Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Water and Power consumption during gold metal hockey

A fan of the bayblab works for BCHydro and passed on this beauty, illustrating the power consumption was also affected by the gold metal game. In this case people are using their microwaves, opening their refrigerators ect. and using more power during intermissions.
from "Pat's Paper"


BRCA Patents Struck Down

Myriad Genetics is a company that owns the patent on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes - tumour suppressor genes involved in breast (and other) cancer heredity, and important for genetic testing. This is pretty lucrative for the company since it means they control diagnostic testing based on these genes. As Bayman has written before they've been highly defensive of these patents and restrictive of the tests, threatening to sue provinces that offer BRCA screening other than Myriad's own BRCAnalysis and demanding that patient samples be sent to their Utah headquarters.

Gene patents are great for the companies that own them, but can be problematic for patients who might need these tests and researchers trying to investigate disease. Around 20% of the human genome is 'owned' by some other interest, but the tide is beginning to turn. A ruling yesterday by a New York federal judge has overturned Myriad's BRCA patents, a ruling that will no doubt affect the status of other gene patents.

The key aspects of the ruling is that 1) the patented material - the isolated BRCA1/2 DNA - is "not 'markedly different' from native DNA and is therefore not patentable under US law and 2) the method - BRCA1/2 sequence analysis - is not patentable.

This is good news for consumers (i.e. patients), researchers and a different set of corporate interests (eg. genetic testing services like 23andMe), though there will inevitably be an appeals process before the dust settles and we know for sure where patents like these stand.

Read the full, 156-page, ruling here (there's some interesting stuff in there) and further commentary at The Questionable Authority and Genetic Future.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

El Corazón

If the twang of country music isn't to your liking, you might prefer this latin-styled ode to the heart. I can't attest to the translation accuracy, but there's one blogger in particular that I think might enjoy this.


Friday, March 26, 2010

The Worst Jobs in Science

Popular Science has a list of the "10 worst jobs in science", reprinted in USA Today.
Feces piper: Some hospitals perform controversial "fecal transplants," which involve feeding fecal matter through a tube from a healthy person into a person infected with the C. difficile bacteria to fight the bacteria.
Somehow I think these aren't official job titles. Most don't actually sound half bad ("bad dance observer"? "doomsday fact checker"?) And no, grad student doesn't make the list.


Why Does Coffee Make You Pee?

How diuretic is caffeine? Does your morning coffee make you pee more that a decaf would? What about green tea or cola? Scicurious has the answers in her latest Friday Weird Science.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cancer Carnival Coming Next Week

Don't forget - it's almost time for the 32nd edition of the Cancer Research Blog Carnival. If you have a post you'd like to share, submit it using this form and if you don't have something already written, it's not too late to put something together. This edition will be hosted at Health and Life on April 2nd.


RPG Science

We've seen before how video games can potentially be used by epidemiologists to model disease outbreaks. Scientists are now trying to harness the power of nerds RPG players to model multi-agent systems and create better decision making tools. In this case, players were used to generate knowledge for integrated wastewater management. From the abstract:
Decision Support Systems (DSS) based on Multi-Agent System (MAS) paradigm are promising tools to improve the integrated management. When all the different agents involved interact, new important knowledge emerges. This knowledge can be used to build better DSS and improve wastewater infrastructures management achieving the objectives planned by legislation. The paper describes a methodology to acquire this knowledge through a Role Playing Game (RPG). First of all there is an introduction about the wastewater problems, a definition of RPG, and the relation between RPG and MAS. Then it is explained how the RPG was built with two examples of game sessions and results. The paper finishes with a discussion about the uses of this methodology and future work.
The game itself seems a little dry - they could have at least substitued water elementals for rain clouds - but they do outline a number of ways this approach can be useful, both as a teaching tool and to generate knowledge about agent behaviours and outcomes. It's unclear, however, how it would deal with my 12th level druid.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Quick Links

Does studying lead to poorer food choices?
Take 165 undergraduate students and enroll them in a study you tell them is about memory and where as part of their reward for inclusion, they'll be given a snack. Ask half of them to memorize a 2 digit number and the other half a 7 digit number and once they've memorized their numbers ask them to go into a second room where they are faced with their snack choice - either a piece of chocolate cake or a cup of fruit salad. [...] 63% of the students who were trying to remember the 7 digit number chose the cake compared with only 42% of those trying to remember the 2 digit number.
Interesting result, but I'm not entirely convinced of the explanation.

British doctors transplant trachea grown from stem cells
It is the first time a child has received an organ transplant created with stem cells and the second time that surgeons have injected the stem cells immediately before implanting the windpipe. In a previous operation the cells were allowed to grow onto the windpipe in the laboratory for some months before the organ was implanted.
If they successfully fully regrow the windpipe in situ that is definitely pretty cool.

The Great American Pizza Map
[T]oday's map should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, isn't the comparison between the number of user generated references to "pizza", "guns" or "strip club" an obvious one to make? Perhaps not, but we're doing it anyway.
The map is colour coded based on user-generated Google Maps placemarks for those three terms. Lots of strip clubs marked in the Vegas area. Go figure.

On the animal research experience
So he had spent the day chopping the heads off of something like 90 mice that he had raised for a couple of years. And you have to remember, Billy was a graduate student. That meant that most likely, these mice were his only friends.
This is an interesting collection of stories describing the complex issue of of animal research.


Friday, March 19, 2010


I'm just trying to internalize an interesting study coming out of the University of British Columbia, that tries to suggest that cultural forces, specifically market integration and religion allow societies to grow beyond individuals that are familiar with each other, such that people are generous to strangers. I suspect that this community size limit is above Dunbar's number, which is clearly a result of genetic heritage. The authors suggest that these forces are required for larger cohesive societies and that this goes against the conventional wisdom that our genetic heritage causes our behavioral fairness to strangers.
From the article. [J. Henrich et al., Science 327, 1480 (2010).]

These findings indicate that people living in small communities lacking market integration or world religions—absences that likely characterized all societies until the Holocene—display relatively little concern with fairness or punishing unfairness in transactions involving strangers or anonymous others. This result challenges the hypothesis that successful social interaction in large-scale societies—and the corresponding experimental findings—arise directly from an evolved psychology that mistakenly applies kin and reciprocity-based heuristics to strangers in vast populations (4, 5), without any of the "psychological workarounds" (42) that are created by norms and institutions. Moreover, it is not clear how this hypothesis can explain why we find so much variation among populations in our experimental measures and why this variation is so strongly related to MI
[market integration], WR [world religion], and CS [community size]. The mere fact that the largest and most anonymous communities engage in substantially greater punishment relative to the smallest-scale societies, who punish very little, challenges this interpretation.

I also bought into the mentioned conventional wisdom and find the suggestion that kindness to strangers is cultural and not innate very surprising. Shocking even. Why can I empathize so much with strangers? Is it seriously because I exchange money and am from a society with a history of Christianity? I wonder if levels of charity can confirm any of this data. Does this research then also offer the opportunity to compare the effectiveness of different religions in their social cohesive power? Interestingly, as I understand it, the study only scored communities as having a religion if it was Islam or Christianity ie. tribal religions didn't count as religions. I am guessing therefore that pagan religions did not demonstrate a correlation to kindness to strangers. Obviously the data is pretty prone to tons of uncontrollable variables and the data itself doesn't look impressive (see above figure), but apparently the statistics are conclusive. (I'll trust the reviews at Science on this one). Also it is just a correlation, and therefore doesn't prove causality.

Great summary in the Economist.


Monday, March 15, 2010


Check out the flickr photostream of Michael Paukner. He's a graphic designer who makes a lot of art out of science, including the picture above.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Medical Hypotheses in Hot Water

AC's beloved journal Medical Hypotheses is in a bit of trouble over HIV-denial papers published in its pages, Science is reporting. Medical Hypotheses does not have a peer review process - the only journal in the Elsevier family with this distinction - which allows it to publish some of the wacky papers and bizarre hypotheses that make such good blog fodder. Publication decisions are made by the editor-in-chief, Bruce Charlton, who is now under pressure from Elsevier to either resign or implement some form of peer review. The paper in question was written by Peter Duesberg, a well known denier of the HIV-AIDS connection.
After the paper's publication, prominent HIV scientists John Moore of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and Nobelist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi of the Pasteur Institute in Paris wrote Elsevier to ask that the paper be withdrawn. Others asked the National Library of Medicine to delist Medical Hypotheses from the MEDLINE database of biomedical literature, and called on scientists to urge their librarians to cancel the journal. (They also took aim at a second AIDS paper by molecular biologist Marco Ruggiero of the University of Florence, which they say was denialist in nature as well.)
The paper has since been pulled by the publisher, but reaction to the reaction has been mixed. Some see it as a good step towards fixing what is seen as a problem with the journal, with others, including Duesberg, decrying the move as censorship or not in keeping with the journal's mission.


Happy Pi Day!

Today, 3/14, is Pi Day unless you are strict about using international date format (in which case, no pi for you!). Enjoy this ridiculous video.

If you have trouble remembering the first few digits of pi, try this mnemonic which is probably even harder to remember: "How I need a drink! Gingerale, of course". The number of letters in each word represent the digit. Don't ask why that's in my head.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The nature of navel fluff

I've been a prodigious producer of navel fluff for as long as I can remember. In fact I've considered saving it to figure out how much I produce in a year, and whether it's enough to fill a pillow. But it looks like someone beat me to it, and published it in one of my favorite journals "medical hypotheses". I have noticed that no woman I've known produces belly button lint which made me think you needed some belly hair and a belly button with a lip to accumulate the lint. Turns out I was bang on:

"Med Hypotheses. 2009 Jun;72(6):623-5. Epub 2009 Feb 23.
The nature of navel fluff.

Steinhauser G.

Vienna University of Technology, Atominstitut der Osterreichischen Universitäten, Stadionallee 2, 1020 Vienna, Austria. georg.steinhauser@ati.ac.at

Hard facts on a soft matter! In their popular scientific book (Leyner M, Goldberg B. Why do men have nipples - hundreds of questions you'd only ask a doctor after your third martini. New York: Three Rivers Press; 2005), Leyner and Goldberg raised the question why "some belly buttons collect so much lint". They were, however, not able to come up with a satisfactory answer. The hypothesis presented herein says that abdominal hair is mainly responsible for the accumulation of navel lint, which, therefore, this is a typically male phenomenon. The abdominal hair collects fibers from cotton shirts and directs them into the navel where they are compacted to a felt-like matter. The most abundant individual mass of a piece of lint was found to be between 1.20 and 1.29 mg (n=503). However, due to several much larger pieces, the average mass was 1.82 mg in this three year study. When the abdominal hair is shaved, no more lint is collected. Old T-shirts or dress shirts produce less navel fuzz than brand new T-shirts. Using elemental analysis, it could be shown that cotton lint contains a certain amount of foreign material, supposedly cutaneous scales, fat or proteins. Incidentally, lint might thus fulfill a cleaning function for the navel


Pouring cement into an ant colony


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Water usage in Edmonton during hockey final

from "Pat's Paper"


Saturday, March 06, 2010

Trace Elements

Chris Hardwick and Mike Phirman, aka Hard 'n' Phirm, are perhaps better known - at least to me - for their great bluegrass Radiohead medley, but they also do a mean country-parody about science terms and concepts. I'm not really sure what to make of this, but I can't resist a catchy tune. Some lyrics NSFW.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Cancer Carnival #31

It's the first Friday of March, which means it's time for the latest cancer blogging round-up. Starting things off, the Mad Lab Rat offers up some research blogging describing a bacteria-derived molecule, Azurin, that can induce apoptosis and preferentially binds to cancer cells (in this case breast cancer).
Azurin was first discovered as the toxin that attacks cellular macrophages. It's produced by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa the 8821M strain of which was found to produce a high concentration of Azurin. When applied to both normal and cancerous cells (taken from a breast cell carcinoma) the Azurin preferentially entered the cancerous cells.
Mad Lab Rat also points out that the same molecule slows HIV-1 spread and inhibits malarial parasite growth.

From Highlight HEALTH, Diana Gitig blogs about research suggesting a link between cancer and Alzheimer's disease - or rather a reverse link.
The fact that Alzheimer’s disease has a reciprocal relationship with cancer whereas vascular dementia does not implies that it is neurodegeneration, and not cognitive impairment, that provides the protection from cancer. This idea is bolstered by findings that people with Parkinson’s disease, another age-associated neurodegenerative disorder, also have a decreased risk of most cancers. And it makes sense upon consideration of the natures of the two diseases. Cancer is a disorder of uncontrolled growth and/or a lack of timely cell death; Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, in contrast, are caused by vast swaths of inappropriate neuronal cell death. It stands to reason that genetic or environmental factors that promote one condition would suppress the other.
With Alzheimer's and cancer being two of the most feared age-related diseases, the posting points out, at least we don't need to fear them both at the same time and, more importantly, discovering links such as these helps understand the underlying mechanisms of both.

Once and future host Health and Life offers some thoughts on cancer medications.
The goal of future cancer treatments is to find the molecular pathways that are deregulated in cancers and target them alone. Think doing a targeted missile strike on a house instead of carpet bombing a city.

The limitations to targeted treatments include the sheer complexity of cancers. You can knock out one pathway that leads to cancer formation only to have the tumor adopt another approach. Cancer doesn’t form when just one thing goes wrong, rather it happens when many things go wrong at once.
In it, they discuss the challenges of some specific treatments - such as Tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors - as well as some broader strategies being used.

Here at the Bayblab, I try, somewhat unsuccessfully, to answer a question posed to me: does rolling cigars or cigarettes increase your cancer risk?

Finally, a student guest post at Aetiology looks at the role of HPVs in cancer development - skin cancer.
Human papillomaviruses (HPVs) are small DNA viruses that infect epithelial cells. There are well over 100 subtypes of HPV. The subtypes that infect cutaneous epithelia are termed beta-HPVs and those that infect the mucosal epithelia are termed alpha-HPVs. Some alpha-HPVs have received attention as strong risk factors for the development of cervical cancer. Less public awareness has been generated over the role of HPVs in the development of other cancers such as vulvar, vaginal, anal, head and neck, and penile cancers. Only recent research has focused on an association between HPV infection and skin cancer development.
Health and Life had so much fun last time that they will be taking up hosting duties again next month, so start writing those cancer posts. And as always, we're constantly on the lookout for future hosts so leave a comment or send an email if interested!

That's it for this month's Cancer Research Blog Carnival. For older editions, visit the Carnival Homepage. Don't forget, the CRBC 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. GrrlScientist is setting something similar up for a broader swath of science and nature blog carnivals ("Science, Medicine, Environment and Nature Blog Carnival Twitter Feed"). It's in its infancy, so you can find details and offer thoughts here or sign up for the feed here.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Would a Lava Lamp work on Jupiter?

Check out this large Meccano centrifuge and sophisticated setup used to answer this interesting question.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hangover-free booze?

Via io9.com:
The drinks with the added oxygen content sobered people up 20-30 minutes faster, under the influence of the rather potent alcohol they used for the trials. 20% alcohol is around the strength of fortified wine, soju, or a very strong mixed drink, so while shaving a half hour off your drunken tomfoolery might not seem a great deal, when you're trying to fall asleep at night and combating the spins, you'll appreciate it.

The researchers also asked what would change if someone were to drink multiple oxygen-enriched drinks over the course of the night. Would there be a cumulative effect? Again, the answer was yes: People who drank oxygenated booze had less severe and fewer hangovers than people who drank the non-fizzy stuff.
I haven't seen the actual data, but 25ppm oxygen (the highest amount they used, according to the abstract) seems very low to be having a biological effect, but they suggest that having oxygen in the beverage the liver enzymes that deal with alcohol - and require oxygen - work more efficiently. I also wonder if, in a non-controlled scenario, the quick sobering effect would be dampened by consumers drinking more and more to maintain their buzz.