Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movie Review: Up in the Air

The last movie I saw in 2009, minutes ago, was "Up in the Air". It seemed like a big attack on the choice to remain unmarried, but by the time it ended, it was more realistic than I expected.  Some people, including some old people, have remained single because they never made the right connection. Poignant.
Ryan Bingham's job is to fire people from theirs. The anguish, hostility, and despair of his "clients" has left him falsely compassionate, living out of a suitcase, and loving every second of it. When his boss hires arrogant young Natalie, she develops a method of video conferencing that will allow termination without ever leaving the office - essentially threatening the existence Ryan so cherishes. Determined to show the naive girl the error of her logic, Ryan takes her on one of his cross country firing expeditions, but as she starts to realize the disheartening realities of her profession, he begins to see the downfalls to his way of life. - imdb

Bookstore find

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Down time

Thanks for visiting the xenophilius blog. Normal posts of the world's most ineresting strange news and science discoveries will resume in a few days. Happy new year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Close-up photos of dying star show our sun's fate

About 550 light-years from Earth, a star like our Sun is writhing in its death throes. Chi Cygni has swollen in size to become a red giant star so large that it would swallow every planet out to Mars in our solar system. Moreover, it has begun to pulse dramatically in and out, beating like a giant heart. New close-up photos of the surface of this distant star show its throbbing motions in unprecedented detail.

"This work opens a window onto the fate of our Sun five billion years from now, when it will near the end of its life," said lead author Sylvestre Lacour of the Observatoire de Paris.

As a sunlike star ages, it begins to run out of hydrogen fuel at its core. Like a car running out of gas, its "engine" begins to splutter. On Chi Cygni, we see those splutterings as a brightening and dimming, caused by the star's contraction and expansion. Stars at this life stage are known as Mira variables after the first such example, Mira "the Wonderful," discovered by David Fabricius in 1596. As it pulses, the star is puffing off its outer layers, which in a few hundred thousand years will create a beautifully gleaming planetary nebula.

Chi Cygni pulses once every 408 days. At its smallest diameter of 300 million miles, it becomes mottled with brilliant spots as massive plumes of hot plasma roil its surface. (Those spots are like the granules on our Sun's surface, but much larger.) As it expands, Chi Cygni cools and dims, growing to a diameter of 480 million miles -- large enough to engulf and cook our solar system's asteroid belt.

For the first time, astronomers have photographed these dramatic changes in detail. They reported their work in the December 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

"We have essentially created an animation of a pulsating star using real images," stated Lacour. "Our observations show that the pulsation is not only radial, but comes with inhomogeneities, like the giant hotspot that appeared at minimum radius."

Imaging variable stars is extremely difficult, for two main reasons. The first reason is that such stars hide within a compact and dense shell of dust and molecules. To study the stellar surface within the shell, astronomers observe the stars at a specific wavelength of infrared light. Infrared allows astronomers to see through the shell of molecules and dust, like X-rays enable physicians to see bones within the human body.

The second reason is that these stars are very far away, and thus appear very small. Even though they are huge compared to the Sun, the distance makes them appear no larger than a small house on the moon as seen from Earth. Traditional telescopes lack the proper resolution. Consequently, the team turned to a technique called interferometry, which involves combining the light coming from several telescopes to yield resolution equivalent to a telescope as large as the distance between them.

They used the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Infrared Optical Telescope Array, or IOTA, which was located at Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona. ...

via Close-up photos of dying star show our sun's fate.

Calorie restriction: Scientists take important step toward 'fountain of youth'

Going back for a second dessert after your holiday meal might not be the best strategy for living a long, cancer-free life say researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That's because they've shown exactly how restricted calorie diets -- specifically in the form of restricted glucose -- help human cells live longer.

This discovery, published online in The FASEB Journal, could help lead to drugs and treatments that slow human aging and prevent cancer.

"Our hope is that the discovery that reduced calories extends the lifespan of normal human cells will lead to further discoveries of the causes for these effects in different cell types and facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the lifespan of humans," said Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Center for Aging and Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We would also hope for these studies to lead to improved prevention of cancer as well as many other age-related diseases through controlling calorie intake of specific cell types."

To make this discovery, Tollefsbol and colleagues used normal human lung cells and precancerous human lung cells that were at the beginning stages of cancer formation. Both sets of cells were grown in the laboratory and received either normal or reduced levels of glucose (sugar). As the cells grew over a period of a few weeks, the researchers monitored their ability to divide, and kept track of how many cells survived over this period.

They found that the normal cells lived longer, and many of the precancerous cells died, when given less glucose. Gene activity was also measured under these same conditions. The reduced glucose caused normal cells to have a higher activity of the gene that dictates the level of telomerase, an enzyme that extends their lifespan and lower activity of a gene (p16) that slows their growth. Epigenetic effects (effects not due to gene mutations) were found to be a major cause in changing the activity of these genes as they reacted to decreased glucose levels.

"Western science is on the cusp of developing a pharmaceutical fountain of youth" said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "This study confirms that we are on the path to persuading human cells to let us to live longer, and perhaps cancer-free, lives."

via Calorie restriction: Scientists take important step toward 'fountain of youth'.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Amazing facts

Record Soccer Ball Juggling

The Greek Rocket War

Baby placenta facial treatments offered

Beauty conscious women in Dubai are being targeted by a controversial product claimed to make them look younger made from newborn baby placenta.

British therapist Mona Mirza says new customers walk through the doors of her Dubai clinic almost every day, as word spreads of the new procedure.

"The main reason why human placenta is effective is because it is bio-identical to our own physiology," she said.

"Your own collagen starts to mimic the baby collagen and cells that are going in."

And while adult skin will continue mimicking the placenta cells for about three months, the treatment is not cheap. A 60-minute session costs around £170 ($307).

Placenta treatments are not new, however. Some European clinics already use sheep or horse placenta in their treatments, but the placenta serum used in Mirza's facials is made by a American manufacturer who claims the afterbirth is farmed from Russian babies and given voluntarily.

Simon Cowell, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Lopez are among celebrities reported to use placenta treatments in their beauty regimes.

Ms Mirza advises women over the age of 35 to have their first three treatments in the space of a week, followed by one treatment a month.

But sceptics say there is no scientific evidence to support claims that the procedure works.

via Baby placenta facial treatments offered |

I guess placenta facials sound better than people eating placentas, which they do for similar reasons:
Dr. Peter Chew, a consultant OB/GYN at Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore, didn’t think that it worked, but also didn’t see any harm in eating human placenta:
A placenta is an organ rich in blood vessels that develops in female mammals during pregnancy. It lines the uterine wall and partially envelopes the foetus, to which it is attached by the umbilical cord. At full-term, it is about 18cm long and 5cm thick. It is expelled during child birth, forming part of the afterbirth.

Its function is to transfer oxygen and nutrients from the mother to the foetus. It also releases carbon dioxide and waste from the foetus through the umbilical cord to be disposed of by the mother.

Dr Peter Chew, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital, says that though people have been talking about "frying, drying and eating placentas" for years, his patients rarely ask to keep theirs.

He says: "Placentas are full of hormones, so theoretically, they should improve the complexion, even though there’s no medical evidence to support this."

As for the possibility of dangerous side effects from consuming it, he says "there’s no harm, seeing it’s your own body’s organ". But to be on the safe side, he recommends cooking the placenta before consumption. - neatorama

Mobilizing the repair squad: Critical protein helps mend damaged DNA order to preserve our DNA, cells have developed an intricate system for monitoring and repairing DNA damage. Yet precisely how the initial damage signal is converted into a repair response remains unclear. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have now solved a crucial piece of the complex puzzle.

In a forthcoming article in the Dec. 24 issue of Molecular Cell, they show that a protein named CtIP plays an essential role in the DNA damage "signal-to-repair" conversion process. "Being able to repair damaged DNA is extremely important; the cell has to know when it has received this type of damage and respond appropriately," explains Tony Hunter, Ph.D., American Cancer Society Professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Cancer Center, who led the study. "Failure to do so can have disastrous consequences."

The DNA in our cells is under constant attack from reactive chemicals generated as byproducts of cellular metabolism. In addition, it is assaulted by x-rays, ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and environmental carcinogens such as tobacco smoke. As a result of this continuous bombardment, some studies have estimated that the DNA in a single human cell gets damaged over 10,000 times every day.

If not repaired properly, the damage leads to mutations, which over time can cause cancer. "As a result, individuals with an inherited impairment in DNA repair capability are often at increased risk of cancer," notes first author Zhongsheng You, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute and now an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

DNA consists of two intertwined strands so that when the DNA is broken, two ends are revealed, one from each strand. In order to repair the DNA break, one strand is trimmed away—or resected—like a loose thread, leaving only the second strand. This exposed strand then searches for a copy of itself (located on its sister chromosome), and "photocopies" past the broken region, repairing the DNA and zipping itself back up.

In yeast, CtIP is required for resection of the broken end, and since it is also recruited to sites of DNA damage in human cells, Hunter's team wanted to know whether CtIP plays a similar role there. To find out, they depleted CtIP from human cells and caused DNA damage. Without the CtIP, they discovered, the cells could no longer trim back the damaged DNA strands, which brought the whole repair process to an abrupt halt.

"It looks like CtIP recruitment is a very important control point in the DNA repair process," You observes. "Once CtIP is recruited, resection and repair begin, so regulating CtIP recruitment is one way to regulate DNA repair itself."

In order to understand the process better, the researchers then asked which regions of the CtIP protein are involved in binding it to the broken DNA ends. By testing small portions of the protein, they found that a region in the central part of CtIP helps recruit the protein. They named this region the "damage recruitment" (DR) domain.

Further studies suggested that the DR domain within CtIP is normally hidden inside the folded protein. Only when the cell sends a DNA damage signal is CtIP's DR domain exposed, and only then can CtIP bind to the broken DNA. In this way, CtIP is like a switchblade that cells open only in the presence of DNA damage.

The authors believe that exposure of CtIP 's DR domain and its recruitment to the site of DNA damage triggers a chain reaction that results in DNA repair, and they now want to understand exactly what CtIP does to start the DNA repair process.

You is also trying to understand the modifications in CtIP that cause the DR domain to be exposed, and is looking into the role of CtIP in cancer. "Mutations in CtIP have not been mapped extensively in human tumors, but from this data, we predict that mutations to the DR domain would lead to cancer," he says.

In the long term, the team hopes that a better understanding of the DNA damage pathway may provide clues for cancer treatment in the future. "CtIP is another important player in the double-strand break response," says Hunter. "We have added another piece to the complex puzzle of DNA repair."

via Mobilizing the repair squad: Critical protein helps mend damaged DNA.

Citrus surprise: Vitamin C boosts the reprogramming of adult cells into stem cells

Famous for its antioxidant properties and role in tissue repair, vitamin C is touted as beneficial for illnesses ranging from the common cold to cancer and perhaps even for slowing the aging process. Now, a study published online on December 24th by Cell Press in the journal Cell Stem Cell uncovers an unexpected new role for this natural compound: facilitating the generation of embryonic-like stem cells from adult cells.

Over the past few years, we have learned that adult cells can be reprogrammed into cells with characteristics similar to embryonic stem cells by turning on a select set of genes. Although the reprogrammed cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), have tremendous potential for regenerative medicine, the conversion is extremely inefficient.

"The low efficiency of the reprogramming process has hampered progress with this technology and is indicative of how little we understand it. Further, this process is most challenging in human cells, raising a significant barrier for producing iPSCs and serious concerns about the quality of the cells that are generated," explains senior study author Dr. Duanqing Pei from the South China Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Pei and colleagues measured the production of reactive oxygen species or ROS during reprogramming and discovered a potential link between high ROS and low reprogramming efficiency. They became particularly interested in antioxidants, hypothesizing that they might suppress ROS and cell senescence, which seems to be a major roadblock for the generation of iPSCs.

The researchers found that adding vitamin C, an essential nutrient that is abundant in citrus fruits, enhanced iPSC generation from both mouse and human cells. Vitamin C accelerated gene expression changes and promoted a more efficient transition to the fully reprogrammed state. Somewhat to their surprise, they found that other antioxidants do not have the same effect, but vitamin C does seem to act at least in part through slowing cell senescence.

"Our results highlight a simple way to improve iPSC generation and provide additional insight into the mechanistic basis of reprogramming," concludes Dr. Pei. "It is also of interest that a vitamin with long-suspected anti-aging effects has such a potent influence on reprogramming, which can be considered a reversal of the aging process at the cellular level. It is likely that our work may stimulate further research in this area as well."

via Citrus surprise: Vitamin C boosts the reprogramming of adult cells into stem cells.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Blogging from the road - Geocaching and Exploring Portland, OR

The day after Christmas: I'm on the road, visiting Portland, Oregon. News posts will be sporadic, returning in full force in the New Year,  but you are welcome to continue discussing/commenting on stories.

A few minutes ago, after breakfast at a café called "detour," (where I took the photo below), I used an iPhone app to find my first geo-cache. It was a small plastic container attached magnetically to a gate. Retrieving the log from a plastic baggy, I signed the list and returned it. I loved the treasure hunt even when the treasure was some art in someone's yard to view. I was tempted to leave a five dollar bill, so the next person would have added excitement, but I'm still not sure of the rules and etiquette, since this was my first one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

In the fog, on the freeway last night, walking, possibly hitchhiking, on I5 near Portland OR, I saw Santa Claus. (first photo is in San Francisco)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Scientists create world's first molecular transistor

Engineers adjusted the voltage applied via gold contacts to a benzene molecule, allowing them to raise and lower the molecule’s energy states...

A group of scientists has succeeded in creating the first transistor made from a single molecule. The team, which includes researchers from Yale University and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, published their findings in the December 24 issue of the journal Nature.

The team, including Mark Reed, the Harold Hodgkinson Professor of Engineering & Applied Science at Yale, showed that a benzene molecule attached to gold contacts could behave just like a silicon transistor.

The researchers were able to manipulate the molecule's different energy states depending on the voltage they applied to it through the contacts. By manipulating the energy states, they were able to control the current passing through the molecule.

"It's like rolling a ball up and over a hill, where the ball represents electrical current and the height of the hill represents the molecule's different energy states," Reed said. "We were able to adjust the height of the hill, allowing current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high." In this way, the team was able to use the molecule in much the same way as regular transistors are used.

The work builds on previous research Reed did in the 1990s, which demonstrated that individual molecules could be trapped between electrical contacts. Since then, he and Takhee Lee, a former Yale postdoctoral associate and now a professor at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, developed additional techniques over the years that allowed them to "see" what was happening at the molecular level.

Being able to fabricate the electrical contacts on such small scales, identifying the ideal molecules to use, and figuring out where to place them and how to connect them to the contacts were also key components of the discovery. "There were a lot of technological advances and understanding we built up over many years to make this happen," Reed said.

There is a lot of interest in using molecules in computer circuits because traditional transistors are not feasible at such small scales. But Reed stressed that this is strictly a scientific breakthrough and that practical applications such as smaller and faster "molecular computers"—if possible at all—are many decades away.

"We're not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits," he said. "But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors."

via Scientists create world's first molecular transistor.

Sun and moon trigger deep tremors on San Andreas Fault faint tug of the sun and moon on the San Andreas Fault stimulates tremors deep underground, suggesting that the rock 15 miles below is lubricated with highly pressurized water that allows the rock to slip with little effort, according to a new study by University of California, Berkeley, seismologists.

"Tremors seem to be extremely sensitive to minute stress changes," said Roland Bürgmann, UC Berkeley professor of earth and planetary science. "Seismic waves from the other side of the planet triggered tremors on the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington state after the Sumatra earthquake last year, while the Denali earthquake in 2002 triggered tremors on a number of faults in California. Now we also see that tides – the daily lunar and solar tides – very strongly modulate tremors."

In a paper appearing in the Dec. 24 issue of the journal Nature, UC Berkeley graduate student Amanda M. Thomas, seismologist Robert Nadeau of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and Bürgmann argue that this extreme sensitivity to stress – and specifically to shearing stress along the fault – means that the water deep underground is under extreme pressure.

"The big finding is that there is very high fluid pressure down there, that is, lithostatic pressure, which means pressure equivalent to the load of all rock above it, 15 to 30 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) of rock," Nadeau said. "Water under very high pressure essentially lubricates the rock, making the fault very weak."

Though tides raised in the Earth by the sun and moon are not known to trigger earthquakes directly, they can trigger swarms of deep tremors, which could increase the likelihood of quakes on the fault above the tremor zone, the researchers say. At other fault zones, such as at Cascadia, swarms of tremors in the ductile zone deep underground correlate with slip at depth as well as increased stress on the shallower "seismogenic zone," where earthquakes are generated. The situation on the San Andreas Fault is not so clear, however.

"These tremors represent slip along the fault 25 kilometers (15 miles) underground, and this slip should push the fault zone above in a similar pattern," Bürgmann said. "But it seems like it must be very subtle, because we actually don't see a tidal signal in regular earthquakes. Even though the earthquake zone also sees the tidal stress and also feels the added periodic behavior of the tremor below, they don't seem to be very bothered."

Nevertheless, said Nadeau, "It is certainly in the realm of reasonable conjecture that tremors are stressing the fault zone above it. The deep San Andreas Fault is moving faster when tremors are more active, presumably stressing the seismogenic zone, loading the fault a little bit faster. And that may have a relationship to stimulating earthquake activity."

Seismologists were surprised when tremors were first discovered more than seven years ago, since the rock at that depth – for the San Andreas Fault, between 15 and 30 kilometers (10 to 20 miles) underground – is not brittle and subject to fracture, but deformable, like peanut butter. They called them non-volcanic tremors to distinguish them from tremors caused by fluid – water or magma – fracturing and flowing through rock under volcanoes. It was not clear, however, what caused the non-volcanic tremors, which are on the order of a magnitude 1 earthquake.

To learn more about the source of these tremors, UC Berkeley seismologists began looking for tremors five years ago in seismic recordings from the Parkfield segment of the San Andreas Fault obtained from sensitive bore-hole seismometers placed underground as part of the UC Berkeley's High-Resolution Seismic Network. Using eight years of tremor data, Thomas, Bürgmann and Nadeau correlated tremor activity with the effects of the sun and moon on the crust and with the effects of ocean tides, which are driven by the moon.

They found the strongest effect when the pull on the Earth from the sun and moon sheared the fault in the direction it normally breaks. Because the San Andreas Fault is a right-lateral strike-slip fault, the west side of the fault tends to break north-northwestward, dragging Los Angeles closer to San Francisco.

"When shear stress on a plane parallel to the San Andreas Fault most encourages slipping in its normal slip direction is when we see the maximum tremor rate," Bürgmann said. "The stress is many, many orders of magnitude less than the pressure down there, which was really, really surprising. You essentially could push it with your hand and it would move."

In fact, the shear stress from the sun, moon and ocean tides amount to around 100 Pascals, or one-thousandth atmospheric pressure, whereas the pressure 25 kilometers underground is on the order of 600 megaPascals, or 6 million times greater....

via Sun and moon trigger deep tremors on San Andreas Fault.

Do computers understand art?

This a painting of a seated woman with bent knee by Egon Schiele (1917).

A team of researchers from the University of Girona and the Max Planck Institute in Germany has shown that some mathematical algorithms provide clues about the artistic style of a painting. The composition of colours or certain aesthetic measurements can already be quantified by a computer, but machines are still far from being able to interpret art in the way that people do.

How does one place an artwork in a particular artistic period? This is the question raised by scientists from the Laboratory of Graphics and Image in the University of Girona and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, in Germany. The researchers have shown that certain artificial vision algorithms mean a computer can be programmed to "understand" an image and differentiate between artistic styles based on low-level pictorial information. Human classification strategies, however, include medium and high-level concepts.

Low-level pictorial information encompasses aspects such as brush thickness, the type of material and the composition of the palette of colours. Medium-level information differentiates between certain objects and scenes appearing in a picture, as well as the type of painting (landscape, portrait, still life, etc.). High-level information takes into account the historical context and knowledge of the artists and artistic trends.

"It will never be possible to precisely determine mathematically an artistic period nor to measure the human response to a work of art, but we can look for trends", Miquel Feixas, one of the authors of the study, published in the journal Computers and Graphics, tells SINC.

The researchers analysed various artificial vision algorithms used to classify art, and found that certain aesthetic measurements (calculating "the order" of the image based on analysing pixels and colour distribution), as well as the composition and diversity of the palette of colours, can be useful.

The team also worked with people with little knowledge of art, showing them more than 500 paintings done by artists from 11 artistic periods. The participants were "surprisingly good" at linking the artworks with their corresponding artistic period, showing the high capacity of human perception.

Beyond the implications for philosophy and art, the scientists want to apply their research in developing image viewing and analysis tools, classifying and searching for collections in museums, creating public informative and entertainment equipment, and in order to better understand the interactions between people, computers and works of art. ...

via Do computers understand art?.

Scientists Chart Velocity of Climate Change beetles to barnacles, pikas to pine warblers, many species are already on the move in response to shifting climate regimes. But how fast will they - and their habitats - have to move to keep pace with global climate change over the next century? In a new study, a team of scientists including Dr. Healy Hamilton from the California Academy of Sciences have calculated that on average, ecosystems will need to shift about 0.42 kilometers per year (about a quarter mile per year) to keep pace with changing temperatures across the globe. Mountainous habitats will be able to move more slowly, since a modest move up or down slope can result in a large change in temperature. However, flatter ecosystems, such as flooded grasslands, mangroves, and deserts, will need to move much more rapidly to stay in their comfort zone - sometimes more than a kilometer per year. The team, which also included scientists from the Carnegie Institute of Science, Climate Central, and U.C. Berkeley, will publish their results in the December 24 issue of Nature.

"One of the most powerful aspects of this data is that it allows us to evaluate how our current protected area network will perform as we attempt to conserve biodiversity in the face of global climate change," says Healy Hamilton, Director of the Center for Applied Biodiversity Informatics at the California Academy of Sciences. "When we look at residence times for protected areas, which we define as the amount of time it will take current climate conditions to move across and out of a given protected area, only 8% of our current protected areas have residence times of more than 100 years. If we want to improve these numbers, we need to both reduce our carbon emissions and work quickly toward expanding and connecting our global network of protected areas."

The team calculated the velocity of global climate change by combining data on current climate and temperature regimes worldwide with a large suite of climate model projections for the next century. Their calculations are based on an "intermediate" level of projected greenhouse gas emissions over the next century (the A1B emissions scenario from The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Under these emissions levels, the velocity of climate change is projected to be the slowest in tropical and subtropical coniferous forests (0.08 kilometers per year), temperate coniferous forests (0.11 kilometers per year), and montane grasslands and shrublands (0.11 kilometers per year). The velocity of climate change is expected to be the fastest in flatter areas, including deserts and xeric shrublands (0.71 kilometers per year), mangroves (0.95 kilometers per year), and flooded grasslands and savannas (1.26 kilometers per year). ...

via Velocity of Climate Change: California Academy of Sciences.

future-minded people make better decisions for their health New Year's Eve rolls around and you're deciding whether to have another glass of champagne, your decision may be predicted by your perspective of the future.

A pair of Kansas State University researchers found that people who tend to think in the long term are more likely to make positive decisions about their health, whether it's how much they drink, what they eat, or their decision to wear sunscreen.

"If you are more willing to pick later, larger rewards rather than taking the immediate payoff, you are more future-minded than present-minded," said James Daugherty, a doctoral student in psychology who led the study. "You're more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke and drink."

Daugherty conducted the research with Gary Brase, K-State associate professor of psychology. The research was presented in November at the Society for Judgment and Decision Making conference in Boston. It also appears in the January 2010 issue of the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

In addition to comparing people's perspectives on time with their health behaviors, the researchers also wanted to see what type of time perspective measurements are better at predicting health behaviors.

To answer both of these questions, Daugherty and Brase had subjects — college students, with an average age of 19 years old — answer surveys about whether they think in the short term or the long term.

"College students tend to be more future-minded by definition because they go to college rather than get a job right out of high school," Brase said.

One survey asked cognitive psychology questions like "Would you prefer $35 today or $45 in 35 days?" The other surveys used two types of social psychology methods. These included having the subjects rate the extent to which they agree with statements like "I am willing to sacrifice my immediate happiness or well-being in order to achieve future outcomes."

The subjects then took surveys that asked questions like how often they ate breakfast, used tobacco and exercised, as well as their concerns with health risks like high cholesterol and contracting AIDS.

Daugherty and Brase found that the subjects who gave future-minded answers in the initial surveys were more likely to report healthy behaviors in the latter survey. They said this could have consequences for how people deal with negative health behaviors.

"There is a lot of potential for helping people make better health decisions," Brase said. "People who tend to have a very present-minded perspective will have an easier time following through with a change if they can see rewards sooner. So if somebody goes into a weight loss center, the clinicians could measure a client's time perspective. Then the clinicians would know the more effective way of helping the client reach his or her weight loss goal."

Daugherty said a present-minded person could be encouraged by emphasizing minimal investment now for a quick payoff in the near future. He said it's similar to exercise equipment commercials that tout by exercising 20 minutes a day, several times a week, you will see immediate payoffs.

"You promote the idea that you have to do very little and you're going to see these great results," Daugherty said.

He and Brase also found that by asking social psychology questions to determine whether someone was future-minded or present-minded, the researchers were better able to predict subjects' health behaviors....

via K-State psychologists show that future-minded people make better decisions for their health.

An Easy Way to See the World’s Thinnest Material

Images of graphene oxide sheets deposited on a SiO2/Si substrate acquired by atomic force microscopy, scanning electron microscope, optical microscope at reflectance mode and the new fluorescence quenching microscopy (FQM). FQM offers comparable contrast and layer resolutions to AFM and SEM.Images of graphene oxide sheets deposited on a SiO2/Si substrate acquired by atomic force microscopy, scanning electron microscope, optical microscope at reflectance mode and the new fluorescence quenching microscopy (FQM). FQM offers comparable contrast and layer resolutions to AFM and SEM.

It’s been used to dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s been used to find latent blood stains at crime scenes. And now researchers at Northwestern University have used it to examine the thinnest material in the world.

The useful tool is the dye fluorescein, and Jiaxing Huang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and his research group have used the dye to create a new imaging technique to view graphene, a one-atom thick sheet that scientists believe could be used to produce low-cost carbon-based transparent and flexible electronics.

Their results were recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Being the world’s thinnest materials, graphene and its derivatives such as graphene oxide are quite challenging to see. Current imaging methods for graphene materials typically involve expensive and time-consuming techniques. For example, atomic force microscopy (AFM), which scans materials with a tiny tip, is frequently used to obtain images of graphene materials. But it is a slow process that can only look at small areas on smooth surfaces. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM), which scans a surface with high-energy electrons, only works if the material is placed in vacuum. Some optical microscopy methods are available, but they require the use of special substrates, too.

“There are really no good techniques that are general enough to meet the diverse imaging needs in the research and development of this group of new materials,” Huang says. “For example, people have proposed putting graphene materials on plastic sheets for flexible electronics, but seeing them on plastic has been very challenging. If one cannot exam these materials, quality control is going to be difficult.”

Fluorescent labeling has been used routinely to image biological samples, typically by using fluorescent dyes that make the objects of interest light up under a fluorescence microscope. But such a technique doesn’t work for graphene materials because of a mechanism called fluorescence quenching: they can “turn off” the fluorescence of nearby dye molecules.

“So we thought, how about we just put dye everywhere?” Huang says. “That way, the whole background lights up, and wherever you have graphene will be dark. It’s an inverse strategy that turns out to work beautifully.”

When Huang and his group coated a graphene sample with fluorescein and put it under a fluorescence microscope — a much cheaper, readily available instrument — they obtained images as clear as those acquired with AFM and SEM.

via An Easy Way to See the World’s Thinnest Material.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University: Sleeping Off Childhood?

Are your 11- and 12-year-olds staying up later, then dozing off at school the next day? Parents and educators who notice poor sleeping patterns in their children should take note of new research from Tel Aviv University ― and prepare themselves for bigger changes to come.

Prof. Avi Sadeh of TAU’s Department of Psychology suggests that changes in children's sleep patterns are evident just before the onset of physical changes associated with puberty. He counsels parents and educators to make sure that pre-pubescent children get the good, healthy sleep that their growing and changing bodies need.

“It is very important for parents to be aware of the importance of sleep for their developing children and to maintain their supervision throughout the adolescent years," says Sadeh, who reported his research findings in a recent issue of the journal Sleep. “School health education should also provide children with compelling information on how insufficient sleep compromises their well-being, psychological functioning and school achievements.”

Every minute counts

Results of the study, supported by the Israel Science Foundation, show that over a two-year period, sleep onset was significantly delayed by an average of 50 minutes in the study subjects, and sleep time was significantly reduced by an average of 37 minutes. Girls also had higher sleep efficiency and reported fewer night wakings than boys. For both, initial levels of sleep predicted an increase in pubertal development over time. This suggests that the neurobehavioral changes associated with puberty may be seen earlier in sleep organization than in bodily changes.

“Biological factors have a significant influence on sleep during puberty, although psychosocial issues such as school demands, social activities and technological distractions can also lead to the development of bad sleep habits,” he explains.

According to Prof. Sadeh, sleep-wake organization undergoes significant changes during the transition to adolescence. These changes include a delayed sleep phase, which involves a tendency towards later bedtimes and risetimes; shorter sleep, which is associated with increased levels of daytime sleepiness; and irregular sleep patterns, which involve sleeping very little on weekdays and sleeping longer during weekends to compensate. During maturation, adolescents also develop a greater tolerance for sleep deprivation or extended wakefulness....

via American Friends of Tel Aviv University: Sleeping Off Childhood?.

Toyota found to keep tight lid on potential safety problems

2004 Toyota SiennaA Times investigation shows the world's largest automaker has delayed recalls and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects. During a routine test on its Sienna minivan in April 2003, Toyota Motor Corp. engineers discovered that a plastic panel could come loose and cause the gas pedal to stick, potentially making the vehicle accelerate out of control.

The automaker redesigned the part and by that June every 2004 model year Sienna off the assembly line came with the new panel. Toyota did not notify tens of thousands of people who had already bought vans with the old panel, however.

It wasn't until U.S. safety officials opened an investigation last year that Toyota acknowledged in a letter to regulators that the part could come loose and "lead to unwanted or sudden acceleration."

In January, nearly six years after discovering the potential hazard, the automaker recalled 26,501 vans made with the old panel.

In a statement to The Times, Toyota said that there was no defect in the Sienna and that "a safety recall was not deemed necessary" when it discovered the problem in 2003. The company called the replacement part "an additional safety measure."

A peerless reputation for quality and safety has helped Toyota become the world's largest automaker. But even as its sales have soared, the company has delayed recalls, kept a tight lid on disclosure of potential problems and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects.

via Toyota found to keep tight lid on potential safety problems --

One case I blogged about previously said a Prius accelerated out of control during a test drive and the dealer's explanation was that sometimes people install non-factory floor mats.

FBI files on Michael Jackson published online

The FBI noted that Michael Jackson was acquitted of all charges involving alleged child molestation.The FBI released files it collected over the past 17 years on Michael Jackson on Tuesday, most of them from the federal agency's support of the California investigations of child molestation allegations against the entertainer.

Journalists began scouring the 333 heavily redacted pages -- published on the FBI's Web site -- for any new insight into Jackson's life and the investigations of him.

The FBI, noting that Jackson was acquitted of all charges, said the case files were made public after Freedom of Information Act requests filed after the pop star's June 25 death.

Los Angeles Police, who were investigating child molestation allegations against Jackson, called the FBI's Los Angeles office in September 1993 to suggest the agency look into a "possible federal violation against Jackson concerning transportation of a minor across state lines for immoral purposes (Mann Act)", one document said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Donahue "advised that she checked with her front office and they had made the decision that the United States attorney was not interested in prosecuting Michael Jackson for a violation of the Mann Act," the report said.

via FBI files on Michael Jackson published online -

60 Million in U.S. Vaccinated Against Swine Flu

Image: Black areas = confirmed deaths from swine flu. Red = confirmed cases.

But CDC Says Only 2 Million Children Have Received Their Second Dose of Vaccine

At least 60 million people in the U.S. have rolled up their sleeves or taken the nasal spray version of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, according a briefing at the CDC today.

Twice as many doses have gone to children than adults, but only about 2 million children had received the second dose of the swine flu vaccine, according to a CDC telephone survey ending Dec. 12.

"There are a lot of children in need of second doses in the weeks ahead," Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center of Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at the briefing.

Schuchat dismissed a recent Australian study that suggested that a single dose of vaccine could be enough for children under 10. "We strongly believe that two doses are needed in children."

The CDC recommends that children under age 10 get the two doses at least four weeks apart -- though a longer gap of five to six weeks is fine.

via 60 Million in U.S. Vaccinated Against Swine Flu.

Baby seal found in garden

Rudolph the sealA family who found a baby seal in their back garden in Kent 18 miles from the sea named her Rudolph, saying she was a "brilliant Christmas present".

The pup, which the RSPCA said was less than a year old, was in the Dwyer family's garden in Benenden on Monday morning when they let out pet dog Jack.

"We could see it came from the stream at the end of the garden from tracks in the snow," said Harriet Dwyer.

"I heard Jack barking and went over to see what looked like a huge slimy cat."

It is thought the seal got into the stream from the River Rother, which meets the English Channel at Rye.

Storms or floods

"It got in our pond and I think it ate some of my parents' goldfish," said Miss Dwyer.

"Jack is a collie and rounded it up a bit and it eventually settled in the herb garden by the corner of the house."

The RSPCA is now caring for the seal, which has been renamed Gulliver, at Mallydams Wood Wildlife Centre near Hastings in East Sussex.

Keeper Elaine Crouch said baby seals often became separated from their mothers in bad weather such as storms or floods.

"This one is a really good weight, and not starving but has been completely lost," she said.

"She has a a tag from Belgium, probably put on by the rehabilitation centre at Ostend, then she got into the River Rother and ended up in the stream."

via BBC News - Baby seal in garden named Rudolph.

NZ policewoman allows naked cycling - with helmet

Cyclist, New Zealand 2003Two young men caught cycling with no clothes on have escaped charges of offensive behaviour, but received a warning to wear protective headgear.

Local policewoman Cathy Duder was unfazed when she came across the two nude men, both in their early 20s.

"They were more shocked than I was, trying to cover up their bits and pieces with their hands," she said.

The men were riding around the Coromandel seaside resort of Whangamata on the north-east coast of New Zealand.

When asked for an explanation, the pair replied that "they wanted to experience total freedom".

Strangely sober

"And I said to them 'the way you're heading, you're going to experience total confinement'," the officer said, laughing.

She said the men appeared decidedly sober.

"They didn't seem drunk at all. That's what worried me," she joked.

Ms Duder issued them with a stern warning for not wearing helmets and then sent them directly home.

She told the Associated Press news agency that she did not see them again during her shift, and it was not known if they donned helmets and resumed their ride.

Public nudity can attract a charge of offensive behaviour in New Zealand, but Ms Duder said she let the two men go free.

"It was dark and there was no-one else around. They were jovial young men who had not intended to cause offence," she said.

via BBC News - NZ policewoman allows naked cycling - with helmet.

Donor's heart goes on with Burger Rings craving

David WatersIT seemed too real to be mere coincidence - and it brought joy to Kaden Delaney's family.

Kaden's parents Greg and Shelley spent two years finding David Waters, whose life was saved when he received their son's heart after he died in a car crash. But in an exchange of emails they learned Mr Waters amazingly had developed a taste for Burger Rings - which was Kaden's favourite snack treat.

The Delaney's second eldest son was left brain dead after rolling his brother's car into an embankment near their home in Orange, in central west NSW, in April 2006. In line with his wishes, they donated the 17-year-old's heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys.

Two years and countless internet searches later, Mrs Delaney tracked down Mr Waters, the recipient of Kaden's heart.

The 24-year-old from Adelaide suffered a stiffening of the heart ventricles and had months to live.

When they began email contact Mr Waters asked: "Did Kaden like Burger Rings? That's all I seemed to want to eat after my surgery."

Mrs Delaney responded: "I have been informed by a reliable source - Talby, (Kaden's brother) that Kaden loved Burger Rings."

Mr Waters replied: "I certainly think I have got some traits from him, Burger Rings right after the op, I never used to eat them before."

The theory the brain is not the only organ to store memories or personality traits and memory as a process can form in other parts of the body such as the heart has been coined "cellular memory".

The most famous reported case was American Claire Sylvia, a heart-lung transplant recipient, who documented her sudden craving for beer, chicken nuggets and green peppers in a best-selling memoir after discovering her donor was an 18-year-old male who died in a motorcycle accident.

Westmead Millennium Institute professor and president of the International Transplantation Society Jeremy Chapman said the phenomenon had not been proven.

"There is no scientific basis of such a claim," he said. "There's so much fiction around transplants." ...

via Donor's heart goes on with Burger Rings craving |

What the heck are "burger rings?" Do they mean an onion rings?
Burger Rings are a hamburger flavoured Australian snack food distributed by the Twisties corporation but owned by its parent company The Smith's Snackfood Company. The iconic salty snack emerged in 1974. The rings are available in 30 gram, 50 gram, 90 gram, 100 gram, 200 gram, and 15-pack multipack packs. Burger rings are a corn based snack food formed in to small inch round circles with a savory but sharp barbecue taste. - wikipedia

Man Killed Neighbor For Playing Same Song One Too Many Times

A Bulgarian man has been sentenced to 16 years prison for the murder of his neighbor, who he says played the same song, at top volume, constantly, for more than a week.

Croatian Times reports that 45-year-old Alexander Alexandrov snapped after hearing Robbie Williams sing Angels constantly played by neighbor Martin Kromov.

Alexandrov told the court:

I was in constant terror of his music. I could no longer think about anything but making him turn it off.

Alexandrov was apprehended when he ran out of gas as he drove to dump the body of his 27-year-old victim.

Kromov played this song more than 2,000 times

via Man Killed Neighbor For Playing Same Song One Too Many Times | We Interrupt.

Brain on the Sistine Chapel?

Brain on the Sistine Chapel?Bywax

Comment:  "So what he's saying is, God is all in our heads? Pretty subversive thing to put on the roof of a chapel Michaelangelo, you sly dog."

via Brain on the Sistine Chapel? Boing Boing.

Bionic Eye? Flexible solar cell implant could restore vision

Macular degeneration occurs in the central section of the retina (Image: Argentum/SPL)The first flexible retinal implant could restore some vision to people with certain forms of visual impairment.

Conditions such as age-related macular degeneration occur when some of the photoreceptors in the eye stop functioning properly. But as other parts of the eye still work, it should be possible to restore vision using an implant that mimics the photoreceptor layer, says Rostam Dinyari at Stanford University in California.

To achieve this, an implant needs to convert a light signal into an electrical pulse – in other words, perform like a solar cell.

But most solar cells are rigid, which makes them far from ideal for use inside the eye. "If you have a lens, the focal plane is always curved and the best picture forms on a spherical surface," Dinyari says. This is why the retina is curved.

Using rigid chips, a large number of small implants must be fitted in order to approximate the curve of the retina. A flexible implant would simplify matters.

"You would need a lot of surgery to implant a large enough number [of rigid implants] to cover the retina," says Dinyari. A flexible implant "would use just one surgical procedure".

While several companies are developing rigid implants, Dinyari and colleagues have designed a flexible silicon implant. They did so by carving deep grooves into the silicon between adjacent solar cell pixels that are each just 115 micrometres across.

The implant would be inserted over the most damaged part of the retina. A glasses-mounted camera would capture video, convert it to near-infrared signals and project it directly onto the implant.

When hit by the light, the solar cells inject current patterns corresponding to the projected images into neural tissue, which ultimately arrive at the visual cortex via the optic nerve. Near-infrared signals are used as they do not interfere with the surrounding intact photoreceptor cells, which send signals to the brain as normal.

Initial trials using retinas extracted from pigs showed that the implant could be inserted without damaging the fragile solar cell array. The team hope to implant the device into a live pig soon, before testing it in humans.

via Flexible solar cell implant could restore vision - tech - 14 December 2009 - New Scientist.

Two-legged dog Faith learns to walk

The 7-year-old labrador-chow mix was born without front legs.

The puppy and her siblings, also deformed, were rejected by their mother. But Reuben Stringfellow, then 17, came across the tiny animal and brought it home.

He and his mother Jude, an English professor, had to carry the puppy, which they named Faith, for the first few months of her life. But eventually, with patience, and lots of peanut butter as a lure, Faith learned to walk on her two hind legs.

Seven years after her birth, the little yellow dog zips around crowded shops, bustling along with confidence.

Since her first steps in March, 2003, Faith has been a regular guest on US talk shows. She has also become a symbol of hope for injured soldiers.

Ms Stringfellow, who has become a motivational speaker and runs a website devoted to her tiny dog, gets more than 200 letters and emails a day.

Fans of the little dog say she provides inspiration.

"Faith has shown me that different is beautiful, that it is not the body you are in but the soul that you have," Jill Salomon of Montreal, Canada, wrote on the website.

Ms Stringfellow regularly brings Faith to veterans' hospitals across the US to provide hope to disabled soldiers, a mission inspired by her son's service in the US army in Iraq.

Ms Stringfellow told AP that during a recent visit to McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis in Washington, the dog brought cheer to soldiers heading off to war, and to those recently returned.

via Two-legged dog Faith learns to walk - Telegraph.

Man Impaled With Knife Orders Coffee

Diners at a metro Detroit restaurant got more than a full plate Sunday when a man walked in with a 5-inch knife in his chest.

Warren police said the 52-year-old man called 911 at about 10 p.m., saying he had been attacked in Warren but had just walked a mile to the Brayz’s Hamburgers in Hazel Park.

Restaurant employee George Mirdita said the man walked in, ordered a coffee and said he was waiting for an ambulance to come.

“It was like out of a movie,” Mirdita said. “It kind of freaked us all out here. Then, the customers realized it and they were all turning their heads in disgust.”

Police said the man told them he had been walking north on Warner Avenue near Eight Mile Road when another man approached him and demanded cash. The man told police that when he refused to hand over any cash, he was attacked and stabbed -- the knife being shoved into the left side of chest all the way to the black plastic handle.

Police said the man tried to get help at a nearby apartment complex, but when he didn’t find any, he called 911 from a pay phone at Dequindre and Nine Mile roads.

“Yes ma’am, could uh … is it possible to send an ambulance here?” the man is heard saying to a 911 operator. “There’s a knife stuck in my chest.”

The man goes on to tell the operator he thinks it’s a steak knife.

Mirdita said he can’t believe how calm the man was, and that he never complained of being in any pain.

“To come in with something stuck in your chest and order a cup of coffee, and sit down … he was mingling with the guy next to him,” he said.

The man was treated and police said he is expected to be fine.

Police said the man described his attacker as someone who was tall, was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and had a goatee.

via Man Impaled With Knife Orders Coffee -

Could Parallel Universes Be Congenial to Life?

... recent studies by Alejandro Jenkins and Gilad Perez, authors of our cover story, “Looking for Life in the Multiverse,” show that some other universes may not be so inhospitable after all. “We have found examples of alternative values of the fundamental constants, and thus of alternative sets of physical laws, that might still lead to very interesting words and perhaps to life,” they write. In other words, scientists get a “disaster” for life if their models vary just one “constant” of nature, but if they vary more than one they can find values that are compatible with the formation of complex structures and perhaps intelligent life. What would these universes be like?

Many of us are captivated by the search for other beings in the vast cosmos beyond Earth. So it is ironic that we sometimes place such a paltry value on life that already exists on our own planet. Seven horrific tropical diseases, mostly caused by parasitic worms, ruin the lives and health of a billion impoverished people around the world by making them chronically sick, yet these ailments get less attention and money than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. In his feature article, Peter Jay Hotez presents “A Plan to Defeat Neglected Tropical Diseases.” Surely there is a way to provide the necessary drugs—which can cost just 50 cents per person—so that all people can thrive.

via Life Quest: Could Parallel Universes Be Congenial to Life?: Scientific American.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Next generation lens promises more control

Duke University engineers have created a new generation of lens that could greatly improve the capabilities of telecommunications or radar systems to provide a wide field of view and greater detail.But the lens they fashioned doesn't look anything like a lens. While traditional lenses are made of clear substances – like glass or plastic – with highly polished surfaces, the new lens looks more like a miniature set of tan Venetian blinds. Yet its ability to focus the direction of electromagnetic rays passing through it dramatically surpasses that of a conventional lens, the engineers say.

The latest advance was made possible by the ability to fabricate exotic composite materials known as metamaterials. The metamaterial in these experiments is not so much a single substance, but the entire man-made structure which can be engineered to exhibit properties not readily found in nature.

The prototype lens, which measures four inches by five inches and less than an inch high, is made up of more than 1,000 individual pieces of the same fiberglass material used in circuit boards and is etched with copper. It is the precise arrangement of these pieces in parallel rows, that directs the rays as they pass through.

"For hundreds of years, lens makers have ground the surfaces of a uniform material in such a way as to sculpt the rays as they pass through the surfaces," said Nathan Kundtz, post-doctoral associate in electrical and computer engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. "While these lenses can focus rays extremely efficiently, they have limitations based on what happens to the rays as they pass through the volume of the lens.

"Instead of using the surfaces of the lens to control rays, we studied altering the material between the surfaces," Kundtz said. "If you can control the volume, or bulk, of the lens, you gain much more freedom and control to design a lens to meet specific needs."

The results of his experiments, which were conducted in the laboratory of senior researcher David R. Smith, the William Bevan Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, appeared as an advanced online publication of the journal Nature Materials. This is the first demonstration of what was thought to be theoretically possible.

Recognizing the limitations of traditional lenses, scientists have long been investigating other options, including those known as gradient index (GRIN) lenses. These are typically clear spheres, and while they have advantages over traditional lenses, they are difficult to fabricate and the focus point is spherical. Additionally, because most sensing systems are oriented in two dimensions, the spherical image doesn't always translate clearly on a flat surface.

The new lens, however, has a wide angle of view, almost 180 degrees, and because its focal point is flat, it can be used with standard imaging technologies. The latest experiments were conducted with microwaves, and the researchers say it is theoretically possible to design lenses for wider frequencies.

"We've come up with what is in essence GRIN on steroids," said Smith, whose team used similar metamaterials to create one of the first "cloaking" devices in 2006. "This first in a new class of lenses offers tantalizing possibilities and opens a whole new application for metamaterials.

"While these experiments were conducted in two dimensions, the design should provide a good initial step in developing a three-dimensional lens," Smith said. "The properties of the metamaterials we used should also make it possible to use infrared and optical frequencies."

The researchers say a single metamaterial lens could replace traditional optical systems requiring vast arrays of lenses and provide clearer images. They could also be used in large-scale systems such as radar arrays to better direct beams, a task not possible for traditional lenses, which would need to be too large to be practical. - eurekaalert

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cannabis damages young brains more than originally thought, study finds

Canadian teenagers are among the largest consumers of cannabis worldwide. The damaging effects of this illicit drug on young brains are worse than originally thought, according to new research by Dr. Gabriella Gobbi, a psychiatric researcher from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. The new study, published in Neurobiology of Disease, suggests that daily consumption of cannabis in teens can cause depression and anxiety, and have an irreversible long-term effect on the brain.

"We wanted to know what happens in the brains of teenagers when they use cannabis and whether they are more susceptible to its neurological effects than adults," explained Dr. Gobbi, who is also a professor at McGill University. Her study points to an apparent action of cannabis on two important compounds in the brain -- serotonin and norepinephrine -- which are involved in the regulation of neurological functions such as mood control and anxiety.

"Teenagers who are exposed to cannabis have decreased serotonin transmission, which leads to mood disorders, as well as increased norepinephrine transmission, which leads to greater long-term susceptibility to stress," Dr. Gobbi stated.

Previous epidemiological studies have shown how cannabis consumption can affect behaviour in some teenagers. "Our study is one of the first to focus on the neurobiological mechanisms at the root of this influence of cannabis on depression and anxiety in adolescents," confirmed Dr. Gobbi. It is also the first study to demonstrate that cannabis consumption causes more serious damage during adolescence than adulthood.

via Cannabis damages young brains more than originally thought, study finds.

First commercial 3-D bio-printer makes human tissue and organs

First commercial 3-D bio-printer makes human tissue and organsInvetech, an innovator in new product development and custom automation for the biomedical, industrial and consumer markets, today announced that it has delivered the world's first production model 3D bio-printer to Organovo, developers of the proprietary NovoGen bioprinting technology. Organovo will supply the units to research institutions investigating human tissue repair and organ replacement.

Dr. Fred Davis, president of Invetech, which has offices in San Diego and Melbourne, said, “Building human organs cell-by-cell was considered science fiction not that long ago. Through this clever combination of technology and science we have helped Organovo develop an instrument that will improve people’s lives, making the regenerative medicine that Organovo provides accessible to people around the world.”

Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, based in San Diego, said the units represent a breakthrough because they provide for the first time a flexible technology platform for organizations working on many different types of tissue construction and organ replacement.

”Scientists and engineers can use the 3-D bio printers to enable placing cells of almost any type into a desired pattern in 3-D,” said Murphy. “Researchers can place liver cells on a preformed scaffold, support kidney cells with a co-printed scaffold, or form adjacent layers of epithelial and stromal soft tissue that grow into a mature tooth. Ultimately the idea would be for surgeons to have tissue on demand for various uses, and the best way to do that is get a number of bio-printers into the hands of researchers and give them the ability to make three dimensional tissues on demand.”

The 3-D bio-printers include an intuitive software interface that allows engineers to build a model of the tissue construct before the printer commences the physical constructions of the organs cell-by-cell using automated, laser-calibrated print heads.

... The printer, developed by Invetech, fits inside a standard biosafety cabinet for sterile use. It includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix. One of the most complex challenges in the development of the printer was being able to repeatedly position the capillary tip, attached to the print head, to within microns. This was essential to ensure that the cells are placed in exactly the right position. Invetech developed a computer controlled, laser-based calibration system to achieve the required repeatability. ...

via First commercial 3-D bio-printer makes human tissue and organs | R&D Mag.

Archaeologists Claim They've Found Lost City Of Atlantis (video)

Undersea archaeologists have found the ruins of an ancient city on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea, and researchers claim that it is the fabled and lost city of Atlantis. The satellite photos do show something that could be a city, and the researchers believe that what they've found would predate the pyramids of Egypt. Indeed they claim to be able to make out a pyramid and other city-like structures from the satellite photos.

The archaeologists have so far refused to divulge their identities or the location in the Caribbean. They say they are raising money for an expedition to confirm their findings.

via Archaeologists Claim They've Found Lost City Of Atlantis (VIDEO).

Hoax? The image looks like some sand partially covering a computer circuit board.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Free Xeno Song: Holy Toledo is song that I'm working on. Grab it if you like it.

Holy Toledo (mix 6) - Free Xeno Song (mp3)

Not star quality yet, but I'm excited about a few things. For one, I'm finally learning how not to sound so nasalish from my voice lessons.

Can you tell a real trumpet from a person faking a trumpet? All the trumpet is me making trumpet sounds without an actual trumpet. I do play the trumpet but for this song I liked this sound better than the real thing.

Researchers link calorie intake to cell lifespan, cancer development

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have discovered that restricting consumption of glucose, the most common dietary sugar, can extend the life of healthy human-lung cells and speed the death of precancerous human-lung cells, reducing cancer's spread and growth rate.

The research has wide-ranging potential in age-related science, including ways in which calorie-intake restriction can benefit longevity and help prevent diseases like cancer that have been linked to aging, said principal investigator Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., a professor in the Department of Biology.

"These results further verify the potential health benefits of controlling calorie intake." Tollefsbol said. "Our research indicates that calorie reduction extends the lifespan of healthy human cells and aids the body's natural ability to kill off cancer-forming cells."

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have discovered that restricting consumption of glucose, the most common dietary sugar, can extend the life of healthy human-lung cells and speed the death of precancerous human-lung cells. Credit: Jamie Cottle/UAB

The UAB team conducted its tests by growing both healthy human-lung cells and precancerous human-lung cells in laboratory flasks. The flasks were provided either normal levels of glucose or significantly reduced amounts of the sugar compound, and the cells then were allowed to grow for a period of weeks."In that time, we were able to track the cells' ability to divide while also monitoring the number of surviving cells. The pattern that was revealed to us showed that restricted led the healthy cells to grow longer than is typical and caused the to die off in large numbers," Tollefsbol said.

In particular, the researchers found that two key genes were affected in the cellular response to decreased glucose consumption. The first gene, , encodes an important enzyme that allows cells to divide indefinitely. The second gene, p16, encodes a well known anti-cancer protein.

"Opposite effects were found for these genes in healthy cells versus precancerous cells. The healthy cells saw their telomerase rise and p16 decrease, which would explain the boost in healthy cell growth," Tollefsbol said. "The gene reactions flipped in the precancerous cells with telomerase decreasing and the anti-cancer protein p16 increasing, which would explain why these cancer-forming cells died off in large numbers."

The UAB research into the links between calorie intake, aging and the onset of diseases related to aging is thought to be a first of its kind given that it used the unique approach of testing human cells versus laboratory animals.

"Our results not only support previous findings from the feeding of animals but also reveal that human longevity can be achieved at the cellular level through caloric restriction," Tollefsbol said.

"The hope is that this UAB breakthrough will lead to further discoveries in different cell types and facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the of humans," he added.via Researchers link calorie intake to cell lifespan, cancer development (w/ Video).

A few things to remember:
Vitamin C is structurally similar to glucose and the vitamin has a short half-life in the blood stream. - iw

Except for one mutated gene, we could turn glucose into vitamin C. Other animals do this.- nhaa

Vitamin C is an antioxidant - av

Considerable laboratory evidence from chemical, cell culture, and animal studies indicates that antioxidants may slow or possibly prevent the development of cancer. - cancer

The Known Universe

Tiny whispering gallery

Nanotechnology has already made it to the shelves of your local pharmacy and grocery: nanoparticles are found in anti-odor socks, makeup, makeup remover, sunscreen, anti-graffiti paint, home pregnancy tests, plastic beer bottles, anti-bacterial doorknobs, plastic bags for storing vegetables, and more than 800 other products.

How safe are these products and the flood of new ones about to spill out of labs across the world? A group of researchers at Washington University is devising instruments and protocols to assess the impact of nanoparticles on the environment and human health before they are sent to market

As part of this effort, a team led by Lan Yang, Ph.D., assistant professor of electrical and systems engineering, has devised a sensor on a chip that can not only detect but also measure single particles. They expect the sensor will be able to measure nanoparticles smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter (about the size of a virus particle) on the fly.

The new sensor, an improved version of a sensor called a whispering-gallery microresonator, is described in the December 13 edition of Nature Photonics's advanced online publication.

Whispering galleries

The sensor belongs to a class of devices charmingly called whispering-gallery-mode resonators.

One famous whispering gallery is St. Paul's Cathedral in London. If you stand under the dome close to the wall and speak softly to the wall, someone on the opposite side of the gallery is able to hear what you say.

The reason is the sound bounces along the wall of the gallery with very little loss of energy and so can be heard at a great distance.

However, if you speak at normal volume, what you say can no longer be understood. The sound travels around the dome more than once, and the recirculating signal gets mixed up and garbled.

Whispering-gallery microresonators

In a miniature version of a whispering gallery, laser light is coupled into a circular "waveguide," such as a glass ring. When the light strikes the boundary of the ring at a grazing angle it is reflected back into the ring.

The light wave can make many trips around the ring before it is absorbed, but only frequencies of light that fit perfectly into the circumference of the ring can do so. If the circumference is a whole number of wavelengths, the light waves superimpose perfectly each trip around.

This perfect match between the frequency and the circumference is called a resonance, or whispering-gallery mode.

The glass resonator can serve as a particle detector because the faint outer edge of the light wave, called its "evanescent tail, " penetrates the ring's surface, probing the surroundings. So when a particle attaches to the ring, it disturbs the light wave, changing the resonant frequency. This change can be used to measure the size of the particle.

There are two problems with these microresonators, says Yang. One is that they are finicky. Lots of things can shift the resonant frequency, including vibration or temperature changes.

The other is that the frequency shift depends on where the particle lands on the ring. A particle that happens to land on a node (the dark blue areas reflected on the base of the pedestal in the accompanying image) will disturb the light wave less and appear smaller than a particle of the same size that happens to land on an anti-node (the red spots visible on the base).

For this reason the frequency shift is not a reliable measure of particle size.

The ultra-high-Q microresonator

The way around these problems is a self-referring sensing scheme possible only in an exceptionally good resonator, one with virtually no optical flaws.

Yang's lab uses surface tension to achieve the necessary perfection. The microresonators are etched out of glass layers on silicon wafers by techniques borrowed from the integrated circuit industry. These techniques allow the rings to be mass produced but leave them with rough surfaces.

In a crucial finishing step, the microresonators are reheated with a pulsed laser until the glass reflows. Surface tension then pulls the rings into smooth toruses.

"Nature helps us create the perfect structure," says Yang.

"This quality factor gives the sensor a resonance as beautiful as the pure tone form the finest musical instrument," says Jiangang Zhu, a graduate student in Yang's lab.

The Q value, or quality factor, of the reflowed resonators, a measure of microscopic imperfections that sap energy from the resonating mode, is about 100 million, meaning that light circles the ring many time. Because recirculation dramatically increases the interaction of the light wave and particles on the ring's surface, a different approach to particle detection is possible: mode splitting.

Each whispering-gallery mode is actually two modes: the light travels both clockwise and counterclockwise around the resonator. These modes are usually "degenerate," meaning they have the same frequency.

When a particle lands on a resonator, it acts as a scattering center that couples energy between the modes. The two modes re-arrange themselves so that the particle lies on a node of one and an anti-node of the other. As a result, one wave is much more perturbed than the other, and this "lifts the degeneracy," or "splits the mode."

In a low-Q resonator, the split mode can't be resolved. But in the high-Q resonator it is easily seen.

A sensor that relies on mode splitting is much less finicky than a frequency-shifting sensor. Because the clockwise and counterclockwise light waves share the same resonator, they share the same noise. Any jitter or jiggle that biases one biases the other by the same amount. Because it is self-referring, the sensor is more accurate and reliable.

Mode splitting also solves the particle location problem. The light scattering that perturbs the mode also broadens it. The mode split still varies with the location of the particle, but the ratio of the mode split and the difference between the linewidths (the breadth) of the two modes depends only on the particle's size.

To test the sensor, Daren Chen, Ph.D., associate professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering, helped the team generate nanoparticles within specifc size ranges. In experiments with nanoparticles of salt or nanospheres of plastic, the resonator's size estimates were within one or two percent of the actual values.

"Size is a key parameter that significantly affects the physical and chemical properties of nanoparticles," says Yang. "It plays a crucial role in the applications of nanoparticles both in science and in industry, all of which will benefit from the ability to measure these particles accurately."

via Tiny whispering gallery.

Friday, December 18, 2009

CDC Issues New Autism Prevalence Report: 1 in every 110 American children the wake of today's new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stating that autism now affects 1 in every 110 American children, Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, called on the federal government to immediately step up its efforts – and dramatically increase funding – to address the growing national autism public health crisis.

“Now that the government has confirmed that one percent of American children have autism, the question becomes what it will take to get our elected leaders to wake up and take on this crisis in an appropriate way,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. “Must we wait until every member of Congress has a child or grandchild with autism, or until every household is impacted by this devastating disorder? With nearly 750,000 children on the autism spectrum, we need meaningful action now that acknowledges the scope of this problem and allocates the resources necessary to take the fight against autism to a new level. We cannot expect the millions of people impacted by this crisis to wait another 20 years for answers.”

The CDC report, published in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), states that 1% or 1 in every 110 children has been diagnosed with autism, including 1 in 70 boys. This represents a staggering 57 percent increase from 2002 to 2006, and a 600 percent increase in just the past 20 years. Other significant findings include that a broader definition of ASDs does not account for the increase, and while improved and earlier diagnosis accounts for some of the increase, it does not fully account for the increase. Thus, a true increase in the risk for ASD cannot be ruled out. Even though parents typically express concerns about their child's developmental progress before age three, the average age of diagnoses is not until 53 months, although diagnoses are occurring earlier than found in the 2002 study. The report uses the same methodology that produced the CDC's 2007 prevalence findings of 1 in 150 children with autism.

“This study provides strong evidence that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is, in fact, dramatically increasing,” said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer, who noted that recent research indicates that a significant amount of the increase in autism prevalence cannot be explained by better, broader or earlier diagnosis.

via Autism Speaks, Press Updates, As CDC Issues New Autism Prevalence Report, Autism Speaks Asks, "What Will It Take?" for Government to Meet the Challenge of this National Health Crisis.

Read more about Autism here:

Autism was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the same time, a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that is now known as Asperger Syndrome (read more). These two disorders are listed in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as two of the five developmental disorders that fall under the autism spectrum disorders. The others are Rett Syndrome, PDD NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. All of these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social abilities, and also by repetitive behaviors. For more discussion on the range of diagnoses that comprise autism spectrum disorder, click here.

Potential cure: Adult Stem Cell therapy: