Monday, 24 September 2018

Photosynthesis to Convert Sunlight into Fuel

As the concern over the burning of fossil fuels to meet our energy consumption grows, scientists are looking for alternatives that do not affect the environment. One such alternative is to use renewable sources of energy such as sunlight. Since sunlight was first used as an energy source for solar panels, it has become an increasingly sought after source of renewable energy. But using solar panels is not easy as the costs are prohibitive to their wide spread adoption. Hence, the use of photosynthesis to harness solar energy.

Photosynthesis splits water into hydrogen and oxygen components. By using this process scientists and others can use the resultant split hydrogen to get a new energy source.

Photosynthesis to give us fuel: 

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants get their fuel or energy. The sunlight is used in photosynthesis to break up water into oxygen and hydrogen. This hydrogen can then be used by us to make fuel.

Photosynthesis is one of the most important reactions in the world as most of our oxygen comes from it. The hydrogen that is produced from the photosynthesis process could be a potential source for a greener source of renewable energy.

Scientists have used a semi- artificial form of photosynthesis to produce hydrogen to use as an energy source by harnessing the sun’s energy.

The use of Semi Photosynthesis to produce a Renewable source of Energy: 

Scientists at St John’s College used sunlight to convert water into its oxygen and hydrogen components. They did this by using a mixture of biological components and manmade tech.
The method of semi natural photosynthesis so discovered can absorb more energy than your natural photosynthesis process there by giving more energy.

Limitations of Natural photosynthesis: 

Like all life and its associated processes, natural photosynthesis too has evolved to survive. This has resulted in natural photosynthesis producing about only 1% to 2% to meet all their energy needs.
The potential to store and convert more energy is much greater, but you can get only so much from natural photosynthesis.

So to boost up energy, artificial photosynthesis was discovered decade ago.

The Problem of Artificial Photosynthesis: 

Artificial photosynthesis uses catalysts to create energy. These catalysts are expensive and toxic to use, hence using artificial photosynthesis is not of much use.

Artificial photosynthesis cannot be used in an industrial setting as they would need to be scaled up to match such a setting making it a very costly enterprise.

The team behind semi- natural photosynthesis uses enzymes to create energy which is not expensive.

Making use of a Dormant Enzyme: 

Scientists used an enzyme commonly found in algae in their semi- natural photosynthesis process to give energy.

By using this enzyme, the amount of energy produced and stored increases.

During evolution, the process by which the enzyme which is used to reduce protons into hydrogen, in algae had been deactivated as it was not essential for survival.

Now by reactivating this process, scientists are able to make use of semi- natural photosynthesis to produce renewable energy.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

How Breast Cancers Grow and Metastasize

Breast Cancers

Researchers help us understand how Breast Cancer can Metastasize

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers that occur in women. Millions of women worldwide are afflicted with breast cancer and according to statistics, one in every eight women are detected with breast cancer in developed nations.

We have seen a lot of improvement in treating breast cancer and the survival rate too has climbed up in the last quarter of a century. On the flip side, metastatic breast cancer results in death of the people diagnosed within a short span of three years of detection. When detection of breast cancer occurs at an early stage, chances of survival increase. The solid tumor in the breast cancer and all other cancers are resistant to even the best medicines and therapies.

A research team from Stevens Institute of Technology have discovered that there are certain conditions that help some cancers to multiply, detach and spread fast through the entire body.

Hongjun Wang, a Stevens biomedical engineering professor and head of the Department of Biomedical Engineering says that this discovery will enable the researchers to discover better medicines and treatments for various cancers. Besides the treatment of the cancer cells, if they examine and target the environment that surrounds the tumors, then they can find improved ways of either slowing down the progression of solid tumors or even arrest them.

Research done on Breast Cancer

Wang’s team developed a semi-synthetic fiber/gel hybrid material which closely represents the actual environment in which the cancer cells grow. They subjected the material to mimic the conditions seen in stiff cancer tissues as well as the healthier and not so stiff cancer tissues and various gradients in between.

With this they are able to study and understand the slow changes that take place as cancer develops. They then conducted various experiments seeding and taking cultures of the localised MCF-7 and the metastatic MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. These breast cancer cells were put in a nutritious medium for three to seven days, which was a longer time period as compared to the earlier studies.
The previous studies done showed that the cancer cells take more than 24 hours to adapt to its environment. The 24-hour period is a very short time to see the full picture and hence they tried it for a longer period of time.

Growth of Cancer Cells

The samples were incubated and they discovered that the stiffness of the local environment causes the breast cancer cells to rapidly increase and multiply initially. When the seeding with cancer cells was done in the first 24 hours, the growth of the cells was more or less as expected.

The stiffer the environment, the faster the cells attached. In the stiffer medium, the cells appeared rounder and could be differentiated individually. The cells in the softer medium were found in colonies. Based on the shape of the cells, they could then predict how they will spread.

It was also seen that migration of cells was faster in stiffer environments. When they subjected the cells to chemical analysis, the proteins associated with metastasis such as vimentin and other proteins for increased aggressiveness was more likely when the tissue was stiffer.

After a three-day period, they noticed that the growth rate slowed down and stopped in the very stiff tissues. They concluded that it is the stiffness that regulates the progress of breast cancer cells. This was a very important finding. This was a new way to look at how the cancer cells metastasize.

The researchers can now look at targeting the properties of the environment surrounding the cancerous cells and not only the tumors.

The team is now focussing on the breast cancer cells and will then go further in their research of other types of cancer cells.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Genetic Barcodes Trace Cells Back to Single Cell Origin

Genetic Barcodes

Genetic Barcodes to Trace Single Cell parentage

A mystery in biology that every scientist has tried to solve is determining the history of cells. All life begins with a single cell and then that cell divides into two, then four until finally it reaches 26 billion or there about cells, which is found in newborn babies. Looking at how that one zygote resulted to form a newborn is what biologists are interested in. At present, biologists are only able to capture snippets of the process rather than a detailed continuous account of how cells form. This was until now. Biologists have discovered a system of genetic barcodes that could aid in determining the history of cells.

Scientists at Wyss Institute together with Harvard Medical School have discovered this novel way of using evolving genetic barcodes to determine the history of cells. Using this method of genetic barcodes every cell in the body can be traced back to its lineage until one comes to its single cell origin.

The current practice of determining a Cell’s history: 

At present before the discovery of genetic barcodes, cell history could be looked at only in the form of snapshots. What scientists have to do in order to view these snapshots is to physically stop the development process. It is described as looking at frames of a motion picture rather than a continuous picture.

On the other hand using the genetic barcodes method, scientists are able to determine the history of all mature cells right up to their single cell parent. It is like looking at a motion picture backwards.
How are these Genetic Barcodes made?

The genetic barcodes system is created using a special type of DNA sequence which encodes a modified RNA molecule which is come to be called a homing guide RNA or hgRNA. This homing guide RNA is made in such a way that they guide an enzyme known as Cas9 which is present in the cell, to its own hgRNA sequence in the genome which the enzyme then proceeds to cut.

The next process in genetic barcodes is the healing process. When the cell then proceeds to heal that cut, it introduces genetic mutations in the hgRNA sequence. This collects over time to create a unique barcode that is called a genetic barcode.

The test subject to the Genetic Barcodes system: 

The genetic barcodes system was tested out in mice with a founder mouse being chosen. This founder mouse had 60 different hgRNA sequences scattered throughout its genome.

Scientist then took this founder mouse and crossed bred it with other mice with the Cas9 protein, the resulting zygotes had their hgRNA sequences cut and which mutated.

The progeny from the zygote too had hgRNA cells that mutated. Each generation of the mice had their own unique mutation or barcode as well as the barcode that they inherited from their parent.
By comparing the cells with mutation, scientists are able to determine which cells are more closely related than others.

This can be especially useful in determining how diseases like cancer become active in the human body.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Common Skin Cancer Can Signal Increased Risk of Other Cancers

Common Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer could signal an increased risk for other Cancers

The most common cancer that occurs is skin cancer. There are a number of skin cancers but the most common among them is the basal cell carcinoma. A large number of people in the United States are diagnosed each year with skin cancer. Based on a new study, those who suffer from multiple incidences of basal cell carcinoma have an increased risk of developing other types of cancer.

Our skin is the largest organ of the body and is regularly exposed to the ultra violet rays of the sun. This makes it most vulnerable to damage of the DNA which in turn leads to skin cancer. One advantage is that it is easy to detect skin cancer in its early stage as compared with other kinds of cancer. Many of the other types of cancer do not generally show obvious symptoms until it has reached the advanced stage. Hence it is important to figure out who would be at greater risk.

Based on the new study, the basal cell carcinoma may become an indicator which would help the doctors to predict which of the patients have a higher risk of developing other kinds of cancer.

Skin Cancer as an indicator of other cancers

Since it is not possible to completely avoid the exposure to the UV rays of the sun, proteins are needed to repair the damaged DNA and prevent skin cancer. Each year there are more than 3 million people in the United States alone that are detected with skin cancer which is highly treatable.

Kavita Sarin, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology says that they have found that those who suffer from six or more basal cell carcinomas within a 10-year period are three times more susceptible to suffer from other, unrelated cancers. They are hoping that this discovery could help them identify those people who are at a higher risk of contracting other cancers and treat them in time.

Sarin and Cho conducted a study on 61 people suffering from frequent basal cell carcinomas, at an average of 11 per patient over a 10-year period. They were treated at Stanford Health Care. They investigated whether there were mutations in the 29 genes that code for proteins that help repair the damaged DNA.

The results obtained were quite alarming. 20 percent of those who suffered from frequent basal cell carcinomas showed mutation in one of the genes which was responsible for repairing the damaged DNA as compared with only 3 percent of the general population.

In addition, 21 out of the 61 people reported other cancers like blood cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, prostrate cancer and colon cancer. This indicated that those with frequent skin cancer are three times more susceptible to developing other cancers as compared to the general population.

Postcoital Dysphoria: Making Love Can Make Men Sad Too

Postcoital Dysphoria experienced by men too

Postcoital Dysphoria or PCD is a feeling of sadness or irritability after consensual sex according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine. Postcoital Dysphoria was mostly attributed to women. Feeling sad and emotional after sex was basically seen in women, but a new study indicates that men also go through Postcoital Dysphoria.

There was a study conducted by QUT researchers regarding Postcoital Dysphoria (PCD) in men. This was the first time they carried out this research and concluded that men too suffer from Postcoital Dysphoria (PCD). They experienced sadness, became teary-eyed or irritable after sex.

According to Masters student Joel Maczkowiack and Professor Robert Schweitzer from QUT’s School of Psychology and Counselling, Postcoital Dysphoria was experienced by women, but none of the earlier studies showed that men too experienced this condition.

Postcoital Dysphoria experienced by men too

They wrote a paper titled ‘Postcoital Dysphoria: Prevalence and Correlates among Males’. It was published by the international Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

They had conducted a survey on 1,207 men for their study. The study was mostly on men in heterosexual relationships and the relationships were consensual. Some of them commented that they were felt empty while others were unsatisfied. They did not want to be touched and wanted to be left alone. Many felt sad, tearful or even irritable. Forty-one per cent of the men experienced Postcoital Dysphoria and 20 per cent had experienced it in the previous 4 weeks. Four per cent went through Postcoital Dysphoria on a regular basis.

One of the men surveyed said that he felt a self-loathing after the sexual activity. To overcome that feeling, he would distract himself by either going to sleep or doing something else or just lay down in silence till the feeling went away. He felt shame and had crying spells after the sexual act. His partner had crying spells but hers was rarer.

When research was conducted on women, 4.3 percent experienced Postcoital Dysphoria regularly, though it was not reported. Reports from Queensland University of Technology in Australia found that 46 per cent of women had Postcoital Dysphoria in the past.

One of the women who was married for 20 years said that post the sexual act she would go to the bathroom and cry. She felt that she was the only one to have this experience. Another woman too said that she would cry after sex even though she was in a loving relationship.

Professor Schweitzer found that going through Postcoital Dysphoria was not uncommon as many would believe.

What could possibly be the cause of Postcoital Dysphoria?

Professor Schweitzer said that the cause of Postcoital Dysphoria is not very clear. Based on a study that was conducted in 2011, they found higher rates of Postcoital Dysphoria in twins which showed a genetic cause.

Another theory was that Postcoital Dysphoria was due to ‘dopamine rebound effect’. It is basically the level of dopamine getting lowered after the excitement of sex. This could just be a hypothesis according to Professor Schweitzer.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Breakthrough discovery will change treatment for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Dr. Louise Hackett’s research will introduce better treatment for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Our lungs constitute a major part in our respiratory system. However, due to smoking and various other factors, many of us have lung diseases, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is also one of those lung disorders, affecting lots of people.

Dr. Tillie-Louise Hackett has started her research on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease that is also known as COPD. This COPD has already snatched the lives of several people. This is a progressive or chronic disease, which can damage the lung tissue very slowly. With her dedicated study, Hackett is trying to find out how the normal healing process of our lungs is getting disrupted. She also strives to know how it causes inflammation issue and brings about a transformation to our lung tissues.

At present, the patients, having mild symptoms, diagnosed through lung test, do not go through much intricate treatment. Since their symptoms are very mild, the physicians believe that they have no damage to the lungs. However, Hackett has realized that it is essential to know the damage level, and her team tries to make out the condition in advance to give the best result to the patients.

What is Hackett’s aim behind her research? 

The major intention of Hackett is to find out everything of the airways’ micro-environment. The researchers have made the effort to know the factor, causing fibrosis in the airways. They think that it will surely avert the adverse condition, resulting in the disruptive airway issues, like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseaseand asthma. Thus, the researchers are trying to learn more of COPD to make out the process in which our lungs and airways are affected for illnesses. Their increasing knowledge on this disease will surely help them to offer better treatment to everyone.

In the disease, like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, we have found lesions production due to the continuous injury at the time of inhalation. The exposure to smoke inflicts this injury. However, the real mechanism behind it is not known clearly. The researchers, including Dr. Hackett have recently dealt with silico drug screening process. They have detected Gly-His-Lys as one of the lung cells destruction modulators.

Dr. Hackett wants to undergo pre clinical research process for the assessment of to evaluate GHK, the potential Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease treatment. Her target is to get the FDA approval by introducing a new, effective drug.

The application of new technology for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseasetherapy-

To make out the COPD determinants, the researchers, at first, applies the innovative micro x-ray process, one of the computed imaging technologies. These technologies are intended for finding out the effect on airways of COPD patients.

In addition to it, Dr. Hackett has also worked on lung cells, by deriving them from COPD patients. She is going to detect the primary ones of all the cells, present in the airway blockage. She is also interested to know whether GHK is capable of modifying the damaged or affected cells. Her thorough research will help us to realize if this GHK is effective as the therapeutic solutions.

Thus, Dr. Hackett’s research will raise hope among all Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease patients in this world.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Drug Treatment has Profound Effect on Cerebral Malaria in Mice

Cerebral Malaria

Treatment of Cerebral Malaria in mice discovered

Cerebral malaria is so fatal as there are no early warning symptoms of this disease . It is hard to detect until it is too late. According to WHO, there are 438,000 people who succumb to cerebral malaria every year. At present there are only anti-malarial drugs for treating this deadly disease. The anti-malarial drugs that are available in the market do not provide optimal recovery from cerebral malaria. Researchers have been looking for new therapies to treat this deadly disease.

There has been a breakthrough in treating cerebral malaria in mice. Scientists from the Manchester and Glasgow Universities in the UK have discovered a new treatment in this field. The researchers discovered that by inhibiting a complex known as inflammasome and at the same time administering the anti-malarial drugs reduced the mortality rate in mice who suffered from cerebral malaria.

These findings were published in PNAS and has been funded by the Medical Research Council. The mice that were treated with the inflammasome inhibitors together with anti-malarial drugs showed significant reduction in the levels of cerebral malaria as compared with the mice that were treated with anti-malarial drugs alone.

The recovery of mice from cerebral malaria 


By looking at the sequencing of RNA in the brain cells of mice, the recovery from the experimental cerebral malaria was due to a family of genes that controlled the immune response in the brain. When IL33, a product of one of the genes was given along with anti-malarial drugs, the mortality rate in mice shot down from 20% to 0%. In addition, the other pathological parameters of the brain like haemorrhage, blocked vessels, leakage and impaired neuron signals reduced drastically.

From this they inferred that the IL33 was vital in order to inhibit the inflammasome. When this inflammasome inhibitor was given along with the anti-malarial drugs to treat the experimental cerebral malaria, the researchers got the same result as the treatment with IL33.

Treatment on Humans suffering from Cerebral Malaria 

This breakthrough in the treatment of mice suffering from cerebral malaria is very promising and researchers are keen on trying it on humans.

The next step is to check if the dysregulation in the IL33-inflammasome pathway will occur in humans who are suffering from cerebral malaria. It is yet to be seen if it will influence their recovery and this experiment will begin with their partners in Africa.

By identifying the inflammasome in the experimental cerebral malaria and its importance, the researchers are looking at developing other effective inhibitors to treat inflammatory diseases.

One of the professors from the University of Glasgow says that this is a good example of how basic research can lead to the treatment of one of the deadliest disease. Even when this treatment is given at the advanced stage of an established infection it is effective. This is what they had encountered in clinical cases and are going ahead with testing this treatment on humans affected by cerebral malaria.