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Imagine That! Plants Passing Genes to Each Other!

Oh, if only somebody could have foreseen such a thing happening. Somebody call Mendel. Link

A genetic-modification technique used widely to make crops herbicide resistant has been shown to confer advantages on a weedy form of rice, even in the absence of the herbicide. The finding suggests that the effects of such modification have the potential to extend beyond farms and into the wild.
The researchers also found that the transgenic hybrids had higher rates of photosynthesis, grew more shoots and flowers and produced 48-125% more seeds per plant than non-transgenic hybrids -- in the absence of glyphosate.

Making weedy rice more competitive could exacerbate the problems it causes for farmers around the world whose plots are invaded by the pest, Lu says.

Certainly, no environmental groups were warning against just such an occurrence. Asshats.

By min | August 20, 2013, 10:40 AM | Liberal Outrage & Science | Comments (0)| Link

Suburban Sprawl Might Be the Way to Go

Which works for me cause i really don't like living too close to people. I get all subconscious that they can hear what i'm saying and fnord12 shushes me when we have the windows open and argh.


Modern planners are building compact cities, believing tightly controlled zones are better for the environment. New research suggests the opposite: urban sprawl might be a better option, with solar power fitted to suburban houses and the adoption of electric cars transforming the energy needs of a city.

Research in Auckland, New Zealand - the largest urban area in the country and a city built for the age of the motor car - shows that solar panels fitted to the average suburban home can produce enough power for that household, extra to charge an electric vehicle, and still generate enough watts to export a surplus to the grid.


"While a compact city may be more efficient for internal combustion engine vehicles, a dispersed city is more efficient when distributed generation of electricity by photovoltaic installations is the main energy source and electric vehicles are the principal mode of transport," said Byrd.

The advantages would be a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, long term energy security, and a reduction in city pollution, he said.

I hate being shushed. *pout*

By min | August 13, 2013, 11:26 AM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Hormones in the water supply?

The obesity epidemic is reaching animals, too. Cats and dogs. Sewer rats. And even control mice used in experiments. As the study says (click through the link above for the PDF):

But these factors cannot account for the findings in the laboratory animals that are on highly controlled diets, which have varied minimally over the last several decades. These animals are typically fed ad libitum, so if weight increases are attributable to increases in food consumption (which is possible), it is difficult to understand why animals in controlled environ-ments on diets of constant composition are consuming more food today than in past decades.

The paper goes on:

One set of putative contributors to the human obesity epidemic is the collection of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (endocrine-disruptors), widely present in the environment. Another conceivable explanation is obesity of infectious origin. Infection with adenovirus-36 (AD36) leads to obesity in multiple experimental models and antibodies to AD36 are correlated with obesity in humans. These observations suggest that AD36 and conceivably other infectious agents could be contributing to obesity within populations. Other explanations may include epigenetic-mediated programming of growth and energy-allocation patterns owing to any number of environmental cues such as stressors, resource availability, release from predation or climate change.

Increased body weights among laboratory animals have implications for the outcomes and design of the experiments that use these animals. Among several laboratory animals, it is known that calorically restricted individuals live longer and obese animals have shorter lifespans. This has had implications for toxicology studies in which some researchers have shifted to controlling for reduced lifespan and increased body weight.

As the post i linked to says, caveats apply, but it's certainly interesting and maybe a little scary.

By fnord12 | August 9, 2013, 6:38 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Let's take them at their word

Kevin Drum says, "it's August, and every blogger in the country is having a hard time finding anything to write about. So the Pew survey is getting lots of attention." But this survey is about extending life extension, and living forever is a life goal of mine, so this is more than just summer filler for me (if i have nothing to blog about i should be writing Team America reviews). Drum observes that the majority of correspondents say that the ideal life span is the current standard lifespan, and he doesn't believe them. Now, on the one hand, i don't want to scare scientists into thinking "Hey, we're working on this immortality stuff and the people don't even want it!". But on the other hand, every time the subject of life extension comes up, people start worrying about overpopulation. So if most people want to decline the life extension technology, that's fine with me.

By fnord12 | August 7, 2013, 4:31 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Petri Dish Burger

So i guess this is becoming more and more of a reality. They're doing it for all the same reasons i'm vegan; as the article says, "Breeding animals destined for the dinner table takes up about 70 percent of all agricultural land", and with that comes additional use of oil and water, major pollution (animal waste and fertilizer), etc.. Finding other sources of protein is a great way to reduce all that resource use.

I'm curious if this would be accepted any more than, say, soy burgers are, though. Anyone who's been vegan for the past 15 years or so (all six of us) knows that vegan burgers have come a long way. From burgers that tasted like dry newspapers to burgers that tasted like mushy newspapers to Boca patties and now Gardein, which as far as i'm concerned is amazing. So my first reaction to someone devoting all this R&D to growing burgers in a lab is "Why bother?". But i can also admit that being away from real meat for 15 years has moved the goal posts for me and someone going directly from real meat to Gardein is not likely to be as impressed.

One advantage these guys have is they recognize that you have to have some fat in the product. "Taste is the least (important) problem since this could be controlled by letting some of the stem cells develop into fat cells". One big problem with a lot of vegan products (not Gardein so much) is that they're also serving people who think that all fat is bad, and they're also afraid of salt, so you get these dry tasteless products. Again, it's gotten a lot better. But since hippies won't be the primary target market, the lab meat people can skip all of that.

But the question remains: will people eat this? I'm fairly certain i wouldn't, despite it really addressing all the problems i have with eating meat. The gross-out factor seems too high to me, but again, with 15 years away from meat there's an additional gross-out factor for me than there would be for a current meat eater. I did think this was a hilarious juxtaposition, though:

"I'm a vegetarian but I would be first in line to try this," said Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn't involved in the burger research.

The other possibility is that when this starts becoming mass produce-able (they're still a ways away from that) it could just start showing up in stores without any indication that it's different from other meat. That's already true of genetically modified vegetables so i don't think it's unlikely that the same might become true of lab produced meat.

By fnord12 | August 5, 2013, 9:06 AM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Are We Programmed to Cooperate?

Are you familiar with the prisoner dilemma scenario? You and another person are "suspects" who are separated and each must choose to either inform on the other suspect or keep your mouth shut. The consequences of your decision are as follows:

  1. If only one of you rats out the other, that person gets set free and the other guy gets 6 months.

  2. If you both decide to rat on each other, you each get 3 months.

  3. If you both keep your mouth shut, you both get 1 month.

You have no way of knowing what the other guy's going to do. What do you decide? From watching episodes of Law & Order, i know that the best thing for all parties is to keep your damn pie hole shut, despite the seemingly good return on being the first to spill the beans. And it seems like our genes feel the same way.

Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research.

This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first.


Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct.

"You might think that natural selection should favour individuals that are exploitative and selfish, but in fact we now know after decades of research that this is an oversimplified view of things, particularly if you take into account the selfish gene feature of evolution.

"It's not individuals that have to survive, its genes, and genes just use individual organisms - animals or humans - as vehicles to propagate themselves."

"Selfish genes" therefore benefit from having co-operative organisms.

Now, here's where the possible programming to make us more likely to cooperate comes in.

[R]esearchers, who looked at a large sample of people over a month-long period, found that happiness is associated with selfish "taking" behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless "giving" behavior.

"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the authors of the study wrote. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need." While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, "Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy."


"For our ancestors, loneliness and adversity were associated with bacterial infections from wounds with predators and fights with conspecifics." On the other hand, if you are doing well and having a lot of healthy social connections, your immune system shifts forward to prepare you for viruses, which you're more likely to contract if you're interacting with a lot of people.

Cole and Fredrickson found that people who are happy but have little to no sense of meaning in their lives -- proverbially, simply here for the party -- have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity. That is, the bodies of these happy people are preparing them for bacterial threats by activating the pro-inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is, of course, associated with major illnesses like heart disease and various cancers.

People whose levels of happiness and meaning line up, and people who have a strong sense of meaning but are not necessarily happy, showed a deactivation of the adversity stress response. Their bodies were not preparing them for the bacterial infections that we get when we are alone or in trouble, but for the viral infections we get when surrounded by a lot of other people.

According to the first article, cooperating ensured our genes surviving. Did our genes basically make it more likely that we'd choose to cooperate and help others by making us feel physically better if we did? And poorly if we chose to be selfish, triggering a response in our bodies as if we were "enduring chronic adversity", as noted in the second article?

Looking at our modern society, i believe the threat of heart disease, cancer, and depression is no longer an effective deterrent to being selfish, not in the face of immediate, euphoric gratification.

When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don't see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy...They think that they're smart, and that the rest of us are dumb.
-- Yossarian, Catch-22

By min | August 2, 2013, 3:24 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

Further Study on Farms and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria


Beginning in January 2012, Smith and her research assistant, Dipendra Thapaliya, spent a year collecting weekly swabs and meat samples from local grocery stores, including this one. They found S. aureus on nearly every type of surface. Five per cent of grocery carts carried MRSA. Of meat samples, 30% harboured S. aureus, 11% had S. aureus resistant to multiple antibiotics and 3% carried MRSA. The data, which have not been published, also showed that pork products had some of the highest levels of MRSA, whereas meat labelled 'antibiotic free' had little or none. This mirrors what Smith and her colleagues found in samples from farms across the state.

Now i have remember to wipe down the shopping cart when i go to the supermarket.

By min | August 2, 2013, 12:24 PM | Science | Comments (0)| Link

My God, It's True!

Sheriff Matt Warren: Did you know, Putnam, more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once - lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety two, it's too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable. -- It Came From Outer Space (1953)

I totally thought they'd just made that up cause this movie was not exactly big on scientific facts. Shows what i know. Link

The researchers found that a temperature rise of one standard deviation -- which, in the United States today, occurs when the average temperature for a given month is about 3° Celsius higher than usual -- increases the frequency of interpersonal violence by 4%, and the risk of intergroup conflict, such as civil war or rioting, by 14%.

Ofc, further down the article, the conclusions made by this study are contradicted. But still, you should watch out for trails of glitter mysteriously leading to your closet. Might be aliens.

A 3°C change is about equal to 5.4°F

By min | August 2, 2013, 11:38 AM | Movies & Science | Comments (0)| Link

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