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By fnord12 | November 17, 2008, 10:21 AM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Evolution Not Just the Result of Random Mutations

The research, which appears to offer evidence of a hidden mechanism guiding the way biological organisms respond to the forces of natural selection, provides a new perspective on evolution, the scientists said.

The researchers -- Raj Chakrabarti, Herschel Rabitz, Stacey Springs and George McLendon -- made the discovery while carrying out experiments on proteins constituting the electron transport chain (ETC), a biochemical network essential for metabolism. A mathematical analysis of the experiments showed that the proteins themselves acted to correct any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations and restored the chain to working order.

"The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a 'blind watchmaker'?" said Chakrabarti, an associate research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton. "Our new theory extends Darwin's model, demonstrating how organisms can subtly direct aspects of their own evolution to create order out of randomness."

Read the rest here.

Does anybody else get a little warm, nostalgic feeling when they read a non-textbook that calls the mitochondria the "powerhouse of the cell" and talks about ATP? *sigh* It almost makes me giddy.

One very important point the article stresses:

The scientists do not know how the cellular machinery guiding this process may have originated, but they emphatically said it does not buttress the case for intelligent design, a controversial notion that posits the existence of a creator responsible for complexity in nature.

Not that the opinions of scientists hold any water with ID pushers. Especially when the scientists have conceded 2 points:

  1. it's a very complex process that's being "guided" on some level

  2. and

  3. they don't know how it's happening

Obvious answer - God did it. Duh.

By min | November 13, 2008, 3:20 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

I Want Bionics!

Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a bionic contact lens.

"Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside," said Babak Parviz, a UW assistant professor of electrical engineering. "This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it's extremely promising."
There are many possible uses for virtual displays. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle's speed projected onto the windshield. Video-game companies could use the contact lenses to completely immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. And for communications, people on the go could surf the Internet on a midair virtual display screen that only they would be able to see.

"People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about. Our goal is to demonstrate the basic technology and make sure it works and that it's safe," said Parviz, who heads a multi-disciplinary UW group that is developing electronics for contact lenses.

I have 2 problems with this.

  1. They are testing them on rabbits. In this day and age, we can't simulate eyeballs to the point where we know it's at least safe enough for a human being to put it on their eyeball for short periods of time? We need to subject furry rodents to the tests?
  2. The article states "Movie characters from the Terminator to the Bionic Woman use bionic eyes to zoom in on far-off scenes". Besides the Bionic Woman being a tv show and not a movie (unless you count the made for television reunion movies), the Bionic Woman never had bionic eyes. That was the 6 Million Dollar Man. The Bionic Woman had a bionic ear with which she could hear everything. Unless, ofc, they're referring to the new Bionic Woman show where basically everything she has is bionic. Considering the show blows so much, i really feel it ought not be counted. Also, not a movie.

By min | November 11, 2008, 3:46 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

The Good News: We've Found a Potential Cure For AIDS

The bad news: it might kill about 30% of you.

The startling case of an AIDS patient who underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia is stirring new hope that gene-therapy strategies on the far edges of AIDS research might someday cure the disease.

The patient, a 42-year-old American living in Berlin, is still recovering from his leukemia therapy, but he appears to have won his battle with AIDS. Doctors have not been able to detect the virus in his blood for more than 600 days, despite his having ceased all conventional AIDS medication. Normally when a patient stops taking AIDS drugs, the virus stampedes through the body within weeks, or days.


...[R]esearchers discovered that some gay men astonishingly remained uninfected despite engaging in very risky sex with as many as hundreds of partners. These men had inherited a mutation from both their parents that made them virtually immune to HIV.

The mutation prevents a molecule called CCR5 from appearing on the surface of cells. CCR5 acts as a kind of door for the virus. Since most HIV strains must bind to CCR5 to enter cells, the mutation bars the virus from entering. A new AIDS drug, Selzentry, made by Pfizer Inc., doesn't attack HIV itself but works by blocking CCR5.

About 1% of Europeans, and even more in northern Europe, inherit the CCR5 mutation from both parents. People of African, Asian and South American descent almost never carry it.

Dr. Hutter, 39, remembered this research when his American leukemia patient failed first-line chemotherapy in 2006. He was treating the patient at Berlin's Charite Medical University, the same institution where German physician Robert Koch performed some of his groundbreaking research on infectious diseases in the 19th century. Dr. Hutter scoured research on CCR5 and consulted with his superiors.

Finally, he recommended standard second-line treatment: a bone marrow transplant -- but from a donor who had inherited the CCR5 mutation from both parents. Bone marrow is where immune-system cells are generated, so transplanting mutant bone-marrow cells would render the patient immune to HIV into perpetuity, at least in theory.


Caveats are legion. If enough time passes, the extraordinarily protean HIV might evolve to overcome the mutant cells' invulnerability. Blocking CCR5 might have side effects: A study suggests that people with the mutation are more likely to die from West Nile virus. Most worrisome: The transplant treatment itself, given only to late-stage cancer patients, kills up to 30% of patients. While scientists are drawing up research protocols to try this approach on other leukemia and lymphoma patients, they know it will never be widely used to treat AIDS because of the mortality risk.

Although it's not likely to be used as a treatment, it's a major breakthrough in treatment and eventually a cure. I was starting to believe that all these foundations who claim to do research to find cures for diseases (cancer, aids, etc.) weren't doing jack since the money's in the treatment, not the cure. As they say, the last thing we cured was polio. Mebbe it's still true. Afterall, this was discovered in Berlin, not the States.

By min | November 11, 2008, 3:36 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Compressed Air Vehicle

Next in the wave of futuristic, alternative fuel cars - the Air Pod.

Shiva Vencat heads the United States operations of M.D.I. under the name Zero Pollution Motors. "We initially designed the car to run only on compressed air," he said. "But people had an issue with the range of 50 to 60 miles. The heater, which can burn ethanol, vegetable oil or other fuels, warms up the air, increases its volume, and extends the range. It has a viscosity sensor so it can adjust to whatever fuel you put into it."

Mr. Vencat said the six-passenger, fiberglass-and-foam-bodied air car will sell for $18,000 to $20,000 in the United States. He added that M.D.I. has more than 300 investors and has sold the rights to build 40 plants around the world. He envisions a network of small $20 million factories, each building cars at a rate of one every half hour. Plants in the United States will open in late 2010 or early 2011, he said, with the first possibly located in Newburgh, N.Y. Then again, back in 2000, Mr. Nègre said he would be building cars in 2001.

Zero Pollution Motors claims that the new and improved air car can now leapfrog any known battery technology. The company's Web site says, in fact, that its pneumatic vehicle can travel 848 miles (with the equivalent of 106 miles per gallon) on one tank of air, though an asterisk indicates this is "estimated performance and subject to change."

It reminds me of the Isetta that was featured in the musical Funny Face (i think the Germans nicknaming the Isetta the "coffin car" kinda says it all).

On the one hand, it seems ideal for short trips to the supermarket or to pick up your takeout. On the other hand, it sounds pretty shady that you could run a vehicle on compressed air alone. As the commenters have pointed out, where are you getting the energy to compress the air in the first place?

By min | November 3, 2008, 8:30 AM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

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