Author Archives: livia rusu

About livia rusu

Livia's main interests are people, and how they think. Having a background in marketing and sociology, she is in love with social sciences, and has a lot of insight and experience on how humans and societies work. She is also focused on how humans interact with technology.

Protein levels determine whether you’re a blond or a brunette, study shows

A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine has found that certain protein levels determine whether you’re a blonde or a brunette.

For the first time, the molecular basis for one of the most important physical human traits was described, outlining that even the tiniest DNA changes could have a crucial impact on our genome, which has possibly affected the evolution, the migration and even the course of the history as we know it today. David Kingsley, PhD and expert in developmental biology, declared that:

‘We’ve been trying to track down the genetic and molecular basis of naturally occurring traits — such as hair and skin pigmentation — in fish and humans to get insight into the general principles by which traits evolve, and now we find that one of the most crucial signaling molecules in mammalian development also affects hair color.’

A protein called KITLG, commonly known as a stem cell factor, was found to be encoded in the genes whose expressions are regulated in the DNA. Turns out that a single change in the DNA according to this biological procedure is responsible for major physical traits, such as the predominantly blond hair of Northern Europeans.  This change was found to affect only the level of KITLG in hair follicles.

Another result of the study concerns the tissue-specific, small changes in the expression of genes, whose effect can be morphologically noticeable. Connecting specific DNA changes with specific clinical prototypic outcomes is clearly laborious, as the study conducted by David Kingsley and led by Cathrine Guenther (PhD) underlines. To be more specific, the change is called ‘subtle’ because it occurs over 350, 000 nucleotides away from the KITLG gene itself and its impact on the amount of gene expression is no bigger than 20 percent. The procedure involves replacing an adenine (a single nucleotide) by a guanine on human chromosome 12 and its impact is believed not to be significant, taking into consideration that, when it comes to gene expression, the scale is only referred to as ‘on’ or ‘off’.

Adaptive changes are often the result of variations in the level of regulatory regions controlling gene expression and not necessarily within the coding regions of the gene itself. His explanation of the result is that:

in this case, it controls hair color. In another situation, perhaps under the influence of a different regulatory region, it probably controls stem cell division. Dialing up and down the expression of an essential growth factor in this manner could be a common mechanism that underlies many different traits.

According to the researchers, there were a number of clues leading to the fact that the regulatory regions could be of increased importance in deciding the hair color, such as that (1) the adenine-to-guanine nucleotide change was already associated with blond hair color in Northern Europeans due to previous genome-wide studies and (2) the large mutation in lab mice (called inversion) usually affects multiple nucleotides near the KITLG gene, given the fact that the mice with two copies of the mutation, one for each chromosome, are white, while the ones with a single copy of the mutation are significantly lighter, as we previously explained.

Because this nucleotide switch only effects the KITLG expression by about 20 percent or so, it would have been difficult to believe it would have such an effect on hair color. For that we needed these very carefully constructed, well-controlled animal models. They clearly showed us that this small difference in expression is enough to switch hair color in these animals.It’s clear that this hair color change is occurring through a regulatory mechanism that operates only in the hair. This isn’t something that also affects other traits, like intelligence or personality. The change that causes blond hair is, literally, only skin deep.’

 

Fake science that still haunts us today

By now, we really should know the differences between real science and pseudoscience… but that’s not always the case — and on the internet, that’s often not the case. I mean, we’re surrounded by science every single day, but then again, we’re also surrounded by bad science. We have a limited attention span and sometimes, whoever screams the loudest gets our attention. Astrology, homeopathy, conspiracy theories, they’re everywhere; here are just some of the more common examples of pseudoscience which you really shouldn’t fall for.

Fake news — it works for science, too. Image via Pixabay.

2012 millenarianism

The ‘2012 phenomenon’ consists of a series of apocalyptic beliefs that cataclysmic events would happen on the 21st of December, due to the association with different astronomical alignments and numerological formulae, generally derived from misinterpreting the Long Count Maya Calendar. But as 2012 came and passed and the world didn’t end, the belief still stemmed, based on little more than voodoo and ignorance. Seriously, the Aztecs didn’t predict anything like this, neither did Nostradamus, and there’s nothing set to happen and end the world as we know it in the near future.

There was also a New Age version of the event which was less tragical – it only implied the beginning of a new era marked by spiritual transformation and purification. Terms like ‘solar storm’ or ‘pole shift’ were abusively used by the communities in favor of this belief.

Astrology

If there’s one pseudoscience that I’d wish would just go away, it’s astrology. The belief that your life and personality are somehow decided by groups of stars that somehow look like mythical things is just ridiculous. Astrology is based on a horoscope, a divination system where there is a strong connection between what happens in the world and astronomical alignments. The Indians, Chinese and Mayans are only a few cultures that practice astrology.

The scientific community rejects astrology as having no explanatory power for describing the universe, and consider it a pseudoscience. Scientific testing of astrology has been conducted, and no evidence has been found to support any of the premises or purported effects outlined in astrological traditions.

Astrology – it’s crap, really.

Ancient astronauts

There’s a hypothesis (and I use that term lightly) that intelligent extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth in prehistoric times, leaving behind artifacts, such as cave paintings, the Stonehenge or the pyramids. There isn’t even the slightest evidence to support such a claim. It’s all wishful thinking and a rich imagination.

Moon landing conspiracy theories

Of course, there had to be a conspiracy theory regarding the Apollo moon landing. By far the most popular pseudoscientific belief is that the six manned landings were faked and none of the astronauts actually went to the Moon – that everything was filmed in a Hollywood basement. The conspiracists first came up with this idea in the 1970s, and some still believe this idea. There are numerous documentaries on the subject, where all kinds of conspiracists present their claims on the matter, using half-baked theories and seemingly convincing arguments. Ironically, while the technology to land on the Moon was available at the time, the technology to forge the footage wasn’t.

Bermuda Triangle

Ah yes, the Devil’s Triangle: a region that’s not clearly defined in terms of geographical localization, but where lots of strange, supernatural things happen. It is believed that many aircrafts and ships magically disappeared under mysterious circumstances during relatively recent history. Despite all the fuss that was made around this name, whose activity is most often associated with paranormal and alien interventions, The U.S. Board on Geographic Names doesn’t even recognize this place as registered. Documented evidence indicates that a significant percentage of the incidents were spurious, inaccurately reported, or embellished by later authors. In a 2013 study, the World Wide Fund for Nature identified the world’s 10 most dangerous waters for shipping, but the Bermuda Triangle was not among them.

Climate change denialism

Ah yes, we’re labeling this as pseudoscience… because it basically is — despite what some media might claim. Despite a scientific consensus on the issue, some people continue to cling to the belief that our climate isn’t changing. The most extensive use of this pseudoscience is often related to commercial and ideological purposes. Fossil fuels lobby, the Koch brothers or free market think tanks are some of the most popular claimers of this pseudoscience along with industry advocates.

Brainwashing

Brainwashing refers to the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values, up to the point where the individual (or society) doesn’t believe in his own set of values, but in the one imposed. The suggestion that NRMs use mind control techniques has resulted in scientific and legal debate along the years, but now, scientists agree in rejecting the validity of the concept.

Hypnosis (partially)

Some psychologists believe hypnosis is a mental state of supreme relaxation and inner focus, and the subject is fully responsive to the suggestions given by the hypnotist. Animal magnetism (mesmerism) is the concept in which this idea stems its roots in.

While some forms of suggestion and hypnosis have been clinically useful and are accepted by the scientific community, the idea of almost fictional concepts such as hypnotic regression to the point of past life regression is beyond any scientific proof. Using hypnosis for mood control or relaxation is part of the standard treatment procedure, but not pushed to the point of False Memory Syndrom.

Neuro-linguistic programming

A combination between communication, personal development, and psychotherapy, this pseudoscience was created during the 1970s. NLP states that because of the inner cognitive connection between the neurological processes, language and behavior, learning patterns through experience can increase the chance of achieving goals in life. Scientific evidence, on the other hand, shows that the gross of what NLP claims is simply not true.

Subliminal advertising

It is believed to be an encrypted piece of information in the visual or auditory ad which is not consciously processed by the subject, yet it manages to subconsciously influence his perception and even generate repeated buying behavior. Scientifically speaking, even if there were a subliminal (very, very subtle) message incorporated in the advertising block, the stimulus would never have an effect on the information, attitude or behavior of the consumer because of the weakness of the stimulus which wouldn’t be able to generate a cognitive response.

Alternative medicine

This is not what medicine looks like. This is what plants look like. Image via Pixabay.

It is often defined as ‘all treatments which have not been proved using the scientific method’ in terms of effectiveness or lack thereof – so by definition, it’s not scientific. Among these practices, the most popular are homeopathy, neuropathy, naturopathy, chiropractic, energy medicine, acupuncture, Chinese medicine or Christian faith healing. Complementary medicine is a type of pseudoscience that is used along with the conventional medical treatment. Although there are no scientific reasons to believe it is efficient, some of the patients opt for it.

Scientific racism

It is, in history, the belief that there is scientific evidence supporting the inferiority and superiority of certain races; classifying individuals by race. Aryanism, which stood at the core of Nazism because of which the Holocaust happened is one of the most popular examples of scientific racism. Related to the Holocaust, a rather odd pseudoscience initiated by the Leuchter report is Holocaust Denial, which is an attempt of showing with forensic evidence that mass homicidal gassings did not, in fact, take place.

Graphology

It represents a psychological pseudoscientific test which is meant to show that there are significant correspondences between a person’s handwriting and the personality traits which influence the handwriting morphology. Its link with forensic examinations concerning handwriting is only superficial, and there are some theories according to which the correlations were linked to sympathetic magic.

These are just some of the many heads of this ugly hydra called fake science. There are many other branches we haven’t touched upon here, and if you feel there’s something that must be added to this list — don’t hesitate to let us know.

aye aye madagascar

Meet the aye-aye: the strangest looking primate in the world

aye aye madagascar

Exclusively found in the north-eastern parts of Madagascar, these peculiarly looking primates may both be the strangest and adorable looking things you’ll see all day.

aye-aye-primate

Aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis) are dark brown or black and are distinguished by a bushy tail that is larger than their body. They also look a lot like gremlins. Distinguishing features include big, penetrating eyes, large sensitive ears and very long and slender fingers. Actually, an aye-aye’s middle finger is particularly longer than the other digits, which the primate makes good use of by tapping trees for wood-boring insect larvae moving under the bark. It employs the same middle finger to fish them out. Yum!

[ALSO SEE] Pica – the practice of eating dirt and soil in Madagascar

aye-aye-primate1

I personally find the aye-ayes incredible animals, but the natives have a different story to tell. Because of their bizarre appearance, ancient legends of Malagasy considered it the symbol of death – its eerie call doesn’t help it much either. In fact, that middle finger the aye-aye is so keen on using all the time is what sealed its fate as a death bringer. Natives believe that if an aye-aye points its middle finger at you, then death will soon befall. So… aye-ayes usually get killed on sight. It’s no wonder the species is listed as critically endangered with fewer than 1000 specimens left in the wild.

 

Detoxification of Air Pollutants, enhanced by Broccoli Sprout Beverage, Chinese clinical trial reveals

A number of approximately 300 Chinese men and women who live in one of the country’s most polluted areas were involved in a clinical trial, which reports that daily consumption of a half cup of broccoli sprout beverage produces rapid, significant and sustained levels of benzene excretion, one of the most dangerous carcinogens and a lung irritant.

Image via Sports Geezer

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Bloomerg School of Public Health used broccoli sprout beverage in order to create sulfotaphane, which is a plant compound that is already scientifically proven to have cancer preventive properties, in animal studies.

What this study reveals is that simple and safe methods can be taken by individuals in order to possibly reduce some of the long-term health risks that are associated with air pollution, ‘while government leaders and policy makes define and implement more effective regulatory policies to improve air quality’, according to Thomas Kensler, Ph.D., professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomerg School, co-author of the study.

The explanation of this result is that broccoli and related plants have been found to reduce risk of chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer. The main benefit of consuming the broccoli sprouts is that it contains glucoraphanin, which is a compound that is known to generate sulforaphane whenever the plant is chewed, either the beverage swallowed. The drink was found to increase enzymes that enhance the body’s capacity to expunge these types of pollutants.

The 12-week trial, which included a number of 291 participants, selected them on the criteria of living in a rural farming commuity in Jiangsu Province, one of China’s most heavily industrialized areas. The participants were asked to drink a beverage made of sterilized water, pineapple and lime juice while the beverage for the tratment group additionally included glucoraphanin, as well as sulforaphane. Among the participants, 21 per cent were men (62) and 79 per cent were women (229), with a median age of 53. Urine as well as blood samples were taken during the trial to measure the fate of the inhaled air pollutants.

Among the findings, the rate of excretion of the carcinogen benzene increased by 61 per cent, and it began from the first day and continued throughout the 12 weeks. Moreover, the rate of excretion of the irritant acrolein increased rapidly and durably during the same period, by 23 per cent. Other analyses made by investigators suggedted that the sulforaphane could be exerting its protective actions by activating a signaling molecule, NRF2, which elevates the competency of the cells to adapt to and survive a large range of environmental toxins. The strategy could be effective for some contaminants in water and food, as well.

The trial targeting prevention evaluated a possible method to reduce the body burden of toxins which follow unavoidable exposures to dangerous pollutants. Most of the clinic trials involving treatments of diseases which were already presented and even advanced into later stages. Other analogue clinical trials are planned in the same Chinese region in order to evaluate the optimal dosage and the frequency of the broccoli sprout beverage.

Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem. To address it comprehensively, in addition to the engineering solutions to reduce regional pollution emissions, we need to translate our basic science into strategies to protect individuals from these exposures. This study supports the development of food-based strategies as part of this overall prevention effort’, declared John Groopman, Ph.D., and Anna M. Baetjer Professor of Environmental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

A number of almost 7 million deaths a year worldwide is caused by the increasing global pollution and one of the most affected areas on the globe includes many parts of China, according to the World Health Organization.

The complete study can be found here: Rapid and Sustainable Detoxification of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprout Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China

This electric car with 1000 miles on a charge

Whether we’re talking about a tablet or a phone, a laptop or a music player, what matters most is the battery. And electric cars are no exception from this rule. The problem with new technologies is that there are no infrastructures to sustain them, which makes it unprofitable for the consumer, given that the lack of necessary tools to assure the function of new technologies makes it far from user friendly.

It’s in this train of thought that the battery developer Phinergy and metal manufacturer Alcoa teamed up for the electric car user not to be left in the middle of nowhere with no possibility to plug it in in the halfway. The modified Citroen C1 was showed during the latest conference in Montreal, with two batteries: one on lithium-ion and the other on aluminum-air. Combined, these two batteries allow the car more than a thousand miles of range.

In the case of Citroen, the lithium-ion battery works as the main energy source – as in most electric vehicles – given that only the lithium-ion can take the driver far enough. In a Leaf there’s no need to recharge in 80 miles, and in S it’s almost 300 miles charging-free. But since most of the people in the USA need to travel more than 30 miles a day, the aluminum battery is what they need for their cars to work properly, serving as a ranger extender and letting the consumer drive a thousand carefree miles.

Lighter than lithium-ion batteries, the aluminum-air ones are more energy dense as well. Not great as a primary energy source in a car because you can’t charge them at home, they’re perfect to swapped out at a specialized service station when they’re drained.

The car will also rely on the rechargeable lithium-ion battery and automatically switch to aluminum-air when needed to. And because most of the trips are under 35 miles, the aluminum battery won’t be used on a daily basis. Alcoa estimates that the aluminum battery will be run down once a year. If there’s a chance for the companies to make the range extender affordable, a lot more electric cars will be on the roads and less anxiety because of the users’ concerns.

About the 28th element essential to sustaining life, discovered by scientists

The scientific world has commonly agreed upon 27 elements that are literally essential for human life. However, a study proved the existence of a 28th element, bromine, which is among the 92 naturally-occurring chemical elements in the entire universe, as vital for tissue development in all animals, from the primitive sea creatures to humans included.

The paper, published by Cell, was written by researches from Venderblit University who established for the first time the importance of bromine. The initial discovery of the research was that fruit flies died when bromine was taken out from their diet and that they also survived when the chemical element was restored.

The implication of this finding for human disease is that ‘multiple patient groups were found to be bromine deficient’, as McCall, a Ph.D. student underlined. The health of patients on dialysis or total parental nutrition may be improved by this finding, just by bromine supplementation.

This finding is not the first report of its kind, an entire series of landmark paper was published by the scientists of this university, showing how, for instance, collagen IV scaffolds under-gird the basement membrane of the tissues, which includes the kidney’s filtering unit. The latest discover only adds up to the previous findings on the issue.

Billy Hudson, Ph.D., the paper’s senior author, said that the premises for this finding go back thirty years when he was still at the University of Kansas Medical School. He also specified that ‘without bromine, there are no animals. That’s the discovery’.

The previous works are of high importance as well, one of which concerned the curiosity of the scientist about two rare kidney diseases which led during the 1980s to the discovery of two essential proteins twisting around each other to form the triple-helical collagen IV molecule, similarly to the cables supporting a bridge. The proteins, which were completely unknown by then, could be linked to the disease and their effect is comparable to the one of a defective or damaged bridge cables.

In 2009 the discovery of a novel sulfimine bond between a sulfur atom and a nitrogen atom acting like a fastener to connect the collagen IV molecules forming scaffolds for cells was reported, led by Roberto Vanacore,Ph.D., and published in Science Magazine. The defective bond could result into the auto-immune disease Goodpasture’s syndrome, named by the late Vanderbilt pathologist Ernest Goodpasture, popular scientist especially due to his contribution to the vaccines’ development. After his discovery, the only question that was further be answered to by his colleagues concerned the way in which the bond between the molecules is formed. In 2012 enzyme peroxidasin was found to be responsible for the bond.

During this research, the role of bromine was found to be vital in enabling the sulfimine bond. An overactive enzyme is possible to lead to excessive deposition of collagen IV and result in the thickening of the basement membrane, which can cause impairment in kidney function. The recent study showed the importance of ionic bromine as a co-factor ‘essential for the animal development and tissue architecture’, according to the report.

The study was led by co-first authors Scot McCall, Christopher Cummings, Ph.D., and Gautam Bhave, M.D., Ph.D.

World’s oldest pair of pants, found in a tomb in China

If you’ve ever wondered when was the first time that ancient people decided to wear pants like we do today instead of large pieces of coatings to cover their nudity, the scientists found the answer to that one. It seems that it’s somewhere between 3,000 and 3,300 years ago, somewhere around the 13th to 10th century B.C. that ancient nomadic herders from the primeval Yanghai, as it results from the tombs in western China, used to wear clothes like all the rest of us today.

pants

The woolen pants found during an excavation are the oldest example of garment known by men, according to the researchers of the German Archaeological Institute. In spite of the time when they used to be worn, the bygone breeches seem to resemble today’s riding pants a lot – from the straight-fitting legs to the reinforced crotch and patterned bands as model.

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We’re all biased, it’s hardwired in our brain. Here’s how:

A cognitive bias is the common tendency of thinking in a certain irrational way – it’s a deviation from good judgement; they’re often studied in psychology and economics because of the influence that a counter-intuitive thinking process can have in these particular fields, and they significantly affect our lives. Among the researchers there have been countless controversies as to whether the cognitive biases represent utterly irrational attitudes and behaviors or they are sometimes useful as a social coping mechanism, especially in psychology. Without being stereotypical, there are certain biases that apply socially to an extended range of situations of both economic and psychological nature, among which here is a list of the most essential ones.

Here are some of the most common biases – which ones are you guilty of?

Image via 8000 hours.

Biases concerning belief, behavior and the decision-making process

Ambiguity effect – It affects the decision-making process and consists of a decision made when there is a lack of information or a certain ambiguity about a situation. It’s basically talking without knowing exactly what it is you’re talking about. Its effect most often implies that people make a decision on basis of the known probabilities of favorable outcomes instead of on basis of the unknown probabilities of a favorable outcome. The most common scientific explanation for this bias is the fact that people tend to have a rule of thumb to avoid the options where pieces of information are missing.

Focalism – It affects the decision-making process and describes the general tendency of weighing/anchoring too much on the first piece of information they come in contact with  and all the other judgments are made by comparison to the initial information. The technique is used especially in fields involving negotiations, where all the other options will seem reasonable compared to the first one that was proposed.

Availability heuristic – It affects the formation of opinion and the decision-making processes and it roughly represents a mental shortcut, leaning more on the most recent and immediate examples that pop to our mind. According to the same type of thinking, the cognitive implied stereotype is that the information we recall (which is most of the times the most recent one) has to be inherently relevant. Finally, this cognitive bias also implies that there’s a direct proportionality between how easy we remember a series of consequences of our actions and how much importance we attribute to them.

Image via Ask.

Illusory truth-effect – It affects the formation of opinion and sometimes even the decision-making process and it implies that there is a generally tendency of perceiving information as correct for simply being highly exposed to it. However, repeating something doesn’t make it true, even though it may seem that way.

Myside bias – It represents the general impulse of interpreting the information in a way which confirm our beliefs instead of giving them up. The bias most often interferes with our thinking when cognitive issues of great emotional importance are at strike. One of the most common example of myside bias is seen in very religious people.

Base rate fallacy – It is a cognitive bias which affects both opinion-making and the decision-making process, but mostly the first one. It generally refers to a type of situation in which our brain decides to ignore the general information and ignore on the specific one. For instance, being asked whether a person who listens to death metal is rather a Christian or a Satanist, people would tend to believe the latter one, although there are over 2 billion Christians and only a few thousand of satanists in the world.

Belief bias – It generally affects the manner of thinking and the way we approach a problem based on the credibility of the conclusion of a syllogism and not on basis of that conclusion being validly supported by the premises. For instance, if young people are ambitious and they also study hard, it would be a belief bias to state that the reason for which they study is that they are ambitious, since the conclusion doesn’t necessarily result from the two premises.

Choice-supportive bias – It is a cognitive issue related to the way our perspective changes related to a particular problem depending on our previous choices connected with the issue. For instance, when it comes to buying a product of a particular brand, once a person owns one it’s more likely to ignore its drawbacks and amplify its advantages, while doing the exact opposite when it comes to the rival product. The bias works as a form of psychological validation of our previous decisions.

The familiarity principle – It is called the mere exposure effect and it represents the tendency to like things more because we have repeatedly be exposed to them. This bias affects opinion making-processes and it reflects in music, social life, professional decision and pretty much every field of interest where there are more variables out of which we have been predominantly exposed to only one of them.

Selective perception – It refers to the general tendency of ignoring the stimuli that create emotional discomfort by contradicting our prior beliefs. For instance, we’re more likely to forgive something when someone very close to us did than when we have an outside perspective, as strangers, on the same behavior observed on somebody else.

Social desirability bias – It is a cognitive reaction which implies that people often tend to respond not in the way they truly believe, but in the way they think they are expected to answer in order for their image to be evaluated as favorable by the interviewer, and it often happens while over-reporting positive behavior and under-reporting negative behavior.

Social biases

Actor-observer assimmetry – The bias refers to the way in which we tend to form errors when attributing the behavior of other people. When in the situation of evaluating the same negative behavior of ourself and another person, we tend to report our behavior as being a particular situation, while in the case of another individual we see it as a general characteristic of their personality.

Dunning-Kruger effect  – Represents a social bias in which people who are highly unskilled in a certain field tend to over-evaluate their performance in such a way that they think of themselves as being true professionals. Illusory superiority is the general thinking disorder that leads to very inaccurate judgement calls. The associated thinking of this type of cognitive bias is that the individual will always tend to under-evaluate the performance of others, especially but not necessarily by comparison to his. People with an intermediate level of skill, knowledge and experience generally have a lower rate of confidence, because they know enough see that there is much more left.

False consensus effect – In social psychology, it is often reported that the individuals believe that their way of thinking (from entire thought processes to the simplest ideas, beliefs or values) are normal. According to this type of thinking, people attribute their way of thinking to other people, often believing that it would be normal and that it most often happens for people to believe the same as they do, when in reality people have completely other opinions on the problems under discussion. This cognitive bias is highly important socially speaking, because it helps getting over the self-esteem issues and makes people believe they are normal and fit in with other people’s thinking.

The illusion of asymmetric insight – It is a social cognitive bias whereby people tend to believe that their knowledge of others is many times more meaningful and broad than other people’s knowledge of them. This illusion starts from the conviction that observed behaviors are more revealing in the case of other people than in the case of self while our private thoughts are socially presented in a very opaque manner which doesn’t let very personal things slip.

Frogs use drains to boost their mating call

If you’ve learned during the biology classes in school that the animals are going to adapt no matter the circumstances, your teacher did a great job. Turns out that frogs aren’t the exception to the rule, quite the contrary. New studies show that tree frogs seem to be using city drains in order to amplify the serenades and make their interest during the mating period known. The Mientien tree frog native to Taiwan was found to congregate in roadside storm drain during its mating season.

Moreover, the research showed that the audio recordings were actually relevant to the case in study: the mating songs of the frogs who were inside the structures were louder than their rivals’ who were positioned in patches of land next to the drains. Mark Bee, biologist at the University of Minnesota, declared  that:

This is the first study to show that an animal preferentially uses human-made structures to potentially enhance the sounds of its vocal communication signals. These males could be taking advantage of the enhanced acoustics in drainage ditches to outdo their competition.

The fact that the voice amplification in frogs is possible has become a scientifically legit fact back decades, and in 2002 some studies suggested that the male Metaphryanella sundana frogs in Borneo use hollow tree cavities in their natural habitats to boost the volume of their mating calls. More recently, after a research held at the National Taiwan University, Kurixalus idiootocus frogs were studied from February to September (during their mating period).

Lekking is the ritual through which the males of the species form groups during the mating season to compete for females with courtship behavior, which, in their particular case, represents singing. The scientific research also showed that the urban tree frogs used open concrete drains along the roads as lek sites, which is completely different from their natural habitat, consisting of ponds where the frogs warble.

As part of the research, 11 plots of 10 meters long and 0.5 m wide were randomly put withing the drains along with an adjacent section of land outside of the gutters (10 meters wide) for monitoring during the night, when the mating songs are most intense. As a result, there were more frogs found in the gutters than in the area. The storm drains were selected much more than any other location, on average 1,64 male frogs per square meter according to the number of frogs found inside the drains, while only 0.02 males per square meter were outside.

The calls from the inside were louder, longer and more effective than the ones outside important selection criteria for the females in most of the frog species, as one of the representatives of the Taiwan University confirmed.

There is no delicacy in the human acoustic perception for these kinds of operations. However, the softwares suggested that the drain calls are about 4 decibels louder inside and the length of all 13 notes that are contained by a frog’s call were 10 per cent longer as well, when the mating call was emitted from the inside.

What the study did not specify is if there was a final result of the male frogs as being more successful because of the placement inside of the drains, but the authors are going to investigate the issue further. One of the other possibilities that Bee identifies for the position on the mating calls is avoiding the predators, which would also explain why the animals jump into man made structures. In order for the study to be fully conclusive, however, all the other hypotheses and theories concerning possible reasons for which the male frogs prefer the urban drains have to be ruled out.

High speed and X-ray videos reveal the feeding secrets of amphibious fish

Mudskippers are a strange type of fish – for starters, they’re amphibious, which means that they spend a great of their time on land. They also have unique adaptations which allow them to manage in the intertidal environments in the Indo-Pacific and the Atlantic coast of Africa. Their unusual feeding behavior has now been captured in high-speed and X-ray video by biologist Krijn Michel and his colleagues at the University of Antwerp, shedding new light on how life moved from the oceans onto the land.

Michel’s colleagues had previously shown that eel catfish (Channallabes apus) can successfully feed on land – but there’s a huge difference between feeding on land sometimes and actually living on land. Under water, fish can use ‘suction feeding’, that is gulping in water along with the prey. But on land, gulping and manipulating prey without a tongue and without water is a more difficult task.

Periophthalmus gracilis. Image via Wikipedia.

To get around this problem mudskippers actually bring water in their mouths onland. The video shows how the fish approaches its prey and then water starts to protrude from its mouth, enveloping the prey. The fish basically uses the water in its mouth to manipulate the food.

“First it spews out the water, then very rapidly… it’s sucking the water back up again. They’re using the water that is in their mouth as a substitute for a tongue,” says Michel. The results were published on 18 March in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Scientists had already known that mudskippers have several specific adaptations; they can, for example, use their fins to move around in a series of skips and flip their muscular bodies to catapult themselves up to 2 ft (60 cm) into the air, but this also shows how they adapted not only their bodies, but their habits – so much that they actually lost their underwater skills.

“They’re very good at feeding on land. We put the food there and within a fraction of a second it’s gone,” says Michel. “They’re remarkably bad at feeding underwater. They miss the food completely sometimes.”

Journal Reference: Nature, doi:10.1038/nature.2015.17123

22,000 year old skull fragment may represent extinct lineage of modern humans

The skull, shown here in a 3D scan, shows subtle differences from similar-age skulls found in both Africa and Europe. Credit: copyright President and Fellows of Harvard College

A partial skull fragment found in Kenya seems to indicate that early humans were much more diverse than previously thought. The 22,000-year-old skull clearly belongs to a human species, but is unlike anything else previously discovered.

New Humans

“It looks like nothing else, and so it shows that original diversity that we’ve since lost,” said study co-author Christian Tryon, a Paleolithic archaeologist at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s probably an extinct lineage.”

The site in Kenya actually shows great promise, as it was likely inhabited for over 20,000 years. Archaeologists not only found this interesting skull, but also one which was 2 times older – 46,000 years old.

About 12,000 years ago, humans began farming, establishing permanent settlements and developing cultures. They also started leaving things behind, so we can now interpret them. But we know very little of the human populations who lived over 12,000 years ago.

There are currently at least ten known species of modern humans, including Neanderthals, the “hobbits“, the Denisovans and the Red Deer Cave People.  We only have a basic understanding of this diversity and how different human lineages interacted and impacted each other.

 

Found in a museum

To get a better understanding of this, Tryon and his colleagues took a second look at specimens in the collections of the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi. The artifacts were lying around since the 1970s. Sadly, it’s very common for vast parts of museum collections to be under-analyzed and under-studied, due to lack of human and financial resources (this is common even in Western Europa and the US).

The team first conducted several basic measurements on the skull fragment, and then dated it with carbon isotopes, something which wasn’t available when the skull was first discovered. They learned that the skull was 22,000 years old and then compared it it with skulls from Neanderthals, several other fossil human skulls from the same time and other periods, as well as some contemporary humans.

Comparison between human (left) and Neanderthal skull (right).

The skull clearly belonged to a Homo sapiens, but it has several distinctive features, suggesting greater genetic diversity than previously thought;  its dimensions were markedly different from those of both the European skull and the African skulls from the same time, and the skull was also thickened, although this could be attributed to physical damage, nutritional deficiencies or a very active childhood.

Genes and art

At this Kenyan site, archaeologists also found beads made from ostrich eggs, something very rare at that point in time. The findings come at a crucial point in human history; anthropologists and geneticists estimate that between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago, people began intensively using elaborate trading routes over vast distances, started the first works of art, made the first arrow-like stones and even developed jewelry.

This rediscovery captures a juncture in time and shows that there was a time in recent history when the human species underwent accelerated genetic evolution. There are likely other, as of yet undiscovered genetic variations. Unfortunately, an extremely small sample size is the reality when you’re working with this type of fossils.

Journal Reference: Christian A. Tryon et al. Late Pleistocene age and archaeological context for the hominin calvaria from GvJm-22 (Lukenya Hill, Kenya).  doi: 10.1073/pnas.1417909112

 

Rats Remember Who’s Nice to Them—and Return the Favor

Rats remember acts of kindness done by other rats, and are more helpful to individuals who previously helped them. It’s not clear if they do this because they are grateful or if they are trying to make sure that they will get helped in the future as well, but their behavior gives scientists a new understanding of animal social behavior.

Can rats develop friendships? This study sure seems to suggest that. Swiss researchers Vassilissa Dolivo and Michael Taborsky found that animals other than humans (namely rats) can reciprocate, helping each other based on how much help they’ve received in the past.

For this study, they fed female Norwegian rats two types of foods: bananas and carros. For rats, bananas are a favorite, while carrots – not so much. The twenty rats were put in a prisoner’s dilemma-type situation. Two people were responsible for delivering either bananas or carrots by pulling a stick. Eventually, the receiving rat would start to learn who of the helpers gives it bananas and who gives it carrots. Then, scientists switched the rats’ places, so the rats on the receiving end were now able to pull on a stick that would deliver cereal flakes to a certain helper. The rats recognized the handlers and were much more likely to give the banana handler cereal flakes; at the same time, the rats who received carrots were less likely to give out the food.

But are the rats really helping out here, or is it simply random behavior?

“Two elements are involved: recognizing an individual, and responding to the quality of service,” Taborsky says.

The first element indicates a specific type of intelligence, but researchers were more interested in the second one – the ability to reciprocate. This might indicate that altruism, friendship and the desire to help others may actually not be as complex as previously thought – or that rats have more developed social skills than we gave them credit.

“The test rats showed a clear preference to pay back help to the partner that had provided them with the preferred food”, says Michael Taborsky. “They helped previous banana providers much quicker than previous carrot providers”.

Journal Reference:

  1. Vassilissa Dolivo, Michael Taborsky. Norway rats reciprocate help according to the quality of help they received. Biology Letters, 2015 DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2014.0959

 

cafeteria serving usa

Here’s what kids eat at school lunch around the world. Needless to say, US trails behind

cafeteria serving usa

Typical lunch in US school cafeteria: Fried “popcorn” chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, fruit cup and a chocolate chip cookie.

 

The fact that the US has an obesity problem among its populace doesn’t come as a surprise any longer, but what we should all find concerning is how this has spiraled  away to school kids as well. One in three American kids are classed as obese, according to the government. Sure, much of this stems from home – what parents serve their kids, how they educate them about nutrition and so on. What we should also keep in mind is that a major role is played by school cafetieres which more or less force feed children certain foods. Bloomberg reports that some  32 million children were included in the  National School Lunch Program in 2013, a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools, During this time  5.1 billion lunches were served.

A typical school cafeteria serving contains fried food stuff like nuggets, mashed potatoes or peas. Kids’ nutritional uptake and diet could be a lot better, as proven elsewhere by schools all around the world. Sweetgreen, a restaurant the values local and organic produce, recently published on its Tumblr an amazing photo journal detailing what a typical cafeteria serving looks like in countries like South Korea, Brazil or Italy. Of course, these servings were made and arranged by the Sweetgreen staff, but according to them these were based on government standards for school lunch program and real-life photos shared by children via social media.

Most, but not all, all of the servings are believed to be healthier and more nutritious for children since they contain fresher, greener and more nutrient-rich foods. These are essential for both good physical and mental development.

Pork with mixed veggies, black beans and rice, salad, bread and baked plantains.

Pork with mixed veggies, black beans and rice, salad, bread and baked plantains.

Local fish on a bed of arugula, pasta with tomato sauce, caprese salad, baguette and some grapes.

Local fish on a bed of arugula, pasta with tomato sauce, caprese salad, baguette and some grapes.

Pea soup, beet salad, carrot salad, bread and pannakkau (dessert pancake) with fresh berries.

Pea soup, beet salad, carrot salad, bread and pannakkau (dessert pancake) with fresh berries.

Fish soup, tofu over rice, kimchi and fresh veggies.

Fish soup, tofu over rice, kimchi and fresh veggies.

Steak, carrots, green beans, cheese and fresh fruit.

Steak, carrots, green beans, cheese and fresh fruit.

Baked chicken over orzo, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and cucumber salad, fresh oranges, and Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds.

Baked chicken over orzo, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and cucumber salad, fresh oranges, and Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds.

Mashed potatoes with sausage, borscht, cabbage and syrniki (a dessert pancake).

Mashed potatoes with sausage, borscht, cabbage and syrniki (a dessert pancake).

Sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange.

Sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange.

Eyelashes keep eyes clean and dry – but longer is not better

Sheep eyelash. Image credits: Guillermo J. Amador

Humans have been fascinated by eyelashes for centuries, with long and luxuriant eyelashes being in fashion since the days of ancient Egypt. Now, researchers have found how eyelashes actually work, what their functions are, and revealed that longer is not necessarily better.

David Hu at the Georgia Institute of Technology decided to investigate eyelashes after seeing his newborn daughter use hers just three days after she was born. He and his team measured the length and characteristics of several different mammals, and then constructed an artificial eye with artificial lashes, put it in a wind tunnel and blew air at it. They also created mathematical windflow models.

Human eyelash. Image via Wiki Commons.

Most mammals have eyelashes, so they made for an excellent case study. The researchers found that they almost always cover about one-third as long as the eye is wide, which, as the mathematical models confirmed, is the ideal length for diverting airflow around the eye and reducing evaporation. In other words, eye lashes have evolved to exactly the ideal length they should have – it’s biomechanics at its finest.

Steven Vogel, a professor emeritus at Duke, who studies similar problems in biomechanics, said the research was “terrific.” Now, he said, “we know why eyelashes are the length they are.” So longer eyelashes, while may look prettier, are actually not as efficient in protecting the eye. Frank Fish, a biologist at West Chester University who studies biomechanics praised the study:

“What I like is that they have a number of approaches to help validate the ideas,” he said.

 

Drug-Resistant Malaria Could Pose Huge Global Threat

The ability to keep malaria under control is crucial – the disease is highly contagious and the potential health hazards are immense. Efforts have been somewhat successful, with fatalities dropping from over 1 million in 2000 to 584,000 in 2014, but the protozoans that are causing the disease are starting to become immune to the drugs we are using, and that’s a huge problem.

A worrying development

The parasited which causes malaria has existed for some 70,000 years, but the population size of the parasite did not increase until about 10,000 years ago, concurrently with advances in agriculture and the expansion of human settlements. Today, although it can affect many animals, malaria remains a deal between humans, parasites, and the mosquitoes which transport them. Malaria is not only a disease which kills over a thousand people every week (on average), but also causes major economic damage. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a major factor in the slow economic development of the American southern states and the trend is continued today.

Now, a new study detected drug-resistant malaria over a wider area than previously thought, spreading to South-East Asia and nearing India. In a country with such a huge population and major hygiene issues, the diseases could spread like wildfire.

“If this were to spread into India, malaria will continue to affect rural populations there, but there may not be an immediate effect on cure-rate,” said Dr Charles Woodrow, from the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, in Thailand.”But beyond the short term, there is very likely to be a problem, and there are very few [other] drugs on the table.”

So far, the countries in which drug-resistant malaria has been reported are:

  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Myanmar (also known as Burma)

Researchers took blood samples from 940 people with malaria from 55 sites across Myanmar. Woodrow adds:

“We can see artemisinin resistance is clearly present quite close to the Indian border, that’s clearly a threat and in the future is likely to lead to extension of the problem to neighbouring areas.”

Artemisinin is normally given as part of combination therapy. Initially, the drugs will be effective, but ultimately, it’s inevitable that the parasite will catch up.

Image via Oxford University.

Deja Vu

This has happened before. Chloroquine probably saved hundreds of millions of lives, but malaria parasites developed resistance to it in 1957. Chloroquine has been extensively used in mass drug administrations, which may have contributed to the emergence and spread of resistance, possibly causing more harm than good after resistance developed.

Curiously, although there are far more malaria cases in Africa than South-East Asia, resistance to both chloroquine and artemisinin has been developed in Asia. The likely reason for this is lower levels of natural malaria immunity exist in the region than in Africa. This means that the entire area in Asia is like a training camp for the parasites to develop resistance to what we throw at them.

If we don’t act fast, we may lose an important tempo in the fight against the disease. Prof Philippe Guerin, the director of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network, said:

“This study highlights that the pace at which artemisinin resistance is spreading or emerging is alarming. We need a more vigorous international effort to address this issue in border regions.”

Journal Reference: Kyaw M Tun et al. Spread of artemisinin-resistant Plasmodium falciparum in Myanmar: a cross-sectional survey of the K13 molecular marker. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(15)70032-0

Mercury Level in Tuna Reaching Alarming Levels

The Mercury level in tuna has been a subject of debate for decades now. Paul Drevnick, Assistant Research Scientist at University of Michigan and his team analyzed data from over the past 50 years and found that mercury levels in Pacific yellowfin tuna, often marketed as ahi tuna, is increasing at 3.8% per year. If 3.8% per year doesn’t seem like much, that translates into a doubling at every 20 years. So in 50 years, mercury levels have increased 6 times.

mercury pollution fish.

Mercury levels in fish. Image via Lean it up.

Mercury is a neurotoxin – it can cause significant damage to nerve tissue. Mercury exists in a number of different compounds, though methylmercury (MeHg+), dimethylmercury and diethylmercury are the only significantly neurotoxic forms. Diethylmercury and dimethylmercury are considered some of the most potent neurotoxins ever discovered. Mercury levels in tuna are now approaching levels deemed unsafe for human consumption by the EPA.

The initial surprise was that high mercury levels were reached consistently throughout the globe, even in pristine areas in Scandinavia or North America. This happens because most of the mercury comes from coal plants; as the coal plants burn coal, mercury can easily travel throughout the globe (even several times) before settling down as dust or rain. As it settles down on water, it is then absorbed by fish. As Drevnik explains, many people have the wrong idea that the world’s ocean is simply too large to be polluted.

“Two manuscripts published in Science in the early 1970s supported this argument. The first stated that mercury pollution could only result in a negligible increase in mercury levels in open ocean water,” he writes.

It took years before people understood how airborne mercury from burning coal at power plants could accumulate in fish. Jim Richmond/Flickr, CC BY-SA

But new research contradicts that idea. Namely, dillution is not a solution to pollution. Mercury is not something easily eliminated from the body, so if it gets absorbed by a plant or an animal, it pretty much travels throughout the food chain, so that top predators contain much more mercury. The study found that methylmercury levels in predatory fish are about a million times greater than in the water in which they swim. Furthermore, mercury levels continue to rise, at an average of 3.8% a year.

“The statistical comparison indicated mercury levels were higher in 2008 than in either 1971 or 1998. As a result, we concluded that mercury levels are increasing in yellowfin tuna near Hawaii. The rate of increase between 1998 and 2008 of 3.8% per year is equivalent to a modeled increase in mercury in ocean waters in the same location.”

The only question mark is now where the mercury is coming from – and the scientific evidence seems to indicate we are doing it. Coal plants are the main source of pollution, closely followed by cement kilns. Other sources are trash burning and gold mining. We need to find better ways to deal with our mercury pollution, and that’s exactly the aim of the new United Nations Environment Programme’s Minamata Convention on Mercury.

In the mean time, we also have to keep avoid eating too much tuna.

 

 

 

Research Finds Meditation More Useful Than Sleep Education in Fighting Insomnia

A randomized clinical trial has found that mindfulness meditation is significantly more effective  than sleep hygiene education (e.g. how to identify & change bad sleeping habits) in reducing insomnia symptoms, fatigue, and depression symptoms in older adults with sleep disturbances.

Image via Zazen Life.

Generally speaking, sleep disorders are disturbances of sleep patterns. Some sleep disorders are serious enough to interfere with normal physical, mental, social and emotional functioning. Interestingly enough, one of the most common sleep disorders is Bruxism: involuntarily grinding or clenching of the teeth while sleeping. Other, more well known disturbances are delayed sleep phase disorder (inability to awaken and fall asleep at socially acceptable times but no problem with sleep maintenance, a disorder of circadian rhythms), Hypopnea syndrome (abnormally shallow breathing or slow respiratory rate while sleeping) and nocturia (the need to wake up and urinate at night). All in all, the International Classification of Sleep Disorders distinguishes more than 80 different disorders, which can be effectively treated. Problems with falling asleep or daytime sleepiness affect approximately 35 to 40% of the U.S. adult population annually and are a significant cause of major health disorders and morbidity.

Researchers wanted to see how effective mindful meditation can be at treating sleep disorders. It’s not the first time meditation has been suggested in treating serious disorders, with previous research showing that medication is effective in stress and anxiety, pain management and can even slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.

“[Our objective is] to determine the efficacy of a mind-body medicine intervention, called mindfulness meditation, to promote sleep quality in older adults with moderate sleep disturbances.”

Mindfulness meditation is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation, by which one learns to be mindful, “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.” Mindfulness meditation can become “a mental position for being able to separate a given experience from an associated emotion, and can facilitate a skillful or mindful response to a given situation.” Thus Jeff Wilson describes it in his book, Mindful America: Meditation and the Mutual Transformation of Buddhism and American Culture.

The results were pretty clear – mindful awareness practices (MAPs) were significantly more effective at dealing with sleep disorders than traditional techniques (sleep hygiene education – SHE).

Image via Pureela.

“The use of a community-accessible MAPs intervention resulted in improvements in sleep quality at immediate postintervention, which was superior to a highly structured SHE intervention. Formalized mindfulness-based interventions have clinical importance by possibly serving to remediate sleep problems among older adults in the short term, and this effect appears to carry over into reducing sleep-related daytime impairment that has implications for quality of life”, the study writes.

The conclusion is simple – meditation has significant health benefits, and we should focus more on it in future studies.

“Pending future replication of these findings, structured mindfulness mediation training appears to have at least some clinical usefulness to remediate moderate sleep problems and sleep-related daytime impairment in older adults,” the study concluded.

Journal Reference: David S. Black et al, Mindfulness Meditation and Improvement in Sleep Quality and Daytime Impairment Among Older Adults With Sleep Disturbances. A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 16, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8081.

Newborn baby born carrying two foetuses

A recent report in the Hong Kong Medical Journal describes the case of a baby girl who was born carrying two masses in her body which are likely to be foetuses. But this doesn’t mean that she was “born pregnant” (as some media wrote), but is rather the case of “parasitic twins”.

If they are indeed foetuses, then this is a case of foetus in foetu – which literally means “foetus inside a foetus”. It’s a very rare condition which seems to occur 1 time for every 500,000 births, though it’s not clear exactly why this happens. Researchers suspect that the tissue mass begins as a regular foetus, but is accidentally enveloped inside its twin.

Unlike conjoined twins, one ceases development during gestation and is vestigial to a mostly fully formed, otherwise healthy individual twin. The undeveloped twin is defined as parasitic, rather than conjoined

The other theory for the girl is that the two masses are highly developed teratoma, which is a type of tumour that consists of more than one type of cell, causing all sorts of unwanted tissue and organ components to grow inside her (hair, bone, teeth etc).

“Each structure included a spine, intestines, bones with bone marrow, ‘primitive’ brain matter, a rib cage and an umbilical cord, according to the study. The study authors said the partially formed foetuses and the baby girl shared the same DNA, fitting a popular theory that the woman was initially pregnant with identical triplets, but researchers aren’t sure this is what happened.

Judging by the body parts they found in the baby girl, the doctors determined that the absorbed twins could have been up to 10 weeks old before their growth stopped and they were absorbed. But the mechanism for this ‘absorption’ is not fully understood, the study authors wrote, so it’s also possible the extra foetuses were absorbed earlier and grew with the baby girl in the womb.”

The mass was removed without any complications, and may provide researchers with valuable information regarding this condition.

“I think we see these on occasion and they’re bizarre,” Jane Corteville, an OB/GYN at University Hospitals Case Medical Centre in Cleveland, Ohio, and an expert on the phenomenon, told ABC News. “And I think they do give us kind of some insight maybe – but not very much – into what happens during early development.”

Cannabis Consumption Might Make You Bipolar

After reviewing existing literature and statistics, researchers from the University of Warwick have found evidence which suggests a significant relationship between cannabis consumption and the onset (or exacerbation) of mania symptoms.

Image via Agora Media.

We’ve presented quite a few studies on cannabis here on ZME Science. Our general impression is that due to legal constraints (which are somewhat debatable), the medical potential of the substance is largely ignored. In 2014, a study showed that inhaled cannabis can significantly mitigate Parkinsons symptoms, and another one also shown some promise in easing pain and fighting depression. However, it’s not all good; heavy consumption leads to poor memory and abnormal brain structure and teen consumption also has negative impacts on the brain.  Now, in a paper published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, mental health researchers found another negative side effect: cannabis causes or accentuates mania symptoms.

Technically speaking, mania is the mood of an abnormally elevated arousal energy level; manic depression is also called bipolar disorder. High irritability, depression and overall frenzy are all symptoms of mania, which can itself be a symptom of other psychological conditions. During a manic phase, patients tend to feel euphoric and may believe they can accomplish anything – but this usually backfires, and the exactly opposite feelings set in.

The fact that marijuana consumption seems to be connected to mania is, while interesting, not entirely surprising. Lead author Dr Steven Marwaha said:

“Previously it has been unclear whether cannabis use predates manic episodes. We wanted to answer two questions — does cannabis use lead to increased occurrence of mania symptoms or manic episodes in individuals with pre-existing bipolar disorder? But also, does cannabis use increase the risk of onset of mania symptoms in those without pre-existing bipolar disorder?”

After analyzing previous studies and medical statistics, they found the answer to those questions.

“The observed tendency for cannabis use to precede or coincide with rather than follow mania symptoms, and the more specific association between cannabis use and new onset manic symptoms, suggests potential causal influences from cannabis use to the development of mania. It is a significant link.”

In other words, we now know that cannabis consumption and mania are linked; it doesn’t necessarily means that one causes another, but that’s definitely possible. The research also showed that in people already suffering from mania, the symptoms are greatly exacerbated.

Scientists also underlined the fact that the clinical use of cannabis is grossly understudied.

“There are limited studies addressing the association of cannabis use and manic symptoms, which suggests this is a relatively neglected clinical issue. However our review suggests that cannabis use is a major clinical problem occurring early in the evolving course of bipolar disorder. More research is needed to consider specific pathways from cannabis use to mania and how these may be effected by genetic vulnerability and environmental risk factors.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Melanie Gibbs, Catherine Winsper, Steven Marwaha, Eleanor Gilbert, Matthew Broome, Swaran P. Singh. Cannabis use and mania symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2015; 171: 39 DOI:10.1016/j.jad.2014.09.016

Green tea ingredient may target protein to kill oral cancer cells

A component found in green tea may be very effective at destroying oral cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells alone. The research from Penn State could become very useful in fighting oral cancer, as well as other types of cancer.

Image via Real Buzz.

Green tea originated in China, but it has since become a very popular beverage throughout the world. Many claims have been made for the beneficial health effects of green tea, but only a few of them have actually been backed by scientific investigations. Green tea contains a myriad of enzymes, amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, sterols, related compounds, phytochemicals, and dietary minerals which show great promise in fighting against cancer, cardiovascular diseases and glycemic control, but not many peer reviewed studies actually showed that green tea is effective against a specific type of cancer.

There have been previous studies which showed that epigallocatechin-3-gallate — EGCG — a compound found in green tea, killed oral cancer cells without harming normal cells, but the reason and mechanism through which this is done has not been understood. Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science and co-director of Penn State’s Center for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health believes he has found the answer to that mystery.

“EGCG is doing something to damage the mitochondria and that mitochondrial damage sets up a cycle causing more damage and it spirals out, until the cell undergoes programmed cell death,” said Lambert. “It looks like EGCG causes the formation of reactive oxygen species in cancer cells, which damages the mitochondria, and the mitochondria responds by making more reactive oxygen species.”

Mitochondria are membrane bound organelles found in most eukaryotic cells often referred to as the powerhouses of the cells. They generate the energy that our cells need to do their jobs. In a way, they generate the chemical energy for our body to function. If you destroy the mitochondria, you basically destroy the cell. EGCG basically does just that – but only in cancerous cells – it leaves healthy cells unscathed.

Researchers grew the normal and cancer cells on petri dishes and then exposed them to EGCG, the major polyphenol found in green tea, at concentrations typically found in the saliva after consuming green tea. They found that a specific protein, SIRT3, is critical to the process.

“It plays an important role in mitochondrial function and in anti-oxidant response in lots of tissues in the body, so the idea that EGCG might selectively affect the activity of sirtuin 3 in cancer cells — to turn it off — and in normal cells — to turn it on — is probably applicable in multiple kinds of cancers,” Lambert said.

The next step is to test the substance on animals, and ultimately, in human trials. In the meantime, just like many previous studies, this shows a lot of promise – green tea may be a valuable tool against cancer.

“The problem with a lot of chemotherapy drugs — especially early chemotherapy drugs — is that they really just target rapidly dividing cells, so cancer divides rapidly, but so do cells in your hair follicles and cells in your intestines, so you have a lot of side effects,” said Lambert. “But you don’t see these sorts of side effects with green tea consumption.”