Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Biology News Net Stuff

Biology News Net has some interesting stories today.

Less is more, gene study shows describes work where genes which do not function in humans (pseudogenes) but have functional versions in chimps can tell us about some of the selective pressures that altered our genome. While it is hard to say at this point how much genetic change is caused by losing gene functions as opposed to gaining genes through duplication and other events, it is an interesting avenue of research.

Scientists seek to unwrap the sweet mystery of the sugar coat on bacteria. Those sugary little pathogenic bastards are always disguising themselves to evade the immune system. Fortunately humans are smarter than germs, at least at the University of Texas at Austin they are. (If you think I am going to make a southerner joke while it's still quail season in Texas you're nuts. They seem to have some very flexible definitions of "quail" down there.)

Team discovers possible 'universal strategy' to combat addiction. I am not certain but from what I have read in Scientific American this 'universal strategy' might also work for behavioral addictions. They are trying to block the action of a natural enzyme that attaches to receptors in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). This enzyme gets the VTA active and this seems to be important in addictions of all kinds.
When the same addicts are shown a video of someone using cocaine or a photograph of white lines on a mirror, the accumbens responds similarly [to the natural and drug rewards in humans], along with the amygdala and some areas of the cortex. And the same regions react in compulsive gamblers who are shown images of slot machines, suggesting that the VTA-accumbens pathway has a similarly critical role even in nondrug addictions. (Scientific American)
I do not know for sure if this would provide an avenue to treat problem gamblers but if you look at the amount of damage that drug addiction alone causes to society and the massive failure of the law enforcement war on drugs and its cost to society in lives, money, corruption and loss of personal liberty* I think that medical research on addiction has a lot of potential value to the world. Too bad life sciences didn't cross Bush's mind during the SOTUS.

* BTW, in the controversy on Bush's wire tapping, it is interesting to reflect on Clinton's Clipper Chip plan. Remember that? He was trying to force every person with a computer to have a back door for government eavesdropping. The key to your back door was going to be given to a "trusted third party" that the government could subpoena with a warrant or just hack into your computer like everyone else was going to do. I just wanted to mention because the Democrats want to be seen as the champions of privacy now. I hope the "universal strategy" can help them get off the glue. They will be the champions of privacy when Bush becomes the science president.

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