Sunday, July 04, 2010

Scientists show longevity tied to genetic variants

A new study is getting a lot of buzz in the media: genetic variants and longevity. In the press release from researchers reporting in science, word has it that while environment and family history are factors in healthy aging, genetic variants play a critical and complex role in conferring exceptional longevity.

Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine and the Boston Medical Center reported the study.

The research team identified a group of genetic variants that can predict exceptional longevity in humans with 77 percent accuracy – a breakthrough in understanding the role of genes in determining human lifespan.

Based upon the hypothesis that exceptionally old individuals are carriers of multiple genetic variants that influence their remarkable survival, the team conducted a genome-wide association study of centenarians. Centenarians are a model of healthy aging, as the onset of disability in these individuals is generally delayed until they are well into their mid-nineties.

The scientists built a unique genetic model that includes 150 genetic variants, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).They found that these 150 variants could be used to predict if a person survived to very old ages (late 90s and older) with a high rate of accuracy.

In addition, the team's analysis identified 19 genetic clusters or "genetic signatures" of exceptional longevity that characterized 90 percent of the centenarians studied. The different signatures correlated with differences in the prevalence and age-of-onset of diseases such as dementia and hypertension, and may help identify key subgroups of healthy aging, the authors said.

Check out the New England Centenarian Study.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Making music via physics

An exciting use of technology is in use by scientists "converting the cosmic phenomena they are chasing through the huge underground machine into musical sound in their state-of-the-art computers."

A Reuters story covers this, so read about it!

Reasearchers at the LHC Large Hadron Collider at the CERN uses particle physics to manage this and they are discussing this at The Sounds of Science web site - the LHCsound project [a fun blog!].

Monday, June 21, 2010

Apricots: learning how to find a good one

I was scouting The New York Times health pages and found a story on apricots.

The photo of the apricots and strawberries is so beautiful I decided to post this story and link to it!

Explaining how to make it - the recipe - well, seems like this is easy to figure out on your own!

The story says, "...a truly ripe apricot is something else altogether; there is nothing quite like its intensity, its tart edge and almond-y overtones." I guess I will figure out how to find a local apricot!

I found on a web site this, "This is a very good question for the Atlanta Fruits yahoo group, because it is my understanding that NO apricot does well. Apricots are in the almond family, and most almond family plants do not like humidity to my understanding."

I found this on a web site, and it does not bode well for southern US apricot growing: "A sunny location is very important, and a north-facing slope is good because it warms up more slowly in the spring. An east-facing site is considered better than a west-facing site for somewhat the same reason, plus early sun on frosty April mornings. Cold air drainage is important; it’s best to plant on a slope, not in a hollow, but not on a windy hilltop either. The ideal climate would be uniform, moderately cold winters (to –10F is OK for any variety), mild dry springs, warm summers but high heat not required. In fact, Central Asia, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey with their mountainous terrain, moderately cold winters, hot dry summers, and brief springs are nearly ideal and are major producers."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Human genome's promise, complex information to review

The story by Nicholas Wade in the NYT on the human genome research status is, no doubt, food for thought. With all the excitement that surrounded the mapping of the genome, it is now a challenge to take all of the information that can be obtained and make sense of it. If you want a snapshot of how complex information gathering and assessment has gotten, read the Wikipedia entry on bioinformatics.

"Ten years after President Bill Clinton announced that the first draft of the human genome was complete, medicine has yet to see any large part of the promised benefits. For biologists, the genome has yielded one insightful surprise after another. But the primary goal of the $3 billion Human Genome Project — to ferret out the genetic roots of common diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s and then generate treatments — remains largely elusive. Indeed, after 10 years of effort, geneticists are almost back to square one in knowing where to look for the roots of common disease."

Wade writes: "As more people have their entire genomes decoded, the roots of genetic disease may eventually be understood, but at this point there is no guarantee that treatments will follow. If each common disease is caused by a host of rare genetic variants, it may not be susceptible to drugs."

Watch for part two in the NYT on the work of drug companies in this area.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Acupuncture combo with adenosine shows promise

Good news for pain management this week: researchers find that acupuncture studies in mice, using adenosine enhancement, may help reduce pain. Obviously there is a ways to go, years of study in humans at some point, before this would be in use at your local doctor's office.

Researchers published in Nature Neuroscience that they identified the molecule adenosine as a central player in parlaying some of the effects of acupuncture in the body. Building on that knowledge, scientists were able to triple the beneficial effects of acupuncture in mice by adding a medcation approved to treat leukemia in people.

You can read more in the press release from the University of Rochester and news coverage including the Boston Globe.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Refresher course on Neanderthals and humans

Does everyone but me realize that Neanderthals and humans are/were different species. I always thought that Neanderthals were humans alive a long time ago.

But the news today that the two interbred over a 50,000 to 80,000 year period has me trying to thread back to what the differences between the two are. USA Today comments on the Science journal article saying, " Humans and Neanderthals likely interbred 50,000 to 80,000 years ago in the Near East, concludes the international genetics team's pair of studies."

So scouting around USA Today stories, I found a recent article that says, "In the Nature journal study, the pinky bone discovered in the Denisova cave archaeological site in southern Siberia yielded mitochondrial DNA — maternal genes inherited outside of the ones found in cell's chromosomes — unrelated to either humans or their extinct Neanderthal cousins."

Okay, this says Neanderthals were cousins to humans. We are getting somewhere. But now, this new article is telling me "although genetically distant from humans, the new species appears much more closely related to humans than apes." So there is another species.

Maybe I should refresh my memory on what "species"means. So, thank you Wikipedia, as always I can find a quick reference. It says, "There are many definitions of what kind of unit a species is (or should be). A common definition is that of a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring of both genders, and separated from other such groups with which interbreeding does not normally happen. Other debatable definitions may focus on similarity of DNA or morphology. Some species are further subdivided into subspecies, and here also there is no close agreement on the criteria to be used."

The San Francisco Chronicle has a good story pointing to the joining of DNA between modern humans and Neanderthals: "The sequencing of Neanderthal genetic material is real gold because we can now compare the Neanderthal genome with our own and pinpoint the genetic changes that have enabled humans to thrive, to spread across the entire globe, and to occupy every ecological niche that exists in the world," says Richard E. Green, about the Science report.

And: "The complete genomes of the Neanderthals and modern humans, whose lineages separated from some unknown common ancestor at least 400,000 years ago, are 99.5 percent identical. They are, in fact, our closest evolutionary relatives. By comparison, humans and chimpanzees share 98 percent of their genes."Okay - I am getting this better now.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Restricting calories may boost immunity

I have heard some friends say they will restrict calories so that they can live longer ... they have gotten this information anecdotally. A study today seems to lean in this direction.

Researches say in the Journal of Gerontology, Biological Sciences, that volunteers who followed a low-calorie diet or a very low-calorie diet not only lost weight, but also significantly enhanced their immune response. The study may be the first to demonstrate the interaction between calorie restriction and immune markers among humans, they say.

The lead researcher, Simin Nikbin Meydani, is director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. The study is part of the "Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy" trial.

As people age, their immune response generally declines. Calorie restriction has been shown to boost these immune responses in animals.

For the study, the researchers looked at specific biologic markers. A skin test used called DTH (delayed-type hypersensitivity) is a measure of immune response at the whole body level. The researchers also examined effects of calorie restriction on function of T-cells--a major type of white blood cell--and other factors on the volunteer's immune system.

DTH and T-cell response indicate the strength of cell-mediated immunity. One positive was that DTH and T-cell proliferative response were significantly increased in both calorie-restrained groups. These results show for the first time that short-term calorie restriction for six months in humans improves the function of T-cells, say the researchers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Epigenetics: how foods work to prevent disease

The Experimental Biology 2010 meeting has a lot of interesting research being presented this week. An important area of study is understanding a person's risks from his or her genetic code. Now scientists are predicting with testing what risks are there and what prevention measures could be taken.

Today researchers from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University talked about cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders and other degenerative conditions and say some scientists are moving away from the “nature-versus-nurture” debate and are finding you’re not a creature of either genetics or environment, but both – with enormous implications for a new approach to health.

The scientists say, "The new field of epigenetics is rapidly revealing how people, plants and animals do start with a certain genetic code at conception. But the choice of which genes are expressed, or activated, is strongly affected by environmental influences. The expression of genes can change rapidly over time, they can be influenced by external factors, those changes can be passed along to offspring, and they can literally hold the key to life and death."

In the case of cancer, tumor suppressor genes can cause cancer cells to die by acting as a brake on unrestrained cell growth. But too much of the histone deacetylases (HDAC) enzyme can switch off tumor suppressor genes, even though the underlying DNA sequence of the cell – its genetic structure – has not been changed or mutated.

“We already know some of the things people can do to help prevent cancer with certain dietary or lifestyle approaches,” says researcher Rod Dashwood. “Now we’re hoping to more fully understand the molecular processes going on, including at the epigenetic level. This should open the door for new approaches to disease prevention or treatment through diet, as well as in complementing conventional drug therapies.”

Read the whole story on the OSU web site. To learn more about "predictive health" visit this web site.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Study shows Vitamin D still key for health in aging

The relationship between vitamin D status and physical function in a group of relatively healthy seniors was presented April 25 at the Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim.

A press release posted on Eurekalert says that "participants with the highest levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D had better physical function. And, although physical function declined over the course of the study, it remained significantly higher among those with the highest vitamin D levels at the beginning of the study compared to those with the lowest vitamin D levels.

"The scientists were not surprised to learn that, in general, vitamin D consumption was very low in this group of otherwise healthy seniors. In fact, more than 90 percent of them consumed less vitamin D than currently recommended, and many were relying on dietary supplements."

The study was part of the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study initially designed to assess the associations among body composition, long-term health conditions, and mobility in older adults.

"The researchers say it's impossible to tell from this type of research whether increasing vitamin D intake will actually lead to stronger muscles and preserve physical function. This is partly due to the fact that our bodies can make vitamin D if they get enough sunlight. So, it is possible that the participants with better physical function had higher vitamin D status simply because they were able to go outside more often," the press release notes.

Facinating: Hawking talks about life in the universe

I am impressed with CNN seeking astronomer Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research, to explain further what famed scientist Stephen Hawking was saying in a documentary about intelligent alien life and that it must exist. Go to Discovery Channel to learn more.

Hawking is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science in which he discusses his own theories and cosmology in general; these include the runaway best seller A Brief History of Time.

Wikipedia information says Hawking has indicated that he is almost certain that alien life exists in other parts of the universe and uses a mathematical basis for his assumptions. "To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like." He believes alien life not only certainly exists in planets but perhaps even in other places, like within stars or even floating in outer space. He also warns that a few of these species might be intelligent and threaten Earth. Contact with such species might be devastating for humanity. "If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," he said. He advocated that, rather than try to establish contact, man should try to avoid contact with alien life forms.

Tarter says at CNN that "SETI searches will succeed and that the civilization that's transmitting is using a technology that is older and more advanced than our own. Of course he's right, but there's a lot of room for different opinions about what contact with an advanced technology would mean." Read more.

Serious about veggies: study shows best phytonutrients

This week's Experimental Biology 2010 meeting in Anaheim has a lot of health information pouring from studies. Some are from industry and some from academia, so be sure to sort through the intent for presenting the findings. The blueberry folks will want you to know about how healthy blueberries are - and I am sure this is true - just make sure you look closely. I think the following info is interesting and helps the consumer understand more specifically what is in certain foods.

The study from Nutrilite says Americans could improve their phytonutrient intake by choosing to eat more concentrated sources of phytonutrients as well as a wider variety of them. Nutrilite points to source of its study: dataset comes from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, surveys that capture what Americans eat daily, supplemental nutrient concentration data from the United States Department of Agriculture and the published literature.

Some results: for 10 of the 14 phytonutrients included in the analysis, a single food type accounted for approximately two-thirds or more of an individual's intake of the specific phytonutrient, regardless of whether that person was a high or low fruit and vegetable consumer. Based on the current study, the top food sources consumed by Americans for some selected phytonutrients were as follows:

Beta-carotene – carrots
Beta-cryptoxanthin – oranges/orange juice
Lutein/zeaxanthin – spinach
Ellagic acid – strawberries
Isothiocyanates – mustard
For each of these phytonutrients, however, there is a more highly concentrated food that could be chosen instead:
Beta-carotene – sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes have nearly double the beta-carotene compared to carrots in a single serving.
Beta-cryptoxanthin – papaya
A serving of fresh papaya has roughly 15 times the beta-cryptoxanthin of an orange.
Lutein/zeaxanthin – kale
By substituting cooked kale for raw spinach, it is possible to triple lutein/zeaxanthin intake.
Ellagic acid – raspberries
Serving per serving, raspberries have roughly three times the ellagic acid compared to strawberries.
Isothiocyanates – watercress
Just one cup of watercress as the basis for a salad has about the same level of isothiocyanates as four teaspoons of mustard.

Find more studies like this for EB 2010 at Eurekalert.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Does happiness grow with more Facebook use?

Now and then I comment on happiness and latest info shared around the net.

I recalled a 2008 Harvard study on happiness and it says on a press release I reviewed just now that you should "thank your friends—and their friends. And while you’re at it, their friends’ friends.... [researchers] found that happiness is not the result solely of a cloistered journey filled with individually tailored self-help techniques. Happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion."

With the news this week that Facebook is expanding social connections with the transformation of the web, where you will be seen and heard everywhere you visit online, I started wondering if this new way of adding connections will expand our happiness!

Right now the reaction to the news from Facebook is mixed - read the Christian Science Monitor and ComputerWorld.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Divert from your real issues: Vatican shifts to stem cells

This headline intrigued me: "Vatican to finance adult stem cell research."

According to AP, "The Vatican has drawn criticism for its opposition to embryonic stem cell research. But the Vatican insists there are scientifically viable alternatives and the efforts of the scientific community should go in that direction. Financing this project is part of those efforts. But while embryonic stem cells are especially prized for their pluripotency — meaning they can morph into any type of cell in the body — adult stem cells are not as pluripotent. For that reason, embryonic stem cells are considered to have more potential for the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's.

ABC News covers the story, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sugar and heart disease now linked

Emory University School of Medicine researcher Miriam Vos, MD, made a significant discovery about sugar - it increases the risk of heart disease.

A new study conducted by Emory, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, found that added sugars may increase cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The study analyzed U.S. government nutritional data and blood lipid levels in more than 6,000 adult men and women between 1999 and 2006. Participants were divided into five groups according to the amount of added sugar and caloric sweeteners they consumed daily.

Researchers found that people who consumed more added sugar were more likely to have higher cardiovascular disease risk factors, including higher triglyceride lev­els and higher ratios of triglycerides to HDL-C, or good cholesterol.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcano Facination 2010

There is no doubt that the volcano in Iceland has captured the interest of people around the world. Its impact scientifically, socially and economically is facinating, and it is getting more complicated as the days continue with the eruption still under way today.

First, from scientific perspective, it is facinating and stokes our imaginations. This is a science lesson for everyone - how does a volcano decide to erupt after years of quietude. Go to Joe Palca's interview on NPR to learn from the Iceland scientists monitoring this volcano [there are more nearby].

And, it is beautiful and awesome to watch - images and video.
Air travel is halted and it is evident that we are more interdependent on movement than we pay attention to on a daily bais. The Times Online says airlines are looking for safe passages to use. The Dutch are testing normal flights, sans passengers except for crew.