Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

It ain’t too good to be true — dark chocolate is good for your heart

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It might seem too good to be true, but dark chocolate is good for you and scientists now know why. Dark chocolate helps restore flexibility to arteries while also preventing white blood cells from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Both arterial stiffness and white blood cell adhesion are known factors that play a significant role in atherosclerosis. What’s more, the scientists also found that increasing the flavanol content of dark chocolate did not change this effect…

“We provide a more complete picture of the impact of chocolate consumption in vascular health and show that increasing flavanol content has no added beneficial effect on vascular health,” said Diederik Esser, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from…Wageningen University, The Netherlands. “However, this increased flavanol content clearly affected taste and thereby the motivation to eat these chocolates. So the dark side of chocolate is a healthy one.”

As if I needed any special motivation to eat dark chocolate? Every day.

To make this discovery, Esser and colleagues analyzed 44 middle-aged overweight men over two periods of four weeks as they consumed 70 grams of chocolate per day. Study participants received either specially produced dark chocolate with high flavanol content or chocolate that was regularly produced. Both chocolates had a similar cocoa mass content. Before and after both intervention periods, researchers performed a variety of measurements that are important indicators of vascular health. During the study, participants were advised to refrain from certain energy dense food products to prevent weight gain. Scientists also evaluated the sensory properties of the high flavanol chocolate and the regular chocolate and collected the motivation scores of the participants to eat these chocolates during the intervention.

“The effect that dark chocolate has on our bodies is encouraging not only because it allows us to indulge with less guilt, but also because it could lead the way to therapies that do the same thing as dark chocolate but with better and more consistent results,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Until the ‘dark chocolate drug‘ is developed, however, we’ll just have to make do with what nature has given us!”


I do love researchers with a sense of humor. Given the study took place in The Netherlands I’m surprised there wasn’t a parallel and supportive study on real beer.

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Written by Ed Campbell

March 2, 2014 at 8:00 am

BioEthicists whine about “designer babies” – as more important than the lives of children facing genetic defects

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The Food and Drug Administration is weighing a fertility procedure that involves combining the genetic material of three people to make a baby free of certain defects, a therapy that critics say is an ethical minefield and could lead to the creation of designer babies.

The agency has asked a panel of experts to summarize current science to determine whether the approach — which has been performed successfully in monkeys by researchers in Oregon and in people more than a decade ago — is safe enough to be used again in people.

The F.D.A. meeting, on Tuesday and Wednesday, is meant to address the scientific issues around the procedure, not the ethics. Regulators are asking scientists to discuss the risks to the mother and the potential child and how future studies should be structured, among other issues. The meeting is being closely watched. The science of such therapies has advanced significantly in recent years, and many scientists are urging federal regulators to ease requirements for study in humans…

The procedure in question involves mitochondria, the power producers in cells that convert energy into a form that cells can use. Mitochondria with defects that could be passed to a fetus are replaced with healthy mitochondria from another woman. This is done either before or after an egg is fertilized…

The practice raised questions and eventually led the F.D.A. to tell researchers that they could not perform such procedures in humans without getting special permission from the agency. Since then, studies have been confined to animals…

So, for thirteen years, research has been confined to a precursor.

Such genetic methods have been controversial in the United States, where critics and some elected officials wonder how far scientists plan to go in their efforts to engineer humans, and question whether these methods might create other problems.

“Every time we get a little closer to genetic tinkering to promote health — that’s exciting and scary,” said Dr. Alan Copperman, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York…“The most exciting part, scientifically,” he said, “is to be able to prevent or fix an error in the genetic machinery…”

Then, the TIMES lurches into predictable fears ranging from spooky anti-science to repeating truly incompetent suggestions about diet and stress for test monkeys. RTFA if you think they’re saying something Luther Burbank didn’t hear.

Dr. Celia Witten, director of the office of Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies at the F.D.A., gave few clues to the agency’s thinking.

“We haven’t made any decision about whether clinical trials will be allowed to proceed,” she said.

The conference was brought together in the first place to examine methodology and practical results. The kind of discussion science has been limited to since the days of our most recent King George.

No one ever had to wonder whether or not ethics questions would be evaluated in parallel. Most science simply doesn’t operate without such concerns as part of the process. Then, there are sufficient “bio-ethics” experts building anti-science consultancies, ready to turn them into cash cows at the drop of a teabagger’s silly hat. Questions will be raised whether prompted by real concern – or as PR for quasi-religious hustlers.

The arguments are the same as those advanced over stem cell research. We already lost a number of researchers to other nations during the Bush years. Bureaucrats are becoming accustomed to being second-guessed by 14th-Century moralists. They ain’t about to stick their collective necks out over something as “furrin” as genetic science. Especially since the topic scares the Ignorant Left as much as the Ignorant Right.

Let’s move on folks. Try to catch up with the last couple of decades of the 20th Century before we continue to limit 21st Century medicine – in the United states. Just maybe save the lives of a few kids.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 27, 2014 at 10:00 am

Pic of the Day

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Click to enlarge

The planet continues to experience climate change expressed in episodes ranging from temperature swings to tempestuous storms, in general – warming.

So, look at this image and guess what portion of the globe is populated by people ignorant and parochial enough to believe that what happens in their own backyard represents what’s happening to the whole world.

Thanks, Bill Nye

Written by Ed Campbell

February 27, 2014 at 2:00 am

If you think you have Alzheimer’s, you might be right

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A recent study suggests that self-reported memory complaints might predict clinical memory impairment later in life. Erin Abner, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, asked 3,701 men aged 60 and higher a simple question: “Have you noticed any change in your memory since you last came in?”

That question led to some interesting results. “It seems that subjective memory complaint can be predictive of clinical memory impairment,” Abner said. “Other epidemiologists have seen similar results, which is encouraging, since it means we might really be on to something.”

The results are meaningful because it might help identify people who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease sooner. “If the memory and thinking lapses people notice themselves could be early markers of risk for Alzheimer’s disease, we might eventually be able to intervene earlier in the aging process to postpone and/or reduce the effects of cognitive memory impairment.”

Abner, who is also a member of the faculty in the UK Department of Epidemiology, took pains to emphasize that her work shouldn’t necessarily worry everyone who’s ever forgotten where they left their keys.

“I don’t want to alarm people,” she said. “It’s important to distinguish between normal memory lapses and significant memory problems, which usually change over time and affect multiple aspects of daily life.”

If my wife saw this article – and saw me posting it here at my personal blog – she’d give me a smack. She knows I’m a world-class hypochondriac. And here I am encouraging the rest of you.


Written by Ed Campbell

February 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm

First bacteria to make the transition from humans to plants — and it’s named for Frank Zappa

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zappa christianity

What would you do if you discovered an odd strain of bacteria that exhibited unconventional behavior? Why, name it after Frank Zappa of course!…This is exactly what a team of Italian and Austrian researchers did when they found a bacterium that had apparently transitioned from causing acne in human skin to infecting the bark of grape vines.

“This is the first time it’s been found that a microorganism can switch from a human to a plant,” study author and self-professed Zappa fan Andrea Campisano, a microbiologist at the Edmund Mach Foundation in Italy, told the Los Angeles Times.

In addition to being a tribute to the late musician, the naming of P. acnes zappae is also a hat-tip to the Italian word for “hoe,” which is “zappa.”

Campisano is such a big fan of the experimental musician – he said he even has a quote from him prominently displayed on his lab computer screen: “If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television … then you deserve it.”

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 20, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Runaway pulsar with an extraordinary jet trailing behind…

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An extraordinary jet trailing behind a runaway pulsar is seen in this composite image that contains data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (purple), radio data from the Australia Compact Telescope Array (green), and optical data from the 2MASS survey (red, green, and blue). The pulsar – a spinning neutron star – and its tail are found in the lower right of this image (mouse over the image for a labeled version). The tail stretches for 37 light years , making it the longest jet ever seen from an object in the Milky Way galaxy…

The pulsar, originally discovered by ESA’s INTEGRAL satellite, is called IGR J1104-6103 and is moving away from the center of the supernova remnant where it was born at a speed between 2.5 million and 5 million miles per hour. This supersonic pace makes IGR J1104-6103 one of the fastest moving pulsars ever observed.

A massive star ran out of fuel and collapsed to form the pulsar along with the supernova remnant, the debris field seen as the large purple structure in the upper left of the image. The supernova remnant (known as SNR MSH 11-61A) is elongated along the top-right to bottom left direction, roughly in line with the tail’s direction. These features and the high speed of the pulsar suggest that jets could have played an important role in the supernova explosion that formed IGR J1104-6103.

Yes, you should RTFA. Also – the latest Chandra newsletter is rocking with space goodies. Click below to move on to the next one:

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 20, 2014 at 2:00 am

Acid-bath stem-cell study under peer review investigation

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mouse embryo
Pluripotent stem cells injected into a mouse embryo

A leading Japanese research institute has opened an investigation into a groundbreaking stem cell study after concerns were raised about its credibility.

The RIKEN centre in Kobe announced on Friday that it is looking into alleged irregularities in the work of biologist Haruko Obokata, who works at the institution. She shot to fame last month as the lead author on two papers1, 2 published in Nature that demonstrated a simple way to reprogram mature mice cells into an embryonic state by simply applying stress, such as exposure to acid or physical pressure on cell membranes. The RIKEN investigation follows allegations on blog sites about the use of duplicated images in Obokata’s papers, and numerous failed attempts to replicate her results…

That scepticism deepened last week when blogs such as PubPeer started noting what seem to be problems in the two Nature papers and in an earlier paper from 2011, which relates to the potential of stem cells in adult tissues…The corresponding author of that study, Charles Vacanti, an anaesthesiologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Nature that he learned only last week of a “mix up of some panels”. He has already contacted the journal to request a correction. “It certainly appears to have been an honest mistake [that] did not affect any of the data, the conclusions or any other component of the paper,” says Vacanti.

The problems in the two recent Nature papers, on both of which Obokata is a corresponding author (Vacanti is a co-author on both, and corresponding author on one), also relate to images…

Teruhiko Wakayama, a cloning specialist at Yamanashi University in Yamanashi prefecture, is a co-author on both of the papers and took most of the placental images. He admits that the two look similar but says it may be a case of simple confusion. Wakayama, who left RIKEN during the preparation of the manuscript, says he sent more than a hundred images to Obokata and suggests that there was confusion over which to use. He says he is now looking into the problem…

Some researchers do not see a problem yet. Qi Zhou, a cloning expert at the Institute of Zoology in Beijing, who says most of his mouse cells died after treatment with acid, says that “setting up the system is tricky”. “As an easy experiment in an experienced lab can be extremely difficult to others, I won’t comment on the authenticity of the work only based on the reproducibility of the technique in my lab,” says Zhou…

Wakayama says that his independent success in reproducing Obokata’s results is enough to convince him that the technique works. He also notes that the cells produced by Obokata are the only ones known — aside from those in newly fertilized embryos — to be able to produce, for example, placenta, so could not have been substituted cells. “I did it and found it myself,” he says. “I know the results are absolutely true.”

One of the delights of peer review can be failure to corroborate or replicate results. Doesn’t mean the original work is incorrect. It means the system is working.

And more work to corroborate is required.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm

The number of chemicals linked with brain disorders in children continues to grow

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Toxic chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children—such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia—according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The researchers say a new global prevention strategy to control the use of these substances is urgently needed.

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH.

The report follows up on a similar review conducted by the authors in 2006 that identified five industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants,” or chemicals that can cause brain deficits. The new study offers updated findings about those chemicals and adds information on six newly recognized ones, including manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides), tetrachloroethylene (a solvent), and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants).

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children, including:

Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills
Solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior
Certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays

Grandjean and co-author Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai, also forecast that many more chemicals than the known dozen or so identified as neurotoxicants contribute to a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral deficits that is eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies. But controlling this pandemic is difficult because of a scarcity of data to guide prevention and the huge amount of proof needed for government regulation. “Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” they write…

“The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international,” said Grandjean. “We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development—now is the time to make that testing mandatory.”

The report was published over the weekend. It is available at Lancet Neurology.

Mail me a penny postcard when governments in industrial nations producing, utilizing, distributing, selling these chemicals decide to respond to Philippe Grandjean’s recommendation. When they make testing mandatory. When they put an end to human contact with these chemicals and their residues.

I’m used to waiting. Excuses. Lies.

Sharing ideas and work among scientists in different fields

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Desktop nanofabrication with massively multiplexed beam pen lithography

Cross-pollination of ideas among scientific disciplines is key to creative solutions, a U.S. nanotechnology pioneer says.

Building networks of outstanding scientists, engineers and clinicians will promote development of creative solutions to complex societal needs in an age of specialization, Northwestern University Professor Chad Mirkin says.

Mirkin is the founding director of the International Institute for Nanotechnology, an institute that brings together more than 190 faculty researchers from 25 different disciplines.

Mirkin discussed the IIN from inception to realization in a presentation titled “University Convergence Institutes” at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago.

“The IIN provides the essential framework to overcome traditional divisions between university departments and schools,” Mirkin said…

The IIN is an umbrella organization for interdisciplinary research into transformative nanotechnologies including nanomedicine, nanomaterials and devices, nanotechnology for energy, the environment, security and defense, and nanotechnology solutions for food and water.

“It has enabled us to attract researchers with deep expertise in their fields, support and enable creative synergy, enhance translational capabilities and build one of the largest and most productive nanotechnology institutes in the world,” Mirkin said.

I’m not lurching off into a whole dissertation. I’d just like to mention some of the most advanced systems of alternative fuel development have come about in this manner. I’ve posted articles in recent years from scientists at Purdue – and at Cornell – where investigators in chemistry happened into collaboration with botanists almost by accident. Though the universities where they worked were supportive of this kind of interaction.

The best example in the tech world was, of course, the original style at Hewlett-Packard. Messrs Hewlett and Packard had a rule that any project an engineer or scientist was working on had to be kept out in the open on their desk. That way anyone who happened by could see what someone else had thought of – and participate or start a spinoff on their own. They called it management by wandering around.

I’m not certain; but, I have the feeling the practice still hasn’t caught on here in the States. I hope I’m wrong.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Geneticists producing atlas mixing genomes and events

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The Silk Road, land and sea

The rise and fall of empires, the march of armies, the flow of trade routes, the practice of slavery — all these events have led to a mixing of populations around the world. Such episodes have left a record in the human genome, but one that has so far been too complex to decipher on a global scale.

Now, geneticists applying new statistical approaches have taken a first shot at both identifying and dating the major population mixture events of the last 4,000 years, with the goal of providing a new source of information for historians.

Some of the hundred or so major mixing events they describe have plausible historical explanations, while many others remain to be accounted for. For instance, many populations of the southern Mediterranean and Middle East have segments of African origin in their genomes that were inserted at times between A.D. 650 and 1900, according to the geneticists’ calculations. This could reflect the activity of the Arab slave trade, which originated in the seventh century, and the absorption of slaves into their host populations…

Though all humans have the same set of genes, their genomes are studded with mutations, which are differences in the sequence of DNA units in the genome. These mutations occur in patterns because whole sets of mutations are passed down from parent to child and hence will be common in a particular population. Based on these patterns, geneticists can scan a person’s genome and assign the ancestry of each segment to a particular race or population.

The team led by Dr. Simon Myers has developed a statistical technique for identifying the chromosomal segments with particular precision. This enables them to perform a second feat, that of assigning a date to the one or more mixing events that have affected a population…

One of the most widespread events his group has detected is the injection of Mongol ancestry into populations within the Mongol empire, such as the Hazara of Afghanistan and the Uighur Turks of Central Asia. The event occurred 22 generations ago, according to genetic dating, which corresponds to the beginning of the 14th century, fitting well with the period of the Mongol empire.

In another example, the European colonization of America is recorded in the genomes of the Maya and Pima Indians. And Cambodian genomes mark the fall of the Khmer empire in the form of ancestral DNA from the invading Tai people…

Dr. Myers and Dr. Hellenthal said that they hoped historians would find their work useful, but that they had not collaborated with historians.

“In some sense we don’t want to talk to historians,” Dr. Falush said. “There’s a great virtue in being objective: You put the data in and get the history out. We do think this is a way of reconstructing history by just using DNA.”

Hopefully, this weekend, I intend to revisit a favorite topic – cross-pollination of research between varying scientific disciplines. Some universities, research facilities – even traditional engineering firms – have long held this practice to be especially beneficial. Here’s a unique contribution just waiting to be interpolated.

The group led by Myers, Hellenthal and Falush have provided a valuable service to every side of the study of history.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 16, 2014 at 8:00 am


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