11:45 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

What defines learning?  When does learning actually start? How does learning occur? Theses all question that regardless of your life science specialty, you have probably pondered.

Each of you probably has your own answer, but here’s what several University of Arizona (UA) scientists think about the learning puzzle box.The UA team took a unique approach in that they looked at the infant learning development of 15-month old infants. Their findings were interest. They found that infants need ample sleep in order to learn about the world around them. Sleep deficiencies, including interrupted naps impair their learning process.

In fact the research team, who titled their work “Early Learning in Infants May Depend on Sleep”, found that infants who could garner daytime naps displayed a higher level of learning.

In their research, the team played recorded of "phrases" created from the same three syllables, until the babies became familiar with the syllables. These phrases were taught in between during scheduled sleep and nap time with varying allotments of sleep for the test groups.

The infant’s facial expression as they recordings were played helped the scientists rate their level of attention. The findings revealed that infants with longer glazes who were sleep deprived, were different than those that received ample sleep.

The study contained more details such as REM analysis and flashing lights in combination with the phases all of which are too detailed to highlight within this space. But the just of the theme is that this ingenious research study has finally nailed down early learning patterns.

I am looking forward to reading up on the next phase of research coming out of UA and perhaps how it can be augmented to tie into the sleep research for Parkinson disease (PD).  Studies have revealed that sleep patterns definitely play a vital role on the benefits of sleep for PD patients and cognitive functioning. Specifically, recent studies have shown that there are benefits in daytime naps, which suggests a specific relationship between sleep and this illness.

Cloaking Device Not Needed
September 12, 2014 9:51 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

According to Wikipedia, “A cloaking device is a theoretical or fictional stealth technology that can cause objects, such as spaceships or individuals, to be partially or wholly invisible to parts of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum.”

Basically what this means in non-Einstein-physics jargon is light could be reflected and absorbed by the object causing it to be visible or invisible dependent on light manipulations.

Now for the question of the day for all sci-fi fans: Who doesn’t want a cloaking device? The beneficial possibilities of a visible-to-invisible device are endless.

Cloaking devices are no longer fictional, they are real. In fact in 2013 China stated that they were leading the scientific pursuit for the design of the world's first invisibility cloak.

But St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital genetic scientists have gone one step further than concealment. It seems that their laboratory experiments have uncovered a way to turn brain tumor cells into normal cells.

Specifically, what the life scientists of the hospital’s  Genetics and Tumor Cell Biology department have uncovered is that three proteins called” BMP2”, “BMP4” and “BMP7” can actually  stop the growth of brain tumor cells and turn them into normal brain cells. They suggest that this method is a safer way to treat rare but often fatal childhood brain tumor, medullo-blastoma. The traditional and conventional therapies combine surgery, irradiation and chemotherapy, all of which can lead to permanent neurocognitive impairment.

Although much of the research in this area is still in the developing stages, it still shows tremendous promise for the future of molecular medicine.

Bully Named Ox
September 9, 2014 10:24 AM by Eleanor Wolfram

A bully’s mean attitude stomps into the china shop of a person’s life like an ox. It does not matter what age you are, where you work, or live, bullies are everywhere. Now it seems that these relentless oppressors come in microscopic sizes too.

Just recently Netherland scientists have uncovered evidence that oxytocin hormone, a neurotransmitter, which is created in the brain leads to internal group conflict. Specifically, the neurobiological researchers put forth the theory that this neuropeptide can lead people to an act of self-sacrifice to benefit their own group, thereby showing aggression against threatening out-groups. The results f this study supports the belief that oxytocin promote trust.

There are new published works that refer to oxytocin as the "bonding hormone". It seems that this hormone functions as the cause of defensive aggression to neutralize a threatening out-group. When the competitors are not considered a threat, then the hormone acts in an altruistic ways towards its own group.

The neurobiological summation of all of this is that conflicts between groups escalate when other groups are seen as a threat. And then the threat is low, conflict acceleration is less low.

The Netherland researchers believe that their findings supports Charles Darwin’s thesis on evolutionary altruistic group behavior at the molecular level.

People Pet Paradox
September 4, 2014 1:14 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

What in the world is going on? Today I read two conflicting articles regarding the global shortage of food for people and the worldwide abundance of food for pets.

The first document stated that there is a severe shortage of food for humans and literally thousands are starving on a daily basis. Then the other document, which was separated by just a few web page clicks away, stated that four out of five pet owners are spending $5 to $7 billion dollars annually in order to feed their animal companions gourmet meals. It seems pet owners - who can afford it - are splurging on food purchases loaded with added antioxidants, protein and vitamins because they consider their pets as members of their family.

Again, what the what?

Thank the heavens food consumption or lack thereof for humans is moving to the forefront. For example, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment (UMIE) looking into the food shortage in a unique and innovative way. Scientists at this institution have discovered that existing land dedicated for crops could feed a billion of additional people without adding hardship to the environment. This is important since the population is increasing.

Because farming, deforestation, and fertilization activities account for close to 35% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in Brazil, China, India and the United States are and other UMIE and other reports reveal that states that "feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth's already strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge", but it is not.

There are countless worldwide studies underway by various research institutions seeking to focus on improving natural food systems in targeted regions, so that crop actions may make it feasible to reduce damage to the agriculture's environmental and at the same time meet basic eating requirements of billions of people.

Nose Digestion
August 26, 2014 2:44 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

The human body is equipped with 5 senses: sight, touch, hear, smell and taste. Our sense of smell as it relates to eating is important because it helps us enjoy the favor of food and drinks. As laboratory biologists we know that the sense of smell -- like the sense of taste -- is part of your chemosensory system, or the chemical senses.

Most people tend to think of digestion as consisting of only tasting, chewing, swallowing and the inner organs churning foods. However, digestion is really a two-part process: the first part being the intake of food, otherwise known as mechanical; and the second part, which the chemical digestion which begins when you smell food. Nerve impulses from your nose trigger the chemical release of enzymes and other substances that will eventually break down food to release the nutrients inside. So as you can see when eating, the smell sense is as vital as the senses for sight and taste.

The other day a news announcer stated that a team of Florida State University (FSU) neuroscientists have uncovered high-fatty diets foods may adversely affect the smelling sense, so much so that individuals to lose their sense of smell. This FSU study was reported to be the first of its kind to show a correlation between high-fat diets and a loss of smell.

Interestingly enough the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) addresses the impact and treatment of smell disorders. Statistics collected by this governmental agency reveal upwards of 2% of U.S. citizens report having problems with their sense of smell. NIDCD's website states that smell disorders cause noticeable parallel problems with the sense of taste as well.

Furthermore, the NIDCD website states that when a person's "smell is impaired some people change their eating habits. Some may eat too little and lose weight while others may eat too much and gain weight."

On another but similar note the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that the global obesity rates are high and increasing. NIH studies reveal that 2 in 3 adults are considered obese and an estimated one in three children and adolescents are considered obese and an estimated one in three children and adolescents are considered to be overweight.

The news story mentioned that as a result of the pioneering results from the high-fatty diet/lose of smell research, FSU and other private and governmental institutions most likely will examine the correlation between high-sugar diets and smell and whether or not exercise could slow down a high-fat diet's impact on smell.

Epically Speaking
August 22, 2014 12:48 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Examining the mechanics of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is poetry in motion. The genius of DNA is that this nucleic acid that carries the genetic information in the cell and is capable of self-replication and synthesis of RNA. However, with any science- poetic or not - a glance at ethical behavior is necessary.

Epically and ethically speaking any DNA research work is both challenging and powerful as the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) would tell you. Genetic research raises ethical and moral questions that the public, researchers, and policy-makers must consider.

Ethics has and continues to play a strong role in the field of genetics. The meaning of 'ethics' is hard to pin down, and the views many people have about ethics are shaky, because many people tend to equate ethics with their feelings. And although there are numerous debates regarding the long-term effectiveness of gene therapy, it is clear that future research endeavors will lead to a time when all diseases will be treated in individualized custom-made fashions.

One research project that may open the door to this future is the recent collaboration between the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute Single Cell Genomics Centre. Scientists at both institutions uncovered a powerful single-cell technique to help examine the impact of the environment on human development and the traits they inherit from our parents.

The new technique will assist genetic scientists in mapping epigenetic marks on the DNA within a single cell. Epigenetic marks are the chemical protein tags that that serve as DNA cellular memory or recorder. This recorder remembers a cell's experience long after it has faded.

This environmental memory can range from diet makeup through illness episodes. The partnership research teams believe that these marks will help in understanding the stages from as early as embryonic development. The future clinical applications and pharmaceutical custom-made treatments may be explored due to this ground-breaking work.

Cognitive Seeds
August 20, 2014 3:37 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Will the nature versus nurture debate ever be resolved? You know the controversy. The one that addresses the extent to which particular aspects of behavior are a product of either inherited by nature (i.e. genetic) or acquired (i.e. learned) characteristics. For decades, the nature/nurture debates were a monopoly within the psychology field, but lately life scientists have jumped on the band wagon. And it is a good thing they have, because the electronic advancements in molecular technology will one day soon answer many of the lingering nature/nurture questions.

To put the large volume of genetic versus environmental learning theories to bed, keen scientific and evidence-based studies are required. You see as early as the 1800's, academia deemed reading, writing and arithmetic as the basic necessary skills to build higher education upon. However, the primary question has been how can humans be better equipped to learn three these vital skills.

Currently there is global research being conducted to address this inquiry. For example, research conducted in the genetics department at the University College London (UCL), has revealed that about 50% of our genes Influence how well a person will read and do math. It has been long understood that math and reading abilities can be attributed to the family tree, however the genes affecting these skills acquirement characteristics have gone unidentified. Because of the vagueness of which genes are involved in reading and math cognitive development, a team of scientists from UCL, King's College London and the University of Oxford are leading studies to investigate the genetic basis of basic cognitive characteristics.

The collaborative study will examine the impact of genetics on basic reading writing and arithmetic performance skills of close to 3,000 British elementary school children. Educational tests will be administered and combined with DNA data. The hope is to find significant correlations in the genetics that influence mathematics and reading.

Another example involves similar skills attainment studies that are being conducted on the other side of the planet. Specifically, within the United States human development scientists at Ohio State University are conducting studies with identical and fraternal twin children to ascertain the role genetics reading skills. The research study titled the Western Research Reading Project is testing about three hundred subjects. The ultimate goal is to reveal the influence of the environment on reading performance over time. What they may uncover will add to the understanding of the environmental influences on reading skills, thereby settling a few nature/nurture questions.

Vital Doses
August 12, 2014 2:45 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Mental illness is a disorder that influences the way a person behaves, feels and thinks about themselves and others. In today's world it is common knowledge that the symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe leaving a person unable to cope with life's daily routines.

Research over the past several decades have revealed that although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is clear that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, heredity (genetic), psychological trauma, and environmental stressors factors.

Most recently research is revealing that extreme deficiencies of vitamin D also may have significant adverse psychological consequences. As biologists we know that just about every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the cardiac, muscular, and immune systems. And what's even more fascinating is that the brain contains these receptors as well. As a result, vitamin D is needed at every level of the body for proper functioning.

In additional to the physiological functions, the psychological functioning can be impaired if insufficient levels are present. For example, the mood disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), has depressive symptoms that occurs during the dark times of the year when there is relatively little sunshine, a source of vitamin D.

Several studies have suggested that the symptoms of SAD may be due to changing levels of vitamin D3, which may affect serotonin levels in the brain.

The other day I was reading an article that put forth evidence-based data that vitamin D deficiency raises risk of schizophrenia diagnosis. Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, debilitating mental illness, in which one can display mild to severe psychotic symptoms.

These may include delusions, hallucinations, catatonia, negative symptoms, and disorganized speech or behavior.

According to a new study conducted by Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, vitamin D deficient individuals are more as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as people who have sufficient levels of the vitamin.

Endocrine research findings support the theory that vitamin D may have a significant impact on psychiatric health. More research is needed to determine how the growing problem of vitamin D deficiency may be creating other mental health disorders.

Bacteria Handshakes
August 12, 2014 2:16 PM by Eleanor Wolfram

Career coaches make good money teaching on the numerous meanings that a handshake can tell about someone. It seems that firm handshakes are better than weak and limp ones. And it is a definite no-no to extended a sweaty palm.

Just recently, a team of Kansas State University (KSU) biochemists have discovered that proteins also have hands and are quite fond of shaking them. However, these microbial handshakes facilitate bacteria in establishing and spreading infections.

Through research, scientists have uncovered the mechanism of how a protein's hands work in collaboration with infectious bacteria. It seems that the process begins with tiny protein loops on the surface of cells. These loops function like human hands making contact, but instead they are on the surface of bacterial cells.

It seems that these structures allow the bacteria to recognize and grab materials, such as iron from the environment surrounding it. As all cellular structures need iron to survive, putting a halt to the hand grabbing access will prevent the pathogenesis The KSU scientists are the first to observe this process and hope is that this new-found information will allow for biochemists and physiologists to develop specialized interventions and treatment from E. coli epidemics and other harmful microorganisms.

The positive outcome of this research could mean a boost to the antibiotic pharmaceutical field, which will in turn provide increased protection of humans and animal against bacterial infections.

I can definitely give a two hands-high five to KSU research findings.

Mind the Smoke
August 6, 2014 3:03 PM by Eleanor Wolfram
A quick check of the CDC website will revealed that close to 40 million Americans smoke on a daily basis. And that first-hand smoke -- that is the smoker is participating in an activity that is the leading cause of preventable death in the US.

Advocates of reducing third-hand smoke recently gathered at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society. One of the conferences educational offerings presented a study that warns that third-hand smoke could lead to damaged DNA, thus opening a route that may result in cancer to nonsmokers. The session was entitled "Third-Hand Smoke Causes DNA Damage in Human Cells," was presented by a genetics scientist, Dr. Bo Hang of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

What I find interesting is that the residue of third-hand smoke is long lingering on surfaces and in the air in rooms and cars and on the furniture, walls and carpets where a smoker had previously been dwelling.

Often, a courteous smoker will ask you the infamous question before lighting up, "Do you mind very much if I smoke?" The intent is to ask permission to smoke in your presence. But it seems from Dr. Hang and his colleagues' studies, that past toxic compounds can be found in areas that the smoker has left and you may have just entered. This is powerful information.

Also, the research reveals that surface-absorbed tobacco residue my undergo a chemical transformation when it interacts with compounds in the atmosphere, creating new and differing pollutants that can lead to skin and lung diseases.

In a study published by Medical News Today, scientist warned that third-hand smoke may be just as harmful as first-hand smoke. Some scientists have found that third-hand smoke is linked to liver, lung and skin problems. One solution offered for reducing the risk of exposure to third-hand smoke is to remove contaminated carpeting and furniture and to repaint walls and other surfaces.

So I guess the new rule of thumb is don't even think about smoking in my presence or in my absence either.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
July 28, 2014 12:01 PM by Eleanor Wolfram
As a life-long benefit of your high school language requirement, surely you recognize the English version of one or more of these foreign questions: Sprechen Sie deutsch? (German); Parlez-vous francais? (French); and Habla usted espanol? (Spanish).

Aside from being able to order a meal or ask directions when one travels to foreign lands, neurologists have found that bilingualism is also helpful to aphasia sufferers. Aphasia, often caused by strokes or a brain injury, is an impairment that causes inability to use or comprehend words.

But thanks to rehabilitation and neurology collaborative studies, it seems that researchers have discovered that when a person speaks at least two languages and that person experiences brain damage, the less dominant language can be utilized to transfer knowledge to the primary language, thereby helping with the rehabilitation phase.

Without getting too technical, beneficial rehab treatment comes from the cognitive connections of   similar sounding words in both languages creating likes between phonology, syntax and vocabulary. Scientists are calling this connection a "structural overlap" between languages. 

On a different health topic from an equally interesting research approach, a geriatric epidemiological theory has been put forth that speaking a second language could prevent later-life dementia and cognitive decline.

I think just these two health research findings alone should strengthen the language course requirements in all educational institutions.

Splashing In Chemicals
July 23, 2014 10:13 AM by Eleanor Wolfram
As the weather heats up due to seasonal changes, professional and amateur swimmers from Arizona to Zimbabwe will be stripping down to swimwear to begin the water splashing ritual. I can't think of anyone who doesn't like a dip in the crisp clear waters.

But beware, because the CDC has issued alerts that emergency room visits for injuries form pool chemicals is on the rise. The CDC notes that beginning 2012, there are been a noticeable increase of chemical-related illnesses.

It doesn't take much research to uncover that for over 100 years, chemicals have been applied to swimming pools to kill off bacteria and other pathogens that could make people sick. And with the invention of whirlpools and hot tubs, the same chemical applications were instituted. But according to the CDC, improper additive applications, such as over use, unacceptable mixing, and inadequate storage is causing a rise in injuries.

The CDC in collaboration with another government agency, namely the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) has calculated that the number of hospital visits from chemical-associated pool injuries is on a steady climb. The most frequent diagnoses range from poisonings, vapor inhalations and the handling of chemicals without goggles and other protective wear.

What is notable is that both the CDC and NEISS report that the incidents of pool chemical-related injuries are preventable.

The result of the collaborative efforts between hospital emergency rooms and the two federal agencies collecting and analyzing data is a publication titled The CDC's Model Aquatic Health Code. This pamphlet can be used as a resource to prevent these types of injuries. I've viewed the model and let me say it is good to see that not only are volumes of public health data collecting data, but we also look to extract a meaningful outcome.

Not So Fast
July 21, 2014 10:58 AM by Eleanor Wolfram
Healthy collaboration brings industry experts together to help businesses achieve their missions. When you collaborate with the right partners, the results will exceed your expectations. For example, a meaningful collaboration that is occurring is that of cardiovascular medicine and a federal regulatory authority, namely the FDA.

For close to 20 years, many professionals and laypersons have pushed forth the theory of ingesting low-dosages of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks and strokes. But not so fast, for recently, the FDA has stated that everyone needs to understand there is no one size fits all cure as it relates daily aspirin dosages.

The FDA does support the research that low-dose aspirin can prevent "reoccurring" cardiovascular problems, but confirming aspirin can prevent the very first episode needs further evidence-based research.

As medical biologists, we know that aspirin, like other blood thinning medications, for such as Coumadin (warfarin), Pradaxa and others, interferes with the blood's clotting action, thereby reducing the potential for clots to develop and obstruct the flow of blood and oxygen.

The FDA suggests that pharmaceutical manufacturers collaborate with clinical life scientists to conduct additional scientific studies to confirm and support with data the beneficial affects of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular events. In the meantime, the federal agency is encouraging the public to consult with their individual primary physicians regarding a daily low-dose aspirin regime to ensure that ongoing ingestion is not contraindicative with other medicines and does not cause other health risks.

Let Your Hair Down
July 16, 2014 12:33 PM by Eleanor Wolfram
A philosophical unknown author is recorded as saying, "Gray hair is a blessing-ask any bald man." How true, though many men including male celebrities opt for the clean shaved head, many still crave the fashion of shiny and thick tresses.

As life scientists, we are all well aware of the biological importance of hair. Hair shades the head and keeps the scalp cool from extreme heated temperatures; hair protects our brains from ultraviolet rays; and hair can be utilized for toxicology studies in the detection of harmful substances.

For over a century, cosmetologists and biologists have been trying to cure problems of thinning and missing hair. And now geneticists, who are new on the scene, have been studying the DNA connection with baldness for decades.

Now scientists have jumped onto the hair color bandwagon. It was recently discovered by a team of Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher that there is only one letter in the genetic code that determine hair color. It seems that this letter can generate blonde hair in humans.

Hair coloring is a big money industry. In fact the cosmetic industry has been making large sums on hair coloring for over 50 years. Treating the hair with various artificial dyes and bleaches can be dated as far back the Egyptians.

This newest discovery of genetic hair pigmentation will make every hair strand stand and take notice. For one day soon, it make be possible to forgo hair dyes and have a scientist click on certain letters in your genetic code to provide you with the hair color of your desire ... provided you have hair to begin with.