Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Feeding Infants Peanut Products Cuts Allergy Risk

Peanuts - BS9244
A recent study by British scientists found that infants as young as four months old were 86% less likely to develop peanut allergies when fed peanut-based snacks.  Allergy rates for children who were already sensitive to peanuts also fell from 35% to 11%.  It is believed that "at-risk" children could potentially benefit from this new diet by gradually exposing them to peanuts in order to build a tolerance.  It is not yet known if this tactic will work for other food allergies, but parents are warned not to try this at home. 

Allergy rates in the US have quadrupled since 2008, with factors such as cleaner homes, processed food and changing gut bacteria possibly effecting the body's allergic response to normally harmless antigens.  Despite the study's promising results, scientists still need to establish safety measures about when to start/stop the process, especially for children at higher risk.  Nonetheless, doctors may soon have a method to prevent a growing epidemic of food allergies in the future.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Moths and Enemy Sonar

Luna Moth BE5506
"The camouflage and mimicry techniques that animals use to avoid becoming a meal aren't much use against a predator using echolocation. But a new study shows that moths can outsmart sonar with a flick of their long tails. Using high-speed infrared cameras and ultrasonic microphones, the researchers watched brown bats preying on moths. Luna moths with tails were 47 percent more likely to survive an attack than moths without tails. Bats targeted the tail during 55 percent of the interactions, suggesting the moths may lure bats to the tails to make an attack more survivable." - Science Daily, University of Florida, February 18, 2015, Moths shed light on how to fool enemy sonar

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Facts About Measles

What is the measles virus?
Paramyxovirus particles, artwork - SR2278
Measles (a.k.a. Rubeola) is a serious respiratory disease which was a common childhood illness in the US before a vaccine was distributed in 1963.

What are the symptoms of measles?
Symptoms include fever, cough, sneezing/runny nose, sore throat, fatigue and conjunctivitis (pink eye).  The body breaks out into a rash after about four days, with red spots or blotches spreading from the face to the rest the body.

Is measles contagious?
Yes.  Unlike diseases such as Ebola, which requires direct contact with an infected patient's body fluids, measles is airborne and can remain in a space for up to two hours after an infected person has left the area.  The virus can also spread through the air before the onset of a rash, meaning patients can be contagious before they even know they have measles.

How is measles treated?
Patients will usually recover after seven to ten days and require rest, fluids and fever management.  However, complications can include anything from dehydration to more severe pneumonia or encephalitis (swelling of the brain).  For every 1,000 children infected by measles, one or two will die.

A vaccine is normally given to children age 12-15 months, and again at age 4-6.  Children with cancer and other diseases which weaken the immune system cannot receive the vaccine, and depend on the immunity of others to keep the disease from spreading.  Dependence on this "herd immunity" is the most effective way to prevent outbreaks from occurring.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bluefin Tuna

Southern Bluefin Tuna BS4524
"Scientists have discovered how prized bluefin tuna keep their hearts pumping during temperature changes that would stop a human heart. The research helps to answer important questions about how animals react to rapid temperature changes, knowledge that's becoming more essential as the earth warms. Pacific bluefin tuna are top predators renowned for their epic migrations across the Pacific Ocean. They are also unique amongst bony fish as they are warm bodied (endothermic) and are capable of elevating their core body temperature up to 20°C above that of the surrounding water. They are also capable of diving down below 1000 m into much colder water which affects the temperature of their heart." - How tuna stay warm with cold hearts, February 5, 2015, Manchester University

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Insect That Held Back A Continent - The Tsetse Fly

Tsetse Fly © Science Picture Co / Science Source
A recent paper out of Stanford University investigates the way diseases caused by the Tsetse Fly (Glossina spp.) hindered African economic and political development throughout history. The Tsetse is the primary African vector of parasitic trypanosomes, which cause the deadly disease trypanosomiasis in humans and animals.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

U.K. Approves Three-Parent Gene Therapy

In vitro fertilization - FC2298
The British government voted to allow researchers to pursue a controversial fertility treatment which involves altering an embryo's DNA in order to prevent certain genetic diseases.  In some situations, a mother's egg cell may contain disease-causing mutations in their mitochondrial DNA that may be passed on to their children.  The technique, known as mitochondrial DNA replacement therapy, involves extracting the genetic material from the mother's defective egg and transferring it to a donor egg with healthy mitochondria.  The resulting embryo will contain genetic information from the parents' nuclear DNA, while also carrying mitochondrial DNA from the egg donor.

Mitochondria are organelles responsible for a cell's energy production, and contain their own separate DNA which has not effect on inherited traits such as height, hair color, eye color, etc.  When genetic material in the mitochondria is faulty, cells are not able to work properly and result in mitochondrial disease.  Some children born with mitochondrial disease die within months or may exhibit a variety of symptoms later in life.  However some opponents cite that not enough is known about the possible long-term effects of DNA replacement therapy, as well as the ethical questions surrounding genetic modification.