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Health

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Spectre in the Contraption.

“Since time immemorial, humans have traded stories about ghosts and wraiths — haunting presences that are strongly felt but never seen. Mountaineers often report feeling an unseen presence keeping in step beside them…Blanke was seeing the same phenomenon at work in his patient, but with one critical difference: he could turn it on and off.”

In a nifty experiment involving movement-mimicking robots and a brief time delay, scientists uncover a potential neurological basis for sensing ghostly phenomena. “The mismatched sensory and motor information confused their brains…If those…didn’t match up, my brain would revise its perception of reality to account for the discrepancies. Maybe I’m not inside my body at all, it might think. Maybe I’m over there.”

Also, the Cheese is a Trap.

“The researchers had mice run through a maze to get a reward of chocolate milk. The animals could figure out the location of the reward either through sensory cues such as rough or smooth floors, which corresponds to declarative learning. Or, they could discover the reward was always linked to either a left or right turn, which corresponds to procedural learning. The investigators discovered the mice with the human form of FOXP2 learned profoundly faster than regular mice when both declarative and procedural forms of learning were involved.”

Scared and smarter: In an experiment right out of the The Secret of NIMH, researchers discover that mice learn faster after being given a gene linked to human speech. ‘What surprised me most was that the humanized gene actually improved the animal’s behavior rather than messing up the system.'” Remember…Dubya did try to warn us.

Better Napping Through Chemistry.

“But here’s the trick of the coffee nap: sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don’t lead to this so-called ‘sleep inertia’ — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream anyway.”

Citing various recent research, Vox’s Joseph Stromberg extols the benefits of the coffee nap. “So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert.” And just imagine how much more fulfilling a Red Bull-Guinness-Coffee-Nap would be.

Life Everlasting.

“The scientists joined old and young mice for five weeks and then examined them. The muscles of the old mice had healed about as quickly as those of the young mice…The young mice, on the other hand, had effectively grown prematurely old.”

Take that, Van Helsing: Per PBS’s NOVA, research increasingly suggests that transfusions of young blood hold the secret to slowing or reversing aging. “We can turn back the clock instead of slowing the clock down,” said Dr. Toren Finkel, director of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.”

(Unless, of course, it’s all about the jellyfish.)

Outbreak.

“The outbreak — the largest in history — has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and killed at least 672 people, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has no vaccine and no specific treatment. It has a fatality rate of at least 60%.”

Among the most frightening developments in a world full of bad news at the moment: Ebola is running rampant through West Africa, and has reached both Freetown and Lagos, Africa’s largest city (where it was hopefully and quickly contained.) “This epidemic…can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hotspots,’ Janssens said…’we have never known such an epidemic.'”

Still, before you seal the locks on the underground shelter, the general scientific consensus seems to be that, even if the virus does reach here by plane — and it may well — ebola isn’t influenza circa 1918: “This is not a highly transmissible disease, where the number of people who can be infected by a single individual is high. You have to come into very close contact with blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected animals, including people. If you educate people properly and isolate those who are potentially infected, it should be something you can bring under control.”

Also, as far as deadly mutations go, ebola “kill[s] so quickly that I don’t envision there’s going to be a major shift in transmission.” Some small comfort…unless, of course, you’re infected. As it is, per The Onion, a vaccine is “at least 50 white people away.

Microscopic Monets.

“Each ovary of the female fruit fly houses multiple ovarioles or ‘assembly lines’ in which individual egg chambers develop into fully formed fly eggs…In this picture, cross-sections of ten ovarioles from different female fruit flies are arranged with stem cells and early stage egg chambers at the center, and the more mature chambers at the periphery. The nucleus of each cell is stained yellow/orange. The cell membranes are stained blue.”

As written up by Aatish Bhatia at Wired, the winners of Princeton’s annual Art of Science competition are announced. “Among the entries are some wonderful ‘oops’ moments, where an experiment goes beautifully wrong, revealing art where you might not have expected to see it…But most of these submissions aren’t accidents. Many of these pieces reveal form, structure, and beauty hidden at a scale that our eyes can’t perceive.”

A, C, G, T…X, Y?

“While all possible combinations of G, T, C, and A are already in use — AAG for example, creates an amino acid called lysine, and TAA signifies the end of a code of DNA — new letters exponentially increase the number of possible codons and give researchers the ability to recode the genetic framework without needing to rewrite or erase what life has already created. Codons like XYA or TGX, for example, could be programmed to build new types of amino acids, which could configure new proteins.”

In an impressive breakthrough, biologists successfully expand the genetic alphabet of a living organism from four to six, opening up all kinds of possibilities for everything from pharmaceuticals to new life. “‘This is a very major accomplishment in our efforts to inch towards a synthetic biology,’ says Steven Benner, a synthetic biologist at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution who was not involved in the study. ‘Many in the broader community thought that Floyd’s result would be impossible to achieve.'”

Of Mice and Men.

“‘People have not paid attention to this in the entire history of scientific research of animals,’ says Jeffrey Mogil, a pain researcher at McGill University and lead author of the study. ‘I think that it may have confounded, to whatever degree, some very large subset of existing research.'”

Sorry, Lenny: A new study finds a potentially problematic issue for decades of research: Mice are scared of men (or males of any species). ‘If you’re doing a liver cell study, the cells came from a rat that was sacrificed either by a man or a woman,’ Mogil says. As a result, ‘its stress levels would be in very different states.’ This, he says, could have an effect on the functioning of the liver cell in that later experiment.”

Rdng is Fndmtl.



“[W]hat Spritz does differently (and brilliantly) is manipulate the format of the words to more appropriately line them up with the eye’s natural motion of reading. The ‘Optimal Recognition Point’ (ORP) is slightly left of the center of each word, and is the precise point at which our brain deciphers each jumble of letters. The unique aspect of Spritz is that it identifies the ORP of each word, makes that letter red and presents all of the ORPs at the same space on the screen. In this way, our eyes don’t move at all as we see the words, and we can therefore process information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.”

Whoa…I’ve read about kung-fu. An intriguing new app aims to turn everyone into speed readers. “Spritz is about to go public with Samsung’s new line of wearable technology.”

“The Blood Harvest.”

“‘Every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using LAL,’ PBS’s Nature documentary noted, ‘as do surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices.’ I don’t know about you, but the idea that every single person in America who has ever had an injection has been protected because we harvest the blood of a forgettable sea creature with a hidden chemical superpower makes me feel a little bit crazy. This scenario is not even sci-fi, it’s postmodern technology.”

In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal unearths the amazing secrets, and industry, surrounding horseshoe crab blood. “The thing about the blood that everyone notices first: It’s blue, baby blue…The iron-based, oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules in our blood give it that red color; the copper-based, oxygen-carrying hemocyanin molecules in theirs make it baby blue.”

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