March 2010

A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

Tunicates may hold key in Alzheimer's research

According to San Diego biology professor Bob Zeller, the invertebrate that grows on boat hulls and dock pilings shares a protein with humans leads to the development of plaques, the brain irregularities that are linked to Alzheimer's disease. According to Zeller, his lab has been able to produce plaques in sea squirts in a mere 24 hours.

Beating jetlag

Our daily sleep cycles, behaviour and metabolism are regulated by a powerful master clock, which resides in an area of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This “circadian” clock is regulated by some special brain cells, which in turn, are highly sensitive to daylight.

Because the body’s biological clock can only shift a small amount each day, it takes the average person about a week to adjust to the new time zone after a transatlantic flight.

Natural melatonin is a popular treatment for patients with body clock-related sleep disorders. Various melatonin products are often sold over the counter as non-prescription drugs and researchers warn the potency, purity and safety of melatonin pills is largely unregulated. Also it is inconclusive whether they work in shift-workers and people with jet lag.

The new drugs, which work through the same neuro-receptors and pathways as melatonin, are said to improve daytime performance and alertness without any carryover sedative effect.