The Epigenetics Revolution

October 11, 2011 at 10:02 am | Posted in Read | Leave a comment
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In a nod to our friends at LGC who have been enlightening us what’s changed during their careers we thought we’d introduce you to The Epigenetic Revolution by Nessa Carey.

Virologist Carey takes you on thrilling ride through the fastest-moving field in modern biology – eigenetics. She explains, why we age and develop disease, why identical twins become less identical over time, and why Audrey Hepburn had such a fragile, delicately beautiful bone structure.

It’s all down to our cells reading the genetic code in DNA just like a script to be interpreted, rather than word for word like a mould that gives the same results each time.

What’s more, Carey discusses the future – how scientists are working towards ways to reverse the ageing process and eradicated disease. It could be sooner than we think.

The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey, Icon Books, September 2011, £17.99

And we’ve got a copy of The Epigenetic Revolution to giveaway – just send you name, address, and organisation/institution to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk by 28th October.

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Hic…

September 29, 2011 at 10:18 am | Posted in I didn't know that!, Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Credit: admiller

We all get bouts of hiccups – squeeky little ones, or ones that come right from your boots that really hurt. Why we get them is a mystery, but what we do know is they can be really annoying – sometimes even embarrassing!

Most cases of hiccups occur for no apparent reason. Sometimes we get them after a few too many beers down the pub at lunch time, or if we’ve scoffed our dinner too quickly. But did you know hiccups can also be caused by shock, stress or excitement?

A sudden change in room temperature or the temperature inside your stomach can also cause hiccups.  Hiccups – or hiccoughs as they’re sometimes known – occur when your diaphragm suddenly and involuntarily contracts. This causes you to breathe air in very quickly, but this air is stopped by the glottis – the opening between your vocal cords – which closes suddenly, producing a hiccup!

So what’s the best way to get rid of them? Holding your breath, getting a fright, or drinking a glass of water backwards – yes…this task is particularly hard but by the time you’re done the hiccups have gone!

But what about those who have hiccups for long periods? They can be caused by a more serious underlying condition such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or inflammation of the stomach, throat ot thyroid gland. What can be done to rid them of the involuntary nightmare? The nastiest we read was puttingvinegar up the nose of a three year-old girl in Japan: it’s thought the vinegar helps stimulate the dorsal wall of the naopharynx where the pharyngeal branch of the glossopharayngeal nerve is located.

We’ll stick to drinking water backwards thanks!

Marital transitions make us pile on the pounds

August 30, 2011 at 8:04 am | Posted in Editorial Comment, Science Lite | Leave a comment
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Both marriage and divorce are bad for the waistline according to American researchers, with women piling on the pounds once they’ve bagged their man, and blokes after divorce.

Marriage and divorce act as ‘weight shocks’ which lead people to add a few extra pounds to their middle – especially among those over 30, says new research.

“Clearly the effect of marital transitions on weight changes differs by gender,” said lead author Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student from Ohio State University. “Divorces for men , and to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk.”

So what causes the weight gain? The researchers think married women are too busy around the house to exercise, and that being married has a health benefit for men – which is lost when they get divorced.

This wieght gains is more pronounced in those over 30 say the researchers who think that the shock of marriage or divorce  is a bigger later in life.

Either that or we just give up trying!

Simplici-tea

August 25, 2011 at 8:34 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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There’s nothing quite like a steaming hot mug of tea – unless your tea isn’t just tea, but a whole load of common weeds too.

The LabNews team tend to stick to their Tetley’s so we’re not worried, but those of you who like the odd fruity or herbal tipple might like to read this.

A group of high school students found several brands of herbal – and a few brands of regular tea – contain more than is listed on the packet. Among these unlisted ingredients are weeds, garden flowers, ornamental trees and herbal plants. Some of the teas even had parsley in them!

“For example, DNA testing showed that an herbal infusion labelled “St. John’s wort” (Hypericum perforatum) included material from a fern in genus Terpischore. A DNA “barcode” obtained from another herbal tea labelled “ginger root, linden, lemon peel, blackberry leaves, and lemongrass” matched annual bluegrass (Poa annua), a common weed unrelated to lemongrass. Four herbal infusions yielded sequences identical or nearly identical to the tea plant, C. sinensis but none listed “tea” as an ingredient. The most common non-label ingredient, found in seven herbal products, was chamomile (Matricaria recutita).”

The teas – half herbal, half regular – came from 33 different manufacturers in 17 different countries and were collected or purchased at 25 locations in New York. Although the unlisted ingredients are mostly harmless, they could affect a tiny minority of consumers with acute allergies…better check the labels…

Blueberries – the latest superfood?

May 3, 2011 at 11:23 am | Posted in Science Lite | Leave a comment
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As diet season approaches, the magazines are packed full of diet tips and adverts for miracle slimming aids – but are diet foods and supplements really as good as they sound?

Foods that are better for you, and perceived to be lower in calories create what some scientists refer to as a ‘health halo’. They seem good, but people get lulled into a false sense of security and eat more, actually increasing their calorie intake, and consumption of sugars etc.

Take for example blueberries. Billed as the latest ‘superfood’, they’ve been shown to have a positive effect on everything from aging to metabolic syndrome, but can they actually reduce obesity? More specifically, do blueberry polyphenols play a role in adipocyte differentiation – the process by which unspecialised cells acquire a specialised feature of an adipocyte.

Plant phenols have been shown to fight adipogenesis – the development of fat cells – and induce the breakdown of fats/lipids, also known as lipolysis. So does this means they might have some effect on breaking down the fat we store around our middle and difficult to shift areas?

One scientist – Shiwani Moghe, a graduate student from Texas Woman’s University – used tissue cultures from mice to show dose-dependent suppression of adipocyte differentiation with polyphenols. The highest does showed a 73% decrease in adipocyte differentiation, while the lowest dose showed a 27% decrease.

However, the real test is to see if these doses can be tolerated in humans, and whether they have the same effect – and no adverse side effects – but Moghe says there is potential for them to reduce fat formation in the body.

So blueberries might be good for you, but acai berries come nowhere close. Billed as the latest food to help with weight loss – and even reverse diabetes – celebrities were endorsing teas and supplements left, right and centre. However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that acai berry products have any of the health benefits manufacturers claimed.

But acai berries do have one health-related benefit – they are high in anthocyanins and can be used as a food colouring. They’ve also shown potential as a contrast agent for MRI of the gastrointestinal system.

The point I’m trying to make is that we shouldn’t be sucked in – although the foods might seem healthier and promise weight loss, the key is probably just to move off the sofa and do a bit more exercise! Will someone please take these cupcakes away from me…

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