Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A military frame of mind.

US Military looks into modifying soldier mindset.

An amazing and powerful concept, this kind of product is nothing new, rather the delivery system has just become efficient and invisible. The idea of an isolated 'fear gene' sounds a bit too science fiction for my tastes, but that aside, the ethical implications of breeding 'fearless' people is pretty shady at best and outright destructive otherwise.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Riding on the Flu-tails

Over at Rice University scientists have hit upon a new target in the flu wars. Antiviral research is a dense field, given that most screening isn't target specific, mostly because we know so few targets. Identifying this pocket is just the first step, though. Finding a molecule that can get down in there and disrupt the pocket as a viable drug is a whole other flu-tainted enchilada. Still, it's a big step in the right direction, and allows replicon-based screening to move forward with a much more powerful filter on potential compounds. As to whether such a pocket is a drugable target, well, that's like, a whole other flu-filled burrito, or something.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lepidopterous Weapon

Butterfly as the hammer of Intelligent Design.

This lovely vignette shows just how awesome nature can be in complexity yet still be without an intelligent purpose. One supposes the IDer claims this is all God's plan, as is his usual finicky and chaotic nature. As usual, God's actions are a mystery that are not to be discovered but to be worshipped.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Torcetrapib: Down in Flames

As you might have heard, Pfizer yanked torcetrapib out of the pipeline this weekend, just two days after the brass had hailed the new lipitor/torcetrapib hybrid as the crown jewel of the new product profile. The ramifications are unsettling to say the least. With Lipitor set to come off patent next year, there's a huge gaping hole in Pfizer's portfolio and there appear to be few projects with the legs to fill the gap in the short term. Feel free to look over the technical details.This comes on the heels of Pfizer announcing a large cut to its sales force, as well as as-yet-unannounced cuts across the entire company in January. I have a feeling it's going to be an atrocious new year for my pals over in the Ann Arbor campus

The Future!

Take a look over at New Scientist where they asked 70 scientists what the next big breakthroughs will be over the next 50 years.

Some of my favorites: Machine-Brain interfaces, Unified Particle Theories and Conquering the Fear of our Mortality.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sick of waiting their turn.

Check out this awesome video from the Planet Earth series showing a variety of parasitic fungi.

At one point, I wanted to be a mycologist. These species were a primary reason for that interest.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

World's First Computer: Pretty Awesome.

Scientists have been using modern technology to examine The Antikythera Mechanism, generally regarded as the world's first computer.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Abstract of ongoing research.

Much like in the natural world, we often see bits of technology developed independently, and it appears here once again we see a second, albeit eventually aborted genesis of computing technology. Makes me wonder what else might have been lost along the way.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mannequins on planes

TSA testing out backscatter X-ray security.

Seems like a leap into the movies, but as the article states, this technology has been around for quite a while. Biologists have been using X-rays to characterize protein structure for almost 50 years now, going back to when John Cowdery Kendrew won a Nobel Prize for having characterized the structure of myoglobin, the key protein that binds oxygen in the muscle tissue.

It feels vaguely Max Headroom-ish.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Funky Robots

Team builds Robot Snail

This really intrigues me as this idea of locomotion is getting closer and closer to a true biomechanical style robot. Snails and other gastropods don't exactly have the most efficient means of getting around - a good 70% of their energy is put into making that slimy trail, but I guess it beats sitting in one place. I'm told the V 2.0 that's soon to be unveiled can climb walls.

NASA'a MSL Helicopter-themed

Great images, and a wild idea. Leonardo would be so proud. Hopefully this lander can overcome some of its predecessor's shortcomings. Then again, it might meet up with some Giant Fantasy Robots.

I've always loved new innovations in robots. Recent memory reminds me of 2003's KAZ, a car my brother still enjoys mocking. Still, it's these crazy robots that pave the way for great things like iPods, power steering, self-checkout and automated high-throughput robotics. We should have an army of fantasy robots, hopefully lead by a benevolent Mack Truck.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The UnPoisoning

Scientists engineer edible cottonseeds.

This idea, of course, is nothing new. Humans have been pacifying the awesome chemical arsenal of plants for tens of thousands of years. Many of the great foods we eat today - tomatoes, almonds, all sorts of peas and mints originate from highly poisonous wild types.

The real implication is cotton is a plant grown in many third world nations with agrarian economies. This kind of dual purpose where a plant could serve as both a source of protein, clothing and of course, the ability to trade such things for money could have powerful impact in our increasingly small planet. Imagine a plant than can grow in the most desolate of mountain ranges or brutal of deserts and still provide dietary nutrients, substrate for clothing, heck maybe even shelter.

Once again, Science rules.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Spokes of Saturn a product of lightning.

I'm reminded of a hundred 'artist interpretations' of the various planets in my childhood, and the 'expert' who claimed they were authentic photographs. Still, it's cool to see the planets appear to be much wilder than any rendering we previously envisioned.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More Godspotting, tongues-ing and sensational Science-ing

This Slate article outlines some great points about the Sensationalism of Science in the mainstream media. In essence, the New York Times reported on what is becoming a trend of MRI scans to determine if there's some correlation between various observed neural patterns and various behaviors, in this case, speaking in Tongues, or the idea of being puppeted by God.

Much like Engber, I'm rather skeptical that a positive response means something in this design. Showing a contrast in the brain between two behaviors does not bring God into manifest in Science, and it's a dangerous position to take in any experiment that correlation equals causation, to say nothing of the mammoth leap that's being intimated here.

The brain is a couple billion neurons inside a bone suitcase and what goes on in there is all but certainly what governs individuals. While suggesting that religious experiences are influenced beyond that tissue and a dualist attitude about self (a body and soul) are ubiquitous in our species, it flies in the face of everything we objectively know about the brain. Besides, the religious have been rejecting the data that disproves most religious explanations for centuries, why would they hold any belief in data that would validate their claims? Oh, right.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mom was right about kissing making it feel better.

Component of human saliva may have powerful analgesic properties.

This is the kind of compound Big Pharma would love to get their hands on, that is, if they hadn't already tried to get their hands on it. It's an area that's been rooted to death for pharmaceuticals. Still, it's a neat surprise to see a channel blocker like this turn up right under our noses, so to speak.

Maybe we need to start rubbing snail guts on our wounds instead.

Biological Bulkheads

O'er at Nature there's a great article on ...wait for it... The Origin Life. Practically an ultimate question in itself, the article suggests that our known data points towards Life as we know it being inevitable in the progression of our universe. In essence, in order to bleed off a lot of free energy, life needed to form to consume it. I'm simplifying it even beyond what the article already has, but are we (a big 'we') just an auxiliary valve to keep the whole place moving along?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Food goes in, poo comes out.

Check out the Cloaca machines. An amazing setup of metal and plastic to mimic what evolution gave us millions of years ago. Part art, part engineering, this kind of device has a beauty of its own. From there, as pointed out by Jonah at The Frontal Cortex we see scientists taking the idea one step further for application research. Sounds like it will contribute to all sorts of medicinal research down the pipe, pun intended.

I'd love to fill it with a bunch of cheeseburgers and see if it gets all queasy.

Arachnidae Caliente

Check out this article showing that spider venom may interact with ion channels the same way the key molecules in hot sauce do. These molecules, called capsaicins, have been known to cause that delightful burning sensation when you consume the seeds of various peppers like jalapenos, scotch bonnets and the ultimate Scoville-metering habaneros. If you go into any neuroscience or ion channel lab you're bound to find some scorpion venom or other neurotoxic poison, because they can completely trigger or block a response depending on how they arrest cellular activity.

In this instance, it appears the venom is preventative, trying to ward off predators by delivering a burning sensation that might not be too comfortable. Hopefully the spiders aren't trying to ward off hungry birds. Didn't work for the peppers. Sorry, spiders.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Aristotle's Lantern Described

The Sea Urchin Genome Project, an effort to sequence the DNA of one of a very powerful laboratory organism is now complete. You can drown yourself silly in the tapestry of information if you wish. I'm still plugging through a lot of it, the bits on the cellular cytoskeleton and genes that govern its movement are of great interest to me, a project that almost became my thesis in grad school before I succumbed to the lure of proinflammatory molecules. Yes, it was weird.

Red Hot and Rotten

A recent slaughterhouse fire led to the deaths of over 700 pigs. Go here for an amazing slideshow of the cleanup. It is quite, to borrow a word I coined, Gigerlicious in feel. Juxtaposing the organic with the mechanical allows one to draw all sorts of comparisons.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Unblinking Vigliance


I'm reminded of an old Powerman 5000 song, as their retrorocket feel took inspiration from old sci-fi space films:

Spinning complacently in the darkness,
covered and blinded by a blanket of little lives,
false security has lulled the madness
of this world into a deep slumber.
Wake up!
An eye is upon you, staring straight down and keenly through,
seeing all that you are and everything you can never be.
Yes, an eye is upon you an eye ready to blink.
So face forward, with arms wide open, and mind reeling.
Your future has arrived... are you ready to go?

Friday, November 10, 2006

I guess Will Rogers was wrong

Apparently, they still are making new land. A tip of the hat to pal Finback for the story.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Real Interracial Relations

Starting .here, enjoy a wordy but fascinating paper on some cellular bits. Then, go check out John Hawks' blog regarding species introgression. This is the sorta fundamental biology that smashes all the earlier conceptions about stuff like species definition, or what Einstein did to Newtonian physics.

But should it really come as a surprise that humans were crossing those taboo lines compared to other animals? I point to Flavor Flav as evidence

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

But did God put the fossil in our DNA to trick us?

Nature, this old smalltown rag that does some science reporting, has a fascinating article on A fossil of a human retrovirus. Essentially, it was incorporated into the human genome long ago, thought to possibly have a hand in tumor formation. It's caused a bit of an uproar in the science community, because while this 'Phoenix' virus is rather weak, it presents a potential risk and paves the road for much more dangerous viruses to be resurrected.

So what do y'all think?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Promethean Moment

Via my good pal Espo:

An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong

A fantastic read with ambitious goals. Can science assimilate that territory which has been held so strongly by philosophy and religion for so long?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Back in Black

I'm back! After a busy October full of vacations and business sundry, I'm dusting off the ol' ripsaw to make some boards of logic so that I might barricade the zombies of ignorance! Tis the season.

Stem Cells get the once over at ES conference.

I do a bit o' stem cell culturing in my work, so I'm always on the prowl for new technology and information concerning these hot-button tissue lines. Makes Thanksgiving all the more merry.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A finger in the butt for hiccup panacea!

There's not a whole lot to say, but I'm tickled (not in that way) that this made it into a scientific journal.

Digital rectal massage cures hiccups.

Who'd like to repeat this experiment for validity's sake?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Two Steps Behind

Ripped from the NYTimes: Conspicuous increased levels of C-reactive protein in the lower class. This cracks open a door of research that's probably very fascinating and socially uncomfortable, but it would be nice if someone would go kick it in.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Diablo Flavor

From Molecule of the Day:

The Devil's Flavor Wheel.

Not sure what the differences between 'farty', 'fecal' and 'eggy' are, but you get the idea.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hippos love explosives.

Back in the day my brother and I used to play a decent amount of Dungeons and Dragons, one of the games we played being the Cosmofantasy, Spelljammer. It had it's own neat quirks, and I was reminded of our good times after reading this bit on creepy looking hippos over at Archy. The Giff, giant Hippo-men with an affection for firearms were one of my brother's favorite races to spin into the nightly fun, and I can't help but think these findings would fit perfectly in those themes.

Or maybe it was just King Hippo from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! Hard to say.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

How would you like someone to poison you?

In the tail episodes of my beloved Arrested Development it is revealed George Bluth had a penchant for sending poison muffins to his enemies, but just the first two, the other twenty-three were copycats. But it tickles my fondness for the best comedy ever when I stumbled upon this article in Nature. Does some folks' disdain for vegetables like cauliflower, brussel sprouts and others that contain the molecule phenylthiocarbamide, a compound that plugs into the TAS2R receptor in the taste buds. Molecule of the Day has some neat commentary on these embittering substances.

Discriminating poison is a vital part of the taste sense, if not its most essential. Wild almonds contain a high amound of toxin yet it was important for early adopters to roast the nuts to remove the threats such as prussic acid, better known as cyanide, a tasteless, odorless and potent poison.

Still, both green vegetables and nuts provide easily available sources of all sorts of vital nutrients, and one would be hard-pressed to turn these down or hand them over to competitors.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Visceral Reactions

Via Mind Hacks: Cadaver Video Dissections! As a graduate student, I had a chance to assist a good pal of mine in directing the cadaver lab for the A&P section of the nursing degree. An old chestnut I like to spin was how a dead man can make you so sore, since working a bone saw or manipulating the body to different positions is a physical workout. Anyways, not for the faint-hearted.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Brainmeats Geography

This God Spot article was all good and fun if you happened to read a few weeks back. I especially like the idea of trying to recreate these holy experiences, though the data suggest the setup was probably too ambitious to begin with.

Brain geography has always fascinated me ever since I saw a PBS special on it as a child, where a doctor would poke someone's exposed brain with a latexed finger and produce some Three Stooges like result. In fact, I find brains so cool, my attractive graphic designer wife and I snapped up one of these for the coming haunting season. Fitting eh?

More interestingly and more concise is the work linking action and cognition of that action, as biting the peach is almost like tasting sweetness. That is, this mirror behavior that the brain likes to conjure for us is probably a whole lifetime of work for several research groups.

But finally, it seems everyone I know has had one of these, be they in the form of extreme paranoia, religious experience or the delusion of being visited by ghosts. Mine usually rise in the form of lucid hallucinations between delta periods of sleep, I suspect my subconscious is usually prompting me to work through something.

Delicious opiate molecules await us all!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tripoli Six

Declan Butler, Nature reporter extraordinaire, has put the call out regarding this story of philanthropic medical workers facing an unjust execution in Libya. It's a particularly unsettling story but I think Butler frames it well as how global reaction might be were these American doctors and nurses.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Exercise Gods

Exercise is something I hold pretty dear. While a child I was instilled with a rather shallow yet broad tutorial as to why the practice was important, and later found personal subjective reasons as to why it benefitted my lifestyle. Here's some more objective material.

Certainly they all are excellent points but I'm partial to highlight 1, 4 and 6 as the ill affects of these are chronic, long term issues young folk rarely consider.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Humans - Freak Animals

A recent exchange with my pal Finback stirred up some talk about how weird humans are compared to the rest of the mammals, if not the rest of the higher vertebrates. Here today we see research suggesting were freaks in our own human family tree. This graphic gives a nice evolutionary comparison of us and our cousins which can cause all sorts of consternation. While the research here tries to separate us with our lack of brow ridges and other facial features, I'm curious as to the sexual practices of Neanderthals and whether they are as bizarre as our rituals. Anybody know where I could dig that info up? I wonder if there are any of those latent Neanders out there I could probe about their sexy thoughts.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The most delicious invasion this Fall

I admit it. I've been rather obsessed with the crab news. Bioinvaders are nothing new. Here in Michigan we've dealt with old pals like lampreys who quickly made themselves at home in our freshwater bastion when the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed. On their heels (or rather, in the hulls of boats) came the zebra mussels. I won't even get into the issues surrounding the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle, that's a whole other enchilada I'll serve to you in the future. Both have multiplied to high levels with no natural predators and no viable economic contribution. I hear lamprey isn't the best eatin' and for all the algal filtration that might be attributed to zebra mussels, they squeeze out the natives and permanently change the ecological landscape due to anthropogenic impact. The latest news on bioinvasion our regional area is the events of the somewhat perverse Redneck Carp Tournament. Details of the actual event are pretty hilarious, such as using one's face to catch ten pounder fish.

The Dungeness crab (with the delightful Latin name of Cancer magister) is a voracious and practically an omnivorous eater, which could spell serious threats for all sorts of fauna in the Atlantic ocean. Apparently only males are caught for food so the fact this fugitive was one of my boys at least leaves the possibility that this lone crab just escaped a restaurant or was released by humans too full to eat another.

I love the crabs and crustaceans in general. Their hulking, armored bodies coupled with their ponderous walk has always delighted me. I spent a good part of last year watching The Deadliest Catch, and on an upcoming trip out to the West Coast I plan to sample as much multi-legged animals as is served on my plate.

Is it time to panic that we have another bioinvasion on our hands? Probably not, but given our track record, it's bad news, Scrapper. By the time we find conspicuous evidence of the invaders, they're everywhere.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cancer Gangs and Supressor Tradeoffs

Earlier this week research in my backyard have proposed game theory applied to cancer cells.

This kind of cooperation reminds me of slime molds and their ability to aggregate from independent Slimy Slime Molds. These guys are generally the lone ranger types until the environment changes and it becomes advantageous to have a little slimy sex, which involves maturing into fruiting bodies and releasing spores. In this scenario, not all the cells pass their genes on to the spores, so someone's getting screwed despite all the teamwork. Typical.

In the tumors, one of the major steps precancerous cells need to overcome is recruiting a rich blood source, through signaling molecules like VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) so perhaps you're a precancerous cell but just can't get that rich blood capital. But your wingman has got you covered! He's paid your tab! I can just see the tumor being represented by some sort of wolfpack/Hell's Angels/Charlie's Angels type treatment.

On the other side of the tumor wars, there's this neat nugget: Fight Cancer or Get Old. Apparently the p16 gene plays a dual role where it plays part of the tumor suppression cascade and also combats wear and tear in the body that results due to ageing. As one gets older, perhaps we stock up on p16 the way a retiree reorganizes his finances into more useful and predictable investments. So it's quite the biological Catch-22 at the moment. No p16 and you might get cancer. Have p16 and your tissues won't rejuvenate. Still, this work seems to kick the door open on a whole new knot we get to try and tease apart.

The Whitestest of Diseases

It appears Tuberculosis, sick (dur hur hur) of taking a back seat to youngbloods like AIDS and West Nile, is coming back with a new attitude. I recall freaking out the first time a professor of mine mentioned he had TB, it was a disease I had so little grasp of outside of that little pronged disc they would poke me with for no apparent reason. The new strain is being labeled 'XDR-TB' which we all know adding an X indicates a superpowered version of the previous redeco strain. To quote a pal, it is monsterious, and that X can be so sexy and dangerous. Still, SexyDanger-TB has its own merits...

Bonus Round: Some technical reading for those so inclined. I'm involved in some ATP-biosynthesis targeting, and it's a topic that gets kicked around our pathogen-oriented projects quite a bit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Attempting to start a science blog and synthesize a better understanding of what it is I do in the bowels of my chemical genomics lab. We'll see how that goes.