Saturday, January 22, 2011

How malaria parasite invades & destroys human blood cells

Real-life horror: First video reveals how malaria parasite invades and destroys human blood cells

By Claire Bates
Last updated at 5:11 PM on 21st January 2011
A malaria parasite has been caught on camera for the first time breaking and entering human red bloods cell before savagely destroying them from the inside.

The Plasmodium parasite transmits malaria via the bite of infected mosquitoes. The infectious disease kills one million people every year and infects 400million.

Scientists have captured in great detail the moment a malaria carrying parasite invades a human red blood cell 

Scientists have captured in great detail the moment a malaria carrying parasite invades a human red blood cell
Australian researchers used super resolution microscopy to watch the organism make windows in the walls of the human cells before burrowing through.

The technology provides images at a much smaller scale than normal light microscopes and so could capture the parasite, which is just one millionth of a metre across.

Dr Jake Baum, of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, said: 'The real breakthrough of super resolution microscopy is that it… basically allows you to build a three-dimensional image of cellular processes at very high resolution.

'It's like we've taken CCTV snapshots of thousands and thousands of bank-robberies.'
The results, which are published today in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, could provide new insights into the molecular and cellular events that drive cell invasion.

'It is the first time we've been able to actually visualise this process in all its molecular glory,' said Dr Baum.
Though scientists have observed the parasite driving its way into cells before, the new technology provides a big leap in the amount of detail they can see.

'One of the most thrilling things we saw was the parasite inserting a ring-shaped protein into the cell wall to make a window through which it climbs.

'You can actually see the parasite climbing through,' Dr Baum said.

The footage also revealed  that once the parasite had attached to the red blood cell and formed a tight bond with the cell, a master switch for invasion was initiated and invasion continued unabated without any further checkpoints.

Dr Baum said he had been working towards tracking the parasite for seven years. He hopes the new knowledge will allow scientists new opportunities to 'throw a spanner in the parasite's works'.

He said: 'If, for example, you wanted to test a particular drug or vaccine, or investigate how a particular human antibody works to protect you from malaria, this imaging approach now gives us a window to see the actual effects that each reagent or antibody has on the precise steps of invasion.'

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Electronic devices may cause plane crashes - and older aircraft are especially vulnerable

By Liz Thomas
Last updated at 9:16 AM on 19th January 2011

  • Passengers increasingly forget to switch off laptops and e-readers which can interfere with electronics
The growing obsession with mobile phones and other gadgets could create a ‘perfect storm’ of interference with aircraft instruments to cause a crash.

As more and more portable electronic devices come on the market, passengers are becoming increasingly blasé about potential dangers to sensitive cockpit equipment, experts say.

Others may forget to switch off one of their many – including laptops and electronic readers.

Investigation: There is no definitive way to tell the effects of electronic device on aircraft instruments but it thought to be a factor in several crashes

Investigation: There is no definitive way to tell the effects of electronic device on aircraft instruments but it thought to be a factor in several crashes
Most personal devices transmit a signal and all of them emit electromagnetic waves which, in theory, could interfere with the plane’s electronics.

At the same time, older planes might not have the best protection against the latest generation of devices.

'The technical advancements for wireless devices and portable electronic equipment is so rapid, it changes every week,' said Doug Hughes, an electrical engineer and air safety investigator.
'The advances in airplanes take 20 years.'
But it is not as simple as saying that if a device is on, it is a problem.
'It’s a good news-bad news thing,' said David Carson, an engineer with Boeing.

Perfect storm: A combination of advancing technology in personal devices and aging aircraft electronics can combine to be problematic

Perfect storm: A combination of advancing technology in personal devices and aging aircraft electronics can combine to be problematic

'Electronic devices do not cause problems in every case. And that’s good.
'It’s bad in that people assume it never will.'

There is no recent survey of how often passengers ignore restrictions on use of their gadgets but seven years ago Bill Strauss, then a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, monitored the signals emitted from phones during flights and discovered that they were frequently being left on.

So, Mr Strauss said, the deterioration of planes and advance or decline of electronic devices over time is the immeasurable factor that is never taken into account by passengers.

'A plane is designed to the right specs, but nobody goes back and checks if it is still robust,' said Mr Strauss.

Blase: passengers don't think their devices will affect the plane

Blase: passengers don't think their devices will affect the plane
'Then there are the outliers — a cellphone that’s been dropped and abused, or a battery that puts out more (power) than it’s supposed to, and avionics that are more susceptible to interference because gaskets have failed.
'And boom, that’s where you get interference.
'It would be a perfect storm that would combine to create an aviation accident.'

Safety experts suspect that electronic interference has played a role in some accidents, although it is difficult to prove. 

One crash in which mobile phone interference with a plane's navigation was cited as a possible factor involved a 2003 flight in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Eight people died when the plane flew into the ground short of the runway. 
The pilot had phoned home, and the call remained connected for the last three minutes of the flight.
In the final report, the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission stated, 'The pilot’s own cellphone might have caused erroneous indications' on a navigational aid.

Since 2000, there have been at least 10 voluntary reports filed by pilots in the U.S. with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, administered by NASA.

In 2007, one pilot recounted an instance when the navigational equipment on his Boeing 737 had failed after takeoff.

A flight attendant told a passenger to turn off a hand-held GPS device and the problem on the flight deck went away.

Another of the contributory factors is the plane's altitude when it is subject to electromagnetic interference.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bans the use of electronics below 10,000 feet because pilots have less time at lower altitudes to deal with a problem.

Permitted: Experiments with stationary planes revealed no interference so airlines allow people to use devices on the ground

Permitted: Experiments with stationary planes revealed no interference so airlines allow people to use devices on the ground
It is up to each individual airline to set the policy at higher altitudes.

'There’s not enough evidence to warrant a change,' said Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA.

Many airlines conducted experiment to decide whether to allow passengers to use phones before takeoff, to see if mobile phones would interfere with systems.

At American Airlines, people dialed cellphones from out-of-service planes parked at various airports.
'They found no interaction with the aircraft instruments on any aircraft type,' said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines.

As a result the airline, like most others, decided to allow permit the use of phones at the gate before departure and after landing.

Widespread: Even pilots and cabin crew have been known to call home

Widespread: Even pilots and cabin crew have been known to call home
But as the number of different devices increases and people become more reliant upon them, there is also a balance to strike between what passengers want, and what is safe.

One airline passenger, Nicole Rodrigues of Los Angeles, acknowledges that she listens to music on her mobile phone when she is not supposed to.

'In my head, I imagine it not being a problem,' she said.
'The whole airplane is filled with electronics that are constantly on.
'Is my little cellphone going to make that big of a difference?'

Even cabin crew - charged with enforcing the rules - flout them,
but more through ignorance than malice.

'I don’t believe it is general knowledge that someone could plug in an iPod and potentially harm the aircraft — even among the flight attendant and pilot community,' said Dinkar Mokadam, an occupational safety specialist with the Association of Flight Attendants.

Tom Hendricks, head of safety and operations for airline trade group the Air Transport Association, said: 'We’re accommodating the wishes of our passengers.
'They wish to use these devices.'

John Darbo, an air safety consultant and former airline executive who was a member of the group that helped the FAA develop rules, said airlines could not police passengers or stop them from bringing electronics on the airplane.

'Do you expect us to do that?' he asked.
'That’s absurd. What we have to do is tell them what’s going on, elicit their cooperation and harden the airplanes.'

Cooperation: Airlines say they cannot ban people from using devices, but should work with them to ensure passenger safety

Cooperation: Airlines say they cannot ban people from using devices, but should work with them to ensure passenger safety

How to keep your brain at its best

The Old Grey Matter Test... How to keep your brain at its best

By Dr Tracy Packiam Alloway
Last updated at 3:58 AM on 16th January 2011
Everyone wants their brain to work at its best  - whether you need to stay sharp to keep up with your children or to come up on top at work. The exciting thing is that science now provides evidence for what works and what does not. So training your brain no longer has to be a case of trial and error.
Those who use their brain more efficiently tend to have better jobs, better relationships and happier and more fulfilling lives. And you can change your brain and, as a result, change your circumstances. 
Reminders: There's a lot you can do to improve your memory - and not one of the following tips requires a gadget

Ever heard of cognitive reserve? It's a buzzword in the scientific community. The theory is based on the idea that those who have a larger reserve of neurons and stronger cognitive abilities can tolerate some brain deterioration without showing symptoms. In other words, the more you use your brain, the greater your chances of avoiding symptoms of memory loss.

Speaking quickly can do wonders for your verbal short-term memory. The length of a word makes a big difference in how well you can remember it. Look at these words: refrigerator, hippopotamus, Mississippi, aluminium.

You're more likely to forget them compared with words that you can repeat more easily, such as bus, clock, spoon and fish. The longer it takes to repeat or rehearse something, the harder it is to remember.
This is known as the wordlength effect, which means that longer words are harder to remember. To boost your memory of longer words, ask to look at a list, rather than just listen to it.

A list of words that are distinct (such as bus, clock, spoon, fish, mouse) are much easier to remember than a list of words that sound similar (rhyming words such as cat, mat, cap, map, can, man).
When things sound similar, you're more likely to get confused. So if you're trying to remember a shopping list, group your items by categories (dairy, meat, bread) rather than alphabetically.

As you get older, you take longer to come up with an answer because you have so many more life experiences and it takes longer to sift through them all to find the right word or image.

I looked at working memory in people aged five to 85. This continues developing in your 20s and peaks in the 30s, and actually declines very little over the decades.

Working memory in those in their 60s looks like those in their 20s. Studies show that at any age, you can do something to make a difference to your memory. As you age, your brain shrinks by about two per cent every ten years, although it is unlikely to be noticeable until you hit your 60s.

If you were to list your top 20 memories, you may find most are from your 20s and 30s. This is not unusual. People tend to try things for the first time during this period so often remember them more clearly.
This may include first loves, holidays and first mortgages. This period is known as the reminiscence bump, because there is a bump or peak in the number of memories you can easily recall from this time.

Everyone struggles with the tip of-the-tongue phenomenon (TOT for short). This is when you can describe a word's meaning in detail but you just can't remember what it is.
Here's how TOT works. I'm thinking of a fruit, I ate one for breakfast, it's juicy and I can see it in my head but I just can't remember what it's called. Two hours later, the name pops into my head while I'm in the middle of a meeting  -  I was thinking of a pomegranate.
This example is simple  -  you more commonly search for words you say less frequently. So don't get stuck in a rut, using the same words and same ideas every day. The more often you use language and seek out opportunities to use language creatively, the less likely you are to experience TOT.

Play a mental memory game with yourself or, alternatively, challenge someone else. Set yourself a target  -  for example, name as many animals as you can in 30 seconds. Try to name one animal per second.
Now make it harder  -  name as many animals as you can with names that start with the letter P in 30 seconds. Then try a different topic, with fruit or furniture. You can add time on if you find it too difficult, or pick harder letters.
The aim of this game is to challenge your mind to create connections between items in a category. You may even find yourself making a mental store of animal names when you read the newspaper.

Different parts of the brain show more activation just before a problem is presented. This means the brain gets ready and gathers information from different parts in order to generate a solution.

When you're faced with a problem, the solution seldom comes from thin air. The answer is often the result of hours (and sometimes years) of preparation. So, the next time you have a problem to tackle, do your homework and prepare well. A creative solution will soon follow.

Sometimes talking about a problem that needs to be solved can ruin the creative process. Studies have found the creative process works best if you're not constantly vocalising plans.

In many ways, the creative solution is an automatic process. So next time you're trying to be creative, avoid talking about it and let your brain do the work.

Don't lose your head: Stress can affect your memory too

Scientists have found that high levels of stress can reduce the volume of the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for absorbing new information), as well as the anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to controlling stress hormones. 

Stress leads to hypertension and high blood pressure. In a group of almost 1,000 adults aged 65 years and older, scientists found that those with high blood pressure were at a greater risk of mild cognitive impairment.
This means that these adults found it harder to focus, had a hard time performing simple cognitive activities and reported that they forgot things more frequently.

You cannot use the excuse that you're too tired to exercise. Scientists have discovered that 15 minutes a day can make a big difference to your sleep cycle. Exercise helps you get REM (deep sleep) and feel more awake during the day.

A change of scene can make a big difference to your mental health. For example, if you take the dog for a walk in the same place every day, change your route.
You may not realise this, but looking at the same trees or flowers each day may be dragging you down. Finding somewhere new to go for a walk is a quick pick-me-up. You may be surprised by how energised you feel.

Green tea

Some people adore puzzles that allow them to play with words: crosswords, logic puzzles, riddles, word searches, word scrambles and so on. Some just seem to have the knack of solving them
Others don't have the knack at all and wouldn't recognise the answer if it smacked them in the forehead.
So how do you get the knack? Start with something like a word search. Most of us will have done these in school to reinforce spelling and vocabulary.

The thing I love about word searches is that they're really low-stress. If the word list is provided, I guarantee you can complete the search  -  no matter how large the grid or how many words you're looking for.
How often in life do you get the satisfaction of knowing you're going to get the right answers?

That fact, in itself, makes working word searches fun. Plus, they're great puzzles for increasing concentration and blocking out the world for a while.

Read more:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease

Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, say scientists

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 6:52 AM on 30th December 2010

Insulin injection: Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing conditions in the world with Type 2 by far the most common

Preventing diabetes: Study showed an almond-rich diet could prevent the disease from developingInsulin injection: Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing conditions in the world with Type 2 by far the most common

Preventing diabetes: Study showed an almond-rich diet could prevent the disease from developing
Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, according to a study.
Researchers found that incorporating the nuts into our diets may help treat type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 per cent of all cases.

As well as combating the condition, linked to obesity and physical inactivity, it could tackle cardiovascular disease, said the report published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Diabetics have a shortage of insulin or a decreased ability to use the hormone that allows glucose to enter cells and be converted to energy. 

When diabetes is not controlled, glucose and fats remain in the blood and over time, damage vital organs.

The study found that a diet rich in almonds may help improve insulin sensitivity and decrease LDL-cholesterol levels in those with pre-diabetes, a condition in which people have blood glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

The study – conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – looked at the effects of consuming an almond-enriched diet on 65 adults with pre-diabetes.

The group on the almond-enriched diet showed greater improvements in insulin sensitivity and significant reductions in LDL-cholesterol compared with the nut-free group.

Lead researcher Dr Michelle Wien said: ‘It is promising for those with risk factors for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease that dietary changes may help to improve factors that play a potential role in the disease development.’
An estimated 55 million people in Europe have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Read more:





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