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Blog Biology 21 August 2014
Tuberculosis likely spread from humans in Africa to seals and sea lions that brought the disease to South America.
Sara Marsteller/Arizona State University

Seals and sea lions, not Europeans as previously thought, took tuberculosis to the Americas, a group of researchers has found.

They analysed tuberculosis DNA recovered from three 1,000-year-old Peruvian skeletons, that does not match European strains of TB. Instead, it it closely resembles one that infects seals in the Southern Hemisphere.

The most likely scenario, researchers believe, is that seals and sea lions contracted the disease from a host animal from Africa, where the disease likely originated, and swam across the Atlantic where they were eaten by local people.

"The source of tuberculosis in the New World has long been a question for researchers," said Elizabeth Tran, biological anthropology program director of the US National Science Foundation which funded the study, published in Nature.

"This paper provides strong evidence that marine mammals may have been the likely culprits."

The research also shows that TB is much younger than we thought, probably evolving in Africa about 6,000 years ago.

Blog Space 20 August 2014
This image, captured by the Wide Field Imager at European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows two dramatic star formation regions in the southern Milky Way. The first is of these, on the left, is dominated by the star cluster NGC 3603, located 20,000 light-years away, in the Carina–Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The second object, on the right, is a collection of glowing gas clouds known as NGC 3576 that lies only about half as far from Earth.
ESO

This image, captured by the Wide Field Imager at European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows two dramatic star formation regions in the southern Milky Way. The first is of these, on the left, is dominated by the star cluster NGC 3603, located 20,000 light-years away, in the Carina–Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy. The second object, on the right, is a collection of glowing gas clouds known as NGC 3576 that lies only about half as far from Earth. (Click on image to expand) [Image: ESO][/caption]

The image above of two of the large star forming regions in our galaxy is the latest release from the European Southern Observatory, the premier intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe.

It is based in Garching near Munich, Germany, but operates in Santiago and three observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.

The ESO regularly releases stunning images of the night skies in the Southern Hemisphere. We've picked out 10 of our favourites from previous releases in the gallery below.

Blog Biology 20 August 2014
Professor Timothy Wang (left) from Columbia University and Professor Duan Chen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology discovered the link between neurotransmitters and tumor growth.
supplied

Botox suppresses the growth of stomach cancer by blocking nerve signals, a new study has found.

Scientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Columbia University and MIT, along with researchers from Japan and Germany, have already tested the procedure on mice and will soon start a human trial.

They discovered that the vagus nerve, which serves the stomach, contributes to the growth of gastric tumours, so that stopping the nerve signal to the tumour will stop its growth.

"This study shows that nerves control cancer stem cells," say NTNU Professor Duan Chen and Columbia Professor Timothy Wang, the co-authors of the study published today in Science Translational Medicine.

"We found that by removing the effect of the nerve, the stem cells in the cancer tumor are suppressed, leading to cancer treatment and prevention," Chen said.

Their study found that the release of a neurotransmitter promotes tumour growth and so tried several methods of breaking the connection between the nerves and the tumour: surgically by cutting the gastric vagus nerve (vagotomy), by local injection of Botox to block the release of neurotransmitter from the vagus nerve, by giving a drug to block the receptor of the neurotransmitter, and by knocking out of the receptor gene.

All the procedures suppressed the tumour growth but botox, better known as a beauty treatment, has the most potential, being cheap, easy to administer and few side-effects.

"We believe this treatment is a good treatment because it can be used locally and it targets the cancer stem cells. The Botox can be injected through gastroscopy and it only requires the patient to stay in the hospital for a few hours," says Chen.

The promising results from this study have led to an initiation of a phase II clinical trial for patients with stomach cancer in Norway.

Blog Technology 20 August 2014


You've got to wonder how some ideas are born – let alone ever end up working. You have to suspect a certain amount of beer is involved in the gestation of some. Like the one that ended with a guy saying, "You know what we need. A cannon hundreds of feet long that will shoot fish over a dam..."

And yet Todd Deligan went off and did just that. As he told The Verge...

So we put a tilapia in the fruit tube. It went flying, and we were like, ‘Huh, check that out.'

Deligan is vice president of the aptly named Whooshh Innovations which started out in the business of transporting delicate produce, like ripe tomatoes, using vacuum pressure tubes. So it wasn't perhaps such a stretch to get to "so what would happen if we put a fish in it?".

But the crazy idea has a practical purpose – to help salmon, blocked from travelling up river to their spawning grounds, get over the dams that stand in their way.

Traditionally, the problem has been solved using fish ladders – a series of stepped pools – but that has limits and very high dams remain impassable.

The Whooshh system uses vacuum pressure to propel the fish along a track at up to 35 kph. The track is kept wet to smooth the way.

Even more clever is the design that sees the fish load themselves into the system through a weir that they naturally jump into in a bid to get upstream. Instead they end up in the "breech" of the cannon.

Whooshh says they can transport up to 40 fish of up to 15 kg each per minute and to virtually any height.

Because we do not have to move a column of water, we have no theoretical limit. There may be practical limits, but if we have not encountered such project yet.

There's a company video of the whole process below.