Fast Friday Four (September 16)

An Apple a Day Keeps the Weakling Away

Researchers at the University of Iowa recently discovered that a substance called ursolic acid – which is particularly concentrated in apple peel – both encourages muscle growth and stops muscles from atrophying. On further investigation, they found that it does this by increasing the affects of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF1) and insulin.

After looking at the effects of hundreds of compounds on genes in mice, Christopher Adams discovered that ursolic acid seemed to stop atrophy in muscles. So he fed a group of mice a crap load of the stuff. Those mice not only had more muscle mass after the study than the control group, they weighed the same indicating they had less body fat. It also reduced blood sugar levels, cholesterol and triglycerides.

Whether it increased the production of IGF1 and insulin or merely made the receptors more sensitive to the hormones isn’t clear. Whatever it did, it worked.

The levels of ursolic acid given to mice were just 0.27% of their daily diet. I don’t know what that would equate to in human consumption, nor how concentrated the stuff is in apples. But I would bet that you’d need an actual supplement to see the effects, rather than eating 100 apples everyday.

PS, PE and PC

Those initials probably don’t mean jack to you unless you happen to be up on your molecular biochemistry studies. In fact, I just read a whole bunch about them and still don’t really get what’s going on. But here is what I can distill.

A giant team of interdisciplinary researchers from the University of Illinios has figured out exactly how blood clotting works. And I mean exactly. We’re talking about writing a computer model that has the placement and angle of every individual atom and molecule and how they interact in order to stop the blood from flowing. And once they had the computer model, they used an imaging technique called solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance to confirm what the computer spit out.

In particular, scientists had known that phosphatidylserine (PS) is embedded in the cell membrane and has a clotting effect that is greatly enhanced by the presence of another phospholipid called phosphatidylethanolamine (PE).

That’s as technical as I’m willing to get, and I’m betting as technical as you’re willing to read. In short, they figured out how they interact between themselves and other compounds and why they work so well together. The end goal is to create medications that work on clotting better.

Searching the Vast Genetic Database

Since technology has allowed scientists to sequence DNA much more quickly and cheaply than ever thought possible, the computers are filling up with data faster than anyone can keep up with it. And searching through the data can’t be handled by a simple search engine like Google. In fact, human “curators” are responsible for sifting through papers and picking out the specific data researchers are looking for. But curators exist for only a handful of the most studied species like fruit flies and mice.

But no longer.

Scientists at the University of Illinois led by Bruce Schatz have created software called BeeSpace Navigator capable of analyzing the incredible amount of genetic data currently on record. Based on software initially written to sift through honey bee data, the program can take a large collection of articles on a topic and automatically partition it into subsets based on which words occur together, a function called clustering.

It basically creates an easy-to-use platform that allows scientists to search subsets of literature for the exact information they’re looking for. It can also draw conclusions, like a gene controls a chemical, which in turn controls a behavior, so that gene might control the behavior.

BeeSpace can also perform vocabulary switching, an automatic translation across species or behaviors. For example, if it is known that a specific gene in a honeybee is analogous to another gene in a fruit fly, but the function of that gene has been documented in much more detail in a fruit fly, the navigator can make the connection and show a bee scientist information on the fly gene that may be helpful.

Sounds a hell of a lot better than a person sifting through countless papers to me.

A Vascular System for Everything

When you think about it, the human body is a composite material, meaning a material made out of many separate materials that work together to enhance the whole. We’ve got skin, bones, muscles and a host of other bits and pieces that, when put together, make an amazing machine. One of the coolest parts – in my opinion – the cardiovascular system. We pump blood throughout our bodies that brings us oxygen, antibodies and nutrients all the time.

Now, scientists at the University of Illinois have created their own composite materials that also have vascular systems. They took tin fibers and wove them throughout a polymer. Then when they applied a bit of heat, the specialized fibers vaporized, leaving the polymer untouched and creating a system of tiny tubes.

Some examples include one long, winding channel while others are like a tree and branch off in many places. But all the examples can have gasses or liquids pumped through them to create different characteristics in the same piece of material. Coolant or hot fluid can control its temperature, different chemicals can be mixed to create things like luminescence, conductive liquid can make the entire material electrically active and ferrofluids can change its electromagnetic structure.

That last one is a key property for stealth applications.

But those are just the beginning. The structure mimics biological systems and theoretically could be used to create materials with countless characteristics.

I wonder if they could create hotdogs with catsup already running through its veins…



About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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One Response to Fast Friday Four (September 16)

  1. Pingback: Compound in Apple Peels Found to Add Fat; Don’t Worry, it’s the Brown Kind | Big Ten Science

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