"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!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Gays Make Better Bosses 

I don't really know how credible he is, but a career expert type named Kirk Snyder has apparently done a pretty large study which indicates that gay men tend to be better organizational leaders than others. His posited reasons make sense, I suppose, if you believe that the majority (or even plurality) of gay men conform to the more-sensitive-and-caring-and-inclusive stereotype. Which I may or may not.

Regardless, it is an interesting read. Plus, if The Gays can really make themselves The Future of Business, all those pesky political issues will most likely fall hastily to the wayside (since the one thing Republicans politicians love more than anything else is money).

(via Queerty)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jie-Jie of the Three Arms 

Meet Jie-jie. He was born two months ago in Shanghai, and he has three arms. Both of his left arms are so well developed that doctors are having trouble figuring out what to do - usually, when a baby is born with extra limbs, one is essentially vestigial, and marked for removal.

This is really, really cool. Ignoring all the realities of how awful it could be growing up with an extra arm, when he's a grown-up he may well wish he still had it - I mean, how often do you wish you had an extra hand to carry things??

(via Graham)

Leaves and Drugs 

Another reason to love tea: a Baylor study indicates that a key component of green tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), inhibits HIV binding to the CD4 molecule (a step critical to the virus' infection of T-cells) in vitro. It's of course unknown how or if this effect will be seen in vivo, but it's certainly a promising result.

Tea leaves are good for you, but poison ivy is nasty. And, it seems, on its way to becoming nastier: a Harvard-Duke study indicates that the plant grows better and faster in high-CO2 conditions, and becomes more poisonous. That means that with global warming (partially due to increased atmospheric CO2 levels), we'll have more poison ivy and it'll be more unpleasant. Thanks, H2 drivers!

A small Penn State study suggests that naltrexone, a drug used to treat drug and alcohol addiction, may help in treating Crohn's disease. Current treatments are expensive, unpleasant, and not very effective, so this could be a really significant breakthrough.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hide and Reveal 

Everyone's already talking about it, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the new theoretical framework for a cloaking device, using metamaterials. I'm not sure how this works...do the materials just 'slip' radiation around them, or disperse it? In the former case, you could have some sort of invisibility, I guess, though I'd suspect that you would see a 'shimmer' not unlike heat mirage. In the latter, you'd just see a black or white blob, which is not invisible. Cool concept, though!

While some scientists are learning to hide things, another group may have revealed the history of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. They've found a wild population of chimps in West Africa infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus from chimps, or SIVcpz, which looks like it may be the virus that originally jumped from chimps to humans many years ago (or closely related to it). Not only could this find lead to better understanding (and hopefully treatment/prevention) of HIV, it could also inform research into how pathogens jump from species to species.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Spotty Mice, Toxic Cleansers, and a New Penis 

French researchers have found what seems to be the first identified instance of paramutation in animals. Mice bred to have spotty tails (a heterozygous state) have offspring that, even when homozygous, have spotty tails. The answer seems to be RNA transmission. RNA produced by the mutant gene seems to accumulate in the semen, get into the egg, and affect phenotype.

US researchers have successfully auto-transplanted new penises to rabbits. They grew the tissue (taken from the "patient") in a matrix, and then integrated it back onto the rabbit whose penis had been damaged/destroyed and, within a month, they were happily again doing what bunnies are known for. This is a pretty big breakthrough, as it could lead to treatments not only for erectile disfunction, but for penises lost to accidents or cancer. I'm fairly sure that dubious internet-based companies will be offering, uhm, other services, based on this technique very soon.

The bad news is that a study has found that many household cleaning products react with ozone to form a number of toxins, including formaldehyde. So cleaning just got dangerous. D'oh!

Also, happy Towel Day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Uh-Oh...and Why I Should Get More Sleep 

The WHO has announced that an Indonesian man died yesterday in what appears to be the first known case of the H5N1 avian flu doing a double jump in humans. That is, it went from person A to person B to person C. Hopefully this is not the beginning of a pandemic.

A UCLA study has found that long-term, heavy pot smoking does not increase lung cancer risk, contrary to expectations. Why is it illegal again?

I didn't get much sleep last nite, I was up late and then got up early to go to a breakfast with Andrew Hurst, who is running for Tom Davis' seat in Virginia. He seems really great, and so if you're a VA-11 resident (or even if not!), I encourage you to get involved. The bad news is that sleep deprivation may be linked to weight gain. A rather large study suggests that sleeping less than seven hours may be bad for you. Oops!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Playing the Numbers 

More qualified medical providers is a good thing, right? Apparently not, or at least, not always. Researchers have found that cities with many paramedics in first response settings have poorer cardiac arrest outcomes. Cities whose first responders were less trained, even when paramedics followed soon after, had better outcomes. I can guess at reasons here - excessive care, poorer coordination, etc., but this is a really puzzling result.

Speaking of numbers, it seems that pigeons, and maybe even humans, think in logarithms. Birds taught to distinguish between long and short LED flashes seemed to be reacting as if the longer times were more 'compressed' than shorter - like a log scale. I wonder if this works for object counting as well?

Search Result Fun 

I am currently the number two result on MSN for "home spy porno video," and the number seven Google hit for "sex while wearing orthodontic braces." I am not sure which amuses or disturbs me more.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cancer Cows 

Researchers have found a derivative of vitamin E that is an especially potent apoptosis inducing agent in cancer cells. Cool!

Also, it seems that women who consume more dairy are more likely to have twins. From the wording of the article, it sounds like there may be some confounds - including that vegans may just have fewer twins in general - but on the whole it seems plausible, what with all the hormones and shit that's in milk these days. Anybody have the actual journal paper for me to read?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Personality Game 

Via Chrisafer, I just can't resist posting it. It's an interactive Johari Window - go tell me what you think of me!

More Monkey Business, and the FDA 

Researchers have observed apes performing future-planning tasks, an ability thought unique to humans. The experiment is really interesting to me, just because it's fun to think about how you could test something so abstract. It seems to me like the only reason we might think this ability was unique to us is because we just don't (can't) know what other animals think...they may be planning all the time, but we don't know the codes, etc. I would be surprised if cetaceans didn't plan for things as well, but of course what they'd plan for is probably so different from anything we think about, so it'd be hard to recognize.

But speaking of monkeying around (and creatures of dubious intelligence), an FDA panel has endorsed Merck's HPV vaccine, paving the way for full approval next month. That is, of course, unless the moron squad blocks it on political grounds. The FDA is also in talks with Sanofi-Aventis over its antibiotic, Ketek, which has been linked to severe liver failure. The talks are about Sanofi not wanting to put a warning label on the drug, which of course is the rational and responsible thing to do. Sadly, those arguments seem to hold little water in any aspect of pharmaceutical industry or regulation around here

Thursday, May 18, 2006


And afterwards, we try to figure out what the monkey is talking about.

A new hypothesis suggests that humans' complex evolutionary history involved rehybridization with chimps - that the first round of proto-humans may have been so obsessed with monkey sex that the species never really took off. It's possible, I suppose, and I look forward to hearing more evidence on this idea, and also to certain people's reactions to it.

Food and Pills 

It's really important to eat a balanced diet. We all know this, but also get lured by nutrition and diet fads that promise us perfect torsos, eternal youth, and freedom from disease (et cetera), and are forever disappointed. Eating more fish has been a rallying cry for a healthy lifestyle for some time, but now a study suggests that maybe eating too much fish, surprise surprise, may not be good for you. In fact, a large survey-based study suggests that younger people (under 60) who eat fish five times a week could be at higher risk for developing atrial fibrillation than others. Five servings of fish a week is a hell of a lot in the US population, so one has to wonder about other factors that could confound this finding. Also, what are atrial fibrillation rates in places like Japan where everybody eats lots of fish??

It's a cliché - an apple a day keeps the doctor away - but it seems to have some basis in reality. Researchers have found that apple flavenoids act differently from other fruit flavenoids to protect cells, disrupting the lethal effects of tumor necrosis factor in vitro. Interesting, and tasty!

Many people think that they can skip eating all that healthy stuff and just take pills to stay healthy. Not so much. An IOM panel has found no strong evidence for (or against) taking multivitamins, except in a few cases. Needless to say, the supplements industry would like them to have considered more industry-sponsored (and not very rigorous) research in the review.

And what day would be complete without a new reason to love caffeine? A large Canadian study suggests that it may improve breathing in premature babies. Starbucks will be introducing its own brand of formula later this week.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Seeing Stars 

Bausch & Lomb has recalled its ReNu MoistureLoc contact lens solution after reports of Fusarium infections in customers. I actually was using the stuff, and have been having redness in my eyes. I stopped using it last week. Just thought ya'll should know.

Seeing stars in a good way, new research is revealing how much more astrocytes do in our brains than just support neurons. It's not clear what, but it is clear that these characters do something; there are 10 times as many of them as there are neurons, so they could be really important.

And, via BoingBoing, we learn of a Japanese study that suggests that kissing may alleviate hay fever. As a hay fever sufferer, I will happily test this hypothesis.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bubbles and a Gilded Cage 

Because of their isolated location in the pancreas, the Islet cells that produce insulin (and whose destruction leads to diabetes), targeting gene therapy to these cells is a serious challenge. Canadian researchers are testing a potential solution: plasmid vectors are injected into the subject's bloodstream in tiny bubbles, which are burst using ultrasound when they reach the pancreas. It seems to be effective, which is great, and is such a creative idea that I just love it!

We all remember the sensational stories about 'Bubble Boy,' whose nonfunctional immune system forced him to live his life in a sterile bubble. Well, Basset hounds bred to share this condition, X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (XSCID), seem to have been cured using a novel gene therapy technique. They also don't seem to have developed the nasty side effects human subjects experienced that cancelled a 1999 study of a slightly different procedure.

Buckyballs were such unbelievably cool news when discovered, and they remain impossibly cool today. But now they have competition: researchers have found spheres of 16-18 gold atoms, about 6 angstroms across, that can enclose a smaller atom. Lots of cool potential applications here, not to mention new ways to bling!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Timing is Everything 

I had just returned from the grocery, and was happily stacking yogurt into my fridge. I was a bit overconfident in my lowfat cherry vanilla tower's structural integrity, and topple it did. Taking a jar of marinara with it. Spalsh! On toall over the floor.

Needless to say, this is when I develop a massive spaghetti-and meatballs craving. Maybe ramen will do the trick?

You'd Better Work (Together). 

A longitudinal study of women has found that career moms in stable relationships seem to be healthier than women who aren't juggling all three roles. This is interesting to me not only on the surface, but because of the follow-up questions. What factors are really involved? How do motherhood, partnership, and work interact for health effects? How can they be increased and achieved by women who, say, don't want kids or a husband/wife*?

Working cooperatively not only allowed quick discovery of the first new primate genus in eighty-some years, but also taught the researchers involved all about how well things work when you play nice. I actually laughed out loud at that bit of the article.

And a warning: before you go stopping a gene product from doing its work, understand all of what it does first. C-myc is generally known as an oncogene - that is, a gene that goes haywire and causes cancer - but a separate line of basic research suggests that its proper role is to regulate memory T cell homeostasis. So, if you block c-myc to treat cancer, you will knock out a good bit of the patient's immune system. Which would be a Bad Thing.

* I'm not really concerned about women who have it easy enough that they don't have to work...lucky bizzatches.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Irina has a really beautifully written post on the science of sex. She's quickly becoming one of my favorite reads these days...

Good Sense, Best Intentions, and a Revision 

A US District judge has placed an injunction on the federal government's enforcement of part of the "global gag rule" on HIV/AIDS funding. Not the whole war won, but a significant victory; I don't have much confidence in our rather packed Supreme Court to do the right thing with this. There are some good judges left, it seems.

In a move that sounds like an excellent idea, the CDC will recommend that HIV testing become a routine part of care for all teens and adults. I say sounds like an excellent idea because it's not clear that the result won't be disaster. People may start avoiding care to avoid testing. False positives may cause some serious panic, and decreased faith in the tests. They're rare, but with vastly increased test rates, error numbers will likely increase as well...which the Scare-o-Vision news media will play up all over the place. Not really sure how I feel about this move.

It appears that all the research into ghrelin as an obesity treatment may have been barking up the wrong tree. Baylor researchers suggest that it may be involved in glucose homeostasis, and diabetes type 2, but not directly in weight gain/loss. Interesting, given its postulated role in memory: insulin is also tied to long-term recall.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Godzilla Poop 

I'm back from Tokyo! I had a really fantastic time, and will post more about things later. For now, here is an image of Tokyo's Asakusa area.

Yes, that does appear to be a giant piece of golden shit on top of that building. Now we know how they can afford to keep rebuilding after all those monster/robot/alien attacks.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

New Tricks 

Yes, the Tokyo metro really is that crowded. And it massively expensive. But, it goes bloody everywhere and is always on time. Today, it may have seen something really shocking (besides the clothing choices made by its various passengers): an new use for the ubiquitous Japanese alco-pop known as Chu-Hi.

It will wash down your takoyaki, and drown your sorrows. It will make you think not only that going to do kareoke is a good idea, but also that you really can pull off a really good Mariah. It will also clean your contact lenses.

On the way back yesterday from Kamakura (with ghost bento, purple potatoes, and giant Buddha goodness), my contact was so dry it hurt, and fell out. Not wanting to go the rest of the night blind (there was kareoke to be done!), I looked around and, not finding any traditional lens solution, improvised. A few drops of yuzu-flavored Chu-Hi, and my contact was good as new! A little burn-y, perhaps, but only at first, and I could see for the rest of the night!

Certain of my compatriots may argue that my hearing, on the other hand, was less than optimal...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tokyo Madness 

So, this place is really fantastic. In the few day's I've been here, it really does seem to be as completely nuts as you think it is. I'm staying in a relatively quiet, residential area, where, as I write this I am, in fact, attempting to not drop my friend's laptop into the landlady's beer garden below. I know I could go to the Starbucks and have a faster connection, but it is raining, and I am so not going out of my way to blog on vacation (this is just happening due to said rain, and the desire to finally kick the low-grade sinus infection 14 hours on a plane while hung over gave me).

Initial thoughts:

Damn I love sushi.
Gwen Stefani's 'Harajuku girls' have nothin on the real thing. We went on Sunday and watched a bunch of 40- and 50-something guys, fully dressed like greasers, breakdancing to Elvis, about 5,000 Japanese schoolgirls decked out in full Goth regalia, and ate awesome takoyaki, yaki tori, and grilled meat. And drank malt liquor in the park.
For a city this huge and high tech, I am appalled that almost no one takes credit cards, and the ATMs close at like 9PM.
Also, while the subway is great and goes everywhere and has wifi, it also closes at like 11pm. WTF?
Did I mention how much I love sushi?

More later.

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