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Archive for May, 2014

Coaxing Stem Cells: Where is that manual…

VCR Diagram

Breaking news: Stem cells don’t come with user manuals. That may be a little daunting for those of us who remember the VCR with its blinking 12:00 that you could never seem to get rid of. But thanks to some persistent scientists, the secrets of stem cells are finally coming out and a new discovery just helped solve a huge piece of the puzzle. All this thanks to a new technique that coaxes stem cells [which can become any cell in the body] to take the first step to specialization.


Mind Control: Influencing Choice


Ever change your mind? Well now scientists can do it for you, at least that is the latest by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of Leuven in Belgium. By artificially stimulating a brain region believed to play a key role in learning, reward and motivation they were able to induce monkeys to change which of two images they would choose to look at.


Genetics and Schizophrenia

Light and Dark

Like most mental illness, schizophrenia sucks. Once a friend of mine lost an eye to his schizophrenic brother during a serious episode. That sort of thing will tear a family apart and while he harbors no ill will towards his brother, because the state pressed charges [and he was the defendant] they cannot see each other while he is in prison. When it is not so severe, you would never know he could do something like that, schizophrenia sucks.


Diet Soda and Weight Loss


A quick google for the term diet soda will show you a wide range of “health issues” related to drinking diet drinks. But thankfully a new study sheds light on the truth behind the diet soda and weight loss myth.


Solar Freakin’ Roadways- 5 Concerns Analyzed


Solar Roadways, I know most people have been in support of the new blossoming technology and I’m happy to be a part of that [at least in support]. However, no matter where I turn there are a handful of common concerns that are brought up against the technology. Well today I wanted to go over five of the main concerns. I also wanted to take a peek into what the future could look like, with solar roads.


Mohawks and Autism- An unlikely connection


With how far science has come, eureka moments are becoming harder and harder to have. Most scientists will be lucky if they have one in their lifetime. So yes, rare, but then again, so is finding mice with a mohawk like hairstyle. As it turns out, both of these things happened just recently.

The connection came in a lab at NYU Langone Medical Center, months after an international team of neuroscientists bred hundreds of mice with a suspect genetic mutation tied to autism spectrum disorders.


Land of the Free, Home of the Afraid?

smartphone science

Let’s take a Loony quiz! Do you believe any of these statements are true? Global warming isn’t real. GMO food is the devil. Organic and all natural are better. Science is just a belief like religion. Evolution is just a theory, so other theories should be taught along side. Vaccines do — or can– cause serious health concerns. If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might be suffering from a lack of scientific understanding, but don’t worry you’re not alone.


Building with Batteries

low battery

Wires, we hate them. It’s okay you can say it, wires are… ugly. I hate throwing out the big “u” word like that, but facts are facts. So what if I told you, soon you might be finding power in unusual places. In fact, your whole home could be used to store energy.

This all thanks to a new type of supercapacitor that can take a licking and keep on ticking [I’ve always wanted to say that]. A supercapacitor so durable, it could be made into laptop casing, cars, buildings, just about anything. This new tech comes out of the [incredible] Vanderbilt Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory. 


No pain, no [weight] gain?!


Pain is… well a pain. As it turns out pain does more than just hurt. A study just released shows that chronic pain not only lowers life expectancy, but can also slow the metabolism.


[Virtually] Free-range Chicken

Why can’t you eat soup in the Matrix? Because there is no spoon.

Dumb joke, I know, but I have another one for you. What do you call a free-range chicken that is mass produced? Caged.

Welcome to the matrix… for chickens. With the popular consumer demand for free-range chicken, but not enough space for all those chickens, what do you do? Like the modern society we are, we turn to technology to solve the problem.


Solar Freakin’ Roadways!

Artist's rendition of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho - Home of Solar Roadways Graphic design by Sam Cornett

Artist’s rendition of downtown Sandpoint, Idaho – Home of Solar Roadways
Graphic design by Sam Cornett

America loves it’s oil. Screw renewables, right? Because let’s face it, the world can be cleaned by someone else. As easily upset pretentious apes, us humans have few comforts in the changing world like fossil fuels. Our old friends coal, gas, and oil, they would never hurt us; they kick started the industrial revolution!

Let’s face it folks, global warming isn’t coming… it’s already here. We have study after study showing the effects. It’s time to ditch the medieval technology and move toward the future. Solar has been a good option, wind being another good choice. Both have drawbacks of course, no one likes wind farms and the solar farms don’t fare too much better.


Weight Loss Science Fiction: The Paleo Diet

Paleo diet meme

You, yes you! Put down the Big Mac, come on you can do it. Now, let’s get back to our roots. It’s time to go hunter gatherer on your ass. In fact, you might as well dust off your loincloths and pull out your clubs, because paleo here we come.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fluoride


“Have you ever seen a commie with a glass of water?”

In the 1964 Stanley Kubrick film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, it’s a question that leads to a conspiratorial rant about the dangers of water fluoridation; one you might be likely to hear today in fact.

It is 50 years after the making of the movie and water fluoridation still seems to be a hot button topic that draws nuts from just about all walks of life. Unfortunately, as with most pseudoscience, the controversy is manufactured and as a consequence, misinformation is spread.


A New Way to Read the Brain [in 3D!!]


What if you were trying to learn language, but you could only see one letter at a time. Nothing before that letter, nothing after that letter, just a single letter. You can imagine how frustrating something like that might be, that is exactly what scientists have been dealing with when it comes to the brain. But a new innovation is changing that and with it, opening a whole new realm of possibilities.


Snail Venom and Pain Relief

sea snail venom

There is no pain like nerve pain. Unfortunately my sister and me both know all too well how bad pain can actually get, her especially. After desperately trying everything from morphine derivatives to a combination of calcium and sodium channel blockers we had exhausted all attempts at keeping her pain at bay. That is where the story would’ve ended too, if it wasn’t for the sea snails.


Herpes and Brain Tumors: Or What happens in Vegas?


Herpes, it isn’t just a pest that follows you home from Vegas, not anymore anyway. New research has found a [not so] new use for the virus. Harvard Stem Cell Institute [HSCI] scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have repurposed the herpes virus to help fight brain tumors. 

The investigators reported that by trapping virus-loaded stem cells in a gel and applying them to tumors they significantly improved survival in mice with glioblastoma multiforme, which is not only the most common brain tumor in human adults, it also happens to be the most difficult to treat.


MORE Science Fact and Fiction Behind Fat Loss

More Fact and Fiction

I was shocked by the huge response to my first post on the science behind weight loss, so much so that I wanted to do a second post in the series if you will. With all the fad diets, weight loss schemes, and superfoods I will have plenty to write about that is for sure.

Just like part one in the series, I’m first going to go over some of the science fiction in fat loss. I hate pseudoscience and so before I go on a rant about that let’s just jump right in.


Tearing down the [Blood Brain Barrier] Wall

The blood brain barrier, it can be very picky about who [or what] can come in.

Ever wonder why you don’t see too many illnesses that affect the brain directly? You can give your head a nice pat and congratulate the blood brain barrier for keeping the bad out and letting the good in. Unfortunately the blood brain barrier can be, well a barrier, or more like a bouncer– especially when it comes to new drugs that could potentially help treat issues with the brain.

The blood-brain barrier helps that finicky brain of yours maintain the delicate environment that it needs to thrive. There’s just one problem: The barrier is so good at what it does, it won’t let medicines pass through. Like most things with the brain, we don’t know enough about it to control it for our benefit.


Science Fact and Fiction behind Fat Loss

weight loss

Do you have some of that unwanted belly fat? Do you get nervous that you will exceed the weight limit in an elevator? Do you want to eat everything in sight, but still lose the weight? Too bad, that is marketing, not science and if you want to lose the weight science can help, not so much the guy talking on the screen.


Climate Talks and Game Theory: A better Approach

climate change

Pretty much this…

Climate change talks, it’s like yelling at a wall and hoping it becomes a window. For over two decades, members of the United Nations have tried to forge an agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Thankfully a new paper published offers a different approach to the problem using game theoretical modeling. (more…)

Cheaper, Cleaner Biofuel: A Temporary Fix to a Big Problem


Algae, the other, other biofuel

Biofuels seem to be all the rage these days, not a bad thing since that whole global warming thing [that people are scared to admit is real] is going on. It is then, very unfortunate that every biofuel or even “green alternative” has an achilles heel the size of Texas keeping it from becoming our fossil fuel replacement.

[Useless Loony Fact: I shudder every time I have to use the word “Green” referring to anything other than the color. Oh and Jesus roundhouse kicks a panda in the face, so save the pandas and stop using the word green for anything but the color]


Deepwater Horizon Oil spill: The Environmental Impact

It was a disaster that ended up as one of the worst oil spills in modern history, the Deepwater Horizon didn’t just leak, it gushed. The depth of the well made the spill extremely difficult to repair and it required an incredible engineering feat to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, the problem was not immediately resolved when the leak was stopped. Between 492,000 – 627,000 tonnes of oil were dumped into the ocean, but it wasn’t just oil that was dumped, 500,000 tons of natural gas was also dumped into the Gulf of Mexico offshore waters over during the period of 84 days.

With the seemingly insurmountable cleanup effort, many were probably breathing a sigh of relief over the reports following the disaster that naturally-occurring microbes had consumed much of the gas and oil.


Genetically Modified Food: Myth and Legend


Vermont, not quite the armpit of the United States, but not a place I would live [personally speaking of course]. Still, looking at history Vermont was the first to ban slavery [good], but now they are the first to do something else too, they are looking to ban all food that is genetically modified if it is not properly labeled [bad].

This bill is set to start a wildfire across the US with food scares, like any science scare, is easy to start and hard to stop [if at all]. Genetically modified food has helped cushion the ever growing population and the need to feed that population. People will [undoubtedly] argue otherwise, but all food is genetically modified one way or another.


Using Genes to Boost Brain Power: Live Longer, Think Better


Does your family have a history of living to a ripe old age? That may bode well for you! Not only does a gene linked to longevity seem to help you live longer, it also makes you smarter. The study I am referring to was partly funded by the National Institutes of Health and offers a new way to boost brain power.

So what genes are we talking about– well right now it seems that people with the gene KLOTHO have improved brain skills such as thinking, learning and memory regardless of their age, sex, or whether they have a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Here is where it gets even more interesting though, increasing KLOTHO gene levels in mice made them smarter, possibly by increasing the strength of connections between nerve cells in the brain.


Colony Collapse Disorder and Pesticides, Or Save the Bees!

Die hard, the bee version.

Bees, who needs them? They are scary, they sting and they seem to find magical ways into your securely locked home. I’m not bias, even though I run screaming like a little girl when I see one… okay maybe a little. But as it turns out we need the bees!! Who knew, right? After the colony collapse that came out of nowhere and could not be explained [at the time] everything from global warming to government conspiracy was being blamed. But now a new study helps strengthen the cause of the collapse.

Two widely used insecticides– in the class called neonicotinoids [for those of you who think you will be tested on this at the end]– appear to do significant damage to honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly in bad winters [hello global warming, I’m looking at you].


New Study Explains why MS Affects more Women


MS affects women almost four times more often than it affects men.  The reasons are unclear, but a new study is the first to associate a sex difference in the brain with MS. The newly identified difference between the brains of women and men with multiple sclerosis (MS) offer not only insight into why, but also may offer a course of treatment.

Looking at mice and people that have MS, the researchers found that females susceptible to MS produce higher levels of a blood vessel receptor protein  [S1PR2]. than males and that the protein is present at even higher levels in the brain areas that MS typically damages.


A [Real life] Doomsday Prediction


Fire, brimstone, four horsemen, doomsday seems pretty bleak in the biblical context. From a scientific perspective, global warming and the need for fresh water will probably plunge people into chaos, which seems like a more likely doomsday model. Unfortunately there are other ways in which the world could come crashing down around us, today I wanted to shed light on just one of those ways.

The most plausible [in my opinion] doomsday scenario comes not from an external force but from our imagination. Let me explain, most money that we deal with is just a placeholder, a social construct, a number on a screen and when dealing with the stock market, it gets even fuzzier, you can essentially make bets for money on [you guessed it] money.


We can build it better: The First Semi-Synthetic Organism

DNA typewriter

Not anymore…

Normally I do one post a day, but I could NOT wait to share this. Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have engineered a bacterium whose genetic material includes an added pair of DNA “letters,”  not found in nature. The cells of this new bacterium can even replicate the unnatural DNA bases more or less normally, for as long as the molecular building blocks are supplied to the bacterium.

I don’t even really know where to start with this, so let’s start with the basics, normally in nature, everything, everywhere [that we know of] has four different letters in it’s DNA, A-T, G-C, that is is and they only go together in that order A with T and G with C, never will you see a T with a G for example.


Is that Good Science? A Guide to Cutting through BS


Part of getting an education isn’t about learning what to think, it is about learning how to find good information. When it comes to scientific literature [especially on-line], it’s hard to separate the good from the bad if you don’t know what to look for. With the emergence of pseudoscience in the mainstream I think it’s important to go over a few red flags when it comes to claims being made.


Turning Back the Clock: Arteries

Fountain of youth

In what appears to be Fountain of Youth month here at Lunatic Laboratories, we have yet another way to turn back the clock, this time specifically for your arteries — at least that’s what University of Colorado Boulder are hoping with the new study they recently released. 

When researchers gave mice [the human age equivalent of 70 to 80 year olds] water containing a specific antioxidant [MitoQ] for four weeks, they found that the arteries of those mice performed like arteries from mice with an equivalent human age of just 25 to 35 years.


Testosterone and your Heart: Don’t believe the hype

Senior couple cycling along bike path in woods

Testosterone, the “big T”, you can’t turn on the TV without someone talking about it. In fact, despite the bad [and almost completely false] press about the effects of testosterone, the amount of prescriptions in the US has tripled since 2001. Rightfully so, anyone on testosterone therapy will tell you how incredible the effects can be on day to day life.

Unfortunately testosterone therapy has it’s own smear campaign [analogous to the anti vaccination movement], surprising considering the number of people on TRT [Testosterone Replacement Therapy] I know. People throw around terms like roid rage [which is not real] when TRT is brought up, or depression, which as the evidence shows is the exact opposite of what TRT does [can you see my frustration yet?].


Another Road to the Fountain of Youth

Photo credit goes to: Robert F. Bukaty, AP

Recently on Lunatic Laboratories we reported on a new path to the fountain of youth that had been found [at least for mice]. Well today, we are happy to announce that another road to the fountain of youth has been potentially discovered. This time the discovery was made by Harvard Stem Cell Institute [HSCI] and Stanford researchers. 

Being the over achievers they are, they released not one, not two, but three studies showing that substances in the blood of young mice rejuvenate the brain and muscles of aging mice. Two of those three studies, by Harvard researchers were released early online just yesterday, but won’t be published until later this week in the journal Science. The two are similar to the third [albeit not connected], Stanford study that suggests the same reversal of aging also happens to their hearts.


5 Reasons Why Science is Losing the War

Science is losing an unseen war and like any war it isn’t without its casualties. The true body count won’t be evident, not at first. This isn’t a war over land, or freedoms, it is a war on ignorance, a fight for the future. Science has brought us a level of comfort and connectivity we have never really seen. Unfortunately that connectivity is being used against us, allowing people with dubious motives to shout from the rooftops bold faced lies and a call for people to follow.


The Fountain of Youth [Coming to a store near you]


The fountain of youth, as it turns out, isn’t so much a fountain, it’s a new drug. There has been countless dollars thrown at anti-aging research, some producing better results than others. So when scientists at northwestern medicine in collaboration with Tohoku University in Japan, released a new study I am sure there was more than one happy person seeing the results.

The team, building on previous research, have managed to extend the life of accelerated aging mice more than four times longer than the control group. All thanks to an experimental drug — not only did it extend the life, it also protected the lungs and cardiovascular system from aging.


Gender Bias: 178 girls still missing for going to school


Roughly two weeks ago [April 16th] about 240 girls were abducted from a school in north-eastern Nigeria. From reports the scene played out like something from a B list movie, six flatbed trucks roll up to a school, armed men storm the building, and just like that, they were taken. Unfortunately Liam Neeson won’t be saving the day.