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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Space Weather Prediction Center [Beta]

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NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is pleased to debut its new website. This completely redesigned site leverages the latest web technologies to reach the broadest possible audience. As a Beta release, the site incorporates the look-and-feel of the final site with major functions and content included. It is still in development and we are adding new content and capabilities nearly every week.

The most immediately visible change is a new home page with more timely information and a more dynamic set of graphics and links. The home page is aimed at the general public rather than the experienced user.

Also, users won’t have to hunt for current conditions. A scrolling bar at the top of the home page and every other page shows the past, current and future space weather conditions using the three NOAA scales.

For experienced users and interest groups, there are direct links to pages of critical interest. These include Aviation, Electric Power, Satellite Operators, Radio Communications, Satellite Navigation, Emergency Management, etc…

Finally, we are investing substantial effort to ensure that the site is mobile-friendly. Users with portable devices will always be able to get their space weather fix.

Please, take some time and wander about. Push buttons and prod scientists with questions. It’s what they respond to. :)

Thanks, Mike

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 23, 2014 at 2:00 am

Common gene variant increases risk of colorectal cancer from eating processed meat

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A common genetic variant that affects one in three people appears to significantly increase the risk of colorectal cancer from the consumption of processed meat…The study of over 18,000 people from the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe represents the first large-scale genome-wide analysis of genetic variants and dietary patterns that may help explain more of the risk factors for colorectal cancer.

Dr Jane Figueiredo…explained that eating processed meat is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and for about a third of the general population who carry this genetic variant, the risk of eating processed meat is even higher compared to those who do not. “Our results, if replicated by other studies, may provide us with a greater understanding of the biology into colorectal carcinogenesis,” said Dr Ulrike Peters…

The study population totaled 9,287 patients with colorectal cancer and a control group of 9,117 individuals without cancer, all participants in 10 observational studies that were pooled in the largest meta-analysis sponsored by the National Institutes of Health…Scientists systematically searched 2.7 million variants to identify those that are associated with the consumption of meat, fiber, fruits and vegetables. A significant interaction between the genetic variant rs4143094 and processed meat consumption was detected…

Colorectal cancer is a multi-factorial disease attributed to both genetic causes and lifestyle factors; including diet. About 30 known genetic susceptibility alleles for colorectal cancer have been pinpointed throughout the genome. How specific foods affect the activities of genes has not been established but represents an important area of research for prevention. “The possibility that genetic variants may modify an individual’s risk for disease based on diet has not been thoroughly investigated but represents an important new insight into disease development,” said Dr Li Hsu, the lead statistician on the study.

Diet is a modifiable risk factor for colorectal cancer. Our study is the first to understand whether some individuals are at higher or lower risk based on their genomic profile. This information can help us better understand the biology and maybe in the future lead to targeted prevention strategies,” said Dr Figueiredo.

Scary enough. I grew up in an era – and ethnicity on both sides of the family – that consumed a significant amount of processed meat. Whether over-the-counter crap or artisan-crafted salume, keeping such consumption to a minimum – like zero – makes a lot of sense.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 21, 2014 at 2:00 am

Myths and misconceptions about the Gulf oil spill

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In the months and years following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, telling fact from fiction regarding seafood safety and ecosystem health was supremely difficult. Is Gulf seafood safe to eat or not? Are there really deformed shrimp and black lesion-covered red snapper? Will the Gulf ever be clean again?

A large part of the confusion was due to the connected, yet distinct, seafood issues surrounding the spill. Whether the seafood was safe for humans to eat was mixed with stories of the future of Gulf fisheries; harm done to wild fish was conflated with health of the seafood supply.

To clear up some of the confusion, here are seven topics of concern, some still unresolved, about the Gulf Oil Spill, brought to you by the Smithsonian Ocean Portal and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). These should help you better understand the spill’s effects on seafood and wildlife.

#1: Once oil enters the Gulf, it will stay there indefinitely.

#2: If a fish or other animal eats oil, it will remain in its body forever and get passed up the food chain.

#3: All oil is poison.

#4: The mixture of oil and dispersant is more toxic than either one alone.

#5: The oil is mutating fish, destroying their populations, and putting our country’s seafood at risk.

#6: If fisheries were going to crash, we would have seen it by now.

#7: Anything bad that happens in the Gulf can be attributed to the spill.

Quite a long article summing up everything scientifically-valid about the oil spill and results from that spill. To date. Worth reading to update what you know about the spill. I certainly found it useful.

If you’ve relied on the usual news sources, this is especially useful. Traditionally conservative scientific methods produce reliable information albeit often containing a good deal less shock and awe than ideologues of any stripe may find appealing.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 20, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Fundamentalists’ greatest fear – species discovered where the females have penises

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Female insects with “penises” have been discovered in Brazil – the first example of an animal with sex-reversed genitalia, scientists say.

Neotrogla females insert the erectile organs into males’ vagina-like openings…The elaborate structure, dubbed a “gynosome”, is used to suck out sperm and nutritious seminal fluids…Copulation lasts an impressive 40-70 hours, the researchers report…

“Although sex-role reversal has been identified in several different animals, Neotrogla is the only example in which the intromittent organ is also reversed,” said lead author Kazunori Yoshizawa from Hokkaido University in Japan.

The female is always on top during copulation – which lasts up to 70 hours…The gender-bending insects were found in a cave in eastern Brazil and represent four distinct species in the Neotrogla genus.

Once inside a male, the membranous part of the female gynosome inflates. It has numerous spines which anchor the two insects together.

When the researchers attempted to pull a male and female apart, the male’s abdomen was ripped from the thorax without breaking the genital coupling…

Who would have expected the AntiChrist to appear as a flying insect? :)

Written by Ed Campbell

April 19, 2014 at 8:00 am

Red Moon, Green Beam — Apache Point Observatory

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red moon, green beam
Click to enlarge

This is not a scene from a sci-fi special effects movie. The green beam of light and red lunar disk are real enough, captured in the early morning hours of April 15. Of course, the reddened lunar disk is easy to explain as the image was taken during this week’s total lunar eclipse.

Immersed in shadow, the eclipsed Moon reflects the dimmed reddened light of all the sunsets and sunrises filtering around the edges of planet Earth, seen in silhouette from a lunar perspective. But the green beam of light really is a laser. Shot from the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico, the beam’s path is revealed as Earth’s atmosphere scatters some of the intense laser light.

The laser’s target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971. By determining the light travel time delay of the returning laser pulse, the experimental team from UC San Diego is able to measure the Earth-Moon distance to millimeter precision and provide a test of General Relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravity.

Image Credit & Copyright: Dan Long (Apache Point Observatory) – Courtesy: Tom Murphy (UC San Diego)

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Written by Ed Campbell

April 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Research OK — doesn’t say anything about Reefer Madness!

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Correlation does not equal causation, and a single exam cannot show a trend over time. Basic stuff, right?

But judging by coverage of a study just out in the Journal of Neuroscience, these are apparently foreign concepts for many folks in the media.

In the study, researchers at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern University in Chicago performed MRI brain scans on 20 young adult “casual” marijuana users and 20 age- and sex-matched nonusers. They found that, in the users, gray matter densities in the nucleus accumbens were higher than in controls, and the right amygdala and left nucleus accumbens were shaped differently.

Interesting, but remember that these findings only reflected differences between the marijuana users and controls at a single point in time. The researchers did not, could not, demonstrate that the differences resulted from marijuana smoking or even that the “abnormalities” relative to controls reflected changes from some earlier state.

You wouldn’t know that from the media coverage.

RTFA for a small sampling of almost universal crap

…Note that the study did not identify any cognitive or behavioral abnormalities in the cannabis users versus controls — it was strictly an MRI study.

That, however, didn’t stop senior author Hans Breiter, MD, of Northwestern from opining in the SfN press release that the study “raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”

Um, no, it doesn’t — not without before-and-after MRI scans showing brain structure changes in users that differ from nonusers and documentation of functional impairments associated with those changes.

Further studies may – or may not – indicate one or another cause-and-effect relationship. That kind of study must be constructed differently than this one. And hopefully the press release and editors who get the email won’t be in a hurry to construe the study as something it isn’t.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 17, 2014 at 2:00 am

Where to watch – Years Of Living Dangerously

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Dangerous environment

Director and producer of films like Terminator, Titanic and Avatar, James Cameron has made a 9-part documentary on the environmental challenge climate change presents. The Years of Living Dangerously debuts Sunday night, April 13th, on Showtime. If you don’t subscribe to Showtime the debut will be available on YouTube.

Click on the graphic above to check out your choices.

Thanks, Mike

Written by Ed Campbell

April 13, 2014 at 8:00 am

E-cigarettes change cells similar to those affected by tobacco

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Electronic cigarettes can change gene expression in a similar way to tobacco, according to one of the first studies to investigate the biological effects of the devices.

Presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting on 6 April in San Diego, California, the research looked at human bronchial cells that contained some mutations found in smokers at risk of lung cancer. The cells were immortalized, grown in culture medium that had been exposed to e-cigarette vapour and their gene expression profiled.

The researchers found that the cells grown in medium exposed to the vapour of e-cigarettes showed a similar pattern of gene expression to those grown in a medium exposed to tobacco smoke…

The changes are not identical, says study researcher Avrum Spira, who works on genomics and lung cancer at Boston University in Massachusetts. But “there are some striking similarities”, he says. The team is now evaluating whether the alterations mean that cells behave more like cancer cells in culture.

I don’t doubt the companies making a buck from this latest tobacco “substitute” will fight to the death to protect their profits. Your death. Their profits.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 11, 2014 at 2:00 am

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains time

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Thanks, Ursarodina

Written by Ed Campbell

April 8, 2014 at 8:00 am

Microbes may have been responsible for the largest mass extinction of species in history

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MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman stands next to part of the Xiakou formation in China

A team of researchers from MIT may have found new evidence to shed light on the cause of the most devastating mass extinction in the history of our planet. The event, estimated to have taken place around 252 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90 percent of all life on Earth.

The team’s research indicates that the catastrophic event was in fact triggered by the tiniest of organisms, a methane-releasing microbe called Methanosarcina. New evidence suggests that at the time of the extinction, the microbes appeared in massive numbers across the world’s oceans, spreading vast clouds of the carbon-heavy gas methane into the atmosphere. This had the effect of altering the planet’s climate in a way that made it inhospitable to most other forms of life inhabiting Earth at that time.

It was previously believed that the mass extinction, known as the end-Permian extinction, was due to either vast amounts of volcanic activity, a devastating asteroid strike or prolific all-consuming coal fires. Any of these events could have caused the mass deaths, however there are inconsistencies in the evidence that point away from the traditional theories and towards the new findings presented by the researchers from MIT…

Although the team does not believe that…heightened levels of volcanism were responsible for the extinction itself, they do believe that it could have been the catalyst. The sudden and devastating increase in carbon-containing gases present during the end-Permian extinction is put down to a massive bloom of Methanosarcina. However, for this bloom to take place, the microbes would require an abundant source of carbon and nickel, both of which were discovered in a new analysis of sediments in China, and could have been distributed widely through a volcanic eruption.

The case for Methanosarcina being responsible for the extinction is further strengthened by the team’s findings that, at the time of the end-Permian extinction, the microbes had undergone a genetic transfer from another microbe. This is what gave the Methanosarcina the ability to produce methane at such a prolific rate.

With the catalyst of volcanic activity, the Methanosarcina were able to spread across our planet’s oceans unchecked. This allowed the microbes to produce vast quantities of carbon-containing methane, by harvesting the now carbon- and nickel-rich water. The release of said methane would have had the effect of raising the carbon dioxide levels in the waters, causing ocean acidification, irrevocably altering the ecosystem.

Let us hope no natural occurrence allows us to experiment firsthand with the hypothesis.

Of course, if such a cataclysm initiated, we can count on the usual assembly of know-nothings to stand around – doing their best to interfere with any attempt to save the species of Earth – while the rest of us die trying.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 5, 2014 at 8:00 pm

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