Scientists find enzymes in nature that could replace toxic chemicals

Basecamp Research is using portable labs like this one to gather samples from ecosystems around the world.

Oliver Vince

Some 900 miles off the coast of Portugal, nine major islands rise from the mid-Atlantic. Verdant and volcanic, the Azores archipelago hosts a wealth of biodiversity that keeps field research scientist, Marlon Clark, returning for more. “You’ve got this really interesting biogeography out there,” says Clark. “There’s real separation between the continents, but there’s this inter-island dispersal of plants and seeds and animals.”

It’s a visual paradise by any standard, but on a microscopic level, there’s even more to see. The Azores’ nutrient-rich volcanic rock — and its network of lagoons, cave systems, and thermal springs — is home to a vast array of microorganisms found in a variety of microclimates with different elevations and temperatures.

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Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander is an independent journalist based in Nuremberg, Germany. She covers foodways, responsible tourism, and the conservation of our biodiverse planet. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Adventure dot com, Reader's Digest, the i Paper, and more. Follow her at @summeroutside.
Gene therapy helps restore teen’s vision for first time

Doctors used new eye drops to treat a rare genetic disorder.

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Story by Freethink

For the first time, a topical gene therapy — designed to heal the wounds of people with “butterfly skin disease” — has been used to restore a person’s vision, suggesting a new way to treat genetic disorders of the eye.

The challenge: Up to 125,000 people worldwide are living with dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (DEB), an incurable genetic disorder that prevents the body from making collagen 7, a protein that helps strengthen the skin and other connective tissues.Without collagen 7, the skin is incredibly fragile — the slightest friction can lead to the formation of blisters and scarring, most often in the hands and feet, but in severe cases, also the eyes, mouth, and throat.

This has earned DEB the nickname of “butterfly skin disease,” as people with it are said to have skin as delicate as a butterfly’s wings.

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Kristin Houser
Kristin Houser is a staff writer at Freethink, where she covers science and tech. Her written work has appeared in Business Insider, NBC News, and the World Economic Forum’s Agenda, among other publications, and Stephen Colbert once talked about a piece on The Late Show, to her delight. Formerly, Kristin was a staff writer for Futurism and wrote several animated and live action web series.
Questions remain about new drug for hot flashes

In May, a new drug, Fezolinetant, was approved by the FDA to treat hot flashes associated with menopause.

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Vascomotor symptoms (VMS) is the medical term for hot flashes associated with menopause. You are going to hear a lot more about it because a company has a new drug to sell. Here is what you need to know.

Menopause marks the end of a woman’s reproductive capacity. Normal hormonal production associated with that monthly cycle becomes erratic and finally ceases. For some women the transition can be relatively brief with only modest symptoms, while for others the body's “thermostat” in the brain is disrupted and they experience hot flashes and other symptoms that can disrupt daily activity. Lifestyle modification and drugs such as hormone therapy can provide some relief, but women at risk for cancer are advised not to use them and other women choose not to do so.

Fezolinetant, sold by Astellas Pharma Inc. under the product name Veozah™, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 12 to treat hot flashes associated with menopause. It is the first in a new class of drugs called neurokinin 3 receptor antagonists, which block specific neurons in the brain “thermostat” that trigger VMS. It does not appear to affect other symptoms of menopause. As with many drugs targeting a brain cell receptor, it must be taken continuously for a few days to build up a good therapeutic response, rather than working as a rescue product such as an asthma inhaler to immediately treat that condition.

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Bob Roehr
Bob Roehr is a biomedical journalist based in Washington, DC. Over the last twenty-five years he has written extensively for The BMJ, Scientific American, PNAS, Proto, and myriad other publications. He is primarily interested in HIV, infectious disease, immunology, and how growing knowledge of the microbiome is changing our understanding of health and disease. He is working on a book about the ways the body can at least partially control HIV and how that has influenced (or not) the search for a treatment and cure.