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  • November 2, 2015
  • 12:25 AM

Week In Review: Open-Access Science | 26 Oct to 1 Nov

by TakFurTheKaffe in Tak Fur The Kaffe

From a new date for earliest life on earth to the potentially controversial findings that Antarctica is gaining more ice than it’s loosing, here are 5 of the latest scientific studies published open-access this week.... Read more »

Bell, E., Boehnke, P., Harrison, T., & Mao, W. (2015) Potentially biogenic carbon preserved in a 4.1 billion-year-old zircon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201517557. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1517557112  

Zwally, H. Jay, Li, Jun, Robbins, John W, Saba, Jack L, Yi, Donghui, & Brenner, Anita C. (2015) Mass gains of the Antarctic ice sheet exceed losses. Journal of Glaciology. DOI: 10.3189/2015JoG15J071  

Tyagi, N., Farnell, E., Fitzsimmons, C., Ryan, S., Tukahebwa, E., Maizels, R., Dunne, D., Thornton, J., & Furnham, N. (2015) Comparisons of Allergenic and Metazoan Parasite Proteins: Allergy the Price of Immunity. PLOS Computational Biology, 11(10). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004546  

Barrett, S., Speth, R., Eastham, S., Dedoussi, I., Ashok, A., Malina, R., & Keith, D. (2015) Impact of the Volkswagen emissions control defeat device on US public health. Environmental Research Letters, 10(11), 114005. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/11/114005  

  • November 1, 2015
  • 03:20 PM

Kids meals, toys, and TV advertising: A triple threat to child health

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Fast food companies advertise children’s meals on TV with ads that feature toy premiums, and it has been suggested that the use of these toy premiums may prompt children to request eating at fast food restaurants. In a new study, researchers found that the more children watched television channels that aired ads for children’s fast food meals, the more frequently their families visited those fast food restaurants.... Read more »

  • November 1, 2015
  • 12:00 PM

How one vaccine can protect you from more than one disease

by EE Giorgi in CHIMERAS

The paper I'm discussing today came out last May in Science but, as you probably noticed, I've been busy posting about other things and neglected the science aspect of the CHIMERAS blog. Apologies to my science readers.Viruses are pesky little things that have the innate ability of inserting genetic material into our cells. As such, they are capable of permanently changing our immune system: for one thing, our immune system learns to recognize the pathogen and that "memory" will be used to prevent future infections. Viruses can also alter the expression of certain genes within the infected cells, shutting off the production of proteins that would otherwise prevent the virus from replicating. Viruses that infect preferentially cells from the immune system are particularly nasty. HIV, for example, gradually depletes the host's reservoir of T-cells (the "sentinels" of the immune system) until patients die of a common infection simply because their body can no longer fight pathogens. HIV is not the only virus that attacks the immune system. Measles is another one. The virus enters cells through a receptor that's expressed on the surface of many immune cells such as dendritic cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. All of these cells have a very important function: they retain "immune memory." What does it mean? Every time the immune system encounters a new pathogen (a virus, a bacterium, etc.), bits of proteins from the pathogens are presented to the immune cells. The immune cells create an "impression" of these proteins so that they can bind to them and destroy them. using a metaphor, they create a "mold", a special receptor that binds to the pathogen. Lots of cells with the special "mold" are created, so they can bind to the pathogen, capture it, and destroy it. A whole army of cells needs to be created in order to get rid of the million viral particles in the body, but once the infection is over and the full army is no longer needed, only a few of these cells with the special "mold" are saved. These few are the ones that preserve the memory of the specific pathogen, so that next time it enters the body it is recognized immediately and destroyed before it can start the infection. Back to the measles virus. This nasty pathogen has a special receptor that allows it to enter the cell membrane of "mature" immune cells [1], i.e. cells that carry that special "mold" for a particular pathogen. By infecting and killing those cells, the measles virus effectively erases immune memory, making the host prone to be reinfected by pathogens it has already encountered. So, on the one hand, the virus stimulates immune responses that will protect from future measles infections. On the other hand, however, it erases some of the existing defenses against other pathogens. It's called the "measles paradox." Immune memory of previous pathogens is eared and replaced by measles-specific immune responses. [2]A study published in Science last May [3] corroborated this finding by looking at child mortality data from England, Wales, the United States, and Denmark during the decades immediately preceding and following the introduction of the measles vaccine. The researchers showed that immune memory loss caused by measles infection lasted from 6 months to several years, and that vaccination against measles significantly reduced child mortality caused by non measles infections. To further corroborate their analysis, the researchers applied the same techniques to pertussis, which is also known to cause immunosuppression. This time they found no correlation with the incidence of pertussis and non-pertussis infectious disease mortality, corroborating the hypothesis that it was the measles vaccine to cause the drop in mortality. "MV infection and vaccination produce strong and durable herd immunity against subsequent epidemics. Our results thus suggest an extra dynamical twist: MV infections could also reduce population immunity against other infections in which MV immunomodulation could be envisioned as a measles-induced immune amnesia; hence, measles vaccination might also be preserving herd protection against nonmeasles infections [3]."<\blockquote>[1] Tahara, M., Takeda, M., Shirogane, Y., Hashiguchi, T., Ohno, S., & Yanagi, Y. (2008). Measles Virus Infects both Polarized Epithelial and Immune Cells by Using Distinctive Receptor-Binding Sites on Its Hemagglutinin Journal of Virology, 82 (9), 4630-4637 DOI: 10.1128/JVI.02691-07[2] de Vries, R., & de Swart, R. (2014). Measles Immune Suppression: Functional Impairment or Numbers Game? PLoS Pathogens, 10 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004482[3] Mina MJ, Metcalf CJ, de Swart RL, Osterhaus AD, & Grenfell BT (2015). Long-term measles-induced immunomodulation increases overall childhood infectious disease mortality. Science (New York, N.Y.), 348 (6235), 694-9 PMID: 25954009... Read more »

  • October 31, 2015
  • 06:22 PM

New Study Looking at the Viruses Colonizing Your Skin

by Geoffrey Hannigan in Prophage

Your skin is covered in microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and even viruses (see the illustration to the right)! We know viruses can directly impact your health by infecting your cells and causing diseases such as cutaneous warts and serious skin cancers like...... Read more »

  • October 31, 2015
  • 03:49 PM

Lack of ZZZZs may zap cell growth, brain activity

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Lack of adequate sleep can do more than just make you tired. It can short-circuit your system and interfere with a fundamental cellular process that drives physical growth, physiological adaptation and even brain activity, according to a new study. Albrecht von Arnim, a molecular biologist based in the Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, studied plants but said the concepts may well translate to humans.... Read more »

Missra, A., Ernest, B., Lohoff, T., Jia, Q., Satterlee, J., Ke, K., & von Arnim, A. (2015) The Circadian Clock Modulates Global Daily Cycles of mRNA Ribosome Loading. The Plant Cell, 27(9), 2582-2599. DOI: 10.1105/tpc.15.00546  

  • October 31, 2015
  • 03:57 AM

Making physical activity more attractive to teens with autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I don't want to keep you too long today, what with it being All Hallows' Eve and all the formalities that accompany this festival. I would however like to pass the paper by Heidi Stanish and colleagues [1] your way and some details on the hows and whys of "physical activity enjoyment, perceived barriers, beliefs, and self-efficacy" when it comes to teens diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Based on questionnaire responses from 35 adolescents with ASD and 60 not-ASD controls (I'm not a great fan of the words 'typically developing'), researchers reported a few potentially important group differences in terms of enjoyment of things like physical education (84% vs. 98% respectively) and preferences to engage in physical activity in their spare time (25% vs. 58%). These and other group disparities are framed within the idea that "differences identified may inform program development" when it comes to getting teens with autism more involved in physical pursuits.As per other occasions on this blog (see here and see here), I'm particularly interested in the various research looking at physical activity and autism; specifically the ways and means sedentary behaviours can be 'modified' when it comes to parts of the autism spectrum (see here). We're all being told these days that everyone needs to perhaps move a little more to improve physical wellbeing (see here) and those on the autism spectrum are no exception to this advice.Some of the hurdles identified by Stanish et al focused on enjoyment of sport and exercise and the idea that "physical activities were too hard to learn" are factors that I would suggest, can be fairly easily overcome with the right advice and resources. As per the findings reported by Todd and colleagues [2] based on the use of cycling for example, certain "self-regulation interventions" can help to get children and young adults on the road to physical activity participation. Small steps and finding the right physical activity are perhaps other key tenets to improving participation and exposing those who are perhaps a little exercise-adverse to the wide, wide range of possible activities.Have I also mentioned that I'm a bit of fan of the potential benefits of the martial arts for those on the spectrum?Music: Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. Spooky stuff...----------[1] Stanish H. et al. Enjoyment, Barriers, and Beliefs About Physical Activity in Adolescents With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2015 Oct;32(4):302-17.[2] Todd T. et al. Cycling for students with ASD: self-regulation promotes sustained physical activity. Adapt Phys Activ Q. 2010 Jul;27(3):226-41.----------Stanish H, Curtin C, Must A, Phillips S, Maslin M, & Bandini L (2015). Enjoyment, Barriers, and Beliefs About Physical Activity in Adolescents With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder. Adapted physical activity quarterly : APAQ, 32 (4), 302-17 PMID: 26485735... Read more »

  • October 30, 2015
  • 11:41 AM

Who Needs Inner Glow? Female Beetles Shine Bright to Attract Mates

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Don't let the makeup companies find out. Lady glow-worms are setting an unattainable beauty standard by using bright light to show males how fertile they are. It's a rare (in the animal world) example of females decorating themselves while their mates choose between them.

The European glow-worm, or Lampyris noctiluca, is a member of the firefly family in which the females do most of the glowing. Males are ordinary-looking beetles with brown wings. Females are much larger and don't have wi... Read more »

  • October 30, 2015
  • 04:22 AM

People commit crimes not their clinical labels

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Oregon Killer’s Mother Wrote of Troubled Son and Gun Rights" and "The Myth of the ‘Autistic Shooter’".Those were just two of the headlines that I read recently about the tragedy that rocked the town of Roseburg in the United States and the inevitable attempts to understand such a senseless act.Accepting that our thoughts and prayers should focus on the those murdered, and the long and painful journey that now faces families and loved ones (including that of the perpetrator's family), mention of the autism spectrum as 'potentially' being part and parcel of the killer's 'profile' is something that perhaps requires some science-based discussion. I appreciate that significant emotions come into such tragic stories as per previous instances and the question of 'why', but this is a blog about science and autism. I'm gonna stick to the available peer-reviewed literature specifically on the topic of autism and offending without hopefully sounding too cold nor too dispassionate.I think it is worth going over a few things first for any newcomers straying across this post.First, a few sentences about autism and/or the autism spectrum. Clinically, autism describes a developmental disorder that variably affects communication and social interactions (social affect) among other things. Alongside a heightened risk for various comorbidity - psychological and somatic - a diagnosis on the autism spectrum is both "profound and pervasive" in terms of impact on a person's life. For some that means a lifetime of round-the-clock care; for others, sometimes wrongly labelled as 'high-functioning', it can mean struggling with even mundane daily activities, not made any easier by societal attitudes and stereotypes and often accompanied by a lack of appropriate social and healthcare support. Although not wishing to paint too bleak a picture, the increased rates of suicide ideation (see here) and even requests for euthanasia (see here) for example, can represent the extremes of the struggles faced by people on the autism spectrum. I might also add that the 'lack of social and healthcare support' sentence previously mentioned similarly extends to quite a few families caring for people with autism too.Next, although a diagnosis of autism does not provide immunity against offending behaviour, people with autism are far more likely to be a victim of crime over and above a perpetrator. Indeed, some of the traits associated with autism mean that many people on the spectrum are uniquely vulnerable to issues such as bullying (see here for the most recent research review), harassment or sometimes worse. Such traits can also lead to some people on the autism spectrum being drawn into criminality or committing criminal acts without fully comprehending the intentions of their accomplices and/or understanding the gravity of their actions. I hasten to add that such 'naivety' (if I can call it that) is likely multi-factorial in terms of the hows and whys; sometimes moderated by associated learning difficulties for example, and other times not.OK. I hope that clears up a few things. The other point I want to make is that whilst the label of autism describes some of the behaviours of a person, I personally don't subscribe to the view that autism does (or should) define a person, in the same way that the labels of depression and anxiety or even schizophrenia don't define people. In this context, the important point is that 'people commit crimes not their clinical labels'. Keep that in mind as I continue.Accepting that at the time of writing this post, we don't have all the details (or confirmation of of all the details) about whether indeed the killer "struggled with Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder" or not, there is some science on this topic in relation to such extreme offending behaviour.Although making uncomfortable reading, I want to start with the paper by Clare Allely and colleagues [1] (open-access) which garnered quite a bit of media attention when it was first published back in 2014 on the basis of a suggestion that "a significant proportion of mass or serial killers may have had neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder or head injury." Retrospectively looking at several accounts of mass or serial killers, the authors concluded that there was some evidence that "in at least some cases, neurodevelopmental problems such as ASD [autism spectrum disorder] or head injury may interact in a complex interplay with psychosocial factors to produce these very adverse outcomes." I can remember various reactions to this paper when it saw the light of day; quite a few rooted in the fear that sweeping generalisations would ensue and similar to the historical situation in schizophrenia, all autism would be generalised and equated with dangerousness.As it turns out that didn't happen. Indeed, I actually thought the Allely paper made some important points in their review. They didn't, for example, say that every serial or mass killer 'had autism', indeed not even close: "we are able to say that probably more than 10% of serial/mass killers have ASD and a similar proportion have had a head injury." With the estimated rates of autism these days (1 in 46 according to some reports), one can perhaps see how that percentage might cover at least some of what would be expected in the general population anyway.What Allely et al did observe is: (a) that "serial and mass killings are rare" and (b) that: "The gaps in our understanding about the actual mechanisms of development toward these most negative of outcomes are enormous." Further: "the great majority of those with ASD or head injury had also experienced psychosocial risk factors such as parental divorce, physical or sexual abuse, and major surgery during childhood." That last point might tie in with some of the details coming out of the Roseburg tragedy, although with the important provisos that (i) correlation is not necessarily the same as causation and that (ii) sweeping generalisation is usually the mother of all mistakes.Continuing the theme of other factors/variables occurring alongside autism as also being potentially important to instances of offending behaviour are the findings reported by Newman & Ghaziuddin [2]. Surveying some of the scientific literature on the topic of violent crime specifically in relation to Asperger syndrome, the authors concluded that some 30% of cases were accompanied by "a definite psychiatric disorder" and a further 50% had a "probable psychiatric disorder at the time of committing the crime."This research reiterates the idea that autism, some autism, offers little in the way of protection when it comes to risk of other psychopathology occurring alongside. Screening for such comorbidity should be much more of a priority than it currently is. Without hopefully shifting blame between labels - remember people commit crimes not their labels - there is a body of research emerging suggesting that issues such as psychosis for example, may show a complicated relationship with some autism. I've covered this topic a few times on this blog (see here and see here) particularly where the manifestation(s) of psychosis has led to a subsequent diagnosis on the autism spectrum. ... Read more »

  • October 29, 2015
  • 01:59 PM

What blocks pro-vaccine beliefs?

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Despite rhetoric that pits “anti-vaxxers” versus “pro-vaxxers,” most new parents probably qualify as vaccine-neutral–that is, they passively accept rather than actively demand vaccination. Unless there is an active threat of polio or whooping cough, they have to remind themselves that injecting their crying infant with disease antigens is a good thing.... Read more »

Miton, & Mercier. (2015) Cognitive Obstacles to Pro-Vaccination Beliefs. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. info:/

  • October 29, 2015
  • 07:10 AM

The Monster Mash – Diseases That May Have Spawned Monster Legends

by Bill Sullivan in The 'Scope

The fascinating science behind some of our favorite monsters ... Read more »

Schulenburg-Brand D, Katugampola R, Anstey AV, & Badminton MN. (2014) The cutaneous porphyrias. Dermatologic clinics, 32(3), 369. PMID: 24891059  

Deshmukh S, & Prashanth S. (2012) Ectodermal dysplasia: a genetic review. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry, 5(3), 197-202. PMID: 25206167  

Ramirez-Bermudez J, Aguilar-Venegas LC, Crail-Melendez D, Espinola-Nadurille M, Nente F, & Mendez MF. (2010) Cotard syndrome in neurological and psychiatric patients. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 22(4), 409-16. PMID: 21037126  

  • October 29, 2015
  • 02:21 AM

Is a GFCF diet for autism inherently unhealthy? (part 2)

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Consider today's entry as a sort of continuation of a previous post looking at the 'horror' that is a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet for autism (see here).This time around I'm bringing the paper by Salvador Marí-Bauset and colleagues [1] to your attention and the idea that things might not necessarily be all bad when it comes to the use of a GFCF diet in terms of nutritional quality nor anthropometric values. Indeed, subject to the correct dietetic input, that there may be some important food exchanges going on when a diet devoid of gluten and casein is instigated specifically where an autism diagnosis is mentioned.I realise that not everyone is as enthusiastic about how food might impact on behaviour and development with at least some autism in mind as I am, but science is coming around to the idea that what we eat (or not) might have some important influences on our being (see here). Appreciating that the GFCF diet is also probably not for everyone [2] (see here also), there continues to be some 'appetite' for such an approach for at least some autism [3]. It is therefore important to understand a little more about what might be the positives and negatives to following such a restrictive dietary regime.Marí-Bauset et al report results for some 20 children with autism following a GFCF diet compared with 85 "on a regular diet in Valencia (Spain)." This follows a scheme of work from this authorship group looking at various aspects of nutrition when applied to autism [4]. Upon analysing 3-day food diaries, researchers concluded that: "Those on the GFCF diet had a lower weight, body mass index, and total energy, pantothenic acid, calcium, phosphorus and sodium intake." Further however, the GFCF group had: "a higher intake of fiber, legumes, and vegetables" and something of a more favourable fat intake profile that non-GFCF dieters. That last point also ties into other work from the authors [5].As per the part 1 entry on the nutritional and health related aspects to a GFCF diet for autism (here it is again) there are some details in the Marí-Bauset data that perhaps require some clinical input. I'm thinking specifically about the lower calcium intake in this case, bearing in mind calcium and autism is a very complicated issue (see here) and some continued questioning about the more general link between calcium intake and bone health. The idea that those following a GFCF diet might also present with a lower weight and body mass index (BMI) is also interesting; particularly in light of quite a lot of the chatter in this area focusing on elevated weight and the health effects that can have with autism in mind (see here). I might add that I am in no way endorsing a GFCF diet (or any other diet) for weight loss or management; that's not my job.The slightly more positive idea that those following a GFCF diet might have a better intake of vegetables and legumes probably also tied into a higher intake of fibre is important. I've previously talked about where the extremes of a limited diet can lead when it comes to [some] autism (see here). Although supplementation has its place in terms of as and when specific deficiencies are present and identified (see here) I think most people would agree that consumption of foodstuffs like fruit and vegetables probably do a better job of supplying nutritional needs than a pill (most of the time). In that respect, one might assume that those on a GFCF diet with more favourable vegetable consumption profile, might be slightly less prone to certain deficiencies. As per other research in this area, we would need a little more biological testing to be sure (see here). The specific idea that fibre intake was higher for the GFCF group is also an important point if one considers fibre to be an essential component when it comes to gastrointestinal (GI) motility, again, as has been specifically mentioned with autism in mind (see here).In short, and with more research required, the horror that is a GFCF diet for autism might actually with the right clinical input, not be so horrible...Music: Lily Allen - The Fear.----------[1] Marí-Bauset S. et al. Nutritional Impact of a Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Oct 1.[2] Buie T. The relationship of autism and gluten. Clin Ther. 2013 May;35(5):578-83.[3] Whiteley P. Nutritional management of (some) autism: a case for gluten- and casein-free diets? Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 Aug;74(3):202-7.[4] Marí-Bauset S. et al. Nutritional status of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs): a case-control study. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Jan;45(1):203-12.[5] Marí-Bauset S. et al. Fat intake in children with autism spectrum disorder in the Mediterranean region (Valencia, Spain). Nutr Neurosci. 2015 May 28.----------Marí-Bauset S, Llopis-González A, Zazpe I, Marí-Sanchis A, & Suárez-Varela MM (2015). Nutritional Impact of a Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 26428353... Read more »

Marí-Bauset S, Llopis-González A, Zazpe I, Marí-Sanchis A, & Suárez-Varela MM. (2015) Nutritional Impact of a Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of autism and developmental disorders. PMID: 26428353  

  • October 28, 2015
  • 08:17 PM

Bacteria and fungi we've introduced to Antarctica

by Rosin Cerate in Rosin Cerate

Each of us has an ability I like to call the microbial Midas touch. Everything we get our hands on, whether it's Krubera or Antarctica or the Moon, inevitably becomes contaminated with introduced microbes.The contamination of Antarctica with non-native microbes is an ongoing process, initiated the very moment the first explorer set foot on the continent. In addition to the bacteria and fungi we've unintentionally sown about since then via our personal microbial clouds and digestional leftovers (i.e. poop), microbes have hitched a ride in soil (attached to vehicles, footwear, and vegetables), building materials (e.g. timber), food, plants (greenhouse escapees), and domestic animals (with microbe-rich clouds and poop of their own).I've put together a roughly chronological and very much incomplete account of people bringing specific microorganisms (or microbe-bearing plants and animals) to Antarctica.During the early (heroic) period of Antarctic exploration, base camps were set up on the shore of Ross Island in McMurdo Sound. Huts were constructed at Cape Royds and Cape Evans as part of the 1907-1909 Shackleton expedition and the tragic 1910-1912 Scott expedition, respectively. Decades later, bacteria were successfully cultivated from materials still present at the camps such as human poop, pony poop, dried peas, pearl barley, and straw (for the ponies). The persistent bacteria included a Pseudomonas species, a Bacillus species, and some sort of filamentous Actinobacteria. The latter two were able to produce spores, which can persist in a viable state for long periods of time under harsh environmental conditions. Fungi were also cultivated from the huts, their presence being attributed to human activity.Former whaling station on Deception Island (Source)In the early 20th century, a whaling station was constructed on Deception Island. It was used as a base of operations for processing harvested whales into oil during the 1910s and 1920s. Pigs were kept at the station, so porcine microbes likely ended up in the surrounding environment. A study of the station in the 1960s found evidence of wood-eating fungi Peziza domiciliana (known to show up indoors) and Pholiota spumosa growing on the decaying timber used to construct the station. As there aren't any trees on Antarctica, it's possible these fungi were brought to the continent via the timber or other materials imported to the station.Between the late 1940s and mid 1960s, Chilean stations operating in the South Shetland Islands and northern Antarctic Peninsula were home to sheep and poultry. These animals likely contaminated the local environment with their indigenous microbes.A colony of Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), which is decidedly not native to Antarctica, was accidentally established at Cierva Point on the northern Antarctic Peninsula during the 1954-1955 season. As of 2012, the grass was still there (growing slowly outward via runners), but apparently hasn't been able to spread elsewhere since it doesn't produce seeds. P. pratensis is typically inhabited by fungi of the genus Epichloë (they grow in the spaces between plant cells), although it's not known if they're present in the Antarctic colony. These fungi help the grass to grow, tolerate drought, and fend off herbivores. In return, they gain shelter and food.Fungi used to make cheese were found in soil near Antarctic bases (Source)Soils near Mawson Station (established in 1954) and Casey Station (established in 1964), two of Australia's permanent Antarctic bases, were found to contain a bunch of fungi not otherwise reported elsewhere on the continent, pointing to human introduction. Supporting this, these fungi (many of them species of Penicillium) are common inhabitants of temperate climates and are associated with foods, damp buildings, or trees.The bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis, which resides on human skin, has been detected in soil in near McMurdo Station (USA) and Scott Base (New Zealand), both of which were established on Ross Island in the mid 1950s.Looking briefly beyond sites constructed for human habitation, members of a 1971 expedition to remote Mount Howe in the La Gorce Mountains managed to contaminate the mountain with a Penicillium species. This occurred when one of the cans of food they brought along was opened and found to have grown a nice carpet of fungus. The wind then proceeded to blow fungus spores all over the surrounding area.A study published in 2004 reported the revival of known bacterial residents of the human gastrointestinal system from frozen poop deposited in a waste dump at Fossil Bluff Field Station, Alexander Island some 30-40 years earlier. While the standard approach to dealing with human waste in coastal regions is to dump (heh) it in the sea, further inland it is typically buried in the snow and ice. In this case, folks pooped in empty flour tins and tossed them in a dump. This exhilarating practice was discontinued following the installation of a chemical toilet in the 1970s (which was emptied into a deep crack in the ice).World's worst Antarctic invasion lawn (Poa annua) (Source)Another non-native and potentially fungus-hosting grass by the name of Poa annua appeared near the Polish Antarctic Station Arctowski on King George Island in the summer of 1985-1986. It's suspected the grass originated from the greenhouse it happened to appear outside of. The grass has also been found growing above buried hot water pipes and, being a seed producer, it has spread to nearby piles of debris (moraines) left behind by a shrinking Ecology Glacier. Weirdly, the grass forms dense clumps in Antarctica, yet grows as loose tufts in temperate regions.ReferencesAh Tow L, Cowan DA. 2005. Dissemination and survival of non-in... Read more »

  • October 28, 2015
  • 09:39 AM

Video Tip of the Week: New Reactome Pathway Portal 3.0

by Mary in OpenHelix

The Reactome pathway browser has long been a favorite of ours. We’ve watched it evolve over the years, and continue to appreciate the organization and features that it provides for exploring pathways and interactions across a range of species. From the mailing list recently, I learned about a new version of the Reactome Pathway Portal, […]... Read more »

Croft, D., Mundo, A., Haw, R., Milacic, M., Weiser, J., Wu, G., Caudy, M., Garapati, P., Gillespie, M., Kamdar, M.... (2013) The Reactome pathway knowledgebase. Nucleic Acids Research, 42(D1). DOI: 10.1093/nar/gkt1102  

  • October 28, 2015
  • 08:29 AM

It’s All in the Numbers - Sizes in Nature

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Sizes in nature are hard to compare. Can you believe that there are 200 million insects for every human on Earth? And it’s an unimaginably bigger difference when you compare bacteria number to humans. Sizes vary as well, but why? Why do bacteria have to be so small? It’s about moving molecules through a cell - diffusion.... Read more »

Schulz, H., & Jørgensen, B. (2001) Big Bacteria. Annual Review of Microbiology, 55(1), 105-137. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.micro.55.1.105  

  • October 28, 2015
  • 04:32 AM

Autism symptoms in children with ADHD

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Children with ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity] had more ASD [autism spectrum disorder] symptoms than non-ADHD controls."So said the findings from Jessica Leigh Green and colleagues [1] following their investigation of over 300 6-10 year olds looking at the prevalence of autistic symptoms "in a community-based sample of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and non-ADHD controls." Conners 3 and the DISC-IV represented the analytical starting point pertinent to a diagnosis of ADHD, with autistic symptoms assessed via the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ).As per the starting sentence, those diagnosed with ADHD (n=164) tended to present with quite a few more autistic traits than those without ADHD (n=198) and, importantly: "Greater ADHD symptom severity was associated with greater ASD symptom severity." Boys with ADHD also tended to fare worse than girls with ADHD when it came to the presentation of autistic symptoms. Ergo, yet again (see here) there seems to be something of an important 'connection' between autism and ADHD.I don't think many people with some knowledge and interest in the intersection between autism and ADHD will be surprised by the Green results added to other recent findings [2]. As per the Gillberg concept of ESSENCE (see here) the fuzziness of child behaviour when it comes to identifiying psychopathology almost implies that there will be overlap in the presentation of specific labels. That specific interventions put forward for some autism might also be affecting ADHD-type symptoms more strongly than core autistic traits (see here) offers even more evidence for a connection between diagnoses/symptoms.More research is of course implied in such findings, including that into what other symptoms might overlap the conditions [3] (yes, I'm talking about you motor issues) and the hows and whys of ASD + ADHD translating into a greater risk for future adverse outcomes as per other research in this area (see here). Whether too other factors such as poverty might also affect an autism-ADHD combination type (see here) also requires further study. Realisation that autism nor ADHD seemingly exist in a diagnostic vacuum is an important point raised from this and related work as we move further into the idea of comorbidity clusters (see here).Music: Foxes - Holding onto Heaven.----------[1] Green JL. et al. Autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children with ADHD: A community-based study. Res Dev Disabil. 2015 Sep 30;47:175-184.[2] Miodovnik A. et al. Timing of the Diagnosis of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatrics. 2015 Oct;136(4):e830-7.[3] Biscaldi M. et al. Identification of neuromotor deficits common to autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and imitation deficits specific to autism spectrum disorder. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 Aug 2.----------Green JL, Rinehart N, Anderson V, Nicholson JM, Jongeling B, & Sciberras E (2015). Autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children with ADHD: A community-based study. Research in developmental disabilities, 47, 175-184 PMID: 26433184... Read more »

Green JL, Rinehart N, Anderson V, Nicholson JM, Jongeling B, & Sciberras E. (2015) Autism spectrum disorder symptoms in children with ADHD: A community-based study. Research in developmental disabilities, 175-184. PMID: 26433184  

  • October 28, 2015
  • 01:25 AM

First field observations of one of the world’s rarest whales:

by TakFurTheKaffe in Tak Fur The Kaffe

Scientists have made the first ever field observations of the Omura's whale -- the least known species of whales in the world. The results are published in the open-access Royal Society Open Science journal.... Read more »

Cerchio, S., Andrianantenaina, B., Lindsay, A., Rekdahl, M., Andrianarivelo, N., & Rasoloarijao, T. (2015) Omura’s whales (Balaenoptera omurai) off northwest Madagascar: ecology, behaviour and conservation needs . Royal Society Open Science, 2(10), 150301. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150301  

  • October 27, 2015
  • 11:03 PM

Mysterious Whales Seen Alive for the First Time

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Never heard of an Omura's whale? There's a good reason. Until recently, no one had laid eyes on one in the wild.

Before 2003, the Omura's whale was thought to be simply a dwarf version of another type of whale. Then Japanese scientists studying the whale's DNA and bodily characteristics decided it ought to be its own species, and named it after the late cetologist Hideo Omura. Still, all they had to work with were carcasses caught by whalers or washed up on the beach. They gleaned what in... Read more »

Cerchio, S., Andrianantenaina, B., Lindsay, A., Rekdahl, M., Andrianarivelo, N., & Rasoloarijao, T. (2015) Omura’s whales (Balaenoptera omurai) off northwest Madagascar: ecology, behaviour and conservation needs . Royal Society Open Science, 2(10), 150301. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150301  

  • October 27, 2015
  • 03:58 PM

Intestinal worms ‘talk’ to gut bacteria to boost immune system

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

When you think parasites you probably don’t think of anything helpful. However, this isn’t the case and certain parasites inadvertently help the host by helping themselves. In fact, researchers have discovered how intestinal worm infections cross-talk with gut bacteria to help the immune system.... Read more »

Zaiss MM,, Rapin A,, Lebon L,, Kumar Dubey L,, Mosconi I,, Sarter L,, Piersigilli A,, Menin L,, Walker AW,, Rougemont J,.... (2015) The intestinal microbiota contributes to the ability of helminths to modulate allergic inflammation. Immunity. info:/

  • October 27, 2015
  • 04:04 AM

Gut bacteria profiles in children with autism and asymptomatic siblings

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Joshua Son and colleagues [1] (open-access here) made for some interesting reading recently and various findings including: "no significant difference in macronutrient intake between ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and NT [neurotypical] siblings", "no significant difference in ASD severity scores between ASD children with and without FGID [functional gastrointestinal disorders]" and "No significant difference in diversity or overall microbial composition" when it came to the the examination of stool samples for the trillions of wee beasties that call our gastrointestinal (GI) tract home.As quite an avid follower of the idea that the gut microbiota might be a place to look when it comes to autism research (see here) I was intrigued by the lack of significant differences reported by Son et al based on the examination of 59 children diagnosed with an ASD and 44 'neurotypical' siblings recruited via the Simons Simplex Collection / Interactive Autism Network collaboration. I've highlighted neurotypical by the way, because I personally find this description to be a little problematic (see here) in terms of the assumptions made about autism and not-autism in rather too sweeping a fashion. Hands up if you think you are 'neurotypical' or not...Anyhow, participating families were initially asked to "complete the Pediatric ROME III Version (QPGS-RIII), the GI symptoms form in the Simon Simplex Collection Medical History (v 4.0), the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL/6-18), a one-week food diary for the ASD proband and/or the NT sibling prior to collecting a fecal sample, and provide current information on the child’s height and weight." That stool sample by the way, was collected when children were off antibiotics or probiotics for at least one month, accepting that such formulations can seemingly have much longer term effects.Stool samples were analysed according to two protocols: (i) quantitative PCR (qPCR) for targeted bacterial subgroups - that is looking for genetic signatures of specific families of bacteria on the basis of previous reports, including Sutterella among others (see here), and (ii) a less targeted 'fecal bacterial profile' also looking at the diversity in gut bacteria between the groups.Interestingly, and in contrast to to some other research, there didn't seem to be very much the way of group differences to see between the autism and asymptomatic sibling controls. The lack of Sutterella findings are particularly interesting given the independent data from Williams and colleagues [2] and Wang and colleagues [3] examining this species. I should however highlight the differences between the Williams method of sample collection (intestinal biopsy) and the Son method of collection (stool sample) that may be a factor in any disparity. Williams also based their information on those children specifically with autism and GI issues too; something which might be important to discussions in the next paragraph or so."An alternative explanation for why a study comparing ASD children with NT siblings did not replicate differences reported between ASD children with unrelated controls, is that NT siblings of ASD children have altered microbiomes compared to that of unrelated children." The lack of an asymptomatic, unrelated control group is a weakness of the Son findings as it is in other related research. Aside from all that chatter on the broader autism phenotype (BAP) potentially being a feature of at least some familial autism (see here) coinciding with the issue of shared genetics (see here) in some cases, one must realise that these were siblings sharing quite a few of the same aspects of environment too, and onwards what impact that might have had on gut bacteria.In amongst the various 'lack of significant difference' variables reported, there were a few important differences noted among the groups and sub-groups. So: "Functional constipation was more prevalent in ASD (17 of 59) compared to NT siblings." On top of the volumes of other peer-reviewed research that has come to the same conclusions - functional bowel issues are over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism - this reflects further evidence for the need for lots more investigations in this area in terms of other possible behavioural/somatic connections (see here) and any role for more pathological bowel states (see here).Also: "The mean CBCL scores in NT siblings with FGID, ASD children with FGID and ASD without FGID were comparably higher... when compared to NT children without FGID." I draw back from suggesting that these observations solely point to a role for functional bowel issues on the "emotional, behavioral, and social problems" measured by the CBCL because further examination is required on this matter. The fact that the Son study criteria excluded children with "a past or current history of GI diseases or other serious medical problems" kinda limits what might be said in the same way that the recent Hyman results on the gluten- and casein-free (GFCF) diet for autism did so for that area of study (see here). I don't know if it might be time to start thinking more about autisms over autism and more inclusion of comorbid issues in such research areas.This isn't the first time that 'no significant differences' have been noted when it comes to autism and the gut microbiota (see here) and I doubt that it will be the last time. Much like the other branches of autism science, there probably isn't going to be one specific factor (genetic, epigenetic or biological) that describes all autism from all 'not-autism' and that goes the same for gut bacteria too. What perhaps I do think we have to focus more on in this early years discipline are issues such as gut bacterial diversity (see here) and how that might fit say, into certain types - endophenotypes perhaps - of autism. Whether age and developmental history (including infancy antibiotic history) also might play roles are questions as yet unanswered (Son et al relied on participants aged 7-14 years); as is the idea that diet might play a role in the balance of gut... Read more »

  • October 26, 2015
  • 07:30 PM

Researchers create technology to produce lighter, long-lasting batteries from silicon

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Substantially smaller and longer-lasting batteries for everything from portable electronic devices to electric cars could become a reality thanks to an innovative technology developed by University of Waterloo researchers. Zhongwei Chen, a chemical engineering professor at Waterloo, and a team of graduate students have created a low-cost battery using silicon that boosts the performance and life of lithium-ion batteries.... Read more »

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