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DNA damage control

God’s design protects newly developing egg cells


DNA damage control

New research shows God designed an intricate system within our cells to prevent developing egg cells from inheriting harmful, mutant DNA.

Every cell in the human body, with the exception of red blood cells, contains tiny cellular machines called mitochondria that convert the sugar, fats, and proteins we eat into energy. But the DNA in a mother’s mitochondria can develop harmful mutations and lead to genetic diseases in her offspring.

A study published online May 15 in Nature sheds new light on a cellular process designed to destroy faulty DNA in the mitochondria before it is passed on to developing reproductive cells.

In the study, the researchers used fruit flies, which have cellular structures similar to those of humans. They engineered the insects to carry a mix of both good and bad mitochondrial DNA, which they designed to fluoresce so they could observe the process in real time.

Scientists already knew that a special protein, called mitofusin, enables mitochondria to connect with each other through long tubes. The researchers discovered that a perfectly timed drop in mitofusin levels triggers the sorting of good from bad DNA. Lower levels of mitofusin cause the mitochondria to separate from each other, so faulty mitochondria can no longer borrow proteins from healthy ones and are marked for destruction. This drop in Mitofusin takes place only during the egg cell’s developmental stage.

The researchers hope this discovery will help scientists develop treatments for inherited mitochondrial diseases. “Our results confirm the theory that egg cells execute mitochondrial selection,” Ruth Lehmann, the lead researcher said in a statement.

But how does a cell know when and how to lower mitofusin levels to fragment and destroy faulty mitochondria? Certainly, only God could carry out, or create, such a system within each living cell that protects even developing eggs from harm.

The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Creative Commons/Nightryder84

Hospitals sue to keep livers in-state

Some hospitals filed suit against new federal regulations last week aimed at giving the sickest patients better access to donated livers. The suit argues the new rules are unfair to rural communities.

Of the 13,000 people waiting for a new liver, an average of three die every day, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which runs the nation’s transplant system.

The United States is divided into 11 transplant regions, which are subdivided into local areas. Each area keeps its own waiting list, and wide variations exist in organ availability both within and between regions. For the past several decades, liver donations usually went to the sickest patient within the same region first, even if a sicker patient in a different region was a good match. The new rules mandate a wider sharing of donated livers.

UNOS predicts broader liver sharing will save more than 100 lives a year because the sickest patients will be able to get a liver before those who can wait a bit longer.

But more than a dozen hospitals in parts of the Midwest and South have sued to reverse the changes. They argue that the new rules will endanger patients who live in rural areas because hospitals will be forced to ship livers to places like New York and California that typically suffer more severe organ shortages. They further note that increased travel for procurement will result in rising costs.

“We’ve been successful in doing this, and now people are coming to our area of the country to take organs,” said Sean Kumer, one of the plaintiffs from the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

But the bigger issue is the overall short supply of donated organs, said Kevin O’Connor, president of an organ procurement organization who also heads a UNOS geography committee.

“I don’t think we can solve the fairness problem until the supply of organs exceeds the demand,” he said.

Similar sharing of lung transplants began last year, and changes for other organs are in process. —J.B.

The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Creative Commons/Nightryder84

Nero’s hidden room

Archaeologists recently unearthed a room that was hidden for nearly 2,000 years in the ruins of the massive palace of Nero, the Roman Emperor famous for cruel tyranny and horrific persecution of ancient Christians in Rome, Live Science reported.

In its day, the palace sprawled across four of Rome’s famous seven hills, and archaeologists believe it included at least 300 rooms. The hidden chamber, a 15-foot-high domed room, likely dates to between A.D. 65 and 68.

Painted murals in surprisingly well-preserved colors of rich reds, greens, and yellows adorn its walls. The pictures depict both real and imaginary creatures, including the mythical god Pan and a centaur. The room also contains many plant and water ornaments and the scene of a panther attacking an armed man.

Nero, who ruled from A.D. 54 until his suicide 14 years later, began construction of his colossal palace in A.D. 64 after a six-day fire demolished two-thirds of Rome. Although rumors circulated that Nero himself started the fire to clear land for his palace complex, he quickly blamed the Christians living in Rome and began to target them for persecution. Historical records indicate that he forced some Christians to wear animal skins and let dogs tear them apart, and he used others as human torches to light his garden parties. —J.B.

The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

The University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. Creative Commons/Nightryder84

Polly found a home

Researchers have discovered 25 species of parrots that now breed and thrive in the wild in 23 states thanks to escaped pets. Though not indigenous to this country, “Wild parrots are here to stay,” said Stephen Pruett-Jones, the lead researcher of a study published last month in the Journal of Ornithology.

The birds likely came to the United States in the 1950s and ’60s, when people imported tens of thousands of monk parakeets, a small bright green parrot species, from South America as pets. Many of them either escaped or were released by their owners.

According to the study, monk parakeets represent the most common species in the country, followed by the red-crowned amazon and the nanday parakeet. Most of the birds live in warmer climates like Florida, Texas, and California, but large concentrations also exist in cities like New York and Chicago. California hosts more red-crowned amazons than their original habitat in Mexico.

The parrots do not appear invasive or in competition with native birds, but monk parakeets, the only species that builds its own nests, sometimes create bulky structures that can damage utility lines. Chicago’s parakeets survive by foraging in parks and open grassy areas most of the year and visit backyard feeders from December to February. —J.B.

Julie Borg

Julie is a WORLD contributor who covers science and intelligent design. A clinical psychologist and a World Journalism Institute graduate, Julie resides in Dayton, Ohio.

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