Wednesday July 18, 2018

Coffee can predict Parkinson’s disease

The team involved 108 people who had Parkinson's disease for an average of about six years and 31 people of the same age who did not have the disease and consumed about two cups of coffee per day

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Parkinson’s disease is named after Dr James Parkinson (1755-1824), the doctor that first identified the condition. Wikimedia commons
Parkinson’s disease is named after Dr James Parkinson (1755-1824), the doctor that first identified the condition. Wikimedia commons
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A neurodegenerative disorder which leads to progressive deterioration of motor function due to loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Yes, that’s Parkinson’s disease. Quite horrifying, isn’t it?

However, there maybe a chance of predicting it.

The way your body metabolises your cup of coffee each morning may determine your chances of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The reason that Parkinson’s disease develops is not known. Wikimedia commons
The reason that Parkinson’s disease develops is not known. Wikimedia commons

Findings

  • People with Parkinson’s disease had significantly lower levels of caffeine in their blood than people without the disease, even if they consumed the same amount of caffeine.
  • Thus, testing the level of caffeine in the blood may provide a simple way to aid the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the researchers said.

“Previous studies have shown a link between caffeine and a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, but we haven’t known much about how caffeine metabolises within the people with the disease,” said Shinji Saiki, MD at the Juntendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo.

“If these results can be confirmed, they would point to an easy test for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s, possibly even before symptoms are appearing,” added David G. Munoz, MD, at the University of Toronto.

“This is important because Parkinson’s disease is difficult to diagnose, especially at the early stages,” Munoz noted.

The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia) and muscle stiffness or rigidity. Wikimedia commons
The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremor, slowness of movement (bradykinesia) and muscle stiffness or rigidity. Wikimedia commons

Methodology

  • The team involved 108 people who had Parkinson’s disease for an average of about six years and 31 people of the same age who did not have the disease and consumed about two cups of coffee per day.
  • Their blood was tested for caffeine and for 11 byproducts the body makes as it metabolises caffeine. They were also tested for mutations in genes that can affect caffeine metabolism.
  • The caffeine level was an average of 79 picomoles per 10 microliters for people without Parkinson’s disease, compared to 24 picomoles per 10 microliters for people with the disease.
  • However, there were no differences found in the caffeine-related genes between the two groups.

The study was published in journal Neurology. (IANS)

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Electric Fields Used By Spiders To Take Flight: Research

Charles Darwin remarked on the behavior when tiny spiders landed on the HMS Beagle, trailing lines of silk.

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A spider sits in her web. Researchers from England think spiders might be sensing and using electrostatic fields to become airborne.
A spider sits in her web. Researchers from England think spiders might be sensing and using electrostatic fields to become airborne. VOA

Since the 1800s, scientists have marveled at how spiders can take flight using their webbing. Charles Darwin remarked on the behavior when tiny spiders landed on the HMS Beagle, trailing lines of silk. He thought the arachnids might be using heat-generated updrafts to take to the sky, but new research shows a totally different cause may be at play.

Erica Morley and Daniel Robert from the University of Bristol in England were interested in exploring a second explanation for the spiders’ ability. They thought spiders might sense and use electrostatic fields in the air.

“There have been several studies looking at how air movement and wind can get spiders airborne, but the electrostatic hypothesis was never tested,” Morley told VOA.

Some observers suggested electrostatic fields might be the reason the multiple draglines some spiders use to float don’t get tangled with each other. Biologist Kimberley Sheldon from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who was not involved in the new research, pointed out that “though these spiders will have five or six draglines, those strands of silk do not get entangled. So we’ve known for a while that electrostatics probably [are] at least interacting with the spider, with the silk lines themselves, to keep them from getting tangled.”

Morley and Robert created a box with a grounded metal plate on the bottom and a plate on the top that they could pass an electrical current through. The scientists placed spiders in the box and turned on the voltage, watching as the creatures reacted to the electric field.

Reaction to current

When the electric field was on, the spiders lifted their abdomens into the air and started tiptoeing by raising up on the very ends of their legs. Morley told VOA that spiders only tiptoe right before they release silk draglines to fly away, in a process called ballooning.

And when the spiders did balloon and rise into the air, turning off the electric current caused them to drop.

Sheldon compared it to taking a balloon and rubbing it against your clothing. “If you hold the balloon [near your head], your hair stands on end. That’s kind of what’s happening with the spider silk.”

Spiders Use Electric Fields to Take Flight: Research
Spiders Use Electric Fields to Take Flight: Research. Pixabay

Clearly the spiders were able to sense the local electrostatic field and respond appropriately by releasing silk, but Morley and Robert wanted to know how.

“As a sensory biologist, I was keen to understand what sensory system they might use to detect electric fields,” said Morley. “We know that they have very sensitive hairs that are displaced by air movements or even sound. So I thought that it’s possible that they might be using these same hairs to detect electric fields.”

This was exactly what she observed. The small hairs along the spiders’ legs react not only to physical experiences like a breeze but also to the electric field. In nature, it makes sense for spiders to sense both the electrostatic field around them as well as wind conditions. Spiders probably use both when taking off and navigating the skies.

Mathematician Longhua Zhao from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has made computer models of how spiders balloon. She told VOA, “I think that both the electrical field and the fluid mechanics [of air flow] are important. They definitely play very important roles. However, we don’t know at this point which is the dominant factor.”

Also read: Did You Hear about the New Species of Spiders Named After Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernie Sanders and Barrack Obama?

Lead researcher Morley pointed out that spiders aren’t the only invertebrates to balloon. “Caterpillars and spider mites, which are arachnids but not spiders, balloon as well.” Morley hopes to see others follow up her research to see if these other animals respond in a way similar to the spiders. (VOA)