20 Most Popular Post on Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2015
Posted on December 26, 2015 Comments (1)
These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2015.
- Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel (2008)
- 3D Printing at Home: Today, Challenges and Opportunities (2015)
- Why is it Colder at Higher Elevations? (2008)
- Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea (2010 – showing 2009 PISA results, related: Math Education Results Show China, Singapore, Korea and Japan Leading (2014 -showing 2012 PISA results)
- Nanotechnology Breakthroughs for Computer Chips (2007)
- Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by California (2010)
- Science Sort of Explains: Hiccups (2008)
- Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids (2005)
- Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe Hybrid Image (2009)
- Loan Forgiveness Program for Engineering Students (2008)
- Science and Optical Illusions (2010)
- Ranking Countries by Scientific Publication Citations: USA, UK, Germany… (2015)
- S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineering is the Most Common Major (2009)
- 59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in Europe (2008)
- How Lysozyme Protein in Our Tear-Drops Kill Bacteria (2012)
- Home Halloween Engineering: Gaping Hole Costume (2010)
- 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: the Structure and Function of the Ribosome (2009)
- Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells (2007)
- Underwater Pedestrian Walkway (2011)
- Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard (2015)
This list shows how popular old posts can remain over time. 12 of these were also in the top 20 in 2014, 8 are new to the list this year. 3 of those are 2015 posts, in 2014 1 post from 2014 made the top 20. The distribution over the years of publication of the posts in the list this year:
Engineering Solutions to Make Our Living Spaces Less Noisy
Posted on December 20, 2015 Comments (1)
I am sensitive to noise so the engineering tools available to reduce noise is something I am interested in. I wish those building apartments, condos and hotels paid more attention to these options.
A compounding issue is that it takes only a very small gap to let in a lot of sound.
“If you have a weakness in a wall that is only 1 percent of the total area, the sound transmitted through could double,”
There are many products to aid in reducing sound into your home. Sound Sense shows a wide variety of products available to aid in those efforts.
Soundproofing 101 provides some good basic explanations of the issues involved in soundproofing solutions.
It does sound extreme but I have considered this for a bedroom. Or even scaling it down into a enclosed sleep chamber, just to let me have a quite space to sleep.
Our Poor Antibiotic Practices Have Sped the Evolution of Resistance to Our Last-Resort Antibiotic
Posted on December 12, 2015 Comments (2)
The risk to human health due to anti-biotic resistance continues to be a huge public health concern. Our continued failure to adopt better antibiotics practices increase that risk. Those bad practices include feeding large amounts of antibiotics to farm animals to increase yields and increase the evolution of drug resistant bacteria.
In 2012, the World Health Organization called colistin critically important for human health, meaning its use in animals should be limited to avoid promoting resistance. Yet in 2013, the European Medicines Agency reported that polymyxins were the fifth most heavily used type of antibiotic in European livestock.
Colistin, an antibiotic that previously was a last defense against resistant strains of bacteria, is even more heavily used in China than Europe (it is not clear how the resistance developed but it likely developed in one place, most likely China, and spread rather than emerging in 2 places). The USA has been more responsible and has not risked human health through the widespread use of colistin in farm animals. But the USA still uses antibiotics irresponsibly to promote livestock growth at the risk of human lives being lost as antibiotics lose their effectiveness as bacteria evolve resistance (which is sped by poor practices in agri-business).
Antibiotic resistance is an enormous risk to human health. Millions of lives could be lost and we have have years to reduce those risks. Scientists are doing a great deal of work to find new tools to help us avoid catastrophe but we have been far too careless in our practices, especially in the massive use of antibiotics merely to boost yields in agribusiness.
Related: Are you ready for a world without antibiotics? (2010) – 80% of the Antibiotics in the USA are Used in Agriculture and Aquaculture – What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? – Waste Treatment Plants Result in Super Bacteria (2009) – CDC Again Stresses Urgent Need to Adjust Practices or Pay a Steep Price (2013)
Beehive Fence Protects Farms from Elephants
Posted on December 5, 2015 Comments (3)
Another cool use of appropriate technology. One of the problems with Elephants in Africa is when they go into farm fields and eat crops and destroy crops. The elephants and bees project is helping farmers deal with that problem.
By doing so they eliminate the need of farmers to protect their crops by killing elephant. The project uses bees natural behavior and elephants natural desire to avoid bees to create a fence that works to keep elephants out.
The beehives are hung on wires stretched between fenceposts around the farm. If an elephant bumps into the wires to try and enter the farm the bees will swarm and the elephants will run away (and the elephants will send an warning to other elephants to stay away). The fences are being used in Africa and India.
And this fence also produces honey. You can donate to the project to help elephants, bees and people.
Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant – Elephant Underpass in Kenya – Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless Areas – Fighting Elephant Poaching With Science (2007) – Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying (2013)
Using Diatom Algae to Deliver Chemotherapy Drugs Directly to Cancer Cells
Posted on November 26, 2015 Comments (2)
I am thankful for scientists doing the time consuming and important research to find new ways to fight disease. Here is an interesting webcast discussing how chemotherapy is used to fight cancer and how scientists are looking to algae to deliver the chemotherapy drugs to better target cancer cells (while not savaging our health cells).
I am also thankful to the funding sources that pay for this research (and for cool explanations of science, like SciShow).
Read more about the genetically engineered algae kills 90% of cancer cells without harming healthy ones. The algae are a diatom and many diatoms look very cool.
Sadly the actual research paper (by government funded university professors) is published by a closed science publisher (when are we finally going to stop this practice that was outdated over a decade ago?). Thankfully those responsible for SciShow are much more interested in promoting science than maintaining outdated business models (in direct contrast to so many science journal publishers).
Related post on cool delivery methods for life saving drugs: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into Cells – Self-Assembling Cubes Could Deliver Medicine (2006) – Nanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer Spread – NASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body
Parasite Evolved from Cnidarians (Jellyfish etc.)
Posted on November 22, 2015 Comments (0)
This is another instance of science research providing us interesting details about the very odd ways life has evolved on earth.
Genome sequencing confirms that myxozoans, a diverse group of microscopic parasites that infect invertebrate and vertebrate hosts, are actually highly reduced cnidarians — the phylum that includes jellyfish, corals and sea anemones.
“This is a remarkable case of extreme degeneration of an animal body plan,” said Paulyn Cartwright, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas (KU) and principal investigator on the research project. “First, we confirmed they’re cnidarians. Now we need to investigate how they got to be that way.”
Not only has the parasitic micro jellyfish evolved a stripped-down body plan of just a few cells, but via data generated at the KU Medical Center’s Genome Sequencing Facility researchers also found the myxozoan genome was drastically simplified.
“These were 20 to 40 times smaller than average jellyfish genomes,” Cartwright said. “It’s one of the smallest animal genomes ever reported. It only has about 20 million base pairs, whereas the average Cnidarian has over 300 million. These are tiny little genomes by comparison.”
Despite its radical phasedown of the modern jellyfish’s body structure and genome over millions of years, Myxozoa has retained the essential characteristic of the jellyfish — its stinger, or “nematocyst” — along with the genes needed to make it.
“Because they’re so weird, it’s difficult to imagine they were jellyfish,” she said. “They don’t have a mouth or a gut. They have just a few cells. But then they have this complex structure that looks just like stinging cell of cnidarian. Jellyfish tentacles are loaded with them — little firing weapons.”
The findings are the stuff of scientific fascination but also could have a commercial effect. Myxozoa commonly plague commercial fish stock such as trout and salmon.
“They’re a very diverse group of parasites, and some have been well-studied because they infect fish and can wreak havoc in aquaculture of economic importance,” Cartwright said.
200,000 People Die Every Year in Europe from Adverse Drug Effects – How Can We Improve?
Posted on November 15, 2015 Comments (2)
A new integrated computational method helps predicting adverse drug reaction more reliably than with traditional computing methods. This improved ability to foresee the possible adverse effects of drugs may entail saving many lives in the future.
Most computer tools employed today to detect possible adverse effects of compounds that are candidates for new medicines are based on detecting labile fragments in the drug’s structure. These fragments can potentially transform to form reactive metabolites, which can have toxic properties. This is what is known as idiosyncratic toxicity and is a big headache for the pharmaceutical industry, as it tends to be detected in late development stages of the drug and even when it is already on the market, often causing the drug to be withdrawn.
Jordi Mestres, coordinator of the IMIM and UPF research group on Systems Pharmacology at the Biomedical Informatics Program (GRIB) states ‘With this study we have contributed to complementing the detection of these quite unstable fragments, with information on the mechanism of action of the drug, based on three aspects: similarity to other medicines, prediction of their pharmacological profile, and interference with specific biological pathways. The optimal integration of these four aspects results in a clear improvement of our ability to anticipate adverse effects with higher confidence, which entails an extremely positive impact on society’.
In Europe, nearly 200,000 people die every year from adverse drug reactions, seven times more than in traffic accidents. An estimated 5% of hospitalisations are due to adverse effects and they are the fifth most common cause of hospital death. In addition, elderly people tend to take more than one drug at the same time, which multiplies the chances of suffering from adverse effects due to potential drug-drug interactions. In an increasingly aging society, this problem is becoming much more serious.
I think interactions is a hugely important area that needs a great deal more research. Doing so is very complex, which means it isn’t surprising so much more work is needed. The work of my father (and George Box and others) on multi-factorial experimentation is a powerful tool to aid this work (and that connection is likely one of the reasons I find the area of interactions so interesting – along with the realization there is so much benefit possible if we focus in that area more). Previous post on this Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog: Introduction to Fractional Factorial Designed Experiments.
The human and financial costs of adverse effects are very high. That is why the discovery of new medicines is increasingly focused more on predicting possible adverse effects at the initial stages of developing a new drug. This work hopes to contribute to setting the path toward a new generation of more reliable computational tools with regard to predicting the adverse effects of therapeutically-relevant small molecules. Advancing large-scale predictive safety at the pre-clinical phase is now becoming closer than ever, with expectations to lead to safer drugs for the entire population.
The research is published in closed science journal so I don’t link to it. I happily link to open science publications. Read the full press release which includes a link to the closed science journal.
Related: Lifestyle Drugs and Risk – Root Cause, Interactions, Robustness and Design of Experiments – One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial Designs – The Purpose of Mulit-Factorial Designed Experiments – 11 Year Old Using Design of Experiments – Over-reliance on Prescription Drugs to Aid Children’s Sleep?
Backyard Wildlife: Blue Jay
Posted on November 8, 2015 Comments (5)
Blue Jay in Arlington, Virginia (in my backyard). See more of my photos.
This is a picture I simply could not have taken before I bought my new camera (a Canon PowerShot SX60 HS Digital Camera with 65 times optical zoom). Birds are still hard to photograph but now at least occasionally I get a decent photo of birds. If you want to get photos of wildlife it is a great camera. And it is a wonderful camera in general.
I like just planting things that will feed and shelter birds (and others) rather than filling bird feeders myself. There is information on how to use your backyard to promote wildlife. I see many birds flying around in my backyard, which is quite nice. Blue jays are some of my favorites.
Blue jays diet is composed mostly of insects and nuts. They especially like acorns.
Young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults, but many adults also migrate. Some individual jays migrate south one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year. No one has worked out why they migrate when they do.
The pigment in blue jay feathers is melanin, which is brown. The blue color is caused by scattering light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.
Fighting Superbugs with Superhero Bugs
Posted on October 31, 2015 Comments (2)
As concerns over deadly antibiotic-resistant strains of ‘superbug’ bacteria grow, scientists at the Salk Institute are offering a possible solution to the problem: ‘superhero’ bacteria that live in the gut and move to other parts of the body to alleviate life-threatening side effects caused by infections.
Salk researchers reported finding a strain of microbiome Escherichia coli bacteria in mice capable of improving the animals’ tolerance to infections of the lungs and intestines by preventing wasting–a common and potentially deadly loss of muscle tissue that occurs in serious infections. If a similarly protective strain is found in humans, it could offer a new avenue for countering muscle wasting, which afflicts patients suffering from sepsis and hospital-acquired infections, many of which are now antibiotic resistant.
“Treatments for infection have long focused on eradicating the offending microbe, but what actually kills people aren’t the bacteria themselves–it’s the collateral damage it does to the body,” says Janelle Ayres, a Salk assistant professor in the Nomis Foundation Laboratories for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis and senior researcher on the study.
“Our findings suggest that preventing the damage–in this case muscle wasting–can stave off the most life-threatening aspects of an infection,” she adds. “And by not trying the kill the pathogen, you’re not encouraging the evolution of the deadly antibiotic-resistant strains that are killing people around the world. We might be able to fight superbugs with ‘superhero’ bugs.”
Once the most powerful and revolutionary of drugs, antibiotics appear to have reached their limits, due to the ability of bacteria to rapidly evolve resistance to the medicines. The rise of antibiotic resistance presents a grave threat to people around the world, as diseases once easily controlled repel all attempts at treatment. A recent study found that up to half of the bacteria that cause infections in US hospitals after a surgery are resistant to standard antibiotics.
In the United States alone, two million people annually become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Funding Sources for Independent Postdoctoral Research Projects in Biology
Posted on October 25, 2015 Comments (1)
Here is a nice list of funding sources for independent postdoctoral research projects in biology.
- Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships. Eligibility: Canadian citizens, foreign citizens – so about everybody 🙂
- Starting Grants, European Research Council, Europe. “ERC grants are open to researchers of any nationality in the world, any scientific field, any age.”
- Max Planck Research Group, Germany – “The Max Planck Society is committed to support Open Access on all levels. We therefore ask applicants to highlight in their list of publications all items which are freely available in an open access repository or on a journal’s website.”
- Research Fellowships for Young Scientists, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science – “Young researchers in all fields of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences are eligible to apply.” “This fellowship program is Japan’s core program for cultivating young Japanese researchers. However, there is no nationality requirement for applications.”
- NSF Postdoctoral Fellows. For at least some, maybe all, “be a U.S. citizen (or national) or a U.S. permanent resident, i.e., have a “green card,” when applying; “
- Research Associateship Programs, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Citizenship requirements for the NRC Research Associateship Programs vary depending on the sponsoring federal laboratory.”
Related: Science, Engineering and Math Fellowships (2008) – Proposal to Triple NSF GFRP Awards and the Size of the Awards by 33% (2007) – HHMI Expands Support of Postdoctoral Scientists – NSF Graduate Research Fellow Profiles (Sergy Brin, Google co-founder)
Youyou Tu: The First Chinese Woman to Win a Nobel Prize
Posted on October 17, 2015 Comments (2)
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 was divided, one half jointly to William C. Campbell (born Ireland, now USA) and Satoshi Ōmura (Japan) “for their discoveries concerning a novel therapy against infections caused by roundworm parasites” and the other half to Youyou Tu (China) “for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria”.
Youyou Tu is the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Diseases caused by parasites have plagued humankind for millennia and constitute a major global health problem. In particular, parasitic diseases affect the world’s poorest populations and represent a huge barrier to improving human health and wellbeing. This year’s Nobel Laureates have developed therapies that have revolutionized the treatment of some of the most devastating parasitic diseases.
William C. Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura discovered a new drug, Avermectin, the derivatives of which have radically lowered the incidence of River Blindness and Lymphatic Filariasis, as well as showing efficacy against an expanding number of other parasitic diseases. Youyou Tu discovered Artemisinin, a drug that has significantly reduced the mortality rates for patients suffering from Malaria.
These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually. The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.
Malaria was traditionally treated by chloroquine or quinine, but with declining success. By the late 1960s, efforts to eradicate Malaria had failed and the disease was on the rise. At that time, Youyou Tu in China turned to traditional herbal medicine to tackle the challenge of developing novel Malaria therapies. From a large-scale screen of herbal remedies in Malaria-infected animals, an extract from the plant Artemisia annua emerged as an interesting candidate.
However, the results were inconsistent, so Tu revisited the ancient literature and discovered clues that guided her in her quest to successfully extract the active component from Artemisia annua. Tu was the first to show that this component, later called Artemisinin, was highly effective against the Malaria parasite, both in infected animals and in humans. Artemisinin represents a new class of antimalarial agents that rapidly kill the Malaria parasites at an early stage of their development, which explains its unprecedented potency in the treatment of severe Malaria.
Youyou Tu was born in 1930 in China and is a Chinese citizen. She graduated from the Pharmacy Department at Beijing Medical University in 1955. From 1965-1978 she was Assistant Professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, from 1979-1984 Associate Professor and from 1985 Professor at the same Institute. From 2000, Tu has been Chief Professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She doesn’t have a doctorate, very rare for a Nobel Prize winner in the sciences.
Related: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 for Reprogramming Cells to be Pluripotent – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2008 – Parasites in the Gut Help Develop a Healthy Immune System – 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – Video showing malaria breaking into cell