Swatting mosquitos teaches them to avoid you

❝ In a paper published Jan. 25 in Current Biology, University of Washington researchers report that mosquitoes can in fact learn to associate a particular odor with an unpleasant mechanical shock akin to being swatted. As a result, they’ll avoid that scent the next time.

“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” said senior author Jeff Riffell, a UW professor of biology. “Moreover, mosquitoes remember the trained odors for days…”

❝ “By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” said Riffell. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.”

I can think of other relevant settings for the same process. Bigger animals. 🙂

Chandra Gives Us the Elementary Nature of Cassiopeia A

❝ Where do most of the elements essential for life on Earth come from? The answer: inside the furnaces of stars and the explosions that mark the end of some stars’ lives.

❝ X-ray telescopes such as Chandra are important to study supernova remnants and the elements they produce because these events generate extremely high temperatures — millions of degrees — even thousands of years after the explosion. This means that many supernova remnants, including Cas A, glow most strongly at X-ray wavelengths that are undetectable with other types of telescopes.

NASA filled the night sky with glowing blue and green clouds

❝ Since June 1, NASA has been trying to launch a small rocket to study the Earth’s upper atmosphere. In the wee hours of Thursday morning, the rocket finally carried its payload into space, giving a spectacular light show along the east coast, from New York to North Carolina.

❝ A few minutes after liftoff, the rocket ejected 10 soda can-sized containers of barium, strontium, and cupric oxide…The canisters burst into colorful clouds that, as they drift, help scientists study how ions move in the ionosphere—the part of our atmosphere that interacts with the charged particles streaming from the sun. These types of studies can help scientists understand auroras and predict the effects of space weather.

Suddenly catching sight of something like this – several hundred miles away and not expecting something like this to appear in the night sky can really freak you out. Happened to me once. Up in the middle of the night when I lived on Fairhaven Harbor in New Haven, CT – I had a great view to the South when one of these tests went off. And this was decades ago before easy access to online info to figure out what I’d seen. Phew! 🙂

Someday, a Medical Machine Will Smell Whether You’re Sick – or Not


Click to enlargeViktor Koen

❝ Blindfolded, would you know the smell of your mom, a lover or a co-worker? Not the smells of their colognes or perfumes, not of the laundry detergents they use — the smells of them?

Each of us has a unique “odorprint” made up of thousands of organic compounds. These molecules offer a whiff of who we are, revealing age, genetics, lifestyle, hometown — even metabolic processes that underlie our health…

❝ …Not every physician’s nose is a precision instrument, and dogs, while adept at sniffing out cancer, get distracted. So researchers have been trying for decades to figure out how to build an inexpensive odor sensor for quick, reliable and noninvasive diagnoses.

The field finally seems on the cusp of succeeding.

❝ “You’re seeing a convergence of technology now, so we can actually run large-scale clinical studies to get the data to prove odor analysis has real utility,” said Billy Boyle, co-founder and president of operations at Owlstone, a manufacturer of chemical sensors in Cambridge, England.

❝ Mr. Boyle, an electronics engineer, formed the company with two friends in 2004 to develop sensors to detect chemical weapons and explosives for customers, including the United States government. But when Mr. Boyle’s girlfriend and eventual wife, Kate Gross, was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012, his focus shifted to medical sensors, with an emphasis on cancer detection.

Ms. Gross died at the end of 2014. That she might still be alive if her cancer had been detected earlier, Mr. Boyle said, continues to be a “big motivator.”

The shame is that our US government – supposed to be part support of our family and lives – never seems to have that concern for our health and care anymore. Yes, we got Obamacare for a little while. Shortsighted and convinced our insurance and pharmaceutical giants need as much support as individuals and families, that endeavor is currently being short-circuited by mean spirited politicians who care even less than the capitalist barons or Dark Ages priests they pimp for.

❝ Owlstone has raised $23.5 million to put its odor analysis technology into the hands of clinicians. Moreover, Britain’s National Health Service is funding a 3,000-subject clinical trial to test Owlstone’s sensor to diagnose lung cancer…

The company also is conducting a 1,400-subject trial, in collaboration with the University of Warwick, to detect colon cancer from urine samples, and is exploring whether its chips can help determine the best drugs for asthma patients by sorting through molecules in their breath.

RTFA for more examples, more individuals and firms doing good work, useful studies constructed to lead to healthier lives. Good for them.

Shame on those we put into office at all levels with the same sort of mandate – conveniently forgotten when they take their seat in power.

Some Female Dragonflies Fake Death to Avoid Having Sex

In order to avoid males of the species bothering them for sex, female dragonflies fake their own deaths, falling from the sky and lying motionless on the ground until the suitor goes away.

A study by Rassim Khelifa, a zoologist from the University of Zurich is the first time scientists have seen odonates feign death as a tactic to avoid mating, and a rare instance of animals faking their own deaths for this purpose. Odonates is the order of carnivorous insects that includes dragonflies and damselflies.

Khelifa notes there are few instances of animals faking their own deaths…Even though it is a risky strategy, faking death appears to help females survive longer and produce more offspring by avoiding coercion. “Sexual death feigning is one of the rarest behaviors in nature, and due to its scarcity, it has received little attention in behavioral ecology,” the study said. “Currently, it is restricted only to arthropods. It would be interesting to know whether this scarcity is true or just an artefact related to the lack of behavioral investigations or difficulty in detecting this behavior.”

Sure seems like a helluva smart way to avoid an unwanted situation.

Photos of a hurricane on Saturn from the Cassini Spacecraft

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has survived an unprecedented trip between Saturn and its rings, and has amazing pictures to show for it.

Flight controllers regained contact with Cassini on Thursday, a day after it became the first craft to cross this hazardous region. The rings are made up of countless icy particles, any of which could have smacked Cassini. The spacecraft’s big dish antenna served as a shield as it hurtled through the narrow gap, temporarily cutting off communications….

Twenty-one more crossings are planned — about one a week — before Cassini’s fatal plunge in mid-September. The next one is Tuesday (2nd May). Some of those passages will bring Cassini even closer to the planet as well as the innermost D ring. The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is between 1,200 and 1,500 miles across (1,900 to 2,400 kilometers).

Watch for it. Stay in touch with NASA.

Inside the firestorm


Click to enlargeNick Guy/University of Wyoming

❝ Aircraft N2UW has flown through all kinds of weather. The twin-propeller plane is sleek, petite, and so packed with scientific gear for studying the atmosphere that there’s barely room for two passengers to squeeze into its back seats. Monitors show radar reflections, gas concentrations and the sizes of cloud droplets. The plane has flown through tropical rainstorms in the Caribbean, through the gusting fronts of thunderheads over the Great Plains, and through turbulent down-slope winds that spawn dust storms in the lee of the Sierra Nevadas. But the four people on board Aug. 29, 2016, will never forget their flight over Idaho.

❝ The plane took off from Boise at 4 p.m. that day, veering toward the Salmon River Mountains, 40 miles northeast. There, the Pioneer Fire had devoured 29,000 acres and rolled 10 miles up Clear Creek Canyon in just a few hours. Its 100-foot flames leaned hungrily into the slope as they surged uphill in erratic bursts and ignited entire stands of trees at once.

But to David Kingsmill, in the plane’s front passenger seat, the flames on the ground two miles below were almost invisible — dwarfed by the dark thing that towered above. The fire’s plume of gray smoke billowed 35,000 feet into the sky, punching into the stratosphere with such force that a downy white pileus cloud coalesced on its underside like a bruise. The plume rotated slowly, seeming to pulse of its own volition, like a chthonic spirit rising over the ashes of the forest that no longer imprisoned it. “It looked,” says Kingsmill, “like a nuclear bomb.”

❝ Undaunted, Kingsmill and the pilot decided to do what no research aircraft had done: Fly directly through the plume.

Sometimes stunning, every bit as interesting as any wildfire may be. RTFA. Longish and nothing is extraneous.

Yes, fire season is already here in New Mexico.

The Feds have no idea how to grow decent pot

❝ The only marijuana researchers can legally obtain for studies looks like something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe after walking on a grassy field.

This is not an exaggeration. Take a look at this photo, courtesy of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies:

This is the marijuana that researchers were sent for a study looking at whether pot can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

❝ Due to federal prohibition and regulations, all of the marijuana used for US research is provided by one facility at the University of Mississippi through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). But researchers have complained for years that the quality of marijuana that NIDA supplies is terrible — typically far below what you can get from state-legal medical or recreational marijuana markets or even the black market.

The photo above exemplifies this. The marijuana looks like it’s made up more of leaves and stems than the actual bud you’re supposed to smoke. As anyone who’s ever smoked pot can tell you, you’re typically supposed to throw out the leaves and stems — meaning what you see in the photo is basically garbage to the typical user. Usable pot is supposed to look chunkier and laced with crystals that are high in THC (which is what gets you high).

❝ Here’s an example of higher-quality pot, taken before the stems are fully removed:

It ain’t just aesthetics, folks. The questions of usability, effectiveness, say, as a product to be used to wean Americans off opioids – are relevant.

RTFA for all the details and discussion.

Clinical trials tend to be positive when Docs get industry dollar$

When study investigators have financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies, clinical trial results are more likely to turn up positive…

In a review of 190 papers on randomized controlled trials, taking money from industry was significantly associated with favorable trial results in a fully adjusted model…Salomeh Keyhani, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues reported online…

Their findings suggest bias in the evidence base, Keyhani said. Practicing clinicians “should be concerned enough to employ healthy skepticism while reviewing the results of any one trial,” she told MedPage Today.

❝ The paper makes the distinction between a study being funded by a drug company, and investigators who have financial relationships with those companies.

Researchers with financial relationships can influence the study results in less obvious ways, such as study design and analytic approach, but Keyhani noted that the current research is a “cross-sectional study so any interpretation of the findings should be made with caution.”…

Gasp! Who’da thunk it.

RTFA for methodology – and more.

Mediterranean diet can slow down brain aging and memory loss

❝ It has long been claimed that a Mediterranean diet is good for your health, but a new study suggests it may benefit the brain as well as the body – and could help slow down brain ageing.

A study by academics for the journal Neurology found that older people who followed a Mediterranean diet lost less brain volume over a three-year period than those who did not stick to the diet as closely.

❝ The Mediterranean diet includes large amounts of fruit and vegetables, olive oil, beans and cereal grains such as wheat and rice with moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine and limited quantities of meat.

❝ Study author Dr Michelle Luciano of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland said: “As we age, the brain shrinks and we lose brain cells which can affect learning and memory.

“This study adds to the body of evidence that suggests the Mediterranean diet has a positive impact on brain health.”…

❝ The study claims dietary difference explained 0.5 per cent of the variation in total brain volume – an effect that was half the size of that due to normal ageing.

The results were the same when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain volume, such as age, education and having diabetes or high blood pressure.

There was no relationship found between grey matter volume or cortical thickness and the Mediterranean diet…

The Mediterranean diet has long been lauded by experts for its apparent ability to prevent many serious illnesses, including heart disease and breast cancer.

And it is often advocated by dieticians and nutritionists as an effective way to lose weight or stay slim because it delivers higher amounts of so-called “good” fats but is relatively low in sugar and harmful trans-fats.

I’ll second that emotion.

Though I grew up within the culture of a typical Mediterranean diet there were excesses of red meat and sugar. Not surprising in a first generation American family from the period including the Great Depression.

Though I’ve been gradually losing weight gained the last couple of years before retiring – with the encouragement of my ever-patient wife, the bullying of Essey – my iPhone, the purchase of a digital scale that measures lots of stuff and talks to the iPhone – I’ve lost 20 lbs over the past 8 months. I now weigh less than I did in 1977.

Nothing excessive. The most significant modifications being [1] reducing the amount of food consumed at any one time; [2] increasing my standards for daily exercise – which means walking – a little faster, and a mile more than previous averages. Not difficult. The changes have become habit. I eat, now, a daily amount that should eventually [gradually] knock off another 30 lbs.