How Controversial Gene Editing Could Lead To Groundbreaking Cures

Thanks to the controversial new technology known as CRISPR, scientists are beginning to make headway in understanding and potentially curing some of the world’s most intractable diseases.

Sickle-cell anemia, HIV, schizophrenia and autism — essentially, anything involving bad DNA is now fair game. The latest example, from a study published earlier this month in the journal Molecular Therapy, focuses on Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD, which is one of the most common forms of muscular dystrophy. The genetic disease causes the muscle fibers in the face, shoulders and upper arms to weaken over time — and there is no known cure.

Enter CRISPR. This new gene-editing technique allows researchers to easily change, delete or replace genes in any plant or animal, including people. Picture the precision and ease of the find-and-replace function on a word document — that’s how easy it now is to change the human genome. As an article in the MIT Technology Review put it last year, “This means they can rewrite the human genome at will.” Or, as one bioethicist told The Huffington Post last week, comparing what CRISPR can do to earlier attempts at genetic manipulation, “We used to have a butter knife, now we’ve got a scalpel.

Biomedical researchers all over the world are now wondering how the technology might change their approach to all sorts of diseases. About a year ago, a team of FSHD researchers, led by Peter Jones at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, decided to give CRISPR a try. They already had a pretty good idea which of the thousands of genes in the human genome caused the disease, but until CRISPR came along therapeutic avenues were limited.

The acronym CRISPR, which stands for (take a deep breath) “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” refers to —> Read More

Why Do Narcissists Lose Popularity Over Time?


Narcissism has been something of a mystery to psychologists. With narcissists, things tend to be extreme: the good is really good, and the bad is really bad. Narcissism expert W. Keith Campbell compares interacting with narcissists to eating chococate cake: “When I eat chococlate cake, 20 minutes later I’m under my desk wanting to die. When I eat broccoli, in 20 minutes I feel good. But given the choice I always eat the cake.”

On the one hand, the narcissist’s charisma and self-confidence can be highly alluring. Psychologists Mitja Back and colleagues found that narcissists are indeed more popular at first acquaintance, and its due to four particular cues that make up their “charismatic air”*:

  • Attractiveness (flashy, neat attire)
  • Competence (self-assured behavior)
  • Interpersonal Warmth (charming glances at strangers)
  • Humor (witty verbal expressions)

On the other hand, research shows that the initial popularity of narcissists at the early stages of interpersonal interactions depends on the behavioral pathway that is triggered: expressive and dominant behaviors are associated with a positive evaluation, whereas arrogant and combative behaviors are associated with a negative evaluation. According to this research, narcissists may be more popular at first acquaintance because they are more likely to display behaviors that trigger a positive pathway, perhaps because they are trying to make a good first impression.

In line with this idea, W. Keith Campbell and Stacy Campbell proposed a new model of narcissism in which they argue that two particular time points are important. The “emerging zone” includes situations involving unacquainted individuals, early-stage relationships, and short-term contexts. In contrast, the “enduring zone” involves situations involving acquainted individuals, continuing relationships, and long-term consequences.

The costs of narcissism are seen primarily in the “enduring zone.” As the relationship develops, narcissists start displaying behaviors that are evaluated negatively, such as arrogance and aggression. Narcissists cyclically —> Read More

Loneliness Is Bad For You, And This Study May Help Explain Why

Scientists have long known that spending time with loved ones is good for our long-term health and may reduce our risk of cognitive decline, whereas loneliness is linked to high blood pressure, inflammation and a weakened immune system.

But why exactly does loneliness have such bad effects on our health and well-being?

One reason, according to a new study, may have to do with the way loneliness triggers cellular changes in our bodies that can make us more susceptible to viral infections.

“Feeling lonely means you are not in a socially affine environment but rather in a relatively hostile environment,” Dr. John Cacioppo, a professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago and a co-author of the study, told The Huffington Post in an email.

“In socially affine environments, protection against viral infections is especially important, whereas in hostile environments, protection against bacteria is important,” Cacioppo wrote. “The pattern of gene expression in the lonely [environment] decreases protection against viral infections and instead may increase protection against bacterial infections.”

In other words, as Live Science notes, the cellular changes that result in a shift toward protection against bacteria may come at the cost of the ability to protect against viral infections.

For the study, researchers analyzed the regulation of the leukocyte gene — which is involved in protecting the body against both bacteria and viruses — in 141 older adult humans over a five-year period, and in a separate group of rhesus macaque monkeys that displayed behavior indicative of social isolation.

The researchers noticed increased activity in genes that produce inflammation in the body and less activity in genes that help to fight off illness in the adults who were lonely and in the monkeys, The Telegraph reported.

In the monkeys, —> Read More

Being Charitable May Have An Unexpected (And Unwelcome) Effect On You

By: Stephanie Pappas
Published: 11/25/2015 08:25 AM EST on LiveScience

After donating to the food pantry or toy drive this holiday season, watch yourself. Some new research suggests donations might make you temporarily more Grinch-y.

After donating to a major fundraiser in the Netherlands, participants in a new study became less interested in behaving in an environmentally friendly manner. People may feel good about themselves after acting charitably, feeling like they have a license to behave a little worse later, said study leader Marijn Meijers, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam.

“After you do something moral or laudable, you’re more likely to behave a little less laudable,” Meijers told Live Science. But the effect is small, she added, and shouldn’t discourage generosity. [7 Scientific Tips for Living a Happier Life]

License to be bad?

Psychologists debate how charitable acts influence people after the individuals have donated. Research has established that people feel good after they give, and some studies suggest this feeling snowballs on itself so that people who donate are more likely to donate again and again.

But other studies give a less optimistic picture. In some experiments, people assigned to do good for others become worse in subtle, often unrelated ways. For example, a 2013 study published in the journal Energy Policy found that people assigned to get feedback on lowering their water usage did, in fact, use less water. But they also used more electricity.

Researchers dub these unintended consequences “licensing effects,” because people seem to give themselves a license to be a little bit bad after doing something good. It’s similar to how someone might go to the gym and then feel like they’ve “earned” a candy bar, Meijers said.

But in most of the studies looking at licensing effects, participants were randomly assigned to do charitable acts —> Read More

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