Sugar industry hid evidence of negative health effects nearly 50 years ago

❝ A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago…

Researchers Cristin Kearns, Dorie Apollonio and Stanton Glantz from the University of California at San Francisco reviewed internal sugar industry documents and discovered that the Sugar Research Foundation funded animal research to evaluate sucrose’s effects on cardiovascular health. When the evidence seemed to indicate that sucrose might be associated with heart disease and bladder cancer…they found the foundation terminated the project without publishing the results…

❝ The results suggest that the current debate on the relative effects of sugar vs. starch may be rooted in more than 60 years of industry manipulation of science. Last year, the Sugar Association criticized a mouse study suggesting a link between sugar and increased tumor growth and metastasis, saying that “no credible link between ingested sugars and cancer has been established.”

Sugar can be part of a natural diet, one reflective of the gradual evolution of Homo sapiens. Want to get back to that situation? You’ll have to battle against the brainwashing you’ve been subjected to by decades of adverts on radio and TV, in movies – and, now, on the interwebitubes [thanks, Dave].

Nothing new about profiting from induced addiction.

Turkey’s schools start to drop evolution — and add jihad

❝ From September Turkey will have a new education curriculum and this 38-year-old mother is among many parents who are worried. The changes affect first, fifth- and ninth-grade students, and the main controversy surrounds the exclusion of the theory of evolution from secondary education.

“In classes, nine- and 10-year-old students have been memorising prayers from the Koran. I believe religious education should be given at home, not in schools,” said the woman, who did not want to be named, due to security concerns.

❝ Other controversial changes include shortening the time allocated to studying the life of Turkey’s secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, an introduction to the concept of jihad and more classes on religion…

❝ The secular opposition in Turkey says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the governing AK party are trying to move the country away from its founding values, and make society more Islamic and conservative. Mr Erdogan has repeatedly expressed his ambition to raise pious generations…

RTFA. The changes are only a beginning. Enough to warm the cockles of any religious reactionary in other lands. The anti-science brigade doesn’t especially care which religion supersedes science in which country. The backwardness of the Dark Ages is a satisfying start – for them.

Turns out “Hobbits” ain’t our close cousins after all

❝ Researchers who studied the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, say their findings should end a popular theory that it evolved from an ancestor of modern humans.

The study, led by the Australian National University researcher Dr Debbie Argue from the school of archaeology and anthropology, found there was no evidence the diminutive 1.1-metre-tall Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region…

❝ Argue was overseas and unavailable to comment but a member of her research team, prof Colin Groves, said the theory of a link with the Asian Homo erectus, the first of our relatives to have modern human proportions, was “a good scientific hypothesis”.

“But we believe it has now been thoroughly refuted,” he told Guardian Australia.

❝ Groves said the researchers had gone into the study of the species with an open mind. But their findings support another popular theory: that Homo floresiensis was in fact far more primitive than Homo erectus and had characteristics more similar to Homo habilis, which lived between 1.65 million and 2.4 million years ago, and which is the most ancient representative of the human genus.

Way cool. RTFA for details on the research and analysis that led to this conclusion. I have no idea how Tolkien fans feel about this finding. 🙂

Thanks, Honeyman

The Machine is Calling…listen carefully


Click to enlarge

Soft City, by the Norwegian graphic artist Hariton Pushwagner, is something of a miracle. Not only for existing in the first place, but for surviving at all. It languished in obscurity for decades and was very nearly lost before finally being issued in book form, following a messy legal dispute involving the artist and his former dealer. Most pointedly, however, it is a miracle of its native medium — the comic strip — for its startling and disquieting vision in a form that had never seen anything like it.

Cue the theme from Twilight Zone. Read on.

A history of living conditions on Earth in 5 charts

world-pop-vs-poverty

A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.

Cynic that I am – even as an optimist – I tend to have a low opinion of my fellow Americans’ commitment to lifetime learning, understanding the world around us. This study makes it clear I should extend that analysis to our species worldwide. 🙂

Actually, things are better than that. But, I can’t resist grumbling – especially on a cold, snowy weekend moving into the mud phase.

RTFA. It serves as the debut for OUR WORLD IN DATA website. Which looks really interesting and useful.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Video: Evolution of E.coli into an antibiotic resistant bacteria

❝ …At the start of the video, bacteria are dropped into the edges of the dish and soon colonise the outer safe zones. Then they hit their first antibiotic wall, which halts their progress. After a few moments, bright spots appear at this frontier and start spreading outwards. These are resistant bacteria that have picked up mutations that allow them to shrug off the drug. They advance until they hit the next antibiotic zone. Another pause, until even more resistant strains evolve and invade further into the dish. By the end of the movie, even the centre-most stripe—the zone with the highest levels of killer chemicals—is colonised.

❝ What you’re seeing in the movie is a vivid depiction of a very real problem. Disease-causing bacteria and other microbes are increasingly evolving to resist our drugs; by 2050, these impervious infections could potentially kill ten million people a year. The problem of drug-resistant infections is terrifying but also abstract; by their nature, microbes are invisible to the naked eye, and the process by which they defy our drugs is even harder to visualise.

But now you can: just watch that video again. You’re seeing evolution in action. You’re watching living things facing down new challenges, dying, competing, thriving, invading, and adapting—all in a two-minute movie…

❝ when Baym showed the videos at an evolutionary biology conference in Washington DC last month, many attendees were awed and slack-jawed. “It’s exciting, creative and, game-changing,” says Shelly Copley from the University of Colorado, one of the organisers. Baym himself, who has seen the movies hundreds of times, is still blown away by them. “You can actually see mutations happening,” he says, before shaking his head and smiling.

Seeing is believing except – I imagine – for the truly science-challenged. There may be True Believers who think some unreal force causes the same sort of result any and every time the experiment is repeated. We are looking, after all, at a demonstration of evolution.

The scarier part for me is that we’re looking at a consistent direction for bacteria. Antibiotic resistance. We have a finite amount of time remaining before pretty much all our antibiotic wonder drugs are useless.

Click the link up near the beginning to access the whole article. Fascinating chronology.

Why are the microbes living in your gut different from mine? Am I worse off? Better?


Click to enlargeKerri
A wall of bacterial colonies on agar plates – the Micropia, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

There are tens of trillions of bacteria in my gut and they are different from those in yours. Why?

This is a really basic question about the human microbiome and, rather vexingly, we still don’t have a good answer. Sure, we know some of the things that influence the roll call of species — diet and antibiotics, to name a few—but their relative importance is unclear and the list is far from complete. That bodes poorly for any attempt to work out whether these microbes are involved in diseases, and whether they can be tweaked to improve our health.

Two new studies have tried to address the problem. They’re the largest microbiome studies thus far published, looking at 1,135 Dutch adults and 1,106 Belgians respectively. Both looked at how hundreds of factors affect the microbiome, including age, height, weight, sleep, medical history, smoking, allergies, blood levels of various molecules, and a long list of foods. Both found dozens of factors that affect either the overall diversity of microbial species, or the abundance of particular ones. And encouragingly, their respective lists overlap considerably.

But here’s the important thing: Collectively, the factors they identified explain a tiny proportion of the variation between people’s microbiomes — 19 percent in the Dutch study, and just 8 percent in the Belgian. Which means we’re still largely in the dark about what makes my microbiome different from yours, let alone whether one is healthier than the other.

❝ “With all the knowledge we’ve gathered, we made the best possible effort to capture all the factors we could imagine, and we could only explain 8 percent of the total variation,” says Jeroen Raes from the University of Leuven, who led the Belgian study. “It’s very humbling.”…

We haven’t even identified all the players yet. By combining data from the Dutch and Flemish studies with earlier British and American ones, Raes’s team identified a total number of 664 bacterial genera. But they estimate that at least 80 more haven’t been identified, and doing so will take studies that are ten times larger than the current record-holders. That’s a common theme throughout all of microbiology — the unknowns are vast. “Even though we’re the biggest study out there, we’re still scratching the surface when it comes to charting the whole microbiota population,” says Raes. “We should be humble.”

Longish well-written article. Read it. Not a lot of conclusions; but, you should consider the questions. They apply to your own life.

Court tosses Kansas case — Nutballs said science education lacked religion

A federal appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a case brought in Kansas by a religiously-minded group of parents and students. The plaintiffs were concerned about their home state’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards.

As Ars reported back in 2013 when the case was first filed, the NGSS standards are a nationwide attempt to improve science education in the US. They have been backed by organizations such as the National Research Council, National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This case, COPE v. Kansas Board of Education, is a notable victory for science—and a blow to the creationist crowd and its progeny.

The Citizens for Objective Public Education…argue the NGSS do not include any religious explanation for the origins of life and the universe. Therefore, according to the group, the NGSS in Kansas violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids the government’s ability to “establish” a state-sanctioned religion.

WTF?

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver found that…“COPE does not offer any facts to support the conclusion that the Standards condemn any religion or send a message of endorsement…and any fear of biased instruction is premised on COPE’s predictions of school districts’ responses to the Standards — an attempt by COPE to recast a future injury as a present one.”

…The 10th Circuit also noted that while it did not consider one of COPE’s primary remedies — that teleological (goal-oriented) origin theories be taught alongside mainstream evolutionary science — the court would have found the remedy unconstitutional under a 1987 Supreme Court decision. That case, Edwards v. Aguillard, invalidated the requirement to teach creationism alongside evidence-based evolutionary science.

I think crap lawsuits like this may as well be dismissed early on as frivolous and a waste of time better spent by our courts. Silliness has been decided over and over again. Just because nutballs with money can afford to invent a new way to try a lost cause doesn’t make it any less frivolous.

City moths evolve to avoid light pollution


Ermine moth, Yponomeuta cagnagella

The globally increasing light pollution has negative effects on organisms and entire ecosystems. The consequences are especially hard on nocturnal insects, since their attraction to artificial light sources generally ends fatal. A new study by Swiss zoologists from the Universities of Basel and Zurich now shows that urban moths have learned to avoid light…

Some insects are attracted by light while others shy away from it. Proverbial is the attraction light has on moths. Street lamps and other artificial light sources often become death traps for nocturnal insects such as moths. Either they die through direct burning or through increased exposure to predators. Mortality of urban insects can thus be 40- to 100- fold higher than in rural populations.

Artificial light affects the ecosystem of insects by interfering with their natural day-night cycle and influencing behavior patterns such as feeding and reproduction. Swiss Zoologists have now studied whether moths in the Basel region have already evolutionary adapted to the changed light conditions.

Under the assumption that natural selection would favor moths with less propensity to fly to light in urban areas, the researchers examined the small ermine moth Yponomeuta cagnagella. For the experiment they collected larvae in the Basel region in areas with low light pollution such as the village Kleinlützel and in areas which have been exposed to heavy light pollution, such as Allschwil or Basel City.

The researchers then analyzed the flight-to-light behavior of almost 1050 adult moths in the lab. The results show: moths from populations that have been exposed to heavy light pollution over generations have a significantly lower propensity to move towards light sources than individuals from areas with low light pollution. Furthermore the study shows that in both types of populations the female moths were attracted to light significantly less then their male counterparts.

The study results suggest that natural selection has changed the animals’ behavior. Flight-to-light propensity is disadvantageous for moths in light polluted areas. Adapted moths avoid the light and thus have a survival advantage.

Of course, moths haven’t any politicians, pundits or priests telling them it’s OK to fly into the light because…”my invisible god says we must!”

Rescue robots need to imitate cockroaches

It’s possible that if you were trapped under a pancaked skyscraper after an earthquake, or in a mine that had just collapsed, you’d be totally fine with getting rescued by a giant robot cockroach. What are you going to do? Say, “No, thanks, I’m good, send something cute”?

Even if you did request something more charismatic, odds are it couldn’t reach you. The American cockroach, says a paper out today, is perfectly adapted for getting into tiny spaces a human-shaped rescuer might not, thanks to a collapsible exoskeleton and really creepy mode of locomotion. The cockroach, it turns out, is a good model for a rescue robot. The researchers even built a prototype. It skitters.

Yes, it had to be cockroaches. “We are not entomologists. We also think they’re disgusting,” says Robert Full, who works on biomechanics and animal locomotion at UC Berkeley and is lead author on the article, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “But they can teach us bigger principles.” As is typical for insects, cockroaches have an exoskeleton—overlapping plates of a tough material called chitin held together with a flexible membrane. In the wild, that flexibility lets American cockroaches run about 5 feet per second, more than 3 mph…

Don’t blame the cockroaches for their extraordinary adaptability to that space between your floorboard and your wall. That’s not what their skill set evolved for. It actually keeps them safe. “Cockroaches like to be against walls, against surfaces, and the more surfaces they can contact, the more comfortable they are,” says Coby Schal, an entomologist at North Carolina State University. It’s called “thigmotaxis,” and the roaches feel most OK when they perceive a slow, light brushing against bristles that grow from their bodies…

That collapsible exoskeleton is yet another physiological marvel. Not only does it flex and expand—allowing for developing insects to grow and molt, and bloodsucking insects like bedbugs to accommodate the meal they have made out of your precious life essence—it also shunts their mass around. “In a cockroach the blood flows in an open cavity called a hemocoel,” Schal says, “so it can deform its body by moving blood from one part to another.” It’s like a disgusting, insectile, armored balloon…

Gross, sure, but it also makes a great model for robot mobility…That’s why you might not mind if a robot bug comes to rescue you. A Terminator wouldn’t be able to get there at all. “It’s not like the Darpa robotics challenges where you go down a hall, down stairs, skip over some rubble. No, no, no,” Murphy says. “You’re going into spaces too small for a human or a dog to get into. Or maybe they’re on fire…”

If you still can’t handle the idea of someday being carried to safety by a swarm of chittering, exoskeleton-wearing robot bugs, Full has you covered. He’s also working on a giant crab.

Something, anything, saving my butt is welcome. I don’t even care if it looks like Ted Cruz.