Canada is repatriating citizens from Wuhan, China. Should we be worried that this will bring the coronovirus to Canada?
Dr. Bowdish talks to CBC about the risks of bringing Canadians home, what we can do to protect ourselves from infection, and reveals that there is a virus circulating in Canada right now with similar symptoms that has killed hundreds of Canadians and is expected to kill hundreds more (it’s influenza and you should get your flu shot).
Our research on the scavenger receptor MARCO was featured in an article “Air Pollution, Evolution, and the Fate of Billions of Humans” by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times. In this manuscript we collaborated with Dr. Brian Golding, an expert in evolutionary biology in order to understand the evolution of this macrophage receptor. MARCO (or macrophage receptor with collagenous structure) is expressed on macrophages where it binds bacteria and particles such as those found in dust and air pollution. We had hypothesized that because it is the receptor for two pathogens, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, that have played a major part in driving human evolution, that we might find evidence of areas of the receptor that were undergoing rapid evolution to protect us from this pathogen.
In order to determine which regions of the protein were changing we performed a phylogenetic analysis of the sequence of MARCO from humans, our close ancestors, the Denisovians and Neanderthals, and primates. We found a few interesting things. There was one mutation, which we call F282S (282 refers to the 282nd amino acid in the protein, the F = phenylalanine and the S= serine), had changed very rapidly. All our primate, Denisovian and Neanderthal relatives had a serine residue in that position but fully 83% of the human genomes we analyzed had a phenylalanine. The fact that this mutation spread so quickly through the population means that there must have been very strong selection pressure. We cloned both variants and found that the human specific variant was indeed better at binding inert particles and bacteria. There were a few other interesting mutations we characterized (see article below) but the take home message is that some of the evolutionary adaptations we have made to deal with pathogens may have influenced our ability to handle air pollution or, since the savannah was predicted to be a dry and dusty place, the adaptations we’ve made to deal with particulates in the air may have changed our response to pathogens.
On average, everyone takes an astonishing 22,000 breaths per day – something we’re not conscious of doing. And, although breathing is fundamental to life, lung research doesn’t get the attention it truly needs.
November is Lung Month, the perfect time to reinforce and remind Canadians how important it is to #TakeABreather. To capture attention, invite participation and help raise donations for lung research, The Lung Association is launching interactive pop-up parks across Canada.
Joseph Neale is a “Breathing Ambassador” who survived lung cancer when he was only 20 years old. Despite having surgery he got his voice back and is hoping to win a “Grammy for Lung Cancer Research”. Together we answered questions at the #TakeABreather pop-up park at Sherway Gardens. Stories like his remind me that I need to be the best scientist that I can be to make the discoveries that will improve the lives of those living with lung disease.
Can’t visit the park? Instead, show us your favourite time and place to take a breather with #takeabreather
It could be anywhere, anytime – in a field, on a hillside, at dawn or sunset, at the gym, or watching your kids play
Tell us why you love breathing, why you love this particular breathing moment, what your breath does for you, and any other breathing thoughts you want to share
Don’t forget #takeabreather
All contributions will be curated at BreathingasOne.ca
It was great to meet the health and wellness bloggers who supported the #TakeABreather event! Darlene Anderson (The New Girl), Cory Lee (The Fashion Set), Joseph Neale (Take a Breather & Breathing as One Ambassador), Dr. Dawn Bowdish (Board Member), Marybeth DeSantos (Life in Rouge)
SPREAD THE WORD
Challenge your friends, family, and extended networks to #takeabreather by forwarding the information above!
It’s time Canadians stop taking our breath for granted. Through Breathing as One and the #TakeABreather campaign, together, we can lead the conversation, and radically change the way we think about breathing.
5 Weeks • 5 Professors • 5 Lessons • 5 Minutes a day
Course: Healthy Aging • Lesson #1 of 5
Would you rather live a long life in poor health or a short life in good health? For most of us this seems to be the trade-off but for the select few who become “supercentenarians” (those living to > 110), they seem to have the best of both worlds. Intriguingly, these oldest of the old are usually of sound mind and physically active until their death, and avoid many of conditions or diseases that almost seem to be an inevitable part of old age such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders or dementia. Most of us aspire to an old age like the supercentenarians, which is active and healthy but when ill-health makes its inevitable appearance, the decline is rapid but brief. So how do they do it? Genetics seems to play a role, but there is no magic gene that makes us live longer, nor is there a particular diet, exercise or pill that ensures that you’ll live into the next century. Interestingly, we’ve recently learned that having a healthy immune system may be necessary for long and healthy life.
One of the most provocative studies of the role of the immune system in longevity comes from the study of Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper who was, briefly, the oldest woman in the world. She died of cancer at 115 and donated her body to science. She was remarkable in many regards but from an immunological perspective, she was exceptional because at the time of her death her circulating white blood cells came from only two hematopoietic stem cell clones, as opposed to the thousands or tens of thousands one would expect in a younger adult. Since a diverse repertoire of white blood cells is required to repair damaged tissues and seek out potentially cancerous cells, this loss of stem cells may, ultimately, have caused her death. The oldest old have another interesting immunological feature – low levels of inflammation, which seem to help them resist chronic inflammatory diseases like cardiovascular disease and dementia for longer.
So what can those of us who have not won the genetic lottery do to live long, healthy lives? Although there are some pre-clinical trials in mice and epidemiological data in humans that suggest it will be one day be possible to extend the years of healthy living by taking a pill, we are not there yet. Instead, we can lower our inflammation and extend the years we live in good health by exercising, eating well, maintaining a healthy body weight, and having a robust social network. We may not have what it takes to be a supercentenarian, but we can make the years that we have be the very best that they can be.
Suggested article for further learning: New Scientist
The Bowdish lab is thrilled to participate in NSERC’s “Science, Action!” video contest. An undergraduate team of videographers (Yung Lee, Karanbir Brar, and Tony Chen) filmed our lab discussing our NSERC funded work on discovering the evolutionary origins of phagocytosis. Please “like” and share our video to help us move on to the next level of the competition.
Our NSERC funding has been integral to the lab. This was one of the first grants that got the lab up and running and to date we have had 5 NSERC funded graduate students and 10 undergraduate students including 3 NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Assistants in the lab. This funding has also been instrumental in developing new techniques, technologies and collaborations that have extended our research capacity.
What are we studying with our NSERC funded research?
Our NSERC Discovery Grant entitled “Uncovering mechanisms of phagocytosis by class A scavenger receptors” allows us to use bioinformatics and molecular biology to understand the very origins of immunity.
Our lab studies macrophages, which are sentinel cells of the innate immune response. They patrol the body and engulf damaged tissues or pathogens and destroy them. This Pac-man like ability to eat microbes is called “phagocytosis”. We study a particular class of receptors that macrophages use to phagocytose called the scavenger receptors.
Phagocytosis is an ancient process that is central to defence and nutrient acquisition in single-celled organisms and embryonic development, clearance of modified host proteins and innate immunity in multi-cellular organisms. During phagocytosis a phenomenal amount of information is transmitted to the cell including the size and shape of the particle, its composition, and potential toxicity. How this information is transmitted is not really understood but is the focus of our work.
All the major discoveries in immunology (e.g. toll like receptors, intracellular sensors, signalling pathways) began with studies in comparative or evolutionary biology and my program of research continues this tradition. Indeed, the process of phagocytosis is believed to be the prototype function of the immune system as acquisition of nutrients developed into a mechanism of self- versus non-self recognition. The process of uptake is so ancient that it must have occurred prior to or in conjunction with the expression of protein receptors on the surface of the cell. The scavenger receptors, being primitive but effective uptake receptors may rely on membrane dynamics and lipid interactions more than their more evolutionarily recent counterparts (e.g. Fc receptors). We use bioinformatics to study the genomes of ancient and modern animals to study how the scavenger receptors change over time. Parts of the scavenger receptor gene or protein that haven’t changed over time, are likely very important for function. We use molecular biology to uncover how these particular regions of the protein work. Studying these processes will uncover novel mechanisms of signalling and contribute to our understanding of the cell biology of endocytosis and phagocytosis, which are processes integral to embryonic development, immunity, homeostasis, implant recognition and adhesion and consequently essential to many fields of biology.
Check out the other videos of the “Science, Action!” video contest here.