Scientific discoveries this week: 4/22/13

San Francisco, California
Scientists from UC San Francisco discovered that muscle repair requires the action of two types of cells known for causing inflammation and forming fat. The finding found that a immune cell called the eosinophil carries out muscle repair by clearing out cellular debris from damaged tissue and teaming up with a type of cell that can make fat to instead trigger muscle regrowth. The eosinophils move to the site of the injury and collaborate with a progenitor cell–an immature cell similar to stem cells to form new muscle fibers.The progenitor cells are well known for their role in making fat which occurs when the body experiences prolonged immobility. Eosinophils are known for fighting bacteria and parasites, like other immune cells, but they are more often thought of for their role in allergic reactions and other inflammatory reactions. The researchers are trying to determine if eosinophils and the progenitor cells are universally employed in injuries sites as a way to get rid of debris and rebuilding muscle without triggering anaphylactic shock.

Barcelona, Spain
A study published by scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) attempted to shed light on the side effects produced by drugs. The objective of the study was to determine the molecular bases of side effects and provide medical chemists with the tools to design safer drugs and to predict their effects. The study collected and proposed molecular hypotheses for 1,162 side effects. The researchers studied the proteins and chemical structure of drugs that cause each known side effect. Of the 1,162 side effects that the scientists studied, 446 can be explained on the basis of biology, 68 on the basis of chemistry, and 645 requiring both biological and chemical considerations. Some of the side effects that were studied include yellow vision, pulmonary obstruction, involuntary body movements, and respiratory paralysis.

San Francisco, California
Smoking tobacco through a hookah is often misconstrued as being less harmful than smoking cigarettes. In a new study from UC San Francisco researchers measured chemical in blood and urine and concluded that hookah smoke contains a different but still harmful mix of toxins. According to the study, Hookah use exposes smokers to higher levels of carbon monoxide, and to higher levels of benzene. Furthermore, daily hookah smokers are at an increased risk of cancer compared to non-smokers. A 2009 study found that hookah use was disproportionately popular among white college students, and especially fraternity and sorority members. The reasons for the difference in the toxins that ended up in the bodies of volunteers were due to the fact that smokers were smoking two different materials. Hookah users are smoking more than just tobacco as they burn a charcoal briquette on top of the tobacco. Additionally, hookah smokers are smoking a moist fruit preparation which is mixed in with the tobacco and smells and tastes good. Although when compared to cigarette use the intake of nictine was less with water pipe use. According to the study, the most common pattern of hookah use in the United States — about once per week — is not likely to cause addiction. Exposures for various known toxins differed for the two modes of smoking and because individuals vary in how their bodies metabolize and excrete toxic substances, the researchers had volunteers smoke cigarettes and a water pipe on different days for better results.

University of Guelph, Canada
Researchers showed for the first time how female squirrels use social cues to prepare their offspring for life outside the nest. The results confirm that red squirrel mothers boost stress hormone production during pregnancy which increases the size and chance of survival of their offspring. According to the study natural selection favors faster-grwoing offspring and squirrels can produce these faster growing offspring even though they don’t have access to additional food resources. The team based its study on the Kluane Red Squirrel Project, a 22-year-long study on North American red squirrels living in the Yukon led by researchers from the University of Alberta, Guelph, and McGill University. In the field the team used rattles, recordings of territorial vocalizations, to create the illusion of a big population of squirrels. The females reacted to the rattles by producing more stress hormones while pregnant and their pups grew faster. In a follow-up study researchers manipulated stress hormone levels in mothers to conclusively show that stress hormones caused the pups to grow faster. It seems that despite the perception that stress is bad, the study shows that when it comes to survival of the fittest, stress can be a good thing. In squirrel populations when population density is high only the fastest-growing offspring survive.

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