Posted in biology

A new take on ‘traditional’ medicine

Could it be that an old dog can learn new tricks? Recently, researchers in China have discovered that a hundred-year-old traditional Chinese calligraphy ink could noninvasively and efficiently treat metastasized cancer cells.

Today, metastasis presents one of the greatest challenges facing modern cancer diagnosis and therapy. It is responsible for ~90% of cancer deaths, and has been very difficult to treat without causing further complications.

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Posted in technology

You and Improved – 3D selfies make their debut

Thanks to computer scientists at both the University of Nottingham and Kingston University, our selfie game is about to reach the next level.

Using their new web app (see link at the bottom of the page) it is now possible to generate a 3D model of your face from a single 2D image. Aside from improving your Instagram, this technology has a myriad of potential uses.

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Posted in biology, chemistry, technology

From pee to plastic: how yeast could revolutionise space travel

Scientists at Clemson University have found a way to use biological systems in order to recycle human waste into both nutrients and plastics. Their findings were presented at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

In order to achieve long-distance space flight, there are a number of critical obstacles must be surmounted. One of these obstacles is how astronauts will transport enough food to sustain themselves over several months or years. Due to size and weight constraints, it is not possible to simply send the astronauts with a large stockpile of nutrients to ration. Anyway, even if it were possible to deploy them with enough food to survive the mission, many essential nutrients have a limited shelf-life and would degrade before the end of the mission.

“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,”

Continue reading “From pee to plastic: how yeast could revolutionise space travel”

Posted in biology

The coffee cure: caffeine could make surgical recovery smoother

Blocking specific brain receptors with caffeine has been shown to counteract sleep loss and reduce post-op pain.

The average human will spend at least half of their life asleep. It is  essential for the maintenance of healthy bodily functions, and research has shown that sleep deprivation increases the risk for several chronic health problems. Continue reading “The coffee cure: caffeine could make surgical recovery smoother”

Posted in social

$1 price hike could cause 1 million smokers to quit

Using over ten years of neighbourhood price data, researchers at Drexel University have found that smokers are twenty percent more likely to quit if the price of cigarettes is increased by a dollar.

Currently, smoking remains the largest cause of preventable deaths and disease in the world. Due to this, the finding that increased cigarette prices were associated with a higher rate of smoking cessation is significant as it suggests that cigarette taxes may be an effective lever for successful behaviour change.

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Posted in social, technology

Digital doctor: the computer will see you now

Just as people display their emotions through body language and behaviour, your emotional state can now be detected using your Instagram account.

Researchers at the University of Vermont and Harvard University have shown that machine learning algorithms can successfully detect depression from Instagram photos. Currently, the computerised method has a success rate of 70%, a vast improvement on the 42% achieved by general practice doctors diagnosing in-person.

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Posted in biology, physics, technology

Humans vs Neanderthals – the mammoth competition that ended in extinction

After thousands of years, the reason for the Neanderthal’s extinction has finally come to light. Using isotopic analysis, it was found that both ancient humans and the Neanderthals were in direct competition for their main food source – woolly mammoths.

The first anatomically modern humans are thought to have colonised Europe around 43,000 years ago, forcing the Neanderthals into extinction approximately 3,000 years later. So, why did Homo sapiens succeed where the Neanderthals could not? There are many hypotheses, but by far the most common is that the diet of anatomically modern humans was more varied and flexible, allowing them to consume fish. However, a new study by the Senckenberg Research Institute and the Natural History Museum has blown this out of the water.

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Posted in social

Mind the gap: will it ruin your marriage?

According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, similarly-aged spouses tend to have happier marriages.

Since 2001, data from 7,682 Australian households has been collected using the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Due to the length of the study and the sheer number of participants, data analysis has unearthed several distinct trends in marriage satisfaction over time.

Continue reading “Mind the gap: will it ruin your marriage?”

Posted in biology

Could yoga be used to treat depression?

A series of studies into the antidepressant effects of yoga have returned positive results.

Since its rise to western popularity in the 1980s, people have enthused about the health benefits of yoga. One of the most frequently touted claims is that practicing yoga can aid your mental health. However, empirical evidence to back up these claims has often been difficult to find.

Lindsey Hopkins, a researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Centre, has set out to plug the gap. Her study focusses on the antidepressant effects of hatha yoga, a branch of the discipline that emphasises physical exercise, meditation and breathing exercises in order to enhance wellbeing. Twenty-three male veterans participated in the study, attending twice-weekly classes for eight weeks. The result? All the participants with elevated depression scores before the program experienced a significant decrease in symptoms after their involvement.

Nina Vollbehr, who works at the Centre for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands, has also investigated yoga’s antidepressant potential. Her first study involved tracking twelve patients, each of whom had experienced depression for an average of eleven years, as they participated in nine weekly yoga sessions. The participants’ levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry were measured before they took part, immediately after the program and then again four months after the program ended. The data collected showed a decline in the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression throughout the program, the benefit of which persisted for the four months afterwards. On the other hand, rumination and worry did not decrease during the program. However, a slight reduction in rumination and worry symptoms was found in the four month follow up.

Vollbehr’s second study compared yoga to another relaxation technique. In it, seventy-four mildly depressed university students were given thirty minutes of instruction on either yoga or relaxation. They were then asked to perform the same exercises at home for eight days, with the aid of a video. Immediately after the study, it appeared that both yoga and relaxation both had the same positive effect, but the two month follow up indicated that the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress than those who had followed the alternative relaxation program.

Now, it is clear that the sample sizes in the studies are small and that the research into yoga as a treatment for depression is still very much in its preliminary stages. However, according to Jacob Hyde, a military psychologist at the University of Denver, the concept of yoga as a complementary or alternative mental health treatment certainly seems promising.

Tabitha Watson

Image Credit: [http://hhpblog.s3.amazonaws.com/blog/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/rolled-up-yoga-mats-exercise.jpg]

Posted in chemistry

Another layer of onion chemistry has been peeled away

After 150 years, the structure of the enzyme responsible for onion’s eye irritation has been found.

It’s common knowledge that cutting onions can make you cry. Upon damage to the plant tissue, onions release a compound called lachrymatory factor (LF) as a chemical defence mechanism, irritating the eyes and causing them to water. What is less well known is the mechanism the onions use in order to generate the chemical. In fact, scientists have been stumped for over 150 years.

Despite the knowledge that LF is produced by a reaction catalysed by the enzyme lachrymatory factor synthase (LFS), analysing the conversion of the initial substrate – usually a sulfenic acid – to LF has been difficult to achieve. Unfortunately, the rapid reactivity of the substrate and the instability of the LF makes them very challenging to observe.

In order to surmount this problem, a team of US researchers determined the crystal structure of LFS. By analysing the crystal structure, they were able to observe the structure of the enzyme both as a whole and as its active site bound to another compound. Using this data in conjunction with known information about similar proteins, they were able to deduce the chemical mechanism used in the enzyme catalysed reaction – a sequential proton transfer accompanied by the formation of a carbocation intermediate (as illustrated in Figure 1).

mechanism

Figure 1

Tabitha Watson

 

The paper, entitled ‘Enzyme that makes you cry – crystal structure of lachrymatory factor synthase from Allium cepa‘ can be found in the journal ACS Chemical Biology [DOI: 10.1021/acschembio.7b00336]