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How Frogs Benefited From The Dinosaurs’ Extinction

The asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago spelled disaster for the dinosaurs. But scientists say they’ve found one silver lining to the mass extinction — turns out, it was really good for frogs. The resilient animals date back some 200 million years. And in the aftermath of the extinction event, they survived and thrived, taking advantage of an ecological vacuum other animals left behind. About 9 in 10 frog species today evolved from three frog lineages that survived the event, which occurred at the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, according to research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

What this research shows, Wake says, is that frogs have the proven ability to “[take] advantage of opportunities — in this case [an] ecological vacuum that existed following the mass extinction.”

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Congratulations, Class of 2017

Congratulations, Class of 2017.  Wishing each of you the best in your future endeavors!
-The Institute for Society and Genetics

Thousands of Genes Influence Most Diseases

Image result for genomeIn a provocative new perspective piece, Stanford researchers say that disease genes are spread uniformly across the genome, not clustered in specific molecular pathways, as has been thought. The gene activity of cells is so broadly networked that virtually any gene can influence disease, the researchers found. As a result, most of the heritability of diseases is due not to a handful of core genes, but to tiny contributions from vast numbers of peripheral genes that function outside disease pathways. Any given trait, it seems, is not controlled by a small set of genes. Instead, nearly every gene in the genome influences everything about us. The effects may be tiny, but they add up. The work is described in a paper published June 15 in Cell. Jonathan Pritchard, PhD, professor of genetics and of biology, is the senior author. Graduate student Evan Boyle and postdoctoral scholar Yang Li, PhD, share lead authorship.

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Racism Aggravates Treatment-Resistant Asthma

an African-American girl uses an asthma inhalerRacial discrimination experienced by African-American children and young adults exacerbates a type of asthma known to be resistant to standard treatment, according to a study headed by researchers at UC San Francisco. The 576 study participants, who were African-Americans with asthma, aged between 8 and 21, were asked if they had been hassled, made to feel inferior or prevented from doing something “because of your race, ethnicity, color or language,” in situations including at school, getting medical care and getting services in a store or restaurant. Close to half (281) reported experiences of racial discrimination in any setting at some point in their lives. The researchers found that participants who reported that they had not experienced racial discrimination were close to twice as likely to have controlled asthma (37 percent) compared to those who said they did (21 percent). The average bronchodilator response was 1.7 per cent higher in the discriminated group.

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Researchers Discover What May Be Earliest Stage of Alzheimer’s

Image result for alzheimer'sOlder adults with elevated levels of brain-clogging plaques — but otherwise normal cognition — experience faster mental decline suggestive of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study led by the Keck School of Medicine of USC that looked at 10 years of data. Just about all researchers see amyloid plaques as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. However, this study presents the toxic, sticky protein as part of the disease — the earliest precursor before symptoms arise. “To have the greatest impact on the disease, we need to intervene against amyloid, the basic molecular cause, as early as possible,” said Paul Aisen, senior author of the study and director of the USC Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute (ATRI) at the Keck School of Medicine. “This study is a significant step toward the idea that elevated amyloid levels are an early stage of Alzheimer’s, an appropriate stage for anti-amyloid therapy.”

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Scientists 3-D Print Mouse Ovaries That Actually Make Babies

Not all girls grow up to be mothers. Sometimes they choose not to be, and sometimes circumstances take those choices away. A superfluity of cancers and genetic diseases can destroy women’s ovaries. Or treatments like radiation—used to save a woman’s life—can render those egg-producing organs useless. Ovaries also mediate female hormones. Without them, young patients might never go through puberty; grown women could enter menopause early. Today, a team of bio-engineers reported a possible fix: 3-D printed ovaries. Their proof of concept—published in Nature Communications—only works on mice so far, but they could end up replacing the uterus-flanking, chestnut-sized organs in humans, too.

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Study of Worms Reveals ‘Selfish Genes’ That Encode A Toxin – and Its Antidote

A UCLA study has found that a common strain of Caenorhabditis elegans — a type of roundworm frequently used in laboratory research on neural development — has a pair of genes that encode both a poison and its antidote. The new research also revealed that if worms with the two genes mate with wild strains of C. elegans that don’t have both genes, their offspring who don’t inherit the antidote can’t protect themselves from the toxin — which is produced by mother worms — and die while they are still embryos.

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In Brain Evolution, Size Matters – Most of the Time

Which came first, overall bigger brains or larger brain regions that control specialized behaviors? Neuroscientists have debated this question for decades, but a new Cornell study settles the score. The study reports that though vertebrate brains differ in size, composition and abilities, evolution of overall brain size accounts for most of these differences, with larger brains leading to greater capabilities. The study is the first to compare – and resolve – two competing theories of brain evolution. One theory holds that natural selection drove progressive changes in particular areas of the brain, which then led to larger overall brains in species that needed them to survive. The other theory contends that some species acquired a bigger brain in general, and its larger basic parts could then be recruited for specific complex behaviors.

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