Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Newspaper ink promotes a sun tanning-like phenotype in nude mice

Paul Kammerer, Jr. and Benjamin Coppertone
Neues Biologische Versuchsanstalt, Vienna, Austria

The Amazon rainforest is the richest region on Earth in terms of biological diversity, with an estimation of around 5 millions of different living species of plants and animals, including humans. This high biodiversity makes the region a suitable source of organic compounds with applications for mankind. Examples include the sticky additive used for chewing gum, the neuro-excitatory drugs included in commercial cigarettes, and the secret component of CokeTM, among others. To search for novel natural compounds with utility in human health, we have performed a systematic high throughput phenotypic screening of unbiased crude extracts from organic samples collected randomly all along the Amazonia, from Ecuador to the French Guiana, using as the readout phenotype variations in hairless nude mice. The Amazon Jungle was divided in 33,333 sectors of 150 square kilometres each. About 33% of the sectors were eliminated from the study due to the lack of natural material because of severe deforestation, and biological samples were systematically obtained from the remaining 22,222 sectors using an ACME (Accurately Calibrated Machines for Everything, Inc.) robotized harvester. This procedure avoided human manipulation during the collection of samples and guaranteed the obtaining of uncontaminated mixtures of natural substances. The samples were homogenized, encapsulated, and sterilized using a standard pet-dry food processor, and tested for induction of phenotype changes in nude mice after their administration in combination with the regular food. Real-time video survey of the mice cages certified that the animals really enjoyed eating the Amazonian food tablets. A diverse array of novel phenotypes was obtained in the mice, which will be described in detail elsewhere. Here, we briefly summarize the most frequent of these phenotypes, which displayed a high level of penetrance and consisted in mice showing a dotted sun tanning-like pattern.

Several rounds of fractionation and purification steps from the crude extracts from positive samples allowed the isolation of the active compound causing spotted sun tanning phenotype, and its identification as plain newspaper ink. Subsequent experiments performed with ink purified from a large pile of different newspapers, from The New York Times to Las Provincias, demonstrated that newspaper ink promotes a UV-independent sun tanning-like phenotype in mice. Importantly, nude mice treated with newspaper ink did not get sunburnt and were more resistant to skin cancer promoters, in comparison to UV-irradiated tanned mice. Furthermore, direct consumption of sterilized newspapers in the diet conferred a mild greyish but consistent dotted sun tanning appearance to the animals, which was also accompanied by skin cancer protection. Although studies addressing the effects in human populations of eating newspapers or newspaper ink have not been documented, we propose newspaper ink as a safe, cheap and reliable sun tanner for humans. In addition, considering the global economical crisis situation, the benefits of introducing used newspapers in human diet are currently under analysis. Further work will be necessary to explain the unexpected abundance of newspaper ink in natural samples from the Amazon rainforest resources.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unexpected results of shortening or extending R&D budget

Z. P. Garmendia et al.
IEPS (Institute for Excellence in Poverty Studies), Tijeruelas de Abajo, Spain

During episodes of global economical crisis, some unconsidered governments seriously threaten to restrain or limit the Research and Development budget of their public National programmes (see CurrRevol 07/10/09). This causes uneasiness to most senior researchers and draws back potential vocational trends among young fellows. However, no proof-of-principle has been provided to date that a shortening of funds should necessarily lead to a shortage of scientific productivity in qualified research teams. To provide insight into this topic we selected three cohorts of scientific teams working in Biomedical Sciences in public institutions, such as Universities and public Research Institutes, and devised the following experimental layout: For scientific teams in group A, we cut down 37% of their running budgets during 12 months; group B was provided with an extra 37% of budget with respect to the current figures; and the budget of group C was left untouched, as control. Several parameters of scientific excellence were subsequently measured. Researchers in group A showed an enhanced ability to improvise to situations of stress and react to problems. For instance, upon a fake fire alarm behavioural experiment, they chose to save their pipettes, whereas the control group did not. Also, they changed their providers from the usual Biotech companies to second-hand flea market facilities, and the Nespresso machine at the office was substituted by an economic removable-filter coffee maker in a significant number of cases. In addition, they tended to shift from ‘–omic’-based approaches to classic Genetics and Biochemistry (one gene, one enzyme, one reaction, one paper). They diminished their expenses in fungible, reagents and software, but spent more money on pencils, tape, toothpicks, aspirins, alcohol and toilet paper. No suicides were recorded among these researchers, but nervous breakdowns were more frequent than in the control group. As a consequence, hair loss was more acute in male researchers of this group than in the control, whereas females manifested a relatively high frequency of alterations in their menstrual cycle. Communications to congresses were rarely observed, unless appointed as invited speakers. They published approximately the same number of papers through the period studied, but somehow they managed to reduce in 37% the impact factor of the journals that dared accepting their work. We conclude that cutting down funding to researchers impairs their yield but stimulates their creativity, although not always in the right way. Surprisingly, the group B did not produce more Science or increase its quality either. Principal investigators attended meetings, workshops and congresses in exotic locations, such as Hawaii or the Seychelles. In consequence, these researchers were more sexually promiscuous than those from the control group, leading to loss of concentration in their research projects and, in some extreme cases, to changes of sex. Reagents and fungible material were abundantly purchased by these groups but stored without apparent usage and never used. Upon a fake fire alarm experiment, they chose to save only their wallets. Genomic, proteomic and metabolomic approaches were often followed, but only to accumulate bulky sterile datasets in their computers. In the end, most publications produced by these teams were review articles. Furthermore, one suicide was recorded. Apparently, the deceased had tried in vain to bribe a Nature editor by offering him a huge amount of money to get his work published in the journal. In sum, we conclude that money does not make happiness, but limiting it may be a threat to the sanity of our most gifted researchers at public Research Institutions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Deciphering the genetic code of Legrands’s gold-bug resolves the mystery of Captain Kidd’s buried chest

Edgar LaMorgue and Virginia Pale
Charlestonian Gravedigging Institute, Charleston, USA

Since its discovery in the mid-nineteen century by Dr. Legrand (see the tale), the gold-bug (Scarabaeus caput hominis) remains as one of the major biological enigmas in natural history, being the only specimen found of its species. Comparison of the gold-bug genome with that of other beetles or related insects has not been possible, since the gold-bug genome is encrypted under a unique and exclusive genetic code of outstanding mathematical complexity. Efforts to decipher the gold-bug genetic code have failed to date, the only output of these investigations being a bunch of alcoholic and paranoid PhD students that had to be secluded in the madhouse before concluding the initial experiments of their thesis projects. Based on the previous work by Vientre et al. on the reading and translation of the DNA sequence from short-genome alien organisms (see CurrRevol 21/04/09), we have fully deciphered and patented the genetic code of Legrand’s gold-bug. Here, we report the preliminary analysis of a part of the genome sequence of this scarabeid beetle, which has been instrumental to resolve the mystery that had obscured for decades the gold-bug’s popular tale, namely the number of blows that Captain Kidd gave to his coadjutor pirates with the mattock, to shut them up in hell, after the treasure chest was deep buried and secure, aside the famous tall tulip-tree that marked the spot of the booty hidden place. Some authors have speculated that perhaps a couple of blows, perhaps a dozen, would be sufficient for such a criminal act. Our shrewd reading of the gold-bug DNA sequence provided us with the exact number of beats received by the heads of the two incautious pirates. The anatomical and molecular inspection of the skulls from Kidd’s comrades found in the pit, on the treasure chest, corroborated with accuracy the estimations attained from the analysis of the gold-bug DNA ciphered message. The complete interpretation of the gold-bug genome awaits further studies, but we can anticipate seminal discoveries regarding ambiguous or cryptic passages from other inspired tales by E.A.P.


Spanish Science does not need scissors

Blunt Scissors Spanish Science Consortium, Spain

Science in Spain has undergone a steady but constant progress along the twentieth century. In Ramón y Cajal’s old times, the enthusiastic neurologist from Petilla de Aragón carried by himself, all the way to a meeting in Berlin, his home-made preparations, his microscope and his hand-drawing depictions of neurons, just to show his results to his sceptical European colleagues beyond the Pyrenees. Afterwards, he was laureate with the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Later on, during the obscure and silent times of the mid-century, the devoted Amador worked out tireless in the outskirts from Madrid to obtain reliable supplies of animals intended for basic research on mice oncogenesis. Some years later, thousands of strains of transgenic mice fill up the animal houses from several Spanish research institutes of excellence, and the cure of cancer and many other diseases is getting closer and closer in this country according to the newspapers. At the end of the century, the Homo antecessor was discovered in Atapuerca, Burgos, proving that the very first hominins in Europe were Spanish. More recently, the improvement in social- and science-related achievements has made of Spain one of the more important European countries in terms of international notoriety, the spectacular winning of both the 2008 European Football Championship in Austria and the 2009 Eurobasket in Poland being the culmination of it. This successful progress would have been impossible without a proper and maintained investment in Research and Development (R&D) along these years. Thus, shortage in R&D funding would jeopardize the prospective of Spain in the twenty-first century competitive modern world. The Blunt Scissors Spanish Science Consortium (BSSSC) was spontaneously created in September 2008, as a result of the prediction by the Spanish Scientific Community that the Spanish Government was going to announce, sooner or later, a severe cut down on the R&D budget, under the excuse of the financial crisis in the world, which was starting to affect strongly to Spain. As expected, the announcement was made real in September 2009. Scissors being the more important administrative tool to cut down on budgets, the first task of the BSSSC was to test the necessity of scissors in Spanish Science. Representative disciplines covering all scientific areas, from Sacred History to Aeronautics, were selected, and kits containing different varieties of scissors, including kitchen-, surgical-, moustache-, toenail-, dressing- and garden-scissors, were sent out to the appropriate Spanish laboratories or research facilities for their use in the research routine work. Sets of protocols in the distinct official languages of Spain, together with a professional scissor sharpener, were included in the sending. The scientific productivity of the laboratories and research departments using scissors was scored along one year, and compared with that of matched control research teams, in which scissors use was substituted by teeth-cutting. Although the statistical analysis of our data is not yet complete, mainly due to the misuse of the teeth in the control group, the preliminary examination of our results indicates that scissors did not improve, but rather slowed down, scientific productivity in Spain.

We conclude from our study that Spanish Science does not need scissors, and provide two good reasons for not diminishing the investment in R&D in Spain: 1/ Spain is still far from the average investment in R&D in Europe; and 2/ being Spain the favourite team for the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa, it would be a pity to lose, just because of a handful of euros, this opportunity to become, for the first time, football world champions. More good reasons at aldea-irreductible.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Horizontal gene transfer of intelligence traits between phylogenetically distant species

Darwin, C., Zhu, X., Xi, Z. and Conrado, D.
Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Harvard Morgue for Nerds (HMN), Massachussets, USA

Horizontal gene transfer is well characterized among bacteria, and this mechanism is known to be responsible for genetic diversity and evolution in these organisms. However, no evidence of gene transfer between higher species, including humans, has been reported to date. In consequence, horizontal gene transfer is not considered a major event in the evolution of higher organisms. The evolutionary events that led to development of intelligence in humans are not yet understood at a genetic level. We hypothesize that some sort of horizontal gene transfer must have contributed to the appearance of rational beings in our planet. To test this possibility, we have devised a simple experiment by co-cultivating in the same culture flask amoebas (Acanthamoeba polyphaga) and human neurons freshly obtained post-mortem from the brain of a Bioinformatician (Homo sapiens var. linux) that had died from severe exposure-to-nature stress (kind gift of the busy HMN facilities). A control flask inoculated with amoebas alone was maintained in parallel. After 7 days of co-cultivation, amoebas from both co-culture and control flasks were implanted into the brain of adult mice by standard surgical means. Mice harboring control amoebas suffered severe neurological damage signs, likely due to in situ phagocytosis of local neurons by the implanted amoebas. In contrast, mice implanted with amoebas from the human neuron co-cultivation flask not only did survive, but also showed some traits of intelligence that are not commonly observed in mice: i) they seemed to read with interest the news in the newspapers used to absorb urine at the bottom of their cages, especially Disneyworld adds; ii) when placed in a mace, they signaled their way out with a permanent marker stolen from the animal facility technician and drew on the mace walls some simple calculations related to the distance walked; iii) when placed on a computer keyboard, they were able to perform some basic operations, such as playing Windows games (Mines being a favorite), accessing to Shakira videos in YouTube and formatting the hard disk afterwards, always in that order (p<0.0001); and iv) they knew how to use alternative locomotion devices (see Fig.) although they sometimes crept as if trying to emit pseudopods.

One adverse effect was observed: when shown a picture of an amoeba, these mice would suffer a hormonal shock characterized as unstoppable desire to mate. We conclude that intelligence can be transferred among amoebas and isolated neurons by a TSPMLH (Todo se pega menos la hermosura: named after a Spanish saying “All passes on except beauty”) gene transfer mechanism. Experiments are under way by separating both populations in culture by a porous membrane to check whether direct contact is necessary for TSPMLH gene transfer. We propose that growth of different species in the same culture pot, in early-life natural conditions, may have been of capital importance for the evolution of intelligence from simple to very simple organisms.