"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, April 21, 2009

Making it for Ourselves 

"Energy independence" is a big buzzword these days, what with calls left and right for alternatives to extracted fossil carbon to fuel our ever-expanding consumptions. Investments into 'biofuels' - basically, corn or sugar cane ethanol - have been disastrous for the environment and economy, respectively exploding food prices and clear-cutting rain forests.

Some California researchers have teamed up with a bacteria and a yeast to perhaps address some of this problem - the bacteria, Actinotalea fermentans, digests cellulose into acetate, which the genetically-engineered yeast then converts into methyl halides. Methyl halides can, in turn, be converted into fuel for humans' machines. This could potentially help turn our masses of plant-based waste (from corn husks to old newspapers) into something useful.

Calling it carbon-neutral, however, is a bit of a stretch: burning the fuels will still move CO2 from solid states into the atmosphere. Even still, it's a clear example of human cleverness - which comes, of course, from our brains.

Endogenous cannabinoids have long been known to exist for some time, and researchers have now identified another one, raising hopes for effective medications without the bothersome side-effects of deep thoughts and incarceration.

It turns out our brains are better at doing fractions than we'd thought. Except, well, they don't actually "do fractions" - they interpret them directly as magnitudes, as opposed to as one number relative to another, an important distinction for understanding how we understand fractions. And how they ought to be taught in school...

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Oral Sex Could be Deadly (So Could Robots) 

So I guess it's been a while...having a job I don't spend all day bored at really does cut in to blogging time (not to mention reading-cool-science time). But, today I ran across some science that's just so cool I have to write it down, lest I forget forever. That's why I started this blog anyways, innit?

Starting with the bad news. It seems that HPV, that sexually transmitted infection most famous for causing cervical cancer (which, for those who took biology in Texas, only women can get), is also associated with tonsil cancer (which men can get). HPV is also preventable with a vaccine which causes nymphomania, but which is not approved for use in men (possibly due to redundancy on that last point). Well, I've been meaning to have my tonsils out anyhow, so this seems like a good excuse.

On the upside, you may not need that heart transplant. Swedish researchers used Carbon-14 concentrations to show that humans' hearts do indeed regenerate themselves, albeit slowly. The next step will be figuring out how to speed up the process. I guess this suggests that there may be hope for other organs as well?

Speaking of replacement parts, it seems that scientists may be close to replacing their research assistants with actual giant nerd-bots. In this week's Science, two articles (cite-one and two) describe the development of Adam, a lab-worker generating and testing his own hypotheses about the yeast genome, and another (cruelly nameless, it seems) which was able to deduce the law of conservation of momentum and Newton's second law of motion from sets of raw data. Both of these developments herald perhaps startling changes in the way science gets done, and also suggests that now might be a good time to buy stock in robot-overlord repellent.

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