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Likely Cause of Common Penis Birth Defect Identified

Hypospadias, the most common genital malformation in male babies is due to environmental factors, such as toxicant exposure, which alter epigenetic programming in a forming penis, stated a new study.

Conversely, epigenetic alternations were not found in penile tissue samples taken from the foreskin of healthy babies without hypospadias, according to the Washington State University-led analysis.

The research helps answer long-standing questions surrounding the increased frequency and potential root cause of hypospadias, a birth defect in which the opening of the urethra is located on the underside of the penis instead of the tip.
Michael Skinner.

“Previous researchers have done extensive analyses and not found any kind of genetic DNA sequence mutations that correlate with the presence of the disease, so there has always been a big question mark regarding where it comes from,” said Michael Skinner, corresponding senior author of the study and a WSU professor of biology. “Our study shows the etiology of the disease is environmentally driven through epigenetics rather than a result of changes to the DNA sequence. It gives us a clearer picture of what is going on.”

While the research is still in an early stage of development, it could ultimately lead to earlier detection and better clinical management of hypospadias, the prevalence of which has increased by 11.5% in recent decades, making it the most common genital malformation in newborn males.

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Keema, Woodland Park Zoo’s ‘curious and choosy’ grizzly bear, euthanized

Keema, a 28-year-old male grizzly bear who had lived at the Woodland Park Zoo since late 1994, was euthanized Sunday, according to the zoo.

Keema was humanely euthanized “due to a severe decline in his health,” the zoo said in a post on its blog Monday.

Keema had struggled with mobility and had been under observation for months, but “the veterinary team did not find any treatable underlying diseases,” the zoo said in its blog post.

Keema lived at the zoo with his twin brother Denali from when they were 10 months old until Denali died in late 2020. They were born at the Washington State University Bear Center on Jan. 15, 1994.

“While grizzly bears are usually solitary animals, the brothers had lived together their entire lives and were only able to get along because they had always been together and there were no female bears present,” the blog post said.

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Seattle Times

Ask Dr. Universe: How do starfish eat?

Starfish might have the coolest—and strangest—way of gobbling up a snack.

Cori Kane.I learned all about it from my friend Cori Kane. She studied coral reefs when she was a Ph.D. student in biological sciences at Washington State University. Now she works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She writes policies to help protect the ocean and the animals that live there.

“Sea stars are probably one of the weirdest creatures. I don’t know any other organism that basically barfs out its stomach to eat,” Kane said.

Yes, you heard that right. She said sea stars barf out their stomachs.

“They have stomachs sort of similar to ours,” she said. “But instead of ingesting food through the mouth and going to the stomach, they basically spit out their stomach through their mouth. Then the stomach wraps around the food and digests the food outside of its body. Once all the food is digested, it pulls in the stomach and swallows it back into its body again.”

Wow. That’s a lot to digest.

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Dr. Universe

Twin Study Links Exercise to Beneficial Epigenetic Changes

Consistent exercise can change not just waistlines but the very molecules in the human body that influence how genes behave, a new study of twins indicates.

The Washington State University study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that the more physically active siblings in identical twin pairs had lower signs of metabolic disease, measured by waist size and body mass index.

This also correlated with differences in their epigenomes, the molecular processes that are around DNA and independent of DNA sequence, but influence gene expression.

The more active twins had epigenetic marks linked to lowered metabolic syndrome, a condition that can lead to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Since the identical twins have the same genetics, the study suggests that markers of metabolic disease are strongly influenced by how a person interacts with their environment as opposed to just their inherited genetics.

Michael Skinner.

“The findings provide a molecular mechanism for the link between physical activity and metabolic disease,” said Michael Skinner, WSU biologist and the study’s corresponding author.

“Physical exercise is known to reduce the susceptibility to obesity, but now it looks like exercise through epigenetics is affecting a lot of cell types, many of them involved in metabolic disease.”

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Chemotherapy could increase disease susceptibility in future generations

A common chemotherapy drug could carry a toxic inheritance for children and grandchildren of adolescent cancer survivors, Washington State University-led research indicates.

The study, published online in iScience, found that male rats who received the drug ifosfamide during adolescence had offspring and grand-offspring with increased incidence of disease. While other research has shown that cancer treatments can increase patients’ chance of developing disease later in life, this is one of the first-known studies showing that susceptibility can be passed down to a third generation of unexposed offspring.

Michael Skinner.

“The findings suggest that if a patient receives chemotherapy, and then later has children, that their grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, may have an increased disease susceptibility due to their ancestors’ chemotherapy exposure,” said Michael Skinner, a WSU biologist and corresponding author on the study.

Skinner emphasized that the findings should not dissuade cancer patients from undertaking chemotherapy since it can be a very effective treatment. Chemotherapy drugs kill cancerous cells and prevent them from multiplying, but have many side-effects since they impact the whole body, including reproductive systems.

Given this study’s implications, the researchers recommend that cancer patients who plan to have children later take precautions, such as using cryopreservation to freeze sperm or ova before having chemotherapy.

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