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Genetic variation in the DNA of mitochondria – the 'power plants' of cells – contributes to a person’s risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), say investigators in the first study to examine the mitochondrial genome for changes associated with AMD, the leading cause of blindness in Caucasians over age 50.

“Most people don’t realize that we have two genomes,” said lead author Jeff Canter, M.D., M.P.H., an investigator in the Center for Human Genetics Research. “We have the nuclear genome – the “human genome” – that makes the cover of all the magazines, and then we also have this tiny genome in mitochondria in every cell.”

Canter teamed with Jonathan Haines, Ph.D., and Paul Sternberg, M.D., experts in AMD genetics and treatment, to examine whether a particular variation in the mitochondrial genome is associated with the disease. The genetic change occurs in about 10 percent of Caucasians, referred to as mitochondrial haplogroup T.

A new study by UC Davis researchers provides evidence that methods using human bone marrow-derived stem cells to deliver gene therapy to cure diseases of the blood, bone marrow and certain types of cancer do not cause the development of tumors or leukemia. The study was published online in the May 6, 2008 issue of Molecular Therapy.

"The results of our decade-long study of adult human stem cell transplantation shows that there is little risk of adverse events caused by gene transfer, and that adult human stem cells do not pose a cancer risk when implanted into different organs," said Jan Nolta, senior author of the study and director of the UC Davis Stem Cell Program.

Nolta and her colleagues tested the safety of gene transfer into bone marrow stem cells from human donors in more than 600 mice. None of the transplanted mice developed leukemia or solid tumors caused by the gene therapy treatment, during the evaluation period of up to 18 months.

Current biochemical detectors are slow and produce an unacceptable number of false readings because they are easily fooled by subtle differences between deadly pathogens and harmless substances. They simply cannot fully monitor or interpret the different ways these substances interact with biological systems.

To solve this problem, three faculty researchers in the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineeringare are learning how to incorporate real cells into tiny micro-systems to detect chemical and biological pathogens.

They are collaborating across engineering disciplines to make advanced "cell-based sensors-on-a-chip" technology possible. Pamela Abshire, electrical and computer engineering (ECE) and Institute for Systems Research (ISR); Benjamin Shapiro, aerospace engineering and ISR; and Elisabeth Smela, mechanical engineering and ECE; are working on new sensors that take advantage of the sensory capabilities of biological cells.

Fallow agricultural land and steppe-formation processes are evidently capable of having a much greater effect on global air quality than was previously assumed, according to researchers who examined a dust cloud that formed over parched fields in southern Ukraine and led to extremely high concentrations of particulate matter in Central Europe.

Over two-thirds of the land area in the Ukraine consists of fields and meadows. The soil on 220,000 square kilometres is regarded as being under threat. Since the 1930s wind erosion in what was then the Soviet Union has increased considerably as a result of collectivisation in agriculture and the resultant large field areas.

In particular, this has affected the regions north of the Caucasus, the lower reaches of the Don river and eastern and southern Ukraine. It is possible that the process is also accelerated by climate change. In particular, previously unaffected semi-arid regions are continuing to dry out.

A gut hormone that causes people to eat more does so by making food appear more desirable, suggests a new report in the May issue of Cell Metabolism. In a brain imaging study of individuals, the researchers found that reward centers respond more strongly to pictures of food in subjects who had received an infusion of the hormone known as ghrelin.

The findings suggest that the two drives for feeding — metabolic signals and pleasure signals — are actually intertwined.

More and more U.S. college students are smoking tobacco using hookahs, a kind of water pipe, and it’s becoming a growing public health issue, according to a new study led by a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher.

In a hookah, tobacco is heated by charcoal, and the resulting smoke is passed through a water-filled chamber, cooling the smoke before it reaches the smoker. Some waterpipe users perceive this method of smoking tobacco as less harmful and addictive than cigarette smoking.

Principal investigator Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Psychology, notes that current and prospective waterpipe tobacco smokers should be made aware that waterpipe tobacco smoking is not as benign as they might think. Waterpipe and cigarette smoke contains some of the same toxins -- disease-causing tar and carbon monoxide, as well as dependence-producing nicotine. Additionally, the exposure to these toxins through waterpipe smoking may be greater due to longer periods of use.