As I noted in my highway headline post, it’s been very busy around here. Still, I’ve collected a few articles of interest. This collection is all connected by being related to recent science and health discoveries:
- Detecting Gluten. One article I read recently led me to discover a handheld sensor about to hit the market: the Nima sensor. Nima, is a portable, handheld gluten detector. Users load a half-teaspoon sample of food into a test tube and pop that into a triangle-shaped sensor. (They’ll need to use a new disposable capsule for each test to avoid cross-contamination.) The sensor assesses the contents of the capsule—detecting trace elements of gluten down to 20 parts per million—and then spits out a “yes” or “no” within two minutes. “No” signals that the food is safe to eat; a “yes” indicates that gluten is present. We’ve added ourselves to the mailing list for more info.
- Generic Medicines. Recently, I was prescribed a blood pressure medicine that was almost $100 after insurance (I’ve since switched to a generic that is much cheaper). With that experience, the problem with the pricing of generics was on my mind — and so this article on the pricing of generic medicines caught my eye. Part of the problem is bioequivalence studies. Generic drugs don’t need the excruciatingly drawn-out safety and efficacy studies required of new brand-name medications, but they do need to pass a bioequivalency study proving that their drug is absorbed the same way as the original. According to Wikipedia, the most common type of bioequivalence study is to “measure the time it takes the generic drug to reach the bloodstream in 24 to 36 healthy volunteers; this gives them the rate of absorption, or bioavailability, of the generic drug, which they can then compare to that of the innovator drug”. Making the chemical is cheap. If you also want FDA approval, it costs $2 million and takes two years. There’s also the problem of how pharmacies and insurance companies price things. It’s an interesting read.
- Timing of Medicines. I mentioned blood pressure meds above. Here’s an interesting note related to that: taking your blood pressure meds before bed instead of in the morning lowers your diabetes risk. In one study, when adjusted for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease, and hypertension treatment the researchers found sleeping blood pressure was the most significant predictor of diabetes risk, while waking blood pressure was found to have no predictive value. A second study found, when accounting for age, waist circumference, glucose, chronic kidney disease and specific treatment, that taking the blood pressure medications at night resulted in a 57 percent decrease in the risk of developing diabetes.
- Male Birth Controls. A new approach has been found towards a possible male birth control pill. This approach doesn’t focus on hormones, but proteins. A study in mice focused on a protein called calcineurin, which is found in the sperm-producing cells of the testes as well as other cells in the body. The researchers genetically engineered mice so that they lacked a gene that makes part of the calcineurin protein but is activated only in sperm-producing cells. When these mice had sex, they were infertile, the researchers said. When the researchers tried to figure out why their genetically engineered mice were infertile, they found that the mice’s sperm cells did not swim well and were not able to fertilize eggs. Further experiments found that the midpieces of these sperm didn’t bend normally, which prevented the sperm from penetrating the membrane of an egg. Now to see if this works with humans.
- Ringing in the Ears. One side effect of my migraines is tinitus — what some call “ringing” in the ears, but which (for me) is a high-pitched squeal. For the longest time, we didn’t know what caused it…. but now we do. It turns out it shares a common source with chronic pain. Doctors compared tinnitus patients with those who did not have tinnitus and found volume loss in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area that plays a role in the limbic system and functions as a “gate” or control area for noise and pain signals that is also associated with depression. This is an area that also lights up when you play unpleasant noises, so it has to do with unpleasant sensations. They found the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens are part of a “gatekeeping” system that determines which sounds or other stimuli to admit. When the system is defective, affected patients can be subjected to constant stimuli and long-lasting disturbances. The area is also associated with depression and anxiety, conditions often arise “in lockstep” with chronic pain. Because of this, the researchers are now looking to drugs that regulate that system, like dopamine and serotonin, to restore the gatekeeping role and eliminate the chronic pain, but more research is needed.
- Eliminating Plastics. One of the scourges of the model world is plastic. Very useful, it is also not biodegradable and becomes the waste that will list forever. But then again… it turns out the mealworms and mealmoth larvae eat plastic and generate biodegradable poop from it. This explains how they get into food wrapped in plastic. Being serious: Larvae of the darkling beetle will not only feed on expanded polystyrene, but microorganisms in their guts biodegrade it internally. And then, they poop out a seemingly safe product that may be suitable as soil for crops. Another surprise is that the PS doesn’t seem to be toxic to the insects. This work is building on research initiated at the Beihang University in China, where researchers observed waxworms, the larvae of Indian mealmoths, break down polyethylene in the form of plastic bags thanks to microorganisms in their guts. So far, the excreted waste appears safe to use as soil.
- Picking a Boy/Girlfriend. Ever wonder why you don’t think your best friend’s partner is cute? Ever wonder why you think your love is beautiful, but no one else does? Science has figured out why. According to a new study, it’s our life experiences—not a perfectly chiseled jaw or sultry bedroom eyes—that make a person’s face appealing to us. Sure, symmetrical features are generally more attractive than non-symmetrical ones, but an even face only partially accounts for someone’s overall “attractiveness,” researchers find. Physical attraction is highly personal—even among relations who’ve had similar upbringings. Researchers chalked up the differences to our own distinct life experiences, which can vary widely thanks to co-workers, peers, past relationships, and media exposure. Essentially, if you’ve had good experiences with people who have certain facial characteristics, you’ll most likely find them attractive. As time passes, others who look like them will seem good-looking to you as well.
It’s Saturday, and it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Time to clean out the accumulated links. Before I do, however, here’s a reminder link: If you are a Windows user and comtemplating upgrading to Windows 10, you should read my summary post about why I’m waiting, and what I want to remember when I finally do. On to the stew:
- Theatre Etiquette. Every since Patti LuPone went into the audience and grabbed a cell phone, how to behave in the theatre has been in the news. In fact, Ms. LuPone has posted an interesting article on her five rules of theatre etiquette — all of which I agree with. There’s also been an interesting article on the prevalence of smart phones in the theatre, which raises the question of why you come to the theatre anyway. The debate goes on and on. Lastly, and I don’t have an article on this one, there’s been a growing discussion on whether Ms. LuPone was right or wrong in what she did: that is, should an actor confront a patron who is using a cell phone? A growing number of people are pointing out that doing that is not the job of the actor — it is the job of the house manager or management-on-site. The actor should pass the word to management to get the situation corrected. I agree with this. P.S.: Just remember this: you are much safer going to live theatre than you are going to a movie (unless you’re an actor). The last time there was an active shooter in a live theatre was 1865. What? Too soon?
- Let The Sun Shine In. Back in the 1980s, when I saw Ain’t Misbehavin’, I saw it at the Aquarius Theatre. The building, now Nicolodeon Studios, has a truly fascinating history.
- A Birthday Song. You’ve probably wondered about my “list of birthday songs“. That started because I got tired of the traditional “Happy Birthday to You”. Additionally, there was always the question of copyright. It appears the battle is still going on, and it is starting to look like it may not be copyrighted after all. Then again, the copyright might still be there. It’s up to a judge to decide now.
- Psychology and the Drought. The drought in California has brought to light some interesting psychology. For the longest times, utilities out here have offered rebates to switch to low-flow toilets and to rip out lawns. The former hasn’t been successful, but recently, the latter has been overly successful. The why is what is interesting: Ripping out your lawn is visible, and we like to keep up with the Joneses. In other words: even though ripping out a lawn saves less water than replacing your toilet, it is a visible advertisement to your neighbors that you are doing something about the drought. They don’t see your toilet or your washing machine. Appearance is everything.
- Fat Heads / Fat on the Mind. A few fat related articles. First, have you ever wondered what “fat” taste likes. No, get your mind out of the gutter, I mean the food fat. It turns out fat is a sixth basic taste, up there with sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. In fact, humans may be programmed to like fats and dislike fatty acids. Next are two articles related to which fat is the best to cook with. The answer is: it depends on what you’re doing with the fat. Speaking of sweet fat, here’s a list of 14 LA area ice cream parlors everyone should try.
- Nigerian Spammers. We’re working on getting the program together for ACSAC, and I’m pleased to announce that our conference dinner will feature a performance of The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam. But Nigerian spammers are doing things much worse. In particular, they are buying exploit kits to defraud Asian businesses. To carry out the scam, the group often uses the Microsoft Word Intruder exploit kit. The kit can be used to create malicious Word documents that are then sent over email. If opened, the victim’s computer will be infected with a keylogger.The group buys the tools from experienced malicious software coders, paying for remote access tools, keyloggers and exploit kits.
- Android Attacks. If you have an Android phone, hopefully by now you’ve heard of Stagefright, an attack on Android phones that involved sending a crafted MMS text message that can trigger remote code execution. You don’t even have to open the message; the attack occurs as part of downloading the message. Until a fix comes across, you should go into your text application and disable automatic downloading of MMS messages. Oh, and Motorola has announced the new Moto X and Moto G phones.
- Science Podcasts. Lastly, here’s an article with a list of good science podcasts, although they did leave off my favorite, Quirks and Quarks from the CBC. Some of them look interesting, but I’m getting pretty backed up on podcasts. Certainly Radiolab and Gastropod sound good, but there’s only so much commuting I can do.
Here are a few posts from the last few weeks related to what you eat, and its effects. This is timely, as the CDF Food Fair and Convention is this weekend.
This has been another busy week, what with trying to get the truth out about the kerfluffle at the REP in Santa Clarita (#IStandWithTheREP), my daughter Erin being in town getting ready to go off to a summer Yiddish program back east, installing and setting up a new password manager, and loads of stuff at work. Still, I grabbed a few articles of interest:
Today’s collection of lunchtime news chum stories all have to do with the littlest things having big effects:
- High-O Silver! Recently, my wife picked up a new antibiotic gel at the pharmacy — an over-the-counter colloidal silver creme. I thought nothing of it (other than to try it and see it worked well) — after all, there are people who use colloidal silver to fight infections, although it has the side effect of turning your skin blue. Additionally, according to numerous studies, consumers may benefit from the silver specks’ ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms, including disease-causing Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. So, I was intrigued by this Discover article about the new silver antibiotic gel — it seems that it contains silver nanoparticals that may harm humans and wildlife. The problem is that silver nanoparticles’ tiny size allows them to enter parts of living things bodies that other molecules can’t reach. This can damage the inner workings of cells and inhibit protein production. And of course, being stupid humans, we’re just tossing this stuff into the environment, along with plastic nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles, and copper nanoparticles.
- Battling the Bulge. Everyone has heard, by now, of the various bariatric surgical approaches for weight loss. Two of the best approaches are the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. One might think that these approaches work by reducing the size of the stomach, and thus reducing the amount of food one can eat and/or absorb. But if you think that, you would be wrong. There’s some new research on how obesity surgery really works, and it is astounding. It appears that these surgeries actually work by setting in motion a cascade of signaling changes in the gut and elsewhere. Those changes, in turn, reshape the mix of gut bacteria in ways that appear to turn up metabolic function, lipid metabolism and signals that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating. Researchers have already observed that certain bile acids circulate more copiously in the guts and blood of patients in the wake of bariatric surgery, but could only guess at why. They also have observed that the community of bacteria colonizing the guts of obese patients changes in the wake of bariatric surgery. Researchers just found that that one link between these two changes is a genetic “switch,” or transcription factor, called FXR. Increased bile acid unlocks FXR, which improves metabolic function directly. But improved FXR signaling also promotes the growth of gut bacteria that help regulate fat metabolism, and suppresses gut bacteria that is linked to weight gain and metabolic disturbance. The next step is to figure out how to create the FXR signalling through medicine, not surgery.
- Concrete Isn’t Forever. Most of us see something made of concrete, and we think “permanence” (well, I also wonder about the water trapped in the structure). But all of our concrete isn’t permanent, and that’s creating a problem. Here’s the scary headline related to this that caught my eye: Concrete-Dissolving Bacteria Are Destroying Our Sewers. The problem is that, within the sewer system, one set of microbes emits hydrogen sulfide, the gas that is also responsible for raw sewage’s unpleasant smell. This gas fills the empty space between the top of the pipe and the water flow. Another set of microbes living in this headspace turns hydrogen sulfide to sulfuric acid, which eats away at concrete, leaving behind gypsum, the powdery stuff you find in drywall. This turns the sewer pipes into wet drywall. Yuk. That’s worse than Orangeberg piping. The current solution is to put plastic liners into the concrete pipes, a process that is almost as expensive as digging them up entirely. A better approach might be to embed anti-bacteria in the concrete (but that can build resistance). Microbiologists are instead thinking about how to tinker with the water systems and DNA sequencing to create probacteria — bacteria in the water pipes that are harmless to humans (so they say) but can manage the sewer bacteria.
- [ETA] Bugs from Birth. Here’s a P.S. item from Andrew Ducker on how the birth process was designed to colonize us with beneficial microbes that help keep the bad ones out. The implication of this is that, as more and more women opt go to the Caesarian route for convenience, we are entering life less prepared with the good stuff we need to get us started. As the article notes, “the founding populations of microbes found on C-section infants are not those selected by hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution or even longer.” In other words — we are too safe for our own good.
Scientists like to say that this is a bacteria’s world, and we just live with it. After all, humans carry more bacteria cells than human ones, and without bacteria, we couldn’t live in the world. In fact, small microbes now are believed to be responsible for one of the greatest mass extinctions on earth! We need to think more about our indiscriminate use of antibiotics, and the impacts of our growing use of nanotechnology that we don’t fully understand.
Ah, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Time to sit down to a hearty bowl of Turkey Stew, with nice chucks of news:
- Smelling The Subway. This is a real interesting article (and quite likely of interest to Andrew Ducker and those in the UK). A fellow who has synaesthesia, a neurological condition which prompts an involuntary reaction to sensory experiences, tastes things that he hears. In particular, place names provoke real tastes and intense cravings for particular foods. Using this knowledge, he has made a “taste map” of the London Underground. For example, to this fellow, Tottenham Court Road provokes a particularly strong taste of a sausage and egg breakfast, whilst nearby Bond Street prompts the less appealing tang of hairspray. Among the flavors that appear on the map are apple pie, bubble and squeak, HP sauce, purple grapes, chicken soup and soft boiled egg. Others include sweets such as love hearts, poppets, soft wine gums and jelly tots. Obscure flavors include coal dust, putrid meat, burnt rubber, wet wool, pencil eraser, fuzzy felt and dried blood.
- Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite warped authors is Shel Silverstein. His kids stuff is great; his adult stuff is even better. He was also an accomplished songwriter, penning many folk and comedy songs. Here’s an interesting article on the unlikely way he rose to fame. Here’s a hint: Whenever you read his children’s stuff, look for the hidden subversive adult message.
- I’m Bored. Many of us, I’m sure, get bored. But most of us don’t make it their job to boredom. Luckily, there are researchers that do. Did you know, for example, that there are five types of boredom … one more than researchers expected? (Well, you did if you were bored enough to listen to Wait Wait). The types of boredom that they expected were: (1) Indifferent boredom, a relaxing and slightly positive type of boredom that “reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world”; (2)Calibrating boredom, the slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts and “a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation”; (3) Searching boredom, the kind that makes you feel restless and leaves you “actively seeking out specific ways of minimizing feelings of boredom”; and (4) Reactant boredom, which is so bad that it prompts sufferers “to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid those responsible for this situation (e.g., teachers).” What they discovered was a fifth type of boredom: Apathetic boredom. I’d go on, but I’m sure you’re bored by now.
- Next on Wait Wait. Do you ever see scientific studies, and go “That’ll be on Wait Wait”. Here’s one for Wait Wait: Sexual frustration decreases lifespan — at least in flies. Specifically, the chemical attractant wafting from a female fruit fly shortened the lifespan of male flies when the femme fatale didn’t deliver on the signal’s promise, according to a new study.
- Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning. I’m a morning person. In fact, I often get up just shortly before my alarm goes off. Turns out, there’s a reason why. It’s due to having a very accurate body clock. The body happens to love predictability. Your body is most efficient when there’s a routine to follow. So if you hit the hay the same time each night and awake the same time each morning, your body locks that behavior in. The implication of this, of course, is that having constantly changing bedtimes and waking times puts stress on your body. That’s one of the reasons that, for me, sleeping me means sleeping until 530am.
- Good News for Steve Stepanek. Dr. Steve Stepanek is one of the folks I work with regularly at CSUN, as he is head of the Computer Science Liaison Council. The Daily Sundial is reporting that Steve just got elected to the CSU Board of Trustees. That’s great news — they’ve got a great educator, an engineer, and a computer scientist (as well as a train aficionado) as a member.
- Eating the Brain. One last science related item: Scientists have discovered an overlooked type of brain cell that may be responsible for learning. What it does is prune connections (essentially, eating them) in the brain, permitting new connections (and thus new learning) to be recorded. This could carry important implications for the battle against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for psychiatric disorders, and for the nagging loss of memory that comes with aging.
Sometimes the headline says it all: “Why did the chicken lose its penis?”
(This is one where you really need to read the comments)