Home –  Nature
Category Archives: Nature

“Turning off” bad Genes in Cells Could Prolong Life and Cure Cancers

"Turning off" bad Genes in Cells Could Prolong Life and Cure Cancers

You know the old saying; you wait ages for a bus and then three come along together? It seems we wait ages for scientific advances in one field or another and suddenly there are a plethora of papers, breakthroughs, new ideas and innovations. In the field of longevity, anti-ageing and even immortality the last year has been a bumper one- and it looks like it’s going to continue into 2014. Perhaps we are about to see some real advances in the next five years? We’ve seen naked mole rat DNA, stem cell stimulation to prevent ageing, and now there’s another declaration: Don’t purchase that life assurance plan just yet!

The spotlight shifts to Israel’s Tel Aviv University where researchers have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which genes can be switched off to create the same anti-ageing effect as calorie restriction.  The findings of the research were reported recently  in the leading journal on biology and associated fields; “Nature Communications. . The findings and research, if built upon, could lead to the development of new drugs to treat ageing.

Traditional  research in this field has looked for ways to kill off bad cells, such as cancer cells. Chemotherapy and radiation are ways to treat cancerous cells and stop them multiplying. But they involve the destruction of the cells, which can leave a patient invalided or unable to perform certain functions that they could before the cancer took hold. The new research looks at ways of transforming a diseased cell into a healthy one. No steamhammer to crack a walnut, but a subtle terraforming of a cell from being a bad’ un to being a good ‘un.

Prof Ruppin

This may seem similar to other recent discoveries, but the Tel Aviv laboratory of Professor Eytan Ruppin (pictured above) is a leader in this growing field of something called “genome-scale metabolic modeling” or GSMMs.  Ruppin and his researchers use mathematical equations and computers, to understand how GSMMs describe the metabolism, or life-sustaining, processes of living cells. Without getting too technical the algorithm MTA can take information about any two metabolic states and predict the environmental or genetic changes required to go from one state to the other. Such as diseased or non-functioning, to restored and active. “Gene expression” is the measurement of the expression level of individual genes in a cell, and genes can be “turned off” in various ways to prevent them from being expressed in the cell.

The study used yeast.  And the algorithm predicted how old yeast could be made to look like new yeast.  Why yeast? Because it is the most widely used genetic model as so much of its DNA is preserved in humans. Now you know!

By turning off two genes in real yeast, the researchers found that the yeast’s lifespan could be extended, significantly. By up to nearly a third. While currently there is no way to verify the results in humans, many of these crucial genes are known to extend lifespan in not only yeast, but worms, and mice. That’s where the research will go next- tests on mice.

The glittering prize at the end of this road would be an extended lifespan for we humans, and for finding cures for metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and of course, the big one, cancer. And maybe extending skin life so that you need never worry about wrinkles, crow’s feet and a saggy neck!

c217x131

 

Ingested Sensors are Coming!

Ingested Sensors are Coming!

Just as “wearable technology” is becoming “de rigeur”, with cameras in hats, wrist watch internet computers, and sensor/computer glasses with built in sat-nav, be prepared for the next logical step: under-skin technology.  Yep,  while it may seem like it has come from a Michael Crichton sci-fi story, we will soon all be able to have sensors and micro-chips inside out bodies. For some people it’s here already. Think pacemakers for those with heart disease; the latest models can be scanned by clinicinas to access information about how the assisted heart is performing.

Picture courtesy bc.co.uk

Picture courtesy bc.co.uk

“We are going to see more sensors everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before those migrate under our skin into our bodies,” said Peter Eckersley, the lead technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (photo below).

Peter Eckersley

But with advances in miniaturisation, data collection, storage and access, it’s probably only round the corner when a tiny probe in the body could supply you and your doctors with a mass of information about your body’s functions. Clearly this would have great advantages in helping to treat chronic illnesses. You could go to your own PC or lap-top and allows it to pick up from your body-sensor relevant information about your condition, and send it via the internet to a clinician who can  monitor the real-time information and let you know what’s happening and why within your own body. No more having to go in to a hospital and wait to be hooked up to a machine.

The types of information that can be collected from ingested sensors include how the patient’s body reacts to drug regimes, the patient’s dose timing and other physiological responses like heart rate, activity levels and skin temperature. In ten years’ time, some experts are saying that a third of people in developed countries could have sensors inside their bodies, either temporarily or permanently.

However as with any new breakthrough, there could be side effects- not those that affect your health, but those that affect you pocket. Could you imagine a time when health insurance companies refuse to give you beneficial premiums unless you are prepared to have ingested sensors and permit the companies to have access, and perhaps even own, the data about your own body? How would the privacy protectors feel about that?

With new advances in technology it’s important that there are similar advances in responsibility for making sure that the advances are used only for the benefit of mankind, and that by allowing a mini-probe to be sited within you, you have not surrendered your individuality, privacy and soul to others!

The Naked Mole Rat: The Key to Increasing the Human Life-span?

The Naked Mole Rat: The Key to Increasing the Human Life-span?

The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber)  is an unappealing un-cuddly subterranean rodent with wrinkled hairless skin, virtually blind, and large sharp curved upper and lower incisors. It lives all its life below the surface of the earth, has never seen or felt the sun, and often lives in toxic conditions with the sort of lack of oxygen and CO2 concentrations that would kill all other mammals.

For its size, its life-span should be 2-3 years.  For all other mammals the life size is related too size, so the bigger the mammal the longer they live- ergo elephants and whales. But the mole rat lives to a ripe old age of 30 plus. Not only that, a mole rat has never been found that has had cancer, and is almost impervious to disease. It also doesn’t age. A 6 month old Mole Rat looks no different from one in its final year. It is also impervious to pain.

713px-Naked_Mole_Rat_Eating

Scientists are studying the mole rat to see if they can find anything in its make-up, DNA, life-style, diet or lack of exposure to the outside world that makes it such a survivor. If the replication of the naked mole rat characteristics could be harnessed and applied to humans we could expect to live up to 6 times longer than now, without ageing- that’s nearly 500 years!

One just hopes that it doesn’t require us to shave all our skin every day,  live underground, and feed on a  diet of plant tubers!

The Kraken Wakes…

The Kraken Wakes...

..or at least seems to be in the news a lot this year.  There have been tales of ships pulled down to their watery doom by a kraken; a sort of octopus/squid/whale hybrid of massive proportions- as visualised in the Pirates of the Caribbean-

article-0-0E524F3900000578-133_634x309

Could it have been that a dinosaur-sized aquatic creature survived the meteor that wiped out its landlubber cousins and survived through to the ascent of man, occasionally plaguing their ocean-crossings?

Professor Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, thinks so. He claims to have discovered markings on the remains of sea creatures which proves that an ancient, giant species of octopus – like the mythical Kraken – was behind their demise, and supports the claims of human mariner survivors to have witnessed ships succumbing to its tentacled overtures.

Prof McMenamin says his evidence of the Kraken, which would have been up to 100 feet long, comes from the vicious injures it inflicted on the giant marine dinosaur reptile ichthyosaurus, either by drowning the creature or snapping its neck. He claims he can tell by examining the placement and sucker markings on bones.

The Professor also noticed, because of the arrangement, that they had been carried away from where they were killed, leading him to think they had been dragged to the Kraken’s lair and dumped in the pattern of the mysterious creature’s tentacles in what is known as a ‘midden’ – a pile of remains accumulated by the beast.

Could the Kraken still exists? In another report, a few months ago, scientists filmed the first video of a live giant squid swimming some 2,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The footage was shown on the Discovery Channel and is due to be repeated over this Christmas and the New Year.

Image: Still image taken from video shows a giant squid near Ogasawara islands

The largest squid ever caught was 55 foot long (see photo below). The one filmed (see above) was at least 100 foot long. While something that size may not be able to pull an ocean-going galleon down to its doom, a smaller craft such as a dingy or small yacht may not be safe from its suckered embrace!

GiantSquid_m_0320

 

tunity like this.”

The Lightning Conductors

The Lightning Conductors

They say lightning never strikes the same place twice – and we all may think that’s probably not true- but how about lightning striking a person twice?  Very rare, yes? Three times? Unheard of??  Four times? No No No!  You’d be forgiven for thinking that you must be some kind of human lightning conductor, Does he wear metallic underwear and walk around in the open with a large metal rod in the air, with a T-shirt saying “strike me again-I dare you!”

The country is South America, and the man has been treated in hospitals there for four separate lightning strikes to his body. And he’s still alive to tell the tale. But unsurprisingly he tends not to go out in thundery weather…

The Lightning Conductors

While we’re on about acts of God- well, Mother Nature- what about the time when an entire Congolese Football Team was killed while playing a game. Even more startling was that the opposing team went back to the changing rooms unscathed. Perhaps it was something to do with their rubber-soled Adidas soccer boots?  Kinshasa daily newspaper L’Avenir said local opinion – known to believe in charms and spells – was divided over whether someone had cursed the team. The two sides were drawing 1-1 in the match in eastern Kasai Province when the lightning struck the visiting team.

Then there’s the incredible report  of a Croatian motorcyclist who got a lightning bolt to the penis while stopping for a roadside pee.  Wow, that must have been some whack-off!

The Lightning Conductors

With more people in the world and climate change bringing more electric storms, expect to see more tales of human lightning conductors.