Gene linked to life threatening flu

A lack or low content of the protein IFITM3 due to genetic mutation can change a harmless flu into a life-threatening disease. This information was announced in a collaborative study which included contributions from Edinburgh University and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute among others.

While most people recover well from a flu, some have to be hospitalized with life-threatening symptoms.”We had little idea why this small number of people was so severely affected,” says Professor Tim Walsh from the Critical Care Medicine Department at the University of Edinburgh. Previous studies showed that protein IFITM3 plays a crucial role in blocking the growth of influenza viruses. The protein, which sits in the membrane, is suspected to hinder viruses from entering cells and subsequently their replication.

The initial study was done on mice lacking the IFITM3 gene and showed that these mice were more likely to express severe symptoms of flu when exposed to the viruses. A subsequent screening of patients who had been admitted to hospital with severe flu revealed a mutation in the IFITM3 gene in some of the patients.

“Our research is important for people who have this variant as we predict their immune defences could be weakened to some virus infections. Ultimately as we learn more about the genetics of susceptibility to viruses, these people can take informed precautions, such as vaccinations to prevent infection,” says Professor Paul Kellam from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Relating the genetic composition of a person to their susceptibility to viral infections will help scientists find the best cure for patients.

Daylight-saving time on the proof

Every year we turn our clocks forward by an hour at the last weekend in March. This year the change to daylight-saving time, or summer time as many people call it, took place yesterday, on March the 25th.

Summer time will reduce energy costs by aligning the time we spend awake and working with daylight. Since it’s introduction in 1916 the clock change has caused many debates and has resulted in many research studies. Research teams have proposed health risks due to the change in clock time twice a year, saying it has similar repercussions to jetlag, shift work and sleep deprivation.

Imre Janszky from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in Sweden has found in a second study that the hour of clock change in the end of March has a short-term influence on the risk of suffering from an acute heart attack (also known as acute myocardial infarction). With an international team of scientists, he found that the sleep deprivation caused by the one hour of time difference resulted in a 4% increase in people admitted to the coronary care units in Sweden over a period of approximately one week. “The sleep-wake cycle appears to require several days to adjust to the official time after the shift,” he states.

The daylight-saving adjustment has also been criticized for not having a significant impact on energy consumption. Dr Simon I Hill and his team from the University of Cambridge   found that “having BST year-round would lead to energy savings on the order of at least 0.3% in the months in which the UK currently has GMT” (winter time).

This is one of the reasons for the proposed Daylight Saving Bill in the UK which received ministerial backing last autumn for a trial period of three years. The switch to the GMT+1 timezone would help aligning waking hours with daylight hours in Britain.The daylight-saving time has reportedly been found to reduce the risk of accidents. In January, however, the bill was brought to a halt due to a lack of time in the parliament and the Scottish Government has been reported to object  because of the longer duration of darkness in the morning.

The recent change of the clock is expected to raise the discussion again.

First scientific proof of exercise-induced female orgasm

Women can feel sexual pleasure or even have an orgasm when exercising, a new study proved. The research group from the Indiana University Bloomington found that about 40 % of the 370 women responding to the survey had experienced exercise-induced orgasms or sexual pleasure in more than 10 occasions. The most ‘rewarding’ type of exercise in terms of sexual pleasure was found to be abdominal exercising. Debby Herbernick, a well-known researcher, advice columnist and author told EurekAlert that the study might help women to feel more comfortable and normal with their exercise experiences.

Joachim Gauck taking office as new German president

Photo credit: Reuters

Joachim Gauck has taken up the official functions as the new German President and taken over the official residence Schloss Bellevue. With 991 out of 1228 (approx 108 abstentions) votes the top candidate was confirmed in the first run and will be sworn-in on Friday.

Gauck, a former GDR civil-rights activist, was the federal commissioner for the Stasi archives from 1990 to 2000, during which he was critised for retaining former Stasi employees.

He will take over the position from Christian Wulff, who was forced to step down following a financial scandal involving private banking transactions.  The expectations for him as the eleventh president are high and it is hoped he will  repair some of the damage caused by Wulff’s financial affair. In his first speech following the vote yesterday, Gauck promised to advocate freedom and responsibility.

For a  biography of Joachim Gauck click here.

Timeline: Joachim Gauck’s life and career

  • 1940 Joachim Gauck is born to a captain of the merchant navy and a office clerk on the 24th of January.
  • 1951 Gauck’s father is taken in and sentenced to two times 25 years of heavy labour for supposed anti-soviet agitation and spying. The family does not know about the trial or the deportation.
  • 1953 Gauck and his family are informed that the father has been sent to a labour camp in Siberia.
  • 1955 Konrad Adenauer achieves the release of about 10 000 prisoners of war, among them Gauck’s father. As a result of these experiences, Gauck and his sibblings are brought up with a strong rejection of any type of forced government.
  • 1959 – 1965 Gauck studies theology in Rostock. He gave up his original dream to study journalism due to the situation in the GDR.
  • 1959 Gauck marries his school friend Gerhild Radtke with whom he has four children.
  • 1965 – 1982 Pastor in different religious communities.
  • 1982 – 1990 Leader of the church convention work.
  • 1988 / 1989 Participation in the public and church-initiated protest movement in Mecklenburg. Work as a civil-rights activist.
  • 1990 Election into the Volkskammer.
  • 1991 Seperation from Gerhild Radtke.
  • 1990- 2000 Federal Commissioner for the Stasi archives. The administrative office is unofficially called Gauck-Behoerde as a result of his leadership.
  • 2000 Relationship with the journalist Daniela Schadt.
  • 2001 Host of the ‘Joachim Gauck’ show on the German public TV channel ARD.
  • 2001 – 2004 German representative honorary member of the administration of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia organisation.
  • 2003 – 2012 Leader of the organisation ‘Gegen Vergessen – Fuer Demokratie’ (translated ‘Against forgetting – for democracy’).
  • 2010 First nomiation for president.
  • 2012 Election for president on the 18th of March, exactly 22 years after the first time G

Average is sexy

Many people have always believed that guys have to be not only handsome and smart but also tall to be successful in reproduction.

Average is the new Sexy

However, a new study from the Netherlands shows that it is not the tallest men that have the most children, but rather men who have an average height of about 177 cm (5 feet 9).

Gert Stulp and his team from the University of Groningen examined data from highschool-graduates from Wisconsin in the US. All people in the study had finished their ‘reproductive career’ and had graduated from school in the 1950s. They found that “average height men attained the highest reproductive success as measured by the number of children ever born”.

“Sounds right.”, says David, a 23-year old worker who wishes not to give his full name. “It’s probably due to natural selection. Women probably choose the guys on a subconscious level and like average height more.”

“Average is beautiful. I mean, most people like average faces because they have a bit of everything  and everyone in them and why should it be different for height?”, says Chris P.  a Phd student in biomedical sciences.

But it’s not just a black and white story. Tall and short men shouldn’t worry about their lack of future children just because those of average height seem to be the most reproductively successful. Education and money also influence the number of children men have and at what age they have them, say Stulp and his collegues. The more educated men are, the later they marry and have children and the fewer children they are likely to have. But the greater the income, the earlier they tend to marry and reproduce.

“Taking education into account makes it slightly more believable. I mean, I’m 28 and I’m neither married nor do I have kids and I think I’m average height. But I’m in full education and obviously don’t have an income.  That’s perhaps why.”, says Tom B. an engineering student.

But inevitably, who knows what makes women and men tick. So, don’t worry too much about finding someone to reproduce with: there’s a suitable partner out there for everyone.

Self-talk in sports helps to improve performance

Talking to yourself is not always bad,
according to a recent study.

Sports and exercise psychologist Dr David Tod, from Aberystwyth University, has found that positive self-talk has beneficial effects in sports performance.

The study suggests overcoming one’s weaker self is not always easy, even if one  regularly engages in sports. Many people often either lack motivation or tend to demotivate themselves and give up too early. Negative self-talk has always been believed to be counterproductive for motivation and success in sports. But “the existing literature suggests that negative self-talk does not impede performance,” said Tod’s report.  He claimed a little chatter with oneself during a run, combined with a bit of self-motivation can help to keep a person going when sports start to become laborious.

Performance benefits were clearly seen for positive self-talk, the team found. The study differentiated between instructional self-talk, which helped to improve technical performance, and motivational self-talk, which  increased strength and endurance. Both types of self-talk were found to positively influence performance. Talking to oneself, the study concludes, is not simply an activity that people regarded as weird do, it’s a common way to interact with oneself and keep oneself motivated.

“Novice athletes may benefit more frequently from the use of self-talk as compared with their skilled counterparts,” said the report. So the next time you’re out playing sports, try a bit of self-talk, it will help you to be more motivated and might even improve your performance.

Potentially promising new cancer treatment and biomarker

There have been great breakthroughs in cancer research.

by Sonja Klein

A potential new additional treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer
has been found in a collaboration study in Europe.

Patients diagnosed with stage III or stage IV lung cancer who have little hope of survival may have renewed hope with a new treatment that is currently being tested at various clinics throughout Europe. Non-small-cell lung cancer, a common type that often does not respond well to chemotherapy, has been treated with a combination of chemotherapy and a virus strain called TG4010. Patients that have not yet received chemotherapy, but were treated with the TG4010, on average had a higher survival rate than patients treated with standard chemotherapy.

However, treatment was not effective for all patients. Patients expressing a high percentage of a specific type of receptor on their “natural killer cells”, a sub-type of white blood cells, generally had a reduced survival rate. This knowledge can potentially be used as a biomarker which is an indicator substance in the human body that can be used to find out if a patient will respond positively to a treatment or not. At the current stage of cancer research many patients have to be treated with different types of chemotherapy until the right treatment is found. Testing patients for this specific type of receptor on the “natural killer cells” can reduce the number of tests people have to go through before they find the right treatment. This not only increases their chances of survival but also improves their quality of life.

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