"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!!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Recommended For Me 

I am forever puzzled by many of the product recommendations that Amazon gives me. I mean, seriously, WTF:

I mean, vibrating razors are creepy, but definitely not in an angsty-80's-soundtrack-laden-Jake-Gyllenhaal-goodness kinda way.

Time for New Cookware 

We all kinda knew it was true, but were hoping that the evidence wouldn't surface: Teflon seems to be carcinogenic. Specifically, an independent panel has advised the EPA to upgrade a chemical used in producing Teflon - PFOA - to a "likely carcinogen." Needless to say, the companies which produce PFOA "disagree" with the recommendation. There is no real suggestion that they think the panel's findings are inaccurate, just that they think they don't matter. Now, what am I going to do with all of my nonstick cookware??

Unrelatedly, another study may have found an answer to the puzzle of why prions have survived evolution. In mice engineered not to produce prions, their marrow (stem) cells slowly deteriorated and stopped regenerating themselves. So, it seems that prions play a critical role in stem cell activity. Weird.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Catching Fat 

Besides genetics, there seems to be at least one more possible reason for our skyrocketing obesity rates: adenoviruses. So, we have obesity as a communicable disease. This fits in with data indicating that one of the biggest rises in obesity rates is among the poor, who are generally more at-risk for disease, and with findings of other 'obesity clusters.'

Aside from yet another reason for people to deny personal responsibility for being a fat-ass, there are a number of promises inherent in the discovery. Vaccines could be created to stop the viruses spread, and, more interestingly, if we can grok how they work to make us fat, we can use that to keep people who don't have the virus thinner.

Welcome to Dumbfuckistan 

Yesterday, Google summed up those currently in power, and today, an article in today's WaPo demonstrates how bad they really are. There is, apparently, a major debate in this country about whether or not health care providers are in fact required to provide care. ConservativesChristianists want to protect pharmacists, doctors, nurses, and insurance companies who don't want to provide certain types of care or care for certain types of people from losing their jobs.

I cannot even find words to describe how furious this makes me. If you are "morally opposed" to performing your job, get another bloody job. If I said I was "morally opposed" to using Excel, can I not do my work and be protected under these laws? Same thing.

And if you are "morally opposed" to treating gay/lesbian patients, you should have your license revoked, because you clearly aren't capable of providing competent care to anyone.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Big Eared Dumbass 

Search result courtesy of WDC, who needs to finish his grad school apps.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Two Mutations 

Researchers at Einstein College of Medicine have found that a gene mutation - the G2019S mutation of LRRK2 - is a major cause of Parkinson's disease in Ashkenazi Jews and some North African Arabs. This discovery could lead not only to new testing, diagnosis and counseling methods, but also, hopefully, to new therapies as well. Even if the gene doesn't cause all Parkinson's, learning how it causes some can give insight into the disease overall - if you know specifically what's going wrong due to this mutation, you can look for other ways for it to go wrong, and correct them.

Another mutation that is unfortunate for its hosts (but fortunate for people) is the mucA mutation in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, most famous for attacking the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. The mutation, it seems, makes the bacteria extremely vulnerable to acidified sodium nitrite, a common meat preservative. This doesn't mean that eating bologna is good for CF patients - far from it - but it does promise to deliver some critical treatments for what has usually been considered an untreatable infection. It's been a good week for CF patients.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


An episode darkly emblematic of my existence:

I arrived home from work tonight at about 11:30 (I left at 7:45) to find my mailbox stuffed full of mail (a normal day brings but a credit card ad or two). Excitement! Could it be? Good news from grad school? A present? No. A Pepco bill, a Comcast bill, and three offers to extend my credit line. Le sigh.

As I carry my disappointing haul down to my door, in my entryway I see something even more promising: a white box! I didn't order anything...an unexpected present? Denied again: an empty JumboSlice box.

Is this a pathetic end to my day, or am I just over stressed?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Good News and Something We Already Knew 

A new study seems to have partially restored brain development in trisomic mice - models for Down Syndrome. The study used a potent form of growth factor Sonic Hedgehog (ShhNp) to stimulate mitosis in the cerebella of the mice. This is an incredibly hopeful piece of news for future parents.

Sufferers of another genetic disease get good news today too: a study suggests that aerosol inhalation of concentrated saline twice a day reduces pulmonary symptoms and dangers of cystic fibrosis. That's really cool. And it's cheap, too!

You ever wonder how you just can't reason with some people? They insist, against all evidence, that dubya is a great president and competent leader, who would never go AWOL from anything, or that Al Gore invented the internet, etc.? Well, it's true. You can't reason with them, because partisans do not engage the rational-thinking parts of their brains when presented with information along political lines. They use emotional processing areas instead.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Desktop Meme 

From Secret Simon. My desktop cycles periodically, but here are two of my favorites.

This one should be self-explanatory to any (bio)chemists out there, but as a hint: this is the drug to which most of us are probably addicted.

This one, on the other hand, is for when I need to feel calmer. It's a photo I took, way back in 1997 while studying in Sanibel, Florida.

Continue this meme if you feel like, or don't.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Tobacco Industry is Racist. 

Or at least, tobacco is. You see, it seems that black and white teenagers metabolize nicotine differently, with important implications for smoking cessation programs. African-American teens metabolized the nicotine from cigarettes significantly more slowly than white teens, but it is not clear why. I'm always so fascinated by studies like this because it just seems so odd that there would be such differences; I wonder if there is any data on mixed-race patterns?

Unrelatedly, another new study indicates that the malaria parasite may develop in the lymph nodes, not just in the liver as previously supposed. Tricksy, Plasmodium, very tricksy...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Stress and Sex 

A new long-term study indicates that chronic job stress and lower standing are significant risk factors for developing metabolic syndrome. It's an interesting result, but not entirely shocking, as poorer people (who have low job standing) are more likely not to eat very well or exercise properly: I'm stressed out and buried right now at work, and my response has been an almost exclusively bar-food-based diet over the last couple of weeks and a lot of skipping the gym. Which is bad for me, I know, but I just have to keep hoping that eventually this project will end....

Another interesting finding is that sexual orientation affects aspects of facial recognition. Not totally shocking, but it seems that people's brains light up differently when viewing faces of their preferred sex. The 'reward areas' in the thalamus and medial orbitofrontal cortex lit up more when straight women and gay men looked at male faces and when straight men and gay women looked at female faces. Cool.

New Targets, Actors, and a Whale 

Pregnant women should be sure to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, as deficiencies are associated with lower IQ and social problems later in the child's life. That means a couple of servings of oily fish a week, or, for those who are concerned about mercury (which you probably should be, when pregnant), a couple spoonfuls of flax or pumpkin seeds. Hemp seeds also have high Omega-3 content, but THC is not good for babies (and may induce spontaneous abortion).

As the kid grows up, you might worry that her incessant use of the cell phone might be bad. Rest (semi) assured, however: it probably doesn't cause brain cancer.

Once she's old and has to deal with other health problems, it's good to know not only that chocolate is healthy, but why (epicatechin improves circulatory health).

Further towards the end of life, a new gene therapy technique may be helpful: researchers have found a way to selectively silence one of the genes responsible for the development of Parkinson's Disease. Also, another study suggests that glia may be a good target for treating Alzheimer's Disease.

And everyone loves a wayward whale.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Hearts Heart Booze, and a New Fad Diet 

Dr. David Katz has a new book out, and he wants to be the next Dr. Atkins (except, presumably, not dead of a heart attack). His diet theory claims that we overeat because we're overwhelmed with a jumble of flavors, and that following his flavor-themed diet theme will allow people to lose weight. His diet also includes exercise and limiting saturated fats and some quantity restrictions, so it's mostly impossible to really tell if his schtick is really what catalyzes weight loss.

Katz characterizes the American diet as a "mad cacophony of flavors," but I would argue that the typical American diet has less flavor than the diets of people almost anywhere else in the world. For instance, last night I was trying to describe Ethiopian food to someone, and started by asking if he liked sour foods. He said he had no idea, and neither of us could think of a dish common in U.S. cuisine that was really sour. Ethiopians are not, despite the wide variety of rich flavors in their food, famously obese.

Also, if being thin means I only get to eat one flavor at a time, I would much rather be fat.

Another study suggests that moderate alcohol consumption is good for you: in this case, reducing the risk of stroke. In a population of mostly Latino men over 8 years, researchers found that those who drank less than two drinks a day but more than one a month had a lower risk than teetotalers.

Mind you, there were only 190 strokes to examine in the study population of 3176, but still, an effect is an effect.

Dead Whales, Starving Snakes, and Brain Tricks 

Greenpeace has dropped a 20 ton dead whale in front of the Japanese embassy in Berlin, to protest Japan's persistence in illegal whaling. Yum.

A Japanese rat snake at the Tokyo zoo has apparently 'befriended' a hamster that was intended to be its dinner. Cute, yes, but there is no explanation of what the snake eats instead.

A new study suggests that abnormal cell division could be responsible for Alzheimers Disease. Cells in pre-alzheimers mice showed cell division where normal mice did not, and often the damaged cells in diseased mice had extra chromosomes, indicative of division.

Another study sheds some light on why you can't tickle yourself. The research indicates that sensory attenuation to self-initiated stimuli may be evolutionarily critical - attention filters allow us to focus on what's important (i.e., something trying to eat us) rather than our own activities.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Death to Management 

It has taken literally all of the strength that I posses to prevent myself from sending this to my boss.

The study's methods sound somewhat dubious, but the result is not only obvious to anyone who is not a (micro)manager, and also not entirely novel to the literature, so I'll take it: meetings are really bad for productivity and job satisfaction. Yup, I get less than nothing done on days full of meetings, which my employers unwaveringly describe as having been "very productive." What, precisely, got produced remains a mystery.

Progeny, Fat, and Foods Against Disease 

I'm really buried with work right now, but I don't want to forget about these, so: quicky-linky!!

By Y-chromosome analysis, Irish lord Niall of the Nine Hostages seems to have about 3 million descendents living today. This is impressive, but not really as impressive as Ghengis Khan's estimated 16 million. Similarly, an mtDNA study indicates that around 3.5 million of the approximately 8 million Ahskenazi Jews are descended from four 'founding mothers.' The ultimate Jewish grandmothers? Oy!

Brown U. researchers have engineered the yogurt-making bacteria, L. lactis, to produce cyanovirin, which helps prevent HIV infection in monkeys. The bacteria take up residence in the gut after you eat yogurt, and would theoretically protect their hosts. Cool!

Fat-busting hormone Leptin may also be a good antidepressant. This makes some sense, as it is released after eating, and we all know that pigging out is god for depression.

More evidence that curry is good for you: turmeric's anti-cancer properties are especially potent when mixed with certain veggies: curried cauliflower all the way!

And finally, from the department of 'you win some, you lose some,' we learn that the mutation that seems to protect against HIV makes carriers more vulnerable to West Nile virus.

UPDATE: Clinical trial gives evidence for what we all already know: 1 gram of ginger prevents nausea.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

All Set 

I opted out if iPod jukebox last week, but hosted a pre-drink at my apartment. I ended up with this left on my table.

Apparently, my friends presumed that after they left, I would be visited by someone who likes vodka gimlets, steak, and fucking cowboys.

I have no idea. This is what drunk blogging gets you.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hot Fat? 

A survey indicates that Americans are not only fatter, but that they think fat is sexier than they did 20 years ago, and are less concerned with claiming to follow a healthy diet than 15 years ago. But a growing number say they want to lose weight. Contradictions, anyone? No? How 'bout with a side of fries?

One of the side effects of being overweight can be diabetes. A new study claims that just three weeks on a healthy diet with exercise can 'reverse' diabetes. The study comes out of UCLA, and is published in a reputable journal, but I still don't buy it. The sample is small (n = 31), and there does not appear to have been much or any follow-up. I have no trouble believing that shaping up will reduce symptoms and slow the disease, but diet and exercise are how you control it anyways.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Gassy McTree 

"It's not just farting cows and belching sheep that spew out methane."

That is a great sentence with which to start your day. It seems that one of the major sources of the potent greenhouse gas is completely unexpected: plants! This is a hugely significant finding for climatology, and accounts for a number of previous mysteries, and those explanations will lead to better predictions and hopefully better ways to deal with human environmental impacts.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

How many blondes does it take... 

Reynolds has the best blonde joke ever.

Bad News for Soy Girls 

I try to treat men and women equally (except for the whole sleeping with men bit), so after Last Thursday's news that soy diets might be bad for men, today comes a study suggesting that a soy product, Genistein, disrupts ovary development in newborn mice.

This is not really a shock, as Genistein is a phytoestrogen, and estrogens are of course critical to reproductive development. Also, I would love to take this as a way to encourage new mothers who think that giving their babies soy formula is better than breastfeeding or giving them real milk, to please stop*.

*If the kid is lactose intolerant, fine, but bloody get off your vegan high horse and consider your kid's health.

Fat, Hedgehog, and Economic Pressure 

I'm finding it harder and harder to wake up in the morning. I don't know if this is a result of hating my job, getting older, or something else, but there it is. A new study suggests that the Accepted Logic of college, that an all-nighter is almost always preferable to an inadequate night's sleep, is in fact true. As long as your test is within 30 minutes of your waking up. This effect seems only really relevant to people like the night doctors mentioned in the article, but it's still interesting.

Pretty much everything else falls to the wayside of work, and it's clearly not healthy. Yet another part of our work-obsessed culture that may be harming us is a bit subtler: eating lunch alone at our desks. This is something I really, really hate, and I'd never even thought about the unsanitary aspects of it. On (rare) days when I eat in the conference room with coworkers, or (even more rarely) go out, I come back feeling much more refreshed, and work more productively for the rest of the afternoon. Yet another healthier habit the French have on us: a long lunch!

And, one of my favorite proteins, Hedgehog, seems to have an inhibitory action on fat formation, and that the decrease in Hedgehog signaling as we age could account for later-life weight gain. More cowbellhedgehog!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Boozing at Work: DOQRAPS 

A new survey of US workers indicates that about 15% of them have drink near or during working hours. The headline, of course, says that "15% work under the influence," which is not what the survey showed. The survey included being hungover and having a drink within 2 hours of being at work (I hope they specified *before* work, but it's also possible that this includes after) as 'drinking on the job,' a loose definition at best.

An important aside, since the release mentions drinking at lunch, is that having a drink at lunch is entirely the norm in much (most?) of the world, and does not appear to be detrimental to productivity there. I'd like to see if the alcohol consumption/hangover data actually relate to performance data; I'm sure they do, after a certain threshold, but not immediately.

Monday, January 09, 2006


The best way to do pharmaceutical research is on disabled children*.

NIMH researchers have discovered a potential new antidepressant target: p11, which interacts somehow with the 5HT-1B receptor, appears to be lowered in depressed patients.

Tempted to spend $10,000 on that full-body scan for cancer? Well, adopting a dog might be a better investment.

India is in the process of digitizing its ancient systems of medicine and healing, hoping to stop pharmaceutical companies from patenting them. In perfect form-fitting ridiculousness, a pharmaceutical industry rep, Mark Grayson of PhARMA claimed that his industry developed their drugs via computer modeling, but that somehow this database would "inhibit drug development." Turn those two statements over your logic wheels for a second.

* It's just fish oil, which is fairly well established to be not bad for you and probably helpful. I just couldn't resist the ridiculousness of it.

Music Matching 

When you buy a CD on Amazon or almost anywhere else, you get the system's recommendations of other CDs you might like, based on how what you bought is categorized. Those categories are now based on sales statistics (55% of people who bought Kylie's latest also bought Madonna's, etc.), but new technologies are attempting to match songs based semantic descriptions of the actual musical content - timbre, tempo, etc. While this sounds like a brilliant scheme - and potentially good for exposing lesser-known artists in the process - I worry that it will lead to people digging themselves further into 'genre ghettos.'

I listen to an extremely wide range of music. I keep my X5 on all-folders shuffle at all times, looping through pop, punk, jazz, metal, hip-hop, funk, gogo, electronica and more. I do use Pandora sometimes, but the playlists get too repetitive for me. Not that it's playing the same songs over and over, but that everything sounds like everything else.

I wonder if there's a way to do the opposite of what Pandora and SIMAC are doing - that is, challenge people's tastes, not so shockingly as to suggest Pantera after the user selects Enya, but to push in that direction. "You've never heard of this band, or even this genre of music, but we think you should give it a go." That would be cool.

Friday, January 06, 2006

It Can't Hurt? 

A new study indicates that pregnant women who don't get enough vitamin D have kids with weaker bones. Not precisely a surprise, so I'm wondering what the actual study was about (as opposed to the press release).

Men's Fitness magazine has, to everyone's bafflement, named Baltimore the 'fittest city' in the U.S., and Chicago 'the fattest.' I guess all that running from the cops and dodging bullets outweighs the fried-food diet. Honestly though, when even the magazine's editor essentially says the rankings are meaningless ("editor Neal Boulton is quick to point out that the survey is far from scientific"), why did he run it? If you're doing a survey, why not bother to make it at least a little bit valid? It's not that difficult, and I'm sure there are hundreds of unemployed sociology grad students who'd be glad to help.

And speaking of Chicago, it apparently does have a very fit population: of coyotes. The coyotes seem to have been exceedingly successful in adapting to the urban environment, fascinating scientists. They seem to be helping control problematic goose and rodent populations besides. Smart little varmits.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bad News for Soy Boys 

So you thought eating all that tofu and taking those soy isoflavone supplements was going to make you healthier? Think again. A new study found that for male mice genetically predisposed to heart disease, a soy diet was detrimental. The soy mice had enlarged hearts, leading to heart failure. The effect is likely traced to soy's plant estrogens, but it's not clear how or why this effect appears.

Interestingly, the mice's symptoms were improved by switching them to a milk-based diet. So watch out, vegans!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Free Booze for Bums, and Medical Marijuana 

A small study has shown that a harm reduction program, wherein homeless alcoholics got regular, shelter-administered, drinks, was effective at reducing ED visits, police encounters, and volume consumed. I wonder about a possible treatment effect here, but I like the idea of taking a more realistic approach to the problem: it's hard enough for employed, relatively well-off alcoholics to go cold-turkey, but for homeless folks (many with psychiatric problems), that is not likely.

And it is with some glee that I read that Rhode Island has effectively bitch-slapped the Supreme Court on its uber-federalist stance - that states don't have the right to legalize medical marijuana - by legalizing it anyway. The quote from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is utterly classic: "There's this notion from the '60s or the '70s that marijuana is a harmless drug...It's not." Uhm. Nothing is harmless, but pot is less dangerous than Ambien or Diazepam or Warfarin, so I fail to see the problem. Oh, wait, I get it! The White House is operating on this notion from the 80's or 20's that Big Brother Knows Best!

Sex and Bones 

No, not that kind of bones! Perverts.

A couple weeks ago, we learned about magnesium's effects on bone density. Now, more research has found a novel mechanism which may help predict, diagnose, and someday treat osteoporosis. It turns out that the CB2 receptor seems to be involved in regulating bone density. CB2 is the mysterious sibling of CB1, the receptor where THC (that's the active ingredient in marijuana) acts. CB1 is fairly well characterized, but CB2 is still mostly a mystery. I wonder how they are related.

(insert clever segue here)

Baylor researchers are working on a new type of HIV vaccine, one which they hope will be more successful than previous attempts. The new vaccine blocks SOCS1, which normally acts as a sort of immune system 'brake,' thereby increasing immune response to the vaccine. I don't really understand how this works, and would love to learn.

Speaking of learning, that's what teens don't seem to do about STDs until it's too late. A new study indicates that kids aren't aware of much of anything about STDs, except HIV/AIDS, until they're told by their doctors that they have one. Is this a result of faith-based sex ed? Probably. It's probably also due to the way sex ed is taught, even when it is: as a scare tactic. Teenagers just zone out when adults talk down to them, so it's no shock that they miss this stuff.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Fat Tuesday 

The Holiday SeasonTM is finally ending, and losing weight seems to be, as usual, everyone's New Year's Resolution. The thing is, people tend to go about it the wrong way, either by falling for fad diets or setting unreasonable goals, and usually both. Today, the Post's usually pointless Lean Plate Club offers a pretty good round-up of real weight-loss strategies: start slow, keep with it despite discouragement, and start now - not tomorrow.

People who are really obese are known to be at increased risk for all sorts of nasty health problems, but the definitions of 'obese' have long been unclear. Body Mass Index is the most common standard, but it is severely lacking in real-world relevance. A new study in the Lancet suggests that waist to hip ratio may be a better measurement to predict risks for weight-related diseases. Interesting, but as with BMI, I suspect that it's too simple. Everyone is built differently, and a trend (even a statistically significant one) seen over the population may not have any practical relevance on an individual basis. But, emphasizing something grounded in physical measurement, rather than BMI which doesn't generally account for things like muscle mass, bone density, etc., is a good start.

For those who really do need to lose weight - and I mean serious poundage, not just the post-holiday eggnogg belly - surgery is becoming an increasingly popular option. The US government is starting a major trial to evaluate three types of obesity surgery - gastric bypass, stomach banding, and cutting out bits of stomach - to see what works best.
We'll see what happens.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Years by the Numbers 

Total revelers: 16.

Traumatized neighbors: at least three.

Bottles fancy Danish vodka consumed: 1.

Bottles fancy beer consumed: 1.

Bottles sparkly wine consumed: about 11.

Bottles of beer consumed: unknown.

Explosives set: many.

Falls down the stairs: 1 (sorry Nick!).

Grapefruits thrown: 1.

Frozen blintzes flung: 1.

Cans tuna tossed: 2.

Impact-smushed kumquats found under my bed this morning: 3.

Thanks to everyone who came, and happy new year anyway to those who didn't!

I just have to say that last night's was mischief of a truly higher order. I'm still fishing kumquat bits out of the various nooks and crannies of my apartment, and the coating of dried champagne, beer, and gunpowder on my bar probably should have been handled by the Hazmat team. This may have to become a tradition.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?