Tag Archive: Genes


Spending long periods at low gravity may alter genes, suggests a new experiment involving a magnet-powered trick used on Earth to simulate weightlessness in space.

Subjected to magnetic levitation that generated an effect similar to microgravity experienced by astronauts orbiting Earth, fruit flies experienced changes in crucial genes.

Humans won’t necessarily respond like fruit flies, but the system is considered an useful model for probing the effects of permanent free-fall on biology. However, it’s also possible that the gene disruption was caused by magnetism, not low gravity.

“We have tried to separate the effects of microgravity and magnetism, but we’ve learned it’s not so easy,” said molecular biologist Raul Herranz of Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas in Spain, leader of the upcoming study in BMC Genomics. “We don’t know yet what is causing what — the magnetism or the microgravity?”

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Food We Eat Might Control Our Genes

“You are what you eat.” The old adage has for decades weighed on the minds of consumers who fret over responsible food choices. Yet what if it was literally true? What if material from our food actually made its way into the innermost control centers of our cells, taking charge of fundamental gene expression?

That is in fact what happens, according to a recent study of plant-animal micro­RNA transfer led by Chen-Yu Zhang of Nanjing University in China. MicroRNAs are short sequences of nucleotides—the building blocks of genetic material. Although microRNAs do not code for proteins, they prevent specific genes from giving rise to the proteins they encode. Blood samples from 21 volunteers were tested for the presence of microRNAs from crop plants, such as rice, wheat, potatoes and cabbage.

The results, published in the journal Cell Research, showed that the subjects’ bloodstream contained approximately 30 different microRNAs from commonly eaten plants. It appears that they can also alter cell function: a specific rice microRNA was shown to bind to and inhibit the activity of receptors controlling the removal of LDL—“bad” cholesterol—from the bloodstream. Like vitamins and minerals, microRNA may represent a previously unrecognized type of functional molecule obtained from food.

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There is a vast, unseen marketplace that connects us all. The traders are the trillions of bacteria that live on or within our bodies; the commodities they exchange are genes. This flow of genes around our bodies allows bacteria to rapidly evolve new skills, including the abilities to resist antibiotics, cause disease, or break down environmental chemicals. In the past, scientists have caught glimpses of individual deals, but now the full size of the marketplace is becoming clear.

The human body is home to 100 trillion microbes, whose cells outnumber ours by ten to one, and whose genes outnumber ours by a hundred to one. These genes are not only more numerous than ours, but they operate under different rules. While we can only pass down our DNA to our children, bacteria and other microbes can swap genes between one another. For example, the gut bacteria of Japanese people have a gene that helps them to digest seaweed. They borrowed it from an oceanic species that hitched its way into Japanese bowels, aboard uncooked pieces of sushi. Continue reading

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