SciTech Briefs

Shots of stem cells restore learning ability in rats

Recently, researchers reported that stem cells may be able to heal long-term brain damage in rats blasted with radiation. While radiation therapy is very effective in lots of areas, such as treating cancer, it has also been proven to generate many side effects such as detriments to one’s learning ability.

Radiation obliterates the cells of the myelin sheath, which coats the message-carrying part of nerve cells with protective insulation. Without the myelin sheath, nerve cells cannot transmit any information.

Researchers have attempted to solve this problem using human stem cells. They injected the precursor cells into different areas of the brains of 18 rats, which were exposed to radiation prior to the injection. The rats given the new cells in different areas all improved in their ability to learn. But still, the researchers say that they need to repeat the experiment with a larger sample size to draw a final conclusion.

Source: Science News

Burials thwart efforts to curb spread of Ebola

Efforts to stamp out the serious situation in West Africa due to the Ebola epidemic are being threatened as local villagers contract the disease by touching the bodies of Ebola victims while burying them, according to U.N. officials. Officials believe this is the most common way Ebola is being spread.

The issue is not one-sided; for local people in nations like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, those rituals are indispensable for the departed’s spirit, so it is hard to ask them to give up such a practice.The World Health Organization (WHO) reported recently that 124 new cases of Ebola were recorded the week of February 1st, which is a 25 percent increase from the previous week as well as the first time this number has risen in 2015.

The most effective method, according to a WHO representative, is to isolate individuals as soon as they become sick to avoid spreading the disease. This proves difficult since most burials occur in secret.

Source: Scientific American

E-cigarettes found to lower immunity to flu in mice

A new study in mice finds that electronic cigarette vapors can trigger inflammation in the lung, making animals more susceptible to bacteria or virus-related infections, such as flu.

Inhaling free radicals, biologically detrimental molecular fragments, may be the reason for the inflammation and protein damage. According to Thomas Sussan, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, each vaping puff contains 700 billion free radicals, leading to a “significant increase in oxidative stress.”

Compared with the mice that were not exposed to the vaping condition, the mice that inhale free radicals from vapor were far less able to resist infection, the researchers found. The researchers conclude that, besides the factor of nicotine in vapor, even nicotine-free vaping may be a source of danger, since the liquid solvent used to deliver nicotine can also be very toxic to lungs’ functioning.

Source: Science News

Large gap exists between public and scientists

A pair of surveys by the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released last Thursday showed that the general public and scientists have very different views on science-related issues.

For example, 87 percent of scientists believe that humans are a main cause of climate change, but only 50 percent of the public agree with this. Also, 88 percent of scientists think that genetically modified foods are safe to eat, but only 37 percent of the public think they are safe. 89 percent of scientists favor animal research, but only 47 percent of the public support it.

Alan Leshner, chief executive of the AAAS, stated that the chasm stems from the fact that the public’s views are being influenced by other factors such as religion, politics, and lack of scientific understanding. He also noted that it is the responsibility of scientists to educate the public about polarized scientific issues.

Source: Reuters

Endangered Sierra Nevada red fox spotted

The Sierra Nevada red fox, a subspecies of the red fox and one of the most endangered mammals in North America, was recently spotted in Yosemite National Park for the first time in almost 100 years. The animal was seen through cameras set up by wildlife biologists around the park as part of a study funded by the Yosemite Conservancy.

The Sierra Nevada red fox, which is genetically different from other red foxes, once had a natural habitat which ranged from Oregon across California, but now fewer than 50 of the animals are believed to exist in the wild.

Researchers belive that the population of this particular species was always small. The reason for the dwindling population of Sierra Nevada red foxes is unclear, but scientists speculate that the cause could be loss of prey, genetic inbreeding, and loss of habitiat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be announcing the fox’s status under the Endangered Species Act this year.

Source: Discovery News

Biological clock predicts life spans

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology have discovered a biological clock that allows them to predict a person’s life span.

The biological clocks of almost 5,000 people in four independent studies were measured by studying a chemical modification to their DNA. After an initial blood test, the researchers periodically followed up with subjects.

By tracking the lives of these people for up to 14 years and comparing their biological clock age to their actual age, the researchers found that people whose biological clock indicated an older age than their actual age were more likely to die sooner. They also found that this fact was true even after adjusting the results to account for other conditions such as smoking and diabetes.This study was recently published in the journal Genome Biology.

Source: Science Daily