(MENAFN – Swissinfo) In a study of about 25,000 people, researchers at the University of Zurich found that genes and brain anatomy influence whether a person takes risks.
This content is published on 30 January 2021 – 15:56 January 30 2021 – 15:56 UZH / jdp
There is widespread evidence that people tend to take risks. However, there is very little research into how genetic disposition translates into risky behavior. The only study to date looking at structural brain imaging data came from a small, non-representative sample of just a few hundred people.
An international team led by neuroscientists at UZH studied the genetic information and brain scans of more than 25,000 people to understand how genetic characteristics correlate with risk-taking behaviors such as drinking, smoking, driving and promiscuity.
The large sample allows the researcher to control for several variables such as age, gender and other factors to reveal that there is a relationship between brain function and anatomy as well as risky behavior.
The study, published in the Nature Human BehaviorExternal link last week, confirmed several areas of the brain thought to be associated with risky behavior. These include the hypothalamus, where hormones such as dopamine are released, and the prefrontal cortex, which plays an important role in self-control and cognitive judgment.
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Despite decades of research, and its impact on one in 500 New Zealanders and millions more worldwide, Parkinson’s disease remains a medical mystery. Photo / 123RF
Kiwi scientists are trying to get closer to revealing the important role one gene plays in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
A new study comes after research in New Zealand, supported by the charity of world-renowned Hollywood star Michael J Fox, sheds light on the fascinating link of the gene to the notorious neurodegenerative condition.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative condition caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain, resulting in slow and awkward movements.
Despite decades of research, and its impact on one in 500 New Zealanders and millions more worldwide, the disease remains a medical mystery.
Doctors don’t yet know why most people develop it and for those who are diagnosed, there is no cure.
Over the past few years, scientists have been pursuing promising new clues in the genetic mutation that is one of the biggest risk factors for the disease.
The specific gene involved is called acid beta glucoserebrosidase, or GBA.
Research has shown how GBA mutations inhibit enzymes that help clear out damaged or excess parts of cells, before they can build up to cause the damage seen in Parkinson’s disease.
Last August, a team led by Associate Professor Justin O’Sullivan, from the University of Auckland-based Liggins Institute, published findings that pinpoint the specific components of GBA that play a major role in regulating and delaying the onset of disease.
In the “non-coding” area of GBA – once thought of as aimless “junk” DNA – the team screened 128 sites to find that, where the gene happened to have a specific combination of three short non-coding DNA sequences, Parkinson’s onset could be delayed by five. year.
They also identified six other non-coding regions that act as switches to control how the GBA gene is turned on or off in the brain’s movement and cognitive centers.
Scientists – funded in part by the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – are also creating maps showing how such switches affect other genes – apart from GBA – throughout the human body.
In the new study, supported by New Zealand’s Marsden Fund, O’Sullivan will work with University of Otago geneticist Professor Martin Kennedy to further explore the GBA puzzle.
Kennedy said the project proved to be an “accidental amalgamation” of initially separate research.
While O’Sullivan has focused on how gene expression is regulated in different cells, Kennedy and PhD student Oscar Graham has developed a new DNA sequencing method to check for mutations in the GBA gene.
When O’Sullivan and Kennedy sat together at the Queenstown conference to share their work, they realized what they could learn by putting it together.
“When put together, the two data sets show that not only clear mutations in GBA, but also a natural pattern of subtle variations in GBA genes, appear to impact Parkinson’s disease,” said Kennedy.
In addition, this may occur through changing the expression of perhaps 20 to 30 other genes.
Their joint study, which also involved the NZ Brain Research Institute’s renowned clinical director, Professor Tim Anderson, ultimately sought to confirm that subtle genetic changes in GBA do affect Parkinson’s early age.
But they also wanted to know why so many people who carry the GBA mutation don’t develop the disease.
Furthermore, they aim to build simpler ways of detecting variation so that it can be tested in larger studies, along with sophisticated new models exploring its effects in cell biology.
The team plans to import specific stem cells taken from Parkinson’s patients, which will be modified in the laboratory using the latest gene editing methods to provide cells with various forms of the GBA gene.
“These cells can be differentiated in the laboratory into different cell types, such as certain brain cells, then we can see differences in gene expression due to the presence of different forms of the GBA gene,” explains Kennedy.
“Then we’ll set up experiments to better understand the biological impact of differences in expression of any gene, both in cultured cell models, and ultimately in humans.”
Kennedy expects this pioneering research to come up with challenges – particularly around modifying genes in cell lines, but also in understanding what the differences in gene expression caused by different forms of GBA actually mean.
“Until we discover those changes and start thinking about gene function, we won’t be able to plan proper experiments to answer the key questions of this research.”
But if successful, their research may prove important for ongoing efforts to understand and prevent Parkinson’s.
“GBA is the single biggest genetic factor we know of that underlies Parkinson’s, but we don’t really understand how it exerts its effects,” said Kennedy.
“In addition, drugs are being developed and piloted that target the GBA and its lines of operation, so it is increasingly important to understand all the how and why of the GBA.
“We believe our genetic work will lead to a better ability to predict Parkinson’s risk – and possibly allow targeting of treatment, or even prevention for people at high genetic risk who don’t already have it.”
The UK and South Africa discovered a new SARS-CoV-2 variant in their domestic Covid-19 cases. The variant was discovered using a genome sequencing technique that analyzes the structure of the virus and distinguishes mutations. This genome sequencing technique was regularly used around the world at the start of pandemics when we knew little about viruses, but it has been lost. The US and other countries will have to follow in the footsteps of Britain and South Africa when it comes to revamped genome sequencing regimes, as the next variant may be hiding in our backyard.
Genome sequencing essentially determines the chemical “base” sequence of the DNA molecule. Scientists use this sequence to identify genes, regulatory instructions, or in the case of Covid-19, mutations to the virus. Sequencing efforts at the start of the pandemic helped scientists determine the structure of the virus, as well as its initial mutations help a virus contagious enough to cause a massive pandemic.
Recently, genome sequencing was key to identifying the more transmissible variants found in the UK. The Covid-19 Genomics Consortium has traced the genetic history of Covid-19 for almost a year, 150,000 virus samples. While most viral variants have one or two minor mutations from each other, the British variants have 23 separate mutations. This discovery caused concern and further investigation by the Consortium, which determined that mutations caused the transmission process to accelerate. The British variant is thought to have become a massive fuel current cases in the UK in recent weeks.
South Africa’s new SARS-CoV-2 variant is was found with the same technique. The new strain was discovered at the end of November and announced a month later after further research and analysis. As found in the UK, this new strain was determined to be highly contagious compared to the strains we have handled for most of the pandemic. South Africa, which has weathered the Covid-19 storm relatively well, is now in the middle of a spike in a case like in England.
In the United States, our sorting efforts have dwindled over time. At the start of the pandemic, the global community was trying to find out what a virus was, and at that time many samples were genome sequenced in that effort. Currently, only 0.3% of the sample has been sorted in the United States, that is rating 43rd according to the GISAID Initiative, a global genome sequencing database project.
Sequencing can help fight Covid-19 and its emerging variants. British and South African variants have been detected in dozens case in the US. This transmission led me to believe that cases involving this variant were widespread, but the lack of genome sequencing allowed the variants to avoid surveillance. In response to this new variant, CDC announced a multiplication our sorting efforts.
The robust sequencing regime may find more than just additional cases of the British and South African variants. Viruses can mutate each time they infect a new host, and with tens of millions of cases recorded worldwide, there is likely a hidden variant waiting to be discovered. In the United States alone, several estimate indicates that 15-20% of Americans have contracted Covid-19, which would make a new variant originating from US cases very likely. If a domestically grown variant is out there, it might help with the recent spike in Covid-19 cases observed during the holiday season.
The prospect of a more contagious virus spreading in the US is scary, but it is possible that with enough mutations, a strain might be able to evade current vaccines. Therefore, efforts to find these strains must be strengthened. If a section of the population has vaccine-resistant strains of Covid-19, national public health agencies must identify them and continue vaccine research from there. The hope is that this mutation hasn’t happened yet, but we don’t know for sure.
Vaccines may include new strains in the UK and South Africa, vaccine distribution will continue as planned in the coming months, and life will return to normal in the second half of 2021. The opposite is also possible. Genome sequencing in the US and around the world must be supported, and then new strains must be identified and isolated. If not, we may see a very long year.
Germany has issued travel warnings for popular ski areas in Austria, Italy and Switzerland, struggling to contain the spread of the virus corona virus as the rate of new infections rose above 10,000 a day for the first time. While the infection rates in Germany are lower than in much of Europe, they are steadily increasing, with a daily increase of 11,287 cases bringing the total to 392,049. The German death toll stood at 9,905. “The situation has become very serious overall,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases, said.
“We still have a chance to slow the spread of the pandemic,” he said. But he said people should stick to the rules and that Germany must prepare for an uncontrolled spread of the virus. On Wednesday, German Health Minister Jens Spahn became the latest leading politician to test positive for the virus. His spokesman said he had cold symptoms but had no fever. Government sources said he was fit for work. Berlin issued new travel warnings for Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, much of Austria and parts of Italy including the popular South Tyrol ski area.
The UK, with the exception of the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and overseas territories, is also seen as a high risk region. Under the warning, which takes effect from Saturday, travelers returning to Germany must be quarantined for 10 days. Quarantine can be lifted early, if tests carried out after five days turn out to be negative. The surge in Germany also prompted the Danish government to warn its citizens against traveling to and from Germany, except for the border state of Schleswig Holstein.
Germany’s move could have a significant impact on ski seasons in the Alpine countries. Especially Austria, which reported a record 2,435 new daily infections on Thursday, is a popular destination for Germans. Swiss Tourism spokesman Markus Berger said the news from Germany was definitely not good. The industry hopes that the situation will improve in the next month or two. “We assume that winter can continue,” he said. However, there is positive news for Spain’s Canary Islands as the RKI removed them from its risk list, raising hopes for German tourists over Christmas and New Year.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed with no modifications to the text. Only the title has been changed.)
New Yorkers are increasingly embracing the use of masks to slow its spread corona virus since the pandemic started earlier this year. With no end in sight, many have gone beyond standard surgical masks and are choosing to express themselves with more fashionable colors, patterns, flags and messages. Children arrive on the first day of school wearing masks with hearts, books, watermelons and musical notes written on them. A school assistant has a line of crayons on her mask, a friendly design for nervous kindergarten kids. On Madison Avenue, a woman wearing a matching designer mask and scarf walks quickly past an upscale clothing store. And behind it, there is another mask with a skull.
In Harlem, Hana Teferi walked out of a shop wearing a gold, black and silver Ethiopian mask which she wore in honor of her Ethiopian family. And actor Fredric Michaels wears a kente mask that reflects his African heritage. Camouflage masks are commonly used. An outdoor man dressed in camouflage from head to toe in a mask to match. A construction worker chooses camouflage, and two of her friends, Samantha Fernandez and Unique Corella, wear matching blue camouflage masks. Senior citizen Doris Shapiro wears an orange sequined mask and hat. The bright colors match her view: “I want to dance. I want to have fun, “he said.
Kai Waithe, in a fuchsia mask and purple hair extensions posing for a portrait: “I think being a creative person, through music and speech, and living in NYC has helped me with my fashion sense. I only wear what I feel, “he said. Retired Gil Gainey, who worked for many years in the human resources department at the hospital, wearing a paisley mask: “I’m very health conscious,” he said. We don’t know when this will go away, so we’d better be fashionable. “Teacher Amanda Clarke rushes to Brooklyn high school with a message on her mask, and on the minds of many people:” CHOOSE! “
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed with no modifications to the text. Only the title has been changed.)