Archive | Science Quickies RSS feed for this section

Science Quickies: The Universe In A Single Photo, Pink Leopards, Extreme Face Transplant, and Sexy Newt Kidneys

12 Apr

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a new book out, which states his argument on why funding of space exploration is essential. He also did a recent interview with NPR which is definitely worth listening to. In other astronomy news, new models show that we have several “mini-moons” orbiting around us, from the size of a softball to a washing machine. They are hard to spot, but can occasionally enter our atmosphere, creating a brilliant fireball, according to National Geographic. NASA also recently released a new photo, which is essentially our entire universe in a single photo. It’s absolutely beautiful! According to Huffington Post: “NASA recently unveiled a new atlas and catalogue of the entire infrared sky, which includes more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. It is comprised of more than 2.7 million images taken at four infrared wavelengths of light, capturing everything from nearby asteroids to distant galaxies.”

In the world of medicine and public health, a few things caught my attention.
First, a Chinese kid recently sold his kidney in order to raise money for an iPad, and later suffered from renal failure. He only received $3,500 for the organ, which typically goes for $35,000 in the Chinese black market, according to the article.
In a far less depressing story, researched of Lund University in Sweden announced that a vaccine against heart attacks may be available in 10 years. Scientists have discovered a new drug that stimulates the body’s immune system to produce antibodies which prevent heart disease by stopping fat building up in the arteries. Fat buildup can be reduced by 70%, the researchers claim.
A Virginia man has just had the most extensive face transplant in history.

A 1997 gunshot injury left Richard Norris without a chin, nose, teeth, and lips. The face transplant took 36 hours and is the result of a team of 150 medical professionals. According to the article: “Just six days after his surgery, Norris was saying some words, shaving and brushing his teeth. He’s also beginning to get some feeling back in his face.”
Is there a link between burns and cancer? A recent study from the University of Western Australia seems to think so.


A “strawberry” leopard has been discovered in a South African reserve
, the first documented case of its kind. The leading theory is that the leopard has erythrism, which could cause the pink coloration. Also, red-spotted newts have incredibly sexy kidneys. Seriously.  In other news of adorable amphibians, 5 species of frogs have been rediscovered in recent field expeditions on the Congo, including a species of transparent frog. In Indonesia, a new species of wasp has been found, which has several unusual characteristics and is shrouded in mystery.

Advertisements

Boob Quickies

6 Apr

This post was originally about boobs.
And then somehow it grew into some sort of verbose blog monster.

I had set out to write about how my breasts have impacted my life, but that post will have to wait for another day. There has been a lot of controversy in our culture lately regarding women. The concept of being a woman in our culture has been the center of a nasty political war, to the point that even a simple blog post about how awesome boobs are turns into a statement of what it means to be a woman. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. And as a result, I’ve noticed a surge of woman-related content on my usual Internet browsing sites.
This isn’t going to be the deep and reflective post I intended to write. Mostly, it’s because of the research. There is just so much information out there, so many opinion articles, that I really can’t say what hasn’t already been said before. The primary purpose of this blog is to store and share articles that interest me, since I know I will eventually want to refer back to them. So this post is going to be quickie-style.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of boobs.

(Without boobs, where would be store our kittens?)

First off, the cost of being owning a vagina. Jezebel threw together this nice little article outlining the basic cost of owning a vagina, based on the staffer’s personal experience and drug-store prices. Not incredibly scientific, but enough to give you a ball-park estimate and an average idea of all the items needed for proper maintenance. The list doesn’t include pregnancy costs (though it does include pregnancy test, for those trying and those who have the occasional scare). I suppose it makes sense, if the list is the basics. It inspires me to go through my finances and calculate what its costs for me to maintain my own fabulous lady parts. I already know that bras, at about $75 a piece (+/- $10), typically run me $150 to $225 a year. And eventually I’ll have to start getting breast exams, which are another hefty expense.

SMBC, which always makes me giggle, recently released this delightful gem.

Back to the boobs!
The over-diagnosis of breast cancer is one of those things that a lot of women and feminists are still quiet about, because 1) many of them have had a sister/mother/friend/relative whose life was saved by early detection, and they don’t want to admit that such a case may have been due to over-diagnosis and 2) the medical, social, and political implications are too horrifying to think about.



The road of breast cancer is a very difficult one to endure. Chemo saves many lives, but also takes an incredible physical and emotional toll. Chemo is not “just another drug” that can be handed out like aspirin. Its a detrimental drug which should only be given because the other alternative is death. Additionally, mastectomies are essentially an amputation, and emotionally devastating because of how much importance our culture places on breasts. According to social standards, a huge portion of what it means to be a woman is wrapped up in our breasts, and when one is raised in such an environment, losing a breast can result in a huge psychological toll. Many are still in denial, or trying to come to terms with the concept of breast cancer over-diagnosis. But the reports are still out there, and for the sake of our health and our boobs (which are pretty super awesome), this issue deserves to be  investigated further. Diagnostic techniques are improving, and detecting breast cancer with a single drop of blood may soon be possible. However, on a brighter note, a recent discovery gives us hope in detecting the infamous “triple negative” breast cancer, which is considered the deadliest form of breast cancer.


A few more quickies on breast cancer: The first large-scale U.S.-based study to evaluate the link between an injectable form of progestin-only birth control and breast cancer risk in young women. Stick to the pill, ladies.  There is also a link between long-term estrogen hormone use and breast cancer, and a new breast cancer susceptibility gene, named XRCC2, has been discovered.


I few weeks ago I shared the idea that we should all knit out congressmen a vagina, so they will stay out of ours. The idea was conceived by The Snatchel Project. The Internet loved it! I started seeing crochet and knitted uteruses, vulvas, and cervixes everywhere (Even a uterus lamp). But it’s not the first time woman have used yarn to emulate female anatomy. Knitted tits have been used to raise awareness about breast cancer for years. You can even buy knitted bikini tops.

Today Cracked released a delightful article written by Luke McKinney, “The 7 Most Sexist Things Ever Invented For Boobs.” It’s both horrific and hilarious. I would love to see prototypes of some of these inventions, just so I can giggle in horror.

Political slut quickies: John Stewart explains why the transvaginal ultrasound bill of Virginia has enraged women across the country. Ever since Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut on air, woman have rushing to re-appropriate the word slut. Why? Probably because shame has long been used as a powerful tool to silence women. And there was this controversial Doonesbury comic, which was pulled from several newspapers. (Because it’s okay to call a woman a slut and introduce bills infringing on her rights, but not okay to satirically bring attention to it.)


Also, Elizabeth Banks threatens to bleed all over furniture if women are denied access to the pill, and Rick Perry’s facebook page is now buried with woman asking him about menstruation, and updating him of their flow status.

Science Quickies: Cameron’s Descent, Ancient Cousins, Diabetes Cure, Neutrophil Enzymes, and Working As A Post-Doc

4 Apr

Still catching up on sharing and storing all the super-awesome science articles I’ve been finding.

Of course everyone has heard of James Cameron’s recent decent to the deepest point of the ocean. This is the second such descent, though the previous one was with two people, whereas he descended on a solo dive. National Geographic did a great article on his descent.

Researchers have discovered a treatment which may able to cure most, if not all, cancers.  The drug targets and blocks CD47, a cell protein which tells the immune system to not kill healthy blood cells. But cancers use the same protein to avoid being destroyed by the body. So by strategically blocking the protein, it’s possible to use one antibody to kill all types of cancer tumors.

In more medical news, there are finding indicating that weight-loss surgery may help cure type 2 diabetes in ways better than diet-based weight-loss. While I am a little skeptical of the study’s design, I haven’t had time to dig deeper into it. Regardless, it’s interesting and I’m sharing it now as a reminder to myself to explore it more when I have the time.
(Which is probably never. It will most likely end up on my list of “Things Which I Intend To Do, But Probably Will Never Get Around To Doing.)

Lucy, who is the earliest known bipedal human ancestor, may not have been the only bipedal gal in the neighborhood. My anthropology friends have been buzzing about the recent reports of foot bones from a primitive bipedal human ancestor who existed in the same time as Lucy. According to paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva: “This foot, therefore, provides some of the best evidence that there were different experiments in bipedalism going on during this time in human evolution.” The search for early bipedal ancestors is difficult, as the foot bones are delicate and rarely preserved, so the discovery of these foot bones is exciting for my adorable anthropology nerds.

If you are considering pursuing a science-related Ph.D, currently working on one, or just graduated with a shiny new Ph.D, here’s a handy list of the best places for post-docs to work (as of 2012). One non-science friend was surprised about the middle-class wages. “Why would you spend so much time, effort, and money for a degree where you may only earn $40,000? Shouldn’t you be making six-figures?” I replied that they don’t do it for the money, they do it because we love it. Huzzah for pursuing passions!

new immune defense enzyme has been discovered in neutrophils. Neutrophils are the most common of the 5 main types of white blood cells. They are part of the primary immune defense, and phagocyte bacteria. The discovery of this enzyme, neutrophil serine protease 4 (“NSP4”), may change how we treat over-reactive autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

This is what a neutrophil looks like:

So cute!

And finally, in news of the laughably weird, there are mermaid sightings in Zimbabwe.
(Not science-related, just one of those things I had to share to remind us of what a delightfully odd world we live in).

Microbiology Science Quickies: Coral Herpes, Dangerous Grilling, & Bacterial Communications

2 Apr

Ahhhh! So much science and health stuff to share! My poor web browser is drowning again!

You may have heard that the world’s coral reefs are collapsing, and while there are many theories, we have yet to fully explain why. It’s often assumed that climate change and pollution are the main culprits, and there is probably truth to that.
But now scientists are examining another culprit: a virus.
Particularly, a herpes virus.
From microbiologist Rebecca Vega-Thurber: “We were shocked to find that so many coral viruses were in the herpes family. But corals are one of the oldest animal life forms, evolving around 500 million years ago, and herpes is a very old family of viruses that can infect almost every kind of animal. Herpes and corals may have evolved together.”


That being said, I do not recommend you try to pick up chicks by telling them your penis can vanquish marine ecosystems.

As the days get longer and summer approaches, many people are firing up their grills to participate in the American tradition of consuming charred meat. However, grilling is not without it’s health risks. Along with E.coli and carcinogen formation, the traditional wire grill brush may also make you sick, NPR reports. SOme good news though: the use of antioxidant spices may reduce the negative effects of those delicious fatty meats, especially rosemary.  Additionally, proper grilling technique will typically kill the deadly E.coli o157:H7 strain.

Bacteria are pretty interesting critters that can not only talk to each other, they play prisoner’s dilemma to decide their fate.
“When faced with life-or-death situations, bacteria use an extremely sophisticated version of “game theory” to consider their options and decide upon the best course of action.” Of all the microbiology-related articles I’ve read lately, this is one of the most interesting.

According to Yale University, just the mere presence of a person in the room can cause bacterial levels to spike. When a person enters the room, they stir up bacteria. Says the article: “Many previous studies have surveyed the variety of germs present in everyday spaces. But this is the first study that quantifies how much a lone human presence affects the level of indoor biological aerosols.”

In biochemical news, researchers have captured the first images of vitamin B12 in action. In 3D, no less! Scientists from the University of Michigan Health System and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report they have created the first full 3-D images of B12 and its partner molecules twisting and contorting as part of a crucial reaction called “methyltransfer.” This reaction is vital both human cells and in bacteria that consume carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Such bacteria live in the guts of humans, cows, and other animals, and aid with digestion.

Science Quickies: Mega-Greenhouse, New Cousins, Musical Pi, Super Flu Findings

22 Mar

I’ve been meaning to post these for days now, but life was busy, and I am tired of having dozens of tabs open at once.

NPR talks about a new shift in gender roles as more and more women are out-earning their male counterparts and companions.

A musical interpretation of Pi which is pretty awesome.

An article from late last year detailing how there is evidence of a great lake on Europa, and the possibilities of life there.

Human fossils were found in China that are unlike any others seen. Say hi to a new species, our long lost cousin! The skull was unearthed in 1979, but hasn’t been fully analyzed until now, because sometimes science is annoyingly slow. They have been dubbed the Red Deer Cave People.

You may have heard about the controversy surrounding the debate on whether or not scientists should fully release their findings regarding a mutated “super virus,” created from the bird flu virus. If not, this brief sound bite sums it up nicely.

In environmental and energy news, a vertical greenhouse could make the Swedish city of Linköping self-sufficient. It’s set to open late next year, and hopefully will be a model for other cities.

Doctors Without Borders have released a brief clip explaining how they are tracking sleeping sickness across Africa.

Science Quickies: Wooly Mammoth Clones, Inkjet Cells, Mysterious Dog Illness, Fat Sperm, and Space Vision

16 Mar

Russian and South Korean scientists are competing to see who can clone the first wooly mammoth. I want one. I will name him Charleston, and use his fur to crochet blankets and sweaters for furless kittens.

It’s well known that space travel isn’t very pleasant. After one month in space, astronauts may experience brain and eye damage, causing NASA go assign astronauts “space anticipation glasses.” They are literally sacrificing your eyesight in the name of science.

Bad news for dog owners: 3 major brands of chicken jerky canine treats have been linked to a mysterious illness affecting over 600 dogs so far.

Scientists decided to print live cells using a standard inkjet printer. Because we can.

Recently studies have shown that sea turtle migration patterns are far more amazing than previously thought.

And finally, NPR reports that fatty foods are bad for sperm. All you hopeful fathers, put away the bacon until after conception.

Science Quickies: Space Trains and Shiny Dinosaurs, Birth Control Myths and HIV vaccines.

11 Mar

Sweet zombie Jesus, we could be building space trains!!! Why, oh why, do we not have space trains yet? They’re trains that send things into goddamn space!!!

Ancient dinosaurs were not only feathered, but shiny! Pigment-containing organelles show that the Microraptor had black iridescent feathers, much like a crow. It also had four wings, and was about the size of a pigeon. I am in favor of bringing these guys back, as it would make feeding birds in the park a lot more entertaining.

A new study shows that in America’s HIV “hot spots,” African-American women testedt five times higher then the national average. The US hot spots were Atlanta, GA, Raleigh-Durham, NC, Washington D.C., Baltimore, MD, Newark, NJ, and New York City, and the tested age range was from 18 to 44.

In light of the recent contraception funding, Heina of Skepchick wrote a great article outlining 7 common birth control and abortion myths.

Scientists, with their admirable persistence, made a huge step forward in HIV vaccine development. Keep it up, darlings!

Checking into a hospital soon? Make sure you go to one whose infection prevention programs are led by a director who is board certified in infection prevention and control, as such hospitals have lower incidences of MRSA infections. This is one of those studies that seems like a no-brainer and waste of time and resources, but it’s often the very obvious studies that are the most cited; A good reminder that we can’t simply assume things. We must have the evidence to back us, even on the obvious things.