Science Reporting

Red and white meat equally bad for cholesterol according to a new study

New research by researchers at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) reverses the belief about the consumption of red and white meat. According to the “popular belief” consuming white meat has a lesser effect on the increase in cholesterol level than consuming red meat. However, the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was the first to surprise the researchers themselves.

According to their findings, there would be no difference between consuming high levels of red meat or white poultry. Both contributed to higher blood cholesterol levels than, for example, the consumption of a comparable amount of plant proteins during observations. And this regardless of the high levels of saturated fat in the diet of the patients examined: “Their effects on cholesterol are identical when the levels of saturated fat are equivalent,” reports Ronald Krauss, the senior author of the study and professor of medicine at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

According to the results, consuming large amounts of saturated fat increases the concentrations of large cholesterol-enriched LDL (low-density lipoprotein) particles that still have a weaker connection with cardiovascular disease than smaller LDLs. Also according to the results, both red and white meat increased the quantities of large LDLs.

These results contrast with the various recommendations regarding the use of white meat compared to red meat, which has become quite unpopular in recent years among health professionals and those who are more attentive to nutrition. In any case, this “equality” between red meat and white meat can currently only be linked to their effects on blood cholesterol: other possible negative effects of eating red meat compared to white meat, such as a greater contribution to heart disease, would still be at stake.

Science Reporting

Six billion people may be at risk of dengue fever by the end of the century

A new study takes into account the great threat of dengue fever that is spreading alarmingly in various parts of the world. According to the research, which appeared in Nature Microbiology, the relevant virus could be a source of real risk for more than 6 billion people by the end of this century. Specifically, 20% of the world’s population could contract the virus in 2080 in the most terrible, but also the most pessimistic, hypothesis.

The areas where the spread could increase, and in a fairly massive way, are the southeastern United States, the coastal areas of China and Japan and the internal regions of Australia. These results were obtained by a research group that analyzed in particular data on climate change, urbanization and the planet’s resources to understand the indirect spread of the virus.

In any case, the major changes, at the level of spread, are expected in those areas where dengue fever is already a very real danger and where the disease can be defined as endemic. There is talk of various areas of the African continent, in particular the regions of the Sahel and southern Africa. Surprisingly, the data analyzed does not show a future greater spread of the disease in Europe compared to other areas further away from Africa and less subject to illegal immigration from the latter.

In fact, climate change will contribute to the expansion of dengue, as Oliver Brady, assistant to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and one of the authors of the study, points out, but other important factors will also be the increase of the human population and urbanization in tropical areas. All these factors will allow mosquitoes to spread and thrive and therefore the virus it carries will do the same.

Science Reporting

Scientists convert type A blood into universal blood by means of intestinal bacteria

The problem with blood donation very often does not lie in the lack of donors but in the lack of compatible blood. For a transfusion to be successful, the blood of the donor and the recipient must be compatible. The differentiations are established on the basis of particular sugar molecules on the surface of the red blood cells and if a person receives non-compatible blood special blood antigens are set in motion causing the immune system to eliminate it.

However, type O blood lacks these antigens and is therefore considered as “universal” because it can also be donated to patients with blood groups A, B and AB. It is in fact quite important in cases of first aid, that is in those cases in which it is not possible to use compatible blood but it is necessary to perform an emergency transfusion. Blood group O is, however, much rarer than the others.

Now, a new research group has tried to transform type A blood into universal blood by removing its own antigens using enzymes present in particular bacteria living in the human intestine.

These bacteria usually attach themselves to the internal walls of the intestine to feed on mucinae, particular substances coated with sugars and proteins. These sugars are very similar to those that differentiate blood groups.

Based on this knowledge, the research group of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, has cut pieces of DNA of the intestinal bacterium in question, the Flavonifractor plautii, performing laboratory tests to understand the feasibility of induced removal of these sugars.

The researchers were successful: the enzymes of the bacteria also performed their work in human blood. These results are very promising in relation to the possibility of creating universal blood from major blood groups, although much more work and research is needed to safely remove all antigens.

Science Reporting

Portable DNA sequencers will allow millions of new species to be discovered

Today, determining the existence of new animal species has become easier because it is “enough” to identify the DNA profile to be sure of being faced with a new species, a differentiation that until a few years ago could only be made after long and difficult tests.

However, DNA analysis is a process that can only be carried out in the laboratory, which means that researchers who go “on an adventure,” ie those who wander around the various habitats and environmental ecosystems in search of new species, may find it very difficult to capture the species and take them to the laboratory for analysis.

It is in this context that a project carried out by researcher Paul Hebert of the University of Guelph in Canada could prove very important. The researcher, together with his team, will lead various expeditions that will use a sort of portable genomic laboratory that will allow you to analyze the samples “in the field.” The researchers intend to identify more than 2 million new species of multi-cellular creatures in a global effort funded to the tune of 180 million dollars.

“Biodiversity science is entering a very golden age,” Hebert himself says in an article on the Science website. To understand if a specimen is part of a new species could take away now only a few hours of time and especially a few cents in cost.

It will be a sort of analysis like the one done with bar codes, in this case done with portable DNA sequencers, fast and cheap: just analyze a single portion of DNA and find the markers of differentiation of the species.

Science Reporting

Study launches the alarm regarding pollution inside houses

When we talk about pollution, we very often think of natural environments degraded and influenced by human presence. However, pollution is also present in our homes and in the closed environments that we frequent daily and it damages us even when we least expect it.

A study that appeared in Building and Environment deals with this aspect: researchers at Washington State University have analyzed the indoor environments frequented by people, primarily U.S. homes, and have found quite worrying levels of pollutants. Among the latter, in fact, they found formaldehyde and mercury inside the houses analyzed.

The levels of these pollutants varied during the day and their effects increased with increasing temperature. The study shows that heat dates and ongoing climate change heavily affect indoor air quality and will do so even more in the future. For example, in a house built in the early 1970s they found a plaster panel that emitted high levels of formaldehyde and mercury when heated.

At the moment there is virtually no regulation of indoor pollution, unlike outdoor pollution where increasingly strict laws are proposed by the institutions. There are regulations regarding the construction of houses and their structure but nothing about the emission rates that exist inside, emission rates well present as this study shows.

The sources of these emissions are varied. Pollutants can come from the same building materials as well as from the chemicals used in the home or kitchen. The only way to tackle the problem, in addition to paying attention to the chemicals used in the home, is to regularly ventilate the rooms leaving windows and balconies open.

Science Reporting

Hepatitis B virus in a mouse defeated with T-cell therapy

An excellent discovery was made by a group of researchers from the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Technical University of Munich. For the first time, the researchers were able to defeat a chronic infection caused by the hepatitis B virus in a mouse during experiments with a T-cell therapy.

There is currently no cure for hepatitis B in humans, so much so that the virus itself is considered a global health problem by the World Health Organization, as more than 260 million people worldwide are chronically affected by it. There are currently drugs that partially limit the replication of virus cells in the liver but complete elimination of the virus from the body is currently not yet technically possible. Hepatitis B can then lead to various serious complications such as liver cancer or liver cirrhosis.

Ulrike Protzer, director of the Institute of Virology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, one of the authors of the study, explains the results achieved: “We were able to demonstrate that T-cell therapy using new technologies presents an encouraging solution for the treatment of chronic HBV infection and liver cancer that is activated by the virus. This is because these “living drugs” are the most powerful therapy we have at our disposal at the moment.”

Describing the therapy is Karin Wisskirchen, scientist of the Ulrike Protzer group and first author of the study: the new therapy with T cells has been specifically developed as an approach to combat HBV infection and liver cancer associated with HBV. It is known that in chronically infected patients, virus-specific T-cells cannot be detected or show decreased activity. However, if patients are able to control the virus themselves, a strong T-cell response can be detected. The obvious answer is therefore to use specific T-cell viruses to compensate for this deficiency.

Experiments on mice were then conducted in collaboration with the group led by researcher Maura Dandri. During these experiments, T cells attacked only infected liver cells.

Science Reporting

Scientists discover that carnivorous plants also catch salamanders

When we think of carnivorous plants, we think of meals made with insects, at most spiders, which can fall into the clutches of this type of plant. However, new research confirms that these plants can also feed on small vertebrates, specifically salamanders.

A research group of the University of Guelph has analyzed a group of carnivorous plants that grow in the wetlands of Canada and that are characterized by a particular mechanism of capture. Their leaves form a sort of deep cavity that is filled with digestive fluid. Once attracted to the insect or spider, by means of visual baits such as pigments, special pigments or distilling glands of sweet nectar, they make it drown in this liquid thanks to which the prey slowly but surely melts.

In the study, published in Ecology, the researchers describe “an unexpected and fascinating case of plants that eat vertebrates.” Studying various specimens of the species Sarracenia purpurea purpurea located near a small pond in the autumn of 2018, the researchers discovered that almost one in five contained, inside their cavity filled with liquid, young specimens of salamanders.

These were salamanders that had recently come out of the larval state inside the pond and ventured into the outside world by crawling for the first time. Obviously very inexperienced, these small and young salamanders ended up being trapped by the plants. Usually, they died in 3-4 days but according to the researchers, who analyzed the plants at length and for several months, some of the victims had remained inside the liquid for 19 days.

This time is necessary for the digestive enzymes in the plant liquid to do their job by decomposing the body of the prey. According to the researchers, some of these salamanders may have ended up in the trap set by the plants to escape from other predators. In addition, other factors that can contribute to faster death of prey once captured are the heat that is created inside the cavity, hunger and infection by pathogens.

Science Reporting

New discoveries on how multicellular living beings have developed

A result that contradicts years of scientific tradition: this is the conclusion reached by Professor Bernie Degnan of the University of Queensland who, together with his colleagues and using new technology, studied how multicellular beings developed.

The study, published in Nature, states that the cellular structure of the first multicellular animals on Earth does not resemble those of modern sponges but probably that of a stem cell.

This statement therefore disproves the long-standing idea that multicellular animals on Earth have developed from a monocellular ancestor similar to a modern-day coanocyte, a cell type from the gastric cavity of today’s porifers.

One reason that would encourage support for Degnan’s theory would be that, as the scientist himself reports, multicellularity has led to incredible complexity so much so that today’s multicellular organisms differ from over 99% of all biodiversity that can only be seen under a microscope.

According to Sandie Degnan, senior author of the study, the transcriptomic signatures of today’s sponges and choanoflagellates, the monocellular organism considered the closest relative to the animals, do not coincide and this “means that these are not the basic building blocks of animal life that we originally thought they were.”