Post List

  • July 23, 2011
  • 09:00 AM

Tips to help survivors of youth camp shooting in Norway

by Eva Alisic in Trauma Recovery

My thoughts go out to those in Norway who have been affected by the tragic events in the past days, both in Oslo and Utøya. I can’t imagine the scale of this tragedy, and wish survivors all the strength and time needed to come to terms with the experience and the loss of loved ones. This blog describes tips based on posttraumatic stress research and provides links to these resources. ... Read more »

Bisson, J., Brayne, M., Ochberg, F., & Everly, G. (2007) Early Psychosocial Intervention Following Traumatic Events. American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(7), 1016-1019. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.164.7.1016  

  • July 23, 2011
  • 08:00 AM

A Thin Line Between Love And Hate… In Your Brain

by Shaheen Lakhan in Brain Blogger

We are all familiar with the fuzzy feelings that accompany falling in love. You and your partner become emotionally connected, supported, and complete. Although human love is a complicated and long journey, scientists consistently find that the release of a specific neuropetide—oxytocin—may kick start these feelings right away in courtship. In fact, for the past [...]... Read more »

Kosfeld, M., Heinrichs, M., Zak, P., Fischbacher, U., & Fehr, E. (2005) Oxytocin increases trust in humans. Nature, 435(7042), 673-676. DOI: 10.1038/nature03701  

Bartz, J., Zaki, J., Bolger, N., Hollander, E., Ludwig, N., Kolevzon, A., & Ochsner, K. (2010) Oxytocin Selectively Improves Empathic Accuracy. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1426-1428. DOI: 10.1177/0956797610383439  

De Dreu, C., Greer, L., Handgraaf, M., Shalvi, S., Van Kleef, G., Baas, M., Ten Velden, F., Van Dijk, E., & Feith, S. (2010) The Neuropeptide Oxytocin Regulates Parochial Altruism in Intergroup Conflict Among Humans. Science, 328(5984), 1408-1411. DOI: 10.1126/science.1189047  

De Dreu, C., Greer, L., Van Kleef, G., Shalvi, S., & Handgraaf, M. (2011) Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(4), 1262-1266. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015316108  

  • July 23, 2011
  • 06:30 AM

Is There a Placebo Effect – Part I

by Rogue Medic in Rogue Medic

There is the statement that a placebo is an inert agent, therefore a placebo cannot do anything. He concludes that there is no placebo effect.

This does not make sense.

The effect of giving an inert treatment is NOT an effect?... Read more »

Wechsler, M., Kelley, J., Boyd, I., Dutile, S., Marigowda, G., Kirsch, I., Israel, E., & Kaptchuk, T. (2011) Active Albuterol or Placebo, Sham Acupuncture, or No Intervention in Asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(2), 119-126. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1103319  

  • July 23, 2011
  • 12:01 AM

Asthma, placebo, and how not to kill your patients

by Peter Lipson in Science-Based Medicine

A number of years ago I was walking along Lake Michigan with a friend (a fellow medical resident) when she turned to me and said, “are you wheezing?  Do you have asthma?”  I had always been physically active and assumed my breathlessness while walking down the trail was due to the thirty extra pounds of [...]... Read more »

Wechsler ME, Kelley JM, Boyd IO, Dutile S, Marigowda G, Kirsch I, Israel E, & Kaptchuk TJ. (2011) Active albuterol or placebo, sham acupuncture, or no intervention in asthma. The New England journal of medicine, 365(2), 119-26. PMID: 21751905  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 08:39 PM

Who should pay for dates …men or women?

by eHarmony Labs in eHarmony Labs Blog

When the check comes on date, who should reach out first, men or women? Who actually does…find out what the latest research says.... Read more »

  • July 22, 2011
  • 03:12 PM

What Marathoner Mice Can Teach Us

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

If someone left a treadmill in your living room, how far would you run every day just because you felt like you had some energy to burn? Five miles? Zero miles, and you'd use it as a tie rack? How about 65 miles?Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere studied mutant mice that were missing a particular gene involved in cell signaling. They thought the gene had something to do with muscle development, and sure enough, they found that these mice had some pretty definite abnormalities in their muscles. For example, when an exercise wheel was put in their cages, the mice ran and ran. The wheels were rigged to devices that counted the number of spins they took, and the researchers converted that number to a distance. They found that during just one night (the active period for mice), mutant mice ran an average of 5.4 kilometers on their wheels.(5K is a much longer haul for a mouse than a human. How much longer? A very rudimentary calculation* tells me that the distance run by the mutant mice each night is roughly proportional to 65 miles for a human. That's not to say that the effort expended would be proportional--I'm no expert on the mechanics of mouse locomotion, and having four legs probably changes things. But that's about how far the same number of strides would take us.)Even when they weren't on their exercise wheels, the mutant mice were more active, constantly scurrying around their cages. To find out what let the mice stay so active, the researchers took muscles** out of their legs and examined them. Muscles are often described as fast-twitch, used for quick bursts of activity, or slow-twitch, better suited for aerobic exercise. When the researches contracted the cut-out muscles electrically, muscles that should have been fast-twitch fatigued more slowly than usual. Under a microscope, those same muscles contained more muscle fibers and more mitochondria (the cellular powerhouses). Overall, the fast-twitch muscles now looked like slow-twitch ones.The mutant mice were also skinner than normal mice, which isn't much of a surprise.One wonders if these mice, now overly suited for marathoning, were worse at fast-twitch activities such as sprinting or bench-pressing. Sadly, the authors didn't set up any mouse decathlons to find out. But they did look for related genetic variations in humans.You can't remove a gene from a person like you can from a mouse (at least, ethics boards would probably frown upon it), but you can look for mutations that already exist in human DNA. Conveniently, the gene that was studied in the marathoner mice exists in a few different variants in humans. The researchers looked at DNA from 209 elite athletes in 11 different sports. When broken down by sport, some of the groups displayed distinct genetic profiles. Cyclists, for example, were more likely than usual to have a certain variant of the gene--while triathletes and elite rowers were more likely to have another variant.In humans, as in mice, the gene in question seems to be involved in how muscles develop. The authors speculate that further research on this gene could help people with muscular diseases, or the obese or elderly. Increasing a person's muscular endurance could help them to lose weight or to keep active in old age. (It could also help professional cyclists cheat, as if they needed any help in that area.)It's still not clear how a mutant muscle type affects a mouse's or human's motivation to move. The mice in the study weren't put on wheels and forced to run until they collapsed; they voluntarily got up and ran a 5K every night because they felt like it. Maybe this, too, will be a key insight into obesity--the condition of your muscles may not be independent from your desire to exercise. Something at a cellular level told the mice to just keep moving. If we could tap into that force in our own bodies, we might all be able get ourselves off the couch and onto the exercise wheel.*I converted the distance into strides using this site's measurement of mouse stride length (moving at average speed) and this site's reported stride length for a female marathoner. Better calculations, or ideas about how to compare distances between small four-legged animals and tall bipeds, are welcome.**Linguistic point of interest: "Muscle" comes from the Latin for "little mouse."Pistilli, E., Bogdanovich, S., Garton, F., Yang, N., Gulbin, J., Conner, J., Anderson, B., Quinn, L., North, K., Ahima, R., & Khurana, T. (2011). Loss of IL-15 receptor α alters the endurance, fatigability, and metabolic characteristics of mouse fast skeletal muscles Journal of Clinical Investigation DOI: 10.1172/JCI44945... Read more »

Pistilli, E., Bogdanovich, S., Garton, F., Yang, N., Gulbin, J., Conner, J., Anderson, B., Quinn, L., North, K., Ahima, R.... (2011) Loss of IL-15 receptor α alters the endurance, fatigability, and metabolic characteristics of mouse fast skeletal muscles. Journal of Clinical Investigation. DOI: 10.1172/JCI44945  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 01:35 PM

Viking Women Immigrated to England, but Were They Warriors or Wives?

by Kristina Killgrove in Powered By Osteons

Today's Daily Mail and Wednesday's USA Today have short articles summarizing a recently-published study by Shane McLeod, called "Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD."  It's an interesting little piece, in which McLeod takes issue with the assumption that the Viking "warriors" were only men, an assumption that has been based primarily on grave goods and our own preconceptions about men and women in antiquity.  Previous research into Viking graves has resulted in estimates of 80-85% males, and this has clearly affected how scholars viewed the Vikings and their contributions, writes McLeod.  It's hard to tease out McLeod's data in this paper, which was written for the journal Early Medieval Europe and is historical in bent, but he seems to have limited his sample to those burials from which sex could be estimated osteologically and which chemical analysis revealed were almost certainly Viking immigrants (Budd et al. 2003).  McLeod concludes:
The reappraisal of the burial evidence for Norse migrants in eastern England up to 900 has provided a different perception of the possible numbers of Norse women involved in the early settlement period. Based on jewellery finds and the notion of an undocumented secondary migration, it has been suspected by some scholars that substantial numbers of Norse women were involved in the settlements. But there has previously been little substantive evidence to validate this claim, leading other scholars to suggest that the Norse settlers were overwhelmingly male. Although the results presented here cannot be used to determine the number of female settlers, they do suggest that the ratio of females to males may have been somewhere between a third to roughly equal. Furthermore, there is osteologically sexed burial evidence of Norse women in England during the earliest campaigning period of the great army of 865. It is possible that with further advances in science more evidence is likely to appear, providing a larger sample to work with, and enabling similar reappraisals of burial evidence from other areas of Norse settlement. The present results suggest new ways of understanding Norse migration and acculturation in late ninth-century England.

Reconstruction of a Viking boat (credit)
While I like the fact that McLeod tackles old assumptions in this short article, there are a couple worrying aspects.  The part about "acculturation" is not well laid out, as McLeod and others are assuming that Viking men would have acculturated to local habits more easily with Anglo-Saxon wives, and that having Viking wives may make researchers reevaluate acculturation.  Attempting to figure out biocultural relationships between two groups of people who hadn't previously met is quite difficult.  Witness, as one example, the centuries of literature on "Romanization" in the provinces in the Roman Empire.  Only within the last decade has there been a backlash from scholars against a far too facile understanding of the bi-directional process of culture sharing.

The other worrying part is that McLeod uses terms like "wives" and "widowed" in his paper, which makes the assumption (and conveys the idea) that the Vikings were married in the contemporary sense.  I could point to the literature on the Roman army as a cautionary tale here.  It had been assumed for centuries that the Roman army was only composed of men and that women and children, if they were present, lived outside the fort.  Finally, new evidence is being found and old evidence is being reevaluated, suggesting previous scholars were simply seeing what they wanted to see: Roman soldiers weren't married, and women certainly didn't live in the fort, in spite of the massive amount of evidence to the contrary.  My point is, without further investigation, we don't know if the Viking men and women found were spouses - Could they have been siblings or other kin?  How about slaves? Could the women have been warriors themselves?  I don't know anything about Viking relationships, though, so perhaps the conclusion that the Viking women were wives is valid.  McLeod does note that the sample may be biased, and there may not have been a 50/50 ratio of males to females, but the Daily Mail article picked up on this concept of "wives" and pairs of Vikings.

Overall, though, a nice article.  It highlights how far we've come in archaeological and historical scholarship on issues of sex, gender, and cultural biases, but also shows how far we still need to go.  It demonstrates that bioarchaeological research - even quite technical papers - can be used by social scientists and humanists to support arguments and conclusions.  And it lets me mention the always-brilliant work of Budd, Chenery, Montgomery, and Evans, who do amazing things with isotopes in England.

(For more, see Katy Meyers' post at Bones Don't Lie. I'm woefully behind on my news feed at the moment and just noticed her summary of the article.)


P. Budd, C. Chenery, J. Montgomery, J. Evans, & D. Powlesland (2003). Anglo-Saxon Residential Mobility at West Heslerton, North Yorkshire, UK From Combined O- and Sr-Isotope Analysis Plasma Source Mass Spectrometry: Applications and Emerging Technologies, 195-208.

S. McLeod (2011). Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD Early Medieval Europe, 19 (3), 332-353.... Read more »

S. McLeod. (2011) Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD. Early Medieval Europe, 19(3), 332-353. info:/10.1111/j.1468-0254.2011.00323.x

  • July 22, 2011
  • 12:58 PM

Sex, Lies, and Power = Lies about Power and Sex.

by Melanie Tannenbaum in PsySociety

Can we please stop sounding the depressing alarm claiming that all powerful men are destined to be cheating husbands? Yes, in recent history we’ve had Anthony Weiner and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But we’ve also had Barack Obama and Mark Wahlberg. However … Continue reading →... Read more »

Lammers, J., Stoker, J.I., Jordan, J., Pollmann, M., & Stapel, D.A. (2011) Power Increases Infidelity Among Men and Women. Psychological Science. PMID: 21771963  

Lichtenstein, S., Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., Layman, M., & Combs, B. (1978) Judged frequency of lethal events. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 4(6), 551-578. DOI: 10.1037/0278-7393.4.6.551  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 12:57 PM

CARing for pulmonary arterial hypertension

by Sanford- Burnham in Beaker

Targeting peptides developed by Dr. Masanobu Komatsu and colleagues could be used to deliver therapeutic compounds and imaging probes directly to lungs affected by pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).... Read more »

Urakami T, Järvinen TA, Toba M, Sawada J, Ambalavanan N, Mann D, McMurtry I, Oka M, Ruoslahti E, & Komatsu M. (2011) Peptide-directed highly selective targeting of pulmonary arterial hypertension. The American journal of pathology, 178(6), 2489-95. PMID: 21549345  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 12:54 PM

It's Silent. But is it Deadly ?

by db in Defectivebrain @ FOS

Last February, an international controversy descended over the landlocked country of Malawi. The cause of this was a new bill about to be put forward that centred on the maintenance of clear air in public places.
Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way shall be guilty of a misdemeanourThis would prohibit smoking in  public, the use of stinkbombs and outdoor barbecues. And more importantly, it could be interpreted as prohibiting public flatulence. That's right ! Citizens would be advised to clench hard or be prosecuted.
Surely this was a mistake ! No government would try to ban an involuntary physiological process.  When pressed on this piece of legislation, the justice minister George Chaponda responded "Government has a responsibility to ensure decency, Would you be happy to see people farting anyhow?"He confirmed that the intent of this law was ban outbreaks of public flatulence. When news of this spread, Malawi became a worldwide laughing stock, and the bill was silently killed off. The then Justice Minister clearly disliked flatulence enough to support a draconian law against it. To be fair, is there anyone out there who actually likes the smell of flatulence?

Farts are unpleasant as a rule. I have yet to meet someone who, upon smelling a fart, inhales deeply and declares "mmm....Spicy ! "
But no matter how oleaginous, no matter how putrid, a fart has never killed anyone. Right?
The year is 1968. An outbreak of wound infections at Vanderbilt University Hospital was causing concern. The culprit, a bacterium known as Streptococcus pyogenes. This bacterium causes sore throats, skin problems and in the worst case scenario necrotizing fasciitis. A surgical wound infected with Streptococcus pyogenes can become life threatening.

So when nine patients contracted Streptococcus pyogenes infections during the month of august, there was a serious cause for concern. These patients had very little in common. They were operated on in different theatres. they were housed in different wards. In fact the only thing linking these patients was the anaesthetist attending them. He hadn't been ill with any of the disease associated with Streptococcus pyogenes. But it is possible for people to be asymptomatically colonised on their throats. So naturally they took throat swabs from him. They found nothing. There was no trace of Streptococcus pyogenes. So he couldn't possibly be the source of the infection.
The week after, another patient attended to by him developed a wound infection. This time they swabbed him again, in the throat and the nose. And again, all of these tests turned up negative. But taking no chances, he was prescribed a five day course of oral antibiotics anyway.
Despite this, during October, three more patients attended by this individual contracted the outbreak bacterium. The air in two operating theatres where this anaesthetist had attended tested positive for Streptococcus pyogenes.
An infection was found to have "took place in a room just vacated by the carrier". Yet this individual still tested negative for the outbreak bacterium. The staff at Vanderbilt were stymied. Where could the outbreak be coming from?

A similar case that had occurred at Washington University hospital two years previously held the answer. A similar outbreak had occurred, affecting eleven people. In this case, they had identified a carrier, who also mysteriously tested negative for Streptococcus pyogenes. In a desperate attempt to find out where he was harbouring this bacterium, they swabbed the following areas: Nose, Throat, Armpit, Groin, Teeth, ears, scalp, left foot, eyes, hands, anus and the right foot. They really did look everywhere, and they found the Streptococcus in an unexpected place. His rectum was teeming with Streptococcus pyogenes.

Upon finding about this case, the doctors at Vanderbilt decided to take a rectal swab from their suspected carrier. And they too found that the rectum contained the outbreak bacteria.
 With this evidence in mind, it doesn't take a genius to figure out how the infection was spreading.

Whenever the anaesthetist expelled gas, Streptococus pyogenes was expelled along with it. The usually clean and sterile operating theatres became peppered with this dangerous bacterium. The course of oral antibiotics they gave the anaesthetist initially to clear the infection didn't work because they were targeted to his throat. Now they knew the exact source, they could give a more appropriate antibiotic treatment to completely clear the individual of this bacterium. He was relieved of his duties, and put on this course, after which he was completely clear of bacteria.

Luckily, thanks to the miracle of antibiotics, none of his patients actually died from these flatulence acquired infections. However we now live in times where more and more species of bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, and perhaps we should reconsider reigning in our collective flatulence. If bacterial infections become untreatable, we may all need to "bung up" to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

On a side note, Streptococcus pyogenes is also known as Group A streptococcus. Or GAS for short. Try reading through this article again with all instances of Streptococcus pyogenes replaced with GAS. It's confusing.

Schaffner W, Lefkowitz LB Jr, Goodman JS, & Koenig MG (1969). Hospital outbreak of infections with group a streptococci traced to an asymptomatic anal carrier. The New England journal of medicine, 280 (22), 1224-5 PMID: 4889553

McKee WM, Di Caprio JM, Roberts CE Jr, & Sherris JC (1966). Anal carriage as the probable source of a streptococcal epidemic. Lancet, 2 (7471), 1007-9 PMID: 4162660

Edit- At the time of writing this post, I was unaware of the anti-governme... Read more »

McKee WM, Di Caprio JM, Roberts CE Jr, & Sherris JC. (1966) Anal carriage as the probable source of a streptococcal epidemic. Lancet, 2(7471), 1007-9. PMID: 4162660  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 12:39 PM

Japan wins the FIFA Women’s World Cup, people care

by Ryo in Skeptikai

Who cares about the Women's World Cup? A whole hell of a lot of people. Continue reading →... Read more »

Rosenbaum DA, Sanghani RR, Woolen T, & Davis SW. (2011) Estimation of Injury Simulation in International Women's Football. Research in sports medicine (Print), 19(3), 162-9. PMID: 21722004  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 11:54 AM

New Antidepressant - Old Tricks

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The past decade has been a bad one for antidepressant manufacturers. Quite apart from all the bad press these drugs have been getting lately, there's been a remarkable lack of new antidepressants making it to the market. The only really novel drug to hit the shelves since 2000 has been agomelatine. There were a couple of others that were just minor variants on old molecules, but that's it.This makes "Lu AA21004" rather special. It's a new antidepressant currently in development and by all accounts it's making good progress. It's now in Phase III trials, the last stage before approval. And a large clinical trial has just been published finding that it works.But is it a medical advance or merely a commercial one?Pharmacologically, Lu AA21004 is kind of a new twist on an old classic . Its main mechanism of action is inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, just like Prozac and other SSRIs. However, unlike them, it also blocks serotonin 5HT3 and 5HT7 receptors, activates 5HT1A receptors and partially agonizes 5HT1B.None of these things cry out "antidepressant" to me, but they do at least make it a bit different.The new trial took 430 depressed people and randomized them to get Lu AA21004, at two different doses, 5mg or 10mg, or the older antidepressant venlafaxine at the high-ish dose of 225 mg, or placebo.It worked. Over 6 weeks, people on the new drug improved more than those on placebo, and equally as well as people on venlafaxine; the lower 5 mg dose was a bit less effective, but not significantly so.The size of the effect was medium, with a benefit over-and-above placebo of about 5 points on the MADRS depression scale, which considering that the baseline scores in this study averaged 34, is not huge, but it compares well to other antidepressant trials.Now we come to the side effects, and this is the most important bit, as we'll see later. The authors did not specifically probe for these, they just relied on spontaneous report, which tends to underestimate adverse events.Basically, the main problem with Lu AA21004 was that it made people sick. Literally - 9% of people on the highest dose suffered vomiting, and 38% got nausea. However, the 5 mg dose was no worse than venlafaxine for nausea, and was relatively vomit-free. Unlike venlafaxine, it didn't cause dry mouth, constipation, or sexual problems.So that's lovely then. Let's get this stuff to market!Hang on.The big selling point for this drug is clearly the lack of side effects. It was no more effective than the (much cheaper, because off-patent) venlafaxine. It was better tolerated, but that's not a great achievement to be honest. Venlafaxine is quite notorious for causing side effects, especially at higher doses.I take venlafaxine 300 mg and the side effects aren't the end of the world, but they're no fun, and the point is, they're well known to be worse than you get with other modern drugs, most notably SSRIs.If you ask me, this study should have compared the new drug to an SSRI, because they're used much more widely than venlafaxine. Which one? How about escitalopram, a drug which is, according to most of the literature, one of the best SSRIs, as effective as venlafaxine, but with fewer side effects.Actually, according to Lundbeck, who make escitalopram, it's even better than venlafaxine. Now, they would say that, given that they make it - but the makers of Lu AA21004 ought to believe them, because, er, they're the same people. "Lu" stands for Lundbeck.The real competitor for this drug, according to Lundbeck, is escitalopram. But no-one wants to be in competition with themselves.This may be why, although there are no fewer than 26 registered clinical trials of Lu AA21004 either ongoing or completed, only one is comparing it to an SSRI. The others either compare it to venlafaxine, or to duloxetine, which has even worse side effects. The one trial that will compare it to escitalopram has a narrow focus (sexual dysfunction).Pharmacologically, remember, this drug is an SSRI with a few "special moves", in terms of hitting some serotonin receptors. The question is - do those extra tricks actually make it better? Or is it just a glorified, and expensive, new SSRI? We don't know and we're not going to find out any time soon.If Lu AA21004 is no more effective, and no better tolerated, than tried-and-tested old escitalopram, anyone who buys it will be paying extra for no real benefit. The only winner, in that case, being Lundbeck.Alvarez E, Perez V, Dragheim M, Loft H, & Artigas F (2011). A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, active reference study of Lu AA21004 in patients with major depressive disorder. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology , 1-12 PMID: 21767441... Read more »

Alvarez E, Perez V, Dragheim M, Loft H, & Artigas F. (2011) A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, active reference study of Lu AA21004 in patients with major depressive disorder. The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology / official scientific journal of the Collegium Internationale Neuropsychopharmacologicum (CINP), 1-12. PMID: 21767441  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 11:48 AM

Move Over Penis Captivus, Cello Scrotum and Guitar Nipple, we have TEXTER’S THUMB!

by Pranab Chatterjee in Scepticemia

The medical mind has pondered and pondered on the existence of maladies of the body and mind which are real, and sometimes, not so real. While the cynics say that the latter exist only in the realms of medical lore, … Continue reading →... Read more »

Walkinshaw, E. (2011) Thumbs up and down. Canadian Medical Association Journal. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.109-3911  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 11:19 AM

Dance for me

by Becky in It Takes 30

Ah, courtship. That crazy time when you'll do almost anything to show off for your potential mate: drink too much, fight with rivals, play chicken with cars, and generally behave in ways that make you shudder in later life. The courtship rituals of suburbia are complex enough, but they pale in comparison to the behaviors some animals show. Why do these rituals evolve? Darwin hypothesized that both sex-specific ornamentation, such as the tail of the peacock (bling, if you will), and elaborate courtship displays could be explained by selection of preferred mates by "choosy" females. The female gets to be choosy because she puts far more effort and risk into generating the progeny, so males compete to have their genes benefit from all that work.... Read more »

Barske J, Schlinger BA, Wikelski M, & Fusani L. (2011) Female choice for male motor skills. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society. PMID: 21508030  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 10:43 AM

Light Logic for 'Light'-ning Fast Computers

by Paige Brown in From The Lab Bench

For some time now, the idea of building light-based devices to supplement semiconductor-based computing has attracted the interest of researchers and computer engineers alike. Why? Because, as eloquently put in a 2007 issue of Scientific American, "Light is a wonderful medium for carrying information."... Read more »

  • July 22, 2011
  • 10:22 AM

Minority Living Kidney Donors with ESRD or Wait Listed (so faux pt 3)

by in Living Donors Are People Too

I'm pulling material from two sources today: the OPTN dataset I requested, and an article recently published by Cherikh (see citation) to look at minority living kidney donors and their risk of end-stage renal disease and/or being wait listed in need of their own transplant. Those are two different things because not everyone who is diagnosed with ESRD is wait listed. Some are content on dialysis and some choose not to have a transplant. Some receive a 'pre-emptive' transplant are never wait listed. According to my data set, from 1994 through March 2010: 124 or 43.5% of LKDs wait listed were White. 117 or 41.1% - Black.29 or 10.2% - Hispanic.7 or 2.5% - Asian.5 or 1.8% - American Indian/Alaska Native1 or .4% - Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander2 or .75 - MultiracialContrast that with the total number of living donors, according to OPTN's site:75,640 or 70.6% - white13,753 or 12.8% - black13,078 or 12.2% - hispanic109 or .01% - ubiquitous unknown2831 or 2.6% - asian663 or .6% - alaskan/native american615 or .57% - pacific islander499 or .46% - multiracialSooooo..... African-Americans compose 12.8% of total living donors, yet make up 41.4% of LKDs waitlisted. Problem.Here's where Cherikh's analysis of LKDs with end-stage renal disease comes in. She only looked at a sample of total LKD population because (if I haven't said a hundred times before) UNOS/OPTN only started collecting identifying info in 1994, so it is limited, but it says alot about those living kidney donors at risk for ESRD disease within a short period of time (less than 20 years).Under 35yoa at time of donation:50.3% of all black LKDs (compared to 32.9% white)67.8% of black LKDs with ESRD. (compared to 24.1% white)Evidence has been building about the correlation between age at time of donation and increased risk factors for kidney and cardiac disease. This cooroborates the suspicion that the more years spent with reduced kidney function, the greater the risk of developing these conditions. 62.7% of black LKDs with end-stage renal disease were 35-49yoa when diagnosed with a mean age of 42.6. White LKDs with ESRD, meanwhile, had a mean age of 56.3.Years from donation to ESRD for black LKDs:18.6% - 0-5yrs (10% white)37.3% - 6-10yrs (33.3% white)25.4% - 11-14yrs (40.7% white)Not only are black LKDs significantly younger than white LKDs at time of donation, they are at a much higher risk of ESRD at a much earlier age. There are many possible reasons for this: hereditary/genetic kidney disease factors, diabetic tendencies, access to healthcare, lifestyle, etc. and it's impossible to speculate based on these numbers. It does, however, stress the need for greater informed consent and closer scrutiny during evaluation, as well as the importance of follow-up care and lifestyle maintainence post-donation. Cherikh WS, Young CJ, Kramer BF, Taranto SE, Randall HB, & Fan PY (2011). Ethnic and Gender Related Differences in the Risk of End-Stage Renal Disease After Living Kidney Donation. American journal of transplantation : official journal of the American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons PMID: 21672160... Read more »

Cherikh WS, Young CJ, Kramer BF, Taranto SE, Randall HB, & Fan PY. (2011) Ethnic and Gender Related Differences in the Risk of End-Stage Renal Disease After Living Kidney Donation. American journal of transplantation : official journal of the American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons. PMID: 21672160  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 09:30 AM

Nature’s hybrids

by Maria Delaney in Science Calling

Recent research discovered that modern polar bears descended from a common female ancestor, the Irish brown bear. The scientists showed that over 20,000 years ago hybridisation occurred between Irish brown bears and polar bears. This post explores the causes of modern hybrids and if we can learn from species that interbred in the past. ... Read more »

Edwards CJ, Suchard MA, Lemey P, Welch JJ, Barnes I, Fulton TL, Barnett R, O'Connell TC, Coxon P, Monaghan N.... (2011) Ancient hybridization and an Irish origin for the modern polar bear matriline. Current biology : CB, 21(15), 1251-8. PMID: 21737280  

Kelly BP, Whiteley A, & Tallmon D. (2010) The Arctic melting pot. Nature, 468(7326), 891. PMID: 21164461  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 08:27 AM

Friday Weird Science: The Lion Eats Tonight

by Scicurious in Neurotic Physiology

A weemahway, A weemahway... You think too hard about this paper, you'll get this song in your head for the next few days. Don't say I didn't warn you. Humans. We have a lot of fears, many of them somewhat justified. Heights, spiders, the scream mask. The dark. In Westernized countries a lot of these [...]... Read more »

  • July 22, 2011
  • 08:20 AM

A quick Mendel follow-up

by Daniel in Ego sum Daniel

As a footnote to my previous post about Gregor Mendel, I offer these interesting Google NGrams.

To start off, we plot the terms "Gregor Mendel", just "Mendel", "Mendelian" as well as the genus of the garden pea Mendel worked with, "Pisum".

Not surprisingly, the years 1866 and 1900 (or there around) stand out markedly.

1866 was of course the year Mendel published his paper Experiments in Plant Hybridization, and we can see that mentions of his name, or at least his surname, and mentions of the garden pea Pisum start going up significantly. Mendel's intention with the paper was explicitly to inspire others to repeat his experiments, and he was apparently disappointed over the fact that nobody did; but it does seem like there was an awareness of his work in the late 1800s, and although the mentions of Pisum couldn't all come in reference to Mendel's work, it's remarkable how 1866 sticks out. You can repeat the experiment in German.

1900 was the year Mendel's work was re-discovered in publication and introduced to a wider scientific audience, through the independent publication of papers by Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns, Erich Tschermak and William Bateson, although none of them did immediately realize the power of Mendel's work or accepted it fully to account for the patterns of heredity they had observed in their own experiments. Nonetheless, we see that the use of the term "Mendelian" as an adjective has a large impact starting in 1900, which speaks for the introduction of Mendelian inheritance laws in a broader theoretical framework. Looking at the source data reveals mentions of "Mendelian phenomena", "Mendelian allelomorph", "Mendelian characters", "Mendelian crosses", "Mendelian factor", "Mendelian inheritance" et c.

If we plot the names of these scientists together with "Mendel" and "Mendelian", there seems to be a corresponding increase in mentions around 1900, at least for de Vries and Bateson. Although it doesn't seem to be that correlated, at first glance, with the increase in mentions of Mendel and "Mendelian". Could it be that; although de Vries, Correns and Tschermak claimed the re-discovery of Mendel for themselves, and Bateson claimed the introduction of Mendel in Britan; they themselves were not as often associated with the subsequent breakthrough of Mendel's ideas?

In my previous post I wrote about whether or not Mendel has predicted the existence of genes. While the terms "gene" and "genetic" were well in use by the early 1900s, it was William Bateson who introduced the term "genetics" as the study of biological inheritance. If we plot terms such as "Genetics", "Heredity", "Mutation", "Allele", together with "Mendel", "Mendelian", "Bateson" and "de Vries", who introduced the term "mutation", we see that the era of classical genetics that was to come in the first decades of the 1900s was already brewing when the "re-discovery" of Mendel happened. But it's undoubtable that Mendel's ideas were essential for the breakthrough of genetics in biology.

If you want to read more about the rediscovery of Mendel in 1900, I recommend the following papers as an insight into the sometimes very personal stakes involved. They were the ones I researched before writing this post.

Weinstein, A. (1977). How unknown was Mendel's paper? Journal of the History of Biology, 10 (2), 341-364 DOI: 10.1007/BF00572646

Olby, R. (2009). William Bateson's Introduction of Mendelism to England: A Reassessment The British Journal for the History of Science, 20 (04) DOI: 10.1017/S0007087400024201

Lenay C (2000). Hugo De Vries: from the theory of intracellular pangenesis to the rediscovery of Mendel. Comptes rendus de l'Academie des sciences. Serie III, Sciences de la vie, 323 (12), 1053-60 PMID: 11147091

... Read more »

Weinstein, A. (1977) How unknown was Mendel's paper?. Journal of the History of Biology, 10(2), 341-364. DOI: 10.1007/BF00572646  

Lenay C. (2000) Hugo De Vries: from the theory of intracellular pangenesis to the rediscovery of Mendel. Comptes rendus de l'Academie des sciences. Serie III, Sciences de la vie, 323(12), 1053-60. PMID: 11147091  

  • July 22, 2011
  • 08:13 AM

Moon wanes, Leo rises – lion attacks more common in week after a full moon

by Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science

It’s been a week since the last full moon on 15th July. During this time, the odds of being attacked by a lion are highest than at any other point in the month, which is why I’ve been walking around the neighbourhood with two guard bears and a platoon of ninjas. The fact that I live in a leafy suburb of London is inconsequential. You can never be too careful. Constant vigilance.
Of course, lion attacks are more of a problem in other parts of the world. In Tanzania, lions have attacked more than a thousand people between 1988 and 2009, and eaten around two-thirds of them. Now Craig Packer from the University of Minnesota has shown that the frequency of these attacks is tied into lunar cycles.
Texan-born Packer first visited Tanzania in 1972 to study baboons with Jane Goodall. When he returned to the country in 1978, his attention had shifted to lions and it has never left. His team expanded upon records of local lion prides that began in the 1960s, creating a massive set of data on over 5,000 individuals from the Serengeti National Park and ...... Read more »

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