Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Probiotic anti-depressants?

Source: Science
In what might be the the quintessential post for a blog titled Mental Burdocks, I wanted to point out a recent microbiome study that suggests there is a potential for gut bacteria to have impacts on the mind and mood. Researchers found that mice fed widely available probiotic Lactobacillus bacteria showed fewer signs of stress and a greater inclination towards exploration.

This would seem to indicate another level of depth to the old adage 'you are what you eat'.

UPDATE 8/31: Another new study looked at the impact of diet on the viral communities in the gut. The study found that while individual communities varied substantially and remained relatively stable over time, the communities of individuals on similar diets showed convergence.

UPDATE 9/1: By pure coincidence, the seminar at work today was "Inside story: the role of gut microbes in nutrition and drug metabolism", by Peter Turnbaugh, PhD. Peter is from the FAS Center for Systems Biology at Harvard, where their research "involves the development and application of computational and experimental methods for the analysis of community structure, gene content, and function of complex microbial communities." His talk generated lots of discussion, and left me wondering whether anyone has looked at the well-studied impact of caloric restriction on longevity from the perspective of the microbiome - Google doesn't turn up much.

UPDATE 9/2: A paper published in Science yesterday surveys the enterotypes in the human gut and finds they are linked to dietary habits (high protein/saturated fat vs high carbs, etc). It also found that while some shift occurs in the span of hours following a diet change, long term dietary changes are required to change an individual's gut enterotype conclusively.

UPDATE 9/15: Peter got back to me on my question, he reports there are a couple of studies that are related to longevity and the microbiome, but nothing looking directly at whether "specific microbial consortia impact longevity." Also, researchers in Europe have opened my.microbes to the public, in case you are looking to participate in a study and are willing to spend ~$2100 to have your gut bacteria sequenced.

Monday, June 27, 2011

HHMI, Max Planck and Wellcome Trust Announce Plans for new Open Access Journal

The top-tier organizations in the biomedical and life sciences have announced plans to launch an open access journal in the summer of 2012. The plans are the result of a 2010 workshop at HHMI's Janelia Farm, where participants concluded there is a new for a new publishing model. There are several key themes for the new effort - more efficient, responsive publication of research, editorial participation by actively practicing scientists, a digital-only presence, and a move away from requests for modifications or follow-on studies that extend the publication process.

There is hope that this kind of approach to sharing of research findings can help speed the pace of discovery.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Next-Gen Sequencing in the Nic of Time

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel has an in-depth write-up on Nic Volker, the young boy with a incredible story of disease and recovery based in next-generation sequencing. George Church, pioneering the Harvard/MIT geneticist, briefly cited this [at that time anonymous] case in his evening keynote back at the Harvard BioMed HPC Summit in October 2010.

Even without the cutting edge science that finally identified the mutation that was the basis for Nic's disease, it's an incredible story - the young boy survived just about every horror you can imagine - multiple bouts with sepsis, chemo, hundreds of surgeries, encephalitis.

The feature goes on to provide an update that suggests that Nic's case may be the leading edge of a wave moving across genetic medicine. While sequencing is a long ways from a miracle cure for huge percentages of diseases, the victories, few as they are, are exciting.

UPDATE 6/28/11 - Another similar story just came through of California twins with a rare condition that wasn't responding to treatment until their genomes as well as the genomes of their older brother, parents and grandparents were sequenced. It's an incredible story, and while this kind of approach is currently beyond the reach of many (~$10K per genome), the cost is falling at roughly 5X per year, putting into reach of routine medicine within several years.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Original Leatherman?

Slightly off-topic, but I'm a big fan of fixing things, and that often requires a handy tool. I carried a Swiss Army knife for many years, and then Leathermans once they came on the scene. It's remarkable how similar an 1,800 old year Roman tool is to those of today. The other must-have is a small waterproof LED flashlight, but that's a topic for another post.