Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Behold, a female robot created in Korea:

"EveR-1 is designed to resemble a Korean female in her early 20s, according to a KITECH press release. Fifteen motors underneath her silicon skin allow her to express a limited range of emotions, and a 400-word vocabulary enables her to hold a simple conversation.

The android weighs 110 pounds (50 kilograms) and would stand 5 feet, 3 inches (160 centimeters) tall—if she could stand. EveR-1 can move her arms and hands, but her lower half is immobile."


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Rationalizations of a Chocoholic

WHEELING, W.Va., May 25 (UPI) -- A West Virginia professor has good news for chocoholics -- eating chocolate improves memory, reaction time and cognitive ability.

Dr. Bryan Raudenbush of Wheeling Jesuit University led the study, "Effects of Chocolate Consumption on Enhancing Cognitive Performance," Reliable Plant reported. He found that subjects who had consumed either milk chocolate or dark chocolate 15 minutes before they were tested performed better than those given carob or nothing at all.

"These findings provide support for nutrient release via chocolate consumption to enhance cognitive performance," Raudenbush said. He plans to present his findings at a professional conference this summer.

As if we needed any more reasons to eat chocolate....
I spoke with a nutritionist this week-end who eats chocolate every day. She considers chocolate as "the tip of the food pyramid. But without the tip, it wouldn't be a pyramid!".

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Blistering Attack on Shingles

WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has licensed a new Merck & Co. vaccine that reduces the risk of shingles.

Zostavax is licensed for those over age 60. About one-fifth of the population is believed to develop shingles.

The disease of the nervous system is caused by the chicken pox virus, varicella-zoster, which lies dormant in the nervous system for decades after an attack. Symptoms include painful blisters that can last for weeks.

"This vaccine gives health care providers an important tool that can help prevent an illness that affects many older Americans and often results in significant chronic pain," said Dr. Jesse L. Goodman -- Director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research -- in an FDA news release.

Zostavax was tested in a trial involving 38,000 subjects and found to reduce the risk of shingles by about half in those over 60. The risk reduction was greatest for those age 60 to 69.

Since people who get shingles have already been infected with the varicella zoster virus, this vaccine seems to inhibit the virus from coming back out of dormancy.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Monkey Business

There's a story in the Science section of the New York Times today that describes an exciting new discovery in AIDS research. It seems that the primate version of the HIV virus (SIV) has been found in chimp droppings in the forests of Cameroon, Africa. This is important because, for the first time, the virus has been discovered in chimps outside of the laboratory, in their natural habitat. The prevailing theory of chimp-to-human transfer of SIV/HIV is that it occurred in West-Central Africa. African hunters ate infected monkeys and eventually carried the virus to Kinshasa, Congo, where the first human case of AIDS was documented in 1959. The virus spread from there to cause havoc worldwide.

More studies need to be done to fully convince the conspiracy theorists that HIV was not a government program designed to wipe out specific segments of the US population.

Friday, May 19, 2006

No Guts, No Glory

Why fret about this?

Mad Cow Threatens Violin Strings
ROME, May 19 (UPI) -- Italian violin string-makers say it makes no sense to ban the use of animal guts for their industry. The European Union has banned offal and other animal parts to stem the spread of mad cow disease. "This ban makes no sense. You can't eat a violin string," Mimo Peruffo of the Aquila company, the top Italian string-maker, told the Italian news agency ANSA. He said violin strings would pose no danger to humans because they are covered with silver-coated copper wire in the production process. Peruffo said he has been forced to turn to Argentina for raw materials -- the only country deemed danger-free by the EU.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

At Your Cervix...

There is a new cervical cancer vaccine called Gardasil that is awaiting FDA approval. The vaccine works by immunizing women against the strains of human papilloma virus that are associated with cervical cancer. The vaccine is also being tested in men. In clinical trials, Gardasil was successful in preventing 100 per cent of cases of high-grade pre-cancer and non-invasive cancer associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) strains Type 16 and 18, which cause cervical cancer. It could potentially prevent 350,000 cases of cancer over the next 20 years.

Conservative groups have opposed the vaccine with the concern that it would encourage sexual promiscuity, as seen in this Campus Progress article http://tinyurl.com/rdgrj:

Shawna Peays, who works at an abstinence-advocacy organization called the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas, says the vaccine is hardly a safeguard and could confuse teens who think it protects against all HPV strains and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

“The HPV vaccine would not provide protection against the 20+ other known sexually transmitted infections…nor would it prevent nonmarital [sic] pregnancy,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The Medical Institute will continue to strongly promote abstinence for unmarried teenagers as the healthiest lifestyle choice.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization that “champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization,” said in a recently published Fortune article that he won’t let his daughter get the shots because it sends the wrong message about pre-marital sex.

Mr. Perkins, what sort of message does it send to your daughter about the right to self-determination over one's own body and the right to benefit from life-saving medical advances? If your daughter engages in premarital sex, even once, do you want to condemn her to a potentially fatal disease as a consequence? It seems just a bit harsh, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nothing to sneeze at...

Gay or Straight? The Nose Knows

By Laura Blackburn

ScienceNOW Daily News
9 May 2006

When it comes to responding to pheromonelike chemical signals, lesbian women are much more like heterosexual men than their straight counterparts, according to a new study. The findings could lead to new insights into the neural basis of sexual preference and behavior, say the researchers.

Pheromones are the ultimate aphrodisiacs. Many animals use the sex-specific scents to sniff out their partner of choice. The pheromones of female moths, for example, can attract a mate from several kilometers away. Whether the substances also play a role in human mating is less clear. Potential candidates include AND, a progesterone-derived molecule found in men's sweat, and EST, which is related to estrogen and found in pregnant women's urine. But neither has yet met the strict criteria that would define it as a pheromone.

Nevertheless, the compounds do seem to have sex-specific effects. In response to a whiff of AND, heterosexual women and homosexual men respond in the same way: The front part of their brain's hypothalamus, which plays a role in sexual behavior, starts to rev up. Heterosexual men, on the other hand, don't respond to AND. For them, EST hits the spot (ScienceNOW, 9 May 2005).

Neurologist Ivanka Savic-Berglund of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues wondered how lesbian women would respond to these substances. The team gave 12 lesbians a sniff of AND and EST and used positron emission tomography to measure blood flow in their brains. They then compared these results to those obtained from their previous studies on heterosexual men and women.

Much like heterosexual men, lesbians responded to EST but not AND. The way that EST activated the hypothalamus, however, was not identical in the two groups. In other words, the brain's response to female compound differed slightly depending on whether a man or woman was doing the smelling. This contrasts with the results of the previous study, in which the brain's response to a male hormone (AND) was almost exactly the same, regardless of the smeller. Thus, says Savic-Berglund, while gay men and straight women have an essentially identical response to an attractive hormone, gay women and straight men differ slightly in this response. This discrepancy may indicate that homosexuality does not work the same way in men and women--at least on a neural level, the team reports online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This is a very nice study, with clear findings" says neuroscientist Sandra Witelson of the de Groote Medical School at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Further research will allow scientists to unravel whether the relationship between sexual preference and brain response is learned or "hard-wired" into the brain and will give valuable insight into the differences between male and female homosexuality, she says.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Take that to the bank!

Genetic Savings & Clone is a company that will clone your favorite kitty for $32,000.


A cat clone is identical in physical appearance to the donor cat, but has not shared the same life experiences, eaten the same catnip, chased the same mice, nor spent 15 years in your home. Those who are looking for an exact replacement of a dearly departed cat may be disappointed.

In my opinion, that extra $32,000 would be better spent on something else.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Seeing Double?

Who said there's no such thing as a push-me-pull-you? And is it just me, or do you see a biblical image where the hindquarters connect?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Chimeras--The "Yuck" Factor

The Arezzo Chimera, 4th century B.C.

A chimera is a single hybrid organism composed of cells that have different embryonic origins (Nagy and Rossant 2001). For example, a human cardiac patient receiving a pig valve replacement could be considered a chimera, of sorts.

I was inspired by a recent ethics lecture by Dr.
Robert Streiffer from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He discussed attitudes toward chimeras, including the fears that some people have about the technology going too far.

Pictured above, is an experiment in which investigators tried to fabricate an external human ear using the mouse as an "incubator" (Cao, et al. 1997). It looks fairly gruesome at face value (pun intended, as usual). Hence, it has a "yuck factor" that may make it unpalatable to some people, simply due to its appearance. Yet, when you consider that this experiment may lead to novel ways to repair tissue damage in humans, one would hope that the potential benefits would outweigh the yuckiness.

Aural atresia, from e-medicine.com

Dr. Streiffer put it very simply: "Given a choice between a mouse with something on its back that looks like a human ear, and a small child with no external ear at all, the only decent choice is the one that favors the child."

Monday, May 01, 2006

Laptop, anyone?

The caption is a bit small to read on this photo from the early 1950's. But it says that "Scientists from the RAND corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "home computer" will look like in the year 2004. However, the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also, the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use."

It's so cute, you just want to pinch it....