How Our Brains React to Sugar
Posted on January 23, 2014 Comments (4)
The dopamine reaction to sugar leads us to seek out that good feeling. Sugars can lead us astray by encouraging us to seek more than is good for us.
A sensible explanation is that sugars provide high calories and were rare and so the more we could find the better. Evolution takes a long time to adjust though (and of course misses things that don’t affect passing on successful genes) so long (in our human timeframe, short in evolutionary timeframe) after we have far too much sugar available our brains our encouraging us to eat all we can find. This of course, at best, is a very oversimplified view.
Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage
Posted on January 16, 2014 Comments (3)
The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variable demand is the biggest obstacle to using renewable sources for a large fraction of our electricity. A cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy could solve this problem.
Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks, as with fuel cells, instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components — the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are flowed (which sets the peak power capacity) and the chemical storage tanks (which set the energy capacity) — may be independently sized. Thus the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries.
This looks like a very interesting field of research. Storing power remains one of the challenges for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This is especially true if the use is disconnected from the grid, but is even true for grid-connected uses. Especially as increasing the amount of wind and solar energy make it increasingly likely that surplus energy is created at certain times.
The research seems to allow for sensible size home storage setups. At the commercial level the volume needed is very large. Another concern to be addressed is how many cycles the “battery” is good for before it degrades; current experimentation show no degradation after 100 cycles but consumer/commercial usage will need thousands of cycles.
Related: Battery Breakthrough (solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane) – Energy Storage Using Carbon Nanotubes (2006) – Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012 – Recharge Batteries in Seconds
Country H-index Ranking for Science Publications
Posted on January 9, 2014 Comments (1)
The SCImago Journal and Country Rank provides journal and country scientific indicators developed from the information contained in the Scopus database (this site also lets you look at these ranking by very specific categories (I think 313 categories), for example biotechnology #1 USA, #2 Germany, #3 UK, #4 Japan, #9 China or Theoretical Computer Science #1 USA, #2 UK, #3 Canada, #6 China). I posted about this previously (in 2008 and 2011) and take a look at the updated picture in this post.
I like looking at data and country comparisons but in doing so it is wise to remember this is the results of a calculation that is interesting but hardly definative. We don’t have the ability to have exact numbers on haw the true scientific knowledge output by countries are. I think you can draw the conclusion that the USA is very influential, and along with other data make the case even that the USA is the leading scientific publication center.
The table shows the top 6 countries by h-index and then some others I chose to list.
|% of World
|% of World GDP||total cites|
|Additional countries of interest|
|19) South Korea||343||161||.7||1.8||4,640,390|
80% of the Antibiotics in the USA are Used in Agriculture and Aquaculture
Posted on December 31, 2013 Comments (0)
Citing an overabundance in the use of antibiotics by the agriculture and aquaculture industries that poses a threat to public health, economics professor Aidan Hollis has proposed a solution in the form of user fees on the non-human use of antibiotics.
In a newly released paper published (closed science, sadly, so no link provide), Hollis and co-author Ziana Ahmed state that in the United States 80% of the antibiotics in the country are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production.
This flood of antibiotics released into the environment – sprayed on fruit trees and fed to the likes of livestock, poultry and salmon, among other uses – has led bacteria to evolve, Hollis writes. Mounting evidence cited in the journal shows resistant pathogens are emerging in the wake of this veritable flood of antibiotics – resulting in an increase in bacteria that is immune to available treatments.
If the problem is left unchecked, this will create a health crisis on a global scale, Hollis says.
Hollis suggest that the predicament could be greatly alleviated by imposing a user fee on the non-human uses of antibiotics, similar to the way in which logging companies pay stumpage fees and oil companies pay royalties.
“Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections,” explains Hollis. “This is incredibly important. Without effective antibiotics, any surgery – even minor ones – will become extremely risky. Cancer therapies, similarly, are dependent on the availability of effective antimicrobials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people.”
Bacteria that can effectively resist antibiotics will thrive, Hollis adds, reproducing rapidly and spreading in various ways.
“It’s not just the food we eat,” he says. “Bacteria is spread in the environment; it might wind up on a doorknob. You walk away with the bacteria on you and you share it with the next person you come into contact with. If you become infected with resistant bacteria, antibiotics won’t provide any relief.”
While the vast majority of antibiotic use has gone towards increasing productivity in agriculture, Hollis asserts that most of these applications are of “low value.”
“It’s about increasing the efficiency of food so you can reduce the amount of grain you feed the cattle,” says Hollis. “It’s about giving antibiotics to baby chicks because it reduces the likelihood that they’re going to get sick when you cram them together in unsanitary conditions.
“These methods are obviously profitable to the farmers, but that doesn’t mean it’s generating a huge benefit. In fact, the profitability is usually quite marginal.
“The real value of antibiotics is saving people from dying. Everything else is trivial.”
While banning the use of antibiotics in food production is challenging, establishing a user fee makes good sense, according to Hollis.
Such a practice would deter the low-value use of antibiotics, with higher costs encouraging farmers to improve their animal management methods and to adopt better substitutes for the drugs, such as vaccinations.
Hollis also suggests that an international treaty could ideally be imposed. “Resistant bacteria do not respect national borders,” he says. He adds that such a treaty might have a fair chance of attaining international compliance, as governments tend to be motivated by revenue collection.
Hollis notes that in the USA, a move has been made to control the non-human use of antibiotics, with the FDA recently seeking voluntary limits on the use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion on farms.
Related: Raising Food Without Antibiotics – Our Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks – What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? – Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes
Study After Study Find No Benefits to Multivitamins
Posted on December 23, 2013 Comments (3)
The largest study of its kind concludes that long-term multivitamin use has no impact on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease or overall mortality in postmenopausal women.
“Dietary supplements are used by more than half of all Americans, who spend more than $20 billion on these products each year. However, scientific data are lacking on the long-term health benefits of supplements,” said lead author Marian L. Neuhouser, Ph.D., an associate member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.
The study focused the effects of multivitamins because they are the most commonly used supplement. “To our surprise, we found that multivitamins did not lower the risk of the most common cancers and also had no impact on heart disease,” she said.
The study assessed multivitamin use among nearly 162,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative, one of the largest U.S. prevention studies of its kind designed to address the most common causes of death, disability and impaired quality of life in postmenopausal women. The women were followed for about eight years.
Nearly half of the study participants – 41.5 percent – reported using multivitamins on a regular basis. Multivitamin users were more likely to be white, live in the western United States, have a lower body-mass index, be more physically active and have a college degree or higher as compared to non-users.
The study found no significant differences in risk of cancer, heart disease or death between the multivitamin users and non-users.
These findings are consistent with most previously published results regarding the lack of health benefits of multivitamins, Neuhouser said, but this study provides definitive evidence. Since the study did not include men, Neuhouser cautions that the results may not apply to them.
So what advice do Neuhouser and colleagues offer to women who want to make sure they’re getting optimal nutrition? “Get nutrients from food,” she said. “Whole foods are better than dietary supplements. Getting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is particularly important.”
DNA Contains Gene Control Instructions
Posted on December 19, 2013 Comments (0)
“For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made,” said Stamatoyannopoulos. “Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways.”
The genetic code uses a 64-letter alphabet called codons. The UW team discovered that some codons, which they called duons, can have two meanings, one related to protein sequence, and one related to gene control. These two meanings seem to have evolved in concert with each other. The gene control instructions appear to help stabilize certain beneficial features of proteins and how they are made.
The discovery of duons has major implications for how scientists and physicians interpret a patient’s genome and will open new doors to the diagnosis and treatment of disease.
“The fact that the genetic code can simultaneously write two kinds of information means that many DNA changes that appear to alter protein sequences may actually cause disease by disrupting gene control programs or even both mechanisms simultaneously,” said Stamatoyannopoulos.
The wonder of DNA continues to amaze.
Better Health Through: Exercise, Not Smoking, Low Weight, Healthy Diet and Low Alcohol Intake
Posted on December 14, 2013 Comments (1)
These 5 activities/state reduce the risk of chronic diseases: regular exercise, not smoking, healthy bodyweight, healthy diet and low alcohol intake. How these were defined
- not smoking
- body mass index (BMI): 18 to under 25
- diet: target was to be 5 portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day, but since almost no one meet that target they reduced the acceptable rate to 3 as accepted as ‘healthy.” Also a diet with less than 30% of calories from fat was required.
- physical activity: walking two or more miles to work each day, or cycling ten or more miles to work each day, or ‘vigorous’ exercise described as a regular habit
- alcohol: three or fewer units per day, with abstinence not treated as a healthy behaviour.
Healthy Lifestyles Reduce the Incidence of Chronic Diseases and Dementia: Evidence from the Caerphilly Cohort Study (PLoS open science publication).
Within a representative sample of middle-aged men, the following of increasing numbers of healthy behaviours was associated with increasing reductions in several important chronic diseases and mortality: an estimated 50% reduction in diabetes, 50% in vascular disease and 60% for all-cause mortality. These results therefore confirm previous studies and provide further data on the association of lifestyle with cognitive impairment and dementia, with a reduction of about 60% in cognitive impairment and about the same in dementia. These reductions, and especially those in cognitive function, are of enormous importance in an ageing population.
Healthy habits reduce dementia risk (Cardiff University press release):
experienced a 60 per cent decline in dementia and cognitive decline – with exercise being the strongest mitigating factor – as well as 70 per cent fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared with people who followed none.
Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. “What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health – healthy behaviours have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.
Christopher Allen, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said:
“The results of this study overwhelmingly support the notion that adopting a healthy lifestyle reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Related: Examining the Scientific Basis Around Exercise and Diet Claims – Healthy Diet, Healthy Living, Healthy Weight – Study Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as Smoking – Physical Activity for Adults: Inactivity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a Year – Today, Most Deaths Caused by Lifetime of Action or Inaction
Nobel Prize Winner Criticizes Role of Popular Science Journals in the Scientific Process
Posted on December 10, 2013 Comments (2)
Randy Schekman, 2013 Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine has written another critique of the mainstream, closed-science journals. How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science
We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals – chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.
There is a better way, through the new breed of open-access journals that are free for anybody to read, and have no expensive subscriptions to promote. Born on the web, they can accept all papers that meet quality standards, with no artificial caps. Many are edited by working scientists, who can assess the worth of papers without regard for citations. As I know from my editorship of eLife, an open access journal funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society, they are publishing world-class science every week.
Just as Wall Street needs to break the hold of the bonus culture, which drives risk-taking that is rational for individuals but damaging to the financial system, so science must break the tyranny of the luxury journals. The result will be better research that better serves science and society.
Very well said. The closed access journal culture is damaging science in numerous ways. We need to stop supporting those organizations and instead support organizations focused more on promoting great scientific work for the good of society.
Related: Fields Medalist Tim Gowers Takes Action To Stop Cooperating with Anti-Open Science Cartel – Science Journal Publishers Stay Stupid – Harvard Steps Up Defense Against Abusive Journal Publishers – The Future of Scholarly Publication (2005) – The Trouble with Incentives: They Work – When Performance-related Pay Backfires – Rewarding Risky Behavior
Hacking the Standard Bike Wheel
Posted on December 5, 2013 Comments (1)
The Copenhagen Wheel stores energy (from braking…) and provides it when you need it (going up hill…). It is good to see innovation that helps transportation and can encourage people to be more active. Order now for $799.
Related: Engineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Sheller – Separated Bike Lanes Reduced Injuries by 45% and Increased Retail Sales 49% (for nearby stores) – Bike Folds To Footprint of 1 Wheel – Sports Engineering at MIT
Silicon Valley Shows Power of Global Science and Technology Workforce
Posted on December 1, 2013 Comments (1)
Even with the challenges created by the culture in Washington DC against non-European foreigners the last 15 years Silicon Valley continues to prosper due to the talents of a pool of global science and engineering talent. Other countries continue to fumble the opportunity provided by the USA’s policies (largely a combination of security theater thinking and a lack of scientific literacy); and the strength of Silicon Valley’s ecosystem has proven resilient.
The Kauffman foundation’s recent study America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Then and Now shows evidence the anti-global culture in Washington DC is negatively impacting the economy in the USA.
The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent, draws on the research to show that the United States is in the midst of a historically unprecedented halt in high-growth, immigrant-founded startups.
… launched a website — ImmigrantExodus.com — as a resource for journalists and a voice for immigrant entrepreneurs.
As I have written for years, I expected the USA’s relative position to decline. The huge advantages we had were not sustainable. But the very bad policies of the last 15 years have negatively impacted the USA. The only thing not making the results much worse is no strong competitors have stepped into the void created by the policies of the last 2 USA administrations. It isn’t easy to create a strong alternative for technology startups but the economic value of doing so is huge.
The USA has created the opportunity for others to grow much faster, now some just have to step into the void. Will Brazil, Norway, Korea, Chile, Malaysia, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, India… step up and create conditions for entrepreneurial scientists and engineers? Each country has been doing some good things but also continue to miss many opportunities. Some countries also have more challenges to overcome – it is much easier if the economy is already rich (say in top 20 in the world), speaks English, has a strong science and technology workforce… The innovation stiffing legal system in place in the USA is absolutely horrible and presents a huge opportunity to anyone willing to stand up to the USA’s continuing pressure to force countries to burden themselves with equally bad (or even worse) policies (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership). It is possible to succeed with numerous weaknesses it just requires even more offsetting benefits to attract technology entrepreneurs.
Some things are probably absolutely required: rule of law, strong technology infrastructure (internet, etc.), good transportation links internationally, stable politically, freedom of expression (technology entrepreneurs expect to be able to try and say crazy things if you want to control what people say and publish that is very counter to the technology entrepreneurial spirit – especially around internet technology)…
Search for Antibiotic Solutions Continues: Killing Sleeper Bacteria Cells
Posted on November 15, 2013 Comments (1)
Here’s how it works. Proteins need to fold into very precise shapes to do their jobs, and misfolded proteins are wastes of space. Bacteria dispose of these useless molecules with ClpP—a janitorial protein that digests other proteins. It works with a partner, which recognises misfolded proteins, unfolds them, and threads them through a hole in the middle of ClpP so they can be broken down. But ADEP4 opens ClpP up so it no longer needs its partner. The janitor now becomes an assassin, running amok and chopping up any protein it comes across, misfolded or not.
The Bayer scientists showed that ADEP4 can force fast-growing cells to self-destruct, but Lewis suspected that it would do the same to persisters. Afterall, ClpP’s partner requires energy to do its job, but ClpP itself doesn’t. Once ADEP4 opens it up, it should go about its fatal business even in a dormant cell.
Lewis’ team found that ADEP4 did effectively kills persister populations of Staphylococcus aureus, but the bacteria bounce back. ClpP isn’t essential, so the bacteria just inactivated it to evolve their way around ADEP4. This, says Lewis, is why Bayer stopped working on the drug.
His solution was to pair ADEP4 with another antibiotic called rifampycin. ADEP4 would kill off the majority of the persisters, and if any of the rest started growing again, rifampycin would finish them off. He predicted that the double-whammy would leave very few survivors, maybe just a thousand cells or so.
“That’s not what we saw,” he says. “What we saw was complete sterilisation.”
This is a very nice effort. As our efforts fail to find “magic bullet” antibiotics fail and antibiotic resistance increases combo drug solutions offer some hope. While this is good news, the overall state of our ability to treat bacterial infections continues to decline as our misuse of antibiotics has greatly increased the speed at which antibiotic resistance has developed in bacteria.
This solution only works on gram positive antibiotics. ADEP4 is too big to pass through the extra outer layers of the gram-negative bacteria like ecoli and salmonella.
Related: Entirely New Antibiotic Developed, Platensimycin (2006) (2013 update: Platensimycin is a very effective antibiotic in vivo when continuously administered to cells, however this efficacy is reduced when administered by more conventional means. Efforts continue to find a way to create delivery options that are successful in treating people.) – New Family of Antibacterial Agents Discovered (2009) – Potential Antibiotic Alternative to Treat Infection (2012)