Anticoagulation and Cerebral Small Vessel Disease – What Really Causes Intracerebral Haemorrhage (Medicine)

Researchers from the University College London and the Inselspital, University Hospital Bern have clarified the role of anticoagulation in intracerebral haemorrhages in two coupled studies. The team of David Werring and David Seiffge succeeded in establishing cerebral small vessel disease as the most probable cause. Prevention of cerebral haemorrhages to focus on detection and treatment of small vessel disease. Re-establishing anticoagulation after intracerebral haemorrhage to protect against ischaemic stroke is now investigated.

Cardiovascular diseases are usually complex and affect multiple organs simultaneously. Treatments for vascular diseases in the brain may therefore have implications for the treatment of cardiac diseases. It is therefore important to understand the respective causes and effects. This study explores the causes of intracerebral haemorrhages and links them to the risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation. It suggests a fundamental new assessment of the effects of blood thinning on intracerebral haemorrhages.

PD Dr. med. David Julian Seiffge, Oberarzt Klinik für Neurologie, Inselspital, Universitätsspital Bern

About 1,000 patients with intracerebral haemorrhage are treated at stroke units each year in Switzerland. Intracerebral haemorrhages are more often fatal than other forms of strokes, and their incidence has not decreased in the past 30 years. The use of blood thinners was previously considered not only to be a risk factor but potential cause for a intracerebral haemorrhage.

Anticoagulation should not be regarded as primary cause

This publication includes the results of two studies conducted by the team of Prof. Werring. It contrasts the role of blood thinning with that of cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) in intracerebral haemorrhages. A moderate to severe cerebral SVD is shown to be closely associated with the occurrence of cerebral haemorrhages. Dr David Seiffge summarized the results as follows: “Our results show that SVD is a precondition for intracerebral haemorrhages under anticoagulation. The degree of SVD in the brain may be used to predict intracerebral haemorrhages. Without SVD the occurrence of intracerebral haemorrhage is close to zero. Consequently, anticoagulation should no longer be considered a cause of intracerebral haemorrhages.”

Prof. Dr. med. Urs Fischer, Leiter Stationäre Akutneurologie, Inselspital, Universitätsspital Bern

Why is this important? Protection against stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation

Blood thinning offers important protection against ischemic stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. Anticoagulation reduces the risk of ischemic stroke in these cases by two-thirds. In the past, anticoagulation has been discontinued immediately in the event of an intracerebral haemorrhage and patients were left unprotected against the risk of a stroke. The new study results now point to a new path: according to the findings, intracerebral haemorrhages can be prevented etiologically by treating cerebral SVD and protection against stroke can be maintained through an adapted continuation of blood thinning. The exact timing and gradation of the two therapies are the subject of further studies.

A challenging methodological approach: combining two multicentre studies

The publication comprises data originating from two independent studies supervised by Prof. David Werring, UCL.The publication is based on two independent, multicentre observational studies. First, a cross-sectional study was carried out with 1,030 patients with intracerebral haemorrhages. CT and MRI were used to look for markers of SVD in the brain. 1,447 patients with atrial fibrillation and cerebral circulatory disorders were enrolled in a second, prospective study. In this group, the incidence of cerebral haemorrhages and ischaemic stroke was considered in relation to blood thinning.

Prof. Dr. med Marcel Arnold, Chefarzt Stroke Center, Inselspital, Universitätsspital Bern

Using this approach, it was possible to show that SVD is a prerequisite for intracerebral haemorrhage. Patients without such a condition did not have a single brain haemorrhage within the first 2 years in the study, despite being treated with a blood thinner. In contrast, at 1.56% per year, the risk was significantly increased for moderate to severe SVD.

A new way of looking at the situation is needed

The study results suggest that blood thinning alone can no longer be considered a cause of intracerebral haemorrhages. Prof. Marcel Arnold points out: «As a new approach, microangiopathies should be systematically searched for and treated in a targeted manner in order to prevent intracerebral haemorrhages. Suitable specialist outpatient clinics are now available. This would reduce the risk of intracerebral haemorrhages.»

A large, international randomised trial (ENRICH-AF), coordinated in Switzerland by David Seiffge, is currently underway with the aim of aligning anticoagulation and microangiopathy therapies with each other.

Experts:

  • Prof. David Werring MD, Queen Square Institute of Neurology, University College London
  • PD David Julian Seiffge MD, Senior Attending in Department of Neurology, Inselspital, University Hospital Bern
  • Prof. Marcel Arnold MD, Physician-in-Chief Stroke Center, Inselspital, University Hospital Bern
  • Prof. Urs Fischer MD, Head in-patient Acute Neurology , Inselspital, University Hospital Bern

Featured image: Intrazerebrale Haemorrhagie – Hirnblutung: Der blau eingefärbte Bereich bezeichnet den Ausschnitt im MRI, der eine Hirnblutung anzeigt. (Author: D.J. Seiffge, copyright: Insel Gruppe)


Links:


Provided by Inselgruppe

Why Our Brains Miss Opportunities to Improve Through Subtraction? (Neuroscience)

If, as the saying goes, less is more, why do we humans overdo so much?

In a NEW PAPER featured on the cover of the journal Nature, University of Virginia researchers explain why people rarely look at a situation, object or idea that needs improving — in all kinds of contexts — and think to remove something as a solution. Instead, we almost always add some element, whether it helps or not.

The team’s findings suggest a fundamental reason that people struggle with overwhelming schedules, that institutions bog down in proliferating red tape, and, of particular interest to researchers, that humanity is exhausting the planet’s resources.

“It happens in engineering design, which is my main interest,” said LEIDY KLOTZ, Copenhaver Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment and co-director of the CONVERGENT BEHAVIORAL SCIENCE INITIATIVE. “But it also happens in writing, cooking and everything else — just think about your own work and you will see it. The first thing that comes to our minds is, what can we add to make it better. Our paper shows we do this to our detriment, even when the only right answer is to subtract. Even with financial incentive, we still don’t think to take away.”

Video: Less is More: Engineering Systems and Environment’s Leidy Klotz and his Batten School collaborators explain why our brains struggle to subtract to solve problems.

Klotz, whose research explores the overlaps between engineering and behavioral science, teamed with three colleagues from the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on the interdisciplinary research that shows just how additive we are by nature. Batten public policy and psychology faculty, assistant professor GABRIELLE ADAMS and associate professor BENJAMIN CONVERSE, and former Batten postdoctoral researcher Andrew Hales, collaborated with Klotz on a series of observational studies and experiments to study the phenomenon.

When considering two broad possibilities for why people systematically default to addition — either they generate ideas for both possibilities and disproportionately discard subtractive solutions or they overlook subtractive ideas altogether — the researchers focused on the latter.

“Additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort,” Converse said. “Because people are often moving fast and working with the first ideas that come to mind, they end up accepting additive solutions without considering subtraction at all.”

The researchers think there may be a self-reinforcing effect.

“The more often people rely on additive strategies, the more cognitively accessible they become,” Adams said. “Over time, the habit of looking for additive ideas may get stronger and stronger, and in the long run, we end up missing out on many opportunities to improve the world by subtraction.”

Klotz has a book that takes a wider view of the topic, “Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less,” coming out a week after the Nature paper. Although the timing is coincidence, both the paper and book are products of the interdisciplinary and collaborative research environment at UVA, he said.

“It’s an incredibly interesting finding, and I think our research has tremendous implications across contexts, but especially in engineering to improve how we design technology to benefit humanity,” Klotz said.

Featured image: How would you stabilize this Lego structure to support the weight of a masonry brick placed on the top platform? University of Virginia researchers found most people in their study defaulted to adding a block at each corner, rather than removing the existing block to allow the platform to rest on the layer below. © University of Virginia


Reference: Adams, G.S., Converse, B.A., Hales, A.H. et al. People systematically overlook subtractive changes. Nature 592, 258–261 (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03380-y https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03380-y


Provided by University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science

A New Mouse Model Gave Surprising Findings About Folling Disease (Medicine)

In Norway, all newborn children are tested for 25 rare genetic diseases through the Newborn Screening program, and the most common of these is phenylketonuria (abbreviated to PKU), known as Folling Disease.

Every year, between 3-7 children are born in Norway with PKU, and this diagnosis has a great impact on the rest of their lives. People with PKU must follow a very strict diet all their lives, where they must avoid almost all foods that contain proteins.

“Failure to implement the diet from birth may result in irreversible physical problems and brain damage, and optimal brain function requires life-long adherence”, explains Professor Aurora Martinez at the Department of Biomedicine, University of Bergen.

Higher oxidative stress in mutated mice

The enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) breaks down the amino acid phenylalanine (Phe). People with PKU have mutations in PAH, which results in misfolded, dysfunctional PAH. This leads to the accumulation of toxic levels of Phe in the blood and brain and a Phe-free diet is initiated immediately after diagnosis.

Prof. Aurora Martinez © Ellen Johanne Jarli

Aurora Martinez’s leads a group of researchers that have extensive experience in working with genetic diseases associated with misfolding mutations, especially PKU.

To better understand the disease, they have made a model with mice with one of the most common human mutations of PAH (Pah-R261Q).

Mutated mice and their wild-type siblings were compared in several test, and in many of these the results were very similar for both mice groups.

“The first difference we found was an increase in the weight of the mutated male mice, and together with differences in metabolite profile (measured by Bevital) the results indicated that these mice had an altered lipid metabolism”, says Martinez.

Together with studies in metabolism cages, where all mice were given the same standard food, it was shown that at rest wild-type mice used mainly carbohydrates, while the mutated Pah-R261Q mice used more fat and protein as metabolic fuel source.

“These differences pointed to a higher oxidative stress in the mutated mice, and this was not expected based on the customary understanding of PKU”, Martinez explains.

Can explain some of the comorbidities found in adult PKU patients

The cause of the oxidative stress was a mystery for a while, but the explanation came when the group examined the livers of the Pah-R261Q mice.

PAH aggregates (green) around a pink cell nucleus © Kunwar Jung KC

“Mutated PAH enzymes are known to form small and readily degradable aggregates. But what was found here were unexpectedly large aggregates of mutant PAH. The burden of breaking down such large aggregates is a known cause of oxidative stress”, says Martinez.

Previously, PKU has only been seen as a disease in which the PAH mutations led to the enzyme losing its catalytic function (the breakdown of Phe), but the results provide an additional understanding of how some mutations also provide a harmful property to PAH, through the formation of large aggregates.

“This may be a possible explanation for some of the comorbidities found in adult PKU patients. In the past, these have been attributed to the high Phe level or as a side effect of being on the strict Phe-free diet, but now there is an additional explanation based the large PAH aggregates and the oxidative stress they inflict on the hepatic cells”, Martinez explains.

Going forward, the researchers will see if the findings in this mouse model are also found in human patients with the same mutation by analyzing their blood for markers of oxidative stress and use these markers during testing of specific therapies.

The study has been carried out at the Department of Biomedicine at the Faculty of Medicine (UiB), Bevital (Bergen) and University Children’s Hospital, Zürich.

Featured image: Mutated mice used in the mouse model. © Ellen Johanne Jarli


Reference: Aubi, O., Prestegård, K.S., Jung-KC, K. et al. The Pah-R261Q mouse reveals oxidative stress associated with amyloid-like hepatic aggregation of mutant phenylalanine hydroxylase. Nat Commun 12, 2073 (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-22107-1 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22107-1


Provided by University of Bergen

Scientists Discover Two New Species of Ancient, Burrowing Mammal Ancestors (Paleontology)

120-million-year-old animals evolved ‘scratch digging’ traits independently

A joint research team led by Dr. MAO Fangyuan and Dr. ZHANG Chi from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Prof. MENG Jin from the American Museum of Natural History have discovered two new species of mammal-like, burrowing animals that lived about 120 million years ago in what is now northeastern China.

The new species, described in Nature on April 7, are distantly related. However, they independently evolved traits to support their digging lifestyle. They represent the first “scratch diggers” discovered in this ecosystem.

“There are many hypotheses about why animals dig into the soil and live underground,” said Prof. MENG, lead author of the study. “For protection against predators, to maintain a temperature that’s relatively constant, or to find food sources like insects and plant roots. These two fossils are a very unusual, deep-time example of animals that are not closely related and yet both evolved the highly specialized characteristics of a digger.”

Holotype specimens of Fossiomanus senensis and Jueconodon cheni © MAO Fangyuan

The fossil mammaliamorph species–predecessors to mammals–were discovered in the Jehol Biota, which represents the Early Cretaceous epoch, about 145 to 100 million years ago.

One is a mammal-like reptile called a tritylodontid and represents the first of its kind to be identified in this biota. About a foot in length, it was named Fossiomanus sinensis. The other one, Jueconodon cheni, is a eutriconodontan, a distant cousin of modern placental mammals and marsupials, which were common in the biota. It is about seven inches long.

Mammals that are adapted to burrowing have specialized traits for digging. The researchers found some of these hallmark features, including shorter limbs, strong forelimbs with robust hands, and a short tail, in both Fossiomanus and Jueconodon. In particular, these characteristics point to a type of digging behavior known as “scratch digging,” accomplished mainly by the claws of the forelimbs.

“This is the first convincing evidence for fossorial life in those two groups,” said Dr. MAO. “It also is the first case of scratch diggers we know about in the Jehol Biota, which was home to a great diversity of animals, from dinosaurs and insects to plants.”

Reconstruction of Fossiomanus senensis and Jueconodon cheni © ZHAO Chuang

The animals also share another unusual feature: an elongated vertebral column. Typically, from the neck to the hip, mammals have 26 vertebrae. However, Fossiomanus had 38 vertebrae–a staggering 12 more than the usual number–while Jueconodon had 28.

To try to determine how these animals got their elongated axial skeleton, the paleontologists turned to recent studies in developmental biology, finding that the variation could be attributed to gene mutations that determine the number and shape of the vertebrae during early embryonic development of these animals. Variation in vertebrae number can be found in modern mammals as well, for example, in elephants, manatees, and hyraxes.

This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences Strategic Priority Research Program, the Youth Innovation Promotion Association, and the Kalbfleisch Fellowship of the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School.

Featured image: Reconstruction of Fossiomanus senensis and Jueconodon cheni © ZHAO Chuang


Reference: Mao, F., Zhang, C., Liu, C. et al. Fossoriality and evolutionary development in two Cretaceous mammaliamorphs. Nature (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03433-2 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03433-2


Provided by Chinese Academy of Sciences

New Lyme Disease Test Distinguishes Between Early and Late-stage Disease (Medicine)

New test targets genetic sequences in Lyme-causing bacteria and is highly sensitive, detecting just one bacterial cell in a blood sample

Researchers have developed a new test for Lyme disease that could help doctors to diagnose early-stage patients, which has been difficult until now. The test uses polymerase chain reaction to amplify and detect viral genetic sequences that are present in Lyme-causing bacteria, and can detect just one bacterial cell in a blood sample. 

For those who live in an area blighted by ticks, the threat of Lyme disease can cast a shadow over the joy of spring and summer. These blood-sucking arachnids can transmit bacteria into the bloodstream of their unsuspecting host, causing the disease. Early treatment is essential, but current tests are not usually sensitive enough to detect the disease in early-stage patients. A recent study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Microbiology reveals a new test for Lyme disease, which is the first to reliably distinguish between early- and late-stage patients. The test detects a genetic sequence left by a virus that resides in Lyme-causing bacteria, and can detect just one bacterial cell in a small blood sample.          

As the most common tick-borne infection, Lyme disease affects nearly 500,000 people in the U.S. every year. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, joint pain, and a distinctive ‘bullseye’ rash, but if left untreated, the disease can cause paralysis and even death. As such, early diagnosis is important, but difficult.

“Early diagnosis of Lyme disease is absolutely vital in reducing suffering, because early Lyme can be treated, but late Lyme is very difficult to treat,” explained Dr Jinyu Shan of the University of Leicester, lead author on the study. “Current tests cannot typically detect the low numbers of bacteria in early-stage patient blood samples. Our goal was to design a highly sensitive test to help doctors to identify Lyme disease as early as possible.”

Shan’s test is based on polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which works by amplifying small amounts of specific genetic material so that it can be detected. To date, this technique has not been particularly useful in detecting Lyme-causing bacteria in the blood. Such bacteria often lurk in tissues, and may not be present in the blood in large numbers. Additionally, many of the genetic sequences targeted by PCR have only a single copy within each cell, making it difficult to find and amplify enough for detection.

Shan and his colleagues realized that there is another potential PCR target in Lyme-causing bacteria. These targets are called prophages, and are a genetic sequence that was inserted into the bacteria by a virus. Happily, such genetic material can escape the bacteria and is therefore more likely to be detectable in the blood, and multiple copies are present in individual bacterial cells.

The researchers assessed their new prophage-targeted test by adding small amounts of Lyme-causing bacteria to blood samples. They found that the test was very sensitive, detecting just one bacterial cell in 0.3 mL of blood. This suggests that the test is sensitive enough for use with human samples, as people infected with Lyme-causing bacteria typically have between 1 and 100 bacterial cells per mL of blood.  

Based on these promising results, the researchers used their PCR test to analyze blood samples from healthy volunteers and patients with either early-stage or late-stage Lyme disease. Strikingly, the test could successfully distinguish healthy, early-stage and late-stage Lyme disease samples, and is the first technology to successfully achieve this. “The test could also be very useful in rapidly ruling out someone with suspected Lyme disease,” said Shan.

The technique may also be applicable to diagnostic tests for other bacterial infections, if researchers can identify suitable prophage sequences for such bacteria. The technology will need further development before it is suitable for clinical use, but the researchers have already begun the groundwork for this. “We are currently working with a commercial partner, and investigating regulatory issues and the potential for a clinical trial for this technology,” said Shan.

Featured Image credit: Jarun Ontakrai/Shutterstock


Reference: Jinyu Shan, Ying Jia et al., “Targeting Multicopy Prophage Genes for the Increased Detection of Borrelia burgdorferi Sensu Lato (s.l.), the Causative Agents of Lyme Disease, in Blood”, Front. Microbiol., 15 March 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2021.651217


Provided by Frontiers

The Muon’s Magnetic Moment Fits Just Fine (Physics)

A new estimate of the strength of the sub-atomic particle’s magnetic field aligns with the standard model of particle physics

A new estimation of the strength of the magnetic field around the muon–a sub-atomic particle similar to, but heavier than, an electron–closes the gap between theory and experimental measurements, bringing it in line with the standard model that has guided particle physics for decades.

A paper describing the research by an international team of scientists appears April 8, 2021 in the journal Nature.

Twenty years ago, in an experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory, physicists detected what seemed to be a discrepancy between measurements of the muon’s “magnetic moment”–the strength of its magnetic field–and theoretical calculations of what that measurement should be, raising the tantalizing possibility of physical particles or forces as yet undiscovered. The new finding shrinks this discrepancy, suggesting that the muon’s magnetism is likely not mysterious at all. To achieve this result, instead of relying on experimental data, researchers simulated every aspect of their calculations from the ground up–a task requiring massive supercomputing power.

“Most of the phenomena in nature can be explained by what we call the ‘standard model’ of particle physics,” said Zoltan Fodor, professor of physics at Penn State and a leader of the research team. “We can predict the properties of particles extremely precisely based on this theory alone, so when theory and experiment don’t match up, we can get excited that we might have found something new, something beyond the standard model.”

For a discovery of new physics beyond the standard model, there is consensus among physicists that the disagreement between theory and measurement must reach five sigma–a statistical measure that equates to a probability of about 1 in 3.5 million.

In the case of the muon, measurements of its magnetic field deviated from the existing theoretical predictions by about 3.7 sigma. Intriguing, but not enough to declare a discovery of a new break in the rules of physics. So, researchers set out to improve both the measurements and the theory in the hopes of either reconciling theory and measurement or increasing the sigma to a level that would allow the declaration of a discovery of new physics.

“The existing theory for estimating the strength of the muon’s magnetic field relied on experimental electron-positron annihilation measurements,” said Fodor. “In order to have another approach, we used a fully verified theory that was completely independent of reliance on experimental measurements. We started with rather basic equations and built the entire estimation from the ground up.”

The new calculations required hundreds of millions of CPU hours at multiple supercomputer centers in Europe and bring theory back in line with measurement. However, the story is not over yet. New, more precise experimental measurements of the muon’s magnetic moment are expected soon.

“If our calculations are correct and the new measurements do not change the story, it appears that we don’t need any new physics to explain the muon’s magnetic moment–it follows the rules of the standard model,” said Fodor. “Although, the prospect of new physics is always enticing, it’s also exciting to see theory and experiment align. It demonstrates the depth of our understanding and opens up new opportunities for exploration.”

The excitement is far from over.

“Our result should be cross-checked by other groups and we anticipate them,” said Fodor. “Furthermore, our finding means that there is a tension between the previous theoretical results and our new ones. This discrepancy should be understood. In addition, the new experimental results might be close to old ones or closer to the previous theoretical calculations. We have many years of excitement ahead of us.”

In addition to Fodor, the research team includes Szabolcs Borsanyi, Jana N. Guenther, Christian Hoelbling, Sandor D. Katz, Laurent Lellouch, Thomas Lippert, Laurent Lellouch, Kohtaroh Miura, Letizia Parato, Kalman K. Szabo, Finn Stokes, Balint C. Toth, Csaba Torok, Lukas Varnhorst.

Participating institutions include Penn State, the University of Wuppertal in Germany; the Jülich Supercomputing Centre in Germany; Eötvös University in Budapest, Hungary; the University of California, San Diego; the University of Regensburg in Germany; Aix Marseille Univ, Université de Toulon in Marseille, France; Helmholtz Institute Mainz in Germany; the Kobayashi-Maskawa Institute for the Origin of Particles and the Universe, Nagoya University in Japan.

The research was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG); the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF); the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office; and the Excellence Initiative of Aix-Marseille, a French Investissements d’Avenirf program, through the Chaire d’Excellence initiative and the Laboratoire d’Excellence.

Featured image: Artist’s conception of the mystery of the magnetic moment of the muon–a sub-atomic particle similar to, but heavier than, an electron (represented by the Greek letter mu). A new estimate of the strength of the muon’s magnetic field closes the gap between theory and experimental measurements, bringing it in line with the standard model of particle physics. © Dani Zemba, Penn State


Reference: Borsanyi, S., Fodor, Z., Guenther, J.N. et al. Leading hadronic contribution to the muon magnetic moment from lattice QCD. Nature (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03418-1 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03418-1


Provided by Penn State

800-year-old Medieval Pottery Fragments Reveal Jewish Dietary Practices (Archeology)

A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, with archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology, have found the first evidence of a religious diet locked inside pottery fragments excavated from the early medieval Jewish community of Oxford.

Keeping kosher is one of the oldest known diets across the world and, for an observant Jew, maintaining these dietary laws (known as Kashruth) is a fundamental part of everyday life. It is a key part of what identifies them as Jews, both amongst their own communities and to the outside world.

Oxford’s Jewish quarter was established around St. Aldates in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, following William the Conqueror’s invitation to Jews in Northern France to settle in England. Recent excavations by Oxford Archaeology at St Aldates, in the historic heart of Oxford, revealed evidence for two houses, which a medieval census suggested belonged to two Jewish families. One was owned by Jacob f. mag. Moses and called Jacob’s Hall, and was said to be one of the most substantial private houses in Oxford and the other house was owned by an Elekin f. Bassina.

Map showing the development of the City of Oxford from the 8th Century to c. 1292, with the Jewish quarter shown in blue © Pam Manix

During excavations, archaeologists found a stone-built structure, identified as a latrine, and dated to the late 11th and 12th century.  A remarkable animal bone assemblage was unearthed in this latrine, dominated by domestic fowl (mainly goose), and with a complete absence of pig bones, hinting at a kosher diet. Fish bones comprised only species such as herring which are kosher. This combination of species suggests a Jewish dietary signature, identified in British zooarchaeology for the first time, and just the third time in medieval Europe.

To investigate whether the inhabitants of the two houses were eating a Jewish diet, the team used a combined chemical and isotopic approach to identify and quantify the food residues absorbed into medieval vessels found at the site.

Their findings, published recently in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, showed that the possible Jewish vessels were only used to cook meats from cattle, sheep and goat. Evidence for pig processing was entirely absent. However, the cooking and eating of pork was evident from the pottery residues and animal bones from a contemporaneous site outside of the Jewish Quarter in Oxford (The Queen’s College), and from the earlier Anglo-Saxon phase at St Aldates.

a. jar in Medieval Oxford Ware, probably used as a cooking-pot and dated to the late 11th or 12th century and b. near-complete miniature jar in Early Brill Coarseware from structure 3.1 © University of Bristol

Lead author, Dr Julie Dunne from the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, said: “This is a remarkable example of how biomolecular information extracted from medieval pottery and combined with ancient documents and animal bones, has provided a unique insight into 800-year-old Jewish dietary practices.”

This is the first study of its kind that has been able to identify the practice of keeping kosher, with its associated ritual food practices and taboos, using ancient food residues found in cooking pots, opening the way for similar studies in future.  

Edward Biddulph, who managed the post-excavation project at Oxford Archaeology, said: “The results of the excavation at St Aldates and Queen Street have been astonishing, not only revealing rare archaeological evidence of a medieval Jewry in Britain, but also demonstrating the enormous value of carefully focused analysis that combines traditional finds and stratigraphic analysis with scientific techniques.”

Dr Lucy Cramp who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at Bristol, and is a co-author of the study, added: “Human dietary choices are based on far more than availability or caloric content. What’s really exciting is how this evidence for dietary patterns in Medieval Oxford informs us about the diversity of cultural practices and beliefs that were present in the past, as today.”

Professor Richard Evershed FRS who heads up Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Unit and is a co-author of the study, added: “This is another remarkable example of just how far we are able to go with using archaeological science to define many aspects of the lives of our ancestors.”

Featured image: View of excavations at St Aldates, Oxford, showing Carfax Tower in the background © Oxford Archaeology


Paper:

‘Finding Oxford’s medieval Jewry using organic residue analysis, faunal records and historical documents’ by J. Dunne, E. Biddulph, P. Manix, T. Gillard, H. Whelton, S. Teague, C. Champness, L. Broderick, R. Nicholson, P. Blinkhorn, E. Craig-Atkins, B. Jervis, R. Madgwick, L. Cramp and R. Evershed in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences


Provided by University of Bristol

The Science of Turning Milk Into Cheese (Food)

The global production of sheep’s milk is one the rise, in the vast majority of cases used to produce cheese. However, a relatively large amount of milk is needed to produce it, so science is looking for ways to increase its yield; that is, to obtain more cheese using less milk.

Immersed in this task, a team from the Department of Animal Production at the University of Cordoba, led by Professor Ana Garzón, has collaborated with the University of Leon in the search for genetic parameters affecting the cheese production of milk from Churra sheep, one of the oldest and most rustic breeds on the Iberian Peninsula.

After analysing traits related to rennet and milk properties (pH, milk yield, fat and protein content) in a sample of more than 1,000 sheep, the research team found a low to moderate heritability of these traits, suggesting that their improvement can be achieved through genetic selection. In addition, the need to consider milk pH at the beginning of the coagulation process as a characteristic to be taken into accountas a selection index for the improvement of Churra quality was confirmed, as it will augment the ‘cheesemaking capacity’ of the milk from this breed.

The team,formed by Ana Garzón andthe researchers Antonio Figueroa and Javier Caballero-Villalobos, comprise the Dairy Laboratory, where the milk samples of this work were analysed, measuring their pH; the physical-chemical parameters of the milk, such as its proteins, fats, and lactose; and technological parameters, such as coagulation time and curd hardening speed; with the aim of providing information for the selection of values to be included in the genetic selection scheme of the Churra breed in order to obtain ewes that give milk with a higher yield in terms of cheese production.

The UCO Dairy Laboratory | The science that cares for milk

This service, part of the UCO’s Department of Animal Production, has been working since 2003 on the study of the composition, quality and technological parameters of ruminant milk with the aim of transferring knowledge to the livestock sector to improve milk quality, productivity and yields.

The Dairy Laboratory specialises in the study of the Manchega breed, which is the most important class of sheep in terms of product quality and economic weight in the sector. In this regard, the search for a faster, cheaper and more efficient method to measure the quality of milk according to its composition is one of their main lines of research, as they are trying to determine whether chromaticity can provide information sufficient for the livestock sector to evaluate milk quickly and cheaply.

They are also striving to solve the problem of water retention in curd, which reduces the milk’syield, thus requiring a lot of milk to obtain cheese. In their latest work, they develop mathematical models to achieve more efficient milk for cheese production. Finally, they analyse the correlation between the health of the sheep’s udder and these coagulation parameters of the milk slated for cheese production.

In short, this work directly transfers the science carried out in the Laboratory to the livestock sector, which benefits from improvements in the quality and efficiency of its dairy farms.

Featured image: Research team working at the Milk Lab © University of Córdoba


Reference: R. Pelayo, B. Gutiérrez-Gil, A. Garzón et al., “Estimation of genetic parameters for cheese-making traits in Spanish Churra sheep”, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 104, Issue 3, P3250-3260, MARCH 01, 2021. Published:January 14, 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2020-19387 https://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(21)00047-3/fulltext


Provided by University of Cordoba

First Images of Cells Exposed to COVID-19 Vaccine Reveal the Production of Native-like Coronavirus Spikes (Biology)

New research has for the first time compared images of the protein spikes that develop on the surface of cells exposed to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the protein spike of the SARS-CoV-19 coronavirus. The images show that the spikes are highly similar to those of the virus and support the modified adenovirus used in the vaccine as a leading platform to combat COVID-19.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, has a large number of spikes sticking out of its surface that it uses to attach to, and enter, cells in the human body. These spikes are coated in sugars, known as glycans, which disguise parts of the viral proteins to the human immune system.

The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca is an adenovirus-vectored vaccine, which involves taking a safe version of a virus and adding in the information from part of a pathogen, in this case the SAR-CoV-2 spike, in order to generate neutralising antibodies against that target. 

In this new study, published in the journal ACS Central Science, scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Southampton, worked together to characterise the SARS-CoV-2 spikes manufactured by the cells presented with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The Oxford work was led by Professors Teresa Lambe, Peijun Zhang and Sarah Gilbert and Professor Max Crispin led the work in Southampton.

The Scientists exposed a range of cells in vitro to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Using an imaging technique known as cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) they took thousands of images which they then combined to build up a clear picture of the resulting protein spikes on the cells. Professor Peijun Zhang, of the University of Oxford and the Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) at Diamond Light Source, who led the imaging work said, “CryoEM is an immensely powerful technique which enabled us to visualise the dense array of spikes that had been manufactured and presented on the surface of the cells”.

Graphic depiction of the process of creating protein spikes on cells © University of Southampton

Further chemical analysis of the glycans that coat the newly developed protein spikes revealed that they bear a high resemblance to those surrounding the SARS-CoV-2 spikes. This is an essential feature of the vaccine as it means that it can deliver close mimics of the coronavirus that are important in triggering the immune response needed to protect against COVID-19.

Professor Crispin said, “In this study we set out to see how closely the vaccine induced spikes resembled those of the infectious virus. We were really pleased to see a large amount of native-like spikes.”

“This study will hopefully provide further understanding for the public, helping them see how the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine works. Many people may not realise how their cells become little factories manufacturing viral spikes that then trigger the immune response needed to fight off the disease. This may also provide reassurance that the vaccine is doing its job and generating the material that we need to present to our immune systems.”

The study “Native-like SARS-CoV‑2 Spike Glycoprotein Expressed by ChAdOx1 nCoV-19/AZD1222 Vaccine” has been published in ACS Central Science with DOI https://doi.org/10.1021/acscentsci.1c00080

Featured image: Artist depiction of protein spikes © University of Southampton


Provided by University of Southampton