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  • March 12, 2011
  • 10:19 AM
  • 1,366 views

The Longer You Live, the Worse You Drive

by David Berreby in Mind Matters


Research on life extension is all about aging and death within a human body. Perhaps it should expand to encompass the effects of being run over by a car: According to this study, elderly drivers are half as likely to notice hazards and pedestrians as are younger drivers. So if we ever attain a ...Read More
... Read more »

  • March 12, 2011
  • 08:45 AM
  • 1,152 views

The evolution of female intentionality

by Vahid Motlagh in Ideas for a deeper sense of life

One of the critical aspects regarding the “evolution itself evolving” is the emergence of the female expressed and not simply silent intentionality.In my recent article about the alternative futures of Asia in the year 2060 I highlighted the rise and contribution of female consciousness as a mega trend which will continue to reshape our world in the coming decades. Even a critical question that is raised today after the domino revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa is that if and how we will see a more female active participation in these backward societies.To make better sense of the future enhanced female consciousness one need to take into account the explosive knowledge about the human brain and the intriguing differences between males and females which in turn may provide some new insights about the possible future courses of artificial evolution.Scientific American, for instance, reports that among female mammals, specifically rats, stress tends to bust the learning curve while a mild level of stress could indeed boost the learning curve of male rats. This may explain, in part, why our world male dominant innovation system is much more productive during and after major conflicts and wars. Presuming a more peaceful and less stressful world one can expect more female-like learning in the future and thus more expressed female intentionality.Jerome Glenn and his colleagues in their State of the Future reports continuously measure and monitor the exterior indicators such as the rising trend showing more women participation across the world in terms of their percentage share in governments and parliaments. I might add that one of the emerging powers in the BRIC countries, that is Brazil, is now led by a woman, Dilma Vana Rousseff , and her intentions which are hard to uncover and measure.But there are some more meaningful aspects of a female intentionality which are too hard to measure and monitor, that is their mental models, the interior world, or according to Richard Slaughter’s favorite integral terminology, the upper left (individual) and lower left (collective) quadrants.Another line of interest is the relationship between emotion processing and the human perception and cognition. It has been evident through the cognitive science findings that a specific brain area called the amygdala is essential to our perception, memory and learning. Greater activity in the amygdala implies increased “likelihood that event of affective importance reach awareness” (Adam K. Anderson and Elizabeth A. Phelps, 2001). They suggest that the amygdala can do some significant modulation of the attentional blink through influencing neuronal plasticity. This means that a robust and healthy amygdala, after identifying a single target stimulus, has less transient impairment in awareness for a subsequently presented second target.Moreover, anatomical comparative studies of amygdala between men and women demonstrate that women have larger orbital frontal coritices than men, resulting in highly significant difference in the ratio of orbital gray to amygdale volume (Gur RC, Gunning-Dixon F, Bilker WB, Gur RE., 2002). This increased orbital volume relative to amygdale volume in women compared with men supports the hypothesis that women have greater tissue volume available for modulating amygdala input.Apart from the neuroscience findings, genetics offer yet another interesting perspective. Contrary to the common beliefs about men being more perfect relative to men, genetically speaking men are imperfect because Y chromosome is (or at least seems to be) a shorter and damaged version of the X chromosome during the course of natural evolution. Russ Hodge in his 2010 book, Human Genetics, points out the fact that women have two copies of X helps their "immune system" to become "more robust" relative to men. On the Y chromosome of men, at this point of natural evolution, there are 16 genes of the same genes on the X chromosome, which do still hold and are present. On Kangaroo males only one gene has been left that is Y chromosome is becoming too short that one might wonder that if the next distant generation will have any at all! Grasshopper males have already lost the Y chromosome and they are recognized as males by having only one copy of the X chromosome. Among the geneticists and from a natural evolutionary point of view it is plausible that in distant future human males may lose the Y chromosome completely, a scenario that will have for sure some psychosomatic consequences for future males. X-inactivation is a relatively known phenomenon, a process by which one of the two copies of the X chromosome in female mammals in inactivated. But the implications of the Y chromosome disappearing is yet to be known.On the other hand, scientists have found that natural selection is acting now to cause slow, gradual evolutionary change in specific traits with medical significance. The descendants of the women in the Framingham Heart Study, a project of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Boston University that began in 1948, “are predicted to be on average slightly shorter and stouter, to have lower total cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure, to have their first child earlier, and to reach menopause later than they would in the absence of evolution.” (Byars, Sean G. , Ewbank, Douglas, Govindaraju, Diddahally R., Stearns, Stephen C. , 2009). The authors also conclude that “age at first birth and age at menopause appear to be changing so as to lengthen the reproductive period. And fertility is the driving force behind evolution in modern populations.”James Dewar (2011), a scenario planner from RAND and the author of Assumption –Based Planning said, in a personal correspondence to me, that “it's fun to create and read assumption-busting scenarios. The one that interests me at this point is a largely female world. Males are really rather redundant in reproduction. Physical strength is much less important than it used to be. Choosing the sex of children will obviously become quite easy in the foreseeable future. I can imagine a world in which men are increasingly in the minority of the population.”Currently "SRY protein or gene" is used to determine for sure if an individual is male or female. This protein is normally located on the Y chromosome. However, there are rare disorders too, notably, shemales who have female bodies with male genitals, sometimes because the SRY protein jumps to the X chromosome. Of course, such humans are not “recognized” at all, at least when you see and have to fill out the usual forms in paper or electronic copies. There are only two options to check: male or female. No one can be sure that if the scenario of shemales becoming more recognized by others will be plausible or not in distant future, in particular when considering the fact that reproductive technologies may realizethe artificial evolution sooner than currently expected, mobilizing future people to play with multiple genders too. Until some decades ago sexuality was viewed as merely being hetro but now thanks to the scientific investigations, at least scholars do recognize asexual, hetrosexual, homosexual, and bisexual classes or categories. Maybe in the future the current dichotomy of female vs. male (which already ignores the genetic trichotomy) will be challenged fundamentally as humans start to play with genes more often.Although it might seem that we know a great deal about genes, unfortunately it is not the case. Only a small percentage of the human genome (less than 2 percent) encodes proteins, and most mutations do not affect these encoding DNA or genes. The total human sequence consists of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs. Until very recently the non-encoding part of the genome was called junk DNA. But the new findings suggest that some of this junk are there for some special purposes. These parts which are called epigenes have a role in expressing genes which means they influence and set the observable characteristic or phenotype of the organism. The epigenetic... Read more »

Motlagh VV. (2010) Asia's Exotic Futures in the Far beyond the Present. Journal of Futures Studies, 15(2), 1-16. info:/

Gur RC, Gunning-Dixon F, Bilker WB, & Gur RE. (2002) Sex differences in temporo-limbic and frontal brain volumes of healthy adults. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 12(9), 998-1003. PMID: 12183399  

Acevedo BP, Aron A, Fisher HE, & Brown LL. (2011) Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience. PMID: 21208991  

  • March 12, 2011
  • 08:00 AM
  • 681 views

Computational action: the question I didn’t ask Jeannette Wing

by Aaron Sterling in Nanoexplanations

my thoughts about a presentation Jeannette Wing gave, based on articles she has written about Computational Thinking... Read more »

Wing, J. (2008) Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1881), 3717-3725. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0118  

  • March 12, 2011
  • 01:09 AM
  • 1,458 views

Re: Homophobia and Evolutionary Psychology

by Jon Wilkins in Lost in Transcription

So, a couple of days ago, Jesse Bering published an interesting post on his Scientific American blog, where he attempts to revive interest in a research topic that was hotly debated in the mid 1990s, but has since fallen dormant. He describes a debate between two evolutionary psychologists – Gordon Gallup and John Archer – over the evolutionary origins of negative attitudes towards homosexuality.

Bering does an excellent job describing the debate, so I will just provide the briefest synopsis here. Gallup argues that, all else being equal, natural selection would favor negative attitudes towards homosexuality. The argument is basically that people who encourage heterosexual behavior in their children will have more grandchildren. The counter-argument championed by Archer is basically, no, it's all cultural: homosexuals are identified as "other" and are demonized in the media.



Silly girl is so unfamiliar with cultural norms, she does not even recognize that she should be vilifying anyone who looks different from her.
Bering's stated purpose is to stir up some debate, and hopefully to prompt some new research. He takes the position – the correct one in my view – that we should not refrain from asking such questions out of fears driven by political correctness. However, the thing that caught my attention, and prompted my to write my own response, was his opening paragraph:
Consider this a warning: the theory I’m about to describe is likely to boil untold liters of blood and prompt mountains of angry fists to clench in revolt. It’s the best—the kindest—of you out there likely to get the most upset, too. I’d like to think of myself as being in that category, at least, and these are the types of visceral, illogical reactions I admittedly experienced in my initial reading of this theory. But that’s just the non-scientist in me flaring up, which, on occasion, it embarrassingly does. Otherwise, I must say upfront, the theory makes a considerable deal of sense to me.This, in a sense, encapsulates exactly what is wrong with so much evolutionary psychology. I don't mean that as a criticism of Bering, who writes conscientiously and consistently well about a host of tricky topics. In fact, what I am doing here is a bit unfair to him, but I want to make a lot of hay out of that last statement: "the theory makes a considerable deal of sense to me."

Back in the late 1970s, evolutionary biology was rent by a conflict over sociobiology. The debate was perhaps at its hottest and most divisive at Harvard, where the author of the book Sociobiology, E. O. Wilson, and two of its strongest critics, Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, were all on the faculty. The debate focused particularly on the use of adaptationist reasoning to describe the origins of human behaviors, but it had methodological implications that reverberated throughout evolutionary biology.



Like sociobiology before it, evolutionary psychology has been accused of using the veneer of objective science to promote a socially conservative agenda, reinforcing social norms. Image via imageshack.
I won't go more into the history here, but if you're interested in a highly entertaining historical account, which delves particularly into many of the biggest personalities involved, I highly recommend this article, published originally in the sadly now defunct Lingua Franca.

As with many such schisms, the field eventually healed, primarily through retirement and replacement. Nowadays, most practicing evolutionary biologists take a more synthetic view, one that integrates the ambitions of the sociobiology program with the demands of a more rigorous scientific foundation demanded by the critics.

Basically, the lessons of the whole sociobiology episode boil down to this: plausibility is NOT scientific proof.

In fact, it is trivially easy to come up with a plausible-sounding evolutionary argument to describe the origin of almost any trait. More importantly, it is often just as easy to come up with an equally plausible-sounding argument to describe the origin of a hypothetical scenario involving the exact opposite trait.

If you have students, you can try this little experiment, which provides a nice learning exercise for the students as well:

Divide your class into two groups. Give one group a card that describes a pattern of behavior of the form: "In species X, the females do Y, and the males do Z." Tell them that their job is to work together to come up with an evolutionary argument for why the females do Y and the males do Z. A group of a few modestly engaged undergraduates will have little trouble constructing such an argument. The argument will likely seem plausible on its face, and the students will probably emerge from the exercise convinced of its correctness.

Give the other group the same exercise, but with the modification that their card says that the females do Z and the males do Y. You will likely find that this group also has little trouble coming up with a plausible explanation, and that they will also be convinced of its correctness. For extra fun (for you, anyway), have the two groups come back together to debate the evolutionary question, but don't tell them at first that they were given opposite patterns to explain.



If you can create a set of journals in which you can publish evolutionary claims with no requirement that any of those claims be scientifically tested, eventually, you can generate a whole parallel literature that is self-citing, a group of researchers that are self-refereeing, and review panels that are self-funding. Congratulations! You've just invented an academic perpetual motion machine!
The problem with much of the early work in sociobiology was that it was based on assertions of plausible-sounding mechanisms, where not enough thought was put into consideration of alternative scenarios. One of the dangers is that the plausible-sounding mechanisms that most readily come to mind are often those that resonate with the cultural norms in which we are all immersed. This is part of the reason why molecular evolution has focused so much over the past few decades on statistical tests to look for evidence of natural selection.

While most evolutionary biologists have taken on board the cautionary tales that emerged from the sociobiology debate, most evolutionary psychologists are not evolutionary biologists. When evolutionary psychology started to become a field in the early 1990s, it basically recapitulated many of the errors of early sociobiology. It deflected criticism by claiming that politically correct academics didn't want them to ask these questions, painting itself as a field of martyrs who were bravely trying to do science, when the actual criticism was that the science was bad.

Evolutionary biology is one of those areas, like linguistics or sociology or film, where many people have some basic understanding or exposure, and so they tend to assume that they have an expertise on the topic, and that there is nothing more to understand beyond what they know.


... Read more »

  • March 12, 2011
  • 12:04 AM
  • 810 views

Diagnosis: Lazy?

by Jenika in ionpsych

Imagine you break your leg, but no one believes you.  Your boss tells you to just get over it.  Your mother says it’ll be all right in a few days.  Your spouse snaps in frustration, “Stop limping!  You’re scaring the … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • March 11, 2011
  • 11:00 PM
  • 441 views

Diagnosis: Lazy?

by Jenika in ionpsych

Imagine you break your leg, but no one believes you. Your boss tells you to just get over it. Your mother says it’ll be all right in a few days. Your spouse snaps in frustration, “Stop limping! You’re scaring the children!” Despite your pain, you don’t want to go to the doctor, because when another friend went to the doctor for a broken leg, people talked behind his back about how crazy he must be.... Read more »

  • March 11, 2011
  • 07:17 PM
  • 1,188 views

Health and science journalism and the fallibility of peer review

by Medical Media Watch in Medical Media Watch

Jack’s post below on sources in health and science journalism and the rise of churnalism induced two reactions: (1) A sudden descent of my lower jaw towards the carpet as I read the sentence “Newshounds are reduced to chained dogs, gorging on press releases and curling out steaming coils of pseudo-news to be fed to [...]... Read more »

  • March 11, 2011
  • 06:30 PM
  • 1,092 views

Are Species Abundance Distributions Biologically Meaningful?

by Michael Long in Phased

A common ecological assumption is fundamentally challenged.... Read more »

Warren II, R. J., Skelly, D. K., Schmitz, O. J., & Bradford, M. A. (2011) Universal Ecological Patterns in College Basketball Communities. PLoS ONE, 6(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017342  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 06:24 PM
  • 2,366 views

Capsular Polysaccharide and Pneumococcal Disease

by James Byrne in Disease Prone


A paper came out as an ePublication ahead of print this week looking at the capsular polysaccharide of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Want to know how I know? I wrote it :)



Insert stock photo of pneumo. Check.

It seems a little wrong to blog my own paper but in reality more people will read this blog entry than will read the paper itself, and that’s fine. Its relevance is very narrow and the work very preliminary but really it’s the drive behind the work that is important. So lets talk about Streptococcus pneumoniae (aka the pneumococcus or simply pneumo) for a second to set the scene.

Pneumo is a big deal. It is responsible for roughly a million deaths in children under 5 around the world every year and is such a problem in the developing world its one of the bugs that Bill and Melinda Gates have taken a personal dislike to.


This data is taken striaght from the WHO website. The only modification is I have added Streptococcus pneumoniae as a separate bar. Deaths caused by pneumo make up approximately 2/3 of all lower respiratory infections. I colour coded the bars for some reason for another post, I cant remember the key... #badblogger

Despite being such a huge killer it’s actually a very common bacteria. Every single person on Earth probably has it right now, so in that respect it’s not a great killer but at the same time, it doesn’t want to be. If you kill the host you destroy your home and food source so pneumo is happily carried in populations without causing disease, for the most part.
I have spoken about pneumo like there is only one kind of pneumo but that’s as silly as saying there is only one kind of human. An important common characteristic is that the outside of each pneumo, similarly to humans, doesn’t always look the same. In humans, differences in skin colour, texture, etc allows us to tell people apart, for pneumo however it’s the chemical composition of a structure called the capsule which encases the entire bacterium.
This capsule has, roughly, 90 different common variations and the distributions of these variations (referred to as serotypes) change depending on geographical region, age and community.
The important thing about the capsule is its job. The bacterium uses the capsule to hide from the host immune system, which is what generally triggers an immune response, and so allows the bacteria to persist asymptomatically in the naso-pharynx.
But as I hinted before pneumo doesn’t always sit happily in the naso-pharynx…
Generally during some other infection the pneumo will descend into the lungs and cause pneumonia, from which the bacteria derives its name. Approximately 30% of pneumonia patients will develop bacteremia as the bacteria use the lung damage to gain access to the blood. Once in the blood the bacteria can move all around the body and cause all sorts of disease but importantly they can cause meningitis (inflammation of the meningies in the brain) and this occurs in approximately 30% of bacteraemic patients.
Pneumo relies on its capsule to hide from the immune system during pneumonia, bacteraemia and meningitis (collectively called the invasive pneumococcal disease of IPD’s), but what if you take the capsule away? It turns out the immune system can ‘see’ the bacteria very easily without its capsule and so un-encapsulated bacteria can sit in the naso-pharynx but if they try to cause trouble the immune system can knock them out very easily.
This is where my work comes in.
Now it’s true that we can treat pneumo with antibiotics and we have two vaccines against pneumo but its still a massive problem. Something in the order of 60% of all clinical isolates show some level of antibiotic resistance with up to 10% showing resistance to 4 or more common antibiotics. The vaccines we have are also of limited use as one doesn’t work in children, where most of the disease occurs and the other doesn’t have enough ‘serotype coverage’ to be effective throughout the entire world.
To compensate for this my lab looks at alternative vaccines and that protective capsule layer. My work has really been to investigate how the biosynthesis of this layer is regulated and look for potential to break the regulation and in doing so prevent capsule formation and the invasive potential of the pneumococcus.
The regulation of capsule biosynthesis is achieved through a dynamic phosphorylation cycle that essentially acts like a switch.

This model was developed by my supervisor based on extensive mutagenesis work.

This is the current working model of the regulation. On the left we have the capsule being synthesised. The details are a little much for here but ‘C’ is a protein embedded in the membrane, it interacts with ‘D’, a tyrosine kinase. A tyrosine kinase is an enzyme that adds a chemical group called a phosphate to something else. In this system it actually adds that group to itself and when it does it forces itself to change shape. This altered shape in ‘D’ (represented on the right of the diagram) is thought to either change ‘C’s’ shape as well or the change is simply relayed through ‘C’ to the outside of the cell and production of capsule stops. Instead when ‘D’ is phosphorylated any complete capsule is stuck to the cell wall. As this process is not a one way switch we need to return to the left of the diagram and this is achieved due to the activity of ‘B’ which is able to remove phosphate groups from ‘D’.
For what was published in the paper we (or rather I) performed some mutagenesis on ‘C’ that resulted in it not being able to relay the change in shape of ‘D’. This resulted in switches jammed on to the left or the right but incapable of changing.
Importantly other mutants that have been constructed with an inability to switch capsule biosynthesis properly are unable to cause disease. Our hope however is to reach a point where we know enough about this system that instead of relying on a mutation in ‘C’ to give us a switching defect we might be able to design a drug or inhibitor that blocks ‘C’ activity in vivo. But that’s 5 – 10 years away.
I think I’ll just write this and my other experiments up into my thesis, then worry about the rest of the work that needs doing…

References... Read more »

  • March 11, 2011
  • 06:23 PM
  • 1,537 views

The Magic of Contagion

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

What makes people pay large sums of money for apparently mundane objects such as JFK’s golf clubs ($772,500 at auction) and rocking chair ($453,500)? Although a portion of the price is related to investment value, this cannot account for the exorbitant amounts paid for these items. Something else is at work. According to a study [...]... Read more »

Newman, George, Diesendruck, Gil, and Bloom, Paul. (2011) Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects. Journal of Consumer Research. info:/10.1086/658999

Curtis V, & Biran A. (2001) Dirt, Disgust, and Disease: Is Hygiene in Our Genes?. Perspectives in biology and medicine, 44(1), 17-31. PMID: 11253302  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 03:56 PM
  • 1,309 views

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict's Balls

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by A Primate of Modern Aspect:A new study in the journal Nature has generated a great deal of titillation this week as Cory McLean and colleagues have revealed a sequence of DNA that promotes these penis spines, a sequence that humans appear to have lost. The genetic mechanism involved has already been explained extremely well by Ed Yong and John Hawks. However, the interpretation of what the loss of this DNA reveals about human evolution is perhaps the most provocative claim and has resulted in a flurry of media attention. "Simplified penile morphology tends to be associated with monogamous reproductive strategies in primates," write the authors. According to their study, the loss of these spines would have resulted in a reduction in sexual sensation (because the spines are thought to be connected to nerve endings) and would therefore have allowed our ancestors to engage in more prolonged sexual activity that the authors associate with pairbonding and the evolution of social monogamy (citing Owen Lovejoy's Ardipithecus ramidus paper from 2009 as a model).As Nature News wrote in their summary of these results:It has long been believed that humans evolved smooth penises as a result of adopting a more monogamous reproductive strategy than their early human ancestors. Those ancestors may have used penile spines to remove the sperm of competitors when they mated with females. However, exactly how this change came about is not known.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B., Wenger, A., Bejerano, G., & Kingsley, D. (2011). Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits Nature, 471 (7337), 216-219 DOI: 10.1038/nature09774... Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 03:56 PM
  • 1,164 views

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict's Balls

by Eric Michael Johnson in The Primate Diaries in Exile

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by A Primate of Modern Aspect:A new study in the journal Nature has generated a great deal of titillation this week as Cory McLean and colleagues have revealed a sequence of DNA that promotes these penis spines, a sequence that humans appear to have lost. The genetic mechanism involved has already been explained extremely well by Ed Yong and John Hawks. However, the interpretation of what the loss of this DNA reveals about human evolution is perhaps the most provocative claim and has resulted in a flurry of media attention. "Simplified penile morphology tends to be associated with monogamous reproductive strategies in primates," write the authors. According to their study, the loss of these spines would have resulted in a reduction in sexual sensation (because the spines are thought to be connected to nerve endings) and would therefore have allowed our ancestors to engage in more prolonged sexual activity that the authors associate with pairbonding and the evolution of social monogamy (citing Owen Lovejoy's Ardipithecus ramidus paper from 2009 as a model).As Nature News wrote in their summary of these results:It has long been believed that humans evolved smooth penises as a result of adopting a more monogamous reproductive strategy than their early human ancestors. Those ancestors may have used penile spines to remove the sperm of competitors when they mated with females. However, exactly how this change came about is not known.Read the rest of the post here and stay tuned for the next entry in the Primate Diaries in Exile tour.McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B., Wenger, A., Bejerano, G., & Kingsley, D. (2011). Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits Nature, 471 (7337), 216-219 DOI: 10.1038/nature09774... Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 03:09 PM
  • 1,177 views

Uniting research with recreation: marine biodiversity monitoring and scuba divers

by zoologirl in Zoologirl's Blog

One of the reasons that I think citizen science is becoming increasingly popular is because it takes advantage of people’s already established interests. Bird watching is one hobby that has been particularly successful at creating citizen scientists. These projects can be as simple (and fun!) as putting up a birdfeeder and recording the birds that visit a few times a week. However, not all project subjects are as accessible as the birds in your backyard. Take for example marine life. Most people don’t have windows that look out under the sea, and you need special skills and equipment . . . → Read More: Uniting research with recreation: marine biodiversity monitoring and scuba divers... Read more »

Goffredo, S., Pensa, F., Neri, P., Orlandi, A., Gagliardi, M., Velardi, A., Piccinetti, C., & Zaccanti, F. (2010) Unite research with what citizens do for fun: “recreational monitoring” of marine biodiversity. Ecological Applications, 20(8), 2170-2187. DOI: 10.1890/09-1546.1  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 02:59 PM
  • 1,597 views

Penis Spines, Pearly Papules, and Pope Benedict’s Balls

by zinjanthropus in A Primate of Modern Aspect

The following guest post by Eric Michael Johnson is part of the Primate Diaries in Exile blog tour. You can follow other stops on this tour through his RSS feed or by following him on Twitter. If this is your first time visiting A Primate of Modern Aspect make sure to browse some of the [...]... Read more »

McLean, C., Reno, P., Pollen, A., Bassan, A., Capellini, T., Guenther, C., Indjeian, V., Lim, X., Menke, D., Schaar, B.... (2011) Human-specific loss of regulatory DNA and the evolution of human-specific traits. Nature, 471(7337), 216-219. DOI: 10.1038/nature09774  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 02:55 PM
  • 1,568 views

Origin of Life – RNA Self Replicators

by ogremkv in Cassandra's Tears

We have previously established that organic compounds, including nucleotides, are trivially easy to produce from inorganic sources.  We have also established at least two methods from which long chain RNA molecules could develop without organic processes… including one that requires … Continue reading →... Read more »

Lincoln, T., & Joyce, G. (2009) Self-Sustained Replication of an RNA Enzyme. Science, 323(5918), 1229-1232. DOI: 10.1126/science.1167856  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 01:51 PM
  • 1,381 views

Drop the Digital Dummy!

by Duncan Hull in O'Really?

Here is an experiment to investigate dependence on your “digital dummy”. A digital dummy is any computer, smart phone or other digital device on which you suckle data like a baby. Delete all your so-called “social networks” on LinkedIn, Facebook etc. Being sat in front of a computer is distinctly unsociable. Give your twitter account [...]... Read more »

  • March 11, 2011
  • 12:55 PM
  • 1,343 views

Racial Inequity in Deceased Donor Kidney Transplants

by Cristy at Living Donor 101 in Living Donors Are People Too

A recent study published in the Journal of American Society of Nephrology explores the reasons behind the ethical/racial disparities in obtaining a deceased donor kidney (time and incidence of waitlisting, time spent on waitlist, transplants, etc). The researchers looked at over 500,000 non-elderly* adults who began dialysis between 1995 and 2006, examining measurable factors and how it affected access to transplantation.Health insurance coverage and poverty were the biggest factors in disparity of transplant rates among blacks (17.9%), Hispanics (14.3%), and American Indians (23.2%). Geographic variation in organ availability was an important factor among Hispanics (13.5%) and Pacific Islanders (19.1%) must eliminate regions and DSAs, making our system truly national. Household linguistic isolation, meaning an inability to speak english affected Hispanics (7.0%) and Pacific Islanders (6.2%). Linguistic isolation had little effect among blacks and AIANs. The effect on delay to transplantation attributed to measured factors ranged from 8% in blacks to 78% in Hispanics**. *I'm not certain what the age cut-off is for this term. Unfortunately, I couldn't access the full and entire study. **This statistic is from a medscape article on the study, where the study abstract says: The fraction of the reduced transplant rates attributable to measured factors (e.g., demographic, clinical, socioeconomic, linguistic, and geographic factors) varied from 14% in blacks to 43% in American Indians/Alaska Natives compared with whitesHall YN, Choi AI, Xu P, O'Hare AM, & Chertow GM (2011). Racial Ethnic Differences in Rates and Determinants of Deceased Donor Kidney Transplantation. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology : JASN PMID: 21372209... Read more »

  • March 11, 2011
  • 11:10 AM
  • 1,977 views

Physical activity protects our body from cognitive stress

by Peter Janiszewski, Ph.D. in Obesity Panacea

There are few of us who can honestly say they are not stressed out at least some of the time. Too much to do, not enough time, looming deadlines, financial concerns, health problems, etc. can all cause us to feel on edge.
Your heart rate and blood pressure soar, you start perspiring, sleeping becomes a challenge, you’re irritable, and so on.
As you might have imagined, chronic psychological stress negatively impacts on your physical health, increasing the chances of countless chronic diseases. Additionally, stress can also reduce your lifespan.
Findings on a more cellular level suggest that psychological stress expedites the aging process of your body’s cells. Specifically, stress has been correlated with telomere shortening of a cell’s chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, and it replicates and shares the genetic information wound up in its chromosomes with its new copy, the new cell retains a slightly smaller end section of the chromosome, termed the telomere. When the telomere gets to a critical length, the cell reaches a point it can no longer divide properly.
When this begins to occur on a systemic level, you are in trouble.
And this is essentially what happens with aging, leading to cellular senescence.
So what effect, if any, does exercise have on this negative impact of psychological stress on cellular aging?
A recent study investigated this very question in a sample of 63 healthy post-menopausal women who were assessed for stress via questionnaire, physical activity levels over a 3 day period, and telomere length via a process I barely understand, so I won’t try to explain (it is Friday, after all).
For purposes of comparison, the women were divided into sedentary (< 33 minutes during the 3 days) or active (>33 minutes during the 3 days) – not a very high bar for activity.
Not surprisingly, participants with higher levels of stress were less likely to exercise, have higher BMI, less years of education, and shorter telomere length.
In terms of exercise protecting you from the negative cellular effects of stress, the authors found the following:
Among sedentary individuals, a 1 unit increase in perceived stress was associated with a 15-fold increased risk of having short telomeres (in the lower tertile of telomere length in the entire sample).
Among active individuals, a 1 unit increase in perceived stress had NO RELATIONSHIP with telomere length.
In other words, those who are active (and just barely so, based on the categorization in this study: 11 mins per day) seem to be protected against the cellular damage caused by cognitive stress
Keep in mind these analyses accounted for differences in BMI, education, age, and anti-oxidant use.
Bottom line:
Just in case you needed another reason to be physically active, regular activity may protect your cells from the damage caused by daily stresses of modern life. Unfortunately, those people who could benefit the most from physical activity – stressed individuals – are least likely to be active.
Peter
Puterman, E., Lin, J., Blackburn, E., O’Donovan, A., Adler, N., & Epel, E. (2010). The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length PLoS ONE, 5 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010837
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  • March 11, 2011
  • 10:13 AM
  • 1,658 views

When Being Dense is Good: Mindfulness, Meditation and Increasing Gray Matter

by Kelly Grooms in Promega Connections

When my my Mother’s sister, Pat, was seven years old, she was in a car-bicycle accident that resulted in some very serious brain trauma. She spent better than a year learning to walk and talk again, and although there were some lasting personality changes, she went on to earn a nursing degree and live an [...]... Read more »

Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, & Lazar SW. (2011) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research, 191(1), 36-43. PMID: 21071182  

  • March 11, 2011
  • 10:02 AM
  • 1,496 views

Restoring Nedoceratops: Gored by a Horned Rival?

by Brian Switek in Dinosaur Tracking

What is Nedoceratops? That depends on who you ask. The single known skull could represent a transitional growth stage between Triceratops and Torosaurus head shapes in a single species of dinosaur, or it might be a unique species of horned dinosaur that lived alongside its better-known relatives. The suggestion that Nedoceratops was truly a Triceratops [...]... Read more »

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