Epigenetics, Scientific Inquiry and Uncertainty
Posted on September 20, 2014 Comments (0)
Science is full of fascinating ideas. Epigenetics is one area I find particularly interesting. This previous post has a few links to learning more: DNA Passed to Descendants Changed by Your Life.
Angela Saini is one 109 people I follow on Twitter. I don’t see the point in “following” people on Twitter that you have no interest in, I only follow the small number of people that post Tweets I want to read.
In, Epigenetics: genes, environment and the generation game, Angela Saini looks at the confused state of current scientific understand now. It is very difficult to tell if, and if so, to what extent, epigenetic inheritance happens in people.
Professor Timothy Bestor, a geneticist at Columbia University in New York, is far more damning, claiming that the entire field has been grossly overhyped. “It’s an extremely fashionable topic right now. It’s very easy to get studies on transgenerational epigenetic inheritance published,” he says, adding that all this excitement has lowered critical standards.
Related: Epigenetic Effects on DNA from Living Conditions in Childhood Persist Well Into Middle Age – Medical Study Findings too Often Fail to Provide Us Useful Knowledge – Scientific Inquiry Process Finds That Komodo Dragons Don’t have a Toxic Bite After All
Nutrition and Digestion in Horses
Posted on September 18, 2014 Comments (0)
Unlike cattle which have several stomachs (and there own interesting digestion system), horses have only one stomach. Like cattle their natural diet is grass. With feed provided by people, horses can run into issues they don’t experience from their natural diet. Fresh grass is fibrous and slows down digestion. If feed is used the feeding should be spread out several times during the day, due to the horses digestive system.
The small intestine is the main site of digestion and absorption of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.
The cecum is located after the small intestine of a horse and it functions much like the rumen of a cow (as a fermentative vat housing microbes which aid digestion). These microbes break down nutrient sources that would otherwise be unavailable to the horse.
The cecum and colon house bacterial, protozoal and fungal populations which function in microbial digestion of feed material in the digestive tract. Many different products of microbial digestion are absorbed by the horse.
Among other benefits, incorporating long-stem forage into rations increases particle size of ingested matter, thus slowing rate of passage. It also increases dry matter intake, thus stimulating water intake.
Nutrients and Common Feed Sources for Horses from the extension service (USA land grant universities)
Structural carbohydrates, such as cellulose and hemicellulose in plants, can only be broken down by bacterial enzymes in the cecum and colon. The microorganisms convert these carbohydrates to volatile fatty acids (acetate, propionate, butyrate), which can provide 30 to 70 percent of the horse’s energy requirement.
Fibrous feeds are a very important part of the horse’s diet. They provide nutrients for both the horse and microbes in the hindgut as well as stimulate muscle tone and activity of the gastrointestinal tract.
Mineral supplements are usually required in the horse’s diet. Macrominerals are added to a horse’s diet to balance the ration to meet mineral requirements.
Human raised horses usually have some grazing but get some or much of there food needs from feed. Those feeds often supplement normal food for wild horses with beets, apples, carrots and other sources. In addition the horse food supplements include minerals, fiber and even pre-biotics and pro-biotics (just like our processed food does).
As a general rule, horses need 1 to 2 quarts (2 to 4 liters per kilogram) of water per pound of dry matter consumed. Of course, other factors can increase the water need, such as exercise (since it results in water loss through sweating).
Lactic Acid Bacteria in Bees Counteracted Antibiotic-Resistant MRSA in Lab Experiments
Posted on September 16, 2014 Comments (0)
13 lactic acid bacteria found in the honey stomach of bees have shown promising results as an antibiotic treatment in a series of studies at Lund University in Sweden (Open access paper: Lactic acid bacterial symbionts in honeybees – an unknown key to honey’s antimicrobial and therapeutic activities). The group of bacteria counteracted antibiotic-resistant MRSA in lab experiments. The bacteria, mixed into honey, has healed horses with persistent wounds. The formula has also previously been shown to protect against bee colony collapse.
Raw honey has been used against infections for millennia, before honey – as we now know it – was manufactured and sold in stores. So what is the key to its’ antimicrobial properties? Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria found in fresh honey, from the honey stomach of bees. The bacteria produce a myriad of active antimicrobial compounds.
These lactic acid bacteria have now been tested on severe human wound pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), among others. When the lactic acid bacteria were applied to the pathogens in the laboratory, it counteracted all of them.
While the effect on human bacteria has only been tested in a lab environment thus far, the lactic acid bacteria has been applied directly to horses with persistent wounds. The LAB was mixed with honey and applied to ten horses; where the owners had tried several other methods to no avail. All of the horses’ wounds were healed by the mixture.
The researchers believe the secret to the strong results lie in the broad spectrum of active substances involved.
“Antibiotics are mostly one active substance, effective against only a narrow spectrum of bacteria. When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat. It seems to have worked well for millions of years of protecting bees’ health and honey against other harmful microorganisms. However, since store-bought honey doesn’t contain the living lactic acid bacteria, many of its unique properties have been lost in recent times”, explains Tobias Olofsson.
This is a very cool: “When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat.” As is the note that store bought honey doesn’t contain the living bacteria. My guess is some honey bought directly from farmers or bee-keepers, at farmer’s markets may well still have those live bacteria – but I am just guessing I may be wrong.
The next step is further studies to investigate wider clinical use against topical human infections as well as on animals.
The findings have implications for developing countries, where fresh honey is easily available, but also for Western countries where antibiotic resistance is seriously increasing.
Related: People are Superorganisms With Microbiomes of Thousands of Species – The Search for Antibiotic Solutions Continues: Killing Sleeper Bacteria Cells – Our Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks – Potential Antibiotic Alternative to Treat Infection Without Resistance
USA Designates Large Areas of New Mexico and Arizona as Critical Habitat for Jaguars
Posted on September 13, 2014 Comments (0)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 764,200 acres of critical habitat for the jaguar (Panthera onca) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This habitat is found within Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties in Arizona, and Hidalgo County in New Mexico.
The final rule reflects the following changes from the July 1, 2013, critical habit at proposal: exclusion of Tohono O’odham Nation lands (78,067 acres) as a result of the Tribe’s efforts working in partnership with the Service to conserve jaguar and other listed species’ habitat on the Nation’s sovereign land. Exemption of Fort Huachuca lands (15,867 acres) due to the conservation benefits to the jaguar provided in Fort Huachuca’s approved Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan.
The revised proposal was based on an updated habitat modeling report that more accurately reflected habitat essential to jaguars in northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States.
Mexico borderlands area is very different from habitat in Central and South America, where jaguars show a high affinity for lowland wet communities. Jaguars have been documented in arid areas of northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States, including thornscrub, desertscrub, lowland desert, mesquite grassland, Madrean oak woodland and pine oak woodland communities. Critical habitat in the United States contributes to the jaguar’s persistence and recovery across the species’ entire range by providing areas to support individuals that disperse into the United States from the nearest core population in Mexico.
Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA and identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, and has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.
Related: Jaguars Back in the Southwest USA (2006 post) – Big Cats in America (2004) – Mountain Lions Returning to the Midwest USA for the First Time in a Century (2012) – Backyard Wildlife: Mountain Lion
Engineering Graduates Earned a Return on Their Investment In Education of 21%
Posted on September 8, 2014 Comments (0)
A recent report from the New York Fed looks at the economic benefits of college. While there has been a great deal of talk about the “bubble” in higher education the Fed finds college is very wise economically for most people. They do find a larger portion of people that are not getting a great return on their investment in higher education.
That could well indicate students studying certain majors and perhaps some people with less stellar academic skills would be better off economically skipping college.
It is hard to beat a 15% return. Of course averages hide variation within the data.
The return to engineer graduates was the greatest of all disciplines examined. Engineering graduates earned a return on their investment of 21%. The next highest were math and computers (18%); health (18%); and business (17%). Even the lowest returns are quite good: education (9%), leisure and hospitality (11%), agriculture (11%) and liberal arts (12%).
These returns look at graduates without post-graduate degrees (in order to find the value of just the undergraduate degree). As those with higher degrees benefit even more but the return on graduate degrees is not part of this study and they didn’t want to confuses the benefits of the post graduate degree with the bachelors degree.
As the article points out those fields with the top returns are more challenging and likely those students are more capable on average so a portion of the return may be due to the higher capabilities of the students (not just to the major they selected). They don’t mention it but engineering also has a higher drop out rate – not all students that would chose to major in engineering are able to do so.
This is one more study showing what we have blog about many times before: science and engineering careers are very economically rewarding. The engineering job market remains strong across many fields; many companies are turning to engineering job placement firms to find specialized staff. While the engineers do voice frustration at various aspects of their jobs the strong market provides significant advantages to an engineering career. As I have said before the reason to chose a career is because that is the work you love, but in choosing between several possible careers it may be sensible to consider the likely economic results.
The study even examines the return for graduates that are continually underemployed (I am not really sure how they get this data, but anyway…) the return for engineers in this situation is still 17% (it is 12% across all majors).
Related: Earnings by College Major, Engineers and Scientists at the Top (2013) – Engineering Graduates Continue to Reign Supreme (2013) – Career Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look Positive (2011)
Self Driving Cars Have Huge Potential for Benefit to Society
Posted on September 6, 2014 Comments (0)
Self-driving cars was something that seemed very far-fetched when I first read Google was seriously investing in pursuing that idea as a commercially viable product (Google’s Self Driving Car – 2010 post). I quickly became convinced they were right. I still think it is questionable if they will succeed (the political issues may well be even more difficult than technical ones). But the chances of success seem reasonable and the investment in research could provide a huge payoff.
Google’s self driving cars have driven 700,000 miles without an accident already; which is amazing. Warren Buffett stated that “self-driving cars are a real threat to the car insurance business” (His company owns the GIECO car insurance company) at the 2014 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in Omaha.
There are some people, stressing that this is not ready for mass market use. They are right. But, I think it is funny to see people thinking that a very early stage huge innovation in transportation not being ready today is a reasonable criticism. I am amazed that this huge innovation may actually be available before 2020. That would be incredible.
Certainly even then it will have limitations. And certainly there will be accidents. The current transportation system with humans driving cars has thosands of accidents a day and tens of thousands of deaths a year in the USA alone every year. Every year 1.2 million people die worldwide in traffic-related incidents, and over 90% of those accidents are due to human error.
The Feynman Lectures on Physics Available Online
Posted on August 30, 2014 Comments (1)
The Feynman Lectures on Physics are now available to read online. They are a great collection of lectures covering physics and touching on many areas including: the Mechanisms of Seeing, Semiconductors and Algebra. This is a fantastic resource for learning about physics.
You can also get a boxed set of The Feynman Lectures on Physics for those that like paper. It is fantastic but not cheap.
Bill Gates bought the rights to the rights to The Character of Physical Law, 7 lectures Feynman gave at Cornell University (these are separate from the lectures listed above) and made them available online, which is great. Unfortunately the website is based on Microsoft tools and therefore quite a bother for many (or maybe even impossible with Linux computers – I am not sure). I guess since he made all his money via Microsoft it isn’t that surprising but it would have been nice if he provide the content in a more easily accessible way (even if they didn’t do the fancy additions they did on the Microsoft site. These are great enough videos to probably be worth the bother of installing proprietary Microsoft software in order to view them.
Related: Video of Young Richard Feynman Talking About Scientific Thinking – Feynman “is a second Dirac, only this time human” (Oppenheimer) – Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character
Stop Sign Mistake Proofing
Posted on August 23, 2014 Comments (1)
This is a pretty cool example of using technology to prevent problems. The video shows a system that cascades a sheet of water and displays a stop sign directly in the path of trucks ready to crash into a tunnel (because the truck is too tall).
The driver had ignored several less obvious signals that they were headed for danger. This is an application of one of my favorite management (and industrial engineering) concepts: mistake proofing. As I have stated before, often it is really mistake making more difficult rather than mistake proofing. This truck driver ignored the first several warnings and actually could have ignored this one. This system doesn’t physically prevent the error (the options to do this I can think of would be impractical) but this does prevent the errors in any reasonable case it seems to me.
It does seem the process could be improved a big by doing the cool shower stop sign when the truck still has time to turn off without a huge delay. From the video it seems the truck progressed to a point where getting it out of the way created a major traffic backup.
Related: Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple – Visual Management with Brown M&Ms – Poor Results Should be Addressed by Improving the System Not Blaming Individuals – Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half
Why do Bats Transmit so Many Diseases like Ebola?
Posted on August 13, 2014 Comments (0)
Bats are generally wonderful creatures and helpful to us. For example, they eat lots of insects that are annoying (like mosquitoes) and pollinate lots of plants. Of course, they also eat lots of good (for us humans) insects but the insects still seem to be able to fulfill their environmental niches so all is good.
And they are flying mammals which is, of course, cool.
But bats also transmit virus to us, which do us lots of damage. As the video explains as we have intruded into bat territory and chopped down their natural feeding spots we have come into contact with them more. And because bats evolved to be very resilient to virus and they live in large colonies (for easy transmission of the viruses to lots of bats) they can host viruses and survive long enough to infect lots of other bats, and to infect us if we meet them.
I actually didn’t know this (mentioned in the video): most viruses have a very difficult time surviving even with temperatures a bit above the normal human temperature (98 degrees Fahrenheit). Bats, while they fly, have internal temperatures that soar to 104 degrees (40 degrees centigrade) which kills off most viruses, but certain hardy viruses survive. This also explains why we run fevers when we are sick (which then can kill off viruses) – which I am sure I learned at some point but I forgot. But for the bat viruses that strategy doesn’t work.
Bats, of course, are not impervious to disease. In the USA a disease has killed more than 90 percent of the cave bats in Eastern states.
One of the causes of the current ebola outbreak is believed to be people eating bats in West Africa.
DIY Air Filters for Your House
Posted on August 2, 2014 Comments (0)
In January 2013 PhD student Thomas Talhelm, was living in Bejing, China with very bad air pollution and wondered why air purifiers cost so much. He bought a HEPA filter on Taobao, strapped it to a simple fan, bought a particle counter, ran some tests, and published the results.
As the effort gained publicity and people said they had trouble finding the right type of fan and a trustworthy HEPA, Thomas and his friends Gus and Anna decided to launch Smart Air in September 2013 to ship fans and the best HEPAs they could find to people all over China.
Smart Air believes that if more people saw their open source data and testing, more people would know that clean air doesn’t have to cost thousands of RMB (hundred of USD). The simplest solution (a fan, filter and strap to hold the filter to a fan) costs 200 RMB (under US $35).
I love simple solutions. And I love entrepreneurship combined with engineering to provide customers value.
Related: Air Pollution Resulted in 223,000 Cancer Deaths in 2010 – Extremely Bad Haze in Johor Bahru and Singapore – Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless Areas – Pay as You Go Solar in India
It is also great that they provide useful data including: HEPAs lasted 90 days without any drop in effectiveness, then effectiveness dropped by 4% between days 100-130. It’s up to you to decide whether that 4% is enough to warrant changing your filter after 3 months of nightly use.
Crows can Perform as Well as 7 to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect Water Displacement Tasks
Posted on July 25, 2014 Comments (1)
In Aesop’s fable about the crow and the pitcher, a thirsty bird happens upon a vessel of water, but when he tries to drink from it, he finds the water level out of his reach. Not strong enough to knock over the pitcher, the bird drops pebbles into it — one at a time — until the water level rises enough for him to drink his fill.
Highlighting the value of ingenuity, the fable demonstrates that cognitive ability can often be more effective than brute force. It also characterizes crows as pretty resourceful problem solvers. New research conducted by UC Santa Barbara’s Corina Logan, with her collaborators at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, proves the birds’ intellectual prowess may be more fact than fiction. Her findings, supported by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, appear today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE: Modifications to the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm Change New Caledonian Crow Performances.
Logan is lead author of the paper, which examines causal cognition using a water displacement paradigm. “We showed that crows can discriminate between different volumes of water and that they can pass a modified test that so far only 7- to 10-year-old children have been able to complete successfully. We provide the strongest evidence so far that the birds attend to cause-and-effect relationships by choosing options that displace more water.”
Logan, a junior research fellow at UCSB’s SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, worked with New Caledonian crows in a set of small aviaries in New Caledonia run by the University of Auckland. “We caught the crows in the wild and brought them into the aviaries, where they habituated in about five days,” she said. Keeping families together, they housed the birds in separate areas of the aviaries for three to five months before releasing them back to the wild.