"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, August 29, 2006

"...Doesn't Necessarily Mean You're Smart." 

Orientation started yesterday, and classes start Friday. I'm actually kinda stoaked. Hopefully this turns out to be as cool as it sounds.

Speaking of school, Lakehead University in Canada is making fun of dubya and his alma mater, Yale, with a new publicity campaign. Most surprising is that it seems to be the current students complaining. Seriously guys - you want to attract *quality* folks that live "down south"? This will help.

And, in news that may have actual historical significance, North American researchers claim to have developed a treatment which blocks the receptor where the anthrax toxin acts, thus protecting from it. If successful, the approach could hold much promise for other diseases and toxins as well. Cool!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Genes in the News 

A few interesting bits today...

Dutch researchers claim to have found a genetic site for age-related hearing loss. It seems that SNPs in the gene KCNQ4, which has been previously implicated in childhood hearing loss, predispose adults to progressive hearing loss in old age. Aside from the obvious potential for treating and preventing that syndrome itself, the research could lead to further developments in hearing therapies in general.

When procaspase-3 is activated, it leads to programmed cell death. Cancer cells are rich in procaspase-3, but do not allow it to turn on, leading to their pathologic growth. A new drug, called PAC-1, seems to activate procaspase-3 such that tumor cells selectively die, leaving healthy cells undamaged. As wonderful as this sounds, I have a hard time imagining how there can really be that few side effects. But then again, you never know!

Speaking of killing things, the FDA has approved a six-bacteriophage cocktail that is to be sprayed on cold cuts, intending to kill off Listeria and other harmful food pathogens. While this sounds like a good idea, I am again worried about side-effects. Less for the human consumers (bacteriophages are, by definition, no direct threat to humans), than for our beneficial gut bacteria, and for the prospect of resistant harmful bacteria on the horizon. Hmm.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Atlanta, Week 2: New Bars, Baby Planets, and Fat Baptists 

So far, I have found a couple of bars that I like (Mary's and Brick Stone), but am at a loss for other stuff. Maybe I should just get back to the science? Some things to remember, because I'm too tired to say anything useful.

Pluto's not a planet anymore. Poor Pluto! Can't say I'm really all that interested in this - just not my bag - but it is a big event. Still, what about Xena and Sedna??

The FDA finally does the right thing and approved Plan B as an OTC drug. For women over 18. This is one of those distinctions that would piss me off more if I ever imagined it would be any other way: this country is barely capable of admitting that people under 18 have sex - having access to this drug is just not gonna happen, sadly.

On the other end of improving public policy, we have the US Department of Education, which has "accidentally" dropped evolutionary biology from its list of scholarship-eligible majors. Er, uhm, I'm sure that this is an accident, and totally unrelated to administration policy.

Some researchers seem to have gotten embryonic stem cells without killing the embryos, which could be really good news, or a bit of a fantasy, Hard to tell yet.

Finally, a Purdue researcher may be one of my new heroes, for publishing research that is most easily sound-bytified as follows: Televangelists Make You Fat.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Problem with Monopolies 

...Is that it's the only option. No matter how bad the service is, no matter how overpriced, you either get cable and internet from Comcast, or you don't get cable and internet. So, I will not have internet at my new apartment until September 2. This is more than 2 weeks after I moved in, and more than one week after what they initially told me. Hopefully they will actually come on September 2, but I suspect that if they do not, I will have to get DSL (if it's even available, which is unclear) and Netflix.

And, to make things even better, the wifi at my area cybercafe is totally wacky, and so I can't upload the fun photos I had planned as filler here. Oh well.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Decision Making 

So I was in Ikea today, shopping for yet more stuff to furnish the new place. And I shared an elevator with a young woman (maybe 25-ish at most) and her three screaming children, aged what looked like 5-8. I smile, and she says "You got kids yet?"

"Nope," was my reply.

"Well wait," she advises me, and follows with an amazing explanation: "Y'see, when I was a kid, they told me I could never have my own, at least not without major medical treatments...And here I am, five kids later..."

This bothers me for so many reasons, not least of which is - didn't it become rather obvious, after the first, say two, that your doctors were wrong?!?!? I didn't say anything, but bloody hell: this is what 'abstinence-only ' education gets us.

Anyways, the move is going well, I now have most of my furniture, a grocery, a farmers market (heaven on earth!), a couple of good bars, and just ran across a very promising pho restaurant. This could turn out alright afterall!

Monday, August 14, 2006


Well, Decatur actually, but still. I just drove down from DC with a carload of stuff and moved in to my shiney new apartment in the Toco Hills area of Decatur.

The apartment is interesting - in many ways, it's exactly the opposite of my last one. First of all, it feels much smaller than it is. It has light. It is clean (so far!). Stuff works. But, it's kinda remote from anything fun, as far as I can tell. It's very suburban, and consequently pretty totally without Character. But, it seems like it will be a good, low-maintenance place to not be distracted from my studies. Pictures will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I'm trying to figure out what I'm gonna do down here, you know, besides school. So I need to figure out where are the fun places to hang out, go out, see, et cetera. I live near the intersection of Clairmont Rd. and N. Druid Hills Rd., and would love to find a secret stash of cool stuff nearby. Suggestions?

Please tell me where to find a good:
- Haircutter/salon
- Farmers Market
- Mechanic
- Cybercafe
- Grocery store (CHEAP!)
- Other cool things

And if you're in the area, say hi!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dog Watch (warning: self-indulgence ahead) 

Along with my friends and friendly bartenders, the thing I'm gonna miss most when I leave DC (tomorrow! ahhhh!) are my dogs, Winston and Scooter Mae.

As everyone who's ever met me can probably repeat, they are The Best Dogs Ever, and a totally comedic pair. He is shy of everyone, and generally terrified of men (even of my dad; we suspect he was mistreated as a puppy), but all in all he's the best tempered (and, for the most part, behaved) dog I've ever met. She is a wild one, who knows no fear and no strangers. Her one major issue is a serious fear of abandonment - due to past neglect - so that she gets really stressed and acts out any time she feels like someone is leaving.

In the 9 or so months that we've had both of them (we had Winston for a while before we got her), she's always been a bit bossy and stand-offish with him, and while it's clear that they've bonded pretty solidly, and he is very good at comforting her when she gets stressed out, she hadn't ever really shown much affection for him.

The other day, when my mom took Winston for his annual check-up with the vet, Scooter Mae went ballistic. She cried for a full fifteen minutes after they left, ran furiously around the house and driveway, and, as I'd been restraining her as my mom led Winston to the car, she refused to let me anywhere near her. This from a dog who will pretty much jump onto any lap that looks even partially available. When Winston returned, she nearly tackled him, and was clearly Not Amused at any of us for playing such a mean trick.

The point? I'm really worried about leaving them. I'm literally the only male Winston doesn't run away from, and Scooter Mae just might freak out that I'm gone. I know I'm probably being nuts, but really I just wanted an excuse to post these photos.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Foreign Genes 

British researchers seem to have made a truly shocking discovery about a canine cancer: it's sexually transmitted and not as a virus but as living cells! Canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT) seems to be a result of a 250-1000 year-old tumor line, likely begun in an 'old Asian' or arctic breed, cells of which are passed between dogs to establish new tumors in new hosts. A parasitic tumor...scary!

But there's good news. American researchers have found that an old primate gene product, a theta-defensin, which 'higher' primates such as chimps and humans do not produce, may be helpful in combating HIV. It seems that the protein, retrocyclin, defends against HIV by affecting multiple sites on both the virus and target cells, vastly decreasing the speed at which the virus can develop a resistance. This is potentially very good news!

Also, at Duke University, researchers say that they have successfully shrunk mouse prostate tumors by half using a targeted RNA-interference technique. With no apparent side-effects. This is fantastically cool!

And today, the movers will come and take much of my stuff to Atlanta. I am so not ready to move!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Coyotes and the City 

On the way home from dinner last night (I went to Komi, which was totally phenomenal), I was driving up Cleveland Ave., NW, and saw something crossing the street in front of me: a coyote. We already knew that they were around, but seeing one so far into the city was interesting/unnerving. And yes, I'm sure it was a coyote. I've seen them before (out West), and there were other people in the car who agreed.

Speaking of things moving into new places (sortof), West Point student Alexander Raggio won the Brig. Gen. Carroll E. Adams Award for his senior thesis arguing against the Pentagon's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy and its ban on gays in the military. Good job Alexander!

Wake Forest researchers have found that nitric oxide seems to enhance brain awareness, in a sense helping the brain 'boot up' to process sensory and possibly other information. This is pretty cool stuff, and likely just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of what this relatively recently-discovered neurotransmitting compound can do.

Other brain proteins have been implicated in anxiety and alcohol consumption in rats: CREB-controlled gene BDNF seems to act in the amygdala to reduce anxiety and alcohol consumption. Very interesting!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sour Genes and a Happy K-Hole 

Researchers seem to have identified the proteins responsible for how mammals taste sour things. That's pretty cool, but not as cool as Utah researchers reconstructing what seems to be an ancestral Hox gene in mice. They found that the 'ancestral' Hox1 gene could take the place of both the modern Hoxa1 and Hoxb1 genes in mice, and this is being touted as 'reversing evolution.' Obviously, that last bit is media hype, but it's still a really very cool experiment.

In another cool gene discovery, UIUC researchers seem to have found the genes responsible for planaria's amazing regenerative abilities. It seems that a Bruli RNA binding protein is responsible for maintaining stem cell renewal - without it, the stem cells all differentiate and regeneration ceases. Understanding how this all works could be key to making stem cell therapy worthwhile in humans.

The club drug ketamine, also known as horse tranquilizer, seems to be useful in treating depression. Researchers have found that an IV dose of the drug led to almost immediate relief of depression symptoms in highly treatment resistant patients. What's really cool here is that ketamine is totally different than current antidepressants: instead of acting on Serotonin or Dopamine levels by blocking reuptake, it acts on Glutamate by antagonizing the NMDA receptor.

Monday, August 07, 2006

... Meanwhile, at the Anger Bar, ... 

A Chinese businessman has come up with what may be the most brilliant bar innovation since happy hour: the 'Anger Bar.' clients can come in and take out their aggression smashing things, throwing things, yelling, and beating up the staff. They can also get psychological counseling too. Reading the news these days, I think he would do well to open one on every street corner.

Many EU countries already have RFID chips in their passports, and the US will beginning in a couple of months. I've always been dead against this, not only because I've never heard a convincing argument for what is to be gained in terms of convenience or security, but also because I suspected how insecure it would really be. Now, a presentation at the Black Hat conference has demonstrated that hacking these RFID passports is a breeze. Where's my tinfoil hat??

A UK review committee has reclassified drugs by how dangerous they are, and found that the legal ones (alcohol and tobacco) are more harmful than many illegal ones (X, LSD, pot). This of course underscores how preposterous drug laws are. On the other side of drug stupidity is, of course, meth. Turns out that not only does meth make people more likely to have risky sex, it also actively increases your chances of getting and transmitting HIV! So don't be dumb, kids - drugs and sex don't mix!

The good news is that Texas researchers have found that the gene BRIT1 seems to be a key promoter of DNA repair and cancer inhibition. This could lead to some new treatments.
Also, it seems that the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii, most famous for killing AIDS patients, may be a factor in human social and cultural traits. Huh.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Getting Fat, Or Not. 

Much of today's science news revolves around various ways that you may or may not gain weight.

Florida researchers have found a genetic variation in the gene for a 'molecular switch' that tells people when they have eaten enough, the mutant form of which could lead to overeating and obesity. Appetite regulation is a complex system, but if melanocortin-4 is really a major player, that could lead to all sorts of important things.

Other researchers have found that immunizing rats against ghrelin seems to increase their metabolic rates and reduce weight gain, generating much media hype about an 'obesity vaccine.' The thing is, ghrelin seems to have plenty of other roles, and I find it implausible that such vaccinations would go without (major) side-effects.

Harvard researchers have found another molecular switch pathway - one that regulates fat and cholesterol production in the body. Understanding how and why the body decides to (over)produce cholesterol and fats would be a fantastic step in treating not only metabolic syndrome but plenty more as well.

And, of course, the most dramatic way to gain weight is to get pregnant. If you're trying to go this route, you should probably lay off the reefer. It seems that pot interferes with embryo implantation, making pregnancy very difficult to achieve or maintain. This isn't a big shock or, to be honest, news - it's been known for some time that CB1 knock-out mice had trouble holding a pregnancy. But, it can't be the whole story, since so many hippies keep having kids!

On a totally different note, a Purdue researcher has won FDA approval for a novel type of protease inhibitor, which is touted as effective against resistant strains of HIV. I'm not clear why the new drug, Darunavir (TMC-114), is any less likely to cause viral resistance to develop, and why, if it is, this has not been a MUCH bigger sensation. hmm.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bad Eating 

A review of 15 studies suggests that eating processed meats may increase your risk of stomach cancer. Sausage can be wonderful, and I am not about to give up on bacon, but it's an interesting result, nonetheless.

Other researchers have found genetic evidence for a 'food clock' that helps to regulate feeding times and hunger. Aside from being generally interesting, this work could lead to treatments for eating disorders and obesity.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Budapest at Night 

Well, actually just Buda at night, but I do love this shot. I could so live there.

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