Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Newsbits March

In today's issue we have:

  • a new way to predict earthquakes,
  • a giant medicine failure that turns into a new way of treatment of deceases,
  • killer wheat fungus that could cause major problems
  • new insights on our need of sleep, that I rather disagree
  • and last but not least, a new treatment of tinnitus.

Quiet period could hint of impending earthquake

04 March 2008,Kate Ravilious

It is not exactly an early warning system, but earthquakes may indeed hint at their intentions before they rumble. According to a large satellite survey, a few hours before a night-time earthquake there is a significant reduction in the intensity of very low frequency radio waves coming from beneath the ground in the region.

Frantisek Nemec of the University of Orléans in France and colleagues put together two-and-a-half years of electromagnetic wave readings taken by the French satellite DEMETER. They analysed the intensity of these emissions for more than 9000 earthquakes with magnitudes 4.8 or greater, and compared them with background levels.

The team observed a decrease of around 5 decibels in emission intensity up to 4 hours before shallow earthquakes, which occur less than 40 kilometres below the surface. They only found this decrease for earthquakes that happened during the night. (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2007GL032517). source

My comment: Why only during the night?

Reprogrammed immune cells could fight disease

  • 16 March 2008,Linda Geddes

TWO years ago, on 13 March 2006, six previously healthy young men were left fighting for their lives after being injected with an experimental drug in a safety trial at Northwick Park Hospital in London. The drug was supposed to damp down cells in the immune system whose unwanted activity leads to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. But things went badly wrong, and the volunteers' immune systems started to run out of control, causing damage that led to multiple organ failure.

Though all six survived, the drug, TGN1412, being developed by TeGenero of Würzburg, Germany, was abandoned. However, the principle on which it was based still holds promise for therapies to prevent rejection of transplanted organs, and treatments for autoimmune disease and cancer (see "Cancer's little helpers"). source
( GVHD occurs when T-cells in the transplanted bone marrow recognise their new
host's cells as foreign, and start attacking them. This is similar to what
happens in autoimmune diseases, in which T-cells react against the body's own
tissues, or in transplant rejection, when they attack the donated tissue. T-regs
can directly suppress these attacks. "Regulatory T-cells are our body's own
mechanism of preventing it from destroying itself," says Fiona Powrie, an
immunologist at the University of Oxford. "We are trying to ramp up the body's
natural control system."

Using T-regs would have several advantages over conventional immunosuppressants.
These drugs, which often have to be taken for life, have a blanket effect that
dampens down the whole immune system. This makes the body more vulnerable to
infection, increases the risk of cancer and suppresses the very immune responses
that might enable the body to control autoimmunity.

"The current approach of using pharmacological immunosuppression doesn't make
any sense at all," says Matthias Edinger at the University Hospital in
Regensburg, Germany. T-regs would have a more specific effect, and it could be
made more specific still by generating T-regs that target only effector T-cells
that react to a particular antigen. This should mean that they only suppress the
immune cells that are co-ordinating an immune attack. Furthermore, experiments
with mice suggest that a single injection of T-regs is enough to shift the
balance of the immune system long-term, perhaps eliminating the need for
lifelong drugs.)
For the whole article click here

My comment: I find the idea very elegant. And I'm absolutely fascinated by the way our body works.

Killer wheat fungus threatens starvation for millions

  • 13 March 2008,Debora MacKenzie

A WHEAT disease that could destroy most of the world's main wheat crops could strike south Asia's vast wheat fields two years earlier than research had suggested, leaving millions to starve. The fungus, called Ug99, has spread from Africa to Iran, and may already be in Pakistan. If so, this is extremely bad news, as Pakistan is not only critically reliant on its wheat crop, it is also the gateway to the Asian breadbasket, including the vital Punjab region.

Scientists met this week in Syria to decide on emergency measures to track Ug99's progress. They hope to slow its spread by spraying fungicide or even stopping farmers from planting wheat in the spores' path. The only real remedy will be new wheat varieties that resist Ug99, and they may not be ready for five years. The fungus has just pulled ahead in the race. source

("The only real remedy will be new wheat varieties that resist the Ug99 fungus and they may not be ready for five years"Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust (Puccinia graminis) was identified in Uganda in 1999. Since then it has invaded Kenya and Ethiopia and, last year, Yemen. From previous fungal invasions, scientists expected the prevailing winds to carry Ug99 spores to Egypt, Turkey and Syria, and then east to Iran, a major wheat-grower, buying them some time. But on 8 June 2007, Cyclone Gonu hit the Arabian peninsula, the worst storm there for 30 years.

There could be more unpleasant surprises in store. On mature wheat, the fungus reproduces asexually to release billions of identical spores. If the spores drift onto a barberry bush (Berberis vulgaris), however, they switch to sexual reproduction, and so could swap genes with other stem rusts to produce completely new variants. Iran is a hotspot for barberry.

Scientists have now found out how Ug99 took hold, says Rick Ward of CIMMYT, the wheat breeding institute in Mexico that started the Green Revolution. "It turns out most of Kenya was planted with a wheat variety that contained only one gene for rust resistance, SR24," he told New Scientist.

"We advise at least two resistance genes," says Ward. Wheat with the SR24 gene alone gives any Ug99 strains resistant to SR24 a huge advantage, just as misuse of antibiotics selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, says Ward. Farmers then switched to using wheat with other resistance genes and the same thing happened.

Ug99 is now resistant to the three major anti-rust genes used in nearly all the world's wheat. "The real solution is disease resistance that relies on a number of genes," says Ward. Wheat with multigene resistance does not so much destroy the fungus as slow it down. The hope is that with several genes involved it will be much harder for the fungus to become resistant and there will be less selection pressure for it to do so.

The problem is that crop breeding is slow. It usually takes at least five years to cross disease-resistant lines with wheat varieties adapted to local conditions in the world's wheat-growing countries, then grow enough seed to plant fields threatened by Ug99.)
The whole article can be found here.

My comment: Interestingly enough, there is no mention of GMo crops in the article. While googling the issue gave some very weird titles. Anyway, obviously exactly the poor genetic pool is the problem, so I hope there is a decision that won't kill millions.

Do we read too much into our need for sleep?

  • 15 March 2008,Emma Young

IT IS one of the biggest mysteries in biology: why do we, and many other animals, spend a huge proportion of our lives simply sleeping? We cannot eat or mate while asleep, and are vulnerable to attack. Where is the survival advantage in that? Yet, deprive an experimental rat or fruit fly of sleep and the consequences can be fatal. Surely sleep must have evolved to fulfil some crucial biological function, such as refreshing the body or rebooting the brain? That is what sleep researchers have been thinking for some time - although they still cannot agree on what sleep is for. But perhaps they are wrong.

One leading researchers is now proposing a radical rethink. After two decades spent studying the sleeping behaviour of a range of animals, Jerry Siegel from the University of California, Los Angeles, has come to the controversial conclusion that sleep did not evolve for ...source

(Instead of performing some vital biological function Dr Siegel proposes sleep's fundamental purpose is simply to conserve energy and keep an individual out of danger.

He said: "In the wild the best strategy for passing on your genes is to be asleep for as long as you can get away with."
Although many researchers assume an animal is more vulnerable while it is sleeping Dr Siegel believes being awake is riskier - not least because you are more likely to be injured.

He contends there are just too many "inconvenient truths" to make biology the primary explanation for sleep although he does accept that his theory leaves some key questions unanswered.) source/it's not the new scientist article, but similar/

My comment: Sleep is important. I don't know could they say that people deprived from REM are ok. I have been deprived of it-due to massive insomnia and then the use of sleeping pills that pretty much eliminate the REM too, and I know how it feels. You're all right on the outside, but you feel like you're empty on the inside. Like all the colors of the day have been taken away from you. I can't understand how some people claim sleep is not important and then to fall happily asleep in the night. I suggest them to try to not sleep for a week and then to think it over.

New Therapies Fight Phantom Noises of Tinnitus

Published: April 1, 2008

For the 12 million Americans who suffer from severe tinnitus, the phantom tones inside their head are louder than anything else.

The most promising therapies, experts say, are based on discoveries made in the last five years about the brain activity of people with tinnitus. With brain-scanning equipment like functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers in the United States and Europe have independently discovered that the brain areas responsible for interpreting sound and producing fearful emotions are exceptionally active in people who complain of tinnitus.

“We’ve discovered that tinnitus is not so much ringing in the ears as ringing in the brain,” said Thomas J. Brozoski, a tinnitus researcher at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.

Indeed, tinnitus can be intense in people with hearing loss and even those whose auditory nerves have been completely severed. In the absence of normal auditory stimulation, the brain is like a driver trying to tune in to a radio station that is out of range. It turns up the volume trying but gets only annoying static. Richard Salvi, director of the Center for Hearing and Deafness at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said the static could be “neural noise” — the sound of nerves firing. Or, he said, it could be a leftover sound memory.

Adam Edwards, a 34-year-old co-owner of a wheel repair shop in Dallas, said he developed tinnitus four years ago after target shooting with a pistol.

Mr. Edwards says he has gotten relief from a device developed by an Australian audiologist, which became widely available in the United States last year. Manufactured by Neuromonics Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., it looks like an MP3 player and delivers sound spanning the full auditory spectrum, digitally embedded in soothing music.

Similar to white noise, the broadband sound, tailored to each patient’s hearing ability, masks the tinnitus. (The music is intended to ease the anxiety that often accompanies the disorder.) Patients wear the $5,000 device, which is usually not covered by health insurance, for a minimum of two hours a day for six months. Since completing the treatment regimen last year, Mr. Edwards said his tinnitus had “become sort of like Muzak at a department store — you hear it if you think about it, but otherwise you don’t really notice.”

Other treatments showing promise include surgically implanted electrodes and noninvasive magnetic stimulation, both intended to disrupt and possibly reset the faulty brain signals responsible for tinnitus. Using functional M.R.I. to guide them, neurosurgeons in Belgium have performed the implant procedure on several patients in the last year and say it has suppressed tinnitus entirely.

But the treatment is controversial. “It’s a radical option and not proven yet,” said Jennifer R. Melcher, an assistant professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School.

The magnetic therapy, similar to treatments used for depression and chronic pain, involves holding a magnet in the shape of a figure eight over the skull. Clinicians use functional M.R.I. to aim the magnetic pulses so they reach regions of the brain responsible for interpreting sound. Patients receive a pulse every second for about 20 minutes. “It works for some people but not for others,” said Anthony Cacace, professor of communication science and nerve disorders at Wayne State University in Detroit. Since tinnitus has so many causes, Dr. Cacace said, the challenge now is to find out which “subsets of patients benefit from this treatment.” source

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