Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 17th, 2012

Vastly improved mouse ergonomics

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Cool Tools points out a mouse that I believe The Wife will like—and anyone else whose mouse hand/arm experiences strain.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 2:32 pm

Observing the evolution of multicellularity

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I’m told that some still deny evolution. I feel sure that these must be people who have never examined the evidence. Today’s article relates how multicellularity can evolve in just 100 generations under severe selection pressures. Jef Akst writes in The Scientist:

In as little as 100 generations, yeast selected to settle more quickly through a test tube evolved into multicellular, snowflake-like clusters, according to a paper published today (January 16) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Over the course of the experiment, the clusters evolved to be larger, produce multicellular progeny, and even show differentiation of the cells within the cluster—all key characteristics of multicellular organisms.

“It’s very cool to demonstrate that [multicellularity] can happen so quickly,” said evolutionary biologist Mansi Srivastava of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Massachusetts, who was not involved in the research. “Looking at the fossil record, we learned it took a very long time whenever these different transitions to multicellularity happened. Here they show it can happen very quickly.”

“[The study] was provocative,” agreed biochemist Todd Miller of Stony Brook University in New York, who did not participate in the work. “It’s a different way of attacking the problem [of how multicellularity evolved]—coming from a simple system that doesn’t normally do this and seeing what it takes to make it do it.”

The evolution of multicellular life has long intrigued evolutionary biologists. Cells coming together and cooperating for the good of the group goes against basic Darwinian principles. Yet multicellularity has evolved some two dozen times independently in nature, and has shaped the world as we know it.

But because most transitions to multicellularity happened more than 200 million years ago, many questions remain about how it happened. What were the ecological conditions that drove the transitions? And how did organisms overcome the conflicts of interest that accompany any sort of cooperative effort?

To gain a better understanding of the initial leap from singularity, University of Minnesota evolutionary biologist Michael Travisano, his postdoc Will Ratcliff, and their colleagues decided to see if they could recreate such a transition in the lab. Their strategy was simple: grow yeast in test tubes, shake up those test tubes every 24 hours, and select those organisms that fell to the bottom quickest to transfer to new media and propagate the population. After 2 weeks and about 100 generations, the researchers began to see the yeast forming snowflake-like clusters that dropped to the bottom of the test tubes 34 percent faster than single cells.

“We went to the microscope and were blown away,” Ratcliff said. “They form these clusters, and these clusters have these emergent properties of multicellular life.”

The clusters continued to evolve over the course of the experiment, growing larger and asexually producing multicellular progeny. The yeast showed signs of having . . .

Continue reading. At the link, a brief video of multicellular yeast releasing multicellular progeny.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 11:52 am

Posted in Evolution, Science

Coffee vs. Type 2 Diabetes

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Coffee helps, according to this note by Jef Akst in The Scientist:

Researchers have known for some time that regular coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes: people who drink four or more cups of coffee each day have a 50 percent lower risk of the disease, with each additional cup associated with a further 7 percent drop in risk. But the cause of this bizarre connection has been a source of speculation.

Now, researchers in China have found evidence that coffee influences the misfolding of the human islet amyloid polypeptide (hIAPP), a protein implicated in causing Type 2 diabetes. According to their paper published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, certain compounds in coffee significantly inhibited the formation of toxic hIAPP amyloids, which likely explains the lowered risk of Type 2 diabetes in coffee lovers.

“These findings suggest that the beneficial effects of coffee consumption on [Type 2 diabetes] may be partly due to the ability of the major coffee components and metabolites to inhibit the toxic aggregation of hIAPP,” the authors wrote. “A beneficial effect may thus be expected for a regular coffee drinker.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 11:17 am

Posted in Caffeine, Food, Health, Science

Animal Mind Control: Parasites that control the behavior of their hosts

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Very interesting article by Jef Akst at The Scientist:

A normally insatiable caterpillar suddenly stops eating. A quick look inside its body reveals the reason: dozens of little wasp larvae gnawing and secreting digestive enzymes to penetrate its body wall. They have been living inside the caterpillar for days—like little vampires, feeding on its “blood”—and are finally making their exodus to build their cocoons on its bright-green exterior.

In the caterpillar’s brain, a massive immune reaction is taking place—the invertebrate equivalent of a cytokine storm—and among the factors being released is an invertebrate neurohormone called octopamine. “It’s a very important compound for controlling behavior in insects,” says invertebrate behavioral physiologist Shelley Adamo of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. “Octopamine levels go up, and that plays a role in shutting off feeding.”

But the parasitic larvae don’t stop there. They also inhibit the host’s ability to break down the substance. “Octopamine levels remain high for days, and this caterpillar never really eats again,” Adamo explains. “Basically, it starves to death.” This plays the important role of preventing the caterpillar from picking off the cocoons, one by one, and eating the metamorphosing larvae alive. Simply killing their host isn’t an option, Adamo says, because if the caterpillar dies, its body will become overrun with fungal pathogens—unwelcome visitors to a wasp nursery. Plus, non-eating caterpillars retain their defensive reflexes, which protect both them and the young wasps from arthropod predators. “They’ve turned their host from being a meal ticket [into] their bodyguard,” Adamo says.

Although researchers have observed countless examples of parasites hijacking the autonomy of their hosts, only now are they beginning to understand how the parasites tinker with numerous systems within the host, ultimately changing the host’s behavior in grotesque and horrific ways. Taking a proteomics approach, for example, scientists have compared the proteins expressed in the brains of infected and uninfected animals to gain clues about which molecules might be involved in the manipulation. And more directed neurological approaches have flagged certain brain regions and particular neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, as likely culprits.

“The real nuts and bolts have yet to be figured out for any system,” says Adamo. “But we have some hints—good hints.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 11:09 am

Posted in Science

Proper complaints about science reporting

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TYD passed along a link to a very good article on right vs. wrong criticisms of science articles. The wrong sort of criticism is ubiquitous. Here are two examples of the right sort of criticism, from the article on io9 by Annalee Newitz:

. . . 1. “Where is the attribution?”

Any article about ideas or innovation that includes the phrase “scientists say” without ever referring back to a specific scientist or study (ideally, with a link to the paper or lab) deserves your scorn. When you don’t see any links to source materials and scientists, it’s likely that scientists do not actually say the thing the writer is claiming. Instead, the writer simply wants to bolster his or her opinion by making it seem as if it has scientific validity.

In addition, just because one scientist or study has evidence for something does not mean all scientists in their field agree. For example, a recent study challenged the conventional view of long ago humans and chimps split off from each other on the evolutionary tree. Many scientists believe it was roughly 5 million years ago; this new study suggested it could be as long as 11 million. This does not mean scientists now believe that humanity is twice as old. It means we have contradictory evidence, as anthropologist John Hawks gracefully explains in his article about the study. So when you read that one new study has “changed everything” or “now scientists believe,” the author of those statements had better have more than one person or study to back up those sweeping claims.

And here’s a comment I wish I could see more often:

2. “This news is just a reprinted press release.”

There are many fine science sites out there, such as PhysOrg and MedicalXpress, who do nothing but reprint press releases from universities and laboratories without commentary – and without transparently stating that they are posting press releases and not articles. The problem here isn’t reprinting press releases per se – in fact, often press releases about science are written very well, by intelligent and informed people who want to educate the public. Nevertheless, press releases are by their very nature biased. They are intended to showcase the importance of a particular group’s work, and so they will downplay or simply leave out dissenting views. To reprint them as “news” without acknowledging their potential bias is dishonest.

The dirty secret of science journalism is that our news cycle is almost entirely driven by press releases sent out by universities and journals, alerting the public to new results from often long-term studies. Writers will quote from these releases by saying things like “In a release, the scientists said . . ” or “In a statement, the lab explained . . . ” These are moments of transparency where a writer is tipping you off that the source of the information is a press release. I don’t see any need to bitch about that, though you should take what’s said with a grain of salt.

What you do need to bitch about is when press releases are reprinted or quoted from without context. Ideally, you want a news story about a scientific development to include comments from people not involved with the study or the lab where it took place. But in the absence of that, the bias of the press release source should be acknowledged. . .

Read the whole thing. And avoid like mad the wrong kind of criticism.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 11:03 am

Posted in Media, Science

Will we ignore the problem until we die?

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I watch in amazement as the US continues to act as though global warming is either (a) a complete fabrication (the position of the GOP and its supporters), or (b) really, nothing to worry about (e.g., Dana Perino, Press Secretary under George W. Bush, claimed that global warming was beneficial because it would lessen dangers of frostbite and the like—this was not said as part of some comedy routine, she was quite serious and apparently believed what she said: and this represents the depth of understanding of the problem in Washington, near as I can tell).

Basically, the US is ignoring the problem and making it worse.

And the problem goes beyond using petroleum. Mark Bittman:

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 10:58 am

Pre-shave soap search: Alternatives to MR GLO

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As you may know MR GLO (Musgo Real Glyce Lime Oil soap) has been hard to find in recent weeks. I have been trying alternatives, and I wrote a report of some of my findings for Recently I discovered the Shaving and Grooming section of the Portugal Online Shop—amazingly, the site claims to have been around since 1249. (Take that, Al Gore!) Business must have been hard for the first several centuries, given the scarcity of reliable Internet connections. Even dial-up would have been a problem.

The Portugal Online Shop does offer MR GLO, and I learn that the company that makes it is Claus Porto, which has Musgo Real as one of its brands. But I also found Glyce Lime Soap from another company, Ach Brito. Compare:

Claus Porto’s MR GLO: Aqua (Water), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Öil, Alcohol, Adeps Suillus, Sucrose, Sodium Hydroxide, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Parfum (Fragrance), Limonene, Sodium Carbonate.

Ach Brito’s Glyce Lime Soap: Aqua (Water), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Öil, Alcohol, Adeps Suillus, Sucrose, Sodium Hydroxide, Rizinus Communis Seed Oil, Parfum (Fragrance), Limonene, Sodium Carbonate.

I can’t help but note a certain degree of similarity between the two—and I used Ach Brito’s soap as my pre-shave soap this morning: very like MR GLO, though lighter in color. Both bars weigh 165g. MR GLO is €6.90 ($8.79); Ach Brito’s Glyce Lime soap is €2.90 ($3.70).

(FWIW, found on the same site: Musgo Real shaving cream, 100ml for €11.75; Ach Brito Lavanada shaving cream, 100g for €4.49 and Confiança Top Secret shaving cream, 125g for €4.75.)

I find this extremely interesting. I also have a bar of Ach Brito’s Glyce Classic Soap, also 165g for €2.90. Ingredients:

Aqua (Water), Cocos Nucifera ( Coconut ) Oil, Alcohol, Adeps Suillus, Sodium Hydroxide, Riciunus communis (Castor) seed oil, Sodium Carbonate, Parfum (Fragrance), Cinnamal, Eugenol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Hydroxycitronellal, Isoeugenol, CI77491 (Iron Oxides), CI77492 (Iron Oxides), CI77499 (Iron Oxides).

So if the lime oil (I assume that’s the Limonene in the ingredients for MR GLO and Ach Brito’s Glyce Lime Soap) is a problem, here’s a possible alternative.

I also purchased:

Confiança – Redondo Glycerin Round Soap – 125g – €2.25

Aqua (Water), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Öil, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Adeps Bovis, Sucrose, Sodium Hydroxide, Alcohol, Glycerin, Parfum (Fragrance), Cinnamyl Alcohol, Citronellol, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Geraniol, Limonene, CI 17200.

Confiança – Valeiro Pre-Shave Exfoliating Soap – 130g – €4.19

Sodium Palmate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Aqua, Palm acid, Parfum, PEG-9, Cocoglycerides, Glycerin, Palm Kernel Acid, Sodium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, CI 77891, Linalool, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional.

I’ll eventually report on these. But you may want to bookmark the site for your own use.

UPDATE: In case it’s not clear, the ingredients lists for the soaps can be found at the links given for those soaps.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2012 at 9:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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