Monday, September 29, 2014

A Compound Found in Turmeric Shows Potential for Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases

Turmeric is a plant native to southeast Asia, harvested for its rhizomes and used to flavour and colour Indian dishes.  It was used for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, and for its antimicrobial properties when applied on skin to heal sores.  The two major bioactive compounds of turmeric are known as curcumin and aromatic turmerone (ar-turmerone).  Curcumin is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-tumor, and antioxidant activities, and has been used in folk medicine to treat cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, and other chronic illnesses.  However, not much is known about the properties of ar-tumerone.

Some studies have linked ar-turmerone with antitumor properties, via the induction of apoptosis and through the inhibition of tumor cell invasion.  Others still have looked at the anti-inflammatory properties of ar-tumerone in neural cells, suggesting it may be a useful in treating neurological diseases.  A recent open access study by a research group from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine at the Research Centre Juelich (Germany) looked at ar-turmerone in this role using neural stem cells.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More "Pointless" Research: the 2014 Ig Nobel Award Winners!

In August, I wrote about so-called pointless research and an organization that celebrates this research that makes you laugh, then makes you think.  Well, the 2014 winners of the Ig Nobel awards have been announced!  We've got people studying the physics behind slipping on a banana peel, the neuroscience of seeing faces in mundane items, the psychopathy of being a night owl, the dangers of being a cat lady, dogs facing their own mecca when they poop, a tasty way to treat nosebleeds, reindeer don't trust people dressed as animals either, and a fairly gross way to produce starter probiotic cultures for sausage-making (it may put you off sausages from now on).  Let's explore these interesting, improbable, and yes "pointless" findings!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Don't Skip the Gym: Wine is Definitely NOT Better Than Exercise

By now, the media has pounced on new research looking at resveratrol, a compound found in wine, and the comparison of its effects to exercise on different body systems.  Naturally, the running headline is that drinking wine is better for you than going to the gym.  Because that's what we need.  Interested in hearing what the study actually says?  Read on:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Production of Circular RNA Competes with Normal RNA Processing in Cells

All of our genetic information is encoded in DNA.  In order for genes to be expressed as functional proteins in our cells, they must first be copied (or transcribed) into single-stranded RNA molecules, known as messenger RNA (mRNA).  These genetic instructions are then translated into amino acid sequences that make up proteins.  Recently, a new type of RNA was discovered that forms in a closed, continuous loop, rather than in a linear molecule - known as circular RNA (circRNA).  It turns out that circRNA are abundant in cells, but they are very poorly understood.  Despite this, these RNA molecules seem to play a role in the development and progression of degenerative diseases.  A recently published study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has given us a better idea of how circRNA are produced in the cell.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sloppier DNA Repair Mechanism Takes Over in Aging Mice

A neuron transfected with GFP (source)
As vertebrates age, DNA damage and mutations accumulate to the point where we begin to see "functional failure", causing cancers and other age-related illnesses.  Specifically, double-stranded breaks (DSBs) are the worst type of DNA damage, because they can lead to loss of genetic information and chromosomal rearrangement.  Cells do possess mechanisms to correct any damaged DNA, but when the repair machinery can't keep up with the DNA damage, the cells stop dividing (senescence) or they commit suicide (apoptosis).  But what is it that prevents DNA repair processes from keeping up as we age?  Researchers Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov of the University of Rochester (New York, USA) have discovered one reason (open access): the machinery ages too, and it is replaced with slower, less accurate parts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bee Bacteria may be an Alternative to Antibiotics

Raw honey has been used to treat infections for centuries, and today we are very aware of the extent of its antimicrobial properties, though we still don't know what it is exactly that makes honey so effective (the best idea right now is honey's osmolarity and hydrogen peroxide content).  Six years ago, a group of researchers in Sweden discovered a large, unexplored bacterial microbiota in the honey stomach of honeybees, which was made up of 40 lactic acid bacterial strains, 9 strains of Lactobacillus, and 4 strains of Bifidobacterium.  The researchers hypothesized that this microbiota, specifically the lactic acid bacteria (LAB), were responsible for the antimicrobial properties of honey.  The group report (in an open access study published this week) having finally found the answer.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Prost! Contaminating Particles Found in German Beers

Ah fall, hands down the best season!  Out come the sweaters and boots, the pumpkin spice lattes, thanksgiving, and of course Oktoberfest.  But folks partaking in the annual German beer celebration may be getting a bit more than they bargained for.  A new open access study looking at 24 different brands of German beer found a slew of contaminating substances, most notably microplastics.  This is the only study that has looked at the contamination of beer, but it is very likely that this problem is not limited only to German beers.