Hate Cilantro? Blame Your Genes

New research indicates that your love (or hate) for cilantro depends on your genes. (Photo credit: Marnie Burkhart/Fancy/Alamy Images)

When it comes to the taste of cilantro in a spicy bowl of soup or wrapped up in a burrito, where do you stand? Do you find its taste refreshing? Or does it seem like you’re eating a mouthful of soap? This seemingly-benign herb elicits a love-hate relationship for many people. New research indicates that your genes may dictate your initial reaction to the flavor of this green herb.

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The Resilient Water Bear Reveals its Genetic Secrets

water bear

The water bear can survive extreme conditions–and its foreign DNA may explain why. (Photo credit: Eye of Science/Science Source)

Though cute, at less than a millimeter in length, water bears aren’t exactly what you might call cuddly. Water bears are known for their ability to survive extreme conditions ranging from the depths of the oceans to the soaring heights of the Himalayas. Recent research indicates these tiny creatures have another unusual trait – nearly 20 percent of their DNA comes from other species. [Read more…]

Cold Symptoms Linked to Immune Response, Not Cold Virus

Currently, there is not a cure for the common cold. When you catch a cold, doctors often advise that you drink a lot of fluids and maybe even have a bowl or two of chicken soup. You could take some cold medication, but these just work to mask the symptoms rather than cure the problem. However, recent research may change the way the common cold is dealt within fact, it may even lead to a cure.

The research, published in the November issue of American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, indicates that cold symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose, are not caused by the human rhinovirus (HRV). (HRV is responsible for 30-50 percent of all common cold cases.) Instead, these symptoms result from the immune system response. The study was led by David Proud, a professor in the department of physiology and biophysics at the University of Calgary in Canada. In conducting his research, Proud collaborated with scientists at the University of Virginia and Procter & Gamble Company.

In the study, 35 volunteers were injected with either HRV or a harmless substance. Skin scrapings from the inside of each volunteer’s nose were taken both before and after infection. Researchers at Procter & Gamble used gene chip technology to analyze whether any genetic changes took place after infection. Gene chip technology lets scientists see every gene in the human genome–allowing scientists to see how genes respond to a stimulus, such as the introduction of a cold virus.

The researchers did not detect any changes to the test subjects’ DNA after a period of 8 hours. However, after a period of 48 hours, scientists discovered that over 6500 genes had been altered. The affected genes showed either an increased or decreased amount of activity. The genes that were most affected were those that make antiviral proteins and pro-inflammatory chemicals. This finding shows that antiviral proteins work to thwart the rhinovirus, but also produce the symptoms associated with a cold.

Results from this research may help scientists develop an effective cure for the common cold. If they can identify the pro-inflammatory genes, they could develop methods to block the genes’ function. However, researchers are hoping to find more than just a cure for the common cold. The pathogen responsible for the rhinovirus has also been implicated in more serious health conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By learning how to combat the rhinovirus, researchers may also be able to find a way to cure these conditions as well.

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Discovery and Use of Glowing Protein Leads to Nobel Prize for Three Scientists

Scientists examine the expression of the glowing fluorescent protein (GFP) in Salmonella. (Photo credit: Peggy Greb/USDA)

Scientists examine the expression of the glowing fluorescent protein (GFP) in Salmonella. (Photo credit: Peggy Greb/USDA)

Do you have your biology textbook handy? Check out the glowing mouse on the Chapter 8 opener. Pretty cool, huh? This week, three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work related to the discovery and subsequent use of the glowing protein called the green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

The three scientists awarded with the Nobel Prize include Dr. Osamu Shimomura, an emeritus professor at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and Boston University Medical School; Dr. Martin Chalfie, a professor of biological sciences at Columbia University; and Dr. Roger Tsien, a professor of pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego. The three scientists will share the 10 million krona prize ($1.4 million) given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Shimomura, working with Dr. Frank Johnson at Princeton University, first isolated GFP from the crystal jellyfish (Aequorea victoria) in 1962. The protein was originally called the green protein because it appeared green in color under sunlight and fluorescent green under ultraviolet light.

After Dr. Chalfie learned about GFP at a seminar in 1988, he decided that it would be useful in his studies of C. elegans, a transparent roundworm. Dr. Chalfie thought that GFP could be used as a biological marker by splicing the gene that makes the glowing protein into an organism’s DNA next to a gene switch or another gene. The glowing biological marker can be used to track gene function and cell movement.

Dr. Tsien’s contribution to the use of GFP was to develop a procedure to produce proteins that glowed colors other than green because he needed more than two colors of fluorescent proteins for his experiments. By using biological markers with several different glowing colors, scientists can track different processes at the same time.

Since the discovery and development of GFP, the technology has been used for a number of different applications, a factor that was important in the decision to award the scientists with the Nobel Prize. For example, in one elaborate experiment, scientists tagged different nerve cells in a mouse’s brain with a “kaleidescope of color.” By doing so, they could more easily see the variety and complexity of neuronal connections within the mouse’s brain. GFP has also been used in the study of nerve cell damage due to Alzheimer’s disease.

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