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Week in Review: March 25-29

Microbes affect weight loss; dozens of cancer-linked genes identified; a climate change scientists speaks out about personal attacks; isolation among elderly linked to death

By | March 29, 2013

Questioned in the public eye

Climate scientist Michael Mann has been at the center of the public debate over climate change for most of his career. He was part of a group of researchers that, in the 1990s, documented strong evidence for an abnormal warming trend in the last century that correlated with the increase in fossil fuel use during the Industrial Revolution. Mann has been the subject of political and personal attacks, which he believes are motivated by a “destructive public-relations campaign being waged by fossil fuel companies, front groups, and individuals aligned with them in an effort to discredit the science linking the burning of fossil fuels with potentially dangerous climate change.” But as he explains in this opinion piece, he has come to embrace the publicity as a vehicle for educating the world about the dangers of the current climate trajectory.

Microbial community influences weight

WIKIMEDIA, MATTOSAURUS

Researchers studying gastric bypass surgery have identified a role for the gut microbiome in weight loss. Transplanting the microbes from a mouse that had undergone the surgery into a healthy-weight mouse resulted in lower body fat and a small amount of weight loss, despite the fact that their food intake remained steady. The researchers suggested that the findings could one day translate into an effective weight-loss probiotic drug.

Breaking DNA to build memories

FLICKR, MIKEBLOGSNew research in mice suggests that double-stranded breaks in DNA may be a normal part of learning and memory formation. But there’s an interesting twist: a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease exacerbates the damage by inhibiting DNA repair. When the researchers treated mice with anti-epileptic drug to reduce brain activity, however, the damage was fixed more quickly.

 

Linking genes to cancer

FLICKR, BITMASKA massive genetic association study has uncovered dozens of previously unknown polymorphisms that affect the risk of breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer—doubling the number of known variants linked to these diseases. Still, there are likely hundreds more variants to be discovered.

 

Avoid isolation late in life

WIKIMEDIA, BURIMElderly people who are socially isolated tend to die earlier, according to new research, but the nature of this relationship between isolation and death remains unclear. It could be that isolated individuals are less likely to be getting advice or the most up-to-date information regarding their own health. Alternatively, the isolation itself could lead to unhealthy habits, like smoking or  a general lack of exercise.

And other news in life science:

Privacy and the HeLa Genome

European scientists have taken down the HeLa genome after publishing it without the consent of Henrietta Lacks’s family.

Brain Activity Predicts Re-arrest

Researchers demonstrate that brain activity in response to a decision-making challenge predicts the likelihood that released prisoners will be re-arrested.

Congress Finishes Spending Bill

Federal science agencies get some relief from the harsh cuts to their 2013 budgets instituted by the recent sequester.

Canadian Scientist Declines Award

A University of Alberta researcher refuses to accept a prestigious scientific award because he thought two of his collaborators should have also been honored.

Clinical Trial Transparency in Europe?

The regulatory body that licenses drugs for use in the European Union is devising a policy that will require the publication of some clinical trial data.

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