Trehalose to treat fatty liver?

A new study in mice suggests that the sugar trehalose could be useful in reversing obesity-associated, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease as it stimulates liver cells into autophagy (self eating) and so cleans them up of the problematic excess fat. The accumulation of lipids (fats) in hepatocytes (liver cells) that occurs in NAFLD can lead to liver failure or liver cancer, so it sounds like a good thing to find a simple compound readily available in lots of foods that might reverse the harm.

“In general, if you feed a mouse a high-sugar diet, it gets a fatty liver,” explains DeBosch. “We found that if you feed a mouse a diet high in fructose plus provide drinking water that contains three percent trehalose, you completely block the development of a fatty liver. Those mice also had lower body weights at the end of the study and lower levels of circulating cholesterol, fatty acids and triglycerides.”


So, where can you get plenty of trehalose in your diet? Well, trehalose is essentially two glucose molecules stuck together, a disaccharide, joined by a glucoside bond, which will presumably be broken by digestive enzymes releasing nothing more than glucose. It’s present in ergot of rye (a mould) and in so-called trehala manna made by weevils. It’s also the sugar in bee and butterfly blood (also found in the marginally more palatable grasshoppers and locusts and is thought to be the chemical responsible for allowing dessicated tardigrades (water bears) to spring back into life when immersed in water). It’s also found in shrimp and shiitake (Lentinula edodes, which similarly spring back into shape when water is added) mushrooms (also in oyster, king oyster, golden needle, maitake (Grifola fondosa), nameko (Pholiota nameko), and Judas’s ear (Auricularia auricula-judae). (I feel a stir-fry coming on). Trehalose is also present in yeast (both wine and baker’s). It is also present in sunflower seeds, moonwort, Selaginella plants and marine algae.

There was earlier research that suggested the autophagy triggered by trehalose might lead to a reduction in the damaged, misfolded proteins that accumulate in the brain in Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease and tauopathies, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I wouldn’t be surprised therefore if there aren’t companies already flogging trehaolose as some kind of elixir of youth. Indeed, in the paper cited below, author Brian DeBosch of Washington University at St Louis (WUSTL) and colleagues say that trehalose:

may be a 'silver bullet' for treating diseases resulting from inadequate cellular degradative metabolism.

Trehalose inhibits solute carrier 2A (SLC2A) proteins to induce autophagy and prevent hepatic steatosis,  Brian J. DeBosch, Monique R. Heitmeier, Allyson L. Mayer, Cassandra B. Higgins, Jan R. Crowley, Thomas E. Kraft, Maggie Chi, Elizabeth P. Newberry, Zhouji Chen, Brian N. Finck, Nicholas O. Davidson, Kevin E. Yarasheski, Paul W. Hruz, and Kelle H. Moley, Sci. Signal. 2016, 9, ra21 DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aac5472

Technical details from the paper offer an explanation as to mode of action of trehalose in reversing NAFLD:

“trehalose inhibited members of the SLC2A (also known as GLUT) family of glucose transporters. Trehalose-mediated inhibition of glucose transport induced autophagy and regression of hepatic steatosis in vivo and a reduction in the accumulation of lipid droplets in primary murine hepatocyte cultures.”

However, there are at least two enzymes, trehalase in the intestine and threhalase in the liver, that break down trehalose to glucose, so eating it neat is, one would think, unlikely to have any therapeutic effect. But…I asked De Bosch about this and confessed that they simply “don’t know yet!” adding that the necessary research is under way. “We do measure it [by mass spectrometry] at 1-5 micromolar in the peripheral blood after it escapes intestinal and portal circulation!” he told me.

Of course, before you go rushing out to find that trehalose supplement, remember this trial was done only in mice, we don’t yet know whether it will reverse fatty liver in people, how much would be needed to do so and whether or not there are side effects of dosing up on this sugar. However, there’s nothing stopping you from increasing your intake of arthropods and fungi. Indeed, here’s a nice recipe for stir-fried prawns and shiitake mushrooms and I’m sure you could substitute locusts for those prawns if you wanted to.

In through the backdoor

UPDATE: Of course, all Apple had to do was send a message to the phone to disable the delete data after ten failed attempts. Doesn’t need a backdoor, the FBI could presumably then just run through all possible PINs and gain access. More*

Apparently, the FBI asked Apple to help them hack into an iPhone by requesting an update to iOS that would create a backdoor and let them unlock and decrypt the phone without its contents being auto-deleted if they were to simply try and fail with ten passwords. Apple boss Tim Cook told them to go forth and multiply in so many words, posting in an open letter in response to the request on the Apple website. Apparently, Google is standing behind his statement regarding user privacy and freedom of speech and all that too…

But, doesn’t the FBI (or the NSA and GCHQ) have agents who could reverse engineer iOS or Android and create their own version of the operating systems to get into this one phone that is associated with a specific act of terrorism if that’s all they need to do? Or, is it that they actually just want Apple and other companies to save them the trouble and make it possible to update all phones with an option for rear entry to any device now and in the future without having to worry about encryption or piffling matters of privacy?

Stick to your guns Tim! Keep telling the FBI to shove it where the sun don’t shine and slam that backdoor in their face.


Hairy panic down under

Apparently, the BBC is going to reboot* “Are you being served” and “Up Pompeii!” with all-star casts and seems to be practicing its double entendres with the headline for a story about a tumbleweed infestation in Australia – Hairy panic down under…fnarr, fnarr. Dear, oh dear, oh dear. The weed, Panicum effusum, is currently spreading across through Wangaratta in northeast Victoria, although it grows widely across inland Australia.


*And “Porridge” and “Keeping up appearances”, we had invitation to apply for tickets for the recording of AYBS, already.

Toilet talk

UPDATE: Excellent, entertaining and informative read, has persuaded me to be more mindful of washing my hands and also reducing the number of handshakes with male friends, fistbumps at fifty seem so wrong though…

My Dad always says that any conversation will eventually degrade into a discussion of either sex or sh*t given enough time, and usually sufficient booze. It doesn’t matter who’s in the room, where they are or what they were originally talking about. There is an inherent convergence on taboo topics and this is despite the fact that if prompted so many people would say, “we don’t talk about those sorts of things”. Well, there have been plenty of conversations that have ended in published books about sex. But, defacation has not made it to the coffee table until now, as far as I know…

In his latest book, Adam Hart, self-confessed “biologist, bug botherer, broadcaster” turns the tables on that particular taboo. The book’s title?

The Life of Poo: Or why you should think twice about shaking hands (especially with men)

Hart takes us on what is described as “a humorous, inspiring and myth-busting journey” (just my kind of book) from the poo in your toilet to the cutting-edge of scientific understanding. He settles us down by asking us if we are sitting comfortably and revealing that surveys suggest that 40% of us read while sitting on the toilet. So, this is not so much a coffee table book as I earlier alluded but two-fifths lavatorial tome. I was certainly curious to see how the habits of my own bowel sit with Hart’s discussion and he certainly provides a lot of detail to help one digest the elements of the alimentary. Despite the light tone, “Poo” is an important matter and Hart does the necessary of backing up his facts and assertions with plenty of reference citations. Final thoughts are given in the “Captain’s Log”…as if we hadn’t arrived at the bottom of the book with sufficient puns.

Poo (or poop as our Amercun cousins prefer it) is an essential part of life. It’s fascinating, as Hart reveals, and really it is no surprise that conversations almost always reach the bottom line at some point. In fact, with this book proudly on display in our toilet (oh, okay…it’s on the coffee table right now), I expect even more household chats to reach this point sooner than later, from now on.

Incidentally, the title of the book is cleverer than you might think…almost two-thirds of a turd comprises bacteria, apparently.

Here’s the thing though, is it safe and sensible to read this book while sitting on the toilet? I’ll ask Adam.

Strange fact of the day: Not long after you’ve eaten your stomach fills with puke and some time after that your intestines fill with poo…well, not quite fill, but you know what I mean…

Gravity Suite

My musical celebration of the recent announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime, the very fabric of our reality, generated by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion light years away that began their outward journey at the time multicellular life on Earth was first beginning to emerge.

Halley’s Comet

I remember reading about Halley’s comet, (aka Comet Halley or 1P/Halley) when I was a kid. It troubled me that its short-period orbit was about 76 years, would I get to see it, I wondered? Well, it finally appeared in the sky, visible to the naked eye when I was almost 20, so there always was a reasonable chance. It was closest to the Sun in its orbit, perihelion, on this day (9th February) in 1986 and thereafter began to wing its way back to the farthest point, aphelion, which it will reach on 9th December 2023 and then begin its return.


It will next appear in Earthly skies in the middle of 2061. I am hoping to see it again but I will be in my mid-90s by then…so, who knows?

Something else that troubled me as a kid…Bill Haley and the Comets…it meant I thought it was Haley’s Comet for a long time…

From Lebanon to Cornwall

You may have seen a graphic doing the rounds and offering support to the very worthy “refugees welcome” campaigns. The graphic, which actually started circulating in September 2015, says that:

"Lebanon, a country barely the size of Cornwall, is currently housing two million refugees" and that Britain is panicking over a "migrant crisis" and has "conceded to accept 20 000 people by 2020"


I get their point, but it’s badly made, the creators of the graphic presumably didn’t learn much about maps in geography lessons at school and specifically about the inherent distortions of the Mercator Projection. Fundamentally, in a Mercator projection, which was designed to make life easier for navigators and sailors and not for comparing land area foreshortens countries the closer you get to the Equator. This is not a trivial point and has repeatedly led to countries further south than Europe being perceived as somehow less important because they don’t seem as big.

The current campaign graphic is a case in point. Although Lebanon does not look much bigger than Cornwall when cut and paste next to that English county, it has an area of 10 452 km2, almost three times that of Cornwall’s 3 563 km2. Lebanon is roughly the same size as Cyprus, Gambia, Jamaica, Kosovo and Puerto Rico and about half the size of Wales.

Now, none of this is to say that Britain couldn’t accept more refugees, but there are lies, damned lies, and Mercator Projections. I’m surprised opponents have not latched on to this point and spun their own geographical distortions, to be honest.

Why are all our rock heroes dying?

Why are all our rock heroes dying? David Bowie, Motorhead’s Lemmy and former drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, Yes’s Chris Squire, Toto’s Mike Porcaro, Mott the Hoople’s Dale Griffin, blues legend B.B. King, REO Speedwagon’s Gary Richrath, bassist Jimmy Bain, electronic music pioneer Edgar Froese, Greek great Demis Roussos, APP’s Chris Rainbow, Free’s Andy Fraser, legendary Lindisfarne’s Simon Cowe, Paul Kantner and, on the same day, Signe Toly Anderson from Jefferson Airplane, EW&T’s Maurice White (the day before I wrote this), The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Colin Vearncombe (aka Black)…the list goes on…

Any claims that any of these deaths were anything to do with the sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll excesses of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s, would be pure speculation. It’s just pure statistics people, there is no conspiracy. They’re simply getting old and succumbing to the diseases of old age. Too old to die young…

There’s a gallery of rockers we lost in 2015 here

Better connected than Zuckerberg

Forget six degrees of separation. According to Facebook’s own research and data my “degree of separation” from others in the social networking site is just 3.09. Which means I am actually better connected than FB pres Mark Zuckerberg (3.17) although not as well connected as FB COO Sheryl Sandberg (2.97). Intriguingly, I have no direct mutual contacts with Zuck, but 3 mutual friends of Sheryl’s. The mean separation on Facebook is 3.57.


My friend Ellie, who is very well connected both online and offline will confirm that many moons ago we thought we’d invented the idea of six degrees because of the mutual friends we had and the odd coincidental connections we saw among each of our friends and family. Of course, it was Marconi in working on communications technology who apparently first suggested that one day we would all be connected to each other via mutual acquaintances to this degree. Oh, one more thing, you can play the Kevin Bacon game with almost any other A-list actor…