A roundup of neat discoveries
Apparently I can absorb more information than I can communicate. Either that or I’m actually busy…
I’ve been collecting slinks to write about, and fear they will pile up before I get a chance to share them. So here’s a roundup of neat discoveries that have hit the press recently:
- Keeping up with the evolution of cancer (as first mentioned in Tasmanian devils): A team of researchers used a combination of pre-existing phylogenetic trees and newly generated sequencing data to explain cellular evolution in human B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells. A short review of the PNAS article can be found here.
On the bioengineering front: UK Scientists at the University of Reading have equipped a robot with a biological brain. Formed from cultured neurons, a multi-electrode array and a bluetooth connection, the robot moves through it’s environment controlled soley by receiving sensory information from it’s brain. An exclusive review of the technology is available on ZDNet. Similar work was previously done at the Georgia Institute of Technology, resulting in the creation of a hybrot, an entity defined as:
“an entirely new type of creature constructed from organic and artificial materials. It’s perhaps helpful to think of the hybrot as “semi-living””.
- As a bat lover, I was saddened to hear vampire bats are a likely vector spreading of an unknown, fatal illness through South America. Coverage of the topic can be found at New Scientist. Vampire bats have previously been shown to spread rabies between animals in humans. I happen to side with the bats, so I wonder how much population growth and the spread of development contribute to the spread of bloodborne illness. But that’s a touchy subject I won’t get into here.
- Recently I’ve picked up interest in the interface between molecular and neuro- biology. A recent Science publication presents results from a cleverly designed study investigating the relationship between the perception of social behavior (in this case, trust and distrust) and functional-MRI brain scans in people with and without Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)*. The results of the mind game indicate those with BPD may not recognize or correctly interpret behavioral cues that communicate distrust. If this is the case, BPD can be somewhat depathologized as our understanding reframes the diagnosis as a profound alteration in perception and interpretation of (unspoken) social cues. Along these lines, what is the difference between the social behavior of a person with BPD and that of someone born and raised in a dramatically different culture?
- Lastly, I’ll post a few links about recent bipolar** news. Genetic Future has an excellent post reviewing genetic studies — and our current understanding — of the disorder. An artilce in today’s issue of Nature was quite the hot topic, as shown by an abundance of media posts discussing the implications of the news. Here’s the Nature abstract, a review in the New York Times, and a post on 23andMe’s Spittoon. In short, researchers report a collaborative, genome-wide association study that identified two SNPs as candidates for bipolar disorder. Both SNPs are related to ion channel regulation. Investigators hope to understand the biological cause(s) of bipolar to improve treatment modalities, like more effective, targeted medication.
*The diagnosis of BPD is typified by long-term, profound difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships and cooperation. People with BPD generally have difficulty with impulse control and keeping friends.
**Bipolar disorder is a diagnosis describing a range of mood imbalances defined by the presence of one or more instances of atypically elevated mood (also known as mania). Several types of bipolar classes are recognized, including those with or without the co-occurence of a major depressive episode.