Saturday, 03 December 2016 02:39

Found: Gene that limits desire to drink alcohol!

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Researchers have identified a gene variant that suppresses the desire to drink alcohol, an advance that could lead to development of drugs to regulate alcohol consumption.

The findings are based on the largest genome-wide association meta-analysis and replication study to date, mapping and comparing the genetics of over 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers, researchers said.

"The study identified a variation in the beta-Klotho gene linked to the regulation of social alcohol consumption. The less frequent variant – seen in approximately 40 per cent of the people in this study – is associated with a decreased desire to drink alcohol," said Dr David Mangelsdorf, from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in the US.

"Excessive alcohol consumption is a major public health problem worldwide, causing more than 3 million deaths per year," said Steven Kliewer, a Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Researchers worked on beta-Klotho and the liver hormone fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) that binds to the beta-Klotho-FGF21 receptor complex.

They conducted experiments in mice to better understand the role of beta-Klotho in alcohol drinking behaviour.

The beta-Klotho gene directs the production of the beta-Klotho protein that forms part of a receptor complex in the brain.

The study could lead to development of drugs to regulate alcohol consumption – possibly even in those with drinking problems, researchers said.

A shift from heavy to moderate social drinking could have major public health benefits, such as reduced cardiovascular disease risk, they said.

The study compared the genetics of light and heavy social drinkers of European ancestry participating in nearly four dozen other large population studies worldwide.

In addition to providing samples for genetic analysis, the participants answered questionnaires on their weekly drinking habits.

Heavy drinking was defined as more than 21 drinks per week for men and over 14 drinks per week for women. Light drinking was considered to be 14 drinks or less per week for men and seven drinks or less per week for women.

The beta-Klotho gene codes for the protein beta-Klotho, which forms a receptor complex in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with classic receptors for FGF21, a hormone produced in the liver.

"The gene in the current study seems to work via a feedback circuit that goes from the liver, which processes alcohol, to the brain, where beta-Klotho and classic FGF21 receptors form a cellular machine, or receptor complex, which binds to the liver hormone FGF21 to signal the response to alcohol," Mangelsdorf said.

The less common gene variant identified in this study is related to a decreased desire for alcohol. So, people who have this variant tend to drink less than those without it, he said.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald                       

Friday, 25 November 2016 18:26

Lightning strikes can improve storm forecasts: study

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Data gathered from lightning strikes can help precisely forecast storms, a new study has found. The study presents a new way to transform lightning strikes into weather-relevant information. The US National Weather Service has begun to use lightning in its most sophisticated forecasts, researchers said.

This method, however, is more general and could be used in a wide variety of forecasting systems, anywhere in the world, they said. "When you see lots of lightning you know where the convection, or heat-driven upward motion, is the strongest, and that is where the storm is the most intense," said Robert Holzworth, professor at University of Washington in the US.

"Almost all lightning occurs in clouds that have ice, and where there's a strong updraft," said Holzworth. Researchers tested their method on two cases: the summer 2012 derecho thunderstorm system that swept across the US and a 2013 tornado that killed several people in the Midwest.

"Using lightning data to modify the air moisture was enough to dramatically improve the short-term forecast for a strong rain, wind and storm event," said Ken Dixon, a former UW graduate student who now works for The Weather Company.

The simple method might also improve medium-range forecasts, for more than a few days out, in parts of the world that have little or no ground-level observations. The study used data from the UW-based WorldWide Lightning Location Network, which has a global record of lightning strikes going back to 2004.

Researchers use lightning to improve forecasts for convective storms, the big storms that produce thunderstorms and tornadoes. Apart from ground stations, weather forecasts are heavily dependent on weather satellites for information to start or "initialise" the numerical weather prediction models that are the foundation of modern weather prediction.

What is missing is accurate, real-time information about air moisture content, temperature and wind speed in places where there are no ground stations. "We have less skill for thunderstorms than for almost any other meteorological phenomenon. The results show that lightning data has potential to improve high-resolution forecasts of thunderstorms and convection," said Cliff Mass, professor at UW.

The new method could be helpful in forecasting storms over the ocean, where no ground instruments exist. Better knowledge of lightning-heavy tropical ocean storms could also improve weather forecasts far from the equator, Mass said, since many global weather systems originate in the tropics. The study was published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Sixty per cent of the 5.9 million children under five who died last year were in just 10 countries in Africa and Asia, an evaluation of global infant health revealed today.

Pneumonia was the leading killer in five of them, all in Africa: Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania, said a study published in The Lancet medical journal.

In Bangladesh, Indonesia, India and Pakistan, the main cause of death was preterm birth complications -- also the global leader -- while in China birth defects claimed most of the children who never made their fifth birthday.

"Accelerated investment in child survival is imperative," to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the authors wrote.

These targets include an under-five mortality rate of no more than 25 per 1,000 births in every country by 2030.

The worst-performing countries today lose more than 90 children under five per 1,000 live births, said the researchers, citing including Angola, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

The team recommended "the uptake of breastfeeding, providing vaccines for pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea, and improving water and sanitation," to prevent child deaths in the worst-afflicted nations of the world.

In countries with low death rates such as the United States and Russia with fewer than 10 per 1,000 births, the causes were very different -- mainly birth defects, complications from preterm delivery, and injuries such as stove burns, car accidents or drowning.

The study said nearly half -- 2.7 million -- of the 5.9 million children lost last year died within their first 28 days.

The research was funded by the UN's World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates philanthropic organisation.

Globally, four million fewer under-five children died in 2015 than in 2000, the researchers found.

This represented a 53-percent decline -- short of the two-thirds reduction target for 1990-2015 set in the Millennium Development Goals which preceded the SDGs.

The slowest progress, said the new study, was in reducing newborn deaths.

"Child survival has improved substantially since the Millennium Development Goals were set," the study's lead author Li Liu of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said.

"The problem is that this progress is uneven across all countries, meaning a high child death rate persists in many countries."

In a comment on the study, also published by The Lancet, Peter Byass of the Umea Centre for Global Research in Sweden said it was an indictment that researchers had to rely on estimates and not real, recorded numbers.

 

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

 

Thursday, 03 November 2016 16:53

Smoking may harm HIV patients more than the virus

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Smoking cigarettes may shorten the lifespan of people living with HIV more than the deadly virus itself, scientists including one of Indian origin have found.

The study suggests that making smoking cessation a priority and finding effective ways to help people with HIV quit can significantly improve their lifespan.

"Now that HIV-specific medicines are so effective against the virus itself, we also need to add other interventions that could improve and extend the lives of people with HIV," said Krishna P Reddy, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Smoking is especially dangerous for people living with HIV, putting them at high risk for heart disease, cancer, serious lung diseases and other infections.

Researchers used a computer simulation of HIV disease and treatment to project the life expectancy of people living with HIV based on their smoking status.

For men and women with HIV who adhere well to HIV medicines, the study found that smoking reduces life expectancy by about twice as much as HIV.

The study also accounts for higher rates of non-adherence to HIV drug regimens and lower retention in care, making the latest findings especially relevant for health care providers and patients in this country.

Even when accounting for typical rates of treatment non-adherence and missed follow-up care, the study found that for men with HIV, the life expectancy loss associated with smoking was similar to that from HIV.

"It is well-known that smoking is bad for health, but we demonstrate in this study just how bad it is," Reddy said.

"We actually quantify the risk, and I think providing those numbers to patients can help put their own risks from smoking in perspective," he said.

"A person with HIV who consistently takes HIV medicines but smokes is much more likely to die of a smoking-related disease than of HIV itself," he added.

For example, men and women entering care for HIV at age 40 who continued to smoke lost 6.7 and 6.3 years of life expectancy, respectively, compared with people with HIV who never smoked, according to the modelling study.

If they quit smoking at age 40, they regained 5.7 and 4.6 years of life expectancy, respectively.

"We show that even people who have been smoking till age 60 but quit at age 60 have a substantial increase in their life expectancy compared to those who continue to smoke," Reddy said.

The findings suggest that smoking cessation should be a major focus of health providers who care for people living with HIV and incorporated into existing care programs and treatment guidelines, researchers said.

The study was published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Friday, 28 October 2016 15:02

Our brains get 'slacker' as we age: study

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It is not just our skin that starts to lose its youthful firmness and elasticity as we age, but our brain too gets 'slacker', a new study has found.

Researchers from Newcastle University in the UK collaborated with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to investigate the way the human brain folds and how this 'cortical folding' changes with age.

Linking the change in brain folding to the tension on the cerebral cortex - the outer layer of neural tissue in our brains - the team found that as we age, the tension on the cortex appears to decrease.

This effect was more pronounced in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.

The research sheds light on the underlying mechanisms which affect brain folding and could be used in the future to help diagnose brain diseases.

"One of the key features of a mammalian brain is the grooves and folds all over the surface – a bit like a walnut - but until now no-one has been able to measure this folding in a consistent way," said lead author Dr Yujiang Wang of Newcastle University.

"By mapping the brain folding of over 1,000 people, we have shown that our brains fold according to a simple universal law. We also show that a parameter of the law, which is interpreted as the tension on the inside of the cortex, decreases with age.

"In Alzheimer's disease, this effect is observed at an earlier age and is more pronounced. The next step will be to see if there is a way to use the changes in folding as an early indicator of disease," said Wang.

The expansion of the cerebral cortex is the most obvious feature of mammalian brain evolution and is generally accompanied by increasing degrees of folding of the cortical surface.

In the average adult brain, for example, if the cortex of one side - or hemisphere - was unfolded and flattened out it would have a surface area of about 100,000 square millimetre, roughly one and a half times the size of a piece of A4 paper.

Previous research has shown that folding of the cortex across mammalian species follows a universal law - that is, regardless of size and shape, they all fold in the same way.

However, until now there has been no systematic study demonstrating that the same law holds within a species.

"Our study has shown that we can use this same law to study changes in the human brain," said Wang.

"From this, we identified a parameter that decreases with age, which we interpret as changing the tension on the cortical surface. It would be similar to the skin. As we age, the tension drops and the skin starts to slacken.

"It has long been known that the size and thickness of the cortex changes with age but the existence of a general law for folding shows us how to combine these quantities into a single measure of folding that can then be compared between genders, age groups and disease states," said Wang.

The study was published in the journal PNAS.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Monday, 24 October 2016 17:23

Counting on fingers may make kids smarter: Study

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Parents, take note! Counting on fingers may make your kids smarter, suggests a new study which found that children who have better perception of their hands tend to be more skilled at math.

Finger perception - the ability to distinguish, name, or recognise the fingers - is associated with math skill and even when people are not manually ticking off numbers, areas of the brain associated with fingers are still activated, researchers said.

In order to analyse how the mind works while performing arithmetic, Ilaria Berteletti from Gallaudet University in the US and colleagues scanned the brains of 39 children between ages eight and 13 while they mentally subtracted and multiplied single-digit numbers.

The scans showed two regions of the brain associated with fingers - the somatosensory area, which responds to sensations such as pressure, pain or heat and the motor area, which controls movement.

Both were active during subtraction, even though the children did not use their fingers to arrive at the answers. There was no similar brain activity during multiplication, which the researchers interpreted as a reflection of how children learn to subtract versus how they learn to multiply, 'The Wall Street Journal' reported.

"You probably learned subtraction using your fingers. Multiplication was probably presented verbally and with rote memorisation. For us, it is evidence that the two types of operations rely on different networks," Berteletti said.

Researchers are not sure whether finger recognition can make children better at math or using fingers for math improves recognition. However, they are sure that children who have better finger perception tend to be more skilled at mathematics.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

As part of its endeavour to protect cows, the Gujarat Gauseva and Gauchar Vikas Board has advised women to give up chemical cosmetics and maximise the use of cow urine, dung and milk products to get eternal beauty like that of Egyptian queen Cleopatra.

As per 'Aarogya Geeta', a detailed advisory published on the official website of the Board, 'panchagavya' (gaumutra- cow urine) treatment is the best medicine in the whole world for women to get naturally glowing skin.

The advisory lists several remedies for women to get rid of pimples and hair related problems by using panchagavya.

"Beauty products, such as soap, cream and powder, are made of chemicals, which ultimately take away the natural charm from the skin. There is no other remedy in the world as good as panchagavya. Application of cow milk, ghee, urine and dung on the body and face would give a natural glow," said a chapter dedicated to gaumutra treatment for preserving women's eternal beauty.

Making a strong pitch about its claims, the advisory gave example of Cleopatra's much talked about beauty.

"Gaumutra treatment would remove dark circles, black spots and pimples. Panchagavya face treatment will give you long lasting beauty and glowing skin. Egyptian queen Cleopatra was the most beautiful woman in the world. She used to bath in milk," says the advisory, without clearly mentioning if it was cow milk.

According to the Board's chairman Vallabh Kathiria, this is just an example to make women understand the benefits of cow urine, dung and milk.

"Some records suggest that Cleopatra used to bathe in cow milk to get eternal beauty. We want women to understand the benefits of cow milk, urine and dung to get such beauty instead of damaging their skin by using artificial beauty products made of harmful chemicals," Kathiria said.

Apart from providing natural beauty to women, gaumutra can help in the treatment of almost all major diseases, including cancer, asthma, paralysis, AIDS and heart problems, the advisory claims.

"Gaumutra is a holistic and natural medicine which can cure around 108 different diseases. We are sure that cow-therapy would become the most popular way of treatment in the 21st century. Even the scientists from western world admitted that cow is a perfect science and total laboratory," the Aarogya Geeta stated.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Friday, 07 October 2016 17:21

Dogs ignore bad advice from humans: study

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 Dogs are less likely to follow bad advice from humans, according to a new study which found that, in contrast to kids, the canines only copy a person's actions if they are absolutely necessary for solving the task at hand.

"Children tend to copy all of a teacher's actions, regardless of whether they are necessary or not," said Laurie Santos, director of the Canine Cognition Centre at Yale University in the US.

In a previous study, children watched a demonstrator solve a puzzle by first moving a lever and then lifting a lid to pull out a prize.

Although the lever was completely irrelevant for solving the puzzle, children repeatedly performed both actions, even when they were in a race to solve the puzzle as quickly as possible.

The new study shows that dogs will leave out irrelevant actions when there is a more efficient way to solve a problem, even when a human repeatedly demonstrates these actions.

"Although dogs are highly social animals, they draw the line at copying irrelevant actions," said lead author Angie Johnston, PhD student at Yale.

"Dogs are surprisingly human-like in their ability to learn from social cues, such as pointing, so we were surprised to find that dogs ignored the human demonstrator and learned how to solve the puzzle on their own," Johnston said.

Researchers designed a dog-friendly puzzle box in which the only relevant action for getting the treat was lifting a lid on top of the box.

However, just as in the previous experiment with children, when researchers showed dogs how to use the box, they first demonstrated a lever on the side of the box before lifting the lid to get the treat.

Once dogs learned how to open the box, they stopped using the irrelevant lever.
In fact, the researchers found that dogs were just as likely to stop using the lever as undomesticated canines, wild Australian dingoes.

"One reason we're so excited about these results is that they highlight a unique aspect of human learning," said Johnston.

"Although the tendency to copy irrelevant actions may seem silly at first, it becomes less silly when you consider all the important, but seemingly irrelevant, actions that children are successfully able to learn, such as washing their hands and brushing their teeth," she said. The study was published in the journal Developmental Science.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

Most of the Earth's life-giving carbon may have come from a collision about 4.4 billion years ago between our planet and an embryonic planet similar to Mercury, scientists, including one of Indian origin, have found.

Rajdeep Dasgupta from Rice University in the US and his colleagues studied how carbon-based life developed on Earth, given that most of the planet's carbon should have either boiled away in the planet's earliest days or become locked in Earth's core.

"The challenge is to explain the origin of the volatile elements like carbon that remain outside the core in the mantle portion of our planet," said Dasgupta.

"We had published several studies that showed that even if carbon did not vapourise into space when the planet was largely molten, it would end up in the metallic core of our planet, because the iron-rich alloys there have a strong affinity for carbon," Dasgupta said.

"One popular idea has been that volatile elements like carbon, sulphur, nitrogen and hydrogen were added after Earth's core finished forming," said Yuan Li, who was a postdoctoral researcher at Rice at the time of the study.

"Any of those elements that fell to Earth in meteorites and comets more than about 100 million years after the solar system formed could have avoided the intense heat of the magma ocean that covered Earth up to that point," said Li, who is now at Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"The problem with that idea is that while it can account for the abundance of many of these elements, there are no known meteorites that would produce the ratio of volatile elements in the silicate portion of our planet," Li said.

In late 2013, Dasgupta's team decided to conduct experiments to gauge how sulphur or silicon might alter the affinity of iron for carbon.

"We began exploring very sulphur-rich and silicon-rich alloys, in part because the core of Mars is thought to be sulphur-rich and the core of Mercury is thought to be relatively silicon-rich," Dasgupta said.

Experiments showed that carbon could be excluded from the core - and relegated to the silicate mantle - if the iron alloys in the core were rich in either silicon or sulphur.

The team mapped out the relative concentrations of carbon that would arise under various levels of sulphur and silicon enrichment, and the researchers compared those concentrations to the known volatiles in Earth's silicate mantle.

"One scenario that explains the carbon-to-sulphur ratio and carbon abundance is that an embryonic planet like Mercury, which had already formed a silicon-rich core, collided with and was absorbed by Earth," Dasgupta said.

"Because it's a massive body, the dynamics could work in a way that the core of that planet would go directly to the core of our planet, and the carbon-rich mantle would mix with Earth's mantle," he said.

Courtesy – Deccan Herald

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