The Evolutionary Link Between Diet and Stomach Acidity

TURKEY VULTURE  Cathartes auraAn analysis of data on stomach acidity and diet in birds and mammals suggests that high levels of stomach acidity developed not to help animals break down food, but to defend animals against food poisoning. The work raises interesting questions about the evolution of stomach acidity in humans, and how modern life may be affecting both our stomach acidity and the microbial communities that live in our guts. The research team – including scientists from Washington University and the University of Colorado, Boulder – examined all of the existing literature on stomach acidity in birds and mammals, and found data on 68 species. They then collected data on the natural feeding habits of each species. The researchers then ran an analysis to see how feeding behavior was related to stomach acidity. “The finding confirms our hypothesis, but you have to get that confirmation before moving forward,” Beasley says. “The next step will be for scientists to examine the microbial ecosystems in the guts of these animals to see how these ecosystems have evolved. Do animals with high stomach acidity have smaller or less diverse populations of gut microbes? Or do they simply host microbes that can survive in acidic environments?”

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Patrick Allard Receives 2015 Innovation in Regulatory Science Award

Patrick Allard

Congratulations to Assistant Professor Patrick Allard, who has received a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Innovation in Regulatory Science Award. This extremely competitive five-year award supports academic investigators who are addressing research questions that will lead to innovation in regulatory science, with ultimate translation of those results into improving the regulatory process.

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Diverse Parental Genes Lead to Taller, Smarter Children, Finds Extensive Study

Those who are born to parents from diverse genetic backgrounds tend to be faster-thinking and taller than others, a new study led by Dr Peter Joshi of the University of Edinburgh has found. Dr Joshi and co-authors analyzed health and genetic information from more than 100 studies carried out around the world. These included details on more than 350,000 people from urban and rural communities. They found that greater genetic diversity is linked to increased height. It is also associated with better cognitive skills, as well as higher levels of education.

The findings, published online July 1 in the journal Nature, suggest that over time, evolution is favoring people with increased stature and sharper thinking skills but does not impact on their propensity for developing a serious illness. “Our next step will be to hone in on the specific parts of the genome that most benefit from diversity,” Dr Joshi said.

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Study Finds Males May Contribute to Offspring’s Mental Development Before Pregnancy

A new study from Indiana University provides evidence in mice that males may play a positive role in the development of offspring’s brains starting before pregnancy. The research, reported June 30 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, found that female mice exposed to male pheromones gave birth to infants with greater mental ability. “This is the first study to show that pheromone exposure exerts an influence across generations in mammals,” said Sachiko Koyama, an associate research scientist at the IU Bloomington Medical Sciences Program and visiting scientist at the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who led the study. “We found that male pheromones seem to influence the nutritional environment following birth, resulting in changes to the brain that could extend to future generations,” she added.

By focusing on pheromone effects across generations, Koyama said the new IU study contributes to the growing field of epigenetics, which studies the influence of the environment on genetics, such as when nutrition creates changes in the body that may be passed on to the next generation.

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Cuba Nearly Eliminates Mother-to-Child HIV Infections

Cuba on 30 June became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organization (WHO) that it has eliminated mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and syphilis.  Low-level transmission still occurs there: in 2013, three babies were born with congenital syphilis and two with HIV. But the country has met the official WHO criteria for elimination:  fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 live births for at least 1 year.

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Congratulations Class of 2015 Graduates!

Congratulations, Class of 2015.  Wishing each of you the best in your future endeavors!

-The Institute for Society and Genetics

Flatworms Could Replace Mammals for Some Toxicology Tests

Scientists at UC San Diego have discovered that planarians, commonly used in high-school biology labs to study regeneration and the primitive nervous system, are actually quite sophisticated when it comes to modeling the response of the developing human nervous system to potentially toxic chemicals. The researchers published their findings in the current issue of the journal Toxicological Sciences. “Because planarians have unique features such as a brain of intermediate complexity, a short regeneration time and offer the possibility of studying adults and developing worms in parallel, they make a good complementary system to existing animal models for studying developmental neurotoxicity,” said Eva-Maria Schoetz Collins, an assistant professor of biology and physics who headed the research group. “Using such alternative animal models will not only reduce costs, but will also significantly reduce the number of laboratory mammals used in toxicology tests.”

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SCSU Science Team Working to Save Connecticut’s Bats from Extinction

Bats are dying by the millions, and there’s no sure way to stop the plague of white-nose syndrome that could cause major ecological change and even extinctions, say biologists at Southern Connecticut State University. “About 7 million bats have died since its initial discovery in 2006” in the Howe Caverns west of Albany, New York, said Wisniewski. The little brown bat, which has been the most common species in some regions of Connecticut, “is now considered for the endangered-species list” in this state, he said.

White-nose syndrome has been confirmed in 26 states and five Canadian provinces, is suspected in two more states and is headed for the Rocky Mountains. However, Dunbar said, “We are considered to be in the hot spot … We are definitely in the epicenter of this disease.”

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