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Pest detected in fossilised puma dung from 17,000 years ago

Analyzing a coprolite, or a piece of fossilized dung, of a puma in the mountainous areas of the province of Catamarca, South America, a team of scientists from the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) has identified what can be considered the oldest find of traces of a molecular parasite and encoded the oldest DNA sequence of a gastrointestinal nematode parasite of wild mammals.

Researchers have in fact used radiocarbon dating to discover the age of nematode eggs placed within the coprolite reaching the conclusion that they date back to a period between 16,570 and 17,000 years ago. The same analysis of mitochondrial DNA revealed that it was feces expelled from a Puma concolor.

The analyzes also revealed that the eggs belonged to a species of nematode called Toxascaris leonina. This nematode is still present today in the digestive systems of dogs, cats and foxes.

DNA analysis was possible thanks to the conservation conditions of the coprolite that has spent all these years in an extremely dry, cold and salty environment at the Peñas de las Trampas site in the Andean region of the Puna, an environment that was once very much more humid.

Romina Petrigh, the researcher who led the study together with Martín Fugassa, underlines the importance of the research: “While we have previously found evidence of parasites in coprolites, these remains were much more recent, dating back to a few thousand years. This latest finding shows that these nematodes were already infecting South American fauna before the first humans arrived in the area about 11,000 years ago.”

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Lumbar back pain can be relieved with self-administered acupressure

Lumbar back pain, or pain in the lower back, can be relieved through the acupressure technique, also self-administered, according to a new study by Susan Murphy, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan.

This same technique provides benefits very similar to acupuncture, as also specified by the researcher herself. Of course, instead of needles penetrate the body, just below the skin, in this case it is a pressure, which can be more or less strong, in specific points of the body.

It is not the first study that highlights the positive aspects of acupressure but it is probably one of the first to link it directly to this specific area of ​​the back. In the study, published Pain Medicine, Murphy, together with her team of researchers, explains how she performed the experiments on 67 people who suffered from chronic low back pain.

The participants in the experiments were divided into three groups: one treated with relaxing acupressure, another with stimulating acupressure and another, the control group, with the usual or traditional care they had received previously. The sessions lasted from 27 to 30 minutes and were performed every week for weeks.

Compared to the control group, in particular people who were treated with relaxing acupressure felt a lower level of pain and in general an improvement in that area of ​​the back after three weeks, as stated by Murphy herself. It is therefore a non-drug-based treatment option that can also be performed alone (just stretch your hands back in the lower back).

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New drug successfully tested for experimental stuttering

A drug that reduces the symptoms of stuttering has been successfully tested by a group of doctors from the University of California at Riverside. During the experiments, the researchers noticed that the patients showed a reduction of the communicative defects caused by the stuttering after eight weeks of administration of the drug, the ecopipam.

Among the results that the researchers obtained there was a greater fluidity of speech, a faster reading and in general shorter duration stuttering events. Moreover, as specified by Gerald Maguire, president of the School of Medicine of the aforementioned university who led the study, the participants in the experiment did not show serious side effects so that none of them had to stop treatment.

Furthermore, no weight gain or movement disturbances were recorded, which were other side effects that have characterized other drugs for stuttering used in the past. A larger clinical study will be conducted early next year when experiments with more than 100 adults will be performed.

“If the ecopipam at the end of this study was considered a potentially safe and effective treatment for stuttering, it would be a big step towards finding the FDA approval for the first ever drug for stuttering treatment,” Maguire says.

The ecopipam drug works by selectively blocking dopamine in its D1 receptors, unlike other commercially available drugs that cannot block dopamine in such a selective manner.