We're a little crazy, about science!

Archive for April, 2014

How a Mother’s Diet Shapes a Child

cravings-run

Peanut butter and pickles, yummy… well maybe if you are pregnant, speaking of which, [see how that works?] researchers from the MRC International Nutrition Group, based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine have shown a link between a mother’s diet before conception and the effect it has on a babies genes. 

The study, which was done in rural Gambia, where the population’s dependence on locally grown foods and a very different seasonal climate impose a large difference in the eating habits between rainy and dry seasons, gave researchers the ability to look specifically at the how diet would affect the genes in an unborn child.

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Silicon Brains: Not as Cuddly as the Real Thing.

Well played brain, well played.

Well played brain, well played.

Are you real? What is ‘real’, more of a philosophy question than a scientific one, but what if a computer worked like your brain? What if, one day the line between computer and human were blurred? That day might be coming sooner than you think.

Currently there are two major problems with designing a robotic brain. The first is hardware, the brain is an incredibly complex thing that we don’t even fully understand, even if we could theoretically produce something close to that work of art there is that second problem– The software, designing software to take advantage of that type of power would take something short of genius to do, especially if it were going to be something easy enough that you or I could use.

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What do those words really mean?

organic_produce

Certified by whom?

Organic, all natural, chemical free, theory, toxins, all words that get tossed around a whole lot for sure, especially in advertising. But do you really know what these words actually mean? More importantly is that source giving you a definition a reliable one– probably not.

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Radiation is for the Birds… at least at Chernobyl

The control room of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant at Pripyat. Photo credit goes to: RIA Novosti

The control room of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant at Pripyat. Photo credit goes to: RIA Novosti

Twenty eight years ago yesterday brought about the worst nuclear disaster to date, I am [of course] talking about Chernobyl. Chernobyl was supposed to be the flagship of a peaceful atomic energy program by the USSR. It’s easy to think with everything going on in the Ukraine now, that the incident is far in the past and is never coming back, neither of those is the case.

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Could a Vaccine for Cancer be a Reality?

child_vaccination

How do you take out an unstoppable enemy? You don’t take the enemy head on, you take out the supply lines and the rest will take care of itself. This is not a new idea, but this not so new approach to war is being taken to an enemy on a new battlefield, your body.

Cancer in most cases can be an unstoppable force, collateral damage from chemotherapy can be, and in most cases is unacceptable. That was the thinking from a group of researchers from the Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Their idea, to attack the supply lines instead of the enemy directly. 

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Dear Science, I’m so sorry…

child-scientists

Dear America,

It’s a sad fact that being intelligent is now the “uncool” thing to do. Wanting to participate in learning and actually knowing how the world works can mean being bullied or worse. The backlash of this movement [I assumed] would be felt strongly starting with my generation [as an 80’s child]. I was unfortunately incorrect with this assumption, maybe it started a lot earlier. (more…)


Quantum Gravity Coming Soon… Maybe.

einstein

Don’t like quantum mechanics? Don’t worry Einstein didn’t either. In fact, not only did Einstein not like quantum mechanics, neither did his general theory of relativity. Which was okay… sort of. Quantum mechanics involves things that are really small, while relativity dealt with things that are really large and never the two shall meet, that is, until they do.

It’s not Einsteins fault that the two theories don’t play well together. They are both mathematical formulas, there is no malice involved. Einsteins world was beautiful and solid, he wanted to use math to form a world made of granite, smooth, shiny and perfect. Quantum mechanics on the other hand is uncertain, that is a fundamental principle, it’s more like wood, it’s not pretty, rough and textured.

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Mantis Shrimp, is there anything you can’t teach us?

Image from a webcomic [yes there is more!] by- TheOatmeal

Image from a webcomic [yes there is more!] by- TheOatmeal

A big tenant for starting Loony Labs was an idea that nature provides us with answers to some of the biggest technical problems. So I am proud to announce some work done outside of the lab based on a true warrior of the animal kingdom, the one and only mantis shrimp.

The mantis shrimp for those of you who did not read the awesomely done comic by TheOatmeal has some of the most unique talents in the animal kingdom. Namely it’s tenacity for killing things with it’s powerful clubs.

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Is being a human conservationist selfish?

Earth-Day-2014

Earth day, it’s a lot like new years. You make resolutions that you will never follow, promise yourself you will attempt to do things you really don’t want to, and try to do without that thing you know you can live without, but can’t seem to do it.

Yesterday was Earth day, so happy belated earth day, I guess… So how about the state of the planet then? It’s the only one we have, it is the place we call home, and unless you want to deal with chest bursting aliens [hey, I’ve seen the movies] then we are stuck here.

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Alzheimer’s? Forget about it!

Just one of many horrible diseases of the brain.

Just one of many horrible diseases of the brain.

Let’s face it, diseases that affect the brain are some of the hardest to deal with. Anyone who’s lost someone to alzheimer’s knows exactly what I am talking about. Looking at someone you love and watching them slip away without any visible difference can be heart wrenching!

However, there is a new hope! Physicists [of all things] from Michigan State University published an article in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, that might make alzheimers and associated diseases a thing of the past.

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Biofuels better for Nature? Maybe not!

Food or Fuel? The great debate, but ethanol from corn is not the savior it was thought to be.

Food or Fuel? The great debate, but ethanol from corn is not the savior it was thought to be.

Depending where you are in the world you might notice signs touting the 5% ethanol in the gasoline you are buying. The idea is that biofuels [currently primarily made from corn] are better for the environment. As it turns out that might not be the case.

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that one particular source of biofuel, corn residue [the stuff left over from corn production], should not and cannot be used to meet the new US federal mandate to ramp up ethanol production and [ideally] lower greenhouse gas emissions.

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New Discovery turns Neuroscience Upsidedown

This is a computer image of three neurons showing differences in myelin. Credit: Daniel Berger and Giulio Tomassy/Harvard University

This is a computer image of three neurons showing differences in myelin. Image credit goes to: Daniel Berger and Giulio Tomassy/Harvard University

Sometimes finding out that something established isn’t true is more groundbreaking than finding something new. That is exactly what happened this week when it was found out that the covering that is on all nerves, isn’t really on all the axons in the brain.

Myelin, a fatty covering on nerves, protect the signals being sent and keeps the signals from “getting their wires crossed”. Much like the plastic coating on electrical cords, without it you wouldn’t get very far before you had a serious problem.

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Brains Anti-Distraction System Found

ADHD

So once my Grandmother… oh wait sorry, I was distracted while typing. As it turns out I’m not the only one. But there is hope, two Psychologists at Simon Fraser University discovered an active suppression mechanism to help you focus on what you want and avoid being distracted by irrelevant background information. 

McDonald, a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience, and other scientists first found this system back in 2009. The problem is that little was understood about what they found and how it worked to help us ignore visual distractions. 

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1 in 20 Misdiagnosed by Doctors: 10 things you can do about it

DoctorA new study out this week says that 1 in 20 adults will be misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics in the US. Thats roughly 12 million people each year, if that statistic isn’t frightening enough about half of those “have the potential to lead to serious harm.”

claimtoken-5351bbcca216b

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Five [Medical] lies the TV told me

TV lies Fad diets, miracle weight loss super foods, and vaccines! Oh my! We live in the information age, a time where webMD will tell me what kind of cancer I am suffering from today and Dr. Oz will be more than happy to give me advice on the 5 superfoods I should include in my diet so I can live to see a healthy 160. (more…)


Self-Healing Composites- The Trick is Biology

3D microvascular networks for self-healing composites: Researchers were able to achieve more effective self-healing with the herringbone vascular network (top) over a parallel design (bottom), evidenced by the increased mixing (orange-yellow) of individual healing agents (red and green) across a fracture surface. Photo Credit: University of Illinois

3D microvascular networks for self-healing composites: Researchers were able to achieve more effective self-healing with the herringbone vascular network (top) over a parallel design (bottom), evidenced by the increased mixing (orange-yellow) of individual healing agents (red and green) across a fracture surface. Photo Credit: University of Illinois

Let’s face it, things wear out. Car tires go bye-bye, seals get worn, and Jets need constant upkeep to make sure that cracks in the fuselage [the main body of an aircraft] don’t become points of failure. Thanks to a new technique right out of the labs at the University of Illinois, things may still wear out, but they will also self heal.

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Penicillin 2.0 – Reviving an Old Winner

Chuanbing Tang (center) led the research team, which included graduate students Jiuyang Zhang (left) and Mitra Ganewatta. Photo credit goes to: University of South Carolina

Chuanbing Tang (center) led the research team, which included graduate students Jiuyang Zhang (left) and Mitra Ganewatta. Photo credit goes to: University of South Carolina

Penicillin, it was one of the great feats of science and has saved countless lives. Antibiotics have been fighting the war on infections since before most of us were even alive. But since the 1960’s they have been fighting a losing battle, with the rise of new ‘super’ bugs penicillin and friends just doesn’t seem to cut it.

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Trauma Follows Generations

The consequences of traumatic experiences can be passed on from one generation to the next. (Credit: Isabelle Mansuy / UZH / ETH Zurich)

The consequences of traumatic experiences can be passed on from one generation to the next. (Credit: Isabelle Mansuy / UZH / ETH Zurich)

Did you serve in the military? Maybe you witnessed something traumatic at home, or you had a bad accident. It turns out that if it is extremely traumatic and sticks with you, chances are it will get passed on to your children. The findings come from a new study from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich and they even have some ideas as to why it gets passed on. 

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Silly Putty and Stem cells? What a combo!

Cultured the stem cells on ultra-fine carpets made of microscopic posts. All from a key ingredient in Silly Putty. Credit: Ye Tao, Rose Anderson, Yubing Sun, and Jianping Fu.

Working with stem cells can be a little unruly, it’s sort of like asking a five year old what they want to be when they grow up– then making them stick to that plan. However, researchers have found a key piece of the puzzle needed to help coax stem cells into the adult cells they want and the key, silly putty.

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Global Warming Natural? Don’t bet on it.

global warming

Analyzing the temperature data as far back as 1500 almost completely rules out the idea that global warming is a natural phenomena and that human intervention plays no role. That is the punch line to a new study that was recently released.

The study, published April 6th in the journal Climate Dynamics, offers a new approach to finding a solution to the question of whether global warming is natural, or if it is caused by man. Instead of looking complex computer models of greenhouse gases in order to estimate the effect, McGill University physics professor, Shaun Lovejoy examined historical data as a statistical model to assess the competing hypothesis: that warming over the past century is due to natural long-term variations in temperature.

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The Future of Fusion Funding

fusion

Photograph Courtesy of EFDA-JET

Fusion, the promise of clean, renewable energy has been so powerful that scientists have been chasing the dream for roughly 50 years now. Since the birth of atomic energy and the realization of the immense power hidden hidden in the atom, commercial fusion energy has always been 20 years away.

In one of the most ambitious fusion projects global leaders came together to construct the world’s largest fusion plant– ITER [International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor], in the hopes that scaling the technology to a larger size will be key in producing a fusion reaction that creates more energy than it takes to sustain the reaction.

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DNA nanobots perform in living cockroach

cockroach

Cockroaches, not the cutest thing on the planet.

The six million dollar man has nothing on these cockroaches. We can rebuild them, better than they were before. We have the technology, and as it turns out, we do! While DNA robots may not, in itself be a new thing,a study published in Nature Nanotechnology is definitely not only new, but it’s something to talk about.

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More BIG News for Spinal Cord Injuries

Photo credit goes to: University of Louisville. This photo shows the four participants in the study.

Photo credit goes to: University of Louisville. This photo shows the four participants in the study.

It seems like lately we have been reporting left and right about people suffering from paralysis, and for good reason! Today I’m happy to report even more new research that offers hope for people suffering from spinal cord injury.

In a new study published in Brain [a journal of neurology] researchers used adult patients who suffered different spinal cord injuries. Two had feeling in the extremities, but could not move them, while the other two had neither feeling nor could they move their extremities.

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Grew up disadvantaged? Your genes show it.

 

telomere

Are you constantly stressed? Did you grow up disadvantaged [no judgement here, I did], or maybe you had a nurturing household as a child? As it turns out, we can see it in your genes.

A new study out published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows a strong link between the way you are raised and your genes. The study used telomere length as a marker of stress, then compared it to genetic and environmental cues.

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Zombie Cancer Cells Return from the Dead

cancer cell

Zombies, they are the stuff of movies. But an interesting new study by the University of Colorado Cancer Center shows that sometimes reality mirrors fantasy. The study shows that cancer cells will partially eat themselves in times of distress just to come back to life and divide later on.

Autophagy [from the Greek “to eat oneself”] is a process in which proteins, or other surplus materials in the cell that are not explicitly needed for cellular function are cannibalized in times of stress. What was surprising, in this study we see this process used as a method to survive chemotherapy.

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A New Hope for Spinal Injury Patients

spinal-injury

Why is it that when you break a bone, it heals, but when something happens to your spinal cord, the nerves don’t repair themselves? A new study in the Journal of Nature Communications now helps shed some light on just why that is.

But first a little background, the nervous system is made up of two separate parts, your central nervous system [CNS] which is made up of your brain and spinal cord, everything else is called the peripheral nervous system [PNS].

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New [Free!] Tool Offers Insight into Diseases like Autism

web-3d-brain

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science have just released a high resolution blueprint of the human brain. What makes this particular mapping unique? It shows which genes are turned on and off during brain development at mid-pregnancy, all at an unprecedented resolution.

That isn’t even the best part, the Allen Institute for Brain Science is sharing it’s work with the public for further research by anyone who is interested. This means that you or I can have access to this information, for free, if we want it.

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DARPA wants Biotech Companies

DARPA research

Science fiction… for now.

DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Project Agency] has a long history of making high-risk, high-reward moves. After all, they have helped shape the field for prosthetics, they have been pushing for big battlefield medical advancements and in 1997, they made a large effort to combat biological hazards.

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Scientists cure Muscle Paralysis in Mice

Photo credit: John Carnett/Popular Science - Optogenetics, tested in rodents, can control electrical activity in a few carefully selected neurons.

Photo credit: John Carnett/Popular Science – Optogenetics, tested in rodents, can control electrical activity in a few carefully selected neurons.

Searching for a new way to cure paralysis, a team of scientist has come up with a remarkable and off the wall idea. This discovery comes out of the labs at the University College London. The team, lead by Linda Greensmith, used stem cells and optogenetics to control leg muscles in mice and completely circumvent the nervous system in the process.

For those of you who are not familiar with Optogenetics [and really, why would you be familiar with it?] here is a overly simple rundown of what we are talking about.

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Gene Editing in Live Mice Cures Rare Liver Disease

gene

A chromosome [the “x”] with a DNA strand ‘close up’ in the circle.

Scientists at MIT have successfully used the CRISPR method to replace faulty genes in live mice, curing a rare liver disease. This type of genetic modification has been done in the past, but only in vitro [think petri dish]. Making this a monumental step forward for curing people who are suffering from genetic disease.

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Even more stem cell woes ahead

Stem cell

A few weeks back we reported on the latest stem cell research and the controversy surrounding it. I held my breath, wanting so badly to believe that there was a novel and cheap way to make new stem cells that would be controversy free.

The investigating body involved with trying to separate the mess and determine what may have been accidental, such as the mislabeled images in Nature, which could have been a simple publishing error has come to a decision about the work.

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Did you hear the one about Vaccinations?

doctor office

So a lawyer walks into a Doctors office and offers the Doctor large amounts of money if he can come up with a link between the MMR vaccine and some other problem. Not a very good start to a joke, I know, and if you are looking for a punch line there isn’t one.

Unfortunately this isn’t a joke, it is exactly how the vaccination controversy got started. The only punch line here is children catching preventable diseases and I don’t think anyone is laughing.

Just how did one man single handedly cause so many problems?

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