Penny Thoughts

Tag: news

Could Young Blood Stop you from Ageing?

Research in the US has shown that injecting old mice with young blood leads to improved muscle strength, brain function and stamina; potentially reversing the effects of ageing.

3 studies were published last week in Science, all reporting on the rejuvenating effects of young blood in older mice. The young blood led to the appeared reversal of age-related declines in memory, learning, stamina and the function of many organs including the heart and brain.

Ageing is the underlying cause of a huge number of health problems. As our bodily systems slowly go into decline with age, health problems like dementia, cancer, heart disease and diabetes become more and more common. By learning more about the ageing process and its links with various health problems, we could predict, or even prevent many cases. Therefore, this research carried out in the US is of great importance.

In each study the researchers used a process called heterochronic parabiosis, which essentially involves joining two mice together; think conjoined twins. This process is carried out by making an incision on one side of each mouse and then allowing the wounds to heal in such a way that the two mice become joined. This process results in the joining of the two mice’s blood supply.

The researchers joined young mice (3 months) with older mice (18 months) and studied the effects of the new shared blood supply.  They found that brain function increased in the older mouse, as not only did the mice grow more neural connections (how brain cells communicate), these connections were also stronger. This means better communication between the cells in the brain of the older mouse.

Villeda, lead author of one of the papers told the Guardian “There’s something about young blood that can literally reverse the impairments you see in the older brain.”

From these initial findings Villeda went on to directly inject older mice with young blood plasma (blood without red blood cells), and what he found was remarkable. He tested the young and old rats’ memory and ability to learn using a water maze and testing their ability to remember a threatening environment.

The old rats injected with young blood plasma performed just as well as the six-month old rats in the maze task. Even more remarkably, the older rats performed as well as the three-month olds in remembering a threatening environment.

These results suggest that there is something in the blood of young rats that is essentially reversing or halting the ageing process in older rats.. so what is it?

The answer to that very important questions is Creb; a protein that regulates the brain. The young blood plasma actually increases the activity of Creb which in turn switches on the genes that create neural connections.

However, young plasma isn’t just improving learning and memory in mice. Further studies have shown that injected young blood also increases blood flow in the brain by encouraging blood vessel growth. There was also an increase in the growth of neural stem cells which later become new brain cells. It has also been found that young blood makes older mice stronger and boosts endurance due to increased muscle function. The young blood also led to the older mice gaining a greater sense of smell.

So this is all very exciting, but what happens if you do the opposite, and inject young mice with old blood? Well, interestingly the younger mice show the opposite results; they show decreased brain and muscle function and perform less well in memory and learning tasks. So the process works both ways.

So what does this all mean for us? According to Villeda, “The evidence is strong enough now, in multiple tissues, that it’s warranted to try and apply this in humans”. This potential research is however, not expected to take place until three to five years from now.

This is all very promising, and if the same is found in humans there could be a dramatic reduction in the onset of age-related health issues, which would be particularly important as the aged population in the UK continues to grow. Preventing the onset of these diseases would save a huge amount of money and potentially work to prevent the potential impeding public health crisis.

However, we cannot know for sure the impacts of this study on humans until clinical trials are carried out. So don’t go stitching yourself to your children just yet.. there is plenty more we don’t know.

 

Poisonous Rhino Horns: The Answer to a Difficult Question?

This year over 200 rhinos have been illegally slaughtered to feed the incessant demand for rhino horn coming from the East. The huge majority of this demand is coming from China where the horn is used for traditional medicine and the ivory for numerous products including artworks and weapon handles.

One kilogram of rhino horn can fetch up to $68 000 on the black market making it worth more than its weight in gold. This clearly lucrative business attracts a lot of people and devalues the potentials costs associated with being part of an illegal industry.

There have been endless attempts to try to control this illegal poaching but with very little success. The number of rhinos being poached is rising each year and the future is looking ever darker for rhinos around the world. A ban has existed since the 1970s but is providing little protection to these heavily targeted creatures. Due to this, alternative approaches have been considered.

I have already written a post about the attempt to legalise the ivory trade to enable more control of the industry. This idea was based on the fact that rhino horn is made out our keratin, like our finger nails and therefore can regrow. So essentially rhino horn harvesting could take place. If you want to read more about this really interesting idea follow this link.

This year, another alternative method of control is being carried out in a game reserve in South Africa; Sabi Sands. It is targeting the medicinal use of the rhino horn which is ingested. The rhino horns are being injected with a mixture of parasiticides and an inedible pink die. If ingested, this cocktail of chemicals will make the consumer very ill, leading to “nausea, stomach ache, [and] diarrhoea.”

Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association has stated that the poison will not kill people just make them very ill. The pink dye will also be very obvious and therefore should act as an obvious visual deterrent. This dye will also make it very obvious to poachers that the rhino horn is poisoned and should prevent continued hunting of rhinos in those regions. It will also serve as a very good indicator for border control forces who will rapidly be able identify rhino horn in its whole or powder form.

So what is actually in this poisonous cocktail of chemicals. The parasiticides used are generally used to control mites on livestock like horses, sheep and cattle. This is mixed with the dye and injected into a hole that is bored into the rhino horn when the rhino is sedated. This “toxification” has already been carried out on over 100 rhinos in South Africa, and work is continuing to toxify even more.

This process does seem like a good idea, however, it does bring up some moral concerns. This process is acting with the intention of causing harm to consumers. Yes, these consumers are acting illegally, but does that justify this kind of action? In my opinion it does. These people aren’t going to die, but it will serve as a lesson to not consume this illegal product. The lesson may be harsh, but the current “weaker” attempts are not working. Maybe these consumers deserve this kind of action and considering the product will be bright pink they would have to be pretty stupid to go on and eat it.

Another concern is that this may not bring an end to poaching or even reduce the levels, it may simply displace the poaching to other places. Poachers may be put off from poaching in certain regions due to this action, however, these people are likely to just target other areas to obtain their income. This method could be effective if carried out throughout a

ll/the large majority of the rhino’s distribution; unfortunately, this is really not a possibility. Many rhinos do reside within reserves and parks, but a large proportion of these parks do not have the people, the materials or the funds to carry out this kind of work. Also, many rhinos do not live in parks and therefore it would be extremely complicated to toxify all rhinos.

Maybe with significant funding and support, a campaign could be carried out; this is unfortunately pretty unlikely too. A huge amount of lobbying and campaigning would be required, with research and trials to determine whether this method would be a possibility. This would all take quite some time, and maybe too much time for the rhinos.

There is also concern that the rhino poachers simply wouldn’t care. These people are criminals, if they can still fetch a decent amount of money it is very likely that they will continue to poach these rhinos until the horn completely devalues. Devaluing may occur if this toxification can be rolled out across the world driving down global demand, but as has been mentioned, this is a lot easier said than done.

The Sabi Sands reserve want to tell poachers that they have no place being in their park as their rhinos are pointless kills. I do worry about this message; a few years ago some parks were shaving the horn off rhinos so that the poachers had no access to the horn and therefore, no profit. However, the poachers retaliated and many rhinos were slaughtered in response.

Overall, I think this is a good idea. Measures in place aren’t working and so new, alternative measures are having to be considered. This approach does come with some ifs and buts, but in my opinion, every little helps. However, it may reach a point  where our greed seals the fate for rhinos, where investing effort into saving them would be rendered pointless. Some people already think this is the case. I do still think there is some time, but that window of opportunity is ever shrinking and action needs to be taken now before it’s too late.

Beaches Turn Red as Thousands of Langoustines Wash Up on Chilean Beach

Beaches in Chile have turned red with the presence of thousands of washed up prawns and langoustines and no one knows why.

Unfortunately the best photo I can get hold of is this screen grab of some footage, but more photos should be popping up online soon I’m sure.

Numerous beaches of the Concepcion Province are coated in a carpet of langoustines. Investigations are being carried out to attempt to find out the reason for this occurrence.  Tests of sea temperature, electrical conductivity and oxygen levels will be carried out to help to determine what has caused the deaths of thousands of langoustines. The main culprits at the moment are viruses of the langoustines, offshore oil exploration and poisoned food, but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.

This is not the first time living creatures have washed up on Pacific Chilean beaches, but this event is on a much greater scale and has perplexed locals and authorities in the area.

For a little more information watch this video from the Guardian.

There is concern that these events are becoming more common. Is this a chance event or is something happening in our oceans driving this kind of strange occurrence?

Hopefully there will be some more answers over the next few days..

Killing Our Bees: The Pesticide Story

Bee numbers have fallen by 50% in the last 25 years in the UK and US. This is a huge problem as bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, and are therefore paramount to our food security.

There has been extensive research carried out to determine what is causing this rapid decline in these precious insects. Main culprits include the varroa mite, loss of habitat and increased pesticide use.

A recent study has found that certain pesticides called neonicotinoids are having hugely detrimental effects on our bees. It has been shown that bee colonies in regions with neonicotinoid pesticide use have an 85% reduction in the number of queens the nest can produce. This means that very few new colonies are being formed the next season. The researchers also found that the colonies were smaller in the presence of the pesticides and therefore at higher risk of death.

Other researchers have found that the neonicotinoids lead to changes in the brain functioning of bees. The neonicotinoid pesticides are altering the bees’ abilities to navigate back to the colony. This means that a huge number are not returning to the nest and if they do not find their way, they die.

All of these factors are having a hugely detrimental effect on the already diminishing bee populations.

With these discoveries, a proposal has been put forward calling for the ban of the use of three types of neonicotinoid pesticides across Europe. This ban would see the halting of use of these three pesticides on crops including oil seed rape and sunflowers. The decision will be made on Friday, when the members of the European Commission vote on the matter.

This proposal has seen enormous public support. The campaign group Avaaz set up a petition so the public could show their feelings on the matter. They have managed to obtain over 2.5 million signatures and a massive 70% of Britons have voted in favour of the ban.

However, regardless of this public support, the UK environmental secretary, Owen Paterson is not supporting the ban. He is also not alone. Germany and Spain are also opposing the ban and this outweighs the support from France, Poland and The Netherlands.

Knowing the state of bee populations in Europe and their predicted future decline, it seems very short sighted to ignore these warning signs associated with the neonicotinoid pesticides. This is again a case of our policy makers ignoring scientists’ push for urgent action to enable brighter futures. As the bee populations continue to crash the world powers are putting global food security at great risk by maintaining their ignorance towards these kinds of matters.

Instead of taking proactive action to maintain well-being for future generations, policy makers are acting with short term interests in mind. Yes, with a ban on these three pesticides there will likely be a fall in certain areas of crop productivity. But we have the technology and knowledge to manage this in a safer and more sustainable way so that this fall will not continue.

The over-reliance on these damaging chemicals is not a new problem, and it was hoped that lessons would have been learned from the DDT disaster and release of Silent Spring over 50 years ago.

It does seem that some nations are beginning to see the problems we are currently facing and will continue to face in the future. Some powers seem to be thinking in a more proactive manner, which is great. However, until the majority of nations are on board with this kind of approach very little can and will be done.