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Regina Bailey

Regina's Biology Blog

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Our Ears Help Us See

Thursday May 29, 2014

Image: graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Researchers have discovered that the visual cortex in the brain uses auditory information to help create visual images. Sound waves detected by the ears and visual clues processed by the eyes are used to create visual images in order to predict what may happen in the future.

According to lead researcher Lars Muckli, "Sounds create visual imagery, mental images, and automatic projections. So, for example, if you are in a street and you hear the sound of an approaching motorbike, you expect to see a motorbike coming around the corner. If it turned out to be a horse, you'd be very surprised." The researchers monitored brain activity in the early visual cortex of participants in the study. The individuals were asked to listen to sounds without being able to see anything. It was discovered that the early visual cortex was being activated in the absence of visual stimulation.

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Red Wine Could Help Prevent Cavities

Monday May 26, 2014

Credit: John Kasawa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Could red wine help prevent cavities? A recent study presented in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that red wine and grape seed extract are effective at destroying bacteria biofilm. Biofilm is a slimy substance that protects bacteria from antibiotics, chemicals, and other substances that are hazardous to the microbes. As bacteria feed on sugars present in the mouth, they produce acid which destroys tooth enamel and creates cavities.

In the study, the researchers exposed cavity producing bacteria biofilms to red wine with and without alcohol, as well as to red wine with grape seed extract. The results showed that all three solutions were effective at killing bacteria. The researchers state that while brushing with toothpaste does get rid of cavity causing bacteria, its effects are limited.

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How Pathogenic Bacteria Colonize Vegetables

Friday May 23, 2014

E. coli Bacteria
Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

James Hutton Institute researchers have identified the process by which E. coli bacteria infect plant products. An E. coli O157:H7 bacterium uses its flagellum, a long protrusion used for movement, to pierce through the plant cell wall. The attached bacterium is then able to colonize the surface of the vegetable. Eating these infected plants could cause food poisoning.

According to researcher Dr. Nicola Holden, "This work shows the fine detail of how the bacteria bind to plants. We think this mechanism is common to many food-borne bacteria and shows that they can exploit common factors found in both plants and animals to help them grow." Bacteria that remain on the surface of the plant can be removed by washing, however some bacteria are also able to gain access to the internal portions of the plant. The researchers contend that this information is valuable as it demonstrates that E. coli O157:H7 don't just move passively through the food chain, but aggressively interact with plants and animals.

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Dangerous Bacteria on Aircraft Cabin Surfaces

Wednesday May 21, 2014

Image Credit: Vera Kratochvil / Public Domain Images

Two dangerous types of bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli, are able to survive on airplane cabin surfaces for as long as a week. Researchers tested several surfaces including armrests, plastic tray tables, and cloth and leather seat pockets. When the surfaces were exposed to bacteria under conditions similar to those on an airplane, the bacteria were able to survive for days.

According to researcher Kiril Vaglenov, "Our data show that both of these bacteria can survive for days on the selected types of surfaces independent of the type of simulated body fluid present, and those pose a risk of transmission via skin contact." MRSA and E. coli can cause serious illness if a person becomes infected by these germs. This study underscores the importance of developing and applying effective disinfection techniques in aircraft cabins.

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Why Octopuses Don't Get Tangled in Their Tentacles

Friday May 16, 2014

Octopus
Albert Kok/Wikimedia Commons

Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers have made an interesting discovery that helps answer the question of why an octopus doesn't get tangled up in its tentacles. Unlike the human brain, the octopus brain does not map out the coordinates of its appendages. As a result, octopuses don't know where their arms are exactly. To prevent the octopus's arms from grabbing the octopus, its suckers will not attach to the octopus itself. The researchers state that an octopus produces a chemical in its skin that temporarily prevents the suckers from grabbing.

According to the researchers, "The results so far show, and for the first time, that the skin of the octopus prevents octopus arms from attaching to each other or to themselves in a reflexive manner. The drastic reduction in the response to the skin crude extract suggests that a specific chemical signal in the skin mediates the inhibition of sucker grabbing." It was also discovered that an octopus can override this mechanism when necessary, as evidenced by its ability to grab an amputated octopus arm.

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Ecuadorian Wasps Mummify Host

Friday May 9, 2014

This is a mummified host caterpillar with abdominal bending, parasitized by the Shakira wasp.
Credit: Eduardo Shimbori; CC-BY 4.0

Researchers have discovered several new species of Aleiodes wasps that parasitize caterpillars and actually mummify them. These wasps were found in Ecuador and mummify their victims, specific caterpillars, by injecting their eggs into them. The developing wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar, causing the caterpillar to mummify. Once fully developed, the wasp cuts an opening in the mummified remains and flies away.

According to researcher Scott Shaw, "Killing and mummifying caterpillars may sound bad, but these are actually highly beneficial insects. These wasps are helping to naturally control the populations of plant-feeding caterpillars, so they help to sustain the biodiversity of tropical forests." Aleiodes wasps are very small, measuring about 4 to 9 millimeters in length. Many of the 24 newly discovered insect species were named after celebrities and include the Jimmy Fallon wasp and Shakira wasp.

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Coffee May Help Prevent Sight Loss

Wednesday May 7, 2014

Image Credit: Savit Keawtavee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Cornell University study indicates that coffee has protective benefits against the progressive loss of eyesight associated with retinal degeneration. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue layer within the eye. It contains layers of nerves that relay visual information to the central nervous system. The researchers discovered that an antioxidant in coffee, chlorogenic acid (CLA), stopped the development of retinal degeneration in mice.

According to researcher Chang Y. Lee, "Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, and we are understanding what benefit we can get from that." Next, the researchers intend to focus on the benefits of CLA in humans. It has been determined that CLA is absorbed by the digestive system. It has not been determined whether or not drinking coffee helps to deliver CLA to the retina.

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Ocean Bacteria Vital to Global Carbon Cycling

Tuesday April 29, 2014

Image Credit: PDPhoto.org

Researchers have identified an individual species of bacteria that play an important role in the nutrient cycling of carbon dioxide. Alteromonas bacteria consume dissolved organic carbon in the ocean and use it to provide energy for their own biological processes. Carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere through bacterial respiration. Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers have found that just one of these bacteria can take up as much dissolved organic carbon as a community of several other microbes.

According to researcher Byron Pedler, "This was a surprising result because this pool of carbon is composed of an extremely diverse set of molecules, we believed that many different microbes with complementary abilities would be required to breakdown this material, but it appears that individual species may be pulling more weight than others when it comes to carbon cycling." Next, the researchers will attempt to identify the role Alteromonas play in climate warming and ocean acidity.

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Antimicrobial Chemical Linked to Breast Cancer

Wednesday April 23, 2014

Image: Keerati FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Researchers have discovered that the antimicrobial agent triclosan promotes breast cancer cell growth. Triclosan is used in antibacterial soaps, deodorants, cosmetics, toothpaste, and other household products. Triclosan chemicals function similarly to hormones and cause endocrine system disruptions.

In the study, it was discovered that triclosan and another endocrine-disrupting chemical, octylphenol, disrupt genes related to breast cancer cell growth. This interference results in the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Long term use of products containing triclosan result in the accumulation of the chemical in the body over time. Due to concerns over other health related issues associated with triclosan, major manufacturers have already begun to remove the chemical from their products.

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Cancer Cell Gene Activity

Friday April 18, 2014

This shows dividing human cancer cells as visualized by fluorescence microscopy.
Image: Aki Endo (Lamond Lab)

Researchers have used fluorescence microscopy to visually demonstrate gene activity in cancer cells during the cell cycle. Cancer cells divide uncontrollably and may develop as a result of several factors, including recombination errors that occur during the cell cycle and infections from certain cancer viruses.

According to head researcher Angus Lamond, "What we have been able to produce is a detailed analysis of protein activity in human cancer cells that exceeds what was previously possible. Previously it has been possible to capture a time-averaged snapshot of this activity, but what we can now do is give a much fuller picture." The researchers state that this new high-resolution mapping of gene expression will provide valuable insight into protein production in cancer cells. Information gained from the detailed study of cancer cell protein activity could lead to the development of better cancer drugs.

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