Sunday, September 30, 2007

Scientist Barbie.


"Scientist Barbie comes complete with a white lab coat, map of the human genome, pictures of fetal defects, and 2 books (Sigma catalogue, and How to lie with Statistics). HIV, Hepatitis, H Pylori, and pregnancy tests can be ordered from Sigma. Pull her chord to hear her say: 'Who cares if math is hard when you have a TI-85', and 'There's REALLY nothing dangerous about radioactive materials'. Scientist Barbie drives a classic 1979 'vette......chevette, that is, because everybody knows that academia doesn't pay. Microscope, transgenic mice, and dissecting scalpel needed to undercut fellow researchers and stab collaborators in the back sold separately. Small animal surgery kit includes coupon for Dominatrix Barbie accessories."

Er, not so much. I'm not sure Barbie could handle it. But Barbie does come in Slutty Nurse Barbie, 'coz you know, hot pink heels are my go-to shoes for work.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Watch your language!

I started reading some of the Nature news articles this morning and came across this:

"It's not easy making a human. Getting from a fertilized egg to a full-grown adult involves a near-miracle of orchestration, with replicating cells acquiring specialized functions in just the right places at the right times."

Let's stop calling scientific facts miracles, ok? Seriously.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hello again

I just got linked to "The Best Science Blogs" and #1 is pharyngula, a self-proclaimed godless liberal who spends all his time talking about how dumb religion is and no time at all talking about how cool science is. Lame. Let's talk about science again!

I'm spending a lot of time thinking about protein structure these days.


I'm trying to model mutations computationally and see how it changes the packing volume inside the protein! I wish I had learned more geometry than just what they taught me in 9th grade.

I'm also doing real experiments finally! Look, a western blot!

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Jerry Woodall, a Purdue University engineer, has developed a method to generate hydrogen from water using an aluminum alloy. He discovered this in 1967 working as a researcher in the semiconductor industry.

"I was cleaning a crucible containing liquid alloys of gallium and aluminum," Woodall said. "When I added water to this alloy - talk about a discovery - there was a violent poof. I went to my office and worked out the reaction in a couple of hours to figure out what had happened. When aluminum atoms in the liquid alloy come into contact with water, they react, splitting the water and producing hydrogen and aluminum oxide."

The gallium is critical to the process because it hinders the formation of a skin normally created on aluminum's surface after oxidation. This skin usually prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum, acting as a barrier. Preventing the skin's formation allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used.

He envisions a future where we drive cars with tanks of water. When we need hydrogen for our fuel cell powered engine a small pellet of aluminum alloy is dropped into the water tank to generate the hydrogen on demand. Sounds nice.



On a personal but blog-related note, my ability to report on podcasts will be severely impaired over the coming 6-8 weeks. My iPod, which has been sickly for over a year now, as some of you may have known although I doubt most would notice because he hides the pain so well, has begun what I am afraid are the last throes of his ultimate demise. (If only I could get Dick Cheney to announce it to the nation my iPod might actually last another 3 years.) The lapse in coverage is due to the time it will take to raise funds (spending money for Ecuador takes precedence) and to find a suitable replacement. I apologize for an inconvenience.

Farewell iPod. I loved you and then you broke.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bomb-A-City

This is a "game", if you will, that a post-doc in my lab found today. FAS gives it the catchy name Bomb-A-City. Basically, you input your city, method of delivery, and tonnage of nuclear weapon, and the Bomb-A-City calculator shows you a map of what the destruction would be. Useful for, you know, all those arguments you get into at parties about what the total incineration radius would be of a 2 megaton nuclear weapon detonated one mile above Reno. Note the odd inclusion and exclusion of certain cities from the pop-up menu...

This is fucking weird.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

telekinesis for real


Ever wanted to move things...with your mind? Soon you can: Hitachi has devised a "brain-machine interface" that measures small changes in blood flow in various parts of the brain. These changes can be translated into electric signals, such as ones that cause your TV to turn on or off, or that cause an electric train to start or stop.

Widespread applicability? I'm skeptical - but it's pretty damn cool in any case.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Adults aren't the only crazy ones!

In typical fashion, like Erin with her podcasts, Dave and Christina with their blogs, and Cressida with her, uh, ear to the ground, I read the following in the newspaper. (I love print media.)

"We need to treat these children. They are in a desperate state," Biederman said in an interview, producing a video clip of a tearful mother describing the way her preschool daughter assaulted her before the child began treatment for bipolar disorder. The chief of pediatric psychopharmacology at Mass. General, he compares his work to scientific break throughs of the past such as the first vaccinations against disease.

In the past, bipolar disorder was reserved for only those who made it through the unpleasantries of puberty, but recent research has suggested that children as young as 2 (!) can require treatment for the agreesive behavior. However, in December a child died from an overdose of drugs used to treat her bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These drugs were NOT approved for use in small children.

We take a step back: Aren't kids that age wildly agressive one moment and giggling the next? I thought that was expected of your infant child. While I have seen the diagnoses of ADD and ADHD increase dramatically over the last 10 years, this seems to be the latest increase in pre-pubescent behavior disorders.

I would never say that people with behavior disorders shouldn't be treated with appropriate drugs, obviously. But I am more conservative when it comes to children.

How conservative should we be? There is significant debate on whether such young children should ever be diagnosed as bipolar. How do we draw the line? Should children be protected/prevented from the sometimes agressive treatments that adults receive?

I would argue that the standard for aberrant behavior in children must be significantly higher. There is an increasing culture of The Average, originating from the educational system that has leaked into medicine. My child doesn't perform as well on exams. They must not be below average, there must be something clinically wrong - and treatable - with them. Let's medically fix that lower performance and reach the level of The Average. Yes, some people benefit from it. But medical treatments have led to less of a focus on educational treatments. I say this with my limited experience with teaching students with dyslexia and ADD last year, my mother's work with SpEd children, and working with Melissa's teachers to design her curriculum. The difference between the attitude and energy applied to the educational program of children with medically treatable disorders vs non-treatable is amazing. Melissa's teachers were forced to design entirely new curricula for her, whereas my mother's and my hands were tied working with kids with ADD, as they were expected to be drugged and perform like their peers. It is not effective for everyone, despite it certainly working for some.

Good, I think I've managed to complain about both medicine and education.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Do men fear the end of patriarchy? Apparently!

Are you familiar with Mandrama? It's this super-embarrassing thing dudes do when trying to pretend not to be agitated. And then - oops! Out it comes! Comments like "You made me cry you evil bitch!" This website documents such outbursts. Fu-nny. I almost peed myself. Can someone put it in "stuff to look at"? I'm website illiterate and can't figure it out...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Moon Dust Saves Us From Global Warming

Wow this is the dumbest idea I've heard in a long time.

Curtis Struck at Iowa State University in Ames published an article in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (vol 60, p 1) suggesting we mine the moon for dust to generate a gigantic cloud to shield us from the sun. Lunar dust particles are the right size to scatter sunlight. If we put dust at two precise positions along the Moon's orbit, they will form a pair of stable clouds that would each pass in front of the Sun once a month, blocking sunlight for about 20 hours each month. This would reduce the amount of heat reaching the earth and thereby help alleviate the affects of global warming. I should say that I have not read the article because I can't get my hands on it but here is what I think from what I have read and heard on a podcast.

Not only is this ridiculous in its extremity but I'm pretty sure blocking out the sun will hinder plan growth, which help reduce CO2 levels, and potentially insulate the Earth from radiating heat back out into space (not to mention the logistics of mine on the F-ing moon). And what happens when we don't want the dust cloud anymore, do we build a gigantic vacuum cleaner? Other criticisms have included that the clouds may act as mirrors when not directly blocking the sun thus adding heat, and at night will act like massive full moons increasing the amount of light reaching the earth at night, which may also have deleterious effects on plant and animal life. This would also devastate ground and earth-orbit based astronomy. In the end this is only a band-aid, if we don't stop living in an unsustainable manner, no cloud will be big enough to save us from self-destruction. (Ok, that was a little dooms-day-ish, but you get my point.)

Gigantic dust clouds...I mean really!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Hens and Bucks?

So I got up this morning and heard something on the radio that made me stop what I was doing. “I’m sorry to say it but most of the lesbians are more aggressive than homosexual men.” My disclaimer is that I couldn’t get the transcript of this interview from the BBC website so I’m quoting from memory and I am not entirely sure if the guy said heterosexual or homosexual men, but either way it made me stop and say WTF. As it turns out a pub in Australia has won the right to exclude patrons based on their sexuality. The claim is that the heterosexual men and lesbians were creating an environment uncomfortable to the gay men by treating them like entertainment or as if they were “zoo animals”. This pub is the only one (out of 2000) in Melbourne geared toward gay men. So the pub owner/manager would like to limit the number of heterosexuals and lesbians to help keep a safe balance. I do sympathize with the notion of creating an establishment where gay men can feel comfortable as apposed to a freak show. However, I don’t see why the owner couldn’t have implemented a policy of asking groups of people to leave when they start making other patrons uncomfortable. It would be as if a group of men hung out in Victoria’s Secret to ogle the women while they picked out thongs. A manager would be perfectly justified in asking the group to leave without getting a court to declare that the store can exclude men. It seems to me that this is how it will have to be enforced anyway. I can’t image the pub prohibiting gay men from bringing straight and lesbian friends, or asking men if they are gay or straight before entering. So why did the owner feel it was necessary to take the matter all the way to The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal? It seems to me that the pub has put itself in a position of favoring discriminatory practices, even if it is with good intentions, as well as set a legal precedent for discrimination in the future. Or, maybe it was necessary to take legal action to effectively protect the rights of a group being discriminated against and harassed. Any thoughts?

Monday, May 21, 2007

science in the blogosphere


Not that I wasn't excited about the Tasmanian Devil cancer, but I'm kind of glad I found something to push that...aesthetic...picture out of the top of the page.

An analysis article in the latest issue of cell discusses scientists in the blogosphere: how there are so few of them, what their impact is, and varying opinions on how to present ideas depending on the audience. If you get a chance, read it and tell me what you think. Think we could make it onto scienceblogs.com? Then maybe we'd have a real public audience!


EDIT: I have decided to make this post longer, as I discovered that the original length was not quite enough to push the DFTD picture out. So please enjoy this random picture of calculus chocolates. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease


OK, I had to share with everyone one of the coolest things I've come across in a long time. Maybe you've heard about it on NPR, if you're in one of those labs that plays NPR all day (God knows I am).

The Tasmanian devil population has fallen by 90% across large parts of Tasmania. This is due to a recently evolved illness, Tasmanian devil tumor disease (DFTD). And holy cripes people, it looks painful. Just Google "Tasmanian devil cancer" and be horrified. It's a tumor of neuroendocrine origin that causes awful ulcerated lesions on the head and face of Tasmanian devils, usually starting in the mouth. If the tumors don't kill the devils by secreting hormones or impinging on essential organ function, then the devils typically starve to death or suffocate as the tumor mass in the face and throat increases. Once it's visible, it's 100% fatal within 4 months.

But here's the cool part: it's an infectious cancer! Seriously! Devils are really violent, especially when gettin' it on, and when they bite and scratch each other during sex, the cancer is transmitted by inoculation with the cancer cell line itself - basically an allograft. It's not a virus causing the cancer, which is what I totally thought it was gonna be when I heard this on the radio. (One of the articles I read called DFTD a "rogue cell line", which just sounds bad-ass.) The tumors do not have the same genotype as the affected animals - in fact, they all have identical chromosomal defects, indicating that the cancer is clonal throughout the population. It's basically a cancer that's somehow "learned" to be transmitted between immunologically different individuals of a species. As you may know, this is not how cancer usually works. If I got a big nasty facial tumor and made out with Scott, Scott would not get Cressida tumor popping up all over over his face. His immune system would be all like, WTF? And kill that shit. DFTD has found a way around that, which totally blows my mind.

I was really interested in this story, since I'm interested in anything infectious, especially eukaryotes. As it turns out, DFTD is the second example of a cell line that's become infectious, the first being the appetizing transmissible venereal sarcoma, a disease of doggy hoo-haa's and wee-wees. As it turns out, this disease is studied by my favorite evolutionary biologist, Armand Marie Leroi.

So in terms of organisms colonizing other organisms, we have:
  1. proteins (prions)
  2. viruses (HIV)
  3. bacteria (tuberculosis)
  4. traditional eukaryotic parasites (malaria)
  5. helminths (tapeworms)
  6. cell lines (DFTD)
What happens to the Tasmanian devils? From what I've read, biologists aren't too optimistic. The problem is that it's sexually transmitted, which means that even if very few individuals in a population have it, it will still be transmitted effectively (see HIV for an example of how that works). It's not clear yet how infectious it is, although it's thought to be poorly infectious as it's taken DFTD like 10 years to get half-way across Tasmania. If it were highly infectious, it would have moved more quickly, as devils travel great distances on a regular basis. Resistance has been slow coming; I saw one report that said that 3 female devils had been found that were partially resistant, but there are no reports confirming that. And the population's already been so decimated that other factors, like feral species or loss of habitat, become more able to drive devils to extinction. Several "insurance" colonies have been set up off shore, but you all know what that means: no more genetic diversity. This has been a problem in populations like cheetahs and ne ne geese that experienced severe bottlenecks in their evolution, leading to essentially clonal cheetahs. So one good infectious disease, and they're gone.

How can this happen, the evolution of a rogue cell line?? (Makes you look at those HeLa cells with a little more respect, eh?) It's obviously a very rare event, but what's going on immunologically to allow this? Cancer people, what gives?

Some cool resources for DFTD:
Save the Tasmanian Devil
FAQs from Tasmania's DNR equivalent
The Nature paper proving DFTD is a parasitic cancer
NPR story
Tasmanian devil movie

Monday, May 14, 2007

crack is whack

So I couldn't figure out how to embed this video right on the page, so a link will have to do. It's a video a friend of mine sent me about the effects of drugs and alcohol on spiders. Fantastic.

Friday, May 11, 2007

It's Science

As I was searching handy dandy PubMed for sequence based approaches to mapping breakpoints in translocations I found this article. I don't think it'll be useful in my research but I do think it's useful in life.... in general...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=16413181&query_hl=2&itool=pubmed_docsum


Sorry for the ugliness - I can't figure out how to name the link. I'll make it up to you all with this picture:

PS - This is supposed to spark conversation about "worthwhile" research.

And if you say worthwhile a bunch of times it totally loses its meaning...



Sunday, May 6, 2007

Re: What does your data look like?



GFP-positive mES in muscle tissue from a dystrophic mouse.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

X and Y


I'm always on the lookout for gendered language (maybe you've noticed) and something in today's list of most emailed new york times articles rang the gender bell. The language about the X chromosome's fantastically complicated ability to silence one of its copies (or activate a single copy in some species) is turned into mommy talk. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the article, listing the requirements for being an X chromosome with mother's day triteness:

"Must be exceptionally stable yet ridiculously responsive to the needs of those around you; must be willing to trail after your loved ones, cleaning up their messes and compensating for their deficiencies and selfishness; must work twice as hard as everybody else; must accept blame for a long list of the world’s illnesses; must have a knack for shaping young minds while in no way neglecting the less glamorous tissues below; must have a high tolerance for babble and repetition; and must agree, when asked, to shut up, fade into the background and pretend you don’t exist."

How would this discussion be different if the manlier chromosomes were involved in chromosomal inactivation? I think it's dangerous to gender chromosomes in this way just because this is something that happens only in human females (the same kind of thing happens in reproductive biology. Are women, and specifically mothers, something that should "fade into the background", defined by their chromosomal situation? I think you know what my answer is.

Friday, April 27, 2007

learning

So I don't just complain about how shitty our classes are. I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes them bad, what this means for our education and science education in general, and how I can improve things. I think about this a lot, especially during section when I have to discuss tedious papers in tedious detail. I have had this stuff on my mind since the "town hall meeting" with the new head of BBS to talk about how to make the program better. Today three things have got me thinking about this stuff enough to blog about it:

1. This article form Nature's chemistry blog about students in the UK who start university in the sciences without enough preparation in math. This one's kind of self-explanatory. Maybe you can remember how people freaked out over the twist and writhe equations back from the beginning of the year.

2. This article from the new york times (if you don't have times select you should-it's free for university students now!) comparing science and science education in China and the United States. Now I'm not a huge fan of the neo-liberal crap about how we have to do better if we want to stay a global leader bla bla bla that this article is kind of about, but I really like the discussion about Einstein being a rebel. Maybe comparing Nazis and Harvard is a little too extreme, but I feel like I need to resist what I'm getting from the professors here in order to do anything interesting.

3. This paper about metabolic modelling (for our non-harvard readers it's Edwards et. al. Environmental Microbiology, 2002 if you are interested (which you should be-metabolic modelling is awesome!)). It starts with a quote from T.S. Eliot "Where is the Life we have lost in living?... / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" (when was the last time you saw a scientific paper with a literary epigraph?) and discusses how we have a lot of biological information, but not necessarily a lot of ways to use it yet. Yes.

Ok, here's what I'm getting at: I feel like our professors our doing us a disservice by even bothering to teach our classes the way they are. We aren't being encouraged to learn and think outside the box. We're learning to spit back stuff they tell us about cellular factors. They never give us equations (or apologize profusely when they do) as if we can't handle math at all even though there is almost no biology that does not depend on math and statistics anymore. if we're lucky we can get this stuff in our labs, but most professors were trained in a time before the genome. Instead of teaching us to be leaders in science, we're learning archaic methods and how to suck up to professors.

I'm not just crazy, right?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

no fat chicks

So some research across the pond has led to the claim that adding leptin (a hormone associated with appetite regulation) to baby formula has the potential to prevent children from becoming obese later in life. The hormone - naturally present in breast milk - was added to the diet of neonatal mice, and they remained slim throughout their life span even when fed fat-laden diets.

The claim is that the presence of the hormone in the early stages of development can hard-wire the brain in such a way that calorie intake is more highly regulated. Some scientists, however, are calling the eventual addition of leptin to all baby formulas and subsequent elimination of obesity "wildly optimistic science fiction."

The biggest problem right now? Finding parents willing to allow their newborns to participate in a clinical trial with the supplemented formula.

The Guardian article noted that "other specialists in the field condemned the search for a medical answer to obesity, saying it is a modern social ill and that people need to address their lifestyles, not look for an artificial quick fix." Does anyone have thoughts on this? While too many people do make poor eating choices (which have more potential health implications than just obesity and diabetes), is it really a bad thing to 'artificially' hard-wire the brain so that you can't really get fat? I mean, I think that sounds like a GREAT idea. And it's a natural hormone found in normal human breast milk; really, they're just adding back something to formula that was already there in the stuff they modeled it after. In general, I'd agree that most 'social ills' do need to be addressed by a re-assessment of lifestyle choices, but I just don't think that applies here.

Bacteria: friend or foe?

Bacteria are pretty awesome. In researching probiotics for some school projects I have come to realize that we should all be bathing in yogurt all the time if we want to be healthy. Who needs rational drug design when you have bacteria to make drugs for you and replicate themselves! There is a bunch of clinical evidence that bacteria found in regular old grocery store yogurt can improve regularity (for your butthole), metabolism, detoxification, boost your immune system and help you fight off cancer and viruses, kill pathogenic bacteria and yeast (hello drug resistant evil bacteria!), improve allergies and inflammatory disorders of the skin and intestine, help treat stomach uclers, eat up cholesterol, treat upper respiratory infections, and maybe even help people with autism!

I don't really know a lot about the immune system but as someone with allergies and a regular person who gets colds and could get cancer I am prettye excited about the immunomodulatory possibilities of probiotics. This paper outlines some of the cool immune system stuff that lactic acid bacteria can do. Totally sweet! I'm pretty sure people still don't really know how this works or why bacteria do this at all. Any thoughts?

So, do you want to eat more fermented food right now or is the idea of 10^8 bacteria/ml still not something you want to put in your mouth? I obviously vote for bacteria over chemicals. LB is way yummier than ethyl acetate. This is of course not the case for Americans at large, who would much rather take a million pills than think about ingesting live organisms that are meant to colonize your intestines and secrete wonderful goodies. I think that's a big part of the problem (hi again drug resistant evil bacteria).

A New Direction

I was struck by some words by a well-known writer: "Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great or original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished." When I turned these words inward, toward our blog, I realized that while we are great, we are rarely original, leaving us with a familiar and oft-experienced taste, one that struggles to be relished.

I offer a new direction for our blog, one where we are the creators, the thinkers, the debaters. Let our voices be heard, for they are far more delicious and ripe. Let us propose our own ideas about science, our own thoughts, whether whimsical or weighty, simplistic or complex. Let The Butthole be a forum for a group of young scientists to explore the beginning of their scientific minds and careers. Let this blog be Us.

As was once said: "By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote." And so shall we. But let the quoted be previously unquoted. Let us call out those articles and studies that do not regularly receive media attention. Let this be a place for the unheard of and creative, not the trite and mundane.

If we are one day charged as owing debts to other authors, may someone reply: "Yet [The Biology Butthole] was more original than [its] originals. [It] breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

NEWS FLASH: antioxidants still good for you


A BBC news article just out reports on the benefits of drinking tea and how it can reduce your risk of skin cancer. But really, it's just the fact that tea (specifically black and green teas) has antioxidants, and that antioxidants are good for you. Still. Whoopee! More blueberries, pomegranates, and green tea for everyone!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The sound of feminism being pushed down the stairs

It's a jumpin' time for ladies, ladies: Pam Silver threw down the gauntlet to women who don't speak at conferences in this week's Nature. And this Friday, Priscilla Yang gives the HGWISE coffee talk. I know it's at 9AM, but it's free breakfast, and me & Mary'll be there to keep it nice and belligerent. It's in the DMS student lounge (TMEC 442 - you know, where I go to nap and watch Dr. Phil).

And guess what?! May 4th it's my PI's turn to HOLLA at Gloria Steinem. Same time & place as above. You KNOW you want to go to that. She's a hottie, Scott "9x5" Jones....

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

omg

Too much free time?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

seals with accents!


Apparently, bearded seals have different accents depending on where they're from (different enough that Canadian and Alaskan seals might not understand each other's mating calls). Cool!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Too Much Free Time


I hope they left themselves some wiggle room.

My Humps

Just watch it. OMG.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abGQ_ehWm2Y

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

more on the genetic basis of sexuality


Got to love the Science Times. Here's an article talking about sexuality programming in the brain. And here's a video about some theories regarding the basis of desire. Who doesn't love a good article about sex?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

a sixth sense (and seventh and eighth and...)


A cool article on Wired.com talks about the possibility of plug-ins for the human brain, such that we could sense direction or 'see' using another sense's hard-wiring. Pretty cool possibility. How long do you think it will be before we get x-ray vision and the ability to fly?

Slashdot synopsis here.

Monday, April 2, 2007

evolution and baseball

In celebration of the opening day of the Red Sox regular season, here's a clip from an article in the NYT about what's really 'ruining' baseball:

"The evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, an avid baseball fan, hypothesized that in competitive environments, as the variance of the quality of participants shrinks, opportunities for great performances diminish. For most of its history, the major leagues were progressively populated by better and better baseball players — through natural population growth, racial integration and immigration — which meant that opportunities for achievements like hitting .400 were decreasing. As superior players replaced the weakest ones, even the very best had fewer chances at turning in remarkable performances.

Expansion abruptly reversed the trend; today, the variance in quality of major league pitchers, based on E.R.A., is at an all-time high. By letting in the riffraff for baseball’s elite to exploit, expansion increased the likelihood of great achievements. Without even bringing steroids into the discussion, it is no surprise that some already fine hitters performed even better after the early 1990s."


It's science!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

they only sought the truth


Two high school students from New Zealand have won a $200,000 court case against GlaxoSmithKline. How'd they do it? They did a science fair project - at age 14 - testing the amount of Vitamin C in various commercial beverages, and found that Ribena (a GSK drink) has almost no detectable amount of the compound; GSK had been advertising that the soft drink was high in Vitamin C.

See! Science can be a lucrative career...so long as there is dishonesty to expose!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday, March 23, 2007

just in case you were depressed about your sex life


Having a dry spell? How about one that lasts for 100 million years? Bdelloid rotifers are apparently the oldest (evolutionarily) species that has reproduced solely by asexual means and has still managed to evolve into multiple fit species; it was previously believed that asexual creatures could evolve through random mutation, but "only into one species and at the cost of its original form." These gross-looking little guys (inset) attach to different parts of water lice; different species have evolved different jaw shapes to ideally exist on a particular part of the louse's body.

And to think...they don't even have porn (!)

A little nugget chemistry

I found this interesting, entertaining, and frightening. Enjoy.

"McNuggets also contain several completely synthetic ingredients, quasiedible substances that ultimately come not from a corn or soybean field but form a petroleum refinery or chemical plant. These chemicals are what make modern processed food possible, by keeping the organic materials in them from going bad or looking strange after months in the freezer or on the road. Listed first are the "leavening agents": sodium aluminum phosphate, mono-calcium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, and calcium lactate. These are antioxidants added to keep the various animal and vegetable fats involved in a nugget from turning rancid. Then there are "anti-foaming agents" like dimethylpolysiloxene, added to the cooking oil to keep the starches from binding to air molecules, so as to produce foam during the fry. The problem is evidently grave enough to warrant adding a toxic chemical to the food: According to the Handbook of Food Additives, dimethylpolysiloxene is a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen, and reproductive effector; it's also flammable. But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to "help preserve freshness." According to A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause "nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse." Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.”

This is an excerpt from the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A little funny to pick you up

Here as funny joke Thiago sent to me. I thought it was appropriate for the butthole blog.

While she was "flying" down the road yesterday (10 miles over the limit), a woman passed over a bridge only to find a cop with a radar gun on the other side lying in wait. The cop pulled her over, walked up to the car, and with that classic patronizing smirk we all know and love, asked,

"What's your hurry?" To which she replied, "I'm late for work." "Oh yeah," said the cop, "what do you do?" "I'm a rectum stretcher," she responded.

The cop stammered, "A what? A rectum stretcher? And just what does a rectum stretcher do?"

"Well," she said, "I start by inserting one finger, then work my way up to two fingers, then three, then four, then with my whole hand in. I
work from side to side until I can get both hands in, and then I slowly but surely stretch it, until it's about 6 feet wide."

"And just what the hell do you do with a 6 foot asshole?" he asked.

You give him a radar gun and park him behind a bridge."

Ticket -----------------------$95.00
Court Costs ----------------$45.00
Look on cops face --------Priceless

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Small Things Considered

I don't know how many of you are into microbiology, but Lordy - I am! I got an email today about Small Things Considered, a blog for weird microbiology, maintained by Elio Schaechter, a big-deal microbiologist. Check it out. There's all kinds of freaky happenings from the small world.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

NF1 = Cancer or Awesome Sex?

After a great silence, I finally return with a self-congratulatory post.

As it turns out, flies which over express neurofibromin (the gene on which I work) have longer life spans, have more sex and produce more offspring per sexual encouter (greater fecundity, as they put it). Lose the gene, get cancer. Get more of the gene, act like a 19-year-old boy, again.

Oh, snap.

superbugs


BBC news reported on a recent study done at Johns Hopkins and published in PNAS in which transgenic mosquitoes, resistant to malaria, out-competed wild-type mosquitoes when placed together and exposed to malaria-infected food. (The inset picture shows the eyes of one of the transgenic mosquitoes, which were also made to glow with GFP.)

The scientists in charge of the study are aware of the potential ecological, social, ethical, and legal implications of releasing a transgenic animal into the environment, (they don't think it would be possible to do so for at least 10 to 20 years), but it's a pretty exciting prospect and an approach to eradicating disease that I hadn't really considered - instead of treating or curing the disease, genetically alter the carrier organism such that it can no longer carry it. It's a little frightening to think that it's within the realm of possibility to actually manipulate nature in this way...behold, the power of science!

(And FYI...this is post number 69.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mac Daddy

This is one of the reasons why I love my Mac. (Another is being able to control my computer with a remote making porn easier to watch) Papers for OS X is a new program similar to iTunes but for research papers. Now they just need to come up with a program to critically read the articles and tell me what I need to know.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

screw ncbi

Craig Ventor + google = google genome? yay! Now I want to work for google even more!

Does this seem credible?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007

My posts are never about science

I realize we have the xkcd site linked but I had to make sure everyone saw today's cartoon...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

eye see


A study at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research claims that eye color is controlled by at least two genes.

This is moderately interesting, but I thought the picture was cool/slightly disconcerting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

So this is cool...

Rubik's cube art - I wonder if they actually solve each cube for the colors they want or if they just take the stickers off and rearrange them...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

big muscles = big brains

A study at Columbia Med shows that exercise can actually stimulate the formation of new brain cells in an area of the brain associated with memory. So now when we go to the gym to get huge, we'll be working on our biceps AND our brains!

P.S. - I almost didn't post this, because I didn't want to displace the x-ray BJ. Hi-larious.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

hope for pluto!

New Mexico has put forward a bill which, if passed, would re-declare Pluto a legit planet in that state. We're pulling for you, buddy.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

sweet dreams are made of this

A study coming out today in Science reports that "the whiff of a familiar scent can help a slumbering brain better remember things that it learned the evening before." Pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

save a ptarmigan: don't ski

Scientists report on the ecological implications of ski resorts; apparently, the impact on wildlife native to the slopes is greater than once thought.

(I'll be honest...I posted this mostly because I like the word ptarmigan. Oh, the silent p.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

big news (?)


There's an article in the NYT today about neuron firing in zebrafish; an intersting article, especially considering how the study was done (they finagled some fluorescent proteins such that when certain neurons fired, the baby zebrafish lit up in that particular area - cool).

However, my thoughts are more about this: what gets research into the New York Times? Sure, this article is interesting, and sure, the illustration with the zebrafish is quite cute, but...why this over anything else? I'm sure there's been other research published recently that would be equally accessible to the general public, and this particular news in developmental biology would not have stricken me as particularly exciting or relevant for the average Joe...so what made the NYT think so?

I'm certainly not complaining; I think it's great whenever I see science-related news in the media. I just wonder if there's any rhyme or reason to what is 'newsworthy.'

Frog Hump


These frogs are doing their part to try to combat their own extinction. The "Amphibian Ark" is also trying to help. (actual website) Something like 1/3 of the world's amphibian population are at risk of extinction. One contributing factor is a fungus thought to have originated in Africa but has since spread to every other continent. One major factor in this spread was the export and distribution of one African frog species to hospitals all over the world for pregnancy testing. If you injected this frog with a pregnant woman's pee, the frog will lay eggs.

Monday, March 5, 2007

white coat notes

The Boston Globe has a (relatively) new blog on the boston.com website called "White Coat Notes;" it has to do with medical and research news in the Boston area. (Free registration on the site is required). Highlights from recent posts:

- Postdocs around the country rate their institutions as far as whether or not they're good places to work; Boston area hospitals (including HMS) are kept out of the top 27.

- Cambridge is going to have a Science Festival in April; meant for middle and high school-aged kids, but might be fun to check out anyway.


You can read it more at your leisure. In other news, I wrote this post whilst on the toilet.

Beaver Fever

For the first time in 200 years a beaver has been spotted in NYC.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Saturday, March 3, 2007

guaranteed overnight delivery

In a DHL delivery mix-up, human body parts (a liver and part of a head) were mistakenly sent to a residential home in Michigan. The parts were sent from China and intended for medical research purposes; the delivery man thought the packages were pieces of a table. Hilarious.


There are apparently other packages distributed about the country...maybe 69 Babcock will be another lucky recipient!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

stephen hawking in space

So the "Brief History of Time" author is apparently leaving gravity behind, as he wants to take a ride in space (a NYT article about his pre-trip preparations here).

What I found interesting about this article were Mr. Hawkings' statements about space travel and its importance. According to the article, he says that spaceflight is "critical to the future of humanity," and "humanity's ultimate survival depend[s] on colonizing the solar system and beyond."

Honestly? Is it actually considered a real possibility that we could literally colonize another planet? Mr. Hawking makes it sound like doing so is necessary since we're shittifying our planet at an alarming rate...but I wasn't aware that people considered it a possibility to ever "move out" of Earth. Anybody have any thoughts?


Anyway...happy first post of March!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why should you upholster a tree stump?

I know this isn't science-related, but it was so lame I had to share it. Well I guess it might be science-related in that these people must have some kind of serious lesion in the GOOD THINGS TO DO WITH MY TIME gene.

what???

Monday, February 26, 2007

point that thing away from me!!

The Planet of the Apes may be upon us after all. It seems that chimps in the wild know how to make their own lethal weapons to hunt their next delicious meal. This goes well beyond using a twig as a termite lollipop.

Check it out for a quick summary. If you're so inclined here's the Current Biology report about it.

Bush baby kabob anyone?

and i'm done for the day

robofish!

the jews know what's up

NIH studies in Africa show that circumcision can reduce a man's chances of contracting HIV from heterosexual sex by 65 percent. (The study didn't say anything about dude-dude sex, but I would wager the benefits are comparable).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

for the microbiologist in us all

Bacteria can make you some DNA, make you shit your brains out, and now they can apparently reduce the damage from an earthquake. By taking advantage of Bacillus pasteurii and their ability to deposit calcium carbonate in their surroundings, the researchers at UC Davis claim that injecting these buggers into the soil during the construction of a new building can actually help cement the soil beneath the new structure and provide a stronger foundation.


Try not to ingest any of these guys; you very well may literally shit a brick.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

buttholes!

tada!


and: welcome Cressida, our newest blogger!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

mid-Holocene buffalo chicken tenders (?!)

Well, maybe they hadn't mastered the Buffalo sauce just yet. Nonetheless, an article in Science (NYT synopsis here) reports that chili peppers have been used in cooking for almost 6000 years, predating pottery in some regions.


And six millennia later, they're still delicious.

guitar hero can hone your poopectomy skillz

According to a study done at Beth Isreal Medical Center in New York:

"Video game skills translated into higher scores on a day-and-half-long surgical skills test, and the correlation was much higher than the surgeon's length of training or prior experience in laparoscopic surgery."


Add that to the improvement in visual acuity , and NOT playing GH is just plain silly.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I <3 blogs

there's more to jersey than the smell

Researchers at UMDNJ say they might be well on the way to a cure for autism. Exciting times in the Dirty Jerz.

Now can they fix the traffic on the turnpike?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

crazy in love

Continuing with the V-day theme, here's an article about research that apparently shows that "being in love causes changes in the brain that are strikingly similar to serious health problems like drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder."


(Alright, alright...I'll slow down on the posting. Geez.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

now that's love



A Valentine's Day gift from scientists.

oh, paradigms

This article was published today in the NYT about a doctoral candidate at the University of Rhode Island who is a 'young earth creationist' (believes the earth is less than 10,000 years old), and yet wrote his dissertation on a reptile that vanished from the earth about 65 million years ago. How could this be, you ask? He's just "separating the different paradigms."

(I don't get it.)

There's an interesting argument presented, though. The people who are fighting the awarding of this dude's Ph.D. are of the mind that "fundamentalists who capitalize on secular credentials 'to miseducate the public' [are] doing a disservice."

How do people feel about this? Is there any place for creationism in science? Is it possible (or rather, is it acceptable) to "separate the paradigms" in order to get a Ph.D.? The article refers almost sarcastically to one man as a "creationist wearing the secular mantle of science;" should creationist scientists be vilified in this way?

Discuss.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

chemoticons!

I saw this great post about emoticons for the organic chemistry inclined at the Nature Chemistry Blog:

\/ = Extraction (or extract)
|| = Running a column
[] = Running a TLC
() = Stir/stirbar
C- = Round bottom flask (look sideways) (this one, to be fair, is not much more concise than RBF)
L! = Measuring something (probably liquid)
ooo = reflux/heating in general (get it? It's the bubbles)
XX = Crystallize/crystallization

I love these. Can you guys think of more biology related ones? How about [---] for running a gel, or -<= for pippetting?

Puggie McStacerson

You all should have seen this coming...

Thursday, February 8, 2007

OMG

Guitar hero for the Wii!! And no, I don't just mean for small people.

beer goggles: explained

I can't figure out whether or not this is for real, but it's entertaining nonetheless. Some dudes at the University of Manchester have apparently worked out a formula to calculate someone's apparent attractiveness level as a factor of a) the number of alcoholic beverages consumed, b) smokiness of the room, c) the 'luminance' of the person of interest, d) the Snellen visual acuity of the looker, and e) the distance from the person of interest.

Essentially, the beer goggle formula. Hilarious.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

good news

An article citing a study in which people who played action video games had improved vision as compared to the control group.

I guess the only question is: does Guitar Hero count as 'action'?

Saturday, February 3, 2007

My 2 cents about climate change

I agree and disagree with Scott’s rant about global climate change. The current weird weather is not a direct result of global warming. Instead it is most directly due to El NiƱo in the pacific and pressure changes over Iceland called the North Atlantic Oscillation. These two natural occurrences have combined to drive the jet stream a little further north for this time of year. This has allowed storms to come and sit over the southern part of the US, explaining all the crazy snow this winter in Colorado and what not. It has also resulted in a milder/warmer winter for the northeast US and northern Europe. However, where I disagree with Scott is that one should take into account the fact that all of this is layered on top of the increase in the average global temperature. (So far the trend is +0.2 degrees every decade) I think that is why people initially started calling it global warming. The average global temperature is increasing. I agree that certain parts of the world will see drastic changes in climate, not all of which will be tropical. However, it is the overall rise in global temperature that is melting glaciers, and threatening to screw with ocean currents leading to an ice age in Europe and all that. The thing that bothers me about the phrase global climate change is that it is used by the Bush administration as a spin tactic to down play the issue. I understand Scott’s logic about the phrase, I just don’t know if the rest of the population sees it that way as well.

My sources for the climate info:

Robert Henson, meteorologist and science writer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, author of "The Rough Guide to Weather"
Gavin Schmidt, climate scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Thursday, February 1, 2007

who's your daddy?

A cool article out in Science this week about parthenogenetic stem cell lines, created so surface antigens on the stem cell-derived tissue match those in the host. Awesome.

Incidentally, every time I hear something about parthenogenesis, I think of Jurassic Park.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's not Global Warming!

The following is a personal rant.

Let me say this first: There is no doubt that the excessive amount of greenhouse gases that are currently produced due to human causes is one of the most important and potentially catastrophic events facing the world today. Without a drastic and immediate change in policy, the world will face an almost inescapable disaster.

However, can we please stop with all this inappropriate panic about what we think is global warming?! This warm winter we're having is NOT a result of global warming. Every time we have an exceptionally hot day in summer or winter, I get so tired of hearing people say that the nearly 30 degree increase in average temperature is a direct result of global warming. It is like a catch phrase, a shrug your shoulders and say, "Gee, that Global Warming will getcha every time, Mildred." Mildred is not fucking impressed by your pseudo-scientific ideas. And if she is, and she fucks you a little harder that night, well, you're a pseudo-science whore, and I have no respect for you.

I've always far preferred the term Climate Change, which still includes the human component (Climate Variability implies the normal change in climate that occurs due to natural causes) and implies the far more drastic effect of greenhouse gases. Should the polar ice caps melt, disrupting the gulf stream which is responsible for the mild temperatures found in most of the US and Europe (and that isn't me being Amero-Eurocentric - that is just where the effects really are), then those currently mild areas will face harsh summers and harsh winters. Overall, a climate change. The earth is not just going to get hotter and hotter until we are all sitting out on the beach (located in Ohio) wearing SPF3000. It is a more complicated idea and far more drastic than people realize. Which is why I like the term climate change. And hate people. So try that on Mildred, or Jack, or whoever you try to impress. Because if they last a little longer in bed for you tonight because you described the real effects of the rising temperatures, then you've got a really beautiful thing going for you. For now, I'm going to put back on my jacket. I'm freezing.

Just thought you all should see this



taken from pink is the new blog

Monday, January 29, 2007

poop isn't always funny

Sometimes it can be deadly. Just read Dr. Johnstone's article, paying particular attention to the segment a couple of paragraphs down, entitled "Death begins in the colon." My favorite is the picture immediately to the left of this section. WARNING: Don't click the link if you've eaten recently. (I had originally intended to include the aforementioned picture in the post itself, but then thought better of it.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

say it ain't so

I was reading this article from the InformationWeek Weblog, and I was a little shaken by this comment (the context of the comment is a discussion of the technological ignorance of today's society):

"I accept for the most part that we are either amid or in the early throes of a post-literate society."

A post-literate society? I know people don't read the paper as much as they used to (or at all in a lot of cases), but...a post-literate society? Sure, a lot of people tend to be generally stupid, but...a post-literate society?!? The fact that we, as a society, could regress to a state of 'post-literacy' is practically terrifying. Have things really gotten that bad?

I realize this doesn't have all that much to do with science, but I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts. (A post-literate society? Say it ain't so!)

I wish I worked on these mice.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

wikiwhat?

Speaking of questionable truthiness, some colleges are starting to ban Wikipedia as an acceptable citable source. I personally use it all the time for quick facts and whatnot, but I'd never cite it directly. Especially with all the citations listed at the bottom, it's fairly easy to check Wikipedia's sources anyhow.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Truthiness

Check it out. 77% of adults polled said they trust scientists to tell the truth. It's because of all those scientific ethics classes we have to take.

Whiskey



EDIT:
It should work now, and I changed the background music a little bit.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Damn...you ugly rafflesia


This gigantic, oogly, parasitic, stinky (smells like rotting flesh) flower, is in the same family as poinsettias.

Monday, January 22, 2007


i'm dedicating this post to my roommate.


btw the name of this cartoon is "only if i get to miscalculate the pattern for my size and give up before i am done"

Sunday, January 21, 2007

don't you?



www.marriedtothesea.com

quantum biology?

The same guy who wrote about sound being faster than light (see previous post) keeps this blog on ZDNet.com, and it's pretty cool stuff. Like this article about quantum biology and nanoswitches.

Basically, the concept involves using self-splicing proteins (not transcripts), but the splicing event can be tightly controlled. Sounds kind of like a zymogen, really...except I guess this is more complicated than just a hydrolytic cleavage.


nanoswitch

Dark Matter



Astronomers have developed a new map of the universe showing normal matter in red, dark matter in blue, and stars and galaxies in gray. They used a technique called gravitational lensing to detect the dark matter because its only interaction with other matter occurs via gravity. They have found that dark matter is distributed as a loose network of filaments, which collapse due to gravitational interactions, into clusters that form a scaffold for the formation of stars and what not. Pretty cool.

Nature; 1/18/2007, Vol. 445 Issue 7125, p286-290, 5p

Poor Pluto

"Plutoed" was chosen as 2006's word of the year by the American Dialect Society.
Definition: To be demoted.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Everything comes down to....

Yes. It is true. And now you can sing about it.

Discuss.


sweeter than a woman's kiss

This needs to be shared with the world.


Can we make one of these too?

Also physics related

I woke up at 6:30 am to see the New Haven Coliseum implode today.

and gravity is really just magic

An interesting article arguing that sound travels faster than light (at least in an anomalously dispersive medium). I don't think I know enough about physics to know whether or not to put much stock in this, but it's certainly a fascinating read.


In related news, I've heard Scott described as a superluminal phenomenon in bed.

Friday, January 19, 2007

yiiiiiikes!

http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/10792195/detail.html

that's my high school!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Trendy

This article weirded me out a little. I'm not going to talk about the whole GET OVER IT A WOMAN CAN BE IN CHARGE AND SHE CAN WEAR WHATEVER SHE WANTS business because that's been done before. Instead we can talk about scientists and their outfits.

Why do some scientists dress so poorly? Why is it expected that we will wear ugly clothes? Has anyone remarked that you are well put together for a scientist? Do we only think that Johannes Walter is sexy by comparison to his frumpier colleagues?

I think the big question is: which came first, the scientist or the dweeb? Are people who are socially awkward and badly dressed naturally drawn to the sciences, where ideas are at least superficially (hehe) more improtant than appearance, or are people who are drawn to science eventually turned into dweebs to fit in with the public's notion of what a scientist looks like?

Discuss.

junx in boxes

For the delight of one and all, here are the links to the "dick in a box" Justin Timberlake SNL skit and the corresponding "box in a box" music videos we were talking about at Flan's. Not very scientific, but quite hilarious nonetheless. Now you can carry on with your maxis with a smile on your face. Enjoy!

DIAB:http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/uncensored.shtml
BIAB:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xElIik0Ys0

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Parafilm

What can you use it for? What can't you use it for? Let's brainstorm. Some starters:

CAN:
  • Water (and other bodily fluid)-proofing your mattress
  • Fashioning bracelets and/or other accessories
  • HCl balloons
CAN'T:
  • Toilet paper
  • Condoms
  • Climbing rope

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A word of caution....

But just because we are scientists, do not think that all we talk about is science, though it may color what we say. For instance, my preference - nay, my respect - for the undercarriage close-up shot in porn rather than the broader full body shot of two people humping indiscriminately may be due to my approach to science, as I prefer investigating the detailed molecular pathways that control biological processes, rather than looking at broader, global biological problems. It is a matter of preference.

Ain't nothing wrong with a little undercarriage. Or a lot.

Porn

And here is some gratuitous pornography!

Hello World

This is our blog! We are scientists!