Rabu, 30 September 2009

21st Century Environmental Challenges in a Global Context

Each year, the College of Letters and Science sponsors two distinguished endowed programs, the Critical Issues in America program and the Arthur N. Rupe Great Debates Series. This year the topic for the Critical Issues in America program is "Forty Years after the Big Spill - Looking Back, Looking Ahead: 21st Century Environmental Challenges in a Global Context." Led by Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies William Freudenberg and supported by Water Policy Program Director Robert Wilkinson, the program references an historical benchmark - for the campus as well as the nation - and addresses a breadth of environmental challenges for the 21st century with a strong, interdisciplinary group of core faculty and key collaborators.

All talks are free and open to the public.

TOMORROW, Thursday, October 1: Wm. Freudenburg: "The Tragedy of the Un-Commons?" 12:30 - 1:45 p.m. in Lotte Lehmann Hall

Wednesday, October 21: Bill Gibson, CSU Long Beach: "Re-Enchanting the World," 2:00 - 2:50 p.m., in Bren 4016

Wednesday, October 28: Kai Lee, Packard Foundation: "Humans in the Landscape," 2:00 - 2:50 p.m., in Bren 4016

Wednesday, November 4: Doug Bevington, "Environment Now: The Rebirth of Environmentalism," 2:00 - 2:50 p.m., in Bren 4016

Tuesday, November 10: Riki Ott: "Learning the Lessons of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill," 12:30 - 1:45 p.m. in Lotte Lehmann Hall.

As the academic year unfolds, please continue to look for events related to this exciting and timely Critical Issues in America program.

Kamis, 24 September 2009

Seminar: CREB and the Search for Memory Enhancers

"CREB and the Search for Memory Enhancers"

Tim Tully, Dart Neuroscience
Mosher Alumni House
Alumni Hall, 2nd floor
Thursday September 24th, 4:00 PM

Tim Tully utilizes the study of fruit flies to elucidate genes related to memory formation. His experiments on "photographic memory" in fruit flies were the first demonstration of genetically enhanced memory. His work opens the possibility of developments in effective treatments for both behavioral and pharmacological memory loss in humans. Dr. Tully’s research was featured in the 2004 PBS special entitled /A Gene You Won’t Forget/.

Fight Over Biotech Beets

Back in 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted an environmental assessment of sugar beets that had been genetically engineered to resist the herbicide Roundup. They concluded that the new beets would have “no significant impact” on the environment, and therefore a full environmental impact statement would not be required. With that ruling, the beets were approved for widespread planting.

The new beets have been popular with farmers, and plantings have soared. But watchdog groups like the Center for Food Safety are not convinced that the Department of Agriculture should have approved the new beets so quickly. They have challenged the Department of Agriculture in court, and recently they won the first round; a Federal District Court judge in San Francisco has ruled that the Agriculture Department should have done an environmental impact statement before approving the beets for widespread planting. The judge in the case will decide on the correct course of action next month. But the plaintiffs have already said they would ask for a total ban on the biotech beets, according to an article in the New York Times this week.

Most consumers don’t seem to care; sugar is sugar.

Rabu, 23 September 2009

Visit Sedgewick Reserve and do good deeds...

WANTED: students who would like to come up and help our Outdoor Classroom students (4th graders) identify mostly insects, some lizards (no snakes to date) and an occasional mouse or vole in the pitfall traps? The dates are October 28, 29; Dec. 9, 17; and April 14, 15. It would only be for about two hours each day (9:30 - 11:30ish). Please reply to Sue Eisaguirre at 686-1941, ext 4. or eisaguirre@lifesci.ucsb.edu.

Selasa, 22 September 2009

Innovation @ MIT

PUBLISHED: Wed, 17 Dec 2008
DESCRIPTION: This session features presentations and discussion around the alumni leadership conference's theme: Inspiring Innovation. Taking part in the session are Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande HM, Chairman, Sycamore Networks, A123 Systems, and Tejas Network; Subra Suresh ScD '81, P'10, Dean of the School of Engineering and Ford Professor of Engineering; and Randy Rettberg '70, principal research engineer, Department of Biological Engineering and Director of iGEM - the international Genetically Engineered Machine competition.

Senin, 21 September 2009

BBC Video - The Cell

The Cell - The Spark of Life (Part 1/6)

The Cell - The Spark of Life (Part 2/6)

The Cell - The Spark of Life (Part 3/6)

The Cell - The Spark of Life (Part 4/6)

The Cell - The Spark of Life (Part 5/6)

The Cell - The Spark of Life (Part 6/6) (shows synthetic ribosome construction with Synthetic DNA machine and micro-pipetting action)

Drew Endy - Earth Sky 8 minute Interview

I absolutely love the conceptual distinction Drew makes here between creation and construction. Excellent work Drew. This is the best answer I have heard so far to the perpetual "playing god" question.

Rabu, 16 September 2009

Dwindling Arctic Sea Ice

The summer of 2009 marked an historic first; the first time that ships traveled from Asia to Europe via the Arctic Ocean. A short route from Europe to Asia has been the dream of sailors since Columbus set sail for Southeast Asia from Europe over 500 years ago. Two ships completed the first trip via the Arctic route in September of 2009, according to a news article on the Web site of the German shipping company, Beluga Shipping GmbH.

In 2009 there was only a short window of opportunity before sea ice closed the route again for the year. But in 30 years the trans-Arctic shipping season could last for three months or more. The new Arctic route cuts nearly 40% off the distance traveled via the usual more southerly routes through either the Suez canal or the Panama canal.

Global warming, dwindling sea ice; good for shipping, bad for polar bears.

Selasa, 15 September 2009

Glucose Monitoring Devices are Inaccurate

Most diabetic patients measure their blood glucose level on a regular basis, as part of a daily regimen to try to maintain their blood glucose within normal limits. Many diabetics rely on home glucose monitors that are relatively cheap and easy to use - trouble is, they’re not very accurate. For example, one study reported that five different popular home glucose monitors gave readings that were different by as much as 30%.

Consumers probably are not aware that the devices can be this inaccurate. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is understandably concerned, and it’s pressuring the international organization that sets standards for the devices to tighten up the standards - or else the FDA may do it for them.

But this raises an interesting dilemma. Re-engineering and manufacturing the devices would make them more accurate, but it could also increase their price – at least, that’s the manufacturer’s arguments against new standards for accuracy. And if an increase in price caused some people to stop using them altogether, have we really gained anything? There’s always a trade-off; always a choice to be made…..

Kamis, 10 September 2009

Treating "pre-osteoporosis"

First the definition of “overweight” was changed, making 35 million more Americans overweight overnight. Then normal blood pressure was redefined, and everyone just above it became “pre-hypertensive”. And now, millions of women with a bone density just slightly below normal (for a 30-year-old!) are being told they have a condition called “pre-osteoporosis”, or “osteopenia”. This is like telling a middle-aged woman she has a skin disease because her skin is not as smooth as her daughter’s. In fact, a woman’s bone density normally declines with age – its just part of the aging process. Bone density declines very slowly after 30 but before menopause, and then accelerates after menopause.

The pharmaceutical industry helped to define osteopenia, and it also has the pills to treat it. Call me a skeptic, but I’m guessing they had an interest in seeing a lot of women diagnosed with the condition. Some doctors are suggesting that the drugs used to treat osteopenia are being over-marketed to younger post-menopausal women who may still be at relatively low risk for bone fractures. They argue that the benefits of the drugs used to treat osteopenia are exaggerated and the risks generally are downplayed. If you're still young, consult your physician before taking drugs to treat osteopenia. Otherwise you could be trying to treat a problem that you don’t really have yet.

REFERENCE: P. Alonso-Coello, et al. Drugs for pre-osteoporosis – prevention or disease-mongering? British Medical Journal 336:126-129, 2008.

Senin, 07 September 2009

Is She a Woman?

After 18-yr-old South African Caster Semenya turned in the fastest time of the year in a women’s 800-meter event in 2009, track and track and field’s governing body ordered an investigation into her gender. They're demanding “proof” that she’s actually a female, so they’ve assembled a committee tell them. Let's see, now, a geneticist, an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, and a psychologist are getting together to determine the sex of…

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s not. Legitimate physiological and anatomical “gender confusion” can be caused by sex hormone imbalances, tissue unresponsiveness to sex hormones, genes that don’t turn on properly during fetal development, or even sex-determining genes located on the wrong chromosome (in rare cases, an XY male can develop the characteristics of a female).

Sports federations should develop rules that allow gender determination (for the purposes of sports competition) before an athletic event, not afterwards, in the public eye. One can only wonder about the emotional damage about to be done to young Caster Semenya.

Kamis, 03 September 2009

New Strategies Against Superbugs

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are cropping up everywhere. There hasn’t been a major breakthrough in the development of antibiotics since the 1960s. Are we losing the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

There aren’t any new weapons in the arsenal just yet, but some scientists remain optimistic. According to a recent article in Scientific American, strategies currently under development include: 1) developing “narrow spectrum” antibiotics that target just one bacterial species at a time, 2) preventing pathogenic bacteria from causing disease in humans without actually killing them, 3) searching among bacterial species for antibiotics that bacteria use against each other in nature, and 4) genetically modifying antibiotic-producing bacteria so that they can be grown easily in culture.

We’ll probably never win against the bacteria, but we can keep trying to stay one step ahead.

REFERENCE: C.T Walsh and M.A. Fishbach. New Ways to Squash Superbugs. Scientific American pp. 44-51, July, 2009.
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