Thank Neanderthals and Denisovan genes for health and skin colour
In your DNA are traces of evidence that our early ancestors bred with other hominins, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. And while their genes have been whittled down to between 1 and 4% of our genome today, those that are retained contribute to our immune system and skin colour, a genetic study showed. Read more
Clinical trials show success for new cancer treatment
Terminally ill cancer patients have been given new hope as clinical trials reveal broad success for a revolutionary treatment. Unlike surgery, radio or chemo, immunotherapy doesn’t directly target cancer cells. Instead, it retrains the immune system, which finds pathogens but doesn’t see cancer cells, to fight them. Read more
What is CRISPR and what does it mean for genetics?
Who would have thought our most advanced gene-editing tool would be carbon-copied from one of the most primitive life forms on Earth? But since 2012 the CRISPR molecule, which was first discovered in bacteria, has rapidly found its way into the pipettes of researchers everywhere. Read more
Herpes virus kills colonic nerves, causes constipation
Feeling a bit backed up but don’t know why? Don’t rule out a viral infection. Research has found a surprising link between genital herpes and constipation, showing the virus can move to the host’s spinal cord and attack nerves in the colon. Read more
Poo transplants transfer much more than bacteria
Popping faeces from one organism into the gut of another – faecal transplantation – is not a new concept. But the power of transferring gastrointestinal contents between animals to treat illness really took off in 2011 when research into faecal transplants exploded. Read more
How to trick your brain into wanting less junk food
All this might look like the bitter end for free will and food, but there could be a phoenix to rise from the ashes. Neil Levy, a philosopher at Macquarie University and the University of Oxford, accepts the possibility of “determinism” – the view that every effect, including all human action, is preceded by a cause. Read more
How Zika virus infiltrates the placenta
The very cells charged with protecting a developing foetus appear to be instrumental in Zika virus infecting unborn babies. Researchers in Atlanta, Georgia analysed placental cells and found immune cells called Hofbauer cells seemed to help ferry Zika across the placental barrier. Read more
Stress remodels lymphatic system to help cancer spread
A cancer diagnosis is undoubtedly stressful. But for the patient, that stress itself can make the bad news worse. Australian scientists discovered that in mice, stress remodels drainage vessels around a tumour, forming “highways” for metastatic cancer cells. But this was reduced following treatment with a common blood pressure drug. Read more
Antibiotics may play havoc with your memory
Antibiotics that wipe out gut microbes could also be playing havoc with our memory, research in mice suggests. Researchers in Germany and the US found that adult mice fed a cocktail of antibiotics performed worse on a memory task than untreated mice. The antibiotics also put a brake on growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. Read more
Tiny but deadly: four nano cancer-killing weapons
Sometimes big problems call for tiny solutions. And one solution that gives hope to the 14 million patients facing a cancer diagnosis each year is nanomedicine. Scientists have engineered sub-microscopic delivery vessels, each so small a thousand lined up would barely span the width of a human hair, to give cancer drugs or other treatments more power, while reducing nasty side effects to normal cells. Read more
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