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Thu, 19 Oct 2017
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Heart

Advantages of breast feeding: Explanation of a molecular mechanism

© Kanazawa University
Background

Oxytocin is a peptide hormone important in interpreting and reading another person's mind and in establishing good communication with others. It is therefore considered to be indispensable to the development of the social brain. Oxytocin synthesized in the brain is secreted into the entire brain and into the blood.

Mother's milk contains various nutrients, including oxytocin, which is derived from the blood. The digestive tract forms a barrier to avoid uptake of undesirable macromolecules, the gut closure, soon after birth. Therefore, it was thought that oxytocin would not be freely permeable from the digestive tract. On the other hand, the oxytocin level in the blood of babies drinking mother's milk has been found to be elevated, suggesting oxytocin could somehow be transported even in the presence of such a barrier.

Breast feeding has been recommended by the WHO since 2007 because of its positive effects on babies' short-term and long term health, but breast-feeding for 12 months has been decreasing. On the other hand, production of powdered milk has increased year after year, forming a 7 trillion dollar market worldwide. In the United States, 13% of babies are born prematurely, and the number of babies around the globe who are born prematurely or with a very low body weight is approximately 15 million annually. The importance is now recognized of giving those babies colostrum and raising them with mother's milk.

Thus, the importance of breast feeding is now well recognized; however, information about oxytocin, which is necessary for development of the social brain for communication with others, has been fragmentary. Oxytocin in the mother's blood is transferred to the milk. It was thought that the uptake of oxytocin from mother's milk through the digestive tract should take place although the underlying mechanisms remained unknown.

Comment: See also: Research suggests: Modern parenting may hinder brain development


Eye 1

'Waste product' of the retina fuels part of the eyes

© iStock.com/AlexAndrews
The eye is an ecosystem, with its different parts relying on each other to survive.
One man's trash is another man's treasure, even at the level of the cell. That's where-according to new research-a waste product of the retina fuels part of the eye that powers the rods and cones that help us sense light. Without this waste, that part of the eye "steals" glucose from the retina, leading to the death of retinal cells and likely vision loss. The finding could help explain why eyesight degenerates with age-and in diseases such as macular degeneration and diabetes.

"It's almost a revolutionary concept" that there is such a tight coupling between the two parts of the eye, says Stephen Tsang, a retina specialist at Columbia University who was not involved in the work.

Rods and cones are very active, and they need a lot of energy to do their jobs. Exactly how they get this energy has long been a mystery. In previous studies, researchers showed that a layer of cells beneath the retina, the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), ferries glucose from the blood to the retina. But it was unclear why the RPE didn't keep the glucose for itself.

After a decade of study, biochemist James Hurley at the University of Washington in Seattle and his colleagues have now shown that the retina's rods and cones burn the glucose, convert leftovers into a fuel called lactate, and then feed that back to the RPE. "There is a growing consensus that no cell exists on its own in complex tissues like the retina," says Martin Friedlander, an ophthalmologist at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, who was not involved with the new work.

Cow

New study shows Baltic clams and worms release as much greenhouse gas as 20,000 dairy cows

New study shows that oceans with worms and clams enhance the release of methane into the atmosphere up to eight times more than oceans without them.

Scientists have shown that ocean clams and worms are releasing a significant amount of potentially harmful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

The team, from Cardiff University and Stockholm University, have shown that the ocean critters are producing large amounts of the strongest greenhouse gases - methane and nitrous oxides - from the bacteria in their guts.

Methane gas is making its way into the water and then finally out into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming - methane has 28 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide.

Comment: See also: Greenhouse gas-eating bacteria discovered deep in subglacial Antarctic lake


Microscope 2

Researchers reveal enzyme behind immune cell response

© Monash University
Monash University researchers have revealed the role played by an enzyme that is pivotal to the process of clearing infection in the body. Moreover, they suggest that the enzyme may be a potential target for drug development to block the types of inappropriate or excessive cell behaviour that occur in cancer and autoimmunity.

The production of antibodies - proteins secreted into our blood that neutralise invaders such as bacteria and viruses - is one of the immune system's most important ways of protecting us from infections.

But the immune cells that ultimately make or secrete the antibody - a type of white blood cell called B-cells or B-lymphocytes - need to change significantly to do this. They have to be activated, proliferate and change their function, all of which requires significant remodeling of the machinery of the cell.

Researchers from Monash's Central Clinical School led by Professor David Tarlinton, Head of the Immune Memory Laboratory, discovered that an enzyme called PRMT1 is behind this remodeling.

Brain

Brain imaging studies skewed by non-representative sample groups lead to errors in understanding brain development

Any scientist who studies groups of people knows that the characteristics of the "sample"-the group of people selected for the study-can profoundly impact the study's findings. To produce the most accurate findings, a study group ought to be as similar as possible to the people in the larger population you want to say something about.

A new UC San Francisco-led study shows that failure to follow this basic principle of population science-a common complaint about research in the cognitive sciences-can profoundly skew the results of brain imaging studies, leading to errors that may be throwing off neuroscientists' understanding of normal brain development.

"Much of what we know about how the brain develops comes from samples that don't look like the broader U.S. at all," said Kaja LeWinn, ScD, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF, member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, and lead author of the new study. "We would never try to understand the burden of other health conditions, like cardiovascular disease, in a sample with much higher socioeconomic status than the U.S. population as a whole, for instance."

Microscope 2

Newly discovered genes critical for hearing will provide insight into causes of hearing loss in humans

© National Human Genome Research Institute
This image shows the coding region in a segment of eukaryotic DNA.
Fifty-two previously unidentified genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing over 3,000 mouse genes. The newly discovered genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans, say scientists from Medical Research Council (MRC) Harwell, who led the analysis by the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC).

The study, published in Nature Communications, tested 3,006 strains of 'knock-out' mice for signs of hearing loss. 'Knock-out' mice have one gene from their genome inactivated, which helps researchers to uncover the functions of that gene. The IMPC aims to generate a 'knock-out' mouse for every gene in the mouse genome.

The hearing thresholds of the knock-out mice were assessed with rising volumes of sound at five different frequencies - mice were considered hearing impaired if they could not hear the quieter sounds for two or more frequencies.

They identified 67 genes that were associated with hearing loss, of which 52 had not been previously linked with hearing loss. The genes identified varied in how they affected hearing - effects ranged from mild to severe hearing loss or resulted in difficulties at lower or higher frequencies.

Brain

Paradox of perception: Human brain remembers visual features in reverse order than it detects them

© Ning Qian/Columbia's Zuckerman Institute
Visual depiction of one- and two-line tasks that participants were asked to complete and that was key to the paper's findings.
Scientists at Columbia's Zuckerman Institute have contributed to solving a paradox of perception, literally upending models of how the brain constructs interpretations of the outside world. When observing a scene, the brain first processes details-spots, lines and simple shapes-and uses that information to build internal representations of more complex objects, like cars and people. But when recalling that information, the brain remembers those larger concepts first to then reconstruct the details-representing a reverse order of processing. The research, which involved people and employed mathematical modeling, could shed light on phenomena ranging from eyewitness testimony to stereotyping to autism.

This study was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The order by which the brain reacts to, or encodes, information about the outside world is very well understood," said Ning Qian, PhD, a neuroscientist and a principal investigator at Columbia's Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. "Encoding always goes from simple things to the more complex. But recalling, or decoding, that information is trickier to understand, in large part because there was no method-aside from mathematical modeling-to relate the activity of brain cells to a person's perceptual judgment."

Microscope 2

Scientists find treatment that causes cancer cells to self-destruct - without affecting healthy cells

© Albert Einstein College of Medicine
This image depicts the structure of the BAX protein (purple). The activator compound BTSA1 (orange) has bound to the active site of BAX (green), changing the shape of the BAX molecule at several points (shown in yellow, magenta and cyan). BAX, once in its final activated form, can home in on mitochondria and puncture their outer membranes, triggering apoptosis (cell death).
Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have discovered the first compound that directly makes cancer cells commit suicide while sparing healthy cells. The new treatment approach, described in today's issue of Cancer Cell, was directed against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells but may also have potential for attacking other types of cancers.

"We're hopeful that the targeted compounds we're developing will prove more effective than current anti-cancer therapies by directly causing cancer cells to self-destruct," says Evripidis Gavathiotis, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and of medicine and senior author of the study. "Ideally, our compounds would be combined with other treatments to kill cancer cells faster and more efficiently-and with fewer adverse effects, which are an all-too-common problem with standard chemotherapies."

Comment: But will the lucrative and death-dealing Cancer Industry ever permit this research to be practically implemented??


Mars

NASA shares detailed images of Martian pits believed to have been formed by glaciers

© NASA / JPL / University of Arizona
Haunting high resolution video showing the formation of lines of Martian pits in the fretted terrain of the Red Planet's 'Protonilus Mensae' region has been released by NASA.

The mesmerizing footage, captured in March of this year, was shared by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter imaging project, HiRise.

Protonilus Mensae is an area of Mars in the Ismenius Lacus quadrangle. The terrain features cliffs, flat-topped hills, and wide valleys, believed to have been formed by debris-covered glaciers moving across the Red Planet's surface.


Cassiopaea

Most luminous white dwarf eruption spotted by astronomers

University of Leicester contributes to best-ever results on a 'new star' in a nearby galaxy.
© OGLE survey
Astronomers have today announced that they have discovered possibly the most luminous 'new star' ever - a nova discovered in the direction of one of our closest neighboring galaxies: The Small Magellanic Cloud.

Astronomers from the University of Leicester contributed to the discovery by using the Swift satellite observatory to help understand what was likely the most luminous white dwarf eruption ever seen.

A nova happens when an old star erupts dramatically back to life. In a close binary star system consisting of a white dwarf and a Sun-like companion star, material is transferred from the companion to the white dwarf, gradually building up until it reaches a critical pressure. Then uncontrolled nuclear burning occurs, leading to a sudden and huge increase in brightness. It is called a nova because it appeared to be a new star to the ancients.