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Category: Research

Mitochondrial DNA not just from moms but also from dads?

If one wants to trace down lineage, that person could turn to the cell’s powerhouse, the mitochondrion. This organelle contains its own special set of DNA believed as inherited solely from mothers across generations.  Thus, looking at the mitochondrial DNA (by mtDNA genealogical DNA testing) could help track down lineage, and for this reason, help determine ancestral or familial connection. Recently though, a team of scientists reported that the mitochondrial DNA is not solely inherited from the mothers. New empirical evidence of biparental inheritance of mitochondrial DNA implicates the need to rectify the long-held notion that the inheritance of mitochondrial genome is exclusively matrilineal or female line.

 

 

Mitochondrial DNA

The mitochondrion (plural: mitochondria), reckoned as the powerhouse of the cell, generates metabolic energy, especially the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). And it does so through the process referred to as cellular respiration. Apart from that, the organelle is also described as semi-autonomous since it has its own genetic material distinct from that found in the nucleus. The nucleus contains more genes organized into chromosomes and in charge for almost all of the metabolic processes in the body. On the contrary, the genetic material in the mitochondrion – referred to as mitochondrial DNA – is relatively fewer in number. It carries the genetic code for the manufacturing of RNAs and proteins necessary to the various functions of the mitochondrion, such as energy production.

 

(Recent news on the evolutionary origin of mitochondria, read: Prokaryotic Ancestor of Mitochondria: on the hunt)

 

(You may also want to read: Mitochondrial DNA – hallmark of psychological stress)

 

Mitochondrial inheritance

In humans, the mitochondrial DNA is believed to be inherited solely from the mother. This notion stems from the events that happen at fertilization. The sperm contains on its neck a helix of mitochondria that power up the tail to swim toward the ovum. And when the sperm finally makes its way into the ovum, it leaves its neck and tail on the cell surface of the ovum. Mitochondria that are brought into the ovum would eventually be inactivated and disintegrated. Thus, the mitochondria in the ovum are the only ones that the zygote eventually inherits. A human ovum has an average of 200,000 mtDNA molecules.1 For this, certain traits and diseases involving mitochondrional DNA implicate maternal origin.

 

 

 

Inheritance of mitochondrial DNA– not exclusive

mitochondrial dna eve
The theory of Mitochondrial Eve is based on the exclusivity of human mitochondrial DNA inheritance to the female line, which when traced would lead to only one most recent woman, “Eve”. (Image credit: Ludela, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

 

The theory of Mitochondrial Eve holds that tracing the matrilineal lineage of all recent human beings would lead to all lines converging to one woman referred to as “Eve“. The theory is based on the exclusivity of human mitochondrial DNA inheritance to female line. Nevertheless, independent empirical findings and clinical studies challenge this precept.

 

For instance, Schwartz and Vissing2 reported the case of a 28-year-old man with mitochondrial myopathy. Accordingly, the patient had a mutation (a novel 2-bp mtDNA deletion in ND2 gene). Normally, the gene encodes for a subunit of the enzyme complex I of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Thus, the faulty gene affected the production of such enzyme, which, in turn, led to the patient’s severe, lifelong exercise intolerance. Furhter, Schwartz and Vissing2 pointed out that the patient’s mitochondrial myopathy was paternal in origin.

 

Recently, a team of researchers observed paternal inheritance of mitochondrial DNA, but this time, on 17 people from three different families.3 They sequenced their mitochondrial DNAs and they discovered father-to-offspring transmission.

 

 

Conclusion

The mitochondrial DNA is said to be a mother’s legacy to her offspring. However, recent studies indicate that the father could also transmit it to his progeny. Somehow, paternal mitochondrial DNA gets into the ovum. Rather than disintegrated or inactivated, it gets expressed. Mitochondrial DNA from the fathers may not be as rare as once thought.  If more studies will corroborate soon, this could debunk Mitochondrial Eve theory. It might also render mtDNA genealogical DNA testing questionable. And, we may also need to start looking to the other side of our lineage to fathom hereditary diseases arising from faulty mitochondrial DNA.

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

References:

 

1 Mitochondrial DNA. (2018). Biology-Online Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Mitochondrial_DNA

 

2 Schwartz, M. & Vissing, J. (2002). “Paternal Inheritance of Mitochondrial DNA”. New England Journal of Medicine. 347 (8): 576–580.

 

3 Luo, S.,  Valencia, C.A.,  Zhang, J., Lee, N., Slone, J., Gui, B., Wang, X.,  Li, Z.,  Dell, S., Brown, J., Chen, S.M.,  Chien, Y., Hwu, W., Fan, P.,  Wong, L.,  Atwal, P.S., & Huang, T. (2018). Biparental Inheritance of Mitochondrial DNA in Humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 201810946. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1810946115

Pathobiology of allergy and its most severe form, anaphylaxis

When allergy season looms, some people with serious hypersensitivity to allergens tend to be apprehensive of what may come. Some would rather stay indoors than risking the odds of sucking up triggers that could instigate severe allergic reactions. Apart from triggers from the environment, other common factors for allergy include food, medication, certain toxins, venom from insect stings or bites, stress, and heredity. How does an allergy manifest? Which cells are involved in forming an allergic reaction?

 

 

 

The immune system

allergy
How does an allergy occur? The pathobiological mechanism involves several white blood cells that play a role in mounting an allergic reaction.

 

The immune system protects the body from foreign substances (generally referred to as antigens) that could pose a threat to our well-being.  It prevents harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc. from invading and causing harm. The white blood cells (also called leukocytes) constantly scout for antigens in order to destroy or disable them. The white blood cells include lymphocytes, neutrophils, basophils, eosinophils, monocytes, macrophages, mast cells, and dendritic cells.

 

 

 

Allergy – overview

 

allergy pathway
The allergy pathway.
Image (by Sari Sabban) distributed under the CC 3.0 Unported license.

 

An allergy is a state of hypersensitivity of the immune system in response to an allergen (i.e. a substance capable of inciting an allergic reaction). In this regard, several white blood cells play a role in mounting an allergic reaction.

In summary, the entry of an allergen into the body triggers an antigen-presenting cell, such as a dendritic cell. The dendritic cell takes up the allergen, process it, and then present its epitopes through its MHC II receptor on its cell surface. It, then, migrates to a nearby lymph node, waiting for a T lymphocyte to recognize it.

Upon recognition, the T lymphocyte may differentiate into a Th2 cell (type 2 helper T cells), which is capable of activating B lymphocyte. B lymphocyte, when activated, matures into a plasma cell that could synthesize and release IgE antibody in the bloodstream. Some of the circulating IgE may bind to mast cell and basophil. Thus, re-entry of such allergen could incite the IgE on mast cells and basophils to recognize its epitope. In effect, this activates the mast cell or basophil to release inflammatory substances (e.g. histamine, cytokines, proteases, chemotactic factors) into the bloodstream.

 

 

 

Anaphylaxis – a dreadful allergic reaction

The allergic reaction mounted by the immune system is supposed to protect the body. However, the allergens perceived by the body as a threat are generally harmless. The body tends to overly react to the allergens, and so leads to symptoms. Histamine, for instance, brings about the common symptoms of allergy: pain, heat, swelling, erythema, and itchiness.

 

Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction. It can occur rapidly and it affects more than one body system, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, cutaneous, and gastrointestinal systems. It occurs as a result of the release of inflammatory substances from mast cells and basophils upon exposure to an allergen. Within minutes to an hour, symptoms could manifest as a red rash, swelling, wheezing, lowered blood pressure, and in severe cases, anaphylactic shock.

 

In the presence of breathing difficulties, racing heart, weak pulse, and/or a change in voice, the situation is precarious. It calls for an immediate medical attention.

 

Why does anaphylaxis occur? IgE-mediated anaphylaxis is the common form of anaphylaxis. Initial exposure to an allergen leads to the release of IgE so that re-exposure to the allergen leads to its identification and the eventual activation of mast cells and basophils.  Apart from immunologic factors, though, other causes of anaphylaxis are non-immunologic. For example, temperature (hot or cold), exercise, and vibration may cause anaphylaxis. In this case, IgE is not involved. Rather, these agents directly cause the mast cells and the basophils to degranulate.

 

 

 

Novel mechanism identified

Recently, a team of researchers1,2 found a novel mechanism that could explicate the hasty allergic reaction during anaphylaxis. They were first to uncover a mechanism involving the dendritic cells. Accordingly, a set of dendritic cells seem to “fish” allergens from the blood vessel using their dendrites. The dendritic cell near the blood vessel takes up the blood-borne allergen. Rather than initially processing it, and then presenting the epitope on its surface, it hands over the allergen inside a micro-vesicle to the adjacent mast cells.

 

Mast cells, unlike basophils that are in the bloodstream, are located in tissues, such as connective tissue. Thus, the question as to how the mast cells detect blood-borne allergen could be answered by the recent findings.

 

Rather than being internalized by the dendritic cells for processing, the allergen was merely taken into a micro-vesicle that budded off from the surface of dendritic cells. This, thus, saves time. It cuts the process, leading to a much rapid allergic reaction.

 

However, these findings were observed in mouse models. Therefore, the researchers have yet to observe if this novel mechanism also holds true on humans. If so, this could lead to possible therapeutic regulation of allergies, especially the most dreadful form, anaphylaxis.

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

References:

1 Choi, H.W., Suwanpradid, J. Il, Kim, H., Staats, H. F., Haniffa, M., MacLeod, A.S., & Abraham, S. N.. (2018). Perivascular dendritic cells elicit anaphylaxis by relaying allergens to mast cells via microvesiclesScience 362 (6415): eaao0666 DOI: 1126/science.aao0666
2 Duke University Medical Center. (2018, November 8). Using mice, researchers identify how allergic shock occurs so quickly: A newly identified immune cell mines the blood for allergens to directly trigger inflammation. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181108142440.htm

 

First time! Human blood cell turned into a young sex cell

In essence, our body consists of two major types of cells – one group involved directly in reproducing sexually (called sex cells) and another group that are not (called somatic cells). In particular, the female sex cell is referred to as the ovum (also called egg cell) whereas the male sex cell, the sperm cell. The somatic cells, in turn, are the cells in the body that have varying functions, such as nourishing the sex cells as well as keeping the body thriving and functional.

 

 

 

Origin of sex cells

Our body produces sex cells through the process called gametogenesis. The process is essentially a step-by-step process of meiosis. Oogenesis (i.e. gametogenesis in females) takes place in the ovaries to produce ova or egg cells. In brevity, the oogonium (the female primordial germ cell) undergoes meiosis to produce four haploid egg cells. Conversely, spermatogenesis (i.e. gametogenesis in males) occurs in the testes to yield sperm cells. Quintessentially, the spermatogonium (the male primordial germ cell) will go through meiosis to give rise to four haploid sperm cells.

 

 

 

Sex cells vs somatic cells

In humans, a sex cell may be identified from a somatic cell in being a haploid cell. That means a sex cell would have half the number of chromosomes as that of a somatic cell. Hence, an egg cell or a sperm cell would have 23 chromosomes whereas a somatic cell would have 46. Haploidy in sex cells is important in order to maintain the chromosomal integrity in humans across generations.

 

At fertilization, the sperm cell and the egg cell unite to form a diploid cell (called zygote). The zygote, then, divides mitotically, giving rise to pluripotent stem cells. A pluripotent stem cell is a cell capable of giving rise to various precursors that eventually will acquire specific identity and physiological function via a process called differentiation. A differentiated cell means that the cell has matured and acquired a more specific role, for instance as a skin cell, a blood cell, a liver cell, etc.

 

 

 

Somatic cell converted to sex cell

sex cell
Soon, a somatic cell could be converted into human sex cells.
[Image credit: Karl-Ludwig Poggemann, Flicker.com, CC by 2.0]

 

Intrinsically, a human somatic cell that has “differentiated” could never become a sex cell just as a sex cell could neither become nor give rise to a somatic cell. However, this may no longer hold true in the years to come.

 

Japanese researchers have, for the first time, successfully converted a somatic cell into a sex cell precursor.1 In particular, they had successfully created an oogonium from a human blood cell. They turned blood cells into “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS).2 Essentially, the blood cells – turned iPS – appeared to have undergone “molecular amnesia”. It means they forget their initial identity. As a result, they could become any type of cell, even as a sex cell.

 

The researchers transformed human blood cells into oogonia (plural of oogonium). They did so by incubating them for four months in artificial ovaries derived from embryonic mouse cells. They retrieved promising results. Admittedly though, they acknowledged they are still in the early steps of a rather long journey of research. The oogonia, indeed precursors to egg cells, are, at this point, still young, and thereby, unfit for fertilization. The researchers have yet to induce them to become mature, fully differentiated egg cells. Nevertheless, they remain optimistic in having reached this point, and, undeniably, pioneered an important milestone.

 

 

 

 

Ethical issues

If, in the future, research on the conversion of a somatic cell into a sex cell pushes through to completion, it could lead to significant resolves to infertility issues. However, ethical concerns shall, likely, surface as well. For instance, a possibility could occur in time. A mere hair cell or a skin cell from an unsuspecting person could be turned into an egg or a sperm cell. And from there, an offspring could come into existence.

 

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

References:

 

1 Yamashiro, C., Sasaki, K., Yabuta, Y., Kojima, Y., Nakamura, T., Okamoto, I., Yokobayashi, S., Murase, Y., Ishikura, Y., Shirane, K., Sasaki, H., Yamamoto, T., & Saitou, M. (2018 Oct 19).Generation of human oogonia from induced pluripotent stem cells in vitro. Science, 362(6412):356-360. doi: 10.1126/science.aat1674.

 

2 Solly, M. (2018 Sept. 24). Scientists create immature Human Eggs Out of Blood Cells For the First Time. Retrieved from [link]

 

“Mutualism factor” could explain why body does not attack normal flora

When sadness reeks in and you feel as if you are all by yourself, think again. That is because you are never alone. As a matter of fact, millions of microorganisms reside in our body day in and out. They are the normal flora. Our body is a world of microscopic living entities that inhabit our body without essentially causing a disease. Rather, they live in us in harmonious mutualism. Thus, our body is not ours alone. Hence, we can say we are not absolutely sterile from the moment we are born.

 

 

 

Normal flora

Typically, the body has about 1013 cells and harbors about 1014 bacteria.1 The multifarious yet specific genera of bacteria that predominate the body is referred to as the normal flora. In essence, the normal flora thrives in a host in a mutualistic lifestyle. The microbes take advantage from living stably in the body. In return, they confer benefits to the human host. For instance, their presence helps prevent other more harmful microbes from colonizing the host. Some of them biosynthesize products that the human body can use. Nevertheless, an immunocompromised host could suffer in cases when these bacteria became overwhelming in number, and thereby cause detectable harm, like infections or diseases.

 

 

 

Normal flora in the gut

normal flora in the gut
Escherichia coli, one of the many bacterial species of the normal flora in the human gut

 

Microbes that normally thrive in the gut are greater in density and diversity compared with those in other body parts. Nevertheless, they vary in density depending on the location in the gastrointestinal tract. For instance, the stomach harbors about 103 to 106/g of contents whereas the large bowel of the large intestine has about 109 to 1011/g of contents. The normal flora in the stomach has fewer normal microbial inhabitants due to its acidity. The ileum of the small intestine contains a moderate microbial number, i.e. 106 to 108/g of contents.1

 

Some of the various bacterial species of the normal gut flora includes the anaerobes, Enterococcus sp., Escherichia coli, Klebsiella sp., Lactobacillus sp., Candida sp., Streptococcus anginosus and other Streptococcus sp.. Some of these bacteria aid in the production of bile acid, vitamin K, and ammonia since they possess the necessary enzymes.

 

 

 

Coexistence

Certain normal gut bacteria can become pathogenic. They could cause a disease when opportunity presents such as when changes in their microbiota favor their growth. Be that as it may, a healthy individual would not be usually harmed by their presence. Thus, question arises — why our immune armies do not, by and large, act against the normal flora as aggressively as they would in the presence of more harmful pathogens.

 

Karen Guillemin, a professor of biology and one of the authors of a paper that appeared in a special edition of the journal eLife, was quoted3: “One of the major questions about how we coexist with our microbial inhabitants is why we don’t have a massive inflammatory response to the trillions of the bacteria inhabiting our guts.

 

 

 

“Mutualism factor”

Guillemin and her team of scientists reported that they uncovered a novel anti-inflammatory bacterial protein they referred to as Aeromonas immune modulator (AimA).  Accordingly, AimA is a protein produced by a common gut bacterium, Aeromonas sp., in the animal model, zebrafish.  The researchers found that AimA alleviated intestinal inflammation and extended the lifespan of the zebrafish from septic shock.2 Furthermore, they described it as an immune modulator that confers benefits to both bacteria and the zebrafish host.

 

The newly-discovered protein seems to be the first of its kind. Nevertheless, it is structurally similar to lipocalins, a class of proteins that, in humans, modulate inflammation. Based on their findings, the removal of this protein caused more intestinal inflammation in the host and the destruction of the normal Aeromonas gut bacterium. The reintroduction of AimA reverted to “normal”, i.e. the host, relieved from inflammation and Aeromonas’ typical density, restored. AimA appears to represent a new set of bacterial effector proteins. And, Guillemin referred to them as mutualism factors.3

 

Guillemin and her team postulate that many more of these mutualism factors exist even in humans, and yet to be found. These mutualism factors may have therapeutic potential for use in modulating inflammation especially in medical conditions such as sepsis and certain metabolic syndromes.

 

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

References:

 

1 Davis, C. P. (1996). Normal Flora. In: Baron S, editor. Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Retrieved from [link]

2 Rolig, A. S., Sweeney, E. G., Kaye, L.E., DeSantis, M. D., Perkins, A., Banse, A. V., Hamilton, M.K., & Guillemin, K. (2018). A bacterial immunomodulatory protein with lipocalin-like domains facilitates host–bacteria mutualism in larval zebrafish. eLife. [link]

3 University of Oregon. (2018, November 6). Novel anti-inflammatory bacterial protein discovered: Newly discovered protein alleviates intestinal inflammation and septic shock in an animal model. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from [link]

Mosquitoes wiped out by CRISPR–Cas9 gene drive

Up to what extremes are we willing to take in order to ensure the survival of our species? Mosquitoes may be tiny and insignificant. But, they are one of the deadliest ectoparasites that ever lived. They do not just feed on our blood. They could even leave us with a gift – like a “Pandora’s box” of dreadful diseases. Thus, we took a long stride. We armed ourselves with various weapons against these obnoxious flying “bloodsuckers“. And recently, researchers from Imperial College London came up with a novel strategy aimed at destroying them at their molecular level — by hacking their DNA with CRISPR technology.

 

 

 

Little flies

mosquitoes
Mosquitoes belong to the Order Diptera of Class Insecta

 

Mosquitoes are winged insects that belong to the Order Diptera. Their name means “little fly“. They have slender bodies, a pair of wings, three pairs of legs, a proboscis, and a pair of feathery antennae. Their life stages include egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Gravid female lays eggs on the water surface. Larvae hatch from the eggs and grow into pupae. Pupae, also called wrigglers, develop further and then emerge from the water as adults.  Adult males feed on nectar whereas adult females feed on blood. The females have specialized proboscis that they use to puncture the skin of their host and to suck blood.

 

 

 

Pandora’s box

Female mosquitoes feed on the blood because they need nutrients from the blood when they produce eggs. Blood does not coagulate in their proboscis because of the presence of anticoagulants in their saliva. They inject saliva into the skin of the host. Inopportunely, the saliva also serves as the main route by which mosquitoes introduce pathogens into the host’s bloodstream. Some of the mosquito-borne diseases include yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya, malaria, lymphatic filariasis, tularemia, and Zika disease.

 

 

 

CRISPR, the game changer

CRISPR-Cas9 – a customizable tool that cuts and inserts small pieces of DNA at specific areas along a DNA strand. (Credit: Ernesto del Aguila III, National Human Genome Research Institute, NIH)

 

Scientists from Imperial College London had a breakthrough when they used CRISPR technology for a gene drive to completely wipe out a population of mosquitoes grown inside the lab.1

 

Short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR is a gene-editing tool that scientists use to splice specific DNA targets and then replace them with a DNA that would yield the desired outcome.2

 

The researchers used CRISPR–Cas9 gene drive to suppress the population of caged Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes (human malarial vector). They modified the gene responsible for determining sex in male mosquitoes and turned the male gene dominant. Then, they added these “hacked’ mosquitoes to a caged population of unaltered male and female mosquitoes. The next generations of females could no longer lay eggs and could not bite. And by the eight generation, the population had no longer had females.3

 

 

Wiping out mosquitoes

Not all species of mosquitoes act as our straight foes. Thousands of mosquito species do not serve as vectors of diseases. Only a few hundreds (about 200) of them transmit human pathogens (e.g. Aedes aegypti, Anopheles spp.). Unfortunately, these few hundreds carry viruses, bacteria, protozoans, and helminthes that can cause serious, even fatal, diseases. Furthermore, current methods to eradicate them, e.g. spraying or fogging using insecticides, proved less ineffective since they developed resistance to such insecticides. Thus, the CRISPR technology could prove useful in this regard. However, the question remains: What will happen when these mosquitoes are completely eradicated from the face of the earth?

 

Obviously, humans reap directly the benefit of eradicating mosquito-borne diseases. However, it might also lead to an irrevocable ecological impact we could regret. Particularly in the food chain, loss of certain mosquito species could lead to the insufficiency of food for insectivores, such as birds and fish.  And over time, humans might eventually suffer as well from this jarring food-chain disturbance.

 

Mosquitoes have lived for so many million years. Do we have the right intent and purpose to deny them the right to live side by side with us? Could it be that we are in the verge of desperation? Definitely, we possess a powerful tool in our hands by the advent of CRISPR technology. However, what good of a purpose would it be if we use it solely for our own good?

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

References:

1 Kyrou, K., Hammond, A. M., Galizi, R., Kranjc, N., Burt, A., Beaghton, A.K., Nolan, T. & Crisanti, A. (2018). A CRISPR–Cas9 gene drive targeting doublesex causes complete population suppression in caged Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes. Nature Biotechnology. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.4245
2 Gonzaga, M. V. (2018). CRISPR caused gene damage? Rise and pitfall of the gene-editor. Biology-Online.org. Retrieved from

CRISPR caused gene damage? Rise and pitfall of the gene-editor


3 Houser, K. (2018 Sept. 25). SCIENTISTS WIPED OUT A MOSQUITO POPULATION BY HACKING THEIR DNA WITH CRISPR. Futurism.com. Retrieved from https://futurism.com/the-byte/gene-drive-mosquitos-crispr?fbclid=IwAR13KtvXDAeOnL7tjTIOL0-E4Q59HHquKev73tiBfirxypfcNkxeZUNEi7A

Wild dolphins learn to “tail-walk” on the water, yet it’s just a fad

Dolphins performing acrobatic tricks have, time and again, fascinated and mesmerized people. As early as 1860s, capturers took dolphins and other cetaceans (e.g. whales and porpoises) out of their aquatic habitats and held them in captivity in various parts of Europe and North America. At first, they kept them in a dolphinarium mainly as an amusement for a paying audience. Later on, they discovered that these aquatic marvels could be taught to perform tricks. Since then, people have gravitated to various dolphin shows as one of their “must-dos” off their bucket list.

 

 

 

Dolphins learning tricks

 

bottlenose dolphins
Dolphins have long fascinated people with their acrobatic tricks

 

The tricks that dolphins can do seem limitless. Apart from their fantastic leaps and bounds, they can do complex tricks like tail-walking, playing ball, synchronized swimming, and rhythmic gymnastics. How do they learn these tricks? Trainers use positive reinforcement method to teach dolphins the jaw-dropping tricks.  Accordingly, they reward them with food whenever they do a trick correctly. Watching them do these tricks, though, seems that they perform not only for the food reward but also for their own enjoyment based on their playful nature.

 

dolphins porpoising
Porpoising behavior of dolphins

 

 

Wild dolphins’ ballistic jumps

Frequently, wild dolphins leap above the water surface. They do so by swimming fast near the surface, and then execute a ballistic jump.  This behavior, called porpoising, seems a demonstration of their playful behavior. Nevertheless, another hypothetical reason surfaced.  Accordingly, this porpoising behavior points to the benefit it furnishes. The friction up in the air is less; therefore, porpoising would help save dolphin energy.1

 

Seeing dolphins doing leaps and bounds in the wild is something that is truly remarkable yet not unusual. However, a pod of playful aquatic creatures in the wild were observed doing a trick rarely seen in the wild. Furthermore, the trick was something that they learned from a formerly captive dolphin.

 

 

 

Wild dolphins’ tail-walking trick

Recently, a study2 reported what they observed in wild dolphins. They saw a pod (particularly, a group consisting of nine dolphins) off the Australian coast that learned from a previously captive dolphin how to “walk” on water using their tail.

 

Tail walking is one of the fundamental tricks taught to captive dolphins. It involves rising vertically out of the water. Then, the dolphin moves forward or backward on top of the water. This skill is rarely seen in wild dolphins.2

 

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, together with the universities of St Andrews and Exeter, conducted a thirty-year study where they revealed that dolphins in the wild were able to learn a human-coached tail-walking trick from Billie. Billie is a rescued dolphin from a creek near Adelaide’s Patawalonga River in 1988. The dolphin was in captivity temporarily. During its captivity, it learned how to tail-walk. When it was released into the wild, it taught its companions by continuing to demonstrate the skill. Soon after, its peers copied it. In 2011, nine dolphins began tail walking. However, this spectacular display of “walking” by fins turned out to be just a fad. The number of wild dolphins that tail walk declined over time. As of 2014, only two of them remained to demonstrate the skill. 2

 

Watch here:

Conservation efforts

Dolphins, just as all the other living beings, deserve an inhabitable space in order to thrive and keep surviving. The ability of the dolphins to imitate skills could be used in spreading learnt behaviours that could be beneficial to their survival.  The lengthy study that tracked the tail-walking behavior of Billie and the local dolphin community for years revealed an important insight. Accordingly, dolphins learning a behavior from each other can persist from one generation to the next. However, there is a tendency that certain learnt behaviors will fade, and, inopportunely, vanish through time.

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

 

References:
1 Weihs, D. (2002). “Dynamics of Dolphin Porpoising Revisited”. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 42 (5): 1071–1078. doi:10.1093/icb/42.5.1071
2 Whale and Dolphin Conservation. (2018 Aug. 29). WILD DOLPHINS LEARN FROM EACH OTHER TO ‘WALK ON WATER’…BUT IT’S JUST A FAD. Retrieved from https://uk.whales.org/news/2018/08/wild-dolphins-learn-from-each-other-to-walk-on-waterbut-its-just-fad
3 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). (2014 Nov. 5). Dolphins tailwalking – Port River, Adelaide | Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tn5TJfR3k4

Biomolecule β-Hydroxybutyrate – key to vascular youth?

One of the hallmarks of old age is vascular aging. Researchers found that a biomolecule, β-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB), can serve as a key to turning the time around. Apparently, BHB has anti-aging effects on the vascular system.

 

 

 

β-Hydroxybutyrate – a biomolecule

 

Beta-hydroxybutyrate biomolecule
Molecular structure of the biomolecule, β-Hydroxybutyrate

 

β-Hydroxybutyrate is a biomolecule with a chemical formula, C4H803. Many regard it as a ketone; however, under a strict definition, it would not technically fit as a ketone. That is because its carbonyl carbon binds to only one instead of two other carbon atoms. Nonetheless, BHB appears to be physiologically related to other ketone bodies (such as acetate and acetoacetate) based on the metabolic aspect. For instance, the tissue level of BHB rises during calorie restrictions, fasting, prolonged intense workout, and when following a ketogenic diet.1 Accordingly, BHB level occurs the highest among the three circulating ketones in the body.

 

 

 

β-Hydroxybutyrate – biological sources

The body naturally produces BHB through the process of ketogenesis. Low-carb diet and fasting lead to the rise of BHB level. Firstly, the body breaks down fatty acids to produce acetyl CoA. This precursor goes through a series of reactions leading to acetoacetate synthesis. In turn, the acetoacetate circulates via the bloodstream, and subsequently reaches the liver. The BHB-dehydrogenase enzyme in the liver reduces the acetoacetate to BHB. 1

 

Another biochemical pathway that leads to the synthesis of this biomolecule uses butyrate. The body metabolizes butyrate and produce D-β-hydroxybutyrate through the aid of the enzyme, hydroxybutyrate-dimer hydrolase.

 

 

 

β-Hydroxybutyrate –  biological action

In humans, D-β-hydroxybutyric acid is one of the major endogenous agonist of hydroxycarboxylic acid receptor 2 (HCA2), a receptor protein encoded by the HCAR2 gene. It binds to and activates HCA2. Upon activation, HCA2 can inhibit the breakdown of fats and mediates niacin-induced flushing. Moreover, it induces the dilation of blood vessels.

 

Based on recent research, BHB might serve as a biomolecule that could help turn time around for the vascular system. Old age faces an increased risk to cancer and cardiovascular diseases since the vasculature ages as well. Dr. Ming-Hui Zou, director at Georgia State University, explains. “When people become older, the vessels that supply different organs are the most sensitive and more subject to aging damage….”2

 

 

β-Hydroxybutyrate –  vascular study

biomolecule for vascular youth
The biomolecule, β-Hydroxybutyrate, apparently has anti-aging effects, particularly keeping the vascular system young

 

Zou et al. 2, 3 conducted a study on vascular aging, exploring the link between calorie restrictions and delayed vascular aging. Accordingly, calorie restrictions averted vascular aging.

 

They found that BHB, the biomolecule naturally produced from the liver, has anti-aging effects, particularly on endothelial cells. The endothelial cells line the interior surface of the vascular system. Based on the results, BHB promoted mitosis of endothelial cells, thus, pre-empting vascular aging.3 Furthermore, they saw that BHB binds to a certain protein, which stimulates a series of reactions that consequently rejuvenate, thus, keep the blood vessels young.2

 

 

 

BHB could eventually become a biomolecular tool that promotes mitosis of endothelial cells. In being able to do so, it could help prevent endothelial cell senescence. Hence, this potential rejuvenating effect on the vascular system may soon become valuable not just in keeping the blood vessels young but also in preventing cardiovascular diseases related to old age.

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

 

References:
1 Martins, N. (2018 Sept. 26). Beta-hydroxybutyrate or BHB –All You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://hvmn.com/blog/exogenous-ketones/beta-hydroxybutyrate-or-bhb-all-you-need-to-know
2 Georgia State University. (2018 Sept. 10). Researchers Identify Molecule With Anti-Aging Effects On Vascular System. Retrieved from https://www.technologynetworks.com/neuroscience/news/fasting-molecule-delays-vascular-aging-309380
3 Han, Y. M., Bedarida, T., Ding, Y., Somba, B. K., Lu, Q., Wang, Q., Song, P., & Zou, M.H. (2018). β-Hydroxybutyrate Prevents Vascular Senescence through hnRNP A1-Mediated Upregulation of Oct4. Molecular Cell, 71(6):1064-1078.e5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molcel.2018.07.036

Mitochondrial DNA – hallmark of psychological stress

We often hear that stress can be unsettling as it could make us ill when it becomes chronic and overwhelming. However, is there really a biological ratification behind it? Is it scientifically founded? Apparently, independent studies hinted a biological connection indicating how stress can cause biological damage, and eventually lead to certain ailments. And, the mitochondrial DNA — the genome in the mitochondrion appears to play a role.

 

 

 

Biological features of mitochondria

mitochondrial process
Mitochondrial processes that lead to the generation of ATP.
Credit: Boumphreyfr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

 

The mitochondrion (plural: mitochondria) is an organelle that supplies molecular energy for various biological activities. In essence, this rod-shaped structure found within the cell accounts for the generation of ATP, the cell’s major energy source. Thus, the mitochondrion is known to be the “powerhouse of the cell“.

 

Through the process of cellular respiration, glucose (a monosaccharide) is “churned” to extract energy, primarily, in the form of ATP. Firstly, a series of reactions leads to the conversion of glucose to pyruvate. Then, it uses pyruvate, converting it into acetyl coenzyme A for oxidation via enzyme-driven cyclic reaction called Krebs cycle. Finally, a cascade of reactions (redox reactions) involving the electron transport chain leads to the production of ATPs (via chemiosmosis).

 

The mitochondria have their own genetic material, called mitochondrial DNA. Because of this, the mitochondrion is regarded as semi-autonomous and self-reproducing organelle. It means it can manufacture its own RNAs and proteins.  Generally, we inherit the mitochondrial genome maternally, as opposed to the nuclear genome that we inherit from both parents.

mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA.
Credit: National Institutes of Health

 

 

 

Mitochondrial fate during stress

mitochondrial DNA and stress
Psychological stress can cause biological damage, such as the release of mitochondrial DNA from damaged and worn-out mitochondria.

 

When confronted with a stressful situation, our body responds intrinsically. We tend to breathe fast. The heartbeat goes wild. Our muscles tense up. And, we sweat profusely. All these responses (so-called “fight-or-flight“) can be an arduous task as they abruptly demand energy. When triggered for so long, eventually, we feel exhausted.  Sooner or later, stress sets in and it takes its toll on our health.

 

The mitochondria work for an extended time just to meet up the spike of demand for energy. In effect, they become vulnerable to damage from too much work.  Inopportunely, the mitochondria have limited repair mechanisms unlike the nucleus.1 And in the end, it results in the disruption of the organelle, thereby, releasing the mitochondrial DNA into the cytoplasm. Eventually, the genetic material reaches the bloodstream where they become genetic cast-offs.

 

 

 

Mitochondrial DNA cast-offs

The ejected mitochondrial DNA, apparently, becomes genetic wastes and stress might have something to do with this outcome. This theory came about based on a series of studies. Firstly, Gong et al. found that chronic mild stress resulted in mitochondrial damage in hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cortex in mouse brains.2

 

Secondly, another team of researchers (Lindqvist et al.) reported that individuals who had recent suicide attempt had higher plasma level of freely circulating mitochondrial DNA in blood than those of healthy individuals.3

 

Thirdly, Martin Picard (a psychobiologist at Columbia University), together with his team, observed similar findings in their participants exposed to a stressful situation. Accordingly, their participants – healthy men and women – were asked to defend themselves against a false accusation. Their blood samples were taken before and after the interview. The researchers found that the mitochondrial DNA in the serum of the participants increased twice 30 minutes after the test. 1 Picard explained that the mitochondrial DNA might have acted like a hormone. Furthermore, he theorized that the ejection of these genetic cast-offs might have mimicked the adrenal gland cells releasing cortisol in response to stress. 1

 

 

 

Mitochondrial DNA as an inflammatory factor

Zhang et al. observed that circulating mitochondrial DNA triggered inflammatory responses. Accordingly, the genetic cast-offs can bind to TLR9 (a receptor) on the immune cell. This binding might have incited the immune cell to respond the same way as they do when reacting with antigens. It might have stimulated the cell to release cytokines that call for other immune cells to the site. 1

 

 

 

So far, these conjectures from independent studies disclose the possible direct biological damage due to stress. There could be a biological insinuation that stress could play a part in the manifestation of ill-health conditions. And, the upsurge of circulating mitochondrial DNA cast-offs is one of them. More information and studies on mitochondrial DNA are delineated on a report on mental health published in Scientific American.

 

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

 

References:
1 Sheikh, K. (2018 Sept 13). Brain’s Dumped DNA May Lead to Stress, Depression. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brain-rsquo-s-dumped-dna-may-lead-to-stress-depression/
2 Gong, Y. Chai, Y., Ding, J. H., Sun, X. L., & Hu, G. (2011).Chronic mild stress damages mitochondrial ultrastructure and function in mouse brain. Neuroscience Letters, 488 (1): 76-80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2010.11.006
3 Lindqvist, D., Fernström, J., Grudet, C., Ljunggren, L., Träskman-Bendz, L., Ohlsson, L., & Westrin, Å. (2016). Increased plasma levels of circulating cell-free mitochondrial DNA in suicide attempters: associations with HPA-axis hyperactivity. Translational Psychiatry, 6 (12), e971–. http://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2016.236

Longest recorded trans-Pacific migration of a whale shark

Whale shark is a slow moving carpet shark and known as the largest extant fish species. It has a very huge mouth yet it feeds almost exclusively on plankton and small fishes. In marine biodiversity records whale shark showed the longest migratory path. Migratory behavior of marine species has been subject for research studies since it is important for optimizing growth and foraging opportunities. It also caters the breeding ground at discrete geographical locations and identification of different habitats across several jurisdictions. Also, it serves as the key for spatial planning and international policy management for ecosystem resources. Furthermore, gene flow, connectivity and population status are essentials for the marine conservation especially for migratory species.

 

Whale shark Migratory Route

On September 16, 2011 three female whale shark were tag using satellite transmitter model SPOT 253C. The tag specifies battery life wherein transmission occurs only when the animal is swimming near surface to maximize battery life. One female whale shark named Anne remained in Panamanian waters for 116 days then to eastern Pacific for 226 days. Then transmission began again at Hawaii after 235 days of silence then continued to Marshall Islands for about 268 days. But then transmission were interrupted again when the Anne reach the Mariana Trench.

 

So, the whale shark Anne travelled a long distance of 20,142 km approximately from Panama to Mariana Trench. Throughout this period Anne spent the entire time above thermocline with a temperature ranging from 15.1–35 °C. The route taken by Anne followed primarily westward North Equatorial Current similar to other whale that has been tracked previously. These results show that long periods without transmission do not necessarily entails tag shedding. Thus, this unusual long distance travelled of Anne and the intervals between detection offers evidence both tracking and genetic studies. It also suggests that whale shark is capable of long-distance travel.

 

Whale shark can migrate from Eastern Pacific to Western Indo-Pacific connecting two ocean basin using North Equatorial Current. It also imply that a potential passageway to reach Philippine Sea into South China Sea to get to Indian Ocean. Moreover, the results of this record are consistent to the genetic studies showing potential dispersal of whale shark. Overall, these two tracks showed by Anne expose the complexity of management of endangered species crossing multiple jurisdictions. Yet, the protection and conservation programs focused only at the local level rather than across Pacific.

 

Source: Prepared by Joan Tura from BMC Marine Biodiversity Records

Volume 11:8, April 19, 2018

Plant sets off “SOS” for plant defense when it gets hurt

When herbivore, such as an insect, nibbles a plant leaf, the plant sets off an “SOS” or distress signal as one of the various plant defense strategies. This was based on what a team of researchers headed by Masatsugu Toyota observed. Accordingly, the injured leaf makes the distant undamaged leaves aware that it is being eaten.

 

Masatsugu Toyota worked with Simon Gilroy, Professor of Botany in the University of Wisconsin-Madison.1 Now, Toyota is at Saitama University in Japan and collaborated with a team of researchers from the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Michigan State University and the University of Missouri. Their research findings can be accessed online via the journal Science. 2

 

 

 

Rapid signaling in plant defense mechanism

plant defense
Calcium propagating across the plant after supplying glutamate at the tip of the leaf. Image taken from the video of Toyota, Gilroy, et al. depicting one of the data from their recent study on a mutant Arabidopsis. 1

Previously, Toyota et al. knew that when a plant gets wounded, it releases signaling molecules that fired an electrical charge, and then spread across the plant. However, they did not know what was behind the system.3 Now, the research team deduced that the signal may have been calcium since it carries a charge, and capable of producing such signal. 1

 

The research team worked on a mutant Arabidopsis. They designed a mutant model plant that would synthesize protein that fluoresces, but only around calcium. In so doing, they can track calcium in real time.

 

 

 

Plant defense involving glutamate

In spite of the fact that the plants lack the nerves and a nervous system of an animal, the plants have a fairly similar systemic signaling system as part of plant defense mechanisms.

 

In animals, glutamate acts as one of the major and fast excitatory neurotransmitters of the central nervous system. Toyota et al. elucidated that, in plants, glutamate is also present. The injured leaf releases glutamate and this molecule is taken up by glutamate-receptor-like ion channels. Consequently, these ion channels led to a spike in calcium ion concentration. These calcium ions, then, spread out to other plant parts via the phloem vasculature and the plasmodesmata. 2

 

This video from UW-Madison Campus Connection shows the wave of calcium after supplying glutamate to the tip of a leaf. The plant fluoresces to indicate how the calcium spreads out across the plant.

 

 

 

 

Distress signal

In just a couple of minutes, the region receiving the distress signal responds by releasing chemicals. The release of defense-related hormones, for instance, turns the plant unpalatable to the herbivore. In another case, the plant emits volatile chemicals to call for insect allies, such as parasitic wasps. This is an indirect type of a plant defense strategy. The wasps recognize the distress signal that an herbivore feeds on the plant. They, then, go towards the plant to hunt for and lay eggs on the herbivore caterpillar host, thus, killing the latter eventually.4

 

 

 

Plants do not have the capacity to move around at will and in the same way that animals do. And certainly, they cannot run away from herbivores as a prey would to escape a predator. Nevertheless, the plants possess features that strategically protect them against their “predator” despite being firmly rooted in the field. One such plant defense mechanism entails chemicals. In particular, glutamate that acts similarly as neurotransmitter in animals. This demonstrates how a plant can likewise be complex, dynamic, and efficacious with regard to dealing with its “predators”.

 

 

 

— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga

 

 

 

References:
1 Hamilton, E. (2018 Sept. 13). Blazes of light reveal how plants signal danger long distances. University of Wisconsin-Madison News. Retrieved from https://news.wisc.edu/blazes-of-light-reveal-how-plants-signal-danger-long-distances/
2 Toyota, M., Spencer, D., Sawai-Toyota, D., Jiaqi, W., Zhang, T., Koo, A. J., Howe, G.A., &Gilroy, S. (2018). Glutamate triggers long-distance, calcium-based plant defense signaling. Science, 361 (6407): 1112. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7744
3 Starr, M. (2018 Sept. 14). An Amazing Reaction Happens When a Plant Gets Hurt, Making Them More Similar to Animals. ScienceAlert.com. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/plant-damage-response-defence-calcium-ions-glutamate-fluorescent
4 Phillips, K. (2014 Sept. 22). Mown grass smell sends SOS for help in resisting insect attacks, researchers say. Retrieved from https://today.agrilife.org/2014/09/22/mown-grass-smell-sends-sos-for-help-in-resisting-insect-attacks-researchers-say/