Genetics and pesticide exposure ‘double hit’ might underlie Parkinson’s (for some)

This week for BioNews, I report on a thorough and thoroughly cool study that weaved its way down a biological pathway from exposure to pesticides to the death of nerve cells linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers found how a genetic mutation can interact with toxins produced from pesticides to disrupt the functioning of neurons involved in movement and coordination. The mutation lies in a gene encoding a protein that is the main ingredient of Lewy bodies — the clumps found among neurons of people with Parkinson’s or certain forms of dementia.

They looked at the problem from all sorts of angles and involved patient-derived lines of induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells and a lot of tweaking, coming to firm causal conclusions about a very particular interaction between genetics and environmental factors.

Have a read.

C. diff superbug: “most of us get it and it doesn’t matter”

Clostridium difficile, almost affectionately known as C. diff, is one of the famous ‘hospital superbugs’ along with brethren such as MRSA.

C. diff (Source: Wikipedia)

Previous wisdom held that the spindly, drumstick-shaped bacterium was transmitted around hospitals. This week for BioNews, I cover a study showing that hospitals are linked to fewer than one in five C. diff infections. Most, it may be, come from contact within wider communities, or possibly from animal or food sources.

Study co-author Professor Tim Peto gave a couple of choice quotes to BBC News:

“I think we’re eating [C. diff] all the time, probably from animals, and most of us get it and it doesn’t matter.”

“More and more deep cleaning ain’t going to do any good.”

Read more here.

BioNews: Ageing process determined by mum’s DNA

This week in BioNews, I report on a study showing mousy evidence that genetic mutations inherited from mother may speed up ageing.

Mitochondria are powerhouses, batteries, factories. They provide energy to the cells in your body and without them, you die. One of the cool things about these little bean-shaped organelles is that you inherit them from your mother, not your father. Another cool but slightly scarier fact is that their DNA mutates faster than the DNA in the nucleus of a cell. This means your mitochondria can be prone to accumulating damage throughout life, which may in turn contribute to the ageing process.

The researchers in this study found that mice who inherited already-mutated mitochondrial DNA from their mothers aged prematurely compared to other mice. Have a read.

Scents and Sense Ability: My New BioNews Article

“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will,” Patrick Süskind wrote in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Why does coriander taste soapy to some people? Is an impaired sense of smell really a way to identify psychopathy? Why do some people love the smell of napalm in the morning?

This week in BioNews, I write about two studies identifying regions of the human genome that may influence not only what you can sniff out but also whether your nose can stomach the smell – from a musky malt to the grand funk of blue cheese. Have a read.