Health Gyro: potatoes with human gene; third dose in BR; is there gay DNA?

We are already at the end of August, and more than half of the year has passed. However, we are still continuing the fight against COVID-19 and discovering new ways to protect ourselves: in Brazil, for example, the minister of health has already announced a date for boosting the vaccine in priority groups, and abroad, antibodies capable of neutralize all variants of the coronavirus. In addition to COVID, we have news in genetics, neuroscience and endocrinology. You can follow all of this now, and very quickly, here at Giro da Saúde!

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Good news for the elderly and the immunosuppressed! These patients will receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from September 15th in Brazil. This means that all those with immunosuppression who have had the second dose of the vaccine for at least 21 days will be able to take the booster. As for the elderly, it is necessary to be between 70 and 80 years old in this first wave and the second dose must have been applied more than six months ago.

According to minister Marcelo Queiroga, the vaccine used for the booster dose will be that of Pfizer. And the date was not chosen by chance: by the next 15th, it is expected that the entire population over 18 years old should have taken at least the first dose of the vaccine against the coronavirus.

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Could homosexuality have “genetic justification”? Science never tires of investigating the subject and, recently, a major genomics study has tried to unravel the mystery surrounding the possible existence of a “gay gene” in human DNA.

So far, international research has yet to hammer out the existence of one or more genes that would determine a person’s sexual orientation even before he was born. But it is not because it was not possible to find this evidence that researches do not seek scientific explanations for human behavior related to sexuality.

The Australian study identified some genetic patterns that may be associated with being homosexual. However, these same patterns, when observed in other groups, can help people to find partners of different sex and, consequently, to reproduce. From previous research and the new analysis, scientists have observed that people who have had at least one same-sex partner tend to share patterns with small genetic differences spread across the entire genome. However, none of these variations seemed to affect sexual behavior per se, supporting previous research that found no independently strong signals of the “gay gene”.

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A recent Portuguese survey caught the attention of the scientific community last week by publishing the results of a study that reveals how the brain processes the fat that surrounds our organs, also called visceral fat. For scientists, the nervous system and the immune system collaborated to control visceral fat, based on signals that the two systems communicated to control the adipose tissue around the lungs. However, there was no such communication to other bodies.

By carrying out experiments with mice, the team from Portugal identified the specific brain regions responsible for controlling visceral fat and discovered a cellular intermediary that translates neural signals and actively regulates them. This intermediary receives instructions originating mainly from the hypothalamus. “It is as if the neural and immune cells do not speak the same language and this intermediary serves as an interpreter”, pointed out the researchers. It is noteworthy that, even with the discovery of the mechanism, the study is preliminary and further research is needed in this area.

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What would happen to a potato if its genome were edited and altered to house one—just one—human gene? That’s what a team of American researchers did: in a kind of genetic trick, they cut out a human gene related to obesity and fat mass and inserted it into plants to try to increase the potato crop.

The fat-regulating protein caused identical potato plants to produce 50% larger yields. By growing more food without taking up more space for agriculture, scientists want their work to help fight global hunger — without increasing the climate impact. “It was really a bold and bizarre idea. As a matter of fact, we were expecting some catastrophic effects,” the researchers pointed out.

But what happened anyway? According to experts, it was growth maintained and regulated by a wide variety of genes, and there is no genetic system to keep it under control. The good surprise was when these effects ended up resulting in bigger potatoes rather than dead potato stalks or damaged potatoes.

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One of the biggest challenges in understanding the behavior of the coronavirus lies in the fact that the pathogen has mutations that lead to variants — which, in turn, behave differently from previous strains. After all, are the vaccines we have today used to neutralize them? Is the Delta variant “stronger” than the others? And the original strain still infects around the world? Amid so many questions, a light has just emerged at the end of the tunnel: a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine immunized survivors of the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak with the Pfizer vaccine, leading to the discovery of antibodies that can neutralize all known variants of SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers recruited eight people who had recovered from SARS-CoV-1, responsible for the SARS epidemic in 2003, as well as 10 healthy people and 10 COVID-19 survivors. They then compared the immune responses of the three groups before and after being vaccinated with the vaccine. Prior to vaccination, SARS-CoV-1 survivors had detectable neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-1, but low levels of neutralizing anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. But after receiving two doses of the vaccine, they all exhibited high levels of antibodies, as if it were a protective chimera.

The finding is interesting and encouraging, since, once the potentially neutralizing antibodies of new variants are detected, it is possible to devise new strategies to develop more accurate next-generation vaccines that act preventively against future coronavirus pandemics.

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