Post List

  • March 29, 2015
  • 08:05 PM

UK Researchers find parental perception of child’s weight is skewed

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Childhood obesity affects more than double the amount of children it did 30 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). To figure out why the rate is increasing researchers studied the relationship between parents and their obese children to determine how to improve pediatric health. The study actually reveals how poorly parents rate their own child’s weight issues — at least until they reach extreme levels of obesity.... Read more »

Black et al. (2015) Child obesity cut-offs as derived from parental perceptions: cross-sectional questionnaire. British Journal of General Practice. info:/10.3399/bjgp15X684385

  • March 29, 2015
  • 05:45 PM

A novel method makes gene therapy safer

by Valerie Ashton in The Molecular Scribe

An international team of researchers have validated a method for identifying human insulator genes that dampen the over-activity of therapeutic genes delivered during gene therapy.... Read more »

Liu M, Maurano MT, Wang H, Qi H, Song CZ, Navas PA, Emery DW, Stamatoyannopoulos JA, & Stamatoyannopoulos G. (2015) Genomic discovery of potent chromatin insulators for human gene therapy. Nature biotechnology, 33(2), 198-203. PMID: 25580597  

  • March 29, 2015
  • 02:43 PM

Biofuel, good for the environment if you’re eating less

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

When the government first changed policy to require ethanol in gasoline, we were told it would reduce our carbon footprint. Then food prices rose significantly and corn in particular saw the largest price rise. This was because corn is a staple in production of almost any other food from eggs to beef, but the policy made environmental sense. Well it made sense, until you found out that the new government policy also took into account people eating less.... Read more »

Searchinger, T., Edwards, R., Mulligan, D., Heimlich, R., & Plevin, R. (2015) Do biofuel policies seek to cut emissions by cutting food?. Science, 347(6229), 1420-1422. DOI: 10.1126/science.1261221  

  • March 29, 2015
  • 10:42 AM

Accelerated loss: western Antarctice ice shelf melting at faster pace within last decade

by Jonathan Trinastic in Goodnight Earth

New satellite measurements have given unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution to Antarctice melting. The data indicates the Western shelf is melting faster than thought and the Eastern shelf is no longer gaining thickness. Important information to predict future sea level rises!... Read more »

  • March 29, 2015
  • 09:28 AM

Music affects on the brain

by Janet Kwasniak in Neuro-patch

A recent paper identified genes that changed their expression as a result of music performance in trained musicians. (see citation below). There were a surprising number of affected genes, 51 genes had increased and 22 had decreased expression, compared to controls who were also trained musicians but were not involved in making or listening to […]... Read more »

Kanduri, C., Kuusi, T., Ahvenainen, M., Philips, A., Lähdesmäki, H., & Järvelä, I. (2015) The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians. Scientific Reports, 9506. DOI: 10.1038/srep09506  

  • March 29, 2015
  • 08:17 AM

Modeling Life On Titan

by Jeffrey Daniels in United Academics

Lifeforms that live off methane instead of water are possible on Titan’s surface.... Read more »

  • March 29, 2015
  • 04:39 AM

Sera from children with autism inducing autistic features in rats?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"The autism sera injected rats demonstrated developmental delay and deficits in social communication, interaction, and novelty."That was one of the findings reported in the paper by Syed Faraz Kazim and colleagues [1] (open-access) who, among other things, injected intracerebroventricularly sera collected from children with autism into newborn rats and examined behavioural effects compared with injections of sera from asymptomatic controls. Actually, that was only one part of the research from Kazim et al but it does invite some further interesting questions...In brief, and bearing in mind the paper is open-access, a few details:A caveat first: "Based on studies described in this manuscript, the authors submitted a patent application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office on 12/11/2014, entitled: “Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders with Ciliary Neurotrophic Factor Peptide Mimetic”; application number US62/083,570; Inventors: Khalid Iqbal and Inge Grundke-Iqbal." The authors report a potential competing interest and good on them for doing so.As noted, there were several aspects to this research focused to a large extent around neurotrophins including something called ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) or rather "a CNTF small peptide mimetic, P6" which might have the ability to increase levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor ), a compound that has cropped up before on this blog (see here).So: sera from children with autism were initially added to "mouse primary cultured cortical neurons grown for 72 hours in medium" and resulted in "gross morphological changes". Pretreatment of said mouse neurons with P6 - "which corresponds to amino acid residues 146–156 of human CNTF" - seemed to have an effect that: "resulted in a significant reduction in cell death in cultured neurons treated with sera from autistic children." Another detail derived from this experiment: "Primary cortical neurons grown in the presence of autistic sera showed higher levels of oxidative stress." Interesting in light of other research in this area with autism in mind (see here)...Next: what was it in the sera from autistic children which seemed to be having effects on mouse neurons which weren't seen in control sera? Well it's possible that: "the presence of neurotrophic abnormalities in the sera from autistic children that could have contributed to altered development of neurons and increase in cell death and oxidative stress found." By neurotrophic abnormalities, the authors meant issues with "mature CNTF and BDNF" among other things.Next were the results from those studies where rat pups were injected with autism or control sera "with or without P6". More quotes: "alterations in the levels of neurotrophic factors in the sera from autistic individuals could contribute to neurobehavioral phenotype of autism in rats". By that the authors reported some potential differences in rat behaviour focused on things like grooming behaviour (repetitive behaviour) and ultrasonic calls (akin to social communication). P6 potentially rescuing functions was also reported for some of the tests.Conclusion: with the caveats of much more investigation required and that rats are rats and not humans (see here) "this study provides evidence regarding the neurotrophic abnormalities in autism and the potential role they play in the pathophysiology" of the condition. Further: "Ameliorating the neurotrophic imbalance during early stages of brain development can serve as a potential therapeutic approach for autism. P6 represents a new class of neurotrophic peptide mimetics that has potential therapeutic value for ASD and related conditions."I'm rather interested in this work and the potential for at least some cases of autism as and when replicative work is undertaken. I note in other patents from this group (see here) the idea that peptides with a neurotrophic link might have some application to "neural pathologies where BDNF levels are dysregulated" is one that has been embraced.The authors, the late Inge Grundke-Iqbal & Khalid Iqbal, have a pretty impressive peer-reviewed track record based to a large extent on their work on neurodegeneration and "abnormally hyperphosphorylated tau" as the main component of the tangles in Alzheimer's disease. Indeed, these findings have particular relevance recently (see here). Applying their, and their research groups, expertise to autism is most definitely an asset, albeit with the requirement for quite a bit more research in this area.To close: The Stone Roses - She Bangs the Drums.---------- [1] Kazim SF. et al. Sera from Children with Autism Induce Autistic Features Which Can Be Rescued with a CNTF Small Peptide Mimetic in Rats. PLoS ONE. 2015; 10(3): e0118627.----------Kazim, S., Cardenas-Aguayo, M., Arif, M., Blanchard, J., Fayyaz, F., Grundke-Iqbal, I., & Iqbal, K. (2015). Sera from Children with Autism Induce Autistic Features Which Can Be Rescued with a CNTF Small Peptide Mimetic in Rats PLOS ONE, 10 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118627... Read more »

  • March 28, 2015
  • 01:46 PM

Too much attention can be a deficit

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Sometimes being too focused on a task is not a good thing. During tasks that require our attention, we might become so engrossed in what we are doing that we fail to notice there is a better way to get the job done. For example, let’s say you are coming out of a New York City subway one late afternoon and you want to find out which way is west. You might begin to scan street signs and then suddenly realize that you could just look for the setting sun.... Read more »

Nicolas W. Schuck, Robert Gaschler, Dorit Wenke, Jakob Heinzle, Peter A. Frensch, John-Dylan Haynes, & Carlo Reverberi. (2015) Medial Prefrontal Cortex Predicts Internally Driven Strategy Shifts. Neuron. info:/Link

  • March 28, 2015
  • 11:00 AM

Misbeliefs, evolution and games: a positive case

by Sergio Graziosi in Evolutionary Games Group

A recurrent theme here in TheEGG is the limits and reliability of knowledge. These get explored from many directions: on epistemological grounds, from the philosophy of science angle, but also formally, through game theory and simulations. In this post, I will explore the topic of misbeliefs as adaptations. Misbeliefs will be intended as ideas about […]... Read more »

Kaznatcheev, A., Montrey, M., & Shultz, T.R. (2014) Evolving useful delusions: Subjectively rational selfishness leads to objectively irrational cooperation. Proceedings of the 36th annual conference of the Cognitive Science Society. arXiv: 1405.0041v1

  • March 28, 2015
  • 04:27 AM

Screening for autism in preterm infants

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"A positive screen on the M-CHAT [Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers] occurs more commonly in very preterm infants than those born at term."So said the study by Peter Gray and colleagues [1] as the topic of preterm status - that is, babies born alive before 37 weeks of pregnancy - potentially being linked to a greater risk of autism or at least, increased risk of screening positive for autism, crops up yet again on this blog (see here).Gray et al examined a cohort of children born at the very boundaries of the definition of preterm ("≤30weeks gestation") when aged 2 years old, questioning mums of preterm children (n=97) and mums of term infants (n=77) with a whole range of questionnaires / schedules including the M-CHAT and the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) among other things. "Previously collected data from the mothers at 12months - the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scales (EPDS)" were also analysed.Authors reported that a higher percentage of preterm kids "screened positive on the M-CHAT" compared with term controls (13.4% vs. 3.9% respectively). These statistics decreased somewhat as a consequence of "an M-CHAT follow-up interview by phone" with only one child with membership of the preterm group subsequently receiving a diagnosis of autism from the entire cohort. The authors discuss some of the whys and wherefores of those pretermers who initially screened positive on the M-CHAT and how they were: "born to younger, non-Caucasian mothers and were of lower birth weight and had a higher incidence of being small for gestational age."As per my discussion on the paper by Alexa Guy and colleagues [2] (see here again), the message coming through about using M-CHAT with the preterm population is again one of 'use with caution'. Indeed, the Gray paper illustrates how the follow-up consultation is a pretty important part of M-CHAT, something further developed on by the findings from Diana Robins and colleagues [3] and the whole M-CHAT-R/F thing (see here). I wouldn't necessarily say that M-CHAT is completely useless as a screen for autism under certain conditions. Merely that looking for the early red flags that might denote autism is very much still a work in progress potentially confounded by length of gestation. YouTube video anyone?Music: PJ Harvey- The Words That Maketh Murder.----------[1] Gray PH. et al. Screening for autism spectrum disorder in very preterm infants during early childhood. Early Hum Dev. 2015 Mar 9;91(4):271-276.[2] Guy A. et al. Infants Born Late/Moderately Preterm Are at Increased Risk for a PositiveAutism Screen at 2 Years of Age. J Pediatrics. 2014. 5 December.[3] Robins DL. et al. Validation of the modified checklist for Autism in toddlers, revised with follow-up (M-CHAT-R/F). Pediatrics. 2014 Jan;133(1):37-45.----------Gray PH, Edwards DM, O'Callaghan MJ, & Gibbons K (2015). Screening for autism spectrum disorder in very preterm infants during early childhood. Early human development, 91 (4), 271-276 PMID: 25766314... Read more »

  • March 27, 2015
  • 08:28 PM

Psoriasis: Effective Two Year Response to IL-17A Antagonist Cosentyx

by Marie Benz in Medical Research Interviews and News Interview with: Andrew Blauvelt, M.D., M.B.A. President and Investigator Research Excellence & Personalized Patient Care Portland, OR 97223 Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Blauvelt: A2303E1 is a multicenter, double-blind, … Continue reading →
The post Psoriasis: Effective Two Year Response to IL-17A Antagonist Cosentyx appeared first on Medical Research Interviews and News.
... Read more » Interview with:, & Andrew Blauvelt, M.D., M.B. (2015) Psoriasis: Effective Two Year Response to IL-17A Antagonist Cosentyx . info:/

  • March 27, 2015
  • 06:22 PM

What’s gnawing on Jane Austen’s hair?

by Megan Cartwright in Science-Based Writing

The years hadn’t been kind to the lonely lock of Jane Austen’s hair on display in a Hampshire museum. Light had bleached it to a straw color; only the shadowed underside remained its original brown. A few tiny flakes of … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • March 27, 2015
  • 05:18 PM

Chronic Rhinosinusitis Varies By Bacterial Microbiome

by Marie Benz in Medical Research Interviews and News Interview with: Vijay R. Ramakrishnan, MD Assistant Professor University of Colorado Department of Otolaryngology Aurora, CO 80045 Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Ramakrishnan: Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) is an extremely … Continue reading →
The post Chronic Rhinosinusitis Varies By Bacterial Microbiome appeared first on Medical Research Interviews and News.
... Read more » Interview with:, & Vijay R. Ramakrishnan, MD. (2015) Chronic Rhinosinusitis Varies By Bacterial Microbiome. info:/

  • March 27, 2015
  • 04:51 PM

Mobile Health Technologies Will Change Chronic Disease Management

by Marie Benz in Medical Research Interviews and News Interview with: Ryan Jeffrey Shaw, PhD, MS, RN Assistant Professor School of Nursing Center for Health Informatics Center for Precision Medicine Duke University Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Shaw: … Continue reading →
The post Mobile Health Technologies Will Change Chronic Disease Management appeared first on Medical Research Interviews and News.
... Read more » Interview with:, & Ryan Jeffrey Shaw, PhD, MS, RN. (2015) Mobile Health Technologies Will Change Chronic Disease Management. info:/

  • March 27, 2015
  • 12:42 PM

Researchers find how body’s good fat talks to the brain

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

There are two types of fat we humans have — white and brown — unfortunately only one of them is “good fat” and it is unfortunately not the one we tend to produce. Well new research shows that brown fat tissue, the body’s “good fat,” communicates with the brain through sensory nerves, possibly sharing information that is important for fighting human obesity, such as how much fat we have and how much fat we’ve lost.... Read more »

  • March 27, 2015
  • 12:19 PM

Research on medical abortion/miscarriage may change international routines

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Two scientific studies are expected to form the basis of new international recommendations for the treatment of medical abortions and miscarriages. One of the studies shows that it is possible to replace the clinical follow-up examinations recommended today with medical abortions that include a home pregnancy test. The other study shows that midwives can safely and effectively treat failed abortions and miscarriages in rural districts of Uganda.... Read more »

  • March 27, 2015
  • 12:16 PM

The genetics of musical talent: an interview with Irma Järvelä

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Would Mozart have become a great composer had his family not encouraged his musical career? Irma Järvelä is a clinical geneticist at the University of Helsinki, Finland, who investigates the molecular genetics of musical traits. After devoting 25 years of her career to the identification of genes and mutations involved in human diseases, she now works in close collaboration with bioinformaticians and music educators to study the influence of genes and the cultural environment in music perception and production. What got you interested in studying the genetics of musical talent?Järvelä: We were studying a lot of things that affect human diseases and I found that it’s also important to understand how the human normal brain functions. This could be helpful to understand the diseases in more detail. In genetics we have genes and then we have environmental effects. […] Our genes do not always tolerate our environment—when you think of carcinogenics, for example—and this kind of crosstalk between genes and the environment is also present in music. […] I was interested in this interaction between the environment and studying music, or listening to music. Your research shows that several genes involved in inner-ear development and auditory neurocognitive processes are linked to musical aptitude. Does this mean musical talent is innate? Järvelä: Yes, our recent study points to the genes that are associated strongly with an innate, or inborn, musical aptitude. It was already known before that newborns are interested in very complex musical patterns already at the age of a couple of days, and from research studying human brain function in musicians and non musicians, there is evidence that music is a biological trait. In our study we identify the regions in the human genome that are strongly associated with the ability to perceive and listen to sounds and structures in music. So do ‘musical geniuses’ really exist? Would Mozart have become a great composer if his family hadn’t encouraged his musical training?Järvelä: Mozart is a typical example of a talented composer whose family was musical. There are a lot of families in our days that have several professional musicians, so part of the musical talent is explained by the genes but of course also to exposure to music. It’s like an allergy; the risk for an allergy is only expressed when the pollen is coming, so you need this environmental trigger. And music is an excellent environmental trigger. Children who have an ability for music have to be exposed to music, otherwise we don’t know whether they can become musicians. So a rich musical environment is of course needed.Creative CommonsIs it possible to compensate for the lack of genetic musical ability with musical training?Järvelä: I think it can be compensated to some extended but never fully. […] Some researchers have claimed (and I agree) that children first of all inherit the ability to perceive music and hear music. And if the parents are also very musical and good teachers, that is the ideal setting for the transmission of both the genes and the perfect environment. Are there also examples of musically talented people that don’t come from a family of musicians?Järvelä: We have a couple of cases in our family collection, which consists of 800 people in Finland, where the parents are not very interested in music but the child is very talented. Also vice versa, we also have cases where the parents are professional musicians, but the children are not at all interested, or their musical scores are moderate or low.How do you explain these exceptions?Järvelä: I think it’s possible that these cases are explained by a novel mutation, because the human genome is supposed to have de novomutations quite frequently. But we cannot say anything concerning just a couple of cases, this kind of studies are not reliable. We would need more cases.In a recent study you show that listening to classical mus... Read more »

Kanduri Chakravarthi, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Liisa Ukkola-Vuoti, Harri Lähdesmäki, & Irma Järvelä. (2015) The effect of listening to music on human transcriptome. PeerJ. DOI:  

Kanduri Chakravarthi, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Harri Lähdesmäki, & Irma Järvelä. (2015) The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians. Scientific Reports, 9506. DOI:  

  • March 27, 2015
  • 11:39 AM

Music played by professionals activates genes for learning and memory

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Music performance is known to induce structural and functional changes to the human brain and enhance cognition. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying music performance have been so far unexplored. A Finnish research group has now investigated the effect of music performance (in a 2 hr concert) on the gene expression profiles of professional musicians from Tapiola Sinfonietta (a professional orchestra) and Sibelius-Academy (a music university).... Read more »

Kanduri, C., Kuusi, T., Ahvenainen, M., Philips, A., Lähdesmäki, H., & Järvelä, I. (2015) The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians. Scientific Reports, 9506. DOI: 10.1038/srep09506  

  • March 27, 2015
  • 09:22 AM

Understanding Images: Golden Retrievers Contribute to Cancer Research

by Guest Contributor in PLOS Biologue

This continues our series of blog posts from PLOS Genetics about our monthly issue images. Author Kerstin Lindblad-Toh discusses February’s issue image from Tonomura et al Author: Kerstin Lindblad-TOH, Professor Uppsala University, Co-Director SciLifeLab Sweden and Director of Vertebrate Genome Biology, … Continue reading »... Read more »

Tonomura, N., Elvers, I., Thomas, R., Megquier, K., Turner-Maier, J., Howald, C., Sarver, A., Swofford, R., Frantz, A., Ito, D.... (2015) Genome-wide Association Study Identifies Shared Risk Loci Common to Two Malignancies in Golden Retrievers. PLOS Genetics, 11(2). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004922  

  • March 27, 2015
  • 09:06 AM

The ABCs of Alphabet-Magnet Synesthesia

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Is it cool or existentially disturbing to think that your personal brain quirks might come from the toys you played with as a toddler?

In a study published earlier this month, psychologists asked 6,588 American synesthetes what colors they associate with each letter of the alphabet. Then they compared these associations to a certain vintage set of Fisher-Price alphabet magnets. They found that at least 6% of their synesthetes had improbably close matches to the colors of the magnets.

T... Read more »

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