Sunday, January 31, 2016

One paragraph on the Zika Virus | One Paragraph Science


We haven't quite forgotten the ebola virus and a new virus has appeared under the spotlight; the Zika virus. The Zika virus is spread by mosquitos, similar in a way to malaria. However, unlike other mosquito-borne diseases, it is relatively unknown and little studied. The virus is currently showing an alarming rise in cases in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The virus has also been associated with an alarming rise in babies born in Brazil with abnormally small heads and brain defects -- a condition called microcephaly. Zika is spread by the same mosquito as the dengue virus: Aedes aegypti. Dengue is a serious disease but it doesn't usually kill people, whereas, Zika, is much more serious in that it is able to pass through a woman's placenta and impact the unborn child. Since the Zika outbreak began in northeastern Brazil last spring, an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million people have been infected. The resulting illness only lasts a few days. The symptoms consist of rash, joint pains, inflammation of the eyes and fever and tend to be less debilitating than those of dengue. As many as 80% of infected people may be asymptomatic. Since there is little laboratory research on this virus, it is not known what other effects this virus has on unborn children other than microcephaly. Currently, there is no vaccination to prevent Zika virus but it can be prevented by preventing getting bitten by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that spread the virus usually bite during the day. It is recommended that if you are in an area where Zika virus is prevalent, to wear long sleeved shirts and other tips listed here (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). The Daily Mail has just reported that a pharma company in brazil could be held responsible for the appearance of this virus. Didcot-based biotechnology company, Oxitec were working on the same type of mosquito 3 years ago to produce genetically modified "sterile" mosquitoes to tackle the spread of dengue fever and malaria. There have been claims that the genetically modified insects were released in Brazil 3 years ago. Oxitec has since denied the fact that the GM insects were the cause of Zika and are currently still continuing their research in Brazil. 



References:
[1]: Science daily: Zika Virus




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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Females are less prone to influenza than males, thanks to Estrogen.


Estrogen and its derivatives have been found to protect against respiratory infections such as influenza, in females more than males. This new study was published in the American Journal of Physiology-- Lung Cellular and Physiology.

A virus usually works/makes you ill by invading a cell in your body and making and replicating itself within the host cell. After being released from the host cell, the virus can go on to infect other cells in the body and also other people.   The less a virus replicates, the less severe the infection and the lower the risk it will be spread onto other people.

The researchers used human nasal epithelial cells (hNECs) from male and female donors- which are the main cells which the flu virus targets - and exposed the nasal cells to 17β-estradiol (i.e estrogen) or select estrogen modulators (SERMs) (these include natural and synthetic compounds which act like estrogen in the body and are used for hormone therapy). The cells were then infected with a seasonal influenza virus (IAV), with each test group of cells being tested against each SERM individually.

Within the group of SERMs is a compound called BPA (bisphenol A), which you may have heard of before. It is derived from a group of compounds called xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are a type of xenohormone - they are compounds that imitate estrogen and they can be either synthetic or natural chemical compounds. Bisphenol A is a chemical that is used in a wide variety of consumer products and exhibits hormone-like properties. BPA is a chemical that is used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as resins used to line metal food and beverage containers, thermal paper store receipts, and dental composites. BPA has been in the news recently because of its hormonal abilities and the negative effects that can be a result of high concentrations of BPA in the body. (There will be more blog posts on this in the future.)

The results showed that estrogen, raloxifene, and bisphenol A decreased the IAV titers in hNECs from female but not male donors. 

Definition: Titers 
The concentration of a solution a determined by titration. 

Which means that the estrogen and SERMs were able to reduce the replication of the flu virus in the nasal cells of the female donors but not in the male donors nasal cells.

Sabra Klein, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University and lead investigator of the study commented, "Other studies have shown that estrogens have antiviral properties against HIV, Ebola, and hepatitis viruses. What makes our study unique is two-fold. First, we conducted our study using primary cells directly isolated from patients, allowing us to directly identify the sex-specific effect of estrogens. Second, this is the first study to identify the estrogen receptor responsible for the antiviral effects of estrogens, bringing us closer to understanding the mechanisms mediating this conserved antiviral effect of estrogens."


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Journal Reference:
  1. Jackye Peretz, Andrew Pekosz, Andrew P. Lane, Sabra L. Klein.Estrogenic compounds reduce influenza A virus replication in primary human nasal epithelial cells derived from female, but not male, donorsAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 2015; ajplung.00398.2015 DOI:10.1152/ajplung.00398.2015
  2. Quotes from American Physiological Society (APS). "Not the weaker sex: Estrogen protects women against the flu, study finds: Study in human cells supports why the flu may hit men harder than women." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 January 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160112093424.htm>.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Healthy, Roasted Coffee Beans, Thanks to Science

Dan Perlman, a biophysicist, and K.C Hayes, a nutritionist,  have previously developed the "healthy fats" blend in the Smart Balance buttery spread over twenty years ago; have now invented the parbaked coffee bean.

This new method of roasting green coffee beans is meant to enhance the health benefits of coffee. Perlman developed the flour milled from parbaked beans to act as both a food ingredient and a nutritional supplement. 

Many studies have proven that drinking coffee is good for you and I've written several posts on coffee in the past here, here, here and here :)

Perlman wanted to study a way to roast coffee beans but at the same time not loose its health benefits. When coffee beans are roasted at over 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes -- the CGA content drops dramatically. One study found the decrease ranged from 50 to nearly 100 percent.
Chlorogenic acid (CGA)is an antioxidant. CGA is thought to be beneficial in controlling sugar metabolism, controlling blood pressure and possibly treating heart disease and cancer.

After several trials at a range of temperatures, Perlman finally found that parbaking the beans at 300 degrees at approximately ten minutes (a shorter time) worked best. The concentration of CGA in the bean, around 10 percent of the bean's weight, barely dropped.

However this parbaked bean cannot be used to brew a cup of coffee since it isnt roasted enough to have flavour. So instead, Perlman cryogenically milled the parbaked beans in an ultra-cold and chemically inert liquid nitrogen atmosphere to protect the bean's beneficial constituents from oxidation. And at the end of the process, the result is a wheat-colored flour which tastes nutty, pleasant and mild. 

This coffee flour is aimed to be blended with regular flours for baking, used in breakfast cereals and snack bars and added to soups, juices and nutritional drinks. 

They also recommend to compensate for CGA lost during regular roasting of coffee beans, people could potentially blend par-baked beans with regularly roasted ones. Perlman also claims that their parbaking technique is also cheaper than the extraction methods used to produce the green coffee bean extract supplements currently on the market.

Brandeis has patented Perlman's coffee bean par-baking and milling method.
The roasting and milling of the beans during Perlman's experimentation process was done with the support of New England Coffee located in Malden, Massachusetts.

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References:

Brandeis University. "Coffee flour offers a potentially healthier way of enjoying java." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2016. .

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

New Elements Discovered - Completing the Periodic Table

The elements 113, 115, 117 and 118 have finally been discovered.  Laboratories in Russia, the United States and Japan have made many claims over the years that they have discovered them. But it was only at the end of 2015 when the elements were finally given their permanent place in the periodic table. A group of scientific experts at The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, announced the group’s conclusions on 30 December 2015.

The four elements were made in the lab, by colliding lighter atomic nuclei together. The unstable agglomerations of protons and neutrons lasted mere fractions of a second before they fell apart into smaller, more stable fragments.

Each of the teams have been given recognition for their great findings which means that now, they can put forward proposals  to name the new elements and assign them their two-letter symbols. A new element can be named after a range of things including; their chemical or physical properties, a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, or a scientist. 

Click here to read more about who gets to name the new elements!

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