Posts tagged: Biology

The gut-brain axis: what’s the relationship between our bowels and our brains?

2014-04_thematic series_brain-gut-jigsaw- crop

What is the nature of the relationship between the brain and the gut? This is a question that has fascinated scientists and clinicians for decades, and there appears to be no simple answer to it. It seems the more research that is done on this topic, the more complex and extensive the interactions are found to be.

This communication between the endocrine and nervous systems has been termed the gut-brain axis (or brain-gut axis), and is thought to be involved in many regular functions and systems within the healthy body as well as in many diseases.

Today is World Digestive Health Day, and we’re marking the date with the launch of an article collection, bringing together research from a …

Read more

Erase/Rewind: editing the epigenome


Recent developments in genome-editing technologies have turned the biotech industry's dream of mastering nature into a fast approaching reality. Want to change the color of an ear of corn? All you need to do is edit the relevant gene using the CRISPR/Cas system.

But some traits cannot be edited at the genomic level. The three ears of corn above may have strikingly different appearances, but they are genetically identical – varying only in their epigenomes.

Biotech strategies using genome engineering are impotent when it comes to epigenetically regulated phenotypes. Instead, epigenome-engineering tools are called for. And, as participants heard at May's meeting of the London Epigenomics Club, these prophesized epigenome-engineering tools are now a reality.

How to edit

Read more

The battle of the sexes

Ann Van Soom

In this guest blog, Ann Van Soom, currently a Full Professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University, Belgium, writes about male:female sex ratios, and comments on an article published today in BMC Genomics.

When I was a little girl, I asked  my father whether there were more boys or girls in the world. “More boys,” he said. “Why?”  I questioned him further,  with some indignation at being referred to as the less common gender. He answered me with the slightly sexist phrase: “Because boys have to fight for the girls.”

Many years later I discovered he was right, and maybe even for the reason he claimed. The sex ratio of humans at birth is about 1.05 in favour …

Read more

The science of quality sleep: how not to stay awake


Sleep has been dominating the news this week, in particular the topic of sleep quality. A good night’s sleep is often tough to achieve, and a bad night’s sleep can become truly damaging to our mental health if it happens repeatedly. But what exactly causes unsatisfactory sleep?

Sleep is a vital part of our lives, although we spend most of it unconscious. It’s the time to repair and recover after the day’s events, so it’s no wonder that sleep contributes to our mental health and wellbeing. Insomnia is not only frustrating but is linked to depression, irritability, and increased risk of heart disease. If you are managing to drift off to sleep, however, you still need to consider …

Read more

Walking, but not flying, with moas

owen and moa

Ever since seeing this amazing computer reconstruction of moas on David Attenborough’s Life of Birds, I’ve been slightly obsessed by them.  These giant birds seem to have died out in around 1400, hunted to extinction by the Maori who arrived on the island about a century before. There have been the odd unsubstantiated report of sightings, but I do suspect if there were six foot tall carnivorous birds running around New Zealand, we’d probably know about it. Attenborough’s computer reconstruction seems to be the nearest we’re likely to get to get to seeing these creatures.

But that hasn’t stopped scientists from finding out as much as they can, from the few moa bones we have. A new study in …

Read more

How do geckos climb?


What do insects and geckos have in common? The answer, from the recent Royal Society conference on cell adhesion, is that their climbing mechanism depends on van der Waals forces (as well as friction and shear stress). However, at a structural and molecular level, the way they attach to surfaces is different. This was the focus of the conference – to understand the forces involved in cell adhesion, how geometry is important, and what we understand about adhesion at a molecular level.

Kevin Kendall (the main conference organiser) introduced the meeting by reminding everyone that it was 100 years since Ross Granville Harrison demonstrated that embryonic cells could be grown in culture outside of an organism – and …

Read more

The diverse ecology of the Brazilian Amazon – spare a thought for the viruses


In February 1541, Spanish conquistador Francisco de Orellana led a force from modern-day Ecuador into the South American interior to discover the fabled land of cinnamon. Constantly threatened by the native Omaguas tribe, they reached the Rio Negro and became the first Europeans to witness the mighty Amazon. Over 450 years later, scientists are still adding to our understanding of the world’s greatest rain forest, the most ecologically rich region on the planet, including the discovery of a new giant virus in the Rio Negro.

Home to one in ten known species in the world, the Amazon is a rich region for discovering new life. Along with the many species of insects, mammals and birds, a recent expedition identified …

Read more

How to model a cat – and how not


Writing in 1945 on the role of models in biology, Arturo Rosenblueth and Norbert Wiener (founders of cybernetics, arguably a precursor of today’s systems biology) said, “The best material model for a cat is another, or preferably the same cat”. In a review in BMC Biology, Jeremy Gunawardena revisits the topic and confronts again the thorny issue of how to marry the elegance and precision of mathematical modeling to the messy reality of biology.


Gunawardena, who is a mathematician by training, provides a highly readable historical and personal perspective on how to approach models of biological systems for biologists. Currently, forward or reverse modeling are the two strategies described in the literature.

It is forward modeling that is the …

Read more

Genome regulation: it’s the geometry, stupid!

Transcription factories (from Cope et al.)

The emerging realization that cells modify the three dimensional arrangement of DNA in order to regulate the genome is changing the way that scientists think about how and when genes are expressed. A new study in Genome Biology goes so far as to show that information about the shape of the genome is sufficient on its own to accurately classify cells according to leukemia subtype.

Traditional genomics studies have examined the genome as a linear DNA sequence. According to this viewpoint, each gene is surrounded by adjacent sequence – in particular the region of the genome immediately upstream – that regulates its expression: when the gene is turned off and on, and to what degree.

It has long been known that …

Read more

Eggs are for science, not just for Easter


Eggs are a staple part of our diet. But is there more to them than being tasty and full of protein? We take a look at their potential uses, and the recent findings researchers are frying up. No eggs were harmed during the writing of this blog.

Easter approaches, and with Easter we usually find eggs. You won’t be hearing about eggs of the chocolate variety, however. Just regular old shelled eggs. Boring? Not exactly. We crack open our journals and dish out recent egg-based research that bring new insights into the potential uses of eggs.

Cracking down on allergies

Could eggs hold the key to gaining control over allergic reactions? Research findings are suggesting there’s some potential here.


Read more