Cockroaches lose sweet tooth to survive – Evolution rocks!

For decades, people have been getting rid of cockroaches by setting out bait mixed with poison. But in the late 1980s, in an apartment test kitchen in Florida, something went very wrong.

A killer product stopped working. Cockroach populations there kept rising. Mystified researchers tested and discarded theory after theory until they finally hit on the explanation: In a remarkably rapid display of evolution at work, many of the cockroaches had lost their sweet tooth, rejecting the corn syrup meant to attract them.

In as little as five years, the sugar-rejecting trait had become so widespread that the bait had been rendered useless…

In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, entomologist Jules Silverman and other researchers explain the workings of the genetic mutation that gave some roaches a competitive advantage that enabled them to survive and multiply.

The key is certain neurons that signal the brain about foods.

In normal cockroaches, glucose excites neurons that tell the brain “Sweet!” In the mutant insects, glucose activates neurons that say “Sweet!” and ones that say “Yuck!” The “Yuck!” neurons dampen the signal from the others, so the brain gets the message the taste is awful. This unusual nerve activity appeared in glucose-hating cockroaches collected from Puerto Rico as well as descendants of the Florida insects…

The new work is nifty science. But does it explain why you can’t get rid of the little buggers in your kitchen?

Probably not, said Coby Schal, another study author at North Carolina State…

Frankly, if the bait you put out isn’t working, it’s probably because you’re using it incorrectly, suggested Schal, who said he consults to the pesticide industry free of charge…

It’s not clear when the Florida cockroaches first encountered bait with glucose or how quickly they ditched their taste for the sugar, he said. But he said it’s reasonable to estimate that it took maybe only five years for that glucose aversion to spread to so many cockroaches that the bait was no longer effective. That’s about 25 generations of German cockroaches, which can reproduce about one to three months after they’re born, Schal said.

The glucose aversion may have arisen in an individual cockroach in response to bait. Or it may have already been present in just a few individuals when the arrival of the bait suddenly gave them an advantage for surviving and reproducing. Their offspring would inherit the trait and increasingly replace other cockroaches.

Yup. It surely helps that the scientists devising methods to counter cockroach infestation needn’t wait and rely on evolution – even the fast-paced variety – to invent their responses to natural selection.

Officials ponder family planning and more under health law

The Obama administration is examining whether the new health care law can be used to require insurance plans to offer contraceptives and other family planning services to women free of charge.

Such a requirement could remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health. But it is likely to reignite debate over the federal role in health care, especially reproductive health, at a time when Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the law or dismantle it piece by piece. It is also raising objections from the Roman Catholic Church and is expected to generate a robust debate about privacy.

Yes, folks. Apparently we’re supposed to get prior approval from the Pope and other experts who disapprove of birth control as an option for modern families from the git-go.

The law says insurers must cover “preventive health services” and cannot charge for them. The administration has asked a panel of outside experts to help identify the specific preventive services that must be covered for women.

Administration officials said they expected the list to include contraception and family planning because a large body of scientific evidence showed the effectiveness of those services. But the officials said they preferred to have the panel of independent experts make the initial recommendations so the public would see them as based on science, not politics…

Uh, OK. You think science means something to the average American? There are part of this country that still aren’t certain about the Earth being round.

Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III, vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said contraceptives fit any reasonable definition of preventive health care because they averted unintended pregnancies and allowed women to control the timing, number and spacing of births. This, in turn, improves maternal and child health by reducing infant mortality, complications of pregnancy and even birth defects, said Dr. Lawrence, who is in charge of the group’s practice guidelines…

In a report more than 15 years ago, the Institute of Medicine said financial barriers to contraception “should be reduced by increasing the proportion of all health insurance policies that cover contraceptive services and supplies, including both male and female sterilization, with no co-payments or other cost-sharing requirements.”

Nothing was done.

A small rebellion against traditional names

These days, growing numbers of young Swedes about to marry are not only choosing flatware patterns but also picking new names. Sometimes it is an older family name; more often it is one they simply concoct.

Sofia Wetterlund, 29, was born Sofia Jönsson, and when she decided to marry last year, she and her spouse-to-be, Karl Andersson, were simply tired of their names. “We both thought Andersson and Jönsson were very common,” she said. “Karl wanted something different, I wanted something different. We just didn’t want to be taken for the others.”

The couple cast about in their families’ past and Ms. Wetterlund discovered, well, Wetterlund, her grandmother’s maiden name. “We thought it was pretty, and it was quite uncommon,” she said…

While some Swedes like Ms. Wetterlund rummage through family history for a new name, others simply invent one. Some take names with a Mediterranean flair, like Andriano and Bovino, said Eva Brylla, the director of research at the Institute of Language and Folklore in Uppsala. Others adopt English-sounding names, like Swedenrose or Flowerland; others let their imaginations fly, simply using building blocks common in Swedish names and fashioning tongue twisters like Shirazimohager and Rowshanravan.

The government, which must approve all name changes, places certain names off limits. Trademarks, like Coke, are out, as are obscenities. Names of nobility, like Bernadotte, the family name of the Swedish king, are not allowed, nor are names of celebrities. Obama is also off limits, said Jan Ekengren, director of the Patent and Registration Office, which oversees name changes. And Donadoni, the name of an Italian soccer star, was rejected…

Indeed, support for Swedish names is coming from an unexpected quarter. In recent decades, successive waves of immigrants have been coming to Sweden, and many avail themselves of the laws and take Swedish-sounding names to hasten their integration.

Mr. Ekengren recalled a case a few years ago in which an immigrant family requested permission to be called Mohammedsson.

“Permission was granted,” he said.

Rock on, folks. I can see tons of immigrants from California named Firefly or Surfson.

Canadians choosing to die a dignified death where they lived – at home

It’s a common tale: a grandparent’s health begins to fail and, realistically, their death is imminent. Often those older patients are rushed to hospital, taken out of their homes for treatment that will likely only extend their life by a few days.

University of Alberta researcher Donna Wilson is hoping this can change and already has seen some drastic changes in where Canadians are choosing to die.

Wilson looked at mortality data of Canadians dating back to 1950. Up until 1994, 80 per cent of Canadians were choosing to pass on in a hospital bed. But since the mid-’90s there’s been a drastic change in the number of people going to hospital to die. The number is now down to 61 per cent.

“So after years of [the numbers] going up, we have completely reversed that and are now at the 1960 level, before there was free hospital care in Canada,” said Wilson, who adds the decrease in numbers of people dying in hospital has happened without direct health policy or government planning.

Her next study she wants to find out why this trend is happening. But she already has some ideas on the huge swing.

“My guess is that a lot of it has to do with the fact that death is no longer unexpected,” said Wilson. “A lot of people are dying at an advanced age and you begin to accept that fact that it’s going to happen and it [can be] a dignified event. If you take the person to the hospital . . . care is by strangers rather than family members.”

She’s calling on government to help support the trend of people dying at home.

“We need to start putting more money in to home care and develop some hospices, have some courses for families and maybe build a few more nursing home beds,” said Wilson, who adds this not only helps the health-care system but also can provide a more dignified and potentially less painful death for the patient.

Certainly appeals to me. My only concern would be for the hassles this might put my wife through.

But, I’m confident she’d be happier – as I would be – to die where we’ve lived happily together for so many years.

Hubble’s Next Discovery — You Decide

hubblechoose

Hubble’s Next Discovery — You Decide” is part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s observations. People around the world can vote to select the next object the Hubble Space Telescope will view. Choose from a list of objects Hubble has never observed before and enter a drawing for one of 100 new Hubble pictures of the winning object. The winning image will be released between April 2 and 5, during the IYA’s 100 Hours of Astronomy, a global astronomy event geared toward encouraging as many people as possible to experience the night sky. Vote by March 1 to swing Hubble toward your favorite target.

The Hubble site is one of my favorites – as are their video podcasts at iTunes. The contest is a gas [primordial or otherwise] – so, get on board.

Chrysler white-collar workers overwhelmingly choose buyout

Overwhelming response by Chrysler LLC salaried workers taking buyout packages may be enough to avoid further layoffs. “We’re fairly certain we’ve achieved our target and won’t have to do any involuntary layoffs for the end of the year,” said spokeswoman Lori McTavish.

Thousands of white-collar workers chose to take packages and walked out the door for the last time Wednesday night. And while most will drop off the payroll as of Nov. 30, the high take rate has forced some departments to offer a temporary extension to select full-time and contract employees to get through the transitional month of December. A new restructured personnel plan is to go into effect in the new year.

All employees regardless of how many years they had with Chrysler, were eligible for a combination of money, car vouchers and some health care.

Phew!

Of course, as the economy continues to disappear down the crapper, as America’s mid-western manufacturing base remains mired in the 1950’s – there’s no saying the layoff monster won’t reappear.