Post List

  • October 5, 2010
  • 06:43 AM

Do sea anenomes get jet lag?

by Becky in It Takes 30

A lot of effort has gone into understanding why we get jet lag, in other words understanding the molecular mechanism of the circadian clock.  Circadian clocks are found in bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, and now a new paper from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Reitzel et al. 2010. Light entrained rhythmic gene expression in [...]... Read more »

  • October 5, 2010
  • 05:30 AM

Mounting evidence links global warming to the spread of disease

by SAGE Insight in SAGE Insight

Climate change and communicable disease: what are the risks? From Journal of Infection Prevention There is an increasing amount of evidence acknowledging that infectious diseases are associated with heatwaves, storms, floods, fires, and droughts. While we are often made aware of the detrimental effects of climate change on agriculture, fisheries, ecosystems and economies, these in turn [...]... Read more »

Nichols, A., Richardson, J., & Maynard, V. (2010) Climate change and communicable disease: what are the risks?. Journal of Infection Prevention, 11(5), 146-148. DOI: 10.1177/1757177410364869  

  • October 5, 2010
  • 05:00 AM

“Do it yourself” tests for chlamydia could be missing around 80% of cases

by Helen Jaques in In Sickness and In Health

Commercially available home tests for chlamydia could be failing to identify between 75% and 83% of people infected when compared with the “gold standard” biochemical lab test, according to new research from the Netherlands. The study of 772 women found that three “point of care” tests available on the internet and in pharmacies only correctly [...]... Read more »

van Dommelen, L., van Tiel, F., Ouburg, S., Brouwers, E., Terporten, P., Savelkoul, P., Morre, S., Bruggeman, C., & Hoebe, C. (2010) Alarmingly poor performance in Chlamydia trachomatis point-of-care testing. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 86(5), 355-359. DOI: 10.1136/sti.2010.042598  

  • October 5, 2010
  • 03:50 AM

The reality of a universal language faculty?

by melodye in Child's Play

An argument is often made that similarities between languages (so-called “linguistic universals“) provide strong evidence for the existence of an innate, universal grammar (UG) that is shared by all humans, regardless of language spoken.  If language were not underpinned by such a grammar, it is argued, there would be endless (and extreme) variation, of the [...]... Read more »

  • October 5, 2010
  • 03:19 AM

British Colonialism & Medicine

by John Wayland in The Darwin Tribune

During the colonisation of various territories in tropical climates, illness and disease was a common problem. To some extent, the life of an officer posted to such places could be measured in months. As well as diseases that affected people there were animal diseases such as Rhinderpest, and plant diseases too. One way an individual could over come such harsh climates was to carry with him his trusty medicine chest.Johnson (2008) states that in 1912, the Burroughs Wellcome & Co. felt the medicine chest was a great advance in medicine and pharmacy. Johnson (2008) argues that medicine chests were not a mere novelty, but that they played a vital role. However, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. sought to advertise their chest as the former, and advertised in journals such as Tropical Life and Medical Missionary.According to Johnson (2008) the Chest No. 250 used between 1890 and 1920 contained six 5oz. and 30 3 and a half oz. stoppered bottles of Tabloid and Soloid brand medicine.Here are some of the treatments they contained:Cascara Sagrada for Sluggish LiverIron & Arsenic for Convalescence during Malarial FeversLead Opium for DiarrhoeaWarburg's Tincture for Malaria and other FeversDover Powder for Pain ReliefJohnson (2008) also states the chest contained suture needles, suture silk, oiled silk, mustard leaves, adhesive and court plasterer, caustic point, a yard of lint, catheter, glass syringes, medicine droppers, thermometer and scissors. The chests were intended for various injuries or ailments in various climates. Evidently, this played a role in their success.Despite the  retrospective humour regarding the medicines used and the quaintness of the medicine chest. Many academics argue that the advertising of medical chests provide evidence, to some extent, that medicine was a tool of empire. However, Worboys (2000) maintains that colonial medicine can be interpretted as missionary activity, modernisation, and protection of the health and welfare of indigenous people. Critically, Worboys (2000) cites the work of the British Empire Leprosy Relief Association as evidence of various aspects of Christian caring, medical humanism, colonial development and welfare policy that were active during that time. Additinally, Jones (2004) maintains that two Nightingale nurses posted to Ceylon in 1878  enabled the training of Ceylonese women for the nursing profession and therefore enabled the development of medicine. Evidently, Jones (2004) and Worboys (2000) suggests that Empire played a vital role in the development of medicine across the the world, and that liberal historians have been too harsh upon the colonial history of Britian in recent decades. Critically, with the evolution of the colonies in to the Commonwealth of Nations, a democratic organisation of member states in which a vast number of the world's popultation live, the development of science and medicine is as vital as ever, and the politcal to-and-fro of how history should be interrepted are an annoyance to those who want to work together who share a common history, language and culture. Nowhere is this sentiment echoed best, than in Her Majesty's Commonwealth Day Speech of 2010.Johnson, R. (2008). Tabloid Brand Medicine Chests: Selling Health and Hygiene for the British Tropical Colonies Science as Culture, 17 (3), 249-268 DOI: 10.1080/09505430802280735Jones, M. (2004). Heroines of lonely outposts or tools of the empire? British nurses in Britain's model colony: Ceylon, 1878-1948 Nursing Inquiry, 11 (3), 148-160 DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-1800.2004.00224.xWorboys, M. (2000). The Colonial World as Mission and Mandate: Leprosy and Empire, 1900-1940 Osiris, 15 (1), 207-218 DOI: 10.1086/649327... Read more »

  • October 5, 2010
  • 02:30 AM

Med Schools lack of policies for facebook and twitter use

by Dr Shock in Dr Shock MD PhD

Social media are changing medicine. On social networking sites patients may learn information about their doctors, medical students that compromises the professional relationship. Threats to patient confidentiality is another danger of Facebook and other social networking sites. But how big is the problem and if med schools are on social media sites do they have [...]

Related posts:Facebook and Professionalism
Facebook and Academic Performance
Twitter for continuous student ratings
... Read more »

Terry Kind,, Gillian Genrich,, Avneet Sodhi,, & Katherine C. Chretien4. (2010) Social media policies at US medical schools. Medical Education Online. info:/10.3402/meo.v15i0.5324.

  • October 5, 2010
  • 02:23 AM

Matching Management to Fish and Fishers

by Sam in Oceanographer's Choice

There are no truly universal laws in ecology. Every pattern and process takes place on its own scale in time and space, and truths that hold at one scale do not necessarily hold at another. This is a fact of life anyone dealing with an ecosystem has to come to terms with, whether they are [...]... Read more »

  • October 5, 2010
  • 12:54 AM

Mantis Shrimp Bio-Armor

by Michael Bok in Arthropoda

There is mantis shrimp double-trouble in this month’s Journal of Experimental Biology, which features not one, but two papers about stomatopods. One, Porter et al., is a new phylogeny of stomatopods, including some eye structure character reconstructions. The second paper, by Taylor and Patek, is a study on stomatopod armor employed in ritualized sparring. I’ll [...]... Read more »

  • October 4, 2010
  • 11:37 PM

The Ignobel Prizes – A computational study of the Peter Principle

by Croor Singh in Learning to be Terse

This year’s Ignobel Prizes have been announced. Among the winners are an engineering solution to the problem of collecting whale snot, a prize in Medicine for the people who discovered that asthma can be treated by putting the patient on a roller coaster (I’m having a hard time imagining clinical trials for this!), a Peace [...]... Read more »

Pluchino, A., Rapisarda, A., & Garofalo, C. (2010) The Peter principle revisited: A computational study. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 389(3), 467-472. DOI: 10.1016/j.physa.2009.09.045  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 10:20 PM

Penguins Immediately Benefit From MPA

by Miriam Goldstein in The Oyster's Garter

There is much buzz these days about marine protected areas (MPAs) and no-take zones. We are approaching the age of assessment. There has been enough time passed where we should see a signal of improvement to verify conservation theory. While the data has been trickling in for many MPAs and there is in general an improvement . . . → Read More: Penguins Immediately Benefit From MPA... Read more »

Pichegru, L., Gremillet, D., Crawford, R., & Ryan, P. (2010) Marine no-take zone rapidly benefits endangered penguin. Biology Letters, 6(4), 498-501. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0913  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 10:20 PM

Penguins Immediately Benefit From MPA

by Kevin Zelnio in Deep Sea News

There is much buzz these days about marine protected areas (MPAs) and no-take zones. We are approaching the age of assessment. There has been enough time passed where we should see a signal of improvement to verify conservation theory. While the data has been trickling in for many MPAs and there is in general an improvement . . . → Read More: Penguins Immediately Benefit From MPA... Read more »

Pichegru, L., Gremillet, D., Crawford, R., & Ryan, P. (2010) Marine no-take zone rapidly benefits endangered penguin. Biology Letters, 6(4), 498-501. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0913  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 09:43 PM

Economists and psychologists battle over what makes us happy

by Phil Camill in Global Change: Intersection of Nature and Culture

There has been a lot published recently on the source of happiness and what constitutes the good life, with many articles focusing on levels of personal income that mark tipping points, such as the recent claim that we need $75,000 to be happy.
In this week’s Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of [...]... Read more »

Headey, B., R. Muffels, and G.G. Wagner. (2010) Long-running German panel survey shows that personal and economic choices, not just genes, matter for happiness . Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1008612107

  • October 4, 2010
  • 09:41 PM

This Week in the Universe: September 28th – October 4th

by S.C. Kavassalis in The Language of Bad Physics

Astrophysics and Gravitation:
Vacuum-Driven Evolution in Astrophysics
William C. C. Lima, George E. A. Matsas, & Daniel A. T. Vanzella (2010). Awaking the vacuum in relativistic stars Physical Review Letters arXiv: 1009.1771v1
In a very cool paper that will be appearing in the Physical Review Letters at the end of the week, Lima et al. have shown an interesting (and surprising) relationship between neutron star formation and the vacuum energy density of our universe. Using some semi-classical concepts of gravity [PRL 104, 161102 (2010)], the authors come the conclusion that the formation of relativistic, compact, objects (like neutron stars) could disturb the vacuum of a quantum field (of a certain type) which could cause the energy density of the vacuum to undergo exponential growth.  This growth could eventually lead to the collapse or explosion of the relativistic object in question.  Of course, the observation of stable neutron stars should be suggestive that such fields (that could have triggered this exponential growth in energy density) can not exist.  Thus, if we see stable neutron stars (which we think we do), we learn something about the vacuum state of the universe, ie. the observation of a stable and (reasonably) spinless cold neutron star would rule out the existence of massless scalar fields with a range of coupling constants.  Seeing as we only know what a marginal fraction of the universe’s energy content is, this could prove incredibly useful for the field theoretically inclined cosmologists out there.  The nitty-gritty details on what should specifically happen to these relativistic objects hasn’t been worked out just yet (I’m sure someone will be donating some cluster time soon), but when it has, we may end up learning something new and exciting about one of the most basic aspects of our universe.
For more, see Neutron Star Formation Could Awaken the Vacuum.
High Energy Physics and Particles:
Randomness Brings Order to Quarks
P. H. Damgaard, K. Splittorff, & J. J. M. Verbaarschot (2010). Microscopic Spectrum of the Wilson Dirac Operator arXiv arXiv: 1001.2937v3
An interesting paper out of the Niels Bohr Institute shows how large quantities of random numbers can help explain the oscillations of quarks within protons.
Kim Splittorff:
Over several years it became increasingly clear that the way in which the left-handed and right-handed quarks come together can be described using a massive quantities of random numbers. These random numbers are elements in a matrix, which one may think of as a Soduko filled in at random. In technical jargon these are called Random Matrices.
Random numbers have been used for quite some time to make sense of spontaneous symmetry breaking, but what is unique about this team’s work is that they are doing it exactly.
What is new about our work is that not only the exact equation for quarks, but also the approximation, which researchers who work numerically have to use, can be described using random matrices. It is already extremely surprising that the exact equation shows that the quarks swing by random numbers. It is even more exciting that the approximation used for the equation has a completely analogous description. Having an accurate analytical description available for the numerical simulations is a powerful tool that provides an entirely new understanding of the numerical data. In particular, we can now measure very precisely how closely the right-handed and left-handed quarks are dancing
How “exact” this really can be, is more of a philosophical question at this point, but this technique will find use in helping make predictions at CERN and even in condensed matter systems.
For more, see Quarks ‘swing’ to the tones of random numbers.
General Relativity, Quantum Gravity, et al.:
Hawking Radiation, Observed?
F. Belgiorno, S. L. Cacciatori, M. Clerici, V. Gorini, G. Ortenzi, L. Rizzi, E. Rubino, V. G. Sala, & D. Faccio (2010). Hawking radiation from ultrashort laser pulse filaments arXiv arXiv: 1009.4634v1
I have lengthy comments to make on this paper that will appear later this week, but it is a fascinating (and short) read.
The abstract:
Event horizons of astrophysical black holes and gravitational analogues have been predicted to excite the quantum vacuum and give rise to the emission of quanta, known as Hawking radiation. We experimentally create such a gravitational analogue using ultrashort laser pulse filaments and our measurements demonstrate a spontaneous emission of photons that confirms theoretical predictions.
Did they really observe Hawking radiation? That’s a question that will be open for debate for quite some time.
For more, see Physicists may have observed Hawking radiation for the first time, Imitation black hole seen on earth.
... Read more »

William C. C. Lima, George E. A. Matsas, & Daniel A. T. Vanzella. (2010) Awaking the vacuum in relativistic stars. Physical Review Letters. arXiv: 1009.1771v1

P. H. Damgaard, K. Splittorff, & J. J. M. Verbaarschot. (2010) Microscopic Spectrum of the Wilson Dirac Operator. arXiv. arXiv: 1001.2937v3

F. Belgiorno, S. L. Cacciatori, M. Clerici, V. Gorini, G. Ortenzi, L. Rizzi, E. Rubino, V. G. Sala, & D. Faccio. (2010) Hawking radiation from ultrashort laser pulse filaments. arXiv. arXiv: 1009.4634v1

  • October 4, 2010
  • 06:55 PM

The adaptive space of complexity

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

Evolution means many things to many people. On the one hand some scholars focus on time scales of “billions and billions,” and can ruminate upon the radical variation in body plans across the tree of life. Others put the spotlight on the change in gene frequencies on the scale of years, of Ph.D. programs. While [...]... Read more »

Wang Z, Liao BY, & Zhang J. (2010) Genomic patterns of pleiotropy and the evolution of complexity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 20876104  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 05:38 PM

Managed Relocation is a terrible idea.

by Dr. Carin Bondar in Dr. Carin Bondar - Biologist With a Twist

Global climate change is an unprecidented anthropogenic disturbance that is wreaking havoc on our planet.  A plethora of scientists, conservationists, governments and NGOs are continuously working at several scales in order to model the outcomes of this environmtnal catastrophe.  A recent communication in ‘Ecological Applications’, suggests that the urgency with which global climate change is [...]... Read more »

  • October 4, 2010
  • 05:12 PM

Tuatara tuesday – how cold is too cold for a tuatara?

by hilaryml in Chicken or Egg blog

Tuatara like it cold.  Unusually so, for a reptile.  While reptiles in most other countries are happiest with temperatures over 25 degrees celcius, here in New Zealand our reptiles prefer much lower temperatures.  Alison Cree’s group at the University of Otago has been investigating exactly which temperatures tuatara prefer, with a view to determining whether [...]... Read more »

  • October 4, 2010
  • 04:41 PM

Suicide, age and poison

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

At the end of the 19th Century, the ground-breaking sociologist Émile Durkheim made an important discovery: across Europe, Protestant regions had a higher suicide rate that Catholic regions. This, he said, was because Catholicism created more integrated societies. In today's parlance, Catholicism generates more social capital.

Since then many studies reinforced this theory, showing that Catholicism, and indeed religion in general, seems to protect against suicide. Unfortunately, almost all these studies have been flawed - most often because they looked at average suicide rates and average religious beliefs across particular societies. They didn't look at the individual characteristics of those people who commit suicide.

Three new studies have addressed this problem. Each of them them takes advantage of new data to explore in some detail the link between religion and reduced suicide.

I'm going to write them up in separate posts, as they all tell different aspects of the story. What they do have in common, though, is that they all show that that the story isn't quite as straightforward as Durkheim believed!

Matthias Egger, at the University of Bern in Switzerland, has cleverly linked census data to death records - not at all as straightforward as you might imagine. What that gives, for the first time, is a large database with reliable records of individual's religious affiliation in the last few years before they took their life.

What they found was that, as Durkeheim found when looking at Swiss data a century earlier, Catholics had the lowest suicide rate and Protestants higher. What's more, Egger found that the unaffiliated had the highest of all.

But there was more to this story than meets the eye. One thing that jumped out was that the gap was much bigger for older people. At ages 35-44, there was essentially no difference. The gap grows gradually with age: in the oldest group (aged 85-94), Protestants are twice as likely as Catholics to commit suicide, and the unaffiliated four times as likely.

And Egger found something else. Strangely enough, the effect was particularly strong for death by poisoning.

That's a perplexing result, until you remember that Switzerland is one of the few countries where assisted suicide is legal (so long as the motive is not selfish). There are several societies in Switzerland that provide assisted dying, with the usual method being an injection of barbiturates.

On the death record, that's recorded as a death by poisoning.

So what we're seeing here is driven in large part by differences in attitudes towards assisted dying. Elderly Catholics, who see suicide as a sin, prefer a natural death. Elderly Protestants and, especially, the unaffiliated, have a different view.

The unaffiliated see assisted dying as an acceptable way to deal with terminal, debilitating, and often painful illness. As a result, the suicide rate among the very old is higher.

That's not to say that Durkheim was wrong about religion. Social integration is important in reducing suicide, and that may well have contributed to the differences seen. Egger found that married people, and those living with others, also had lower suicide rates. But these data couldn't show that religion affected social integration.

But what Egger has shown is that the relationship between religion and suicide is more complex than sometimes assumed. Just how complex is the topic of the next post, which looks at suicide rates in different cultures around the world.

Spoerri A, Zwahlen M, Bopp M, Gutzwiller F, Egger M, & for the Swiss National Cohort Study (2010). Religion and assisted and non-assisted suicide in Switzerland: National Cohort Study. International journal of epidemiology PMID: 20841328

This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

... Read more »

Spoerri A, Zwahlen M, Bopp M, Gutzwiller F, Egger M, & for the Swiss National Cohort Study. (2010) Religion and assisted and non-assisted suicide in Switzerland: National Cohort Study. International journal of epidemiology. PMID: 20841328  

  • October 4, 2010
  • 04:36 PM

Choosing mates: do we REALLY want what we say we want?

by Casey Rentz in The Lay Scientist

"Study shows real partners are no match for ideal mates," says a Sheffield University press release I read last week. So, sometimes we settle for less than George Clooney or Heidi Klum.

read more... Read more »

Alexandre Courtiol1, Sandrine Picq, Bernard Godelle1, Michel Raymond, Jean-Baptiste Ferdy. (2010) From Preferred to Actual Mate Characteristics: The Case of Human Body Shape. PLoS ONE. info:/

  • October 4, 2010
  • 04:00 PM

Now then, Pay Attention!

by Lorimer Moseley in BodyInMind

To mark 10 years of Nature Reviews Neuroscience this month the journal has produced a kind of retrospective of the most highly cited reviews from each year. I got around to reading the 2002 “winner” from Maurizio Corbetta and Gordon Shulman which focused on attention networks in the brain, and a quality read it is. [...]... Read more »

  • October 4, 2010
  • 03:52 PM

How Grows Your Garden?

by Journal Watch Online in Journal Watch Online

Inch by inch, row by row, plant preservationists need to be aware of how their gardens grow. Efforts to save rare plants by growing them at botanic gardens can introduce subtle genetic changes that could undermine restoration programs, concludes a new study from Germany.
The world’s botanic gardens have become a key player in plant […] Read More »... Read more »

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