Pantry moths who eat each other prove a key principle of evolution


Progeria causes "premature aging" in children.

Surprising Science
<ul class="ee-ul"></ul><p>Progeria is an extremely rare genetic disorder that causes children to present with symptoms that resemble "accelerated aging." A child with the condition takes on the appearance of an elderly person, including hair loss and thin skin. Surviving on average merely 13 to 15 years, these children often die from a heart attack or stroke, diseases that are generally associated with advanced age.</p><p>The underlying genetic cause is complex. It is the result of a single point mutation (that is, a single "letter" in the DNA is changed from G to C), and it yields an unexpected and catastrophic outcome. To understand why, an explanation of the genetics of higher organisms (like plants and animals) is in order.</p><p>Genes contain the information to encode proteins. The first step in the process of converting the information in a gene to a protein product is to transcribe ("photocopy") the gene into a molecule known as messenger RNA (mRNA). The trouble with mRNA in higher organisms is that it is riddled with garbage sequences, known as "introns," that need to be removed. The protein-encoding sequences, known as "exons," are then strung together. The process of removing introns from mRNA for the purpose of stringing together exons is called splicing. When the splicing process is complete, the mature mRNA is translated to protein.</p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg5MTAyOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjA1MjA2MX0.GXnIxjxzdTkUBrnU3XyxPnICrHhO67omD7G3WKE6xKg/img.jpg?width=980" id="0697f" width="727" height="516" data-rm-shortcode-id="59ee9316858e8445da82f8cc551a8f2b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sp"> <small class="image-media media-caption" placeholder="Add Photo Caption...">In plants and animals, mRNA "splicing" removes the introns and strings together the exons. </small><small class="image-media media-photo-credit" placeholder="Add Photo Credit...">Credit: Genomics Education Programme <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/genomicseducation/13063038314" target="_blank">via Flickr</a></small></p><div style="display: none;"><img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg5MTAyOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjA1MjA2MX0.GXnIxjxzdTkUBrnU3XyxPnICrHhO67omD7G3WKE6xKg/img.jpg?width=980" id="0697f" width="727" height="516" data-rm-shortcode-id="76f6bed4492f87b08701b6e8e39a95e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sp"></div><p>As with all biological processes, splicing can go wrong. Typically, splicing occurs only at the ends of exons, so that the end of one exon is spliced to the beginning of the subsequent exon. In progeria, something very strange happens. The G to C point mutation mentioned above occurs in a gene called <em>LMNA</em> and reveals a cryptic splicing site in an inappropriate location. The outcome is the removal of a crucial exon (see "exon 11" in the figure below), which results in a deformed protein called progerin. (The normal protein, which contains exon 11, is called Lamin A.)<br></p><p><br></p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg4MzQzOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2Njk2MzEzMH0.Qy0ixPkrdBmWCGWAcj8X16HsnOXnGT53I1wfLK9yAHw/img.png?width=980" id="4df2d" width="998" height="546" data-rm-shortcode-id="38b33f3c38dce7f8d6d00b9cd0e89b77" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="progeria progerin lamin A "> <small class="image-media media-caption" placeholder="Add Photo Caption...">A mutation in a gene called LMNA results in inappropriate mRNA splicing. This is the underlying genetic cause of Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. </small><small class="image-media media-photo-credit" placeholder="Add Photo Credit...">Credit: Michael R. Erdos et al., Nature Medicine, 2021.</small></p><div style="display: none;"><img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg4MzQzOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2Njk2MzEzMH0.Qy0ixPkrdBmWCGWAcj8X16HsnOXnGT53I1wfLK9yAHw/img.png?width=980" id="4df2d" width="998" height="546" data-rm-shortcode-id="c475dcc363141baf0dd336e2eb006eca" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="progeria progerin lamin A "></div><p>Now, a team of researchers led by Michael Erdos and Francis Collins (the current director of the National Institutes of Health) has devised a highly precise potential treatment that targets the underlying genetic cause of Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. The results are reported in <em><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01274-0" target="_blank">Nature Medicine</a></em>. </p><h2>Treating progeria</h2><p>Existing treatments are not ideal, as they both have serious side effects. The drug lonafarnib causes gastrointestinal problems, and the drug everolimus causes immunosuppression. A more targeted approach, therefore, is needed.</p><p>Erdos and his colleagues have identified a potential candidate, which comes from a class of drugs called "antisense peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers" (PPMOs). Essentially, it's a molecule similar to DNA or RNA with a tiny protein attached. The PPMO can be designed to recognize a very specific mRNA sequence, and in this case, it can be engineered to recognize and bind to the cryptic splice site next to exon 11. This physically blocks the cell from inappropriately splicing out exon 11 and allows it to produce a normal version of the protein (Lamin A).<br></p><p>Using mice that were genetically modified to mimic progeria, the researchers showed that their PPMO drug helped prevent the onset of progeria symptoms and extended the lives of the mice by nearly 62%.</p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg4MzQ2OC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzkyOTEyOX0.VZnQpNh28SHGvGOXtEFZYz652eaaIjQo4WJX-mkkEjo/img.png?width=980" id="e20d5" width="1448" height="470" data-rm-shortcode-id="914e5fdb28b3000547e47b6981dcb32e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="mice progeria antisense ppmo"> <small class="image-media media-caption" placeholder="Add Photo Caption...">Treatment of mice genetically modified to mimic progeria helped prevent symptom onset.</small><small class="image-media media-photo-credit" placeholder="Add Photo Credit...">Credit: Michael R. Erdos et al., Nature Medicine, 2021.</small></p><p><br></p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg4MzQ3MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTIyMzM3OH0.1uW0C6YC4Hcy12AIC-yp7mfLSoqf8M8LoCMyBhmvSbo/img.png?width=980" id="39b14" width="889" height="626" data-rm-shortcode-id="f09a2a6dc5566f2dca22b9e229446107" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="progeria mice "> <small class="image-media media-caption" placeholder="Add Photo Caption...">Treatment of mice genetically modified to mimic progeria helped extend their lives by nearly 62%.</small><small class="image-media media-photo-credit" placeholder="Add Photo Credit...">Credit: Michael R. Erdos et al., Nature Medicine, 2021.</small></p><p>The authors believe this evidence justifies proceeding to human clinical trials. Of course, just because a drug works in a mouse does not mean it will work in a human. But this potential new treatment provides hope for those suffering from one of the world's most devastating genetic diseases.</p><p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01274-0" target="_blank">Source</a>: Michael R. Erdos, et al. "A targeted antisense therapeutic approach for Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome." Nature Medicine. Published online: 11-Mar-2021. DOI: 10.1038/s41591-021-01274-0</p>

Greek philosopher Democritus dreamed up the atom.

Culture & Religion
<p>Philosophers love "The Matrix".</p><p>It's the perfect introduction to the ideas of big names such as Plato and Descartes but with leather trench coats, bullet time, and a brooding Keanu Reeves. One of the most memorable moments in the movie comes near the end when the protagonist, Neo, finally understands the Matrix for the illusionary simulation that it is. Now, he can see the numbers underpinning everything. He can see the source code of the world.</p><p>With only the slightest of modifications, Neo's epiphany is no science fiction at all. This <em>is </em>how the world is made. But, where Neo saw green, floating numbers, we now know the universe is actually made up of tiny, imperceptible objects. Rather than code, we have atoms—the building blocks of everything there is, ever was, and ever will be.</p><p>We know atoms exist thanks to scientists and electron microscopes, but the idea goes much further back than that. It goes back to the ancient Greeks. Their output was prodigious. Almost every discipline you can study, the Greeks turned their minds to first . Pythagoras laid the foundation for math and geometry, Aristotle contemplated biology and physics, Plato thought about governance, Herodotus was a historian, and Hippocrates gave doctors his eponymous oath. But one of the most ingenious "firsts" must come with the atomists, like Democritus or Epicurus.</p><p>It's odd to think that millennia ago, a few bearded men in togas, strolling around a sun-bleached agora, used philosophy to establish the fundamental fabric of the universe.</p><p>Although the <em>idea</em> of "the atom" had been floating around the Peloponnese for a while, Democritus was the first to articulate it fully. He argued that atoms must exist because the alternative is sheer nonsense. If we could constantly divide or cut a thing into two then we would go on forever. We'd get smaller and smaller all the way to infinity, and there'd be no end point. But the universe can't be built without foundations. Nothing can come from nothing. So, there <em>must </em>be a fundamental unit to the world from which everything else is made, and for this, Democritus coined the term "atom" (which literally means uncuttable, although 20th Century scientists learned how to split one, rather ruining the definition).</p><p>The question now facing Democritus was how these basic, imperceptible atoms came to make the objects we all see, touch, and love. He noted how, when we look at the world around us, we can see it constantly changing, shifting, dying, and growing. The world flows. So atoms, which make up everything there is, must themselves be moving. They can't just be inert or still.</p><p>Democritus argued that atoms come together in various combinations, and then emit something called an "<em>eidôla.</em>" These composite blobs of atoms radiate <em>eidôla</em> outward, like ripples in water. The <em>eidôla</em> are then picked up by us as the subjective experiencer and we translate this atomic radiation into ideas or sensations.</p><p class="shortcode-media shortcode-media-rebelmouse-image"> <img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg5MDIzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTkxODg1MX0._yjJL_NzwkuPIe-CS3zgH3JByG3wQGIZx1lx2a_pRF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="d1de5" width="4147" height="2062" data-rm-shortcode-id="6a8d68a64ca1d8dbbb48c405e2aed08a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="eidola democritus atom"> <small class="image-media media-caption" placeholder="Add Photo Caption...">Democritus thought that atoms emit an "eidôla" that we perceive as sensations.</small><small class="image-media media-photo-credit" placeholder="Add Photo Credit...">Credit: Courtesy of Jonny Thomson</small></p><div style="display: none;"><img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg5MDIzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTkxODg1MX0._yjJL_NzwkuPIe-CS3zgH3JByG3wQGIZx1lx2a_pRF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="d1de5" width="4147" height="2062" data-rm-shortcode-id="8f7ef1760a124f99d077a6f3e5e83151" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="eidola democritus atom"></div><p>For example, let's imagine a group of atoms come together and, with a special wiggle, emit their <em>eidôla</em>. This flies through the space (or "void," as Democritus called it) to our eyes. Our eyes then whizz this <em>eidôla</em> along to our understanding, where it's converted into "blue" or "round" or "big."<br></p><p>There were two big implications to Democritus' theory.</p><p>First, the world as we know it doesn't actually exist. Just like the code in the Matrix, the world is <em>really </em>just incomprehensible atoms. Our minds create "reality" out of these atoms, and everything is just an illusion we play on ourselves.</p><p>Second, the world is <em>entirely</em> made up of atoms. The tree outside, your pet turtle, your feeling of love, and even the mind that processes <em>eidôla</em> are all made up of atoms.</p><p>The upshot of this is that Democritus was one of the first "determinists" in that he thought there could be no free will or choice. We're all just marbles, bouncing around to the laws of physics.</p><p>We might think this a pretty depressing place to finish, yet Democritus was actually known as "the laughing philosopher." He simply refused to take anything seriously. If reality was ultimately the invented story of our minds, and the universe was just physical laws, what's the point in getting wound up by things? Why stress about that email from your boss, or that mean thing a friend said when there's nothing we can do anyway? If the world is an illusion, and a boringly scripted one at that, why not laugh?</p><p>The first "atomist," Democritus, of course got a lot wrong, but it's remarkable how much he got right. By reflecting on reality long enough, he came to conclusions that scientists proved millennia later. If nothing else, he offers a shining example of the power of contemplation.</p><p><em>Jonny Thomson teaches philosophy in Oxford. He runs a popular Instagram account called Mini Philosophy (@<a href="https://www.instagram.com/philosophyminis/" target="_blank">philosophyminis</a>). His first book is <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mini-Philosophy-Small-Book-Ideas-ebook/dp/B08M3XDNPM/" target="_blank">Mini Philosophy: A Small Book of Big Ideas</a>.</em></p><div></div><ul class="ee-ul"></ul><div></div>