Having your appendix removed might protect you from Parkinson’s disease

parkinson'sWhere does Parkinson’s disease start? The answer to this seemingly simple question might be very different than we thought. The condition seems to originate in the gut, rather than the brain, and travels along nerves, ultimately causing brain damage. New research is pinpointing the origin of Parkinson’s more precisely. In a study published in Science Translational Medicine Bryan Killinger and his colleagues show that the toxic compound which causes Parkinson’s can be found in the appendixes of healthy people. Furthermore, having your appendix removed early in life seems to protect from Parkinson’s.

The degenerative condition causes motor difficulties such as tremors, muscle stiffness and slowing movement. In the brains of Parkinson’s patient’s synuclein, a protein whose function in the healthy brain is not clear, aggregates into clumps and causes the loss of nerve cells. This sets off a domino effect which leads to more clumping and the loss of more and more nerves.

The new study shows, that the appendix, which also plays a major role in the regulation of gut bacteria, is a reservoir of clumping synuclein, even in healthy individuals. To answer the question, if appendectomies would protect patients from the condition, Viviane Labrie of the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan conducted the largest and longest study on this to date. The researchers analysed healthcare records of 1.6 million Swedish people over the age of 52. They concluded that patients who had their appendix removed had a nearly 20% lower risk of developing Parkinson’s.

It is unclear if removing the appendix at an early stage of the disease might slow or stop its progress. With synuclein aggregates being found in the appendixes of healthy individuals, the search for the factors that tips the scales towards Parkinson’s disease in some patients continues.

The stars of a new dinosaur blockbuster: blind, grazing and nocturnal?

The largest bird alive today is the ostrich. A large male ostrich can be up to 9.2 ft (2.8 m) tall and weigh over 344 pounds (156 kg). But when it comes to the heavyweight champion of the bird world, no one beats the recently discovered elephant bird species Vorombe titan, an extinct flightless bird from Madagascar. Researchers estimate that this bird weighed 1400 pounds (650 kg) and while height estimates are harder to make, up to 12 ft seems possible.

ostrichIn a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Christopher R Torres and Julia A Clarke digitally reconstructed two elephant bird brains (Aepyornis maximus and Aepyornis hildebrandtii) and compared them to the brains of contemporary species to find out more about the behaviour of the extinct birds. Species related to elephant birds that are alive today, such as emus and ostriches, are active during the day, but features of elephant bird brains did not fit that pattern. Digital models confirmed that the optic areas of the extinct birds were significantly reduced and that the olfactory bulbs were enlarged. What does this tell us about the behaviours of these birds? A contemporary bird with reduced optic lobes is the kiwi, which has evolved hypersensitive hearing, smell and touch, and doesn’t rely on its lacking vision- it is flightless and night-active. Through the neurological similarities, researchers now assume that elephant birds also were mostly active at night. In A. maximus’, the larger of the two species, olfactory bulbs are somewhat bigger than in A. hildebrandtii, and from observations in contemporary birds the researchers concluded that A. maximus likely lived in a forested environment and A. hildebrandtii in an open grassland.

Will the next Jurassic World movie pick up on this new discovery and add huge, blind, nocturnal grazing birds roaming the forests and grasslands to its cast of prehistoric creatures? Let’s hope so.

Historic climate change lawsuit proceeds

21 plaintiffs, aged between 11 and 22, are bringing a lawsuit against the US Government that is the first of its kinds. They allege that the US government has violated their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by failing to combat climate change. The plaintiffs hope that they can compel the US government to put policies in place that will reduce greenhouse gas emission and the use of fossil fuels.

lawsuitSince the suit was filed in 2015, the Obama and Trump administrations have asked courts to dismiss it, questioning its merit. The suit will now proceed in the 9th district court in Oregon. Its path ahead remains unclear, as the Supreme Court left it to the Federal Appeals Court to consider the government’s arguments before the trial begins in Oregon, while the youths’ lawyers are pushing for the hearing to begin in the next weeks.

Written by Maria Rappaport

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