Genetics & Molecular Biology

G proteins are molecular switches on the insides of cell membranes. They convey important signals to the inner workings of the cells. The associated receptors are targeted by all kinds of medications. Scientists are now shedding light on precisely how the individual amino acids of the G protein move during the switching process. The discovered mechanism signposts new approaches to the design of new active agents.


Whitehead Institute scientists have created a checklist that defines the "naive" state of cultured human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Such cells can mature into almost any cell type and more closely resemble the unique molecular features of pluripotent cells in the early human embryo than adult stem cells. Since the late 1990s, scientists have been very interested in working with naive stem cells, but they have been more hope than promise; they don't even have a common definition of what makes a cell truly naive.


Dietary restriction, or limited food intake without malnutrition, has beneficial effects on longevity in some species, like rats, but they have to be weaned on it. 

Despite that, a paper in PLoS Genetics claims it works in humans, probably to get mainstream media attention but will almost surely show that open access is even worse about peer review than subscription journals. Except despite claiming it works on humans, they do their study in roundworms, which in this case has zero relevance to human longevity, which means peer reviewers can say they addressed the study, while the scientists themselves engaged in hype.


Though basic research is incredibly valuable, without applied results it has limited use for the public. And that means limited funding. The U.S. government spent $5 billion this century convincing young scholars that government-funded research was real research and they would have freedom and not be corporate controlled.

Their public relations campaign worked too well. Everyone wanted to stay in college, to such an extent that only 6 PhDs were competing for each job each year. Post-doctoral positions started to look like careers, and some positions even required you work for free. The government had created artificial demand and had no supply.


Some cultures have demonized alcohol while others have welcomed it. Modern research has confirmed that over indulgence in alcohol is bad for you but also shown that moderate drinking increases health and life expectancy. Most of the beneficial effects appear related to the heart and circulation – but not all. Recently, positive effects of alcohol have been shown for both Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes – but these are less clear cut.



On Memorial Day my sister and brother-in-law took me to visit an extraordinary commercial nursery West of Chicago called “The Planter’s Pallet.

A new study published in Diabetologia finds that children with a strong family history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and/or type 2 diabetes were found to have cholesterol levels significantly higher than children with no family history of those conditions.

The research found that one third of the 12-year-olds studied had a strong family history of one or both diseases. This group also had unfavourable levels of cardiometabolic markers in the form of higher total cholesterol, and a higher ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol than the groups with moderate or no family history of disease.

Children with elevated levels of these markers may also have a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes in adulthood.


Several times a year I find myself exiting the Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction and heading south.  When I get to the small town of Okeechobee I take a left and head down Route 98 through Florida’s extensive agricultural backyard.  Flanked by Lake Okeechobee on the west and the affluent cities of the Atlantic coast off to the east, the small towns nestled in this sliver of land support vibrant production of sweet corn, cattle, lettuce, and sugarcane. Cane-derived sugar ends up in many cupboards as table sugar, and also is found in many consumer products.  

Epigenetics is everywhere. Nary a day goes by without some news story or press release telling us something it explains.

Why does autism run in families?  Epigenetics.
Why do you have trouble losing weight? Epigenetics.
Why are vaccines dangerous? Epigenetics.
Why is cancer so hard to fight? Epigenetics.
Why a cure for cancer is around the corner? Epigenetics.
Why your parenting choices might affect your great-grandchildren? Epigenetics.

A new claims the epigenetics of lactose intolerance may provide an approach to understanding schizophrenia - perhaps because both lactose intolerance and schizophrenia are inherited and neither condition emerges in the first years of life and in a booming fad like epigenetics, that is all you need. 

More than 65 per cent of adults worldwide are lactose intolerant and cannot process the milk sugar lactose. Lactose intolerance is influenced by one gene, which determines if a person will lose the ability to process lactose over time. More specifically, those with some variants of this gene will gradually produce less lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, as they age.