With apologies to the website of the same name, I effing LOVE science. I can’t do science but I love how it’s so incredibly complex that it regularly romps right into major weirdness.
Did you know that litmus paper is made with lichens, those things that grow on trees? And that lichens are actually two distinct organisms, a fungus and an alga, living as one?
Well, recently, researchers at the University of Iowa discovered another little kernel of corn as they searched for the whole enchilada: a cure for cystic fibrosis (CF).
For years, researchers have been stumped by the fact that mice jiggered to carry the gene mutation that causes CF don’t develop the same types of dangerous lung infections as humans with CF.
Turns out… it’s all about that base… as in those little litmus paper experiments those of us lucky enough to get a chemistry set for Xmas did! Remember?
It was an experiment used to explain pH levels—how acidic/basic a liquid was. When you dipped the blue litmus paper in an acidic solution, it turned red, and if you dipped red litmus paper in a liquid and it turned blue, that meant it was a base.
Now, scientists already knew that the acidity of the thin layer of liquid covering airways was important. High acidity makes fighting off lung infections more difficult.
Usually, the body secretes a base (bicarbonate—like natural Alka-seltzer: plop, plop, fizz, fizz… oh, what a relief it is!) to offset acidity and maintain a nice neutral environment. But in people with CF, the CFTR gene—which sends messages to the body telling it to “plop-plop, fizz-fizz”—has a mutation and doesn’t work in the standard way. So, the airway liquid in lungs of people with CF remains very acidic.
But the scientists discovered that the lungs of mice with CF didn’t have the same acidity levels as people with CF, something they hadn’t expected.
There’s nothing a scientist loves and hates more than something s/he didn’t expect. In some ways, scientists are just giant toddlers… they HAVE to ask, “Why?”
The researchers isolated what was different: a proton pump (that’s a protein that moves protons, which affects pH levels) called ATP12A. Mice have naturally low expression of ATP12A, which researchers are hypothesizing, is what stopped CF mice from getting the lung infections that plague CF humans. So now, scientists are hoping that blocking or suppressing ATP12A in humans could help decrease infections for people with CF.
How cool is that? Go, SCIENCE!
If you want to read the original report, click here.
If you want to read an outstanding explanation of the original report written by Margarida Azevedo, click here.
Has having CF led you to study science or medicine? Tell us about it!