Friday, November 20, 2015

Hobbits Are Special & Their Teeth May Prove It

The 18,000-year-old fossil remains of an ancient, 3-foot-tall (0.9 meters) humanoid found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003 and nicknamed the "hobbit" has puzzled evolutionary scientists. 

Scientists believe the hobbit with a grapefruit-sized brain, was part of a separate branch of the human lineage (i.e. Homo floresiensis) while others think he was a more modern humanoid with microcephaly, a developmental condition.

To find out, scientists analyzed hobbit teeth and compared them to 490 modern humans from Asia, Oceania, Africa and Europe, as well as extinct hominins, such as Homo habilis, which is suspected to be among the first makers of stone tools. 

While some teeth were as small as those from modern humans, others showed a unique mosaic of primitive traits seen in early hominins mixed with more-advanced traits seen in later hominins.

The mystery continues, but it's fun to think about while flossing. Go science! 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Alzheimer’s Disease & Brain GPS Cells

The way you navigate a virtual maze may predict your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. A new study reported in Science finds that people at risk for Alzheimer’s have lower activity in a newly-discovered network of navigational brain cells known as “grid cells.” 

The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine has been awarded to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and Edvard Moser for their discovery of the brain’s “inner GPS” system.  The neurons that make up the “grid” are arranged in a triangular lattice in the entorhinal cortex—a region of the brain used in memory and navigation. The “grid” activates in different patterns based on how individuals move, keeping track of our location in the coordinate plane.

Researchers think the cells help make mental maps and allow us to navigate without visual cues. “If you close your eyes and walk ten feet forward and turn right and walk three feet forward, the grid cells are believed to [track your position],” says neuroscientist Joshua Jacobs at Columbia University.

The results are a starting point in figuring out navigation issues in Alzheimer’s patients, but definitely offer a great new avenue of study. 

I wonder if you close your eyes and practice walking around the house if you can sharpen your navigational brain cells? Go science!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bionic Hands and the Cool Factor

As many of you know, I'm super interested in 3D printing and its innovative potential for everything from high heels to jet engine parts. The industry is taking off and the prices of home printers are coming down. All great. 

However, today I spotted a feel good 3D printing story that I just had to highlight.

Open Bionics has partnered with Disney via the 2015 Disney Accelerator Program to offer three 3D printed bionic hand/arm designs for young amputees. Each design will be customized to an individual child's arm (and Disney is offering the licensing royalty free). The themed bionic hands will cost around $500 each.

What child wouldn't want an awesome bionic hand compared to a standard general purpose "super power-less" one?  Also, the bionics of the arms can be easily replaced, repaired or upgraded if they are broken or the child needs a new size. Go science!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Germs as Friends

Ever cringe when you see toddlers and little ones putting every dirty thing in their mouths? We've heard for years that germs are to be avoided at all costs. Now, however, researchers are starting to realize that our gut bacteria or the microbiome has a big role in keeping us healthy. The "good" bacteria army keeps the "bad" players at bay. Fascinating! (to quote Vulcan Science officer Spock).

Recently, in the science journal Cell Host & Microbe, the results of a study on the microenvironment of the mouth was reported. Researchers in China followed and sampled the bacteria in the mouths of fifty 4 year-old children. They divided them into three groups; healthy children with no caries (cavities), those with few caries, and those with lots of caries. Then, they compared the groups with regard to the types and amount of bacteria that made up their dental microbiome over a two year time period. 

Jian Xu, one of the study's coauthors explained that the healthy children had a diverse microbiome. And although variables like saliva and plaque amounts affect caries too, this study provides a window into when children get cavities, how their mouth microbiome develops, and what that means to their future dental health. Food for thought.  Go science!