Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cancer Carnival Coming

The next edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival is due up this Friday, so there are still a few days to get your posts in here. We're still lacking a host, so unless we get a last second volunteer, the carnival will be appearing right here at the Bayblab.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quack of the Week: His "Holiness" Pope Benedict XVI

AIDS "cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

- Pope Benedict XVI, recent message to Africans

Is this man really so ignorant about the basic facts of biology? I doubt it, but I bet he's hoping potential new recruits from Africa are. Maybe some teaching about evolution would be of use here? Maybe the drive to reproduce has more to do with mutation and our ancestor's success in passing on offspring and less to do with Satan and his condoms? Just a thought. Guess that's the problem with putting a 90-year-old virgin on the soapbox. And what's up with the dress?

Hopefully sensible catholics are smart enough to ignore this idiot.


The cat who could smell death

This week's episode of House featured a cat who predicted patient death, indicated by who she chose to nap with.

We've hear of dogs that can sniff out tumours but a cat that can sniff out people at death's door? The House episode is reminiscent of a "Perspective" piece published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007 [pdf] about one Oscar the cat at a Rhode Island care facility.
Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families.
Unlike House's typical last minute stroke of genius, no concrete explanation is given for Oscar's 'predictions'. Still, the staff seem convinced of his powers. Is there something to it, or just a classic case of confirmation bias?

Incidentally, if you're interested in a doctor's take House's weekly mystery, check out this blog.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Undersea Volcano Eruption

Most people have probably heard about this already, but the pictures are too cool not to post. Earlier this week a deep-sea volcano near Tonga in the South Pacific began erupting and put on quite a show (video at link).

More pics here.
The eruption poses no threat to the island, but flights through the area have been re-routed to avoid the smoke and debris.


Dr. Robert Sapolsky on sexuality

Ran into this couple of Human Behavioral Biology lectures by Stanford's Dr. Robert Sapolsky. It's pretty '100' level, but it's a very non-technical introduction in to some of the fascinating aspects of sexual evolution and their implications for human sexuality. The lack of detail, some evolutionary psychology and the pace of information can be a bit annoying in parts but it is quite a ride. It's like he is trying to cram in all the most interesting stuff into two lectures. Now I know why women seem to like perfume more than men, and about the evolution of manogamy. While it's two videos, don't bother watching, you can just listen. They are also very long so if you are interested, so be prepared for listening to them in a couple of sessions. Here on boingboing. Video1. Video 2.


Thursday, March 19, 2009


Recently we had an interesting discussion about a recent rape case that was in the MSM. I don't remember the particulars, however the discussion turned to punishment for convicted rapists. Obviously long jail sentences are very common, however there are lots of places that use chemical castration in certain cases.
Chemical castration basically involves giving the male offender female birth hormonal birth control at very large doses. This differs from mechanical castration as does not sterilize the offender and the effects are reversible. The birth control hormone is progestin and it "quells the sex drive of offenders", presumably by lowering the testosterone levels in the blood stream.
Although the possibility of getting some serious man-boobs (gynecomastia) adds embarrassment to the punishment, some had a problem with the concept of chemical castration. Obviously there is a large violence component of the act of rape and this treatment suggests that sexual desire is to blame for the violence. If you can eliminate the sexual desire you can get rid of the violence. This seemed unexceptable to some, in that their perception of rape was that it is a violet act, not a sexual one. But of course high testosterone levels are linked to also linked to violent behavior, so perhaps it is two birds with one stone.
I did some quick searching for the efficacy of chemical castration on recidivism rates and it seems like the data supports castration as an effective means of preventing reoffending (1,2).
BTW - Mike Tyson, the boxer/convicted rapist (pictured), was NOT chemically castrated, his voice has always been that high. To retain a high-pitched voice you have to be castrated before the onset of puberty.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quack of the week: Gary Goodyear

Those of you following the bayblab and/or science policy in Canada will know that somehow we seem to have switched ideologies with the USA. All of a sudden Obama is pledging increased funding in science, putting Nobel laureates and climate change scientists in position of influence and reversing the anti-science stance of the Bush administration. We on the other hand seem to have inherited all the failed American policies. So I shouldn't be surprised to learn that our science minister appointed by Harper is a former chiropractor, who apparently believes in creationism, or at least won't admit to believe in evolution. No wonder he is suspicious of science and keen on developing the commercialization aspect rather than investing in public scientific endeavors. I'm afraid to ask about his views on stem cell research....

I don't need here to explain the absurdities of having a IDiot science minister. But in case some of you think his chiropracting background is scientific, well think again:

"Chiropractic is the most significant nonscientific health-care delivery system in the United States. As a result of their high level of organization and aggressiveness, chiropractors are licensed to practice in all 50 states and several foreign countries. Although a minority of chiropractors offer rational treatment, chiropractic's cultism is so well entrenched that the profession should be viewed as a societal problem, not simply as a competitor of regular health-care.

Spinal manipulation can be useful, but chiropractic's theoretical basis rests largely on a strange and never-demonstrated notion of "subluxations." "Chiropractic" literally means "done by hand" (chiros = hand; praktos practice), referring to manipulation of the spine. Manipulation (i.e., "the forceful, passive movement of a joint beyond its active limit of motion," according to Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary) is not the exclusive domain of chiropractors. Folk practitioners sometimes called "bonesetters" have long used the notion of bones "going out of place" to explain maladies, and they employ manipulation as a panacea. Andrew Taylor Still invented "osteopathy" based upon the theory that luxated bones interfere with blood circulation, producing all manner of diseases. (Osteopathy officially abandoned Still's theory in 1948.)"

Chiropractic theory is pseudoscience and there is no scientific evidence it has any benefit. In fact there are many people injured every year with dislocated vertebrae. The colledge of physician and surgeon of Quebec:

"Chiropractors claim that subluxations, or partial displacements, of the vertebrae cause a perturbation of the distribution of nervous impulses to tissues and cells. Neurophysiologists have developed methods of recording the passage of impulses in nerves. Exceptionally sensitive apparatus is available to anyone wishing to use it. No scientific study has ever been published on the subject by a chiropractor. No chiropractor ever defined, either quantitatively or qualitatively, what chiropractic means by perturbation of nervous impulses. Is it their number, their amplitude, their frequency, or their wave patterns which are affected? All of these qualities can be identified, recorded, and studied. It is no longer permissible to accept empirical statements. Proof should have preceded practical application. With the first point untenable, the rest crumbles"


Monday, March 16, 2009

Dr. Denis Rancourt

For those that have followed the Denis Rancourt saga, here is an email that is currently circulating the University of Ottawa.
In my brief dealings with Dr. Rancourt I think the tone of this email is actually a good reflection of my impression of his attitude towards students and the university establishment. Really:

This email is an urgent mass call-out delivered to 10 153 students, sent by a coalition of 552 students.
Not all students could be reached due the University of Ottawa recently implementing increased email control.
Many Professors have stepped up to defend education and will be announcing the March 17 event in their classes today.
Spread the word quickly.
. . .

This email is a compilation of six call-outs from student and community organizations deeply affected by the University of Ottawa's attack on alternative teaching and grading. Students have mobilized to stop the university, and will gather between 8:30AM and 12PM this Tuesday in Tabaret Hall for a participatory town hall style discussion. The event will open with a statement by President Allan Rock, and free food and beverages will be provided.
Please come out to speak out. Please join in to watch and listen. The discussion will focus on the pains of the grading system.
The Grades Hurt event will be held in the name of Full Tenured Professor Doctor of Physics Denis Rancourt, who will be permanently fired by the Dean on Tuesday, in the basement of Tabaret, because he gave his students all A+'s on the first day of the semester. Students can help save his job, because the Dean is clearly disciplining him too strong.
* Watch Full Colour TV Interviews of Denis Rancourt Here: www.denisrancourt.tv *
. . .

Grades hurt the soul. Bad grades cause karmic pain, and good grades tempt sacrilegious sacrifice. We believe education must be built upon nothing else but the virtues of kindness and love. Abolishing grades is the rightful path towards liberation and it will transform education to release the full potential of human creativity.
Paulo Freire is our Saviour. His Pedagogy for Liberation will bring forth the New Revolution and take us towards the Enlightenment. We say: No more evaluations! No more examinations! Come out on Tuesday. Help save Denis Rancourt from religious persecution. It'll be a groovy party.

*All up-to-date media links and documents are archived at: www.academicfreedom.ca*
Recent media coverage: Macleans Magazine, "In this class, everyone gets A+".
Press Release: Dissident Professor Will Grade for Food. The last step in the University of Ottawa’s planned political firing of dissident physics professor Denis Rancourt will be a required closed-door settlement-attempt meeting to be held on March 17, 2009, at 9am. Following this meeting, the university can send the dismissal to the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors for final approval.
Rally: Student actions are planned. A rally will gather in the Tabaret Hall lobby on March 17th at 8:30am, and will last all day, as part of the Ottawa Free Speech Movement.
Proposal: Professor Rancourt has made his proposal for reconciliation for the March 17th meeting public. The 3-page document is entitled “Will grade for food” and is posted at:

Press Conference: The confidential March 17th 9am meeting is scheduled for one hour and Professor Rancourt and supporters will hold a press conference after the meeting, in the Tabaret Hall lobby.

The following are excerpts from the full article blogged here:
You are a number, and that number is your GPA.
"Every time you reveal that number, judgment is passed upon you. With a simple calculation, you are categorized as good or bad, studious or stupid, valuable or disposable."
Grades hurt you, and the Student Appeal Centre is here to help you.
"Grades are harmful, destroy creativity and take power away from students. Grades are a mechanism of control, not a mechanism for learning. Many students agree, but do not know what to do."
Freedom is necessary for education. Action is necessary for liberation.
"How do we get an enjoyable education when we don't function within the system of grading? Do we forget about university and go somewhere else, or do we fight back and take control of the classroom? Can a grade-free system coexist within our university, or is this just hopeless dreaming?"
"Our anti-grade position is radical. A debate about grading is necessary. "
"Students are organizing a town hall meeting this Tuesday. Come share your thoughts and stories. If you've been failed, or if you hate your GPA, we especially want to hear what you have to say."

-On Nov 21, the Dean of the Faculty of Science Dr. Andre Lalonde and the Department Chair Dr. Bela Joos infiltrated the laboratory of Prof. Rancourt with several Protection Officers and a number of unidentified University employees. They ejected all the students, replaced the door lock with a high-security lock, installed an alarm/surveillance system, and began dismantling his equipment.
-On Dec 10, Prof. Rancourt was called to a meeting by Vice President Major where he met a team of Protection Officers who then escorted him off campus and barred him from attending his weekly campus radio show and his weekly documentary film and discussion series.
-On Jan 23, Prof. Rancourt was arrested, cuffed, and charged under the Trespass to Property Act of Ontario, by Ottawa Police under instructions of the upper administration while giving a public presentation about corruption in the upper administration to a classroom of students, professors, and community members.
-On February 24, two of Prof. Rancourt's graduate students and his research associate filed a legal claim against the university, and personally hand delivered the claim to Allan Rock.
===== Video of Allan Rock Evading Justice =====
Now, on March 17, Prof. Rancourt will be fired for practicing an alternative pedagogy.
The Allan Rock administration is suppressing free speech and academic freedom on campus. Students and Professors need to mobilize and stop the administration from taking over our university. Come out on Tuesday March 17 to defend the future of education!
Dear Mr. Rock:
The Graduate Students' Association Étudiant(e)s Diplômé(e)s (GSAÉD), the collective voice for the University of Ottawa graduate students, is writing to protest the University's actions against physics professor Denis Rancourt.
It is our view that the suspension and planned dismissal of Professor Rancourt are political in nature and threaten academic freedom in this institution. As such, the University's actions harm the campus intellectual environment for all graduate students, negatively affect the image of the University, and diminish the value of the school's graduate and professional degrees.
CONTINUED HERE: http://www.academicfreedom.ca/Documents/GSAEDLetter.pdf
Grades are the drug that facilitate the molding of your minds. The syllabus is the doctrine that you have been brainwashed to believe in. Examinations are the filters that select for the most faithful servants.
The institution is ours, and we will fight to regain power.


Heckles: Your pedagogy sucks

Free your mind from grades, and start questioning the learning processes imposed on you

Who holds power at the U of O?

Scrap letter grades

Give me more A+s


Friday, March 13, 2009

Child torture video

If you want to learn more about this experiment and how delaying gratification of a marshmallow can predict SAT scores check out the latest radiolab podcast....


Monday, March 09, 2009

Infection is the Fountain of Youth

Some interesting papers have been popping up on the peer-reviewed-osphere connecting innate antiviral immunity to stem cell turnover. First, a publication in Nature from Essers et al. (1) shows that interferon alpha, a critical anti-viral cytokine that is robustly induced by viral infection, re-activates dormant stem cells in the mammalian bone marrow. Second, data from Buchon et al. (2) in Cell Host and Microbe show that stem cells in the Drosophila gut are induced to proliferate following oral infection with a Gram negative bacterium. Intriguingly, the conserved Jak-Stat kinase signalling pathway is implicated in both phenomena, suggesting an ancient relationship between innate immune and stem cell regulatory pathways.

This idea of course brings up lots of interesting hard-core biological questions, but since this is the blogosphere I'll throw out the random half-assed sci-fi scenario. Could infectious agents be helping us stay young? Perhaps periodic infections with nonlethal viruses selectively purge our decrepit ageing cells, while simulatenously stimulating their replacement with fresh ones derived from newly activated stem cells. Neutropic viruses might help to prune defunct neurons and thus stave off degeneratvie diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

So, I propose a new cure for ageing. Virotherapy with benign, replication competent agents. Much more practical than 18th level magic-user Audbrey deGray's stem cell replacement. Move over StemEnhance, viral anti-ageing cream is on the way!

1. IFN-alpha activates dormant haematopoietic stem cells in vivo. Nature, 2009. Online Feb.

Drosophila Intestinal Response to Bacterial Infection: Activation of Host Defense and Stem Cell Proliferation. Cell Host and Microbe, 2009. Vol 5 pg 200.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Roche LightCycler 480

A new character for the upcoming Transformers sequel?

[h/t: Greg Laden]


Friday, March 06, 2009

How much is a dolphin worth?

What would you trade to save a dolphin's life? A single shark seems like a pretty good deal. How about about 10 sharks? That's getting a bit pricey.

What about 25,824 small tuna, 382 mahi-mahi, 188 wahoo, 82 yellowtail and other large fish, 27 sharks and rays, 1 billfish, 1,193 triggerfish and other small fish and 0.06 endangered sea turtles? That's the bycatch cost associated with saving a single dolphin by moving to 'dolphin safe' tuna fishing practices. Dolphin safe tuna, it turns out, is an ecological disaster. It seems the only species it's better for is dolphins. The reason is the method used to find the tuna schools.
[A]fter a large group of tuna is located, a miles-across purse seine net is closed around them via a group of small boats associated with a large factory ship. It’s an effective way to catch large amounts of fish for not a lot of money.

This technique is pretty standard- the main variation lies in how the large group of tuna is located. There are basically three ways to do this.

  1. Get lucky and happen to stumble across a large group of tuna visible from the surface in the middle of an enormous ocean. Obviously, this isn’t terribly practical.

  2. Attract tuna using floating objects. Stay tuned, we’ll come back to #2.

  3. Follow dolphins, because dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific are often associated with large schools of tuna. Dolphins are easy to follow because, unlike tuna, they have to come up for air.
For a long time, #3 was the most common way of catching tuna. The problem with this method was that by definition, dolphins are right there- and they get caught in the net as well.
Unfortunately the problem with #2 is that floating objects attract so much more than just tuna, resulting in the bycatch mentioned above. Dolphin-associated tuna schools, on the other hand, are primarily mature tuna.

Dolphin-safe tuna is even bad for the tuna. The 'small tuna' bycatch refers to pre-reproductive fish, removing them from the breeding pool and making tuna fishery even more unsustainable.

Of course changing the 'dolphin friendly' label to 'eco unfriendly' (or 'ONLY dolphin friendly) is probably never going to happen.

What's a dolphin worth to you?


Cancer Carnival #19

Welcome to the 19th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival! I'll just dive right in and get to the posts.

Our first submission comes from Neurixir who reminds us that cancer cell lines aren't always what they seem:
[S]uppose research group X discovers something about colon cancer cells, specifically colon cancer cell line Y. They write up a paper with their data results and try to submit to Journal A. Journal A demands them to prove that the cells they’ve been working on are actually Y, and not some other colon cancer cell line expressing totally different morphology/proteins/receptors etc. To prove that Y is Y, research group X would need to get the DNA of their putative Y and verify that it matches the canonic DNA for the Y cell line.
OK, that's all straightforward, but Neurixir tells us that more and more journals are asking for DNA fingerprints. The reason? A growing number of cases where the cell lines used weren't actually the cell type claimed. Some of these cases are outlined, such as once-popular breast cancer cell line MDA-MB-435 turning out to be a melanoma, so head over there for the full scoop.

While on the topic of DNA, Erin Cline from the Spittoon - the 23andMe blog - sends us some information about two SNPs linked to thyroid cancer, published in Nature Genetics.
In a combined analysis that compared more than 960 subjects with thyroid cancer from Iceland, Spain and the United States to more than 38,000 controls, Julius Gudmundsson and colleagues found that each A at SNP rs965513 increased the odds of the disease by 1.75 times. Each C at rs944289 increased the odds of thyroid cancer by 1.37 times.
For now, the SNPs discussed won't be included in 23andMe's standard offering - at least until more studies confirm that result.

Ward Plunet takes a look at some issues of nutrition and cancer. Specifically, he reviews a paper examining the effects of a high fat diet on cancer progression.
A new paper by Le et. al., 2009 in BMC Cancer examined this question by testing animals that had tumors implanted in them on either a high fat diet (34.9% : mouse D12492 diet which equates to 60% fat in caloric terms - according to the company documentation) and a normal chow diet (4.25 % fat: 7001 diet, which equates to approximately 12% of their caloric intake - according to the company data sheet - which is the normal amount of fat typically fed a lab mouse). They then used a fairly new technique (which I discussed briefly about in my recent talk at BIL 2009) which allows the detected of metastasizing cancer cells in the blood stream.
Does a high fat diet increase metastasis? Click the link to find out the results, as well as some of the limitations of the study.

Next up, Bioblog has a post discussing ER+ and ER- breast cancer and the different treatments for each type.
[W]hile hormone-negative breast cancer is clearly responsive to first-generation chemotherapy - that is, something similar to the long-time standard for breast cancer, cyclophosphamide + methotrexate + fluorouracil (CMF) - hormone-positive cancer is not at all clearly so. In hormone-responsive cancer patients, when CMF treatment is compared to ovarian suppression, overall 10-year survival rates are similar. A recent study shows this even for women at higher risk for recurrence, i.e. with large tumor size and/or positive lymph nodes (Ejlertsen et al., 2006).
The author goes on to compare cytotoxic therapy to hormone interventions (such as tamoxifen), though I'm not sure about the bias towards cytotoxic chemotherapy the author complains about.

Finally, GrrlScientist takes us on a tour of BRITE (Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise) in North Carolina. She writes
Have you ever been in a pharmaceutical research facility? This is my photoessay documenting one of the many interesting field trips I went on while speaking at Science Online 09 in North Carolina. This photoessay is about my visit to North Carolina Central University's Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) facilities at North Carolina's famous Research Triangle, where their main focus is discovering new cancer pharmaceuticals.
We also received one non-English submission, from what appears to be an Indonesian blog. If you're Indonesian and want to learn about breast cancer and its treatment head over there, though I don't speak the language and can't comment on the content.

One topic I was surprised to not see among the submissions was the cancer risk of stem cell therapy following the case of the boy whose stem cell therapy developed into cancer. This was a potential concern I had previously raised about stem cell therapy. It's absence among submissions wasn't for lack of writing on the subject though. See Wired Science, Pure Pedantry and especially Hematopoiesis for the story and analysis.

That concludes the 19th edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival. We're always looking for new hosts, so send us an email to sign up! The next edition is due to appear Friday, April 3rd so submit your posts here. Visit the Carnival Homepage for previous editions.

And don't forget, the Cancer Research Blog Carnival now has subscription options; you can follow by email or RSS feed. An aggregated feed of credible, rotating health and medicine blog carnivals is also available.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

CELL Website Gets Massive RNA Contamination

Holy crap!!!! Did someone forget to add the RNase H????? The CELL website is bleeding RNA. Go over there and read the collection of minireviews on the greatest biological macromolecule in the universe.


Goodbye Nature Podcast!!!

Well I recently got into the iPod game and have been trying to get into the podcast listening thing. Naturally one of the first I subscribed to was the ubiquitous NATURE (tm) podcast. I think I gave it a fair chance. I listened to a few podcasts start to finish with an open mind. But basically it's the least interesting thing on my iPod. Given the choice, I think I'd prefer to check the bus seats with my "A Free Level" app or listen to "Everybody Hurts" on repeat for an equivalent length of time. So with only a couple of GB of free space left, it's time for Darwinian selection to do its thing. Select all....DELETE! Ah that felt good.

I don't know what it is about that podcast that rubs me the wrong way. I mean it's well done and produced and I think they do a great job making the kind of podcast they're aiming for. It reminds me a lot of that science show that used to be on the Discovery channel back when I got cable. Newsy, ridden with catch-phrases that make no scientific sense and science-fiction analogies that get dumb people excited. Much less about how science really works...you know, like experiments and stuff. Something the Metro or CTV news could be proud of, but for the world's best publishing house of REAL SCIENCE, it sucks. I'll stick to browsing the great science on the posted on the Nature website, and save the iPod space for one of the many other great and original quality podcasts out there. Like the Ricky Gervais Podcast...


Buy This Book

It's finally here - The Open Laboratory 2008 is now available to buy and read. This is an annual collection of the best science writing on blogs, and the Bayblab is proud to be included in this edition - one of 50 essays (one poem, and one cartoon) selected from over 830 entries!

The book can be purchased from lulu.com (also available as pdf) and will be available from other online retailers, such as Amazon, in coming weeks. So head over there and grab a copy for yourself (and maybe one for your favourite blogger!)


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Does Marijuana impair cognition?

A recent study in the Nature Group journal Neuropsychopharmacology investigates the acute effects of smoking marijuana on cognition. I've always assumed that smoking makes you dumb while you're high, and certainly had never seen any study on the acute effects. Yet it seems those assumptions might be misguided. The double-blinded study looked at a group of 8 females and 10 males who regularly use the drug (average of 24 joints a week!), which were given a ride to the lab then given cigarettes with various concentration of THC, underwent a battery of tests and were finally fed. Great care was taken in preparing the joints:

"During each session, participants smoked a single one-gram marijuana cigarette (0, 1.8, 3.9% Delta9-THC w/w, provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse). Participants took three standardized puffs from the marijuana cigarette: each puff consisted of a 5-sec preparation interval, followed by 5-sec of inhalation, 10-sec of breath-hold, and 40-sec of exhalation and rest. Cigarettes were tightly rolled at both ends and were smoked through a hollow plastic cigarette holder so that the contents were not visible."

The authors first remark that other than memory recall very little has been investigated about the acute effects of THC, and the only other metric investigated, reaction time in psychomotor tasks, seems unaffected.
The tests they tried was a reaction time test, using both auditory and visual cues on a computer where the test subjects had to press a key. Memory test involved recalling details about stories and sequences of digits. There were also visuo-spatial tasks, mental calculations and various other standardised tasks. The results were somewhat surprising:

In summary, while subjective ratings and heart rate were significantly elevated in a Delta9-THC concentration-related fashion, cognitive performance was minimally affected following acute marijuana smoking. Participants experienced greater difficulties inhibiting inappropriate responding following the high Delta9-THC concentration cigarette and they required more time to complete several cognitive tests, but their test accuracy rates were unaffected. The finding that accuracy was unaffected by smoked marijuana indicates that heavy, daily, marijuana smokers will not fulfill the DSM-IV criterion for marijuana intoxication that requires impairment of complex cognitive functioning. The consistent slowing of cognitive performance may have significant behavioral effects under some circumstances requiring complex operations that must be accomplished in a limited time frame, such as certain workplace tasks and the operation of machinery and automobiles."

So I guess it doesn't make you dumber, but it does slow you down...


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Deadly Herpes Outbreak

In elephants.

The New York Times has a story about a sick pachyderm at the St. Louis Zoo. The 2-year old animal presented with a limp, lack of appetite and other symptoms of a virus common among Asian elephants
Her head became swollen at the jaw and forehead, and her tongue, normally bubble-gum pink, became pale and speckled by an intricate pattern of red bruises. Results from the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington soon revealed that Jade was fighting a previously unknown strain of the virus.
Herpes is apparently enough of a problem in North American elephants to warrant a National Elephant Herpesvirus Lab! The virus, which causes fatal haemorrhagic disease, has killed around 20% of elephants born in North American zoos since 2000 and 24 elephants since 1983. Six animals have survived after treatment with human anti-herpes drugs.

It's unclear how the virus is spread or whether, like some human herpesviruses, it can lie dormant only to re-emerge at a later time.