"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Friday, May 28, 2004

Distressingly Accurate 

Don't you hate it when computer-generated personality tests fit a little too well?

Your True Nature by llScorpiusll
The quality that most appeals to you:Sex Appeal
In a survival situation, you:Act crazy as a diversion
Your hidden talent is:Pragmatism
Your gift is:An iron constitution
In groups, you:Feel uncomfortable
Your best quality is:Your indomitable will
Your weakness is:Your lack of focus
Created with the ORIGINAL MemeGen!

The first two things work better, interestingly, when miscapitalizing my Screen Name as "FinelyTunedCHaos:" Beauty; Fight, but reluctantly. Creepy.


I have serious allergies. Mold and dust mites make me sniffle, oak pollen makes me cough, and ragweed makes me miserable. Spring is the worst for these allergies. But my worst allergy of all is to oxymorons, most common in summertime. Jumbo shrimp give me hives; I felt wholly ill visiting Little Bighorn; and gay Republicans hurt my head. Which is why I"m thrilled to see that DC Councilmember David Catania has decided to leave the party. I like Catania as much as I expect to like anyone stuck on the essentially powerless DC Council. But now I respect him. He had the balls to stand up for himself (something which I find far to many gay men in particular fail to do in every situation), and say 'no' to supporting a candidate who wants to write him into the Constitution as a second class citizen. Go David...you'll have my vote this time around!

Stinky Brains 

Smell is the most potent memory trigger of all our senses. Evolutionarily, this makes sense: smell tells us much more than almost any sense, and works under all conditions. Vision doesn't work in the dark, hearing in silence, touch in isolation, and taste is, well, mostly smell. Odors can tell us who's who, what's what, and more. New research examines how smell and memory (and other senses) interact: memories seem to be stored in distributed parts of the brain, so that multiple modalities can call them up. I'm hoping the full report will have more details on why smell is so important, but for now this is a good, uhm, *taste.*

More New [Old] Alternatives 

The other day, we learned about compounds in cilantro with strong antimicrobial properties. Today, it's figs. This is one I'd never heard of or even considered before, but there you go.

And while humans are just learning (as opposed to having just *known* for all those millennia) all this stuff, birds are putting it to use: antimicrobial herbs in the nest keep chicks healthy. That's pretty bloody cool, I say.

Thursday, May 27, 2004


An Oxford team has developed a promising treatment for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gherig's Disease. This is a degenerative disease characterized by loss of voluntary muscle control due to neuron death in the brain and spinal cord. It is fatal. The treatment involves injection of a gene triggering production of vascular endothelial growth factor, a hormone which has been found decreased in ALS patients. It is thought to have neuroprotective effects, and in mice, the therapy seems to have beneficial effects. Pretty cool, I say!

A UCLA team has found that histamine cells in the brain are inactive during the loss of consciousness of sleep, whereas norepinephrine and serotonin are inactivated leading to sleep's loss of muscle tone. This is an interesting bit, and certainly explains why antihistamines make you drowsy!

Gene Sharing 

Chimpanzees are humans' closest relatives, sharing all but about 1.5% of our genes. However, a new study indicates that this tiny difference in fact has much broader phenotypic effects: deletions and insertions can have big effects on proteins, and thus everything else. It's still not clear if this is where we'll find the important differences that make us human and not chimps, though. They may have to look at an evolutionary intermediate for that: perhaps this guy?

A group of European researchers have found that bacteria apparently 'steal' some of their hosts genes to counteract immune attacks. This is a pretty cool concept, and I can't wait to hear more about it! The gene has since been passed along amongst many different bacteria.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Tasty Treats Part Deux 

The conventional wisdom has for some time been that you have to cook meat pretty fully to avoid risk of food poisoning. New research suggests that if you make sure your utensils are clean, you can eat your steak rare. Which is good news for me, since I like my red meat, well, RED!

Alien Nation, Again 

Life elsewhere in the universe, and also in the solar system, is fun to think about...I have no problem believing that we're Not Alone, and since the probability of us existing in the first place is so small as to be laughable.

The point is that a group of scientists have submitted a proposal to NASA to send a probe to Venus, and collect cloud samples, on the theory that life could be thriving there. This is a great idea. I support it. However, it still stays within the not-very-creative bound of thinking of life only as being like what we have on Earth. Which, if something like this theory is correct, then it may well be, but if not....

Battling HIV 

Two new studies show much potential in preventing/fighting HIV:

In the first, researchers found that a Lactobacillus bacteria, naturally found in our mouths, strongly binds sugars present on the HIV viral coat. This is a property of the virus that doesn't change from strain to strain the way protein and RNA markers do, and could lead to a more sustainable therapy. Seeding these bacteria into the mouths and stomachs of newborns may prevent transmission of the virus from an infected mother's milk. Even if that doesn't work directly, it could lead to some other new ideas for treatment and prevention.

Secondly, researchers at Stanford University are exploring a gene treatment, which would gengineer a patient's immune stem cells to produce HIV-specific ribozymes, hopefully destroying the virus before it can infect, or at least slowing the effects of an infection. This kind of therapy is enormously interesting, and if proves safe (regardless of whether or not this specific one works), then it has potential applications all over the place, for treatments of a range of diseases, including cancer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Medieval Milkshake 

Thanks Ernie...this is appalling. I love it!

New [Old] Alternatives 

As I've said before, I'm a big fan of herbal medicine: if the witch-doctors' cures didn't work at all, they would have disappeared after not too long.

A new study released yesterday by ACS details the very potent antibiotic actions of a compound in cilantro. In a word: duh. Anyone who's been studying herbal medicine knows that virtually any kitchen spice has anti-microbial activities...that's why they came to be used: survival value. Learning what compounds are active is important (and exciting), but I really wish people would stop acting so bloody surprised!

Makin' Babies 

Exposure to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) during pregnancy may alter child's sex drive later in life. The effects seem to be mediated by prostaglandin E2, which suggests all kinds new directions for this research.

No one has a higher sex drive, however, than teenage boys. And research now confirms that frozen sperm can be kept, and used much later than thought, to produce healthy kids. Young cancer patients can store up now, and take their time having kids, which is great news for them. Also, the article suggests that maybe younger sperm is better anyways (an interesting idea, which probably has some merit, but I'd like to see data!)

And if having one kid isn't enough for you, move to a high-pollution area! Mothers living in highly polluted environments are more likely to have twins than if they lived somewhere cleaner. Sounds like BushCo. family planning!

Monday, May 24, 2004


After Spain, I spent a couple days crashing with a friend in the City That Sleeps Too Much. Getting to her place from Heathrow was a breeze: the bus goes from right in front of the terminal to near her house! So, we went out for some fantastic Indian food, went pubbing, the next day had a Mass Transit Experience (in which the system got us where we wanted to go, just a few hours late), ate a full English Breakfast (my first...I'm duly impressed), and then went shopping and later more pubbing. I've now drunk both at the World's End and Halfway House (which I highly recommend: very cheap!!). Bought a vintage blazer because it was there.

Not the most traditionally 'cultural' visit, but a blast. Of course, the entire time I had images from The Satanic Verses running through my head. Which, along with associations to a certain other novel, made our trip to Knightsbridge rather interesting.

Oh, Lovely... 

I'll post more about my travels later, but I must first gripe:

I've just learned that the lovely aroma I'm currently suffering is due to a sewage issue in the Metro station below my office. Big thank-you kisses to WMATA for this experience!


Sevilla is a pretty cool town, I think. I didn't get to do much there, but my sense is that it's someplace I'd like to spend more time, particularly after I get my Spanish to a quasi-respectable level.

I was really surprised how few people spoke English...in my travels elsewhere in Europe, France, Hungary, Czech Republic, even Germany, people all spoke English. Not in Spain. My sister explained that this was likely because all TV and movies there are dubbed into Spanish, as opposed to subtitled, and as a result people are not as constantly exposed as in other locales. Very interesting.

Food: I always associate Spanish food (particularly Andalusian) with lots of fish and rice and peppers. Imagine my surprise at the plates of pork, sausage, potatoes and eggs. Not as healthy a vacation as I'd expected, but very tasty!! And of course I drank a fair bit of Sherry (even spent a day in Jerez, tasting).

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Vacationing with family 

My parents are the people for whom tourist traps are built. They will go anywhere advertised in a brochure as Exciting!, Beautiful!, and/or Full of Local Somethingorother! They will pay €20 per person to go on a boat tour of a city in which all the interesting sights are.....inland. They love tchotchkes. But they´re my parents and I love them. They´re also paying for this trip.

The other thing they havetendencyncy to do is to identify a Beautiful! Scenic! Historic! spot, usually remote, and decide to stay there for a few days/nights. These spots are invariably better suited for a day or at most weekend trip. Lots to see, but really the tour only takes two hours and there´s only two restaurants so....

But I will give my mother credit: as the only stick driver of us all, she managed to maneuver the rental car up steep, narrow streets without actually killing us.

More to come.....

Friday, May 14, 2004

Travel Advisory 

I will be in Spain for about a week. I may get the chance to post some adventures, but maybe not. If anyone has any good sciene news while I'm gone, please post to comments!

Je vais en Espagne pendant une semaine. Si n'importe qui a n'importe quelles bonnes nouvelles de la science, écrivez-les au section 'comments'!

Estaré en España por una semana. ¡Si cualquier persona tiene algunas buenas noticias de la ciencia, las escriben por favor en comentarios!


Thursday, May 13, 2004


Or at least, restructuring. The CDC is reorganizing in a number of ways...all this is from an email I got at work.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Julie Gerberding announced today new goals and integrated operations that will allow the federal public health agency to have greater impact on the health of people around the world. Today’s announcement evolved from an ongoing strategic development process called the Futures Initiative which began a year ago at CDC and has included hundreds of employees, other agencies, organizations, and the public.
Dr. Gerberding announced that CDC will align its priorities and investments under two overarching health protection goals: 1) Preparedness: All people in all communities will be protected from infectious, environmental, and terrorists threats. 2) Health Promotion and Prevention of Disease, Injury and Disability: All people will achieve their optimal lifespan with the best possible quality of health in every stage of life. In addition, the agency is developing more targeted goals to assure an improved impact on health at every stage of life including infants and toddlers, children, adolescents, adults, and older adults.

The integrated organization coordinates the agency’s existing operational units into four coordinating centers to help the agency leverage its resources to be more nimble in responding to public health threats and emerging issues as well as chronic health conditions.

“For more than half a century this extraordinary agency with the greatest workforce in the world has accomplished so much for the health of people here and around the world,” said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. “However, today’s world characterized by tremendous globalization, connectivity, and speed poses entirely new challenges. The steps we are taking through this initiative will better position us to meet these challenges head on. Our aim is to help ensure that all people are protected in safe and healthy communities so they can achieve their full life expectancy.”

The new coordinating centers and their directors are:

Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases – includes the National Center for Infectious Diseases, the National Immunization Program, and the National Center for STD, TB, and HIV Prevention. Dr. Mitchell Cohen will lead this coordinating center.

Coordinating Center for Health Promotion
– includes the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Donna Stroup will lead this coordinating center.

Coordinating Center for Environmental Health, Injury Prevention, and Occupational Health – includes the National Center for Environmental Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Dr. Henry Falk will lead this coordinating center.

Coordinating Center for Health Information and Services
– includes the National Center for Health Statistics, a new National Center for Health Marketing, and a new Center for Public Health Informatics. Dr. James Marks will lead this coordinating center.

Office of Global Health – Dr. Stephen Blount will lead this office.

Office of Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response – Dr. Charles Schable will lead this office.

In addition, Dr. Gerberding announced the following:

- Dr. Stephen Thacker will head a newly formed Human Capital Management Office to oversee professional development, recruitment, training, and workforce development at CDC.

- Dr. Dixie Snider is the Chief Officer for Science and will primarily be responsible for overseeing the agency’s Office of Extramural Research.

- Dr. Ed Thompson is the Chief of Public Health Improvement and will be responsible for assuring that standards CDC sets for the public health system are met.

- Ms. Kathy Cahill will head the newly created Office of Strategy and Innovation and will be responsible for overseeing goals management and analysis.

- Mr. William Gimson remains the Chief Operating Officer responsible for overseeing all management and business operations activities at CDC.

- Mr. Robert Delaney remains Chief of Staff responsible for managing the Office of the Director.

Dr. Gerberding congratulated and thanked the thousands of employees and partners who have participated in the process and she reminded them all that they really are the cornerstone of CDC’s future. She said the time is right to move forward with these changes. “CDC is very strong and credible agency that has - and will always - base its decisions on the best of science. The time for change to enhance your impact is when you’re at your best and for CDC that time is right now.”

Dr. Gerberding and executive leaders throughout CDC will be moving forward to implement these changes by October 1, 2004, the start of the next fiscal year.

"If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us." 

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has written a brilliant editorial on a topic which may or may not really be the Bush administration. In usual Vonnegut fashion, he implies much more than he actually says, thus saying it much more clearly. Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions are two of my favorite books of all time. If you've not read them, please do.

Not-really-very-similarly, Bruce Fiestein has a hilarious bit on the BushCo vocabulary up at the NY Observer.
6) "High moral ground." We've lost it. Lose it from your vocabulary.

Wishing to Be Elsewhere 

I don't often wish I lived in New York. But this weekend provides a big one. Anyone reading this who's up there should RUN, NOT WALK to buy tickets to for this. Wong Kar-Wai is without a doubt my favorite director, and I have a hard time deciding my favorite movie, between "Chunking Express" and "Happy Together." Both (as well as all his others) are brilliant in so many ways. This guy is making the best movies in the world, IMHO. Thanks go to Gothamist for torturing me with this!


Lisez soigneusement:

Qui m'achetera une chemise comme ca??

Hormonally Challenged 

Higher in utero testosterone levels seem to be linked to lower social skills: kids born of higher levels had less developed social interests and skills, were often poor communicators and tended to be good at pattern recognition tasks. This study supports, in a small way, the author's theory that autism is an 'extreme form' of the male brain. High prenatal testosterone has also been linked to homosexuality, but that body of research is shaky at best.

Other researchers have found (and, of course, patented) that melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) regulates the balance between fat storage and metabolism in rats (and, presumptively, in humans as well). One bit noted in the release that I like: this won't be a drug to help people get unhealthily thin...it only works by correcting the balance of fat storage and burn. I want my prescription NOW!!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Pretty Boys 

A biology letter reported today asserts that handsome men evolved due to selective pressure from 'picky' females. Some of the reasoning is good, but I'm not sure I buy it. First of all, what constitutes "handsome" or "attractive" is debatable. Assuming that it's what we today think of may be silly: an entire field of psychologists are still teasing that bit apart. Secondly, it's generally presumed that whatever traits are 'naturally' (i.e., not culturally) attractive have some correlation to viability, and suggest the ability to produce viable offspring: big eyes mean good vision; nice legs means fast runner; big breasts means can feed babies; strong arms suggest ability to defend and provide; etc. I'd like to see the data explored, but I think there are more useful things to examine.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Brain Day 3: Development 

Developmental biology, the study of how development happens, and what controls it is a big field of research, and neurodevelopment, specifically, is of great interest to me. A fascinating field, and full of one of my other interests: fun gene/protein names.

Much of the major work in development has been done in Xenopus (frog) embryos, thanks to the pioneering work of Hans Spemann, who discovered that embryos develop based on organized areas of cells, that there were certain (seemingly identical) cells that were predetermined to produce head, body, arms, etc. All this was based largely on concentration gradients of various trophic and inhibitory factors.

The nervous system has long been thought to rise from ectoderm due to chemical signals from the Spemann Organizer in the mesoderm.

New research, however, suggests that neural induction begins much earlier: at the blastula phase. A center in the blastular pre-ectoderm called BCNE seems predisposed to become neural tissue, due to its high production of induction factors Noggin and Chordin. It turns out, however, that these cells do require factors from the Spemann Organizer to develop properly. The Organizerproduces Cerberus, which is required, or else no head develops...and partial inhibition along with Chordin prevents brain development.

This kind of research leads to all kinds of cool stuff...like regrowth, enhancement, and other therapies...plus all the fun names!

Brain Day, Part 2: Size 

Size may or may not matter, but it's measurable, and in some cases may lead to discoveries of other things.

Brain size has been used as a measure of many things, some not very nice, but it is clear that the expansion of the brain was critical to human evolution. A gene thought to have catalyzed (or better: allowed) this expansion, ASPM, seems to have set things in motion far earlier than previously supposed (abstract here).

As evolution progressed, ASPM seems to have grown longer, proportional to increased brain size. This is a really cool use of genomics technology. I may write more about it later when my own brain starts working again.

Brain Day, Part 1: Smell 

Today's a big neuroscience day for me, so I'm writing it in bits. Enjoy!!

People generally believe that they don't have as good a sense of smell as other animals. And scientists have long agreed, based on research indicating that we have fewer olfactory receptors than other mammals (350 functional genes versus 1100 for mice). But, in a paper published today, a researcher examines these data, as well as many other items, and concludes that we may be better than we think:

While other mammals have more receptors than we do, they also have bigger noses which contain complex filtration systems, presumably evolved to protect against the dirt and contaminant laden ground they life close to. As primates became more and more bipedal, this was no longer necessary, and so selective pressure no longer maintained this feature. It was more advantageous to have eyes closer together for real stereoscopic vision. Now, with no filtering apparatus blocking a portion of the smell molasses inhaled, we can get by with fewer receptors. In tests, humans performed better at detecting long-chain aldehydes than dogs, but worse at short-chain. Which makes sense: long-chain molecules are more likely to get caught by the dogs' filters, short ones not as much.

Humans also have more developed cognitive abilities to analyze smells: what our receptors get is easier for us to interpret than for dogs.

Higher Learning 

As a product of science education, I'm a big fan of it being better than it was. The higher level science classes I took were all great, but the problem was the intro classes. I was going to be a biology major until I encountered introductory biology. 8 AM, huge lecture, professors that just spew information out at you without much interesting stuff to say, and 'cookbook' labs: just follow instructions and fill out forms and take the exam. A professor friend of mine once said:
"You've got to learn what I tell you, put it on the test, and then forget it, ok?"

This is not a good way to get people interested in science. I understand that a top program needs to 'weed out' the less-than-the-best students, but frankly that should come later. Intro is the class everyone takes. It's a class that should be accessible to the English major who just needs distribution credits. It should make that English major more interested in the subject, rather than scaring him/her away.

With all this in mind, I read about this policy paper from a group of science educators. And I say "well done!" A more interactive, challenging (in a way other than how much can you memorize) style would not only have been more useful to me (as a science major) later on, but also to all the others in the class. Now, here's hoping it actually gets implemented!


The new agers have long been interested in magnets. You can find a multitude of products which will use magnets to fix all sorts of problems...from migranes to stiff joints to whatever else. The placebo effect is a really wonderful thing.

But now there's research about a form of magnetic therapy which seems to actually work: repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This is a technique of repeatedly stimulating the brain using MRI magnets, to reduce resistance to firing and maintain connections. In the recent study, it was used in spinal injury patients, and they showed improvement. A small, short-term study, but with very promising results. This could help with regrowth as well as strengthening treatments. Very attractive possibilities! < /cornball>.

Monday, May 10, 2004

New Follies 

Waiting in line at the DMV sucks. New York City has improved on this situation, however, not only boring you, but misinforming you as well, with adventures in unfortunate edutainment... Oh well, it was a good *idea*!

Commie Bastards 

Communism is a great idea. The problem is, when the revolution comes, you tend to end up with Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism. The resulting societies tend to be repressive, isolated, etc. There have been, however, a few good things to come from Communist leaders. Fidel Castro responded to the AIDS crises in the early 80's instantly, where the rest of the world hid, repressed and denied it. The result: Cuba has the lowest HIV infection and AIDS rates in the Western Hemisphere (possibly the world, I don't have those data). Now, after decades of saying that HIV/AIDS didn't exist in China, the Chinese government has admitted to nearly 1 million infections, and has begun an aggressive education and prevention campaign. Treatment is still lagging, but the proposed interventions are likely to be more effective (if actually implemented...Likelihood analysis from China experts? Please comment!) than anything being done in the US or Europe.

Condom promotion, needle exchange, education: these are the keys to winning the battle against HIV. But the Bush Administration wants to 'teach' abstinence. AAAAHHHH!!!! If we all get AIDS, as China and Cuba remain healthy, we'll have lost the Cold War afterall.

New Alternatives 

Cherries are one of my favorite foods. They may also help with gout, arthritis and inflammatory diseases. None of which I have [yet], but probably it helps with carpal tunnel syndrome, which I may be rapidly developing, as well. The longer, bigger study will be a really interesting read, I expect. Plus, it's an excuse for me to justify paying the millions of dollars per pound for fresh cherries!

Fatty McOversized, Reducible? 

The amount of research into obesity these days really highlights how much money there is in weight loss. Fortunately, some of the research actually contributes to the scientific discourse, in addition to providing product potential. U. Texas researchers have found a blood vessel protein which can be used to target fat cells for destruction. All well and good, the mice in the study lost weight at a fantastic pace. However, murine systems are much more tolerant of crap building up in them than are human systems. I greatly anticipate baboon trails, but am not holding my breath for this to become a useful treatment. This kind of thing, however, could easily stimulate research into better angiogenesis inhibitors, etc.

Saturday, May 08, 2004


Evolutionary biology and genetics are, in my mind, two of the most interesting fields in all of science. The how-we-got-to-what-we-are question is so huge, and there are so many answers and questions and unanswerables, it's just bloody awesome.
Genomics provides a ton of insight into our collective history, and will probably be the driving force in life science for some time to come. Which brings us to a very cool study recently published: discovery of 'ultra-conserved' regions in human, rat, mouse, chicken and dog genomes. When a stretch of DNA is conserved between divergent species, it means it's probably important. While we share most of our genes with other mammals (and non-mammals as well), things that are Exactly The Same are rare. What's especially fetching about this finding, to me, is that much of these ultra-conserved regions are non-coding: they don't have any visible function. Which supports the idea that this so-called 'Junk DNA' is anything but. I'm very excited for the knock-out mouse studies!


Scientists have long known that the Hippocampus is key to short-term memory, but the locus of longer-term recall has been a mystery. A new study has shown evidence that CamKinaseII in the anterior cingulate is key. This research has all kinds of applications, from the obvious Alzheimer's/dementia aspect to educational tactics. Very cool indeed.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Rock stars...is there anything they DON'T know?  

Apparently. Britney Spears has, in her newfound dedication to Madonna-style Kabbalah, has gotten herself a tattoo. As many others have I'm sure pointed out, there's so much irony here it hurts.

First: the tattoo, supposed to be the Hebrew for "New Hope," actually is gibberish. Oops!
Second: Jewish (and, of course, Kabbalistsic) law forbids tattoos. Oops! Again.

I'm all for people finding their spirituality and all, but ferfucksake, this whole Kabbalah business is ridiculous. Roseanne Barr at least is actually Jewish. Madonna can be forgiven somewhat because she is, well, *Madonna*. Spears, however, is a wannabe at best, and I'd much prefer things like mysticism far, far out of her hands. Not that this lot is even remotely serious about Kabbalah (or much else, as far as I can tell), but even so.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Seeing =? Believing 

Optical illusions and visual gags have been stock and trade of artists and entertainers for quite some time. This experiment, however, is fucking hilarious. I know it works, because this sort of thing has been studied before, but it's really just brilliant to see it in action.

Language Lab 

The [possibly unique] human ability to learn and process language is, I'd say, our most important strength. It's well established that we process language innately, having some sort of 'language instinct.' Kids deprived of language stimulation from parents make up their own. We know language happens, but the questions in research now are how, and when, and where in the brain.

Some answers may come from a recent study published by a University of Rochester team. Examining how adults and children parse language sounds (made up words), they've found that the brain seems to do all kinds of high-level statistical analysis of those sounds, unconsciously, between the ear and conscious mind. Foreign languages always sound like they're being spoken very fast, because the non-speaker is not attuned to where the breaks should occur and how words sound. However, with experience, the brain learns to break up the constant stream of sounds into understandable (or at least distinguishable) bits: words and phrases. This new theory of how is most interesting.

Die Roboter /Mini 

The first DNA robot has been created! A pair of 36-base legs, and a linking strip at the top, and sticky feet. A big first step in real utility for nanoscale production: nanoscale workers. This sort of thing will be used as a ferry for particles, and further development will yield robots with capabilities far beyond merely walking a preset track.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

A New Hope 

Tomorrow's issue of Nature will feature an article revealing the source of insulin-producing Beta cells. This is of course of paramount significance to diabetes researchers and patients. If the body can be coaxed into producing more of these cells, and thus more insulin, then a cure, of sorts, may be achieved. Brilliant!!

Cooler Heads Prevail 

When newborns are deprived of oxygen during/after birth, they run significantly higher risks of brain damage and disabilities. Cooling their brains seems to provide some level of protection. This is a very interesting finding, although it's not entirely unprecedented. I don't have references handy, but there is evidence of a hypothermic protection effect both in stroke and pharmacological-induced insults to the brain. Specifically, I recall that in NMDA (Ecstasy) users, hyperthermia is linked to many of the permanent cognitive side-effects, with hypothermia found to be protective.

More Teeth 

Good week for teeth. First we learn how to grow new ones, and now we learn they may be useful in treating neurodegenerative disorders. This is cool research!

Fast Food Nation, Again 

A lung-transplant patient with a negative reaction finds that his favorite soda is causing the problem. SunDrop, of which I've never heard but is apparently very popular, contains bergamottin, which is known to alter the release and clearance profiles of many drugs. His doctor and he of course had to go through all kinds of rigmarole to get ingredients out of the manufacturer, providing yet another example of why we need better labeling of food products.

The Low-Carb thing is all the rage these days, and the biotech industry is going to make a killing. Low-carb corn may or may not provide a real improvement in global nutrition, as the press release suggests, but it will certainly boost sales for whoever starts selling Atkins® tortilla chips. But I'm all for it...I prefer protein to carbs anyways.

We've been told for some time how bad the media is for womens' body image. And it always aggrivated me (eating disorders and all) that everyone said "it's different for guys, ya'll aren't as affected." Now someone has actually bothered to do the research, and found that, duh!, it actually isn't different for guys. Well, OK, the bodies are different, but they're unattainablee and bad for us nonetheless. A media full of images of fabulous perfect drag queens as the Male Ideal would have some interesting effects, but that's not what we're discussing here. And in order to lose the weight and gain the muscle, boys have been taking steroids. It turns out, however, that one of the popular ones, AndroGel®, is safe when used for approved purposes. Which means probably not toooo harmful in unapproved ones.

HIV's Newest Trick 

Researchers have discovered a way in which HIV avoids immune targeting and destruction: it releases a protein which repels killer T cells. One more complication, yes, but another relatively easy-to-target system that we can [hopefully] use to stem the virus progress.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


I'm not shy about my distaste for the right-wing blowhards who crowd the airwaves with their vitriol. I'm no fan of liberal talkshows either, but they tend to be less fast and loose with the facts. This post over at Wampum points out a prime example: Limbaugh et al. saying that a disease like Asperger's could be fixed by a few drinks.

While I'm aware that it might seem oversensitive and humorless to complain so, the fact is that these radio types have wide audiences who take their words as gospel. Yes, those audience may be of dubious intelligence, but they are nonetheless there. And they nonetheless seem to vote. Having Limbaugh and friends trivializing serious diseases has an effect: their audiences think they're not important, and research doesn't get funded, and there is no cure or even effective treatment. And our public health infrastructure continues to languish.

"D'oh!" du Jour 

Thought all those vitamins you take every morning were gonna make you live forever? Well....maybe not so much. A new study has linked vitamins C, E and beta carotene (an A vitamin) to higher levels of vLDL and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. They seem to block the liver's breakdown of vLDL components from the blood.

This is just a press release, and I'm waiting for the full paper and replication, but it's an interesting result. It does not, however, contradict what's known about these vitamins and their very helpful antioxidant properties, which may balance out the newfound effects in real life.

Monday, May 03, 2004

New Alternatives, Continued 

So taking on the football team in a collegiate bar brawl wasn't such a good idea, and you're missing a tooth or two to prove it? Well, there may soon be a better solution than that ceramic bridge: you could grow new ones! Stem cell technology may soon provide them means for this therapy. I think it's great: while I'm not missing any teeth, I'd like fresher, whiter ones without all those whitening strips! Can anyone else smell the next cosmetic surgery trend???


Good news on the spinal injury front: researchers seem to have found a way to get new motor neurons to extend out of the spinal cord. This is a big step: previously, new/implanted neurons were useless, because they stayed in the cord and didn't connect with target muscle. If this can be successfully applied to humans, it'll be a Very Big Deal.

The 'Magic Spot' of the bacterial genome has been identified, but the summary available doesn't really tell me anything useful. Obviously this sounds like a big deal, but I am left to wonder how it might apply. Any bacteriologists wanna help me out?

Brain Drain 

Reports indicate that the US is losing its dominance in science. It's clear this is happening for a number of reasons. First of all, nobody ever stays the best forever, so the rest of the world had to catch up. This doesn't mean, however, that certain factors haven't helped speed this reversal. Scientists used to come to the US in droves from across the world, for the best facilities, higher pay, and a better life. These days, the few who can get in suffer from lack of health care, crappy benefits, and funding cuts. Why not go to, say, Germany, where there's universal healthcare and pensions? Or stay in China where they can be offered government kickbacks? Or stay in India and be part of its development into a scientific super-power? The US is just less attractive than it used to be.

Then there's the Bush administration's War on Science. US scientific prestige has, according to that article, taken a real plunge in the 2000's (i.e., the Bush administration). Correlation does not equal causation, of course, but sometimes things make you go 'hmmm.'

[EDIT 12:05 PM]:
Even more on this BushCo problem here, in a thoughtful Scientific American editorial. I hope lots and lots of people read it.

Fatty McOversized, Reducible? 

Breast feeding infants seems to reduce obesity later in life. Our new friend adiponectin is again key.

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