Pill Makes It Safer for People with Celiac Disease to Eat in Restaurants


Researchers say a drug already on the market could help protect diners with celiac disease against accidentally getting "glutened." The scientists shared their findings at the Digestive Disease Week 2017 conference in Chicago.

Finding gluten-free menu items is hard enough, but folks with food allergies and celiac disease also have to be concerned about cross-contamination with other foods cooked in the same kitchen because the tiniest morsel of peanut butter, shellfish, or gluten could trigger a reaction.

A fungus-based enzyme called aspergillus niger-derived prolyl endoprotease (AN-PEP for short) had previously been shown to help break down gluten in the gut. But those studies had only looked at AN-PEP's use for people with feeding tubes. Whether or not it would work with gluten consumed the old-fashioned way was not clear.

Researchers recruited 18 brave people with celiac disease and served each one a bowl of porridge into which they’d crumbled two gluten-rich cookies. One-third of the study participants took a low dose of AN-PEP; another third took a high dose; and the remaining porridge-eaters got a placebo. Then the researchers tracked how each person’s gut dealt with the offensive cookies.

Both high and low doses of AN-PEP helped break down the wheat protein in participants' stomachs and part of their small intestines. People who’d taken the AN-PEP had 85 percent lower gluten levels in their stomachs than people who hadn’t. That success continued into the small intestine, where levels were 87 percent and 81 percent lower for people in the high- and low-dose groups, respectively, than they were for the poor suckers who got the placebo.

Lead author Julia König is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Örebro in Sweden. Speaking in a statement, she said the drug “allows gluten-sensitive patients to feel safer, for example, when they are out with friends in a restaurant and can’t be sure whether something is 100 percent gluten-free.”

She cautioned that the drug is not a free pass, nor license to go wild in the bakery. “We are not suggesting that AN-PEP will give these individuals the ability to eat pizza or pasta,” she said, “but it might make them feel better if they mistakenly ingest gluten.”

With only 18 participants, this study was small, and more research will be needed to confirm these findings.

What Caused Pangea to Break Apart?


Emily Devenport:

There's another way to look at this question. People tend to think in terms of supercontinents forming and then breaking up again due to convection currents in the mantle, hot material rising and causing rifts in weaker spots, possibly in old sutures where the continents were shoved together—but what is really happening is that ocean basins are opening and closing, and the ocean has an active role in subduction.

The opening and closing of an ocean basin is called a Wilson Cycle. It begins when hot material rising from the mantle stretches the overlying crust. As molten material rises, a rift is formed. The rift is widened as material continues to squeeze into it. If that rifting goes on long enough, through a broad enough swath of a continent, ocean water will eventually flow into it, and an ocean basin begins to form. The upwelling of hot material will continue to rise through that thinner area of crust, pushing the plates apart. The Atlantic Ocean is an example of a basin that is well along in the Wilson Cycle; eventually subduction is going to begin at its margins, and the whole shebang will pivot.

This will happen because at the edge of continents, sediments accumulate. The weight of those sediments, combined with the weight of the water, drives the heavier, denser edge of the oceanic plate under the continental crust, which is fatter and lighter. Eventually subduction begins, and the basin begins to close again. The Pacific Ocean is an example of a basin that's closing.

If you look at a map of the oceanic rift zones, you'll notice that the one in the Atlantic is pretty much in the middle of that ocean, but the Pacific rift zone has been pulled all the way over to North America above Central America. Subduction is actively occurring on all margins of that plate.

The simple picture is that the continents are moving toward each other across the Pacific Ocean while the Atlantic Basin continues to widen. The truth is more complicated. When plates subduct, the water in the crust lowers the melting point of those rocks, so partial melting occurs. The partially melted material begins to rise through the overlying rocks, because it's less dense, and decompression melting occurs. Eventually, the upwelling of hot material forms plutons and volcanoes above the subduction zones. Fore-arc and Back-arc [PDF] basins can form. As the oceanic crust is pulled under the continental plate, island chains and other chunky bits get sutured to the edge of the continent along with sediments, making it larger. Our world is ~4.6 billion years old, so our continents are really large, now. They're unlikely to rift through the ancient cratons that formed their hearts.

What will happen if subduction begins on the eastern side of North America before the Pacific Basin closes? The margin next to California is a transform fault; it's not subducting. Will it eventually push itself under that part of North America again, or will the transform zone get bigger? The hot spot that was driving the ancient Farallon Plate under North America was eventually overridden by the southwestern states (Arizona, New Mexico, etc.) forming a rift zone. Will it continue to rift or poop out?

There are computer models predicting what supercontinent may form next. They will continue to change as our understanding of tectonic processes gets more accurate.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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