Funding ban on human-animal hybrids ended

pigotaur
Pigotaur

Should the U.S. government use tax dollars to fund scientists fusing human stem cells into early animal embryos in order to create “chimeras” that are part human and part pig? Or part mouse?

The U.S. National Institutes of Health says the answer is yes. The agency announced Thursday that it plans to lift a moratorium that since last year has blocked taxpayers’ money from flowing to this type of hot-button research.

Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for policy, said experiments to inject human stem cells into early-stage animal embryos “are really important and exciting to understand how disease works” and to explore new medical treatments.

At the same time, the agency is proposing stricter controls on certain experiments most likely to lead to monkey-men or other bad science fiction…

And bad science fiction it would be. Unless requisite technology becomes as cheap as, say, drones from a big-box electronics chain, no for-real scientist is going to waste a chunk of their budget on “thrilling” experiments capable of attracting Sharknado movie producers or the religion police.

Human-animal mixtures aren’t new. Wolinetz noted in a statement that biomedical researchers “have created and used animal models containing human cells for decades” to gain insights into biology and disease. Scientists often grow human tumors inside of mice, for example.

But the new research is different, because potent human stem cells are being injected directly into a very early-stage animal embryo, consisting of just a couple of dozen cells. Theoretically, the human cells could then end up contributing to any part of the animal, and in any amount…

What’s the point of such experiments? One is that it might be possible to create an otherwise normal pig whose entire heart—or whole liver—is made from human cells. That would create a new way to farm human organs for transplant.

The issue was clearly a delicate one for the NIH, which was caught between advancing science and a possible political bombshell that could lead to public backlash. The agency said it would form a special committee to oversee funding of these human-animal mixtures—a move that could raise questions over political interference in science.

Pretty much every other nation capable of such research has already marched forward past the artificial political boundaries constructed by religion in the United States. Even if we avoid the short-term political limits appropriate to clown show politicians like George W or Donald Trump, our world-class scientific institutions and universities have to confront both federal and state limits put in place by legislators in mortal fear of know-nothing voters. Every day, every month, every year.

Know-Nothing Congress roadblocks US policy on mitochondrial therapy

Scientists believe they can now remove disease-causing mitochondrial DNA from human embryos, providing new cures for previously untreatable conditions, but the policy signals coming from Washington DC are in stark contradiction, according to a new Viewpoint essay published in JAMA.

On Feb. 3, 2016, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies issued a report on mitochondrial replacement therapy commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration. The division recommended that under certain conditions, MRT clinical trials should be allowed to proceed. But just six weeks before, President Obama signed an appropriations bill that included a bit of language essentially forbidding those trials…

❝ “One big step forward was taken by the IOM report when it concluded that it is “ethically permissible” to embark on first-in-human clinical trials of MRT subject to rigorous safety and efficacy imperatives,” wrote Dr. Eli Adashi…and I. Glenn Cohen…“However, two steps back were taken with the enactment of a policy rider which precludes the FDA from further consideration of MRT…”

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, the government has approved MRT clinical trials and some might begin this year. But despite the National Academies recommending a similar advance to the FDA, legislation has left U.S. policy at a standstill, wrote Adashi and Cohen.

Whether or not the eventual births of disease-free children in the UK will change congressional hearts and minds remains to be seen,” they wrote. “Failing such, progress in the prevention of mitochondrial DNA diseases will remain the domain of a biomedical enterprise an ocean away.”

The same ignoranus mindset George W Bush brought to US government is alive and well in a Congress governed by shortsighted and foolish conservatives, embraced by Republicans, Tea Party Trumpkins and Blue Dog Democrats. American voters may never learn to vote in their own economic and social interest; but, you’d think they’d eventually figure out that passing laws that help your children to die really ain’t too bright.

X-Ray research on fried potatoes to make them tastier


Tamara Evans

When I’m waiting for my dinner to finish cooking, I can’t say I often think about how the way I fry it is changing the food’s microstructure. But after sifting through a paper recently published in the Journal of Food Science that explores the microstructure of “fried potato disks”, I might just.

The study was conducted by Tanjila Alam and Pawan S. Takhar from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In it, they cut russet potatoes into tiny 45-millimeter diameter, 1.65-millimeter thick disks and then deep fried them in soybean oil. So, think of them as little crispy potato chips for science. The potato samples were fried in 190 degrees Celsius oil for 0, 20, 40, 60, or 80 seconds.

After that, the fried potatoes were subjected to X-ray micro-computed tomography, which creates a micro 3D image of the sample without destroying it. The idea here, is to see how frying the potato affects its porosity, the twistiness (“tortuosity”) of the paths connecting the pores, and how much oil the chip takes in, which eventually could help us make better fried foods…

In this study, the researchers found that the longer the potato was fried, the more the pore size and number of pores increased, which helped the potatoes to take on more oil. The chips that were fried for longer also had less twisty pathways between pores, which corresponds to having better oil uptake.

Scientists aren’t just interested in fried potatoes, the paper notes. In 2011, researchers put chicken nuggets to a similar test, dying the oil blue and using a confocal microscope to trace oil and pore distribution through the deep fried delicacy. Yum!

Too bad the study only addresses one of America’s favorite food groups – fat. They left out sugar, salt and crap beer.

The oil Patch Boys have known about climate change since the 1980s

Just months after the New York attorney general launched an investigation into oil giant ExxonMobil over allegations that it misled investors about climate change, a newly surfaced report suggests the oil industry’s largest trade group may have had early, detailed knowledge of climate change as well.

In 1982, the American Petroleum Institute commissioned a report from scientists at Columbia University that predicted destructive global warming and linked it to fossil fuel use, according to the nonprofit InsideClimate News, which received a copy of the original report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

One year after the trade association received the report, API disbanded the task force it had set up to monitor climate change research, according to InsideClimate News. API then launched a multimillion-dollar campaign in the 1990s to persuade the public that the science around climate change was “uncertain…”

The Columbia researchers who prepared the report for API predicted global temperatures would rise by up to 4 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years. A 4-degree increase would likely have devastating effects on the planet, including widespread species loss, increased food insecurity, stronger storms and more severe coastal flooding, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Columbia report also said the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “is expected to double some time in the [21st] century. Just when depends on the particular estimate of the level of increasing energy use per year and the mix of carbon based fuels…”

Instead of cleaning up its act, Exxon waged a $16 million campaign in the 1990s to block proposed regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and to persuade the public that climate science was unreliable…It became clear in December that several major oil companies affiliated with API had early knowledge of climate change. The newly surfaced report obtained by InsideClimate News shows that the information about global warming available to members of the trade group was detailed and clearly outlined the risks of emitting large volumes of CO2…

The campaign of political disinformation continues. Even if most of the educated world understands the sum of scientific investigation into climate change there are enough willing dodos committed to being foot soldiers for any conservative cause. Self-interest is limited to a pat on the head from the boss – just as it always has. Care and concern for the planet and life on it – doesn’t raise the least interest among the nutball lobby, some paid, some volunteers. The creeps who pick up the tab are the same corporate executives who have been at it for decades.

We’re just getting a clearer picture is all.

Our middle class dwindles to less than the sum of the rich + the poor

In the age of rising income inequality, the task of preserving America’s middle class has been taken on by politicians across the ideological spectrum. A new report from Pew Research Center shows just how much the economic fortunes of this group have changed since the 1970s.

In every decade since then, the percentage of adults living in middle-income households has fallen, according to Pew, which is based in Washington. The share now stands at 50 percent, compared with 61 percent in 1971…

Our politicians have accomplished nothing other than gifting the nation to the rich.

Being a member of the middle-class has long been treated as an American badge of honor. However middle-income households have lost their majority status in the U.S, with the size of their counterparts on opposite ends of the income spectrum overtaking them in number.

Some 120.8 million adult Americans lived in middle-class households this year, according to Pew. That’s slightly less than the combined number of upper-income adults – 51 million – and those at the lower tier – 70.3 million…

Blacks are less likely to be part of the middle class than any other racial or ethnic group, the Pew report finds. Some 45 percent of black adults were in the middle-income tier, down 1 percentage point from 1971.

One positive note is that blacks are the only major racial group to see a decline over that time frame in their share of adults who are low-income, which is down to 43 percent from 48 percent. Still, that percentage is the highest of the ethnic groups, alongside Hispanics.

White Americans are the only racial group where a majority is in the middle class, though their share fell to 52 percent this year from 63 percent in 1971.

Almost half of aggregate earnings in the U.S. is now commanded by the wealthiest families, who are “are on the verge of holding more in total income than all other households combined,” Kochhar and Fry wrote.

The Republicans barely give lip service to this question. Unwilling to risk offending the class of owners they obey on every issue.

Many Democrats are merely cowards. Those willing to fight for us know the fight starts with their peers.

Yes, I know the characterizations are too much shorthand. But, when push comes to shove on any truly critical issue – whether it be war and peace, guns and butter, education and tax breaks for the rich – the fine gradations that give job security to TV talking heads and Wall Street analysts alike break down. Almost no one is willing to commit to the class of the many Americans who create and build the wealth of the few.

NASA website hosts regularly updated Earth imagery


Click to enlarge

NASA has launched a new website allowing the public to view images snapped by its Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite. The service will provide multiple shots of stunning Earth imagery seven days a week, mere hours after capture.

DSCOVR is operated through a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Air Force, with a mission to monitor space weather emanating from the Sun, and serve as a form of early warning system for potentially harmful events…

Images featured on the website are captured roughly 12 – 36 hours prior to release, and feature a simple graphic to the top left of the page informing users of the relative positions and distances of the DSCOVR satellite and our Sun. The page also displays a globe highlighting the landmasses that are in view.

Archived images will be accessible by searching for the subject’s capture date and the continents displayed in the image.

Sometimes the Web really brings you close to the beauty of science.

The US “leads” the solar energy revolution by laying off solar energy researchers

On Monday, Oct. 5, Stuart Farrell had planned to take the morning off from his job as a researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., after being awake all night taking care of his sick 2-year-old son. But at 10:30 a.m., he received a call asking him to come in for an 11:30 meeting…

Farrell, who had worked in solar energy research at the laboratory for two and a half years, was one of 15 solar research staff members laid off that day due to federal funding cuts, according to NREL public affairs manager George Douglas. And another 40 to 60 staff members are expected to be lost through a voluntary separation program that the lab will initiate on Oct. 12.

Almost all of the researchers already laid off were involved in “next generation,” or long-term, solar research, Douglas said. Farrell’s work, for instance, involved research on improving the efficiency of cadmium telluride solar cells.

It’s the latest sign of a trend that experts say is undermining U.S. efforts to promote alternative energy: Federal funding for solar energy research has declined steadily over the past several years, despite emphasis from the Obama administration on continued investment in research and development of clean energy technologies. These cuts have affected the federal solar program at large, not just solar research at NREL…

“NREL is actually one of the smallest of the national laboratories, and I think it’s been one that has had one of the largest impacts of any of the national laboratories,” said Al Compaan, president and CTO of Lucintech, a company involved in the development of photovoltaic modules. “I’m particularly pained to see any further cuts in funding [to NREL].” For instance, support from NREL was integral to the success of photovoltaic manufacturer First Solar, which Compaan referred to as “one of the bright shining stars in the success of federal government support for solar energy.”…

Yet the budget appropriations have fallen short of the requests over the past few years, and applied research, particularly on long-term, forward-looking technologies like the project Farrell was involved with at NREL, has been one of the areas to suffer. The reasons for the funding cuts could be tied to budget sequestration, or limits on the size of the federal budget, which can force spending cuts in certain areas in order to bring the total budget down…

Despite these reductions, solar energy itself has continued to expand and contribute to decarbonization in the U.S., at least partly thanks to the importation of solar modules from other nations, particularly China. The U.S. market share in photovoltaic manufacturing has dropped significantly since the late 90s, and China has become the major source of module shipments over the past five years…

Jobs, jobs, jobs – the mantra of political hacks from both parties. But, as long as the government is run by an amalgamation of reactionaries and cowards the inevitability of change continues to be driven by the nations with a real dedication to alternative energy.

President Obama can blather all he wants at press conferences celebrating his joint energy and environment agreements with President Xi. At the rate we’re going the only American jobs flowing from the solar revolution will be as installers. Manufacturing for domestic consumption – much less export – will continue to diminish in a nation that would rather dedicate research to new and exciting weapons of mass destruction.

Our politicians take Americans another step backwards – bowing to the Koch Brothers and the fossil fuel empire.

Here’s how West Virginia University researchers caught VW cheating

WVU test rig

This photo shows how researchers caught VW cheating on its emissions tests

Revelations that as many as 11 million Volkswagen cars have been cheating on their emissions tests have become big news this week. But the research that demonstrated that VW’s diesel vehicles were generating excessive pollution has been publicly available for more than a year — ever since a team at West Virginia University published their findings in the spring of 2014.

Volkswagen reportedly programmed its vehicles to behave differently during emissions testing than in real-world driving conditions. To detect this, the West Virginia researchers developed a method for measuring a vehicle’s emissions performance as it drove down the highway…

This equipment rode around in the back of the vehicles they were testing, collecting gas from the exhaust pipe and analyzing it. The gear included an onboard generator, to make sure that the power demands of the testing equipment didn’t change the performance of the engine.

Then they drove the vehicles up and down the West Coast, testing their performance in a variety of real-world driving conditions, from city streets to mountain roads. They found that one of the vehicles they tested (we now know it was a VW Jetta) was emitting 15 to 35 times the legal limit of nitrous oxide, while another (a VW Passat) was emitting five to 20 times the limit.

At this point, the researchers didn’t know why the cars were emitting so much pollution. But when they presented their results at a 2014 conference in San Diego, there were EPA officials in the audience. They picked up the investigation from there and eventually forced Volkswagen to admit that they had programmed the vehicles to cheat on emissions tests.

Gotta love all the directions capable of basic science. Catching corporate crooks is just one avenue – but, surely, important enough to deserve applause from ordinary consumers, recognition from bureaucrats who didn’t catch on to the crime until these folks at WVU pointed out discrepancies.

Your body is surrounded by farticles

pigpen

Everywhere you go, in everything you do, you are surrounded by an aura of microbes. They drift down from your hair when you scratch your head, they fly off your hand when you wave to your friend, they spew out of your mouth when you talk. Even when you sit around doing nothing, you’re sitting in your own, personal microbial bubble.

Made up of millions, billions, trillions of bacteria, yeast, cells, and cell parts, this bubble is actually more like a cloud — a cloud, new research suggests, that is unique to you. And as gross as it is to imagine everyone around you shedding microbial bits and pieces into the air, studying those clouds can be useful for people like doctors tracking down disease outbreaks and cops tracking down criminals.

The gut microbiome, often invoked in expensive probiotic-heavy diets, is probably the hottest microscopic community right now. It’s the collection of microbiota, living inside you, that helps you break down food, fight disease, and control your hunger.

But your outer body has its own microbiome, too. Your body is covered in skin, and that skin is like a vast savannah populated with millions of exotic critters. They feed on the oils seeping from your skin, dead cells, bits of organic matter, and each other. “In a single centimeter of skin, you can find thousands of bacteria,” says James Meadow, former University of Oregon researcher and co-author of a microbiome paper published…in the journal PeerJ.

Combined, the non-you cells in your body outnumber the you cells by about 10 to one. And if some sadistic scientist were to grind up and sequence all the DNA in every cell in and on your body, only about 2 percent of the genetic material would be human. The rest is microbes

So how different could individuals’ microbial clouds really be? The two trials showed that, at least in these 11 people, microbial clouds varied significantly from person to person. They also found that different people shed microbes at different rates…

That knowledge will help shape microbiome cloud research in fields like contagious disease and forensics. In hospitals, nobody really knows how germs spread. Since leaving Oregon State University, Meadow has joined a biotech company in San Francisco that wants to use the understanding of microbial clouds to help hospitals prevent things like MRSA outbreaks.

Cops see other opportunities for the microbial cloud. Gilbert has been helping crime scene investigators use microbial residue to track down criminals. He says people pick up microbes from the soil, the air, the food they eat, and the water they wash and drink with. So an individual’s unique microbial signature could put them at the scene of a crime—or exonerate them if the microbes in their cloud match their alibi.

Any guess as to who gets the most funding, first?

Cattle virus is linked to breast cancer

cow
Can you tell if I have leukemia?

Researchers were surprised to find in a new study that a significant number of breast cancer cells from more than 200 women had evidence of exposure to bovine leukemia virus, or BLV.

BLV infects dairy and beef cattle’s blood cells and mammary tissues, and was for a long time thought not to be able to infect humans.

Nearly all bulk milk tanks at large factory farms are infected with BLV, but only about 5 percent of cows get sick if they have the virus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The same group of researchers at the University of California Berkeley involved in the new study also found last year that BLV could be transmitted to humans.

“The association between BLV infection and breast cancer was surprising to many previous reviewers of the study, but it’s important to note that our results do not prove that the virus causes cancer,” said Dr. Gertrude Buehring, a professor of virology in the University of California Berkeley, in a press release. “However, this is the most important first step. We still need to confirm that the infection with the virus happened before, not after, breast cancer developed, and if so, how.”

Using donated tissue from the Cooperative Human Tissue Network, the researchers compared breast tissue from 239 women who either had breast cancer or did not.

They found that 59 percent of breast cancer cells had evidence of exposure to BLV based on the presence of viral DNA in the cells. Cells from women who had not had breast cancer only had evidence of exposure 29 percent of the time.

When researchers further analyzed the data, they found the risk of developing breast cancer was 3.1 times higher if BLV was present in a woman than if it was not. Buehring said the odds ratio is higher than other well known risk factors for breast cancer, including obesity, alcohol consumption and hormones.

And a chill went through the hearts and minds of dairy agribusiness managers. Probably already on the phone to lobbyists to get votes lined up in the USDA/FDA to prevent any further studies accepted if they even hint at a link.