Monday, July 26, 2010

investigating the Science of Death in Living Colour.

Pictured is an optical micrograph of cells 24 hours after initiation of apoptosis. The image combines coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) microscopy and two-photon excited fluorescence (TPEF) to show spatial distributions of major biomolecules such as proteins (red), RNA (green), DNA (blue) and lipids (grey) during apoptosis. Here, proteins abandon the nucleolus, accumulating in a highly irregular distribution in the nucleoplasm, and genomic DNA condenses and partially segregates from the proteins. (from the cover page of PNAS, July 20.)

Arguably, the most celebrated phenomenon studied by biologists, the science of programmed cell-death or Apoptosis, is essential to normal development, healthy immune system function, cancer prevention and a plethora of other functions. The pace of investigation in this already deadly field would now surely hotten up with the monitoring of Real-Time Dynamics of apoptotic cells in Living Color.
New science featured on the cover of the current issue of PNAS, University at Buffalo (UB) scientists have developed a biophotonic imaging approach capable of monitoring in real-time, the transformations that cellular macromolecules undergo during programmed cell death.
To develop the know-how of efficiently capturing transient and high-resolution cellular images of the phenomenon, an interdisciplinary UB team of biologists, chemists and physicists, led by Paras N. Prasad, executive director of the UB Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, utilized an advanced biophotonic approach that combines three techniques: a nonlinear, optical imaging system CARS (Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering), TPEF (two-photon excited fluorescence), which images living tissue and cells at deep penetration and Fluorescence Recovery after Photobleaching (FRAP), to measure dynamics of proteins.
This approach allows one to to monitor in a single scan, four different types of images, characterizing the distribution of proteins, DNA, RNA and lipids, the 4 major macromolecules, in the cell. The resulting composite image integrates in one picture the information on all four types of biomolecules, with each type of molecule represented by a different color: proteins in red, RNA in green, DNA in blue and lipids in grey, as shown on the PNAS cover. This kind of Multiplex imaging provided new information on the rate at which proteins diffuse through the cell nucleus, the UB scientists say.
Researchers noted that before apoptosis was induced, the distribution of proteins in the cell was relatively uniform, but once apoptosis develops, nuclear structures disintegrate, the proteins become irregularly distributed and their diffusion rate slows down.
This ability of dynamic mapping of molecular transformations could potentially help realize the promise of customized molecular medicine, in which chemotherapy, for example, can be precisely targeted to cellular changes exhibited by individual patients. It can also be a valuable drug development tool for screening new compounds. With the increased understanding of cellular events at the molecular level, where one can clearly visualise the changing dynamics of DNA, RNA and lipids during the cell's disintegration, one could specifically use it for monitoring how specific cancer drugs affect individual cells.
The advancement in Biophotonic-tools to effectively investigate, and perhaps use it for predictive and therapeutic purposes has opened up the field of customized bio-medicine. Moreover, this could be employed towards the study of new fundamental cellular investigations and structural reorganization throughout the mitotic cell cycle.

* Biophotonic probing of macromolecular transformations during apoptosis.  
   Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; 107 (29)
* Wikipedia for basic information on Apoptosis, (Bio)-Photonics, Cancer, Immune regulations etc.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

scary thing is...can get away with Temper-Issues in some cultures, not in some others!

Anger is “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,” according to Charles Spielberger, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as do the levels of adrenaline, and noradrenaline.
Getting angry might help you get your way if you're negotiating with European Americans, but watch out – in negotiations with East Asians, getting angry may actually hurt your cause. That's the conclusion of a new study on how people from different ethnic groups react to anger in their negotiations.
Most scientific research on negotiations, done on western populations have shown that anger is a good strategy – it gets you larger concessions than other emotions, like happiness, or no emotions. Recent work done by Hajo Adam, of INSEAD in France, who coauthored with William Maddux of INSEAD and Aiwa Shirako of the University of California - Berkeley, noticed differences in emotions in people working from different ethnicities. They noticed that sometimes people get angry, and react differently to a given situation. He thought this differential-response to a particular emotion could be due to intercultural differences.
The experiment used volunteers at the University of California - Berkeley. Half were Americans of European ethnicity and half were Asian or Asian American.
Each student took part in a negotiation on a computer and were told that they were negotiating with another human participant, when actually they were negotiating with a computer program. The student was supposed to be selling an electronic gadget, and making deals on sale-issues like warranty period and price. In some negotiations, the computer said it was angry about the negotiation; in others, it did not mention emotion.
European Americans made larger concessions to an angry opponent than to a non-emotional opponent. Asians and Asian Americans, however, made smaller concessions if their opponent was angry rather than non-emotional.
A subsequent experiment suggested that this may happen because of cultural norms about whether it's appropriate to get mad. 
This experiment started with telling the participants whether or not expressing anger was acceptable during the study. Asians and Asian Americans made greater concessions to an angry opponent if they were told that expressing anger was acceptable. European Americans were less likely to make concessions if they were told that anger was unacceptable.
When anger expressions are perceived as inappropriate, "People tend to react negatively. They no longer want to concede," says Adam. "They may even want to shut down and potentially penalize the counterpart for acting inappropriately." "I think what's important is that one person expressing emotions really affects another person's feelings, thoughts, and behavior," says Adam. "And these
reactions to emotional displays can critically depend on a person's cultural background." 
Do different genders follow the same ethnic-vulnerability pattern? We don't know yet.

* Association for Psychological Science, 2010, July 20. Getting angry can help negotiations in some cultures, hurt it in others.  
* ScienceDaily 
* Image-
* Research review on anger in psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 1999, Volume 55 Issue 3, Pages 353 - 363

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

the Science, nonsense and consequence of the BP Oil-spill.

The notorious BP (British Petroleum-the MNC petrochem. giant) oil spill  (also referred to as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the BP oil disaster or the Macondo blowout) is a massive ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that is one of the largest offshore spills in the history of our planet with hundreds of millions of gallons spilled to date. It stems from a sea floor oil gusher that resulted from the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion which killed 11 platform workers and injured 17 others.

Volume of the spill
scientists estimate that the well is spewing out 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude-oil per day and possibly even more. The previous best estimates fell in the range of 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day. The resulting oil slick covers at least 2,500 square miles (6,500 km2) of pristine marine-area threatening hundreds of miles of beaches, wetlands and estuaries along the northern Gulf coast. Moreover, changes in weather as well as the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current, which brings water from the gulf around Florida and up the Atlantic Coast. This could affect the outcome, with a possible speed of 100 miles (160 km) a day.

Wheres the fluid headed?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US currently tracks wind and tidal data in the gulf, which offers an initial, course-grained look at the likely path of the oil. Now a team of computer scientists from Texas, North Carolina, and Indiana are looking to offer a finer picture of where the oil is likely to pile up, particularly as it ravages through the web of channels in the wetlands off the Louisiana coast [more here]. 
Among the biggest questions of the Deepwater Horizon spill is how much oil remains underwater and where's it heading. Now marine scientists are using SONAR to track undersea oil plumes though they are'nt sure whether the technique would succeed.
Slick-model simulations by scientists have suggested that it's "anyones' guess" when the oil would  reach the deep waters of the Atlantic! Depending on the behavior of local eddy-currents, it could take anywhere from 70 days to 6 months.

The HUGE ecological-cost of the irresponsible Spill.

The question is the following: Does our irrepressible greed have the right to kill, murder and plunder all, everything? Will we stop at nothing? O.K, now some facts.

The fragile marine ecosystem in the gulf of Mexico area and in-line of the spill flow is now hugely threatened. The future of the flora/fauna of the area remains bleak as there's a real and present threat of a total ecosystem-washout with the BP and US-govt. agencies being unable to stem the flow of the oil and/or neutralize the effects of the  viciously-viscous, dead, thick-fluid.
Among the many affected species are the Sea-Turtles (including the Ridley and the Mississippi. Loggerhead turtles) which incubate their eggs in the sands of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Incidentally, the gender of the turtle embryos gets determined by the temperature of the nest, in a time-frame of aprrox. 50-days. Scientists and volunteers are now planning a may-day evacuation of the eggs to cleaner areas to resurrect whatever is left. 

A total of 21 whale and dolphin species that routinely inhabit the northern Gulf are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The greatest threat is if whales get oil in the filtering structure in their mouths, which could lead to starvation and death. Also, when marine mammals come to the surface to breathe they may inhale hydrocarbon vapors that could potentially result in lung injuries.

 Manatees (above in pic.) are beginning to spread out along their full range of summer habitat in the Gulf, making them particularly vulnerable to the gushing oil-contaminated waters.
Apart from the glamorous marine mega-fauna and oil spill poster animals, there are numerous others which are on the brink of total-annihilation. 

Nesting and migrating shorebirds such as plovers, sandpipers and oystercatchers which nest on beaches and barrier islands are especially vulnerable to oil washing ashore onto their nesting-grounds, and so are birds which dive in the water in search of fish etc.

 The brown pelican (other dramatic pictures of affected animals is here) has not had an easy time of it. The gangling birds were only removed from the endangered species list last year, and they are already facing a very-serious threat.
The humble Fish, Shellfish and Crabs get the rough deal as the fragile delta estuary  ecosystem , which is also the breeding ground for a lot of fish, shellfish and crabs, gets drwoned under a thick layer of sticky oil. Also the North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Gulf-Sturgeon, Marsh-Rice Rat, Shrimps, Oysters, Planktons, Pancake-Batfish are all forced to face a grim situation as the assault of Man's greed mounts!

Sargassum, a floating seaweed, plays an important role in the marine ecosystem, harboring fish larvae, young turtles, and other marine life. Increasing evidence suggests that the Gulf of Mexico is the source for sargassum habitats in the Atlantic Ocean; and the oil spill could as well, spell the end-of-line for this benevolent fragile-weed.

Dispersants-Toxicity issues, and effect on natural oil-scavengers:
Dispersants, which include molecules called surfactants, work much like dish detergent, helping clean up oil spills by breaking oil blobs into tiny droplets. Microbes in the ocean can then gobble up the droplets more easily. The BP crews have applied more than 37,850 liters of the chemical to the gulf each day over the past month, a small portion of it in the deep ocean; and concerns over the toxic effects of the dispersants have been growing. In lab tests, toxicologists have found that concentrations of Corexit, BP's dispersant of choice, can kill shrimp or fish. The other effect, of course, is that the chemical may undermine the cleanup efforts of its own microbial allies. A few dozen microbes (like Alcanivorax borkumensis) eat oil in the ocean, but they do it in different ways. Over time, the surfactants in dispersants like Corexit might affect the ability of Alcanivorax and other surfactant-makers like it to eat oil.

May we all rest in peace! (the logo in the background is of BP).

Science-magazine  : has well-researched articles devoted exclusively to the oil-spill. This write-up acknowledges some of the data from it's articles. 

The oil-soaked images are by photographer Charlie Riedel on a beach on Louisiana's East Grand Terre Island. They are from the following URL :

Thursday, July 1, 2010

genetic variations, the key to elixir of life?

    Mortality is in the genes!

Whether you're going to celebrate your birth-centenary breathing well, or stop at 85, panting heavily depends, at least partially on your genetic signature - says a new study conducted by a team led by Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts.
They have shown that a cluster of 150 variations in DNA sequence can be used to predict — with 77% accuracy — whether a person has the genetic wherewithal to live to 100 years old; this after rigorous trekking through the genomes of more than 1,000 centenarians, scoring about 300,000 sequence variations for possible links to exceptionally long lifespans.
The scientific information that emerged was that a complex mix of genetic variants, potentially affecting everything from endocrine-system mediated bone metabolism to stress responses and brain-cell function was associated with its regulation. Some of the discovered variants could play a potential role in staving off debilitating age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's and the notoriously-ubiquitous cardiovascular diseases.
This complexity of regulation of life-span involving several systems, seems perfectly logical as the search for single 'messiah'-genes with big effects on longevity, has not proven fruitful.
For long, and with good reason, longevity was known to be primarily a matter of environment and genetics is thought to contribute to only about 25-30% of the variation in survival to 85 years of age. As it turns out, in order to live beyond the 85's, you can as well, hold your folks responsible!

A vital-key to longer life-span may be postponing age-related illnesses, and 90% of centenarians remain disability-free into their early 90s, says Perls. They categorized 90% of the centenarians into 19 groups based on the pattern of genetic variations they had, which correlated with patterns in the frequency and age of onset of debilitating diseases such as dementia and high blood pressure. Of course, the science here, does not address instances where larger and more diverse populations, are involved, but if true, the researchers suggest that the key factor for achieving extreme longevity is not a lack of genetic variants that predispose a person to disease, but rather the enrichment of longevity-associated variants that perhaps resist and overcome disease-associated risks.

A potential for misuse, of course is with greedy corporate Pharma/genetic testing -giants who could peddle the information for changes/corrections in the genetic make-up of an individual as an elixir of life.....and the sunny side could be that people can get a screening done before buying life-insurance!

* Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans
   Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1190532