Friday, May 28, 2004
The first two things work better, interestingly, when miscapitalizing my Screen Name as "FinelyTunedCHaos:" Beauty; Fight, but reluctantly. Creepy.
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
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!
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
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....
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
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!
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
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 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.
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.
"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!
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
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.
Saturday, May 08, 2004
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!
Friday, May 07, 2004
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
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.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
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 AtkinsÂ® 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.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
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.
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
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?
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.