All posts by William Stiff

Eating less prolongs life and counteracts aging in mice

You have to eat less food if you want to reduce inflammation in the body and generally live longer: this is basically the conclusion of a new study that appeared in Cell.
The research clearly speaks of “caloric restrictions” in terms of benefits to the body following experiments carried out on mice on low-calorie diets.
It is not the first research that shows that eating less lengthens life substantially, but it is the first study that shows that calorie restrictions have influences at the level of individual cells and tissues, as explained by Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, senior author of the study.
This information could be used to synthesize new drugs to treat all those diseases related to aging.

During the experiments, the researchers compared the reactions of rats that consumed 30% less calories than the traits of another group. Calorie restrictions were imposed on rats in the first group from the age of 18 months to 27 months (an age comparable to 50 to 70 years for humans).

By isolating 40 cell types in the experimental rats, cells from various parts of the body such as fat tissue, kidneys, skin, liver, bone marrow, brain, etc., and genetically sequencing the cells, the researchers noticed changes that occurred as a result of aging in rats following a normal diet.

In caloric restriction rats, these changes did not occur and many tissues and cells continued to resemble those of young rats.
In general, 57% of the age-related changes in cell composition observed in the tissues of rats on a normal diet did not occur in calorie-restricted rats.

The cells and genes most affected by caloric restriction were those related to immunity, inflammation and lipid metabolism. In rats that ate less, the number of immune cells was not affected by aging.
For example, in brown adipose tissue, calorie restriction restored the expression levels of many anti-inflammatory genes.

According to Jing Qu, an author of the study and professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the main result behind this study is that the inflammatory response linked to the onset of aging could be suppressed, even in humans, by caloric restriction.

Glacier walls at the South Pole essential for global climate

The ice walls of floating glaciers in the Antarctic are fundamental and vital for the global climate according to a new study published in the magazine Nature. These walls, in fact, prevent the rise in temperature of the Antarctic sea itself and the melting of the ice.
In the deep sea around the South Pole, in fact, a large amount of thermal energy is stored and the floating glaciers act as a “wall” so that this thermal energy does not spread in the Antarctic, which would naturally cause even more melting ice.

Researchers have analyzed in particular the Getz Glacier in West Antarctica. This glacier has a floating part with a thickness of 300-800 meters. Below this part is sea water that connects to the surrounding ocean.
Researchers have found that ocean currents are blocked by the edge of the glacier and this limits the amount of hot water that can reach the continent: “Now, we understand that only a small amount of current can make its way under the glacier. This means that about two-thirds of the thermal energy that rises to the continental shelf from the deep sea never reaches the ice,” the researchers say.

The study was conducted by an international team led by Swedish researchers. Anna Wåhlin, Professor of Oceanography at the University of Gothenburg and lead author of the study, explains that the increase in melting ice in areas near the Antarctic coast could be caused by hot, salty ocean currents circulating on the continental shelf causing the glaciers themselves to melt from below.

Céline Heuzé, another researcher involved in the study at the same university, comments on the results: “What we found here is a crucial feedback process: ice shelves are the best protection against hot water intrusion. If the ice gets thinner, more ocean heat enters and melts the ice shelf, which becomes even thinner, etc.”. This is worrying, as the ice shelves are already thinning due to global warming of the air and oceans”.

Rare lizard fossil trapped in amber found in the Dominican Republic

The fossil of a lizard, defined as “rare”, which lived between 15 and 20 million years ago was found trapped in amber in an area of the Dominican Republic. What remains is the fossil of a paw bone but its condition is only apparently good since the bone itself has largely decomposed and chemically transformed.
Precisely for this reason little remains of the original structure but the research results are still very interesting according to the researchers who published their study on PLOS ONE.

The results are also interesting to understand the process of fossilization itself following decomposition. The fossilization process, in order to offer as much information as possible, must take place very quickly, before or at the same time as the process carried out by microorganisms that act as “scavengers” by removing the organic parts.
In addition, there is another process that is not exactly positive in terms of the information that a fossil can offer, namely that of substitution by the minerals of the original substance.

In such contexts amber is considered a godsend: the material of which this substance is composed excels in terms of conservation, so much so that in many cases practically whole animals have been found enclosed in this resin produced by trees that hardens over time.
The lizard whose piece of paw was found enclosed within the price of amber belongs to the genus Anolis, a genus that still exists today. The piece of amber measures about 2 cubic cm.

Researchers believe it is a rare find because vertebrates are rarely found inside amber (mostly insects are found).
Researchers at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Bonn microscopically examined the piece of paw that included claws and toes. The tomograph scans then revealed that the piece was broken in two places, a sign that the lizard had probably been injured by a predator before it became trapped in amber and was no longer able to move properly, probably to escape even the amber itself.

As we said before, amber is considered an ideal preservative substance but in this case scientists have detected the presence of a fissure through which various substances have penetrated, including fluorine, substances that have favored the chemical transformation of the piece of paw and lapenetration of solutions rich in minerals. Precisely for this reason, very little remains of the original substances of the paw.

Difficulties in learning for children caused by insufficient connectivity

According to a study published in Current Biology, learning difficulties in children’s brains cannot be related to specific regions of the brain itself but to the poor connectivity between the “hubs” that are present within the brain.
In this opinion a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge wanted to analyze the difficulties that many children, between 14 and 30% according to the article on the website of the same English university, face in terms of learning.

These difficulties can then often be linked to problems of a cognitive or behavioural nature. It is common opinion among neurobiologists that these difficulties can be linked to specific areas of the brain. For example, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been linked to the anterior cingulate cortex and other areas such as the cerebellum, caudate nucleus, prefrontal cortex, etc.
Such a high number of regions related to this disorder has been explained by the fact that each diagnosis differs between one individual the next and each individual shows combinations of brain regions related to the disorder.

The Cambridge Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit team of researchers explains this differently: there would be no specific brain areas that cause these difficulties, rather the children’s brains are organized around “hubs”, like a kind of social network.
Those children who have well-connected hubs seem to have either very specific cognitive difficulties or no cognitive difficulties at all. On the other hand, children with not very well connected hubs show more widespread and severe cognitive problems.

The researchers conducted experiments on 479 children, 337 of whom had shown learning related cognitive problems. The researchers used machine learning and performed brain scans using MRI scans.

“Scientists have argued for decades that there are specific regions of the brain that have a particular learning disorder or difficulty, but we have shown that this is not the case,” says Duncan Astle, the senior author of the study. “In fact, it’s much more important to consider how these areas of the brain are connected, particularly if they are connected via hubs. The severity of learning difficulties has been strongly associated with the connection of these hubs, we believe that these hubs play a key role in sharing information between brain areas”.

New small crustacean living in the depths of the Pacific discovered by researchers

A new species of crustacean that frequents the deepest depths of the North Pacific has been discovered by two researchers, Torben Riehl, from the Senckenberg Naturmuseum, a German natural history museum, and Bart De Smet, from the University of Ghent.
The new species has been named Macrostylis metallicola (the second term is due to the rock band Metallica, of which Riehl is a fan).

This crustacean was discovered in the Clipperton fracture zone, a marine area off the coast of Mexico. It lives at great depths, between 4000 and 5000 meters, a marine area where the pressure is over 400 meters higher than we experience on the surface.
It is a small crustacean that does not exceed 6.5 mm in length and lives almost in absolute darkness. This is precisely why it has not developed eyes and its body has no colour.

It lives in an environment where manganese nodules dominate, metal elements often millions of years old that can vary greatly in size and contain precious elements such as copper, cobalt, manganese, nickel and rare earths.
In fact, it is expected that the seabed area of the Clarion-Clipperton fracture zone (CCFZ) in the Eastern Central Pacific Ocean may be exploited in the future because of its wealth of manganese nodules.

It is precisely with regard to the exploitation of environments that until a few decades ago no one would ever have thought to reach to extract minerals that the researcher Riehl intends to carry out a form of awareness raising: “Very few people are aware that the vast and largely unexplored depths of the oceans are home to bizarre and unknown creatures, just like our new crustacean Metallica. These species are part of the Earth’s system on which we all depend. The deep sea plays a role in this system linked to the climate and food networks of the oceans. While we cannot prevent mining, we must ensure that the exploitation of the manganese nodule is carried out in a sustainable manner by implementing appropriate management plans and protected areas designed to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

Bilingualism can counteract dementia because it stimulates the alternation between languages.

Bilingualism, i.e. the ability to understand and speak two languages at the same time, can act to combat dementia according to a study conducted by researchers at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona together with colleagues from other Spanish institutions.
The researchers analysed more than 100 bilingual or monolingual patients with mild cognitive deficits with an average age of 73 years. The subjects spoke both Spanish and Catalan.

According to César Ávila, one of the authors of the study, the alternative use of these two languages simultaneously on a cognitive level is complex precisely because there are many similarities between them and therefore one needs to be more vigilant and more attentive in order not to get confused.
After following the evolution of the patients during seven months, the researchers found that the bilingual ones showed a lower loss of brain volume while maintaining generally better cognitive abilities.

According to the researchers “there is a cognitive reserve of bilingualism” and this mechanism exists thanks to the cognitive stimulation that is fostered by the alternation of use between languages.
These are interesting results, according to the authors themselves, because it is one of the first studies that shows the possibility that there is in fact a kind of protection by bilingualism against dementia and that explains its mechanism.
The possibilities of therapies to stimulate patients suffering from dementia on a cognitive level through practical exercises in the use of different languages are now becoming more concrete.