Research Picks August 2015

Clouds on the horizon

The latest shipping forecast talks of clouds on the horizon as researchers develop the concept of a maritime internet in the International Journal of Business Innovation and Research. Kleanthis Dellios, Dimitrios Papanikas and Despina Polemi of the University of Piraeus, Greece, hope their investigations and insights will lead to the development of a “cyber ocean”. The maritime domain is one of the oldest across human history shipping goods, information and culture across the globe for centuries. Even if long-haul air travel has usurped the long-distance voyage for people, modern international trade still relies almost entirely on ships. “The maritime domain is considered part of the physical, cybernetic and network backbone of a nation’s economy sector, security and public safety for innovative developed nationwide strategies,” the team says. The team explains that the maritime domain needs on-demand self-services, ubiquitous network access and location-independent resource pooling, which they suggest could be delivered by cloud computing technology.

Dellios, K., Papanikas, D. and Polemi, D. (2015) ‘Cyber Ocean: a roadmap to maritime cloud’, Int. J. Business Innovation and Research, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp.415–436.

Processing natural language

Searching and trawling news on the internet often focuses on keyword searching. Now, researchers in India have developed a clustering algorithm that can find the days news on a given topic from a wide range of news outlet as well as identifying related content that does not necessarily overlap with the primary sources in terms of specific keywords. The team explains that its natural language processing techniques identified articles dealing with the same news and served with summarised news from all sources. The system offers a 4 percent improvement on recall and a 5 percent improvement on precision when compared with simple keyword-based retrieval systems. A 5% increase in efficiency could represent a significant cost and time saving for many organisations.

Kamath, S.S. and Kanakaraj, M. (2015) ‘Natural language processing-based e-news recommender system using information extraction and domain clustering’, Int. J. Image Mining, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.111–125. Free fulltext available.

Anthropocene Park

We are living in what some pundits refer to at the Anthropocene by analogy with earlier geological periods such as the Pleistocene, which lasted from more than 2.5 million years ago until the end of the last major glaciations period just 12000 years ago. The Anthropocene represents the period during which human activity, hence the name, is affecting our planet, its atmosphere, ecosystems and climate. Tourism and its attendant air travel, construction and development and interference with indigenous peoples and vulnerable environments are likely to contribute significantly to unsustainable practices on our planet. Now, Amelia Moore of the University of Miami, USA, has looked at the impact of tourism particularly on a small island archipelago and put forward a four-pronged concept for understanding the Anthropocene in this context: 1 interspecies ethnography, 2 socioecologics, 3 global assemblages and 4 naturecultural design. Her conceptual work should allow the social sciences and the humanities to discuss and research tourism in the context of the increasingly well-established Anthropocene with greater clarity.

Moore, A. (2015) ‘Tourism in the Anthropocene Park? New analytic possibilities’, Int. J. Tourism Anthropology, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp.186–200.

The geography of happiness

Gaël Brulé and Ruut Veenhoven of the Erasmus University of Rotterda, Netherlands, have explored how perception of “happiness”, an elusive concept in itself, might differ from nation to nation. They suggest that there are two parts to our concept of being happy: a hedonistic aspect that is related to our doing things that make us feel good and a second cognitive component that relates to whether life is giving us what we expect of it. Using data from the Gallup World Poll, the team concludes that “average” happiness differs widely across nations and that these differences are systematic and linked to societal characteristics such as economic affluence and the type of government. The more modern nations seem to have happier citizens and in most industrialised nations happiness has been on the increase during the last 40 years. They also found that inequality within nations in terms of happiness is declining. Affect and contentment go hand in hand in most cases, the team reports, yet there is also a cluster of nations in which people are fairly contented but feel bad, such as the former communist countries. There are also several clusters of nations where people feel fairly good but are discontented, such as the Latin American countries.

Brulé, G. and Veenhoven, R. (2015) ‘Geography of happiness: configurations of affective and cognitive appraisal of life across nations’, Int. J. Happiness and Development, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp.101–117.

Calculating leukemia progression

A new computational study published in the International Journal of Bioinformatics Research and Applications has shown how mutations that give rise to drug resistance occur in a form of cancer known as acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Juan Carlos Martinez and S.S. Iyengar of Florida International University and Nelson Lopez-Jimenez and Tao Meng of the University of Miami, explain how cancer cells undergo genetic mutations as the disease progresses. Unfortunately, for the patient some of these mutations can give rise to new proteins that protect the cancer from the effects of anticancer drugs. A similar effect is seen in bacterial infection when microbes become resistant to antibiotics.

The team was able to use data from a longitudinal study of ALS patients for whom normal and malignant tissue samples had been tested at various points in time before and after disease relapse occurred. The team processed DNA sequence data before and after relapse time so that they could map the regions of the patients’ genome where mutations were present and so envisage which changes had given rise to the relapse through the emergence of drug resistance or some other factor. Their statistical analysis was highly predictive of the mutation timeline with a confidence interval of 95%, the team reports.

Longitudinal data tracking genomic mutations for tumors from patients throughout the course of their disease at several points in time – as opposed to single genetic snapshots – represents what the team calls a “golden standard”. Indeed, such a longitudinal study with a small number of patients is considered by some researchers to be more useful than a large study sample that offers only snapshot data. The success of this research offers new hope for understanding the development of ALS as well potentially leading to new targets for designer, or personalized, drugs for patients with specific cancer mutations.

“The efforts and techniques used in this paper represent the best methods we know to date in identifying meaningful mutational changes in leukemia,” the team says. The work could help oncologists predict patient response to therapy, identify patients at greater risk of relapse or disease progression, spot particular “driver” and “passenger” mutations that lead to relapse or drug resistance. The work could also help focus research on potential druggable targets, the team adds. The bottom line on this research is that ultimately it could improve survival rates for leukemia patients, the team concludes.

Martinez, J.C., Lopez Jimenez, N., Meng, T. and Iyengar, S.S. (2015) ‘Predicting DNA mutations during cancer evolution’, Int. J. Bioinformatics Research and Applications, Vol. 11, No. 3, pp.200–218.

Real veggies fight real migraine

Researchers in India have investigated compounds present in Live Green “Real Veggies” that might have physiological activity to treat the painful inflammatory condition, migraine. They provide details of their findings in the International Journal of Computational Biology and Drug Design.

Migraine is a neurological condition characterized by over-excitability of certain active proteins in the brain, which leads to inflammatory pain and other symptoms. It is three times more common in women than men. It is known that calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) is involved in triggering a migraine and so drug development has focused on searching for small molecules that bind to this peptide and block its action. Unfortunately, most of those that are active in the laboratory have failed to be developed further because they are generally metabolized before they ever reach the brain. Moreover, these compounds tend to be toxic to the liver.

Now, Geeta Rai of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, at Banaras Hindu University, in Varanasi and colleagues Mohit Jain and Nirmala Kumari Neiss of Wellness India Limited, in Mumbai, India, have used the high-throughput screening tools of the pharmaceutical industry – molecular docking, absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion and toxicity modeling – to evaluate the binding of active molecules present in “Real Veggies” against a computerized crystal structure of the CGRP receptor. They have also compared the properties of these compounds with reference anti-migraine drugs currently on the market.

“Live Green Real Veggies” are a food supplement marketed as liver detoxifying agents but with various associated claims for health benefits. The product contains, among other constituents, glucosinolate (cabbage and broccoli), glutathione (cabbage, broccoli, parsley), sulforaphane (cabbage and broccoli), indole-3-carbinol (from cabbage), carnitine (carrots) and betaine (beetroot). The team points out that indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane can cross the blood-brain barrier whereas other components cannot and many are not even absorbed by the body when taken by mouth.

The team concludes that they have “strong evidence that active ingredients present in Live Green Real Veggies can act as an antagonist to the CGRP receptor thus having the potential to prevent migraine.” Of course, it might also be suggested that a diet rich in green vegetables, rather than a specific supplement, might have a similar positive effect for migraine sufferers.

Jain, M.M., Kumari, N. and Rai, G. (2015) ‘A novel formulation of veggies with potent anti-migraine activity’, Int. J. Computational Biology and Drug Design, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp.54–61.