Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nurture 1-Ups Nature in Bee Study

It's a classic debate: do we hold nature or nurture more responsible for the end result that is an adult organism? The findings of a recent study published through the University of Illinois suggest that long-term evolution in gene expression can be linked to more short-term changes that result from the environment. To put it plainly, maybe nurture can alter nature.

Pictured above: Bee

By looking at aggressive responses in different types of bees, the researchers were hoping to find some important relationships between behavior, the environment, and heredity. In short, they were looking for signs of behavioral evolution.

Researchers looked at two different types of bees: (1) European honeybees (EHB), the more common and docile variety, and (2) Africanized honeybees (AHB), a hybrid of African and European honeybees, notoriously known as "killer bees" due to their aggressiveness. To observe how aggression looks in the brain, the researchers exposed the bees to a pheromone that usually alerts the bees that there is danger to the hive.

This study suggests that forces in the environment may be able to stimulate changes in the genes that have long-term effects on the organism that may then be passed on to offspring. Let that sink in for a moment.

Among other things, the researchers noted that the resting brain state of Africanized honeybees shows heightened activity of certain genes:

Pictured above: EHB with resting brain state and AHB with resting brain state. The AHB innately has more activity in genes related to aggression, even when no danger is present.

More interestingly, the study showed that European honeybees exposed to alarm pheromones have brain activity that shows many similarities to the resting brain state of Africanized honeybees.
Pictured above: EHB with aroused brain state and AHB with similar resting brain state. The similarities suggest a common molecular basis between inherited aggression and stimulated aggression.

The researchers also noted that an Africanized honeybee living in a European bee colony will actually become less aggressive over time, and a European honeybee living in an Africanized colony will become more aggressive.

Pictured above: An AHB living in a EHB hive will become less aggressive over time.

We can't assume that these types of relationships translate the same way when it comes to humans and our social behaviors and genetic expressions of aggression, but this study helps us understand how behavior is influenced by both our environment and our genes.

Read the full paper, "Honey Bee Aggression Supports a Link Between Gene Regulation and Behavioral Evolution."

All drawing are (obviously) original creations and are the property of Zu's News. Images may not be reproduced without express permission from Zu's News, although you could probably just draw something better yourself.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Infection + The Undead = Math

Mathematical models are valuable tools for all aspects of life, from determining when it's safe to cross the street to creating supercomputers that map genomes. Mathematicians in Canada have just published a new model that may provide insight into a phenomenon that all of us have had to worry about at one time or another:


Pictured above: flesh-eating zombie.

Models of infectious disease are often used to determine rates of infection and the expected impact of intervention. This latest model takes into account a new variable: what if the infected-but-dead stay in the system, and can continue to spread disease?

The authors consider different scenarios and potentials for human survival, noting that the only real way to vanquish the disease is through "impulsive eradication." Quarantines are (ironically) unrealistic and vaccination will only allow a handful of uninfected to survive while the zombies grow in number. The only mathematically plausible solution is to "act quickly and decisively to eradicate them before they eradicate us."

While the paper seems to poke fun at math, it appears in a book that contains various models and case studies relating to infectious disease, the rest of which are more traditional and very serious. So why the zombie-models? According to the authors, "This demonstrates the flexibility of mathematical modelling (sic) and shows how modelling can respond to a wide variety of challenges in biology."

Think you're up to the math? See for yourself:

All drawing are (obviously) original creations and are the property of Zu's News. Images may not be reproduced without express permission from Zu's News, although you could probably just draw something better yourself.

Get More Than You Pay For

You often hear that “you get what you pay for,” but when you pay extra for brand-name drugs, what you’re getting in return is nothing more than the brand-name. According to numerous studies and the FDA itself, the only difference between the brand-name drugs and the generic drugs is the price, and there is no evidence that spending money has a positive effect on your health.

The FDA has officially stated that generic drugs are, in all important aspects, the same thing as their brand-name counterparts. The differences are really only in the inactive ingredients, things like coloring and flavoring that have become part of the trademarked image of the brand company, and which the generic companies aren't allowed to copy. According to the FDA's website, "Generic drugs work in the same way and in the same amount of time as brand-name drugs."

Still, there is the relentless notion that the more expensive item must be better; after all, it costs more! Well, here’s where the price difference comes from:

A Brand-name company spends tons of time and money on research and development of a new drug, which they patent. Drug patents currently last for 20 years.

Once the Brand-name company demonstrates that their drug is up to standards, they get permission from the FDA to manufacture their drug for the public. They will have the exclusive right of production for as long as their patent lasts.

The Brand-name company then shells out tons more money to market the drug to consumers,

as well as to doctors and hospitals.

The Brand-name company sells the drug at a relatively high cost to so they can pay for all the research and marketing and still try to make a profit.

When the patent expires, other drug manufacturers apply to the FDA to get permission to make the drug themselves. The FDA requires all the same standards from the generic manufacturers as they do from the original brand-name company. Generic drugs are required to be just as safe, strong, fast, and effective as the original drug.

Since the generic manufacturers didn't spend money on development and marketing, they can afford to sell their version of the drug for much less than the brand-name company. Competition among the generic manufacturers tends to drive the price down even more. For trademark reasons, the generic drug has a different look and a different name, but all the medicinal qualities are exactly the same.

In the end, the real difference in price exists because people are still willing to pay more for the brand-name drug. The brand-name companies can leverage their reputation to make it seem like their products are safer or more reliable. However, the FDA noted that half of all generic drugs are actually made by the brand-name companies.

The system is intended to allow the drug creators to compensate for the extraordinarily expensive process of development, but then allow for competition that will drive drug prices down. The generic label drugs are the result of a system that is meant to help the consumer. So let yourself be helped; next time you have the sniffles, go for NyCare or Sudacold. You'll get as much cough-suppressant and decongestant as you would from the more expensive versions, plus a bonus: saving money is a natural mood enhancer.

For more info:
FDA generic drug FAQ

All drawing are (obviously) original creations and are the property of Zu's News. Images may not be reproduced without express permission from Zu's News, although you could probably just draw something better yourself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

hello world

Thus I make my grand entrance into the blogosphere, light years behind the early adopters.

Yet here I am, because I care about science, and I care that other people care about science. Let's make that our impromptu motto: I want you to care about science. Because science certainly cares about you.

While this posting is primarily a test, it is also an introduction. I am introducing the web to me and introducing myself to the blogging experience. So far, so good.