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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today in the News (22 Sep 09)

Evolution:
Infertility And The Battle Of The Sexes: Evolutionary Explanation For Today's Fertility Problems? About 10% of all couples hoping for a baby have fertility problems. Environmentalists say pollution is to blame and psychiatrists point to our stressful lifestyles, but evolutionary biologist Dr. Oren Hasson of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology offers a different take. The reproductive organs of men and women are currently involved in an evolutionary arms race, he reports in a new study. And the fight isn't over yet. "The rate of human infertility is higher than we should expect it to be," says Dr. Hasson. "By now, evolution should have improved our reproductive success rate. Something else is going on." Combining empirical evidence with a mathematical model developed in cooperation with Prof. Lewi Stone of the department's Biomathematics Unit, the researchers suggest that the bodies of men and women have become reproductive antagonists, not reproductive partners. The conclusions of this research were published recently in the journal Biological Reviews.

Changing The Course Of Nature: Are Fisheries Directing The Evolution Of Fish Populations? For many of the types of fish we buy in stores or order in restaurants, the chance that an individual dies from fishing is several times higher than dying of natural causes. This may seem obvious to most (they had to get to our table somehow), but what may not be apparent is that the relentless pursuit of consumer-friendly fish product is having a massive impact on fish populations around the world. By repeatedly choosing only the biggest fish, or only those found in certain habitats, the fisheries industry may be permanently altering the genetic composition of fish populations. What are the long-term evolutionary implications of prolonged fishing for the fish that humans and, perhaps more importantly, diverse ecosystems so depend on? A group of concerned international scientists convened at the 2008 American Fisheries Society Annual Meeting to address this issue, and contributions to the symposium are now available online in an August 2009 special issue of Evolutionary Applications.

Vaccines:
How To Improve Vaccines To Trigger T Cell As Well As Antibody Response. Killed or disabled viruses have proven safe and effective for vaccinating billions worldwide against smallpox, polio, measles, influenza and many other diseases. But killed or severely "attenuated" vaccines, which are safer than "live" vaccines, have been largely unsuccessful for many non-viral diseases, including illnesses like tuberculosis and malaria. A new study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Berkeley-based Aduro BioTech provides clues why killed and severely attenuated vaccines don't always work. It also suggests ways to engineer an attenuated vaccine to make it as potent as a live vaccine but as safe as a killed vaccine.

Alzheimer's Researcher Demonstrates Specific Immune Response To Vaccine. A researcher who is working on a vaccine for Alzheimer's disease (AD) has demonstrated that it is possible to test and measure specific immune responses in mice carrying human genes and to anticipate the immune response in Alzheimer's patients. This continuing research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev could one day lead to specific Alzheimer's vaccines that reduce plaque, neuronal damage and inflammation associated with the disease. Amyloid beta-peptide accumulates in the brain of AD patients where it appears to promote neuronal damage. In the new article published in the Journal of Immunology, BGU researcher Dr. Alon Monsonego determined that introducing A-beta into the brain triggers a natural immune response which can be detected in humans.

Autism:
National Autism Center Releases Groundbreaking Report on Autism Treatments. The National Autism Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), today released its National Standards Report, the most comprehensive analysis of treatments for children and adolescents with ASD ever published. "This report cuts through the confusing and often conflicting information about the myriad treatments available for ASD," said Susan M. Wilczynski, Ph.D., BCBA, Executive Director of the National Autism Center. "It is designed to serve as a single, authoritative source of guidance for parents, caregivers, educators, and service providers as they make informed treatment decisions."

Accepting Immunity. Anti-vaccine sentiment can pose a considerable threat to public health. In 1998, a research paper that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with autism led to a virtual stampede away from the childhood vaccine by some British parents. Vaccine rates in Britain and Ireland dropped and measles made a comeback. Many children ended up in the hospital and several died. The research paper was later discredited and further research has conclusively rejected the idea that vaccines caused autism. What's scary is that the vaccine-autism connection took on a life of its own, acquiring the tenacity of an old-fashioned conspiracy theory or urban legend, and many parents still think that childhood vaccinations are best avoided.

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