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Sea anemone is genetically half animal, half plant
A team led by the evolutionary and developmental biologist Ulrich Technau at the University of Vienna has discovered that sea anemones display a genomic landscape with a complexity of regulatory elements similar to that of fruit flies or other animal model systems. This suggests that this principle of gene regulation is already 600 million years old and dates back to the common ancestor of human, fly and sea anemone. On the other hand, sea anemones are more similar to plants rather than vertebrates, or insects, in their regulation of gene expression by short regulatory RNAs called microRNAs. These surprising evolutionary findings are published in two articles in the journal Genome Research.
Our appearance, the shape we have and how our body works is, in addition to environmental influences, largely the result of the action of our genes. However, genes are rarely single players, they rather act in concert and regulate each other’s activity and expression in gene regulatory networks.
Simple organism with complex gene content
In the last decades the sequencing of the human and many animal genomes showed that anatomically simple organisms such as sea anemones depict a surprisingly complex gene repertoire like higher model organisms. This implies, that the difference in morphological complexity cannot be easily explained by the presence or absence of individual genes. Some researchers hypothesized that not the individual genes code for more complex body plans, but how they are wired and linked between each other. Accordingly, researchers expected that these gene networks are less complex in simple organisms than in human or “higher” animals.
A measurement of the complexity of gene regulation may be the distribution and density of regulatory sequences in the genome. These motifs on the DNA – called enhancers and promoters – can bind transcription factors, and often regulate the expression of target genes in spatio-temporal patterns. “Finding these short motifs in the ocean of nucleotides is far from trivial,” explains Ulrich Technau, professor at the Department for Molecular Evolution and Development.
While the genes constitute, in a sense, the words in the language of genetics, enhancer and promoters serve as the grammar. These regulatory elements all correlate with certain biochemical epigenetic modifications of the histones, proteins intertwined with the DNA, constituting the chromatin. Using a molecular approach called chromatin immunoprecipitation, Michaela Schwaiger, a member of Technau’s team, was able to identify promoters and enhancers on a genome-wide level in the sea anemone, enabling a comparison of the data to regulatory landscapes of the more complex, and higher model organisms.
Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables: Spring!
Look for the following Spring fruits and vegetables at the market for the best flavor (and also value) when in season. Note that specific crops and harvest dates depend on the climate of your region (see regional and state-specific seasonality guides for details).
Eating locally means eating seasonally. The seasonal recipes below will help you to get started using all the great local and regional products you find at farmers markets, farm stands, and co-ops. More than just ways to use Spring produce, the recipes are designed to use other produce that are seasonally available. Cooking locally means not having to add a lot of ‘bells and whistles’ to food – it already tastes great because it’s fresh and at its best. Scroll down to find the best Spring produce to start shopping for. Moreover, these simple seasonal recipes make the most of local foods.
U.S. women unfamiliar with most stroke warning signs
Many U.S. women don’t know most of the warning signs of a stroke, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2014 Scientific Sessions. The study is also published in the American Heart Association journal, Stroke.
In a phone survey of 1,205 U.S. women:
- More than half (51 percent) of the women identified sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the face, arms or legs as a warning sign of a stroke.
- Less than half (44 percent) identified difficulty speaking or garbled speech as a warning sign.
Less than a fourth identified other signs of a stroke, including:
- sudden severe headache (23 percent);
- unexplained dizziness (20 percent); and
- sudden vision loss (18 percent).
Hispanic women were less likely than others to know most of the warning signs of a stroke — 25 percent did not know any, compared to 18 percent for whites and 19 percent for blacks. .
Despite not knowing the warning signs, 84 percent of the women knew the importance of calling 9-1-1 if they thought they were having a stroke.
Fossils show earliest animal trails
Trails found in rocks dating back 565 million years are thought to be the earliest evidence of animal locomotion ever found.
The newly-discovered fossils, from rocks in Newfoundland in Canada, were analysed by an international team led by Oxford University scientists. They identified over 70 fossilised trails indicating that some ancient creatures moved, in a similar way to modern sea anemones, across the seafloors of the Ediacaran Period. The team publish a report of their research in the February edition of the journal Geology.
'The markings we've found clearly indicate that these organisms could exert some sort of muscular control during locomotion,' said Alex Liu of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences, an author of the paper. 'This is exciting because it is the first evidence that creatures from this early period of Earth's history had muscles to allow them to move around — enabling them to hunt for food or escape adverse local conditions and, importantly, indicating that they were probably animals.'
Scientists compared the trails to those left by the modern sea anemone Urticina, and found many similarities suggesting that the animals that made them were anemone-like — perhaps using a muscular disc-shaped ‘foot’ to get around as anemones do today. Evidence for animal movement from before the Cambrian Period (542-488 million years ago) is rare, which has led many palaeontologists to suggest that earlier organisms were stationary and perhaps resembled modern fungi rather than animals.
Guidelines deem 13 million more Americans eligible for statins
New guidelines for using statins to treat high cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease are projected to result in 12.8 million more U.S. adults taking the drugs, according to a research team led by Duke Medicine scientists.
The findings for the first time quantify the impact of the American Heart Association’s new guidelines, which were issued in November and generated both controversy and speculation about who should be given a prescription for statins. In an analysis of health data published online March 19, 2014, in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team led by researchers at Duke Clinical Research Institute found that most of the additional statin users under the new guidelines would be people older than age 60.
"We sought to do a principled, scientific study to try to answer how the new guidelines might affect statin use, particularly as they focused eligibility on patients with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease," said lead author Michael J. Pencina, Ph.D., professor of biostatistics at DCRI. "By our estimate, there might be an uptake in usage as a result of the guidelines, from 43.2 million people to 56 million, which is nearly half of the U.S. population between the ages of 40 and 75."
Pencina and colleagues from McGill University and Boston University used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) for their analysis, focusing on 3,773 participants between the ages of 40-75 who had provided detailed medical information, including fasting cholesterol levels from blood tests.
The new guidelines expand the criteria for statin use to include people whose 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is elevated based on upon a medical risk-assessment score.
Eat More, Die Young: Why Eating a Diet Very Low in Nutrients Can Extend Lifespan
A new evolutionary theory in BioEssays claims that consuming a diet very low in nutrients can extend lifespan in laboratory animals, a finding which could hold clues to promoting healthier ageing in humans. Scientists have known for decades that severely restricted food intake reduces the incidence of diseases of old age, such as cancer, and increases lifespan.
"This effect has been demonstrated in laboratories around the world, in species ranging from yeast to flies to mice. There is also some evidence that it occurs in primates," says lead author, Dr Margo Adler, an evolutionary biologist at UNSW Australia. The most widely accepted theory is that this effect evolved to improve survival during times of famine. "But we think that lifespan extension from dietary restriction is more likely to be a laboratory artefact," says Dr Adler.
Lifespan extension is unlikely to occur in the wild, because dietary restriction compromises the immune system’s ability to fight off disease and reduces the muscle strength necessary to flee a predator. “Unlike in the benign conditions of the lab, most animals in the wild are killed young by parasites or predators,” says Dr Adler.
"Since dietary restriction appears to extend lifespan in the lab by reducing old-age diseases, it is unlikely to have the same effect on wild animals, which generally don’t live long enough to be affected by cancer and other late-life pathologies."
Ancient Letter from Egyptian Soldier Deciphered
A newly deciphered 1,800-year-old letter from an Egyptian solider serving in a Roman legion in Europe to his family back home shows striking similarities to what some soldiers may be feeling here and now. Rice Religious Studies graduate student Grant Adamson took up the task in 2011 when he was assigned the papyrus to work on during a summer institute hosted at Brigham Young University (BYU).
The private letter sent home by Roman military recruit Aurelius Polion was originally discovered in 1899 by the expedition team of Grenfell and Hunt in the ancient Egyptian city of Tebtunis. It had been catalogued and described briefly before, but to this point no one had deciphered and published the letter, which was written mostly in Greek.
"This letter was just one of many documents that Grenfell and Hunt unearthed," Adamson said. "And because it was in such bad shape, no one had worked much on it for about 100 years." Even now portions of the letter’s contents are uncertain or missing and not possible to reconstruct. Polion’s letter to his brother, sister and mother, "the bread seller," reads like a man who is very desperate to reach his family after sending six letters that have gone unanswered. He wrote in part:
"I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind. But I do my part writing to you always and do not cease bearing you (in mind) and having you in my heart. But you never wrote to me concerning your health, how you are doing. I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you.
"Polion was literate, and literacy was rarer then that it is now, but his handwriting, spelling and Greek grammar are erratic," Adamson said, which made English translation of the damaged letter even more difficult. "He likely would have been multilingual, communicating in Egyptian or Greek at home in Egypt before he enlisted in the army and then communicating in Latin with the army in Pannonia."
Easy Accurate Testing for Colon Cancer at Home
Results of a clinical trial of Cologuard show some unprecedented rates of precancer and cancer detection by a noninvasive test. The detection rates are similar to those reported for colonoscopy. The results were published in New England Journal of Medicine, March 2014. Cologuard was co-developed by Mayo Clinic and Exact Sciences.
Cologuard, is a noninvasive sDNA test for the early detection of colorectal precancer and cancer. The Cologuard test is based on a stool sample that is analyzed for DNA signatures of precancer or cancer. The samples are easily collected, mailed from home, requires no bowel preparation, medication restriction or diet change.
The clinical trial, called the DeeP-C study, included 10,000 patients and was designed to determine how well Cologuard detects precancer and cancer. The study also compared Cologuard to the fecal immunochemical test for occult blood (FIT). The study was conducted at 90 medical centers throughout the United States and Canada.
"Cologuard detection rates of early stage cancer and high-risk precancerous polyps validated in this large study were outstanding and have not been achieved by other noninvasive approaches," says the study’s author David Ahlquist M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and co-inventor of the Cologuard test. "It is our hope that this accurate and user-friendly test will expand screening effectiveness and help curb colorectal cancer rates in much the same way as regular Pap smear screening has done for cervical cancer."
Back to life after 1,500 years: Moss
Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey and Reading University have demonstrated that, after over 1,500 years frozen in Antarctic ice, moss can come back to life and continue to grow. For the first time, this vital part of the ecosystem in both polar regions has been shown to have the ability to survive century to millennial scale ice ages. This provides exciting insight into survival of life on Earth.
The team, reporting in Current Biology this week, observed moss regeneration after at least 1,530 years frozen in permafrost. This is the first study to show such long-term survival in any plant; similar timescales have only been seen before in bacteria. Mosses are known to survive environmental extremes in the short-term with previous evidence confirming up to a 20 year timescale for survival. Their potential to survive much longer timescales had not previously been examined.
Mosses are an important part of the biology of both polar regions. They are the dominant plants over large areas and are a major storer of fixed carbon, especially in the north.
Paxil may increase breast cancer risk in women
After developing a faster way to identify drugs and chemicals that may disrupt the balance of hormones in the human body, California scientists have fingered the popular anti-depressant drug Paxil and linked it to a possible increased breast cancer risk.
The study, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, found that the popular antidepressant Paxil (chemically known as paroxetine) has a weak “estrogenic effect,” meaning that it may be responsible for cancers in some women. They compared it against 445 other drugs that are currently “in wide circulation,” according to the report. The particular screening method used to detect hormonal changes after exposure to drugs or chemicals is new. The method also identified two other medications — the anti-fungals biconazole and oxyconazole — as having an anti-estrogenic effect. This is in opposition to Paxil, meaning it may reduce cancer or the recurrence of cancer in some women. Estrogen is seen playing a role in the growth and recurrence of cancers.