The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include a molecule with anti-ageing effects, a possible new HIV vaccine and how body odour is linked to attractiveness.

By Yonis Bare

Eat less, live longer!

A new study led by researchers over at Georgia State University has found a molecule, produced by the body during fasting conditions, that has anti-ageing effects on the vascular system. The research group, headed by Dr Ming-Hui Zou, aimed to study the link between delayed ageing and starvation via fasting or calorie-restricted diets. The molecule, named as β-Hydroxybutyrate, is a type of ketone body and is produced by the liver from metabolising fatty acids during periods of starvation or carb-restrictive diets.

The researchers discovered that this molecule can help to promote cell division and prevent senescence (biological ageing) of vascular cells. As β-Hydroxybutyrate is naturally produced during starvation conditions, people with calorie-rich diets or suffering from obesity may have suppressed its production and thus speeding up the ageing process. Furthermore, the group also discovered that when β-Hydroxybutyrate binds to hnRNP A1 (an RNA-binding protein), it increases the activity of a stem cell factor known as the Octamer-binding transcriptional factor (Oct4) in vascular cells which helps to protect blood vessels from senescence.

The group hopes that these findings can help to potentially target senescent cells and remove them from the vascular system, preventing the development of cardiovascular disease.

Read more about this study here!

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Fighting fire with fire: HIV vaccine from HIV patients

Current data shows that 36.9 million people were living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at the end of 2017. Around 1% of that population can produce special antibodies that block most strains of the HIV virus. Researchers from the University of Zurich and University Hospital Zurich believe that these antibodies can help to develop an effective vaccine against HIV. A recent study shows that the genome of the HI virus is a key factor in understanding which antibodies are formed.

The researchers started using the blood samples of around 4,500 HIV-infected people and data recorded from the Swiss HIV Cohort Study and the Zurich Primary HIV Infection Study. From this, they were able to find 303 potential transmission pairs – pairs of patients with some similarity of the viruses’ genomic RNA indicating that they were infected with the same virus strain.

Antibodies that act against HIV bind to proteins on the surface of the virus envelope, which can differ depending on the virus strain and subtype. Because of this, the researchers also wanted to look closely into patient pairs with very similar virus genomes, and also, any strong activity of antibodies that could neutralise broad strains of the HI virus.

Future plans of this study heavily depend on widening the search by increasing the sample size. However, if the researchers can determine the envelope proteins and virus strains responsible for the formation of these broadly acting antibodies,  the development of asuccessful vaccine against HIV-1 will not be far from reality.

Read more about this interesting development here!

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Smells like love

Scent is believed to play an important role in finding a mate and it’s widely considered that everyone has their own unique body odour. However, the reasons behind why certain scents are more attractive or repulsive remain unclear. This new study published by the Royal Society looked at differences in female body odours to understand whether some subjects smell more attractive than others to men or if a preference of a particular odour is due to their own personal taste.

The research group over at the Institute of Psychology in Bern managed to find 57 male participants willing to smell body odour samples taken from the armpits of 28 different women of reproductive age. To control for the effects of the menstrual cycle on odour attractiveness, the samples were collected at peak fertility.

The results showed that there was a general consensus on which odours were found to be most attractive by the men – the higher a woman’s level of oestradiol and lower her levels of progesterone, the more attractive her odour was rated. This finding was a bit surprising as it contrasts with previous data suggesting that progesterone is correlated with female reproductive potential.

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