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Latest News
Diabetes: Complexity Lost

For millions of people in the United States living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, measuring the daily rise and fall of blood glucose (sugar) is a way of life. Our body's energy is primarily governed by glucose in the blood, and blood sugar itself is exquisitely controlled by a complicated set of network interactions involving cells, tissues, organs and hormones that have evolved to keep the glucose on a relatively even keel, pumping it up when it falls too low or knocking it down when it goes too high. This natural dynamical balance becomes lost when someone develops diabetes.

Did Campfire Stories Help Human Culture Evolve?

After human ancestors controlled fire 400,000 to 1 million years ago, flames not only let them cook food and fend off predators, but also extended their day. A University of Utah study of Africa's Kalahari Bushmen suggests that stories told over firelight helped human culture and thought evolve by reinforcing social traditions, promoting harmony and equality, and sparking the imagination to envision a broad sense of community, both with distant people and the spirit world. Researchers previously studied how cooking affected diets and anatomy, but "little is known about how important the extended day was for igniting the embers of culture and society," anthropology professor Polly Wiessner writes in a study published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Termites evolved complex bioreactors 30 million years ago

Achieving complete breakdown of plant biomass for energy conversion in industrialized bioreactors remains a complex challenge, but new research shows that termite fungus farmers solved this problem more than 30 million years ago. The new insight reveals that the great success of termite farmers as plant decomposers is due to division of labor between a fungus breaking down complex plant components and gut bacteria contributing enzymes for final digestion.

Better Biofuels Microbes? Look to the Human Gut

Scientists have scoured cow rumens and termite guts for microbes that can efficiently break down plant cell walls for the production of next-generation biofuels, but some of the best microbial candidates actually may reside in the human lower intestine, researchers report. Their study, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use biochemical approaches to confirm the hypothesis that microbes in the human gut can digest fiber, breaking it down into simple sugars in order to ferment them into nutrients that nourish human cells. These findings have significance for human health but also for biofuels production, since the same sugars can be fed to yeast to generate ethanol and other liquid fuels. The human microbes appear to be endowed with enzymes that break down a complex plant fiber component more efficiently than the most efficient microbes found in the cow rumen, the researchers report.

Monitoring Ebola in wild great apes - using poop

A group of international scientists has developed a new method to study Ebola virus in wildlife. The new methodology exploits the fact that, like humans, apes surviving viral infections develop antibodies against them. Typically, those antibodies are measured in the blood. The scientists, however, developed a laboratory technique that can isolate antibodies from ape feces.

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