Minggu, 28 Desember 2008

Exercising Your Head Cold

When you catch cold, should you continue your usual exercise routine or just stay at home and rest?

According to a pair of articles published about 10 years ago, maintaining your usual exercise regimen may be good for you when you have a cold, or at least it will do no harm. A typical head cold with a runny nose and sneezing does not affect lung function or exercise capacity. And although exercise doesn’t actually speed recovery time, people who continue to exercise during a head cold tend to report that they feel better than people who don't exercise. So the next time you catch a cold, go ahead and continue doing whatever exercise you enjoy doing.

References:
"Effect of rhinovirus-caused upper respiratory illness on pulmonary function test and exercise responses". Weidner TG et al. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 29:604-609, 1997.
"The effect of exercise training on the severity and duration of a viral upper respiratory illness". Weidner TG et al. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 30:1578-1583, 1998.

Minggu, 21 Desember 2008

Federal Jobs II

Two separate announcements below for amphibian jobs in (1) Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks and (2) Yosemite National Park.
1. Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks
BIOLOGICAL SCIENCE TECHNICIANS (AQUATIC ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION): The
National Park Service is seeking up to six aquatic technicians for the 2009 summer field season in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI). All vacancies are GS-5 positions at $14.24/hr. The primary objective of these positions is to restore high elevation aquatic ecosystems, with a focus on enhancing mountain yellow-legged frog populations (Rana muscosa, Rana sierrae). Primary duties include backpacking to lake basins in park Wilderness, removing non-native trout populations from lakes and streams using gill nets and backpack electrofishers, and surveying populations of the mountain yellow-legged frog. Additional duties include following detailed protocols, recording environmental parameters, and communicating an overview of the project to park visitors. Emphasis is on field work in both team and individual settings. Work dates depend on timing of snowmelt, but are estimated to be from mid-June to late-September.

To be competitive for these positions, applicants must have 1) considerable backpacking experience in high elevation mountains, 2) the ability to hike safely across challenging on- and off-trail terrain, 3) the desire to work in remote Wilderness for weeks at a time, and 4) a strong commitment to conducting ecological restoration. Typical past employees have been upper-level undergaduates seeking degrees in aquatic biology/ecology or fish/wildlife programs, or had completed undergraduate or graduate degrees in these fields of study.

Interested applicants must apply through the USAJOBS website at
http://www.usajobs.gov. The job announcement number is SEKI 228053. To retrieve the announcement, type this number in the keywords search window,click the search button, and follow the resulting link. To determine whether you qualify at the GS-5 level, see the "Qualifications & Evaluations" page. Applications must include a resume that contains contact information for at least three references, a completed questionnaire (shown in announcement), and a copy of your college transcripts (if you wish to be qualified based on experience and education). See the "How to Apply" page for specific details.

Complete application packages must be submitted by Tuesday, January 20,2009 to be considered for these positions. For general application questions, contact SEKI Personnel by emailing Kellie_Lasswell@nps.gov or calling 559-565-3752. For specific position questions, contact SEKI Aquatic Resources by emailing Danny_Boiano@nps.gov or calling 559-565-4273.


2. Yosemite National Park
The vacancy announcement below is for amphibian field positions at Yosemite National Park . Work will mostly involve field surveys for amphibians at Yosemite, though some surveys will be conducted elsewhere in northern California . There may also be opportunities to participate in related research on amphibian chytrid fungus and the pesticides. I will be hiring one or two 2-person field crews.

Successful applicants will have:
- experience conducting field research, preferably involving amphibians
- strong outdoor skills that include hiking, backpacking, camping in remote areas
- ability to work well with a field partner under challenging conditions
- experience with maps, PDAs, GPS, and orienteering
USGS will supply all research equipment, field supplies, and a government vehicle. Field crews will have a campsite at one of the park campgrounds. In some years, a cabin is available for a portion of the season (at no cost), but availability of cabins will not be known until after work begins.

If you apply, don't make it hard for me to hire you. Provide sufficient detail for me to evaluate your background and contact key people. Make sure to include names and current phone numbers (not just emails) for all supervisors and references. Applicants who provide a one-page resume or state that "references available by request" are not likely to be hired.

Please get in touch with me if you have questions or need additional information. Thanks.

Gary Fellers
Research Biologist
Western Ecological Research Center, USGS
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes, CA 94956
415-464-5185
gary_fellers@usgs.gov
www.werc.usgs.gov/pt-reyes/fellers.asp

Federal Jobs #1

I'm going to post summer job announcements here as I hear of them. If you know of any I haven't posted please let me know. The jobs vary a lot in terms of whether they involve any actual research but I'll post anything that I think might make a good experience for a CCS Bio student.
---------------------------------------------
The US Forest Service is looking for qualified field botanists and weed crews to work throughout California in summer 2009. Seasonal Botanists and Biological Science Technicians are needed for 3-6 months, with pay ranges from $11.34 to $21.65 per hour (GS-3 – GS-9, depending on experience). Government housing may be available.

Job descriptions and Qualifications: Botanists: Conduct field surveys for rare plants and map locations. Weed Crew: Locate and manually remove invasive plants. Exact duties will vary among duty stations, and may include greenhouse work. Desired skills include: plant identification using taxonomic keys, familiarity with California flora; use of GPS, topographic maps, and compass; operating vehicles on rough roads, good physical fitness; and willingness to work under difficult field conditions.

Qualifications: Minimum 1 year college for GS-3 Biological Science Technician. Bachelor’s degree in biology, botany, natural resources, range science, biology, or related area, with 24 semester hours in botany required for GS-9 Botanist.Over 18 years of age, and a U.S. Citizen Position

Locations (Anticipated number of positions) – Contact Person:

  • Eldorado National Forest - Placerville, CA (1 or 2 Botany) – Susan Durham: 530-642-5173
  • Inyo National Forest – Bishop, CA (1 Botany) – Kathleen Nelson: 760-873-2498
  • Klamath National Forest – Happy Camp, CA (1 botany);
  • Fort Jones, CA (1 Botany);
  • Yreka, CA (1 Weeds) – Marla Knight: 530-468-1238
  • Lake Tahoe Basin Unit– South Lake Tahoe, CA (2 Weeds; 3 Botany) – Cecilia Reed: 530-543-2761, Shana Gross: 530-543-2752
  • Lassen National Forest – Susanville, CA (2-4 Weeds; 2 Botany) – Allison Sanger: 530-252-6662
  • Mendocino National Forest – Willows, CA (1 Botany) – Lauren Johnson: 530-934-1153
  • Modoc National Forest – Alturas, CA (2 Botany) – Judy Perkins: 530-233-8827
  • Plumas National Forest – Oroville, CA (3-5 Botany); Quincy, CA (2 Botany) – Chris Christofferson: 530- 532-7473, Jim Belsher-Howe: 530-283-7657
  • Shasta-Trinity National Forest – Weaverville, CA (3-5 Botany); Mount Shasta, CA (3 Weeds/Botany) – Susan Erwin: 530-623-1753, Rhonda Posey: 530-926-9665
  • Sierra National Forest – North Fork, CA (2 or more Botany) – Joanna Clines: 559-877-2218 x 3150, Jamie Tuitele-Lewis: 559-855-5355 x 3352

To Apply: Apply in the automated Forest Service site, AVUE

Job Titles: Biological Science Technician (Plants); Botanist (Temp) Students: Continuing students are eligible for direct hiring under the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP), and should submit applications directly to the Forest of interest. Contacts for each Forest are listed above.

Jumat, 19 Desember 2008

Detecting Protein Markers of Disease

Certain diseases are characterized as having specific abnormal proteins circulating in their blood. These proteins could serve as markers of the presence of the disease. However, the current clinical laboratory tests for these proteins are expensive, making screening millions of people for these diseases impractical. Generally, the only people who are tested are those who are at risk or who are already suspected of having the disease.

A technique just now being developed would make testing for the presence of abnormal plasma proteins easy, quick and cheap. The technique is based on glass and plastic microfluidic chips that can test for dozens of proteins in a single drop of blood, in just minutes, for pennies per test. The new technique is described in the Dec. 19 issue of Science.

Rabu, 17 Desember 2008

Incentives for Organ Donations

There are now over 100,000 patients waiting for an organ transplant. Over 6,000 of them will die this year because they will not find a suitable organ in time. The problem, as discussed in Human Biology 5th ed. (pp. 368-369), is simply too few available organs for too many patients. Aside from the fact that finding a good match among unrelated donors is relatively rare, healthy people are often reluctant to donate an organ for emotional reasons and there is no financial incentive for organ donations. In fact, current federal law states that a person can go to jail and be fined $50,000 if “valuable consideration” is given to a donor. The law was meant to discourage commercial trafficking in human organs (considered to be exploitive of the poor), but it has also had a chilling effect on altruistic giving.

But that may soon change. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania will introduce a bill next year that would allow states to offer certain “incentives” to donors and their families, such as tax credits, contributions to 401K retirement plans, and tuition vouchers. The bill still would still prohibit the direct buying and selling of organs, however, so you won’t be able to buy a kidney on eBay any time soon.

One patient’s emotional odyssey as her kidneys began to fail is described in “Desperately Seeking a Kidney” published two days ago in the New York Times. It might make an interesting additional reading assignment for your students.

Frozen Embryo Dilemma

Fertility treatments and IVF procedures generally produce more viable embryos than are needed in order to achieve a successful pregnancy. So after a couple has a child by IVF, they must decide what to do with the “leftover” embryos. There are at least five choices: 1) freeze and save them for several years in case they choose to have more children, 2) discard them, 3) donate them for research, 4) donate them to another couple, and 5) leave them frozen until some other decision is made.

A recent survey published in the journal Fertility and Sterility (online Dec. 5) indicates that the decision is a difficult one, even for couples that do not want any more children. Over 40% would not feel comfortable discarding the embryos. And even though they no longer needed them for themselves, over 50% would not consider donating their embryos to another couple. Common reasons given were because they wouldn’t want their child brought up by another couple or because of the fear that their child might meet an unknown sibling someday. Forty percent would consider donating their unused embryos for research, but that option is not available at all IVF clinics. Faced with what they view as unacceptable options, twenty percent say they will keep the embryos frozen indefinitely. However, frozen embryos may not be viable after several decades, so this may ultimately be a decision to let the embryos die.

There are now more than 400,000 frozen embryos at IVF clinics. The authors of the survey suggest that potential parents need to be counseled thoroughly about the choices ahead of them before they choose IVF, not after.

What would your students choose to do if they had leftover embryos?

Selasa, 16 Desember 2008

FYI

From the Chronicle of Higher Education

Late to Rise Seems to Make Students Wise


By DAVID GLENN

When college students refuse to sign up for early-morning classes, parents and faculty members sometimes give them sermons or stale quotations from Benjamin Franklin. But those students might actually have the right instincts, says a new study by two economists.

The study, whose results appear in the December issue of the Economics of Education Review, found
that students earn higher grades in courses that are offered later in the day. The effect is small but unmistakable: For each hour after 8 a.m. that a class begins, students' average grades are 0.024 points higher, on a 4-point grading scale.

The most likely reason, the authors say, is sheer exhaustion. Nineteen-year-olds find plenty of reasons not to go to bed before midnight. And even when they get adequate sleep, adolescents' brains tend to fire up later in the morning than adults' brains.

The effect is partly counteracted when classes meet frequently. Throughout the day, but especially in early-morning classes, students earn higher grades in classes that meet three times a week than in classes that meet only once or twice. Over all, however, the time-of-day effect is stronger than the frequency effect.

The authors-Angela K. Dills, an assistant professor of economics at Mercer University, and Rey Hernández-Julián, an assistant professor of economics at the Metropolitan State College of Denver-analyzed more than 100,000 course grades that were earned at Clemson University in the fall of 2000 and the spring of 2001.

Because their cache of data was so vast, the authors say, they were able to deal with certain challenges that have confounded previous studies of course scheduling. For example, they say that
they were able to partly or entirely eliminate the possibility that professors grade more leniently in their late-day classes than in their break-of-dawn classes, or that the most difficult courses happen to be scheduled in the morning, or that stronger students are the first to register for classes and are thus more likely to enroll in courses that start later in the day.

Kamis, 11 Desember 2008

Campus lagoon Internship opportunity

Water Quality/Hydrology Internship:
I am looking for a student interested in working with me on the data and reports on the Campus lagoon water quality from studies we have completed, implementing follow-up studies, assisting with data monitoring for the larger study and, possibly, helping with modelling of water quality in the lagoon. I need a self-starter willing to do some independent research, collect water samples and collaborate with professors on campus. We have a stipend of $250 for Winter quarter and the possibility of additional funding should the candidate have more time to commit to the project.

Interpretive Sign Research Project Internship:

We are designing a sign to provide essential information about the ecological state of the UCSB Campus Lagoon related to geology, recent history and current ecological status. Looking for an independent person who can do research and is interested in interpretive signage and presentation. Skills in graphic design not required. Creativity a plus! Pays $250.

Both internships come with an expectation of ~ 6 hours per week commitment.

Post-fire biological research opportunities at Parma Park

Dear Professor or Colleague:
The 200-acre Parma Park burned in the recent Tea Fire. While the City of Santa Barbara is busy preparing for winter storms, we realize there may be exciting opportunities to observe post fire vegetation and community succession in the months and years to follow. Parma Park is currently closed to the public. If you are interested in bringing your class to observe, or have students interested in post-fire research (currently no City funding available), please contact me to discuss. There may also be post-fire research opportunities related to wildlife, water resources and geology.

Parma Park is a City of Santa Barbara Open Space park, located off Highway 192 (Stanwood Drive), east of the Sheffield Reservoir. The Park contains a diverse array of native plant communities and wildlife, along with unique assemblages of soil types, geology, steep terrain and tributaries to Stanwood Creek. Native plant communities at Parma Park include chaparral, oak woodland, riparian forest, coastal sage scrub, and remnant patches of native grassland. Non-native plant species also occur within the Park.

Please feel free to forward this email to any parties that may be interested.

Thank you,

Kathy Frye
Natural Areas Planner
City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation

Box 1990, Santa Barbara, CA 93102
PH (805) 897-1976
kfrye@SantaBarbaraCa.gov

Senin, 08 Desember 2008

Alzheimer's Disease Linked to a Virus

Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating disorder of the elderly characterized by severe, progressive loss of memory, confusion, irritability, and withdrawal. The disease develops because amyloid plaques accumulate in the brain, interfering with neural transmission. But why do these plaques develop in some elderly persons but not others?

A recent paper in the Journal of Pathology (217:131-138, Jan. 2009) offers some tantalizing clues. It appears that two factors may be involved; 1) a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, and 2) chronic infection of the brain with the same virus that causes cold sores; Herpes simplex type 1. The herpes virus is present in the brains of a high proportion of elderly persons. In the absence of the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s the virus doesn’t seem to do much. But in elderly patients with the genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s, the virus is associated with amyloid plaque accumulation and may in fact be the cause of the plaque formation. If this turns out to be correct, Alzheimer’s disease may some day be preventable with a vaccine.

I am reminded of another chronic disease - peptic ulcers - that turned out to be caused by an infection, in this case by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (see Human Biology, 5th ed., p. 328).

Rabu, 03 Desember 2008

More research opportunities

Caltech is excited to announce two summer research opportunities available to
continuing undergraduate students. Questions about these programs can be
directed to Carol Casey at casey@caltech.edu or (626) 395-2887.

MURF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH FELLOWSHIPS

The MURF program aims to increase the participation of underrepresented
students (such as African American, Hispanic, and Native American, females
who are underrepresented in their discipline, and first-generation college
students) in science and engineering Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. programs and to make
Caltech's programs more visible to students not traditionally exposed to
Caltech.

Eligibility: Students must be current sophomores through non-graduating
seniors and must be U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents. A minimum GPA
of 3.0 is required.

Support: MURF students will receive a $6000 award for the ten-week program.
Additional housing and travel support may be provided.

Application: Online applications are due January 12, 2009.

For more information, please visit www.murf.caltech.edu

AMGEN SCHOLARS PROGRAM

Caltech's Amgen Scholars Program is geared towards students in biology,
chemistry, and biotechnology fields. Some of these fields include biology,
biochemistry, bioengineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and
chemistry.

Eligibility: Students must be current sophomores through non-graduating
seniors, must be attending a four-year university, and must be U.S. citizens
or U.S. permanent residents. A minimum GPA of 3.2 is required.

Support: Amgen Scholars will receive a $5500 award, round-trip air
transportation, a generous housing allowance, and a food allowance.

Application: Online applications are due February 15, 2009.

For more information, please visit www.amgenscholars.caltech.edu

Carol Casey
Associate Director
Student-Faculty Programs
California Institute of Technology
Mail Code 08-31
Pasadena, CA 91125
(626) 395-2887
casey@caltech.edu

Marine biodiversity undergrad research opportunity

For the fifth consecutive year, we will be running The Diversity Project, an NSF funded  research opportunity designed to increase participation of under-represented undergraduate students in the marine sciences. In collaboration between Boston University, Duke University, Old Dominion University and UCLA, students will integrate hands-on field research in the Coral Triangle with cutting edge genetic research. The project will explore the origins marine biodiversity in the Coral Triangle in an effort to improve conservation of this remarkable ecosystems. Students are fully funded for both living and travel expenses. Visit http://www.eeb.ucla.edu/Faculty/Barber/Intro.htm for more information and on-line application.

This research opportunity has been a remarkable personal and professional experience for the students who have participated.
Please encourage any students whom you believe would benefit from such an experience to apply. Applications are due January 15, 2009.

Selasa, 02 Desember 2008

Colloquium and Seminar

For those of you in the Biology colloquium remember that Wednesday is our final meeting and the ball is in your court. Please bring your final two assignments: the review of faculty web pages and the seminar review if you have not already submitted them. Be prepared to speak about your plan of action for finding a research position.

A last minute seminar:
Wednesday Dec. 3
9 AM in MSRB 1302
Shawna McMahon, PhD exit seminar
Seasonality of Arctic Soil Microbial Community Substrate Use.


Jumat, 28 November 2008

PhD

I love Thanksgiving. As a foreigner I'm hardly expected to return home for the occasion, and as a holiday it has few expectations (especially if you observe Buy Nothing Day). So basically I get a really nice long weekend to catch up on stuff. I'm on my third book of the weekend, the third chapter of a textbook I'm reviewing and in between those endeavors I am catching up on a few websites I'd bookmarked to explore in more detail when I had time. One of these, that admittedly I bookmarked a long time ago, was Erik Ringmar's blog. Ringmar was a lecturer at the prestigious London School of Economics (or LSE), who got into trouble for his blog when he fairly openly criticized the school. The article in question, a report of an open day address, is actually rather refreshing for its honesty and hardly seems that critical to me. In a similar vein I found this post, of advice to prospective PhD students, to be worthy of mention. Do read right to the end though....

Kamis, 27 November 2008

Bren events next week

I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving. Don't forget tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day:

Now in its 17th year, Buy Nothing Day is celebrated every November by environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in over 65 countries around the world. Over the years, Buy Nothing Day (followed by Buy Nothing Christmas) has exploded into a global movement, inspiring the world’s citizens to live more simply and buy a whole lot less.

On a slightly related note, the Bren school of Environmental Science and Management has two environmentally themed seminars next week:

Tuesday, Dec. 2, 200812:30 - 1:30 p.m. in Bren Hall 1414
Professor Ramprasad Sengupta
Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University , New Delhi , India
High Economic Growth, Equity, and Sustainable Energy Development of India.

Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008 4:00 - 5:00 p.m. in Bren Hall 1424
Miriam Haran, PhD
Former Director General, Israeli Ministry of the Environment Head, MBA Environmental Management Program Ono Academic College Kiryat Ono, Israel
Financial Meltdown Does not Slow Global Warming: The Environment in Israel

Senin, 24 November 2008

Anniversary-ish

The website 'On this day in peace history' is noting today (Nov 24th) as the 149th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.' Wikipedia, citing a Darwin biography by Adrian Desmond, has it going on sale on the 22nd of November (and selling out almost instantly). A random sampling of a couple of other websites suggests Wikipedia may be correct. Of greater certainty is the fact that in just a few short months, on February 12th, it will be the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin. What better way to pre-celebrate Valentine's day? (Except by listening to the promising and bizarre combination of Patti Smith and Phillip Glass celebrating the work of Allen Ginsburg in Campbell Hall).

In honor of this possible anniversary (or not), enjoy these YouTube clips. You've probably seen the first one. The second one won a lot of advertising awards. Both of them misrepresent evolution in several important ways but that's part of the fun.....




Coral reef seminar today

EEMB Seminar speaker today is EEMB's own Nichole Price. 
Nichole is giving her PhD exit seminar:
"Processes structuring benthic communities on a coral reef".
4pm, Monday, in the MSRB Auditorium.

Re-creating Extinct Animals

According to a recent article in the New York Times, advances in DNA sequencing and genetic engineering techniques are leading to cautious optimism among scientists that someday it may be possible to bring extinct animals back to life. But it will not be easy. DNA undergoes decay after death, falling apart into little pieces within about 60,000 years. Determining the correct sequence of an extinct species’ DNA requires special DNA sequencers that can analyze the tiny pieces and then calculate how they were aligned in the original intact molecule.

The second step would be to actually reconstruct the deciphered DNA code back into intact DNA once again. One way would be to “reverse engineer” the DNA of a close living relative species until it is similar to the known sequence of the extinct species. So far this has not been possible because of the sheer numbers of base pairs (perhaps half a million) that would need to be modified. But researchers are hopeful that techniques will be available soon to modify up to 50,000 sites at a time. The extinct species’ DNA would then be inserted into an egg of the living relative and incubated in that relative until birth.

How would your students react if it were to be announced one day that an extinct human such as a Neanderthal had been reverse engineered and then born to a modern human or a primate mother?!

Sabtu, 22 November 2008

Dumb eco-questions you were afraid to ask

Not directly CCS Biology related but since sustainability is the theme du jour I thought I'd post this here in the hope that somebody might learn something. At UC Berkeley I worked with a lot of students on recycling projects as they investigated an interesting variety of topics from the economics of single stream versus mutliple stream recycling to the contribution of the homeless to the recycling industry. The message I came away with is that recycling is a complicated, constantly changing and sometimes counter intuitive industry.

For example single stream recycling (where all recycling is collected in one bin) is becoming increasingly popular because collection costs are lowest and new technology allows some quite efficient sorting of materials at the depot. However recycling agencies discovered that the less restrictive you make the instructions - the more you collect. ie if you say 'All plastics' you collect a lot more (of ALL kinds of plastics) than if you say only 'Plastics #1 and #2' and if you say something like 'Only #1PETE and #2HDPE blow molded plastic jugs and bottles' you collect least of all because people get confused and end up chucking a lot more in the garbage. But the truth is that in many areas there is ONLY a market for the aforementioned #1 and blow molded#2. So they collect everything but then end up chucking away everything else so that they can get more of #1 and #2. Confused? Try persuading your friends that in most cases they are better off throwing away plastics (at least of #3 and greater), even if their recycling company collects them, because putting them in the recycling devalues the value of the recycling.

This does differ a bit from place to place and depends on your local collection agency and what the local market is for recycling products. I was reminded of this because New Scientist had an article this week on 'Dumb eco-questions you were afraid to ask' that covers a few of these recycling issues. Including the popular, and much debated pizza box question. I'm not sure why they call them dumb though, most of these are pretty good questions.

Coincidentally Popular Mechanics had an article on 'Recycling Myths: Popular Mechanics Debunks 5 Half Truths about Recycling' this month which contains some useful ecomomic information about the recycling industry.

Rabu, 19 November 2008

Ginkgo Doesn't Prevent Dementia

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, daily doses of the popular herbal antioxidant Ginkgo biloba neither prevent nor delay the onset of dementia (cognitive impairment). The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Herbal extracts of Ginkgo remain popular as a memory enhancer, even though previous scientific evidence showed that Ginkgo just doesn’t enhance memory. So don't expect this latest finding regarding dementia to put much of a dent in Ginkgo’s annual sales of over $200 million. Good marketing apparently trumps good science.

Selasa, 18 November 2008

CCS Biology Colloquium Resources available outside the Biology Departments

The following is an incomplete list of resources available for research purposes outside of MCDB and EEMB, both on campus and otherwise in Santa Barbara.

AT UCSB
Anthropology
Anthro has a teaching/reference collection of skeletal material of vertebrates that is largely focused to the interpretation of human habitation sites, but the collection and associated courses can be invaluable to students interested in questions of hard-part anatomy of vertebrates.

Biomolecular Science and Engineering
The Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Biomolecular Science and Engineering epitomizes the highly interdisciplinary approach to research and education that is the hallmark of UC Santa Barbara. In this context BMSE offers a unique mix for graduate training and research at the frontiers of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering and Biomolecular Materials. The BMSE Program may be for graduates, but an examination of Faculty research pages will lead you to some laboratories working on the forefront of materials and nano-technology where you might find a research option. See particularly:

The Bren School of Environmental Sciences and Policy
The Bren School is technically a graduate program. However, there are some good biological folk there, and if you can talk your way in, so much the better:

Environmental Studies

Geological Sciences
The department has several mass spectrometric facilities focused upon paleoclimatology recorded by isotopes of Carbon, Oxygen, strontium and others. These isotopes can be used to track other things too. The Paleontological Collections. Ostensibly part of the Museum of Systematics and Ecology, but housed in PSB South. Largely focused upon invertebrate fossils, particularly of the last 60 million years of southern California.

Geography
Extraordinary strengths in remote sensing; both in the use of existing technology and the development of new technologies. Very important for any research involving widespread geographic coverage.
The Department of Geography hosts a wonderful resource, Spatial@UCSB, dedicated to visualizing and analyzing data in a 3D manner. They offer consultation on your data sets at specific hours.

Psychology
The Evolutionary Psychology program has strong ties to the Neurobiology Research Institute. People include:
Psychology also contains many people who overlap in interests with MCDB:
Chemistry and Biochemistry

The sixteen faculty in the area of Biochemistry center around the common themes of bio-organic and bio-inorganic reaction mechanisms, protein-nucleic acid recognition, nucleic acid structure and dynamics, and membrane transport. They can offer expertise in a number of experimental tools such as Xray diffraction, computer graphics and computational analysis.

    The UCSB Library
    Beyond standard library resources, UCSB hosts the "Map and Imagery Library" (MIL) in the first floor of the SEL wing. This is a national repository, and has both digital and paper images of just about any kind of geographic reference you could want. This includes:
    • Topographic maps
    • Geologic Maps
    • Maps & volumes summarizing vegetation, climate, hydrology, cultural and other features;
    • Aerial photographs from landsat down to old plane-flown photographs.
    • And much more!
    The Marine Science Institute
    The Marine Science Institute (MSI), established at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1969, is the focus for marine, coastal zone, and freshwater research; marine policy studies; and educational outreach in marine science. MSI administers and supports research projects involving faculty, professional researchers, technical staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students from 14 disciplines. There are a LARGE number of researchers associated with the MSI who are not faculty in one of the biology departments – and many are very student friendly. Some specific faculty to check out include :
    Carrie Culver, Tom Dudley, Jenny Dugan, Mark Page, Dan Reed, Kevin Lafferty and Milton Love (See especially Milton Love’s web page – it’s cool!). A complete list of MSI associated faculty can be found here.
    PISCO (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans) is a large, long-term, ecosystem research and monitoring program that involves Santa Barbara and three other West Coast campuses (Oregon State, Stanford and UCSC).

    Cheadle Center for the Study of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration (CCBER)
    Located under the south end of the stadium. Used to be the Museum of Systematics and Ecology in EEMB, now independent. Houses the plant and animal collections of the University. Hosts a range of research projects, particularly concerning biodiversity and the reclamation of local ecosystems. Very strong programs in outreach to local school children. Check out their internships.

    National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)
    An outstanding international think tank on anything ecological and a lot evolutionary. It is a cross road of visiting scientists, in house researchers and periodic work groups who have access to a series of immense computerized databases that allow researchers to seek out explanations for gross patterns in Nature. Many UCSB faculty and graduate students participate, and there are frequent opportunities to work as paid data-collectors or enterers. NCEAS is located on State Street, in the center of the Paseo Nuevo. Note that they have a Thursday lunch seminar that hosts internationally known scholars.

    The UC Natural Reserve System.
    The UC System is unusual (not quite unique) in owning its own set of natural reserves dedicated to instruction and research. Each reserve is selected as representative of an important ecosystem in California. Most are managed by resident scientists. All are available for visitation or research with proper initial approval (signing of waiver forms indicating respect of the property, etc. ). Each Reserve has its own web site, and most list past research conducted on the Reserve. A good way to see who is doing what.

    UCSB has one on campus (Coal Oil Point Note particularly here that Cristina Sandoval (director of Coal Oil Point) is an active researcher who interacts with undergrads) and two nearby (Sedgwick Ranch & Carpinteria Salt Marsh). We also manage the Santa Cruz Island Reserve, the Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve near Cambria, the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab in Bishop, and the Valentine Camp on the eastern face of the High Sierra.

    OFF CAMPUS

    Channel Islands National Park (And the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary)
    The National Park Service manages several of the Channel Islands, and is interested in supporting research on them. Most of their voucher specimens come to Museum of Natural History

    Lotusland Botanic Garden
    Located in Montecito, Lotusland occupies 38 acres, much planted with exotic plant species in striking array. Lotusland has the world's third largest collection of cycads, and outstanding collections of Agave, Aloe and cool-tolerant palms. The garden is looking to become increasingly involved in research.

    Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
    Nearly a century old, the garden focuses upon native Californian plants. It has an outstanding living collection arranged by habitats, and a good library and herbarium focused in native flora. The Garden has a long-standing reputation for research into native Californian plants, and the biogeography of the Channel Islands. Research students interested in botany would do well to explore this.

    Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Sea Center.

    The Museum of Natural History is likewise nearly a century old, and has an established research reputation. It has internationally-recognized collections of living Mollusca and bird egg shells, and a very strong collection of marine invertebrates of the Santa Barbara Channel. Other collections include an excellent collection of mammals, particularly marine mammals, of southern California, a wide range of fossil whale material, a decent insect collection, and collections of particularly Pleistocene fossil marine and terrestrial organisms. It hosts active researchers working on - Marine Mammals Krista A. Fahy, Michelle L. Berman, - Marine octopods, F. G. Hochberg - Marine gastropods, Henry Chaney - Marine Mollusca, Paul Valentich Scott - Entomology - Michael Caterino - see his spectacular site on the California Beetle project, Ethnobotany, Jan Timbrook and Vertebrate Biology, Paul Collins.

    Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens

    The Zoo is mostly dedicated to the culture and reproduction of living, endangered, taxa. However, while they might not take kindly to dissecting a living animal, they certainly offer opportunities to examine behavior, and who knows what else might be worked out.

    USC Wrigley Marine Science Center, Catalina Island

    For those of you with marine interests, a local (SoCal) resource is the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina island, run by USC. It offers research opportunities and summer courses.

    Senin, 17 November 2008

    Foldit

    Foldit is a computer game that was released in May of this year that allows amateurs to compete against, and collaborate with, specialists to design protein structures. Introductory levels teach the general governing concepts that users must understand before moving on to design complicated, potentially useful molecules. This is an interesting example of the potential power of distributed computing. Human brains currently manipulate three dimensional structures much better than computers. It is hoped that by studying how humans solve puzzles better computer algorithms will be devised. The YouTube video below gives a nice overview of the game.

    Kamis, 13 November 2008

    How flies find stuff.

    Next week's EEMB seminar speaker will be Dr. Michael Dickinson, professor of bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology.  Michael's research merges behavioural ecology and bioengineering to study how flies perceive and navigate their environment. His work (and talks) are very exciting and has resulted in his being awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation prize (a very big deal). For more information on Michael's research, check out his page at Caltech.

    This talk will be on Monday at 4pm in Psych 1924 (note venue change).

    I have heard Michael talk many times and can assure you that this will be a great talk. Strongly recommended for all, regardless of your interest in flies, flight or stuff.

    Surrogate Grandmother

    According to an Associated Press article that appeared in many major newspapers and news services yesterday, a 56-year-old woman gave birth last month to triplets. The event was noteworthy because the three baby girls were actually her biological granddaughters.

    Apparently a young couple could not conceive because the woman had had a hysterectomy. So they used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to produce their embryos, which were then implanted into the young woman’s 56-year-old mother.

    My class took quite an interest in the many and varied reproductive possibilities raised by modern IVF techniques. They understood the obvious benefit, which is to enable some infertile couples to have children of their own. They also quickly grasped that it could also be used (in combination with preimplantation genetic diagnosis) to choose a child’s sex, to avoid having a child with certain genetic disorders, or even to cure an older sibling of a genetic disorder (See the Current Issue in Human Biology 5th ed., pp. 396-397). But they didn’t come up with this scenario!

    Rabu, 12 November 2008

    Reef fish seminar

    I would like to announce the following invited research seminar by Dr Michel Kulbicki of the University of Perpignan. The seminar will be presented in the main Auditorium of the Marine Science Institute Research Building on Tuesday, November 25th from 4-5PM and is sponsored by the Moorea Coral Reef LTER site.

    Michel Kulbicki is based at the Insitut de Recherche pour le Développement in Perpignan, France. He was originally trained in biology and fish ecology at the Institut National d'Agronomie de Paris and Oregon State University. After four years of work on tuna fisheries and echointegration, he came to reef fish ecology in 1985. He was then based in New Caledonia where he worked until 2004. During his stay there, he had the opportunity to conduct fieldwork in New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Tonga and Fiji. His major interests lie in linking the characteristics of reef fish assemblages (e.g. species composition, functional groups, trophic or size structure) to factors at various spatial scales, from local (reef type, fishing pressure, coral cover) to regional (island size, island type, degree of isolation). He is also interested in developing better methods to survey reef fish and in associating information on fish obtained via underwater visual censuses with information on the environment obtained via remote sensing.

    Seminar Title: Macro-ecology and understanding the large scale functioning of reef fish assemblages in the Pacific

    Abstract: The regional species and functional diversity of reef fishes determines to a significant extent the local species and functional diversity of these fishes in the Pacific. As regional diversity is related to large scale factors such as island size and connectivity, distance to the biodiversity center, latitude, these factors also play a role on the distribution and composition of local reef fish diversity. Amongst the life history traits, (adult) size follows gradients linked to island size and connectivity. Species range is also found to be correlated to species (adult) size and larval duration and is also correlated to island size and connectivity. Colonizing ability can be as well related to (adult) size (finding mates, reproductive capacity, resource limitation). These findings explain why on small isolated islands the proportion of large species is higher than on large connected islands in the Pacific. One of the major consequence is the shape of the diversity-biomass relationship which presents a steeper slope on small isolated islands but reaches lower values of biomass because of lower diversity. The implications for management are important, in particular this shows how small islands will be far more fragile to fishing than larger or well connected islands. These findings may find applications in other systems where "ecological islands" exist.

    Selasa, 11 November 2008

    Whatever Happened to Golden Rice?

    Golden rice was once heralded as a cure for vitamin A deficiency, which kills or blinds children in poorer countries worldwide. But twelve years after its development golden rice is still not being produced and distributed. The primary reason is categorical opposition to all genetically engineered (GE) foods by organizations such as Greenpeace. Greenpeace argues that although golden rice might indeed benefit vitamin-deficient children, acceptance of golden rice would open the door to other GE crops that Greenpeace vehemently opposes.

    In the face of intense, well-organized opposition, government regulatory agencies have been reluctant to approve GE crops, including golden rice. The company holding the patent on golden rice eventually gave up, saying there was no money in it. It's still being studied in a few labs by humanitarian organizations such as World Food Day, but don’t expect to see it on grocery shelves any time soon. That's too bad, for golden rice really is a product that could help people in need, as opposed to just helping food producers and manufacturers.

    Senin, 10 November 2008

    Seminar this evening

    If your days are just packed then how about an early evening seminar?

    Monday evening seminar (tonight) will be presented by Dr. Deborah Gordon from Stanford University. Her talk is entitled:

    Ecology and behavior of Argentine Ants in California.

    LOCATION: CCBER Classroom at Harder Stadium,
    TIME: 6-7 PM

    Minggu, 09 November 2008

    Wonders of ocean life counted in massive census

    I'm not sure exactly why this is the lead story on the CNN website right now, slow news day?, but it's good to see some biology there.

    A city of brittle stars off the coast of New Zealand, an Antarctic expressway where octopuses ride along in a flow of extra salty water and a carpet of tiny crustaceans on the Gulf of Mexico sea floor are among the wonders discovered by researchers compiling a massive census of marine life.

    Sabtu, 08 November 2008

    Society of Undergraduate Biologists

    I already posted this once but I'll give it another shout. Get involved now whilst the club is getting going and you can get in on the ground floor. One moment you'll be a community organizer and the next moment......

    MISSION STATEMENT:

    The Society of Undergraduate Biologists (SUB) was formed by students at UCSB with the desire to promote widespread scientific communication both within the undergraduate biology community and between the students and the faculty members of the CCS, MCDB and EEMB departments. The organization will strive, alongside the respective biology departments, to foster a community of well-rounded and active scientists through its platforms of communication, mentorship, and the promotion of undergraduate research.

    PLATFORMS:

    Research: SUB will strive to promote undergraduate research as both an essential part of an undergraduate’s education and as an asset to the scientific community. SUB will support those undergraduates already involved and will encourage those still yet to participate. Future goals: Obtaining special funding for undergraduate research; Undergraduate research seminars; Encouraging involvement in undergraduate research; Featuring UCSB research through the org. website and events.
    Mentorship: The biology degrees offered by the CCS, EEMB and MCDB departments allow students to explore exciting educational challenges and opportunities. SUB will facilitate a system of mentorship in which undergraduates, throughout all four years of their degree, can look to others for advice in maximizing their experience at UCSB. Future goals: Graduate student-undergraduate student mentorship program; Promotion of departmental peer advisors; Events for incoming freshmen; Study group organization; Grad school admissions seminars. Communication: Science is a group effort. Communication is key. SUB will promote a well-informed undergraduate community by facilitating communication amongst undergraduates, between students and faculty, and between biology departments. Future goals: Promotion of departmental events (seminars, symposia, etc.); Undergraduate science-focused social events; Faculty-student events.

    Kamis, 06 November 2008

    REU site

    A couple of the students on Wednesday mentioned the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates program. NSF maintains an extensive website where you can find details of what the REU program is all about and allows you to list the sites by subject or state. The list of sites in the Biological Sciences is impressive. Many (most?) of the REU programs run over the summer so this is early notice of something you may want to consider for next summer.

    Rabu, 05 November 2008

    Ecosystem services seminar

    THE BREN SCHOOL OF ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT
    Presents
    Ashok Khosla
    Chairman, Development Alternatives Group India President
    International Union for Conservation of Nature
    Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008
    12:30 - 1:30 p.m.
    Bren Hall 1414

    "The Importance of Including the Value of Ecosystem Services in Economic Calculations "

    Scientists in Japan clone mice that had been frozen for 16 years

    http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE4A26NV20081103

    They suggest this leads to the possibility of cloning extinct species from the cells of frozen animals like mammoths. I've also heard the idea that being able to clone animals could lead to an ethical meat option for vegans and vegetarians (no animal would be harmed as the meat would be grown by itself in a lab).

    Sabtu, 01 November 2008

    New Nutrient Standards for Packaged Foods

    Finally, someone has decided to make it easy for consumers to pick the healthiest packaged foods! A coalition of some of the biggest food companies has teamed up with scientists and the federal government to develop and promote a simple front-of-package logo called “Smart Choices” to indicate that a food meets certain nutritional standards. The standards include limited quantities of total and saturated fats, cholesterol, added sugars and salt, as well as minimum quantities of nutrients for good health, such as calcium, potassium, fiber, and certain vitamins. And like the “Heart Healthy” program originally developed by the American Heart Association, the new program is based on good scientific evidence.

    Once consumers understand what the logo means and accept its underlying health assumptions, they can simply look for the logo on the front of the package. “Pattern recognizers” such as myself (who can’t find their favorite products in the grocery store if the manufacturer changes the packaging!) will appreciate the help in picking healthful foods. The logo is a green check mark in a square along with the words, “Smart Choices Program”. For a complete listing of the nutritional requirements to earn the Smart Choices label, visit the Smart Choices website. The logo should begin appearing on products in stores by the middle of next year.

    Jumat, 24 Oktober 2008

    Who Were the Flores People?

    Since their discovery in 2004, the origin and identity of a diminutive people who lived on the island of Flores, Indonesia 70,000 to 12,000 years ago have been the hot topic among paleoanthropologists (see the Current Issue in Human Biology 5th ed., pp. 520-521.) The discoverers immediately claimed to have unearthed a new human species, which they named Homo floresiensis. Nay-sayers still dispute the claim, saying that the one skeleton found so far, named LB1, is nothing more than a diseased human with microcephaly.

    Well, it seems that the new-species proponents are gaining ground these days. Analysis of LB1’s hands and feet suggest that this is not the skeleton of a modern but diseased human. Her wrist bones and especially her feet are closer to those of Homo erectus, an African Hominid that lived in Africa more than a million years ago. Her feet are so long that scientists think she must have walked with a high-stepping gait and been a poor runner. How Homo floresiensis reached Indonesia and survived there for over 50,000 years is a mystery.

    For a good look at the one skeleton unearthed so far, see “When Hobbits (Slowly) Walked the Earth”, Science April 25, 2008, pp. 433-435. You can get the article online at www.sciencemag.org - search for "When Hobbits".

    Rabu, 15 Oktober 2008

    What's in That Energy Drink?

    How much caffeine is there in those so-called “energy drinks”? Take a look at the article in press in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence (2008) by C.J. Reissig, et al., entitled “Caffeinated energy drinks – A growing problem”, available online at www.sciencedirect.com. According to Table 1 in the article, some of them are pretty high-powered. Most energy drinks have about the same caffeine concentration as brewed coffee, but considering that some drinks come in 16- or even 24-oz sizes, that's a lot of caffeine.

    Sales of these products continue to climb. Health officials are growing increasingly concerned by reports of acute caffeine intoxication, dependence, and withdrawal among children. There is also a trend toward the combined use of energy drinks and alcohol among young adults.

    Which ones do your students drink? Do they know what’s in them?

    Selasa, 14 Oktober 2008

    Portable Music Players and Hearing Loss

    In Human Biology, 5th edition we warn that portable music players are capable of sound levels that could permanently damage one’s hearing (“Do Portable Music Players Endanger Your Hearing?” p. 293). A commission of the European Union apparently agrees. In an opinion made public yesterday, the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) concluded that users of portable music players who listen at high volumes for more than an hour a day risk permanent hearing loss. Their best guess is that 5-10 percent of listeners, or up to 10 million people in the EU, fall into that category. They warn that although listening at high volumes may not seem to have an immediate effect, it still may lead to hearing loss later in life.

    The European Commission is planning a conference for early 2009 to discuss the committee’s findings with industry, consumers, and governments, and to consider whether there is a need for tighter controls over portable music players. I would not be surprised to see new legislation emerge that limits the maximum sound volumes attainable with portable music players.

    SCENICOR’s 80-page preliminary report, released in June for public comment, is available online.

    Minggu, 12 Oktober 2008

    Ginkgo and Prevention of Stroke

    The herbal remedy Ginkgo biloba may help prevent strokes, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The researchers induced strokes in mice after treating some of the mice with various doses of Ginkgo. The mice pretreated with Ginkgo had nearly 50 percent less brain damage after stroke than the untreated mice. The researchers speculate that Ginkgo may be protective against stroke because it increases the level of an antioxidant enzyme that eliminates free radicals. And free radicals reportedly have damaging effects in living cells, even after a stroke-causing clot is removed or dissolved.

    Researchers caution that so far, the research has only been done on mice. Still, it’s encouraging to see herbal remedies being subjected to the same kind of careful scientific scrutiny that has traditionally been applied to therapeutic drugs. This is exactly what we had hoped for, as discussed in Human Biology 5th ed. in the Current Issue essay entitled “Antioxidants: Hope or Hype?” (pp. 42-43). In time perhaps we’ll know the real story behind herbal remedies, and not have to rely on anecdotes and hype.

    Kamis, 09 Oktober 2008

    New Drug Test for Athletes

    The International Olympics Committee plans to retest many of the nearly 1,000 blood samples it collected during the 2008 games in Beijing for a synthetic analogue of the natural hormone erythropoietin, called CERA. CERA is a so-called “designer drug” that was supposed to escape detection. But a test is now available to detect CERA, and several Tour de France cyclists subsequently were found to have used it.

    According to World Anti-Doping Agency rules, an athlete’s blood may be retested for up to eight years after an athletic event. The International Olympics Committee keeps blood samples for eight years for situations like this, in which a new test is developed to detect a previously undetectable performance-enhancing drug. It’s just another way that sports authorities try to keep up with athletes who are willing to cheat. Sports authorities hope that the knowledge that an athlete might still be stripped of his/her medals up to eight years after a competition will deter some athletes from using drugs in the first place. But the desire to win is strong, and no one knows if the strategy will work.

    Rabu, 08 Oktober 2008

    More on Sequestering Carbon

    A good article on current and future methods of carbon sequestration for reducing greenhouse gases is “Down with Carbon” (Science News May 10, 2008, pp. 18-23.) The article is written at a level that students will understand. Some promising possibilities for long-term storage include the bottom of the ocean, in sandstone/saline aquifers deep underground, or in volcanic rock formations. There are also some interesting synthetic materials called zeolites in development that can soak up carbon.

    Instructors will be interested in the detailed report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) entitled “Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage – Summary for Policymakers”. The article has some great illustrations that would be useful in teaching. They can be used free with acknowledgment.

    Jumat, 26 September 2008

    Carbon Sequestration

    A currently feasible technology for sequestering carbon so that it can't contribute to global warming is to store it deep underground. Take a look at the procedure used at Statoil of Norway’s Sleipner West gas field. Statoil is storing 2,800 tons of CO2 deep underground every day, in what is currently the largest carbon sequestration project in the world. Their website has a nice animation that shows the chemical process for separating the CO2 from natural gas, as well as a good reference article that your students could read and understand. We talk about carbon sequestration in the upcoming 5th edition of Human Biology, in the Current Issue on global warming (pp. 556-557).

    Rabu, 24 September 2008

    A Screening Test for Ovarian Cancer?

    Here’s an ethical dilemma for you:

    A promising new screening test for ovarian cancer called OvaSure can correctly identify ovarian cancer 95% of the time. Ovarian cancer is one of the most deadly cancers if it is not detected early. The company marketing the test says that the test has a false-positive rate of only 0.6%. (A false-positive is when the test indicates that cancer is present when in fact it is not.) Should the test be made widely available as a screening test for ovarian cancer?

    Let’s see; 95% success rate at detecting ovarian cancer versus a 0.6% false-positive rate – it doesn’t sound like much of a dilemma, does it? You might try it out on your students to see what they think. But it is an interesting dilemma, and the reason is that ovarian cancer is rare; its prevalence is only about 0.06%. So among 100,000 women screened with the new test, 60 (0.06% of 100,000) would have ovarian cancer and 57 of them (95%) would be diagnosed correctly. Many of these 57 might be saved. However, 600 women (0.6%) would be told they had ovarian cancer when they did not. In the absence of any good corroborating tests to confirm the diagnosis, many of those 600 women might choose to have a surgery they actually didn’t need. And almost certainly they'd suffer emotionally from the belief that they had a deadly cancer.

    Sometimes you have to run the numbers carefully to see the full effect of what is being said. It pays to be a skeptic.

    ADDENDUM: Ovasure was pulled from the market in October, 2008, after the FDA sent the company a letter saying that the kits required FDA approval before they could be marketed and sold.

    Jumat, 19 September 2008

    Gender Selection Nears Perfection

    In Human Biology 5th ed., pp. 396-397, we talk about some of the ethical and technical aspects of gender selection of a baby, and we mentioned sperm sorting followed by artificial insemination as a way of increasing a couple’s chances of having a boy to over 75%, a girl to over 90%.

    Well, if those odds still aren’t good enough, now gender can be selected with essentially 100% accuracy. Basically, it’s a variation of the standard in vitro fertilization (IVF) technique: 1) harvest eggs from a woman according to the standard IVF protocol, 2) fertilize the eggs in vitro, 3) grow the embryos to the 8-16 cell stage, 4) Remove a cell for DNA analysis to determine the presence or absence of the Y chromosome, 5) implant only embryos of the desired sex. Bingo, it’s a girl! (Or a boy).

    Removing a cell for DNA analysis doesn’t affect the ultimate development of the fetus because at that stage none of the cells have begun to differentiate. In fact IVF with DNA analysis is already being done to screen out certain rare but debilitating genetic diseases, where the risk of these diseases is considered high. But before a couple chooses to use it to select gender, they should consider that it’s expensive, it’s invasive, and some would say it goes against nature.

    Where do your students stand on this? Are they aware that there are clinics advertising on the Internet that are routinely doing it? (Google “IVF” and “gender selection”).

    Jumat, 12 September 2008

    Irradiation of Foods

    Would your students buy lettuce and spinach that had been irradiated in order to kill micro-organisms such as E. coli and salmonella? In fact, the government has already approved of the practice. Irradiation of oysters, beef, poultry and eggs has been allowed for some time now, but irradiation of lettuce and spinach is fairly new.

    Until now the market for irradiated foods has remained small because current FDA regulations require that irradiated foods be labelled as “irradiated” and display an irradiation logo. The labels have convinced some consumers that irradiated foods may be radioactive (they’re not). To encourage consumer acceptance, the FDA has proposed changes to the labelling rules so that in the future, irradiated foods would only have to be labelled as “cold pasteurized”, or simply pasteurized.

    How accurate are your student’s perceptions about food irradiation? How many of them mistakenly believe that irradiated foods are radioactive? The safety of food irradiation might make a good out-of-class research project or topic for discussion.

    Senin, 08 September 2008

    Strong Hurricanes Get Stronger

    This week marks the peak of the hurricane season for 2008. And a new study just published in Nature shows that the strongest hurricanes are getting stronger. The strongest storms now have peak wind speeds that average 16 miles/hour faster than back in 1981 (see “The increasing intensity of the strongest tropical cyclones.” Nature Sept. 4, 2008, pp. 92-95.) The article is not suitable for students, however, unless they have a strong background in statistics.

    Over the same time period (1981-2006), the sea surface temperatures have risen by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Most climatologists believe that warmer waters are certain to lead to stronger storms, because hurricanes derive their energy from the heat of warm surface waters.

    Kamis, 04 September 2008

    Bird Flu: The Pandemic That Hasn't Happened (Yet)

    When was the last time YOU thought about bird flu? These days the public and the news media are treating the continued threat of a worldwide pandemic with a great big yawn. Bird flu is so yesterday!

    Here’s an interesting exercise you could give your students: Ask them to search a key phrase such as “bird flu”, “avian influenza” or “H5N1” in any major newspaper with a searchable archive (such as the New York Times), arrange the retrieved documents by date, and count them. I searched “avian flu” in the New York Times recently and found that references peaked at 181 in 2006 and have since fallen to a paltry 18 in the first eight months of 2008.

    Psychologists surely would have something to say about how long we can sustain our fear of a perceived threat that doesn’t materialize quickly. Health officials worry that if we become convinced that bird flu is not a threat any more, we will begin to make political and economic choices that direct our resources away from preparedness programs. And no one knows whether or not that would be a good idea at this point.

    What do you think?

    Minggu, 31 Agustus 2008

    Limits to the Human Population

    In Human Biology: Concepts and Current Issues, 5th ed. we describe the theoretical limits on any population’s growth (Figure 23.2) and show the growth of the human population since the dawn of human history (Figure 23.3). How close is the current human population of 6.8 billion to Earth’s human carrying capacity? According to Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, “We still do not really know”.

    See “The Specter of Malthus Returns”. Scientific American September 2008, p. 38. Your students could read and appreciate Dr. Sachs’ one-page opinion piece on the subject. In my class the article led to a spirited discussion of the wide disparities in resource utilization by different countries.

    Minggu, 24 Agustus 2008

    Measles is on the Rise

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were more cases of measles in the U.S. in the first 7 months of 2008 than at any comparable time in the past 12 years. There have also been measles outbreaks in Switzerland, Italy, Israel, and Britain in recent years. The most likely reason is that an increasing number of children have not been vaccinated against the disease because some parents believe that vaccinations cause autism. Health officials contend that there is no connection between vaccinations and autism, but many parents remain unconvinced.

    Measles is highly contagious, so it is no surprise that it may be among the first vaccine-preventable diseases to reappear when vaccination rates decline. Fortunately, measles is not very virulent; most patients are treated at home and recover without any long-term consequences. But if the return of measles is an early indication of lower vaccination rates, it may only be a matter of time before other vaccine-preventable diseases return as well. And that has health officials worried.

    How do you feel about childhood vaccinations?

    Sabtu, 23 Agustus 2008

    Sensing Danger in the Air

    Scientists have long known that some animals can sense danger in the air, but little was known about how they did it. Now they have a clue. According to a report in Science, specialized neural cells in mice that are part of the olfactory system can detect unidentified alarm pheromones given off by other mice under stress. The scientists collected air from around stressed mice and then exposed other mice to it. Normal mice froze (a typical danger reaction in mice) when exposed to the alarm-pheromone scented air, whereas mice whose special olfactory neural cells had been destroyed did not respond to alarm-pheromone scented air at all.

    It would be interesting to know whether humans also give off alarm pheromones. Could this be an explanation for why people seem to internalize the stress of others around them?

    Kamis, 21 Agustus 2008

    Fatness, Fitness, and Health

    Human Biology, 5th ed. (pp. 346-34) has a Current Issue feature on the topic of whether or not being “overweight” (BMI 25-30) is overstated as a risk factor for poor health or mortality. A report out just last week in The Archives of Internal Medicine (168: 1617-1624, 2008) supports that notion. The study documents the prevalence of six cardiometabolic risk factors (elevated blood pressure; elevated triglyceride level; decreased HDL level; elevated fasting glucose level; insulin resistance; systemic inflammation) in normal, overweight, and obese individuals. The study found that nearly 24% of all normal-weight individuals were ”metabolically abnormal” by virtue of having at least two of the six risk factors. And conversely, 54% of the overweight individuals were still metabolically healthy. The study suggests that just being overweight does not necessarily mean that an individual is at increased risk for heart disease.

    A study published last December tends to support the hypothesis that being overweight is not as important a factor previously thought (Journal of the American Medical Association 298:2507-2516, December 5, 2007). In this study, 2603 adults over the age of 60 were tested for cardiovascular fitness (gentle treadmill test) and then mortality was followed for 12 years. Overweight individuals did have a higher mortality rate than did normal-weight individuals (18 vs 13 deaths per 1000 person-years). However, even more striking was the effect of fitness; mortality rate of the least-fit quintile was four times that of the most fit quintile (33 vs. 8 deaths per 1000 person-years.) Among the older generation at least, maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness may be more important than maintaining a normal body weight. Whether this is also true for younger individuals remains to be seen.

    Selasa, 12 Agustus 2008

    Testing Fingerprints for Illicit Substances

    Could your fingerprints tell more about you than just who you are? A brief report in Science this month describes a technique that could allow crime investigators or even employers to analyze fingerprints for a variety of chemicals, including explosives and substances of abuse, such as cocaine. And since the chemicals would be determined from a single fingerprint, there would be no doubt as to who had handled the substances.

    Law enforcement officials and crime investigators will welcome the technique as another weapon in their arsenal against crime. But the ability to test fingerprints for certain chemicals could also raise some privacy concerns for us all. Would we consider it ethical for an employer to enter workers’ offices to check for fingerprints containing traces of illegal drugs, without the employee’s knowledge or consent?

    Reference: “Latent Fingerprint Chemical Imaging by Mass Spectrometry”. Science 321:805, August 8, 2008.

    Minggu, 10 Agustus 2008

    A Daily Pill Against HIV Infection

    First came the news that several AIDS vaccine trials had to be halted because the vaccines just didn’t work. Then last week the CDC admitted that number of people newly infected with HIV in the U.S. each year is nearly 40% higher than previously reported. Is there ANY good news on the AIDS front?

    Well, yes…..maybe. A document released this month by the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition describes a potentially powerful new HIV prevention method called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP.) It’s a simple notion, really – that a daily pill consisting of one or more of the current AIDS treatment drugs might prevent HIV infection from occurring in the first place. There are at least seven clinical trials of PrEP either planned or underway using the drugs tenofovir and emtricitabine, both of which are already approved for treating people who are currently HIV-positive.

    No one knows for sure whether PrEP will work, but there are some promising signs that it might. But even if PrEP does prevent HIV infection, there would still be the issues of access and cost. In order to prevent HIV infection the drug would need to be available to a lot of healthy people, rather than just the few who are already infected.

    A report on the status of PrEP research and some of the issues related to its use in AIDS prevention can be accessed at www.avac.org/prep08.pdf.

    Selasa, 05 Agustus 2008

    HIV/AIDS Incidence Revised Upward

    The number of new HIV infections per year in the United States has been grossly underestimated for the past 20 years, according to an article published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association (“Estimation of HIV Incidence in the United States.” JAMA 300:520-529, August 6, 2008.) The new estimate for HIV incidence is 56,300 new cases in 2006, 40% higher than previously reported by the CDC. The new data also show that the incidence of HIV has not declined at all since 1991, in sharp contrast to the previously estimated 50% decline since that time (compare Figure 1 in the JAMA article with Figure 9.24 in Human Biology, 5th ed., taken from official CDC data available at the time.) The total number of people living with HIV/AIDS is also expected to be revised upward, but those numbers will not be available until later this year.

    How could the numbers have been so far off? For one, the new data are based on better testing methods that more precisely differentiate new HIV infections from long-standing ones. In addition, HIV infection rates are notoriously hard to come by, especially back in time. Even the new estimates are based on extrapolations using data from only 22 states. The CDC does the best it can do with limited data; the rest is an educated estimate.

    Officials emphasize that this does not mean that there actually were more new cases of HIV – rather, we now have better estimates of the actual rates of new infection that existed at the time, regardless of whether or not they were accounted for. Nevertheless, some Democrats are criticizing the Bush administration for not doing enough to combat HIV/aids in this country. Senator Waxman of California released a statement last week in which he pointed out that the CDC budget for prevention has actually shrunk by 19% since 2002, and that the president recently requested a reduction in funding for HIV prevention at the CDC. Given that the incidence of HIV has not declined at all over the past 15 years, Senator Waxman may have a valid concern.

    Students may react with a "So what are we supposed to believe, when even scientists can't get it right?" attitude. They'll need convincing that this kind of "flip-flop", as it would derisively be labeled in politics, is actually a normal part of a healthy scientific process.

    Minggu, 03 Agustus 2008

    Enhancing Taste Sensations

    Scientists at San Diego-based Senomyx are searching for compounds that specifically magnify just one of the taste sensations we especially prefer (sweet, salty, or savory) or that block the sensation of bitterness. After searching through tens of thousands of synthetic and natural compounds, they now have several specific “flavor modulator” compounds that appear to work.

    The commercial possibilities and health implications are almost limitless. If food product manufacturers could use less sugar in their products and still satisfy our craving for that sweet taste, perhaps people would be able to diet more effectively. Caloric intake might decline, leading to a reversal of the obesity epidemic. Less salt in our food products might mean less cardiovascular disease. Block the bitter taste receptors and children would eat more vegetables. Bitter medicines would be more palatable, improving patient compliance in taking them.

    Some big companies are interested, including Coca Cola, Nestle, and Cadbury. Nestle is already using a flavor modulator from Senomyx in some of its products. Read about it in this month's Scientific American (“Magnifying Taste.” Scientific American August, 2008, pp. 96-99.) You’re likely to see “flavor modulators” or “taste enhancers” listed among your favorite products’ ingredients in the near future.

    Sabtu, 02 Agustus 2008

    California Bans Trans Fats

    The State of California has banned the use of trans fats in most food products. The ban goes into effect for all restaurant products in 2010 and for all retail baked goods in 2011. Packaged foods will not be affected, however.

    Trans fats are created by bubbling hydrogen through liquid oil at high temperature. The resultant partially hydrogenated oil is a solid at room temperature. Trans fats prolong the shelf life and (some say) improve the flavor of foods. They were popular as a deep-frying oil until it became apparent that they raise the levels of low-density lipoproteins (the bad cholesterol), thereby potentially contributing to heart disease. Some restaurant chains, most notably McDonalds, have already discontinued the use of trans fats in their deep-fryers, and other chains are following suit.

    The California ban raises an interesting question: Whose responsibility is it to legislate our health? The California Restaurant Association argued (unsuccessfully) that it should be the federal government, not the states – otherwise, restaurants with outlets in many states could face a wide array of different rules.

    But if the government won’t act, should the states be allowed to? Until California’s law is challenged in federal courts, the answer is “Yes”. What do YOU think?
     
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