Some of My Best Friends Are Germs
It is a striking idea that one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation. Having recently learned to manage several external fermentations — of bread and kimchi and beer — I know a little about the vagaries of that process. You depend on the microbes, and you do your best to align their interests with yours, mainly by feeding them the kinds of things they like to eat — good “substrate.” But absolute control of the process is too much to hope for. It’s a lot more like gardening than governing.
The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder. [more inside]
The Fat Trap (NYT pop review):
Overweight individuals in Western nations (and, increasingly, beyond
) face interpersonal and institutional stigma for their bodies*
. Oftentimes, these stigmas are predicated on the belief that being overweight is a moral failure
, that being overweight is usually a result of laziness, decadence, and/or characterlogical poor impulse control. However, an emerging consensus among obesity researchers points toward strong, common physiological and individual genetic factors
as causative for heightened BMIs in the modern world and the general failure of dieting to produce BMI outcomes. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (paywalled)
adds to this body of evidence, suggesting that chemical messengers held to contribute to altered "efficient" metabolism and increased hunger in the wake of low-calorie dieting are (on average) significantly elevated up to a full year (if not longer) following a substantial drop in weight from dieting.> [more inside]
The New Biology
- Eric Schadt's quest to upend molecular biology and open source it. (via
In 1926, Nikolai Vavilov
founded the world's first modern seedbank, and amassed a collection which today contains over 90% unique varieties of plant, contained in no other collection in existence. For his opposition to Lysenkoism
he died in prison, and several of his colleagues famously
starved to death instead of eating their specimens during the Siege of Leningrad. Now the Pavlovsk seedbank
facility has been seized by the Federal Agency for Public Estate Management
, and pending a court ruling will be demolished - contents and all - to build a housing development.
The collection cannot be moved in time because it is a working seedbank of living plants.
grumblebee's post about cell size and scale
the other day was quite fascinating. Pulling back to the home for that site, the Genetic Science Learning Center
at the University of Utah delivers educational materials on genetics, bio-science and health topics ranging from stem cells
to gene therapy
, and from epigenetics
. Explore the neurobiology of normal and addicted brains
and the genetic contribution to this chronic disease.
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells
- "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract
, nature writeup
, audio announcement
this extremely common
chemical leaches out of food packaging and plastics, and was long considered safe. But a number of recent studies
link it to developmental problems
in lab animals in doses far lower than the current regulatory limit. Canada and the United States
both review the scientific data available in the coming months, but critics already worry
the process will be corrupted by industry. Industry, of course, insists that BPA is safe.
In terms of our genes
, we humans are all the same -- except
for the ways in which we're different. Pharmacogenomics has for years been touted as the ultimate benefit of the genomics revolution. But to many, this revolution has a troubling side.
offers up this explanation of their cloning procedures.
Since Dolly, several scientists have cloned other animals, including cows and mice. Now, at Godsend, we have pioneered a technique that allows a cell nucleus from a recently deceased child to be implanted within a human egg, allowing a mother to carry that child to term again.
Making the Mind.
"The general outlines of how genes build the brain are finally becoming clear, and we are also starting to see how, in forming the brain, genes make room for the environment’s essential role. While vast amounts of work remain to be done, it is becoming equally clear that understanding the coordination of nature and nurture will require letting go of some long-held beliefs."
In lieu of today's posts on GM foods
, Trans Ova Genetics
is pharming cows
in hopes of creating one capable of adminstering human antibodies.
This gene encodes for a protein on T cells that allows HIV to enter and replicate. It's also another reason why AIDS has less of an effect on European populations - 10-15% of Northern Europeans carry a defect that doesn't allow the attachment, so 1% or so is homozygous for the 'faulty' gene and appears to be completely resistant to HIV/AIDS.
A success for gene therapy
to help hemophiliacs is announced. This is a first, but only time will tell if the treatment has a lasting effect and can be repeated. So far it's worked for only four of the six patients in the trial. The NY Times
explains the research.