Saturday, November 28, 2015

J147: The Anti-aging Drug

A team of researchers at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies has been looking for effective candidates for combating Alzheimer's disease for awhile now.  Recently, they began trials for a drug known as J147 to determine if any effect at all would be observed on mice with Alzheimer's.  This drug is not normally used for Alzheimer's treatment, and was used in a more unique angle of combating Alzheimer's.  Professor David Schubert, who heads the Neurobiology Laboratory at Salk Institute and is the senior author of the study, said, "While most drugs developed in the past 20 years target the amyloid plaque deposits in the brain (which are a hallmark of the disease), none have proven effective in the clinic".  Essentially, the team was looking for different ways to try and affect Alzheimer's disease; they were trying to see if targeting old age would reduce Alzheimer's.

So the overall objective was to see if mice treated with J147 would exhibit characteristics of younger mice to combat Alzheimer's.  And it basically worked.

The older mice treated with J147 performed better on memory and other tests for cognition and also displayed more robust motor movements, healthier blood vessels in the brain, and other improved physiological features.  In addition, any aspects of Alzheimer's that were in the older mice diminished within their brains.  Secondly, it was evident that gene expression and metabolism in the older mice were very similar to younger mice.  This also included markers for increased energy metabolism, which reduced brain inflammation and reduced levels of oxidized fatty acids in the brain.

Although the study did show amazing results in mice, the only way to demonstrate the clinical relevance of the work is to move J147 into human clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease.  "If proven safe and effective for Alzheimer's, the apparent anti-aging effect of J147 would be a welcome benefit," added Schubert.  The team does plan on conducting human trials by next year, and hopefully we may just have an answer to Alzheimer's and even old age.

Here's the link to the article with a paper referenced as well:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The EmDrive Thruster: How to Break Physics

So physics may be a little broken or not working as expected.

That's what a team of NASA's best at Eagleworks Laboratories are trying to determine with the new EmDrive developed by Roger Shawyer.  This drive is held in great secrecy at NASA, with little details emerging from what the thruster does in its entirety.  Yet some information has been revealed by engineer Paul March on the NASA spaceflight forum on how it works and why it breaks physics.  To say it breaks physics, exactly how does a person or something do that?  How is this controversial thruster bend physics at all?

It generates thrust from nothing.  No input of energy is required.

To explain, as March describes it, "the Eagleworks lab successfully built and installed a 2nd generation magnetic damper which helps reduce stray magnetic fields in a vacuum chamber. The addition reduced magnetic fields by an order of magnitude inside the chamber, and also decreased Lorentz force interactions."  For those of us that aren't rocket scientists, the drive basically bends microwaves into a closed conical shaped container which somehow generates thrust into the wide end of the container.  Even NASA is still puzzled as to why this generates thrust.

The initial test showed some amount of thrust, but was considered questionable due to a contamination by thermal expansion.  Essentially, they couldn't prove at first that thrust came from nothing due to heat.  However, this amount of heat is being analyzed by the research team to develop an integrated test which aims to alleviate thermally induced errors altogether.  Even though the EmDrive is still within early testing, the theory does work, and thrust is generated from seemingly nothing.

Granted, the model that was built is somewhat small, about the size of a chair.  But the possibilities are endless.  The following paragraphs are an outline of what NASA and the engineers at Eagleworks Laboratories plan to do next about the drive.

Moving forward, NASA’s short term objective is to conduct a diverse array of tests on a quantum vacuum plasma thruster (a similar propellantless engine flatter in shape than the EmDrive), in hopes of gaining independent verification and validation of the thruster. Initial IV&V testing will be supported by the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, making use of a stainless steel vacuum chamber which has the capacity to detect force at a single-digit micronewton level, called a low-thrust torsion pendulum.

After that, a similar round of low-thrust torsion pendulum tests will then be conducted at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before comparing the findings. It’s also reported that the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory has contacted the lab about conducting Cavendish Balance-type testing of the IV&V shipset. Ideally, this test would allow Johns Hopkins to measure the amount of gravitational force exerted in propellantless engines.

 Granted, we are still a long ways away from self propelled space craft, or the ability to use this drive on future vehicles in space, but this is a major breakthrough in spacecraft technology.  With further refinement, microwave thrusters could drastically cut the cost of satellites and space stations, and potentially even make it possible to travel to distant planets, like Mars, in weeks rather than months or years.

Check out the details of this story at the following links: 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The New Way to Combat Memory Loss

We all wonder how to do it.  Whether it be for exams or anything else, we all want to try and figure out how to remember things easier and to not forget them.  Well, a research team located within The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System (VA) and University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine recently discovered that by increasing a crucial cholesterol-binding membrane protein in nerve cells within the brain, learning and memory functions were greatly improved within mice.

Granted this is mice that were used in this study.  However, mice and humans do share similar molecular structure and function to one another.  If anything, testing on mice can provide a fantastic outlook on what a drug or a medical technique would do to a human.  Therefore, it could become way easier to remember all kinds of things in the future, including your girlfriend's or wife's anniversary (heaven forbid that you forget that date).

"By bringing back this protein, you're actually bringing cholesterol back to the cell membrane, which is very important for forming new synaptic contacts" said author Brian Head, a research scientist with the VA and associate professor at UC San Diego.  By doing so, scientists have a much greater understanding of neuroplasticity (the ability of neural pathways to grow in response to new stimuli).  This was all observed when the membrane protein called caveolin-1 (Cav-1) was injected directly into a region of the brain known as the hippocampus in adult and "aged" mice (older mice).  As a result, there was improved neuron growth within the mice and a better retrieval of contextual memories (responding to past stimuli like freezing in place in fear in a location where they had received electrical shocks before).  As a result, the scientists are also looking into other ways that Cav-1 could be used.  "We're very interested in studying whether we can manipulate Cav-1 in other areas of the brain," Mandyam, associate professor at TSRI and co-first author of the study with Jan M. Schilling of UC San Diego and the VA, said.

So above all, be on the lookout for a new drug on the shelves in your local CVS hopefully within the next decade or so, cause Cav-1 looks like it really works.  Just think, improved memory and learning all through the injection of Cav-1 into your brain.

Check out the story at this link below:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Weirdest Star in the Galaxy

Between two constellations in the sky, there's an old star that we cannot see with a naked eye.  It lies between the constellations of "Cygnus the swan" and Lyra "the harp".  Now where it sits, there normally isn't a lot going on in terms of other stars, events in the galaxy, or really anything.  In addition, this is one of the many stars that the Kepler Space Telescope (which has been viewing this star for the past 4 years) has been watching to view tiny dips in the light emitted by this star, indicating that a planet had transitioned in front of this star.  However, over the past couple of years, one particular star has been emitting some strange light patterns.  Not necessarily one dip of light, or two.  Or ten.  Or a hundred.  In fact, it would seem that this star has in its orbit a massive collection of objects, constantly circling the star.  Now this pattern is completely normal for a young star, as it would have dust and debris spinning around the star while it is forming.  There's just one problem about this situation.

The star under question, is an old mature star, not a young one.

And no other star viewed by the Kepler Space Telescope, out of the 150,000 stars viewed, has experienced the same event.

This amount of material orbiting around the star is large enough to block out numerous photons that the telescope could see, meaning they aren't small objects at all.  And what's more interesting, is that if nature just blindly set the mass around the star, it would have consolidated by now.  Unless this is a recent event, gravity normally would have condensed the material by pulling it into the star.  Since the materials are there, and this is a mature star, something doesn't add up. 

Scientists have been trying to come up with theories and explanations as to why this is happening, or what is causing this event.  One theory, for example, is that the debris could be the remains of comets dragged into that star's area by another star that came exceptionally close, according to researchers.  Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, has been working recently on this extraordinary event.  Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star.  “When [Boyajian] showed me the data, I was fascinated by how crazy it looked,” Wright told me. “Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.”

Does this not sound like a completely bizarre circumstance?

Now I'm not saying aliens are real or are not real, we have no idea what is going on at this star.  The next step in this endeavor is to determine if any other signals are being emitted from the star or the objects, like a radio signal.  In fact, the researchers want to point a massive radio dish at the unusual star around January, to see if it emits radio waves at frequencies associated with technological activity.  If anything crazy or unknown happens, a follow-up would happen almost instantly on the event.  “If we saw something exciting, we could ask the director for special allotted time on the VLA,” Wright told me. “And in that case, we’d be asking to go on right away.”  For now, however, we are left to look at the stars and wonder what mystery awaits at this unusual star.

For more information, check out the story at this link:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Water on Mars Confirmed!

A Nasa image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows dark, narrow, 100-metre streaks on the surface from summer streams of salty water. "What we are going to announce today, Mars is not the dry arid planet that we thought of in the past.  Today, we are going to announce that under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars." - Jim Green, Director of planetary science at NASA headquarters

As of today, strong evidence has been found on Mars to support that liquid water can exist and does exist on the Martian surface.  Specifically, salty water (water containing perchlorates) has been found on Mars creating dark streaks along the surface.

As of this moment, this is a brand new story so not a whole lot is known about what exactly is going on on Mars.  As far as we know, the water only happens occasionally on the surface in regards to the distance from the Sun and other factors.  "Nevertheless," as Stuart Clark says on CNN, "the news that there is (occasionally) flowing water on the surface of Mars boosts the chances of using it to support astronauts when we launch a crewed mission to the Red Planet."

In addition, this opens up the possibility of some sort of microbe or form of life that could exist on Mars.  Could there be microbes in the water, or microbes that use the water as a source of nutrients and energy that exist on the surface?  Or could there be a different life form that uses the water on Mars?  The questions are endless, the possibilities immense, but we now know in almost certainty: WATER EXISTS ON MARS.

Here are the links to the CNN story and video:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wasp Venom Kills Cancer Cells

Now wait a minute, who thought to try and see if this worked?

Well it does!  The Brazilian wasp Polybia paulista protects itself from predators by secreting a venom that contains the toxin MP1.  This toxin selectively kills cancer cells while leaving the normal cells completely alone.  The toxin basically accomplishes this by disrupting the cell membrane in cancerous cells, causing the cells to lyse (basically create holes in the cell membrane that erupt the cell's inner guts out of the cell membrane) and die.  Interestingly, the host's normal cells are left intact, indicating that there may be a property in cancerous cell membranes that may differ slightly from a normal cell, allowing MP1 to act on the cell membrane. 

Unfortunately, that's about what the scientists know at this point.  They are currently working to create model membranes and expose certain lipids and components of the membranes to MP1, and figure out just how exactly the wasp's toxin selectively kills cancer cells.  In addition, more information can be found here:

Now I'm not suggesting that one go to Brazil, and sit outside until a Brazilian wasp stings him or her.  Please don't do that, I never said that was a good idea.  But, maybe someday, we can use the toxin MP1 to formulate a combatant against cancer cells.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Giant Viruses in Siberia?

A group of french scientists are working on reanimating a prehistoric virus from underground deep within Siberia, a giant virus from almost 30,000 years ago!

The virus, known as Mollivirus sibericum, is a giant virus.  The average size of a normal virus is about 250–400 nm, while Mollivirus sibericum measures about over half of a micron.  Now to us, this doesn't seem very big.  When looking under a light microscope (microscopes found in everyday labs), you can't really see any viruses.  But with these giant viruses, you actually can see them through a light microscope using a high powered lens.

Now the nature of this virus is unknown.  We don't exactly know what it will do to us humans, animals, or plants quite yet.  And don't worry, as the article states, they will only reanimate the virus if they are absolutely sure that the virus won't harm animals or humans.  The article and links to the research papers and data can be found here:

It will be interesting to see what these giant prehistoric viruses do and how they interact with our world now.  As more and more companies and groups of researchers dive deeper into the ice to tap into mineral deposits, many interesting microorganisms, some from long ago, could be discovered.  The risks of that, however, should be kept in mind.  As Jean-Michel Claverie said when she talked to Science Alert, "If we are not careful, and we industrialise these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as small pox that we thought were eradicated.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Reprogramming Cancer Cells

Wait what?  We can reprogram cancer cells?

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, US, injected mRNA into the cancerous cells to inhibit their growth completely.  So the cancer cells would essentially be told to stop reproducing, or as Sarah Knapton wrote in her article in The Telegraph, "it was much like applying brakes to a speeding car" (Knapton).  So through this experiment, to answer the above question, yes.  We might have found a way to stop cancer from growing, mutating, and spreading.

However, this is a brand new experiment, conducted this past week.  Although the test was only applied on human cells, the scientists hope to target larger tumors in the near future to "shut them off".  So far, the group has mainly focused on the effects "in very aggressive human cell lines from breast cancer and bladder cancer" (Knapton).

You can check out the article here:

Granted, as said above, this is a brand new experiment, so the full paper and data are published on the journal Nature Cell Biology, and an account is needed to read the specifics of the experiment and the results.  But this is a huge step in stopping cancer!  As noted by Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, “There’s a long way to go before we know whether these findings, in cells grown in a laboratory, will help treat people with cancer. But it’s a significant step forward in understanding how certain cells in our body know when to grow, and when to stop. Understanding these key concepts is crucial to help continue the encouraging progress against cancer we’ve seen in recent years.”

Sunday, August 30, 2015

6 of the Deadliest Viruses in the World

Viruses just seem to always pop up and cause havoc somewhere in the world.  We continue to fight these diabolical microbes constantly, and some of the viruses we encounter are so terrifying and deadly its astounding to realize that these guys exist in the world around us!  So here's a list of some  of the deadliest viruses in the world for you to read about, learn about, and stock up on hand soap and hand-sanitizer after reading this to try and not get sick from these.

6. Influenza

Surprisingly, a majority of people encounter this virus every year.  It causes the flu across the world, and as many as 500,000 people die every year.  The constant problem with this virus is how much it mutates.  Multiple strains can appear at any time, the most recent strain that rocked the news world was the swine flu in 2009.  Approximately 90 million people were infected across the world when the swine flu hit.  Even worse, the most horrible influenza virus pandemic was in 1918, which was known as the Spanish flu.  About 40 percent of the population on Earth in 1918 was infected, and wiped out about 50 million people in just two years.  Although vaccines for the influenza virus exists, the mutations and strains are difficult to stop.  Modern day vaccines only cover about 40 percent of known strains, while the other 60 percent are free to roam.  If a strain exists today like the Spanish flu strain, then we could be in for a very serious and very bad flu season.

5. Smallpox

For thousands of year, humans across Earth were ravaged by the virus known as smallpox.  The mortality rate claimed 1 out of 3 people that were infected, even killing 300 million people in the 19th century.  For those that survived the infection, the virus left them with permanent scars and even blindness.  We can't even blame animals for this disease; smallpox can only be carried and transferred by humans.  Just be thankful that this virus has a vaccine and was successfully eradicated in 1980.

4. Rabies

Did you know that without a vaccine, this virus has almost a 100 percent mortality rate?  This virus destroyed anyone it touched, driving them mad and killing them.  Even back in the ancient world, anyone bitten by a dog with rabies was killed by the virus after a couple of days, causing many to panic and fear the disease.  Luckily, the disease can be treated with a series of vaccines if the person infected is treated right away.  If not, the virus attacks the central nervous system and kills the host.  It can even cause hallucinations, violent behavior, and delirium among those infected.  Can you imagine how deadly this disease would be if it were airborne?  The zombie apocalypse would be right around the corner if that were the case.

3. HIV

If anyone had ever wanted to design a virus of the most extreme conditions, this would be the virus.  Past through bodily fluids and sex (which we do a lot), the virus attacks the host's immune system, and weakens the host by reducing the white blood cells and making the person more susceptible to any other disease.  Even modern day antiviral drugs can't stop this virus, we can only prolong the ticking clock that counts down to the infected's demise.  Ever since it's discovery in 1980, 36 million people have been claimed by HIV.  Let's just hope that a vaccine is discovered soon so we can finally halt the endless tirade of HIV.

2. Marburg

In 1967, this virus was discovered in Germany.  Unfortunately, some of the group was killed from the virus, after testing African green monkeys from Uganda.  Much like number 1 on this list, the virus causes hemorrhagic fever, shock, organ failure, and death.  The first outbreak only had a mortality rate of 25 percent, but the outbreak in the 1998-2000 outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo had a higher mortality rate of 80 percent.  There is no vaccine made for this virus, and Uganda still reports some cases as of 2012.  Even crazier, was that an American tourist contracted the virus while exploring a cave in Uganda, and came back to Colorado and developed the symptoms.  He was treated, but the virus may now exist on American soil.

1. Ebola

Discovered in 1976, the Ebola virus is still new to the scene in terms of how long a virus has plagued humanity.  But there may not be one that is as scary.  With the most recent outbreak in 2014, the virus has a 90 percent mortality rate.  No vaccine against it exists, although some possible vaccines may be in the works.  Causing organ failure and death in almost all of its victims, Ebola brought widespread panic across Africa and even the world.  The country of Liberia even declared a state of emergency while the virus ravaged its people, closing off its borders to try and stop the onslaught of Ebola.  The scariest aspect of Ebola may not even be in its mortality rate.  Ebola has multiple strains, not just one strain.  So like the Influenza virus, we have no idea if another strain may mutate and cause even more havoc across the world anytime soon.  And although it may originate from fruit bats and some monkeys, the virus spreads quickly from human to human through bodily fluids.  So just how deadly could another Ebola strain be if one were to show up in the next couple of years before we even develop a vaccine against the strain in 2014?

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Theory of Eukaryotic Cell Origin

Within the cells of Eukaryotes lie many organelles.  The Mitochondria and Chloroplasts are examples of said organelles that provide the Eukaryotic cell with a certain function or process that benefits the cell.  Interesting enough, these two organelles actually have their own DNA, separate from the DNA of the cell itself.  So what does that propose?

Did the Mitochondria and Chloroplasts originate within the cell from the beginning?  Or were they actually bacterium that were absorbed slowly over time into the cell and assimilated?

This is the Endosymbiotic theory.  The theory states that the Mitochondria and the Chloroplasts originated as bacterium long before Eukaryote cells became what they are today.  Based on the information that the Mitochondria and the Chloroplasts have their own separate and unique DNA and share similar characteristics with bacteria, it is very possible that this theory is indeed true!  Here is a link that discusses the theory and what it all means:

So taking from that information, one can see how this theory poses a possible solution to the origin of the Eukaryotic cell that we see today!  The organelles could have originated from a family of bacteria and were at one point assimilated during a primary endosymbiosis action. 

Now this isn't a relatively new theory, it's been around for some time.  So none of this may seem like new news to some people.  But I decided to investigate further, and ask another question along with what was stated above.

If the Mitochondria and the Chloroplasts were a bacterium that was swallowed up by the cell, could other pieces within the cell have similar origins?  Say, the nucleus?

Now the nucleus is evident in almost if not all living cells found in the world today.  But what's strange is how different the nucleus is in a Eukaryotic cell when compared to the rest of the microbial world around us.  Bacteria and Archaea have a nucleoid, which is not membrane bound, quite the opposite of Eukaryotic cells.  So where did our membrane bound nucleus come from?

There is another theory that has been circulating around within the past 15 or so years of Viral Eukaryogenesis.  Basically, it proposes that the nucleus in our cells could have been a virus.

Yup, a virus.  One that had a complex DNA genome within that when it infected the ancient Eukaryotic cell, the host genes and the viral genes combined to create a virion that established itself within the host cell; that when the virus introduced mRNA translation, linear chromosomes, and other viral characteristics to the host cell, it created a microenvironment where the virus had a much more efficient and beneficial role.  This theory is touched upon in these two links, the first being a quick summary of the theory and the second being a more detailed analysis of Viral Eukaryogenesis and Endosymbiosis:

The second link is a long read, but it presents some absolutely amazing evidence that supports the theories listed in this post.

Above all, these theories aren't conclusive and set in stone, they are still theories.  But did our cells originate from bacterial, archaeal, and viral ancestors?  Were we the product of our ancient simple cells assimilating other forms of microbial life and become a more efficient cell?  We may eventually prove these theories to be utterly true, or come up with different evidence that would support an entirely different theory.  But the evidence is a little overwhelming, and our cells may have originated from Mother Nature deciding to have a little fun playing Dr. Frankenstein.

Basis of the website

Hello everyone!  Please feel welcome to read, comment on, and share the posts I put up here with others!  And if I state anything that may be wrong or incorrect in the slightest, don't hesitate to correct me!  We are all learning new things each and every day, and not even I know everything.  Keep on exploring the world around you, and let's make this world a better place through science!