Bees naturally vaccinate their babies

When it comes to vaccinating their babies, bees don’t have a choice — they naturally immunize their offspring against specific diseases found in their environments. And now for the first time, scientists have discovered how they do it.

Researchers from Arizona State University, University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä and Norwegian University of Life Sciences made the discovery after studying a bee blood protein called vitellogenin. The scientists found that this protein plays a critical, but previously unknown role in providing bee babies protection against disease…

“The process by which bees transfer immunity to their babies was a big mystery until now. What we found is that it’s as simple as eating,” said Gro Amdam, a professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and co-author of the paper. “Our amazing discovery was made possible because of 15 years of basic research on vitellogenin. This exemplifies how long-term investments in basic research pay off.”

Co-author Dalial Freitak, a postdoctoral researcher with University of Helsinki adds: “I have been working on bee immune priming since the start of my doctoral studies. Now almost 10 years later, I feel like I’ve solved an important part of the puzzle. It’s a wonderful and very rewarding feeling!”

In a honey bee colony, the queen rarely leaves the nest, so worker bees must bring food to her. Forager bees can pick up pathogens in the environment while gathering pollen and nectar. Back in the hive, worker bees use this same pollen to create “royal jelly” — a food made just for the queen that incidentally contains bacteria from the outside environment.

After eating these bacteria, the pathogens are digested in the gut and transferred to the body cavity; there they are stored in the queen’s “fat body” — an organ similar to a liver. Pieces of the bacteria are then bound to vitellogenin — a protein — and carried via blood to the developing eggs. Because of this, bee babies are “vaccinated” and their immune systems better prepared to fight diseases found in their environment once they are born.

Vitellogenin is the carrier of these immune-priming signals, something researchers did not know until now…

While bees vaccinate their babies against some diseases, many pathogens are deadly and the insects are unable to fight them.

But now that Amdam and Freitak understand how bees vaccinate their babies, this opens the door to creating the first edible and natural vaccine for insects…

All egg-laying species have vitellogenin

This discovery could have far-reaching benefits for other species, as well as substantial, positive impacts on food production. All egg-laying species, including fish, poultry, reptiles, amphibians and insects, have vitellogenin in their bodies.

The food industry could implement the use of natural vaccines that would not only be inexpensive to produce, they could easily be used in developing countries.

“Because this vaccination process is naturally occurring, this process would be cheap and ultimately simple to implement. It has the potential to both improve and secure food production for humans,” said Amdam.

Then, someone will want a law passed requiring special labels on food produced with the aid of vaccinated insects.

GMO may be controversial; but, not to scientists

gmo apple
Click to enlarge

Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.

The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious. Over the past decade, the controversy surrounding GMOs has sparked worldwide riots and the vandalism of crops in Oregon, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Philippines. In May, the governor of Vermont signed a law that will likely make it the first U.S. state to require labels for genetically engineered ingredients; more than 50 nations already mandate them. Vermont State Senator David Zuckerman told Democracy Now!, “As consumers, we are guinea pigs, because we really don’t understand the ramifications.”

And the apples have been OK’d. The article is several months old – and worth revisiting.

But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends. To make Arctic apples, biologists took genes from Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, modified them to suppress the enzyme that causes browning, and reinserted them in the leaf tissue. It’s a lot more accurate than traditional methods, which involve breeders hand-pollinating blossoms in hopes of producing fruit with the desired trait…

So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.

No need to review all 10 points here. RTFA. POPSCI ain’t exactly a hotbed of politics. Just folks who work for a magazine that’s been writing about science for over 140 years.

In the U.S., farmers have been planting increasing amounts GMO crops since the seeds became commercially available in 1996. Corn, cotton, and soy—which together occupy about 40 percent of U.S. cropland—are the three crops with the highest GMO fraction by area, each more than 90 percent in 2013.

One of our late contributors discovered a bakery in his home state of Georgia – like a lot of really great bakeries – was using a genetically-designed sourdough culture. Chatting with the owners who happened to be friends of his is how he learned about it. And they swore him to a secret he took to the grave – because they know damned well that folks who love the wonderful flavor of their sourdough bread would crap their non-GMO cotton drawers if they knew. And they’d probably be out of business at least in their fashionable Atlanta suburb even though a side-by-side blind test with any other great sourdough would be impossible to tell apart. Except for the consistent results they get from their baking.

Nope. I’ll stick with science, I know enough about peer-reviewed testing to be 99.999% confident – even if “common wisdom” says all studies are funded and owned by Monsanto. Differentiate between the creeps using scientific studies to bad ends – and the science itself. Learn how many rules you have to abide just to get your article published – which is why the most recent bought-and-paid-for creep who violated those standards had to lie.

And if you’re truly concerned – read the science, not opinions from other folks who aren’t reading the science either. Draw your own conclusions. Personally, I find well-written science fun to read. And I love learning about science – whether it be astrophysics or asafoetida. I also realize there are only so many hours in the day; so we rely on folks our experience says are usually right. That can be a problem when those folks try to find facts to back up their beliefs instead of the other way round.

When I became involved in climate science discussions at the millenium, I spent two years reading and studying before I became convinced one way or the other. The delight was discovering regular online publication of a broad range of research from the Max Planck Institute in Germany – in several languages including English. A great find. I hope you can be as fortunate.

Woman ate only at Starbucks for a year — and lost weight

A Seattle woman named Beautiful Existence said she ate nothing but Starbucks food in 2013, at a cost of more than $7,000 — about $20 a day.

Existence said she challenged herself to eat only foods purchased at Starbucks during 2013 and she managed to lose weight on the diet…

The woman, whose challenges in previous years included shopping only at Goodwill for the year 2011 and applying articles from Parents magazine to her family life in 2012, said she does not think her Starbucks diet was unhealthy.

“Starbucks puts together menu items and protein bistro boxes and you know as long as you’re active and as long as you really monitor the intake of your calories, you absolutely can lose weight and I did,” she said.

Existence said her 2014 challenge is to try out as many recreational sports as she can during the year.

In other words, regardless of culture, context and opportunity – educated and sensible choices in nutrition and exercise work well.

Vaccine for heart disease? It’s a possibility

Most people probably know that heart disease remains the nation’s No. 1 killer. But what many may be surprised to learn is that cholesterol has a major accomplice in causing dangerous arterial plaque buildup that can trigger a heart attack. The culprit? Inflammatory cells produced by the immune system…

Researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy & Immunology have identified the specific type of immune cells (CD4 T cells) that orchestrate the inflammatory attack on the artery wall. Further, the researchers discovered that these immune cells behave as if they have previously seen the antigen that causes them to launch the attack. “The thing that excites me most about this finding is that these immune cells appear to have ‘memory’ of the molecule brought forth by the antigen-presenting cells,” said Klaus Ley, M.D., a renowned expert in vascular immunology, who led the study in mouse models. “Immune memory is the underlying basis of successful vaccines. This means that conceptually it becomes possible to consider the development of a vaccine for heart disease…”

Dr. Ley said he believes the antigen involved is actually a normal protein that the body mistakes as being foreign and therefore launches an immune attack resulting in inflammation in the arteries. “Essentially, we’re saying that there appears to be a strong autoimmune component in heart disease,” he said, explaining that autoimmune diseases result from the body’s mistaken attack on normal cells. “Consequently, we could explore creating a “tolerogenic” vaccine, such as those now being explored in diabetes, which could induce tolerance by the body of this self-protein to stop the inflammatory attack…”

Dr. Ley cautions that creating a vaccine is a complex process that could take years to develop. However it offers exciting potential. “If successful, a tolerogenic vaccine could stop the inflammation component of heart disease,” he said. “This could probably be used in conjunction with the statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) that have already taken a significant chunk out of the numbers of people with heart disease. Together, they could deliver a nice one-two punch that could be important in further reducing heart disease.”

No – this does not mean you should return to eating lousy fast food or give up on exercise and a generally healthy lifestyle.

I offer this post as a ray of hope for the future, an addition to the science that can extend our lifespan, give us all more time to spend on this planet enjoying life and learning. OK?

Choosing a healthy breakfast cereal — or choosing food heresy!

Increasingly, breakfast-cereal makers are offering more nutritious, low-sugar options. The trick is trying to find them amidst the Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms and all the other sugary concoctions on grocery store shelves. Even cereals that seem healthy — if you’re to trust the front-of-the-box labels on many brands — may be just the opposite…

First look at the Nutrition Facts panel on the side of the cereal box (ignore any health claims made on the front), which lists the grams of sugar contained. Then, be sure to compare it to the overall serving size. If a cereal says it has 10 grams of sugar and a serving size of 30 grams, that means the cereal is one-third sugar.

Here’s what to look for in the ingredient list:

• 100% whole grain

• The word “whole”: if it doesn’t appear before each grain, assume the grain is refined.

Here’s what you should be wary of:

• “Made with whole grain.” “This can mean, Made with ‘very little’ whole grain,” says Liebman…

• Health claims that highlight “grams” of whole grain. As with sugar, you need to compare the amount of whole grains to the overall serving size. If the serving size and grams of whole grains are close, that means the cereal is almost 100% whole grain.

There are some exceptions to the 100% rule. Some cereals are low in whole grains because they are high in other nutritious ingredients like bran, nuts, fruit and soy. As always, look at the first two ingredients listed.

Ignore bogus health claims — and the article wanders off at the end to the cereals they recommend. But –

Continue reading

Ending cancer’s immortality

Washington State University researchers have discovered a way to help cancer cells age and die, creating a promising avenue for slowing and even stopping the growth of tumors.

Hopefully, we can make cancer cells die like normal cells,” said Weihang Chai…Basically, you make the cancer cell go from immortal to mortal.”

Normal cells lose a little bit of their DNA every time they reproduce as the molecule’s strands lose part of their protective tips, called telomeres. Eventually, the telomeres become too short, signaling to the cell to stop replicating and growing.

But cancer cells have a mechanism to keep their DNA strands from shortening, giving them a near eternal life. This is because the enzyme telomerase extends one strand of the cancer cell’s DNA while other proteins help extend the second strand.

Chai and her colleagues, writing in the current issue of The EMBO Journal, say they have found a regulatory protein that controls the production of that second strand. They have also found a protein required to synthesize it.

If that second strand of DNA cannot be lengthened, says Chai, it behaves like a normal cell and dies a normal death. She says her team will now focus on developing a strategy to block the regulatory protein’s function.

People wonder why I have such a short fuse over questions of science vs. superstition? Time after time, our culture, our economy, the compass of our cultural direction is distorted and misdirected by the ignorance offered as the only “choice” to reason.

Living longer – as we do as a result of modern science and medicine – we encounter disease unknown in the Good Old Days of the Stone Age? Praise and thanks is owed to those who labor in the vineyard of these exciting new citadels of life.

Secret ingredient in honey that kills bacteria

Sweet news for those looking for new antibiotics: A new research published in the July 2010 print edition of the FASEB Journal explains for the first time how honey kills bacteria. Specifically, the research shows that bees make a protein that they add to the honey, called defensin-1, which could one day be used to treat burns and skin infections and to develop new drugs that could combat antibiotic-resistant infections.

“We have completely elucidated the molecular basis of the antibacterial activity of a single medical-grade honey, which contributes to the applicability of honey in medicine,” said Sebastian A.J. Zaat, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam. “Honey or isolated honey-derived components might be of great value for prevention and treatment of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria…”

After analysis, the scientists concluded that the vast majority of honey’s antibacterial properties come from that protein. This information also sheds light on the inner workings of honey bee immune systems, which may one day help breeders create healthier and heartier honey bees.

We’ve known for millennia that honey can be good for what ails us, but we haven’t known how it works,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal, “Now that we’ve extracted a potent antibacterial ingredient from honey, we can make it still more effective and take the sting out of bacterial infections.”

Mix it in with some 85% Colombian dark chocolate – and dessert will rock with healthy vibes.

Antibodies found that prevent HIV infection – and maybe more

Scientists have discovered two potent human antibodies that can stop more than 90 percent of known global HIV strains from infecting human cells in the laboratory, and have demonstrated how one of these disease-fighting proteins accomplishes this feat.

According to the scientists, these antibodies could be used to design improved HIV vaccines, or could be further developed to prevent or treat HIV infection. Moreover, the method used to find these antibodies could be applied to isolate therapeutic antibodies for other infectious diseases as well…

Led by a team from the NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC), the scientists found two naturally occurring, powerful antibodies called VRC01 and VRC02 in an HIV infected individual’s blood using a novel molecular device they developed that homes in on the specific cells that make antibodies against HIV. The device is an HIV protein that the scientists modified so it would react only with antibodies specific to the site where the virus binds to cells it infects.

The scientists found that VRC01 and VRC02 neutralize more HIV strains with greater overall strength than previously known antibodies to the virus.

The researchers also determined the atomic-level structure of VRC01 when it is attaching to HIV. This has enabled the team to define how the antibody works and to precisely locate where it attaches to the virus. With this knowledge, they have begun to design components of a candidate vaccine that could teach the human immune system to make antibodies similar to VRC01 that might prevent infection by the vast majority of HIV strains worldwide…

Kudos to the researchers who led this work. It’s now published for peer review here and here.

Yes, I will send off a note to my Congress-critters to remind them to continue funding for work like this at the NIH and our universities.

Fortunately, at least one of those representing me in Congress is bright enough to know that “protein” describes something more than BBQ. He can explain it to the rest.

Vegetarian spider lives off plant protein

A spider that dines almost exclusively on plants has been described by scientists. It is the first-known predominantly vegetarian spider; all of the other known 40,000 spider species are thought to be mainly carnivorous.

Bagheera kiplingi, which is found in Central America and Mexico, bucks the meat-eating trend by feasting on acacia plants…

The jumping arachnid, which is 5-6mm long, has developed a taste for the tips of the acacia plants – known as Beltian bodies – which are packed full of protein…

The ants and acacia trees have co-evolved to form a mutually beneficial relationship: the aggressive ants protect the trees from predators, swarming to attack any invaders; and in return for acting as bodyguards, the ants get to gorge on the acacias’ Beltian bodies themselves…

One of the study’s authors, Professor Robert Curry, from Villanova University, Pennsylvania, told BBC News: “The spiders basically dodge the ants.

“The spiders live on the plants – but way out on the tips of the old leaves, where the ants don’t spend a lot of time, because there isn’t any food on those leaves.”

But when they get hungry, the spiders head to the newer leaves, and get ready to run the ant gauntlet.

Professor Curry said: “And they wait for an opening – they watch the ants move around, and they watch to see that there are not any ants in the local area that they are going after.

“And then they zip in and grab one of these Beltian bodies and then clip it off, hold it in their mouths and run away. And then they retreat to one of the undefended parts of the plant to eat it.”

Whoda thunk it?