Minggu, 27 Desember 2009

Who Were the Hobbits' Ancestors?

In 2004 scientists unearthed a partial skeleton and other bones on the island of Flores in Indonesia. The scientists postulated that the skeleton belonged to an extinct species of primitive humans that had descended from Homo erectus ancestors. They named the new species Homo floresiensis, but the press dubbed them the hobbits because of their diminutive size.

Almost immediately the new find created a controversy. If Homo floresiensis descended from the much larger Homo erectus, how did they come to be so small, and in particular, how did their brains become smaller, too? Some scientists postulated that the skeleton was just a diseased modern human; others argued that the new species had undergone a phenomenon known as “island dwarfing”.

Analysis of the morphological features of Homo floresiensis has led to a new theory, summarized recently by Kate Wong in Scientific American – that Homo floresiensis descended not from Homo erectus, but from older (and smaller) ancestors, such as Homo habilis. That would explain LB1’s small size and diminutive brain, but it raises more questions than it answers. For example, if Homo floresiensis diverged from other known human lines nearly two million years ago, why haven’t other skeletons of this species been found? Did Homo floresiensis emigrate from Africa even before Homo erectus did? Where did they go before arriving in Indonesia?

It’ll be interesting to see how our thinking about Homo floresiensis evolves as new information comes in.

Reference: Wong, Kate. Rethinking the Hobbits of Indonesia. Scientific American, Nov. 2009, pp. 66-73.

Jumat, 18 Desember 2009

Underserved medicine seminar series

I've heard great things about this seminar series in the past.

One of the 6 programs of Doctors Without Walls is the underserved medicine seminar series at UCSB. We have a great line up of speakers this year! The class has 35 enrolled students but is held in a large lecture hall so we can accommodate attendance by others and invite faculty and staff to attend when they can.
Dr Mimi Doohan MD PhD
PS There is always a lively Q and A session at the end of every presentation.

Scheduled Speakers:

Underserved Medicine Course (MCDB 194MD):
UCSB Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB) Department
Thursdays 6-7:50pm, Winter quarter 2010
Location: Broida 1640
Course Instructor: Dr Mimi Doohan, MCDB adjunct faculty

Jan 7
Course Introduction
Dr Mimi Doohan MD PhD
Family physician
Doctors Without Walls-Santa Babara Street Medicine-founder/medical director

Jan 14
Modern Day Slavery and Human Trafficking in the 21st century
Thomas F. Burke MD
Chief, Division of Global Health and Human Rights, MGH
Faculty, Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics
Massachusetts General Hospital
Harvard Medical School

Jan 21
Medicine in Crisis Zones
Jason Prystowsky MD
Doctors Without Borders
Faculty, Department of Emergency Medicine Loma Linda University
Faculty, Department of Emergency Medicine UCLA

Jan 28
Health Care Reform
Congresswoman Lois Capps
23rd district of California

Feb 4
Womens Health:
Alice Levine CNM
Womens Free Homeless Clinic at Transition House
Scotti Warren, Americorp Member
Annette Perez, Transition House, Director of Operations
Jennifer Ferraez, LCSW
Morgane Naveau, UCSB student volunteer

Feb 11
Surgical Care of the Underserved
David Thoman MD
Director of Trauma and Associate Director of Surgical Education

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Charity Thoman MD, MPH
Resident Physician, Internal Medicine

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital

Feb 18
LGBT Health (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered)
David Selberg
Executive Director
Pacific Pride Foundation, Santa Barbara CA

Feb 25
Medical Tourism
Eric McFarland MD PhD
Robert Gayou MD

March 4
Care of Veterans
Robert Gaines MD
Medical director, Santa Barbara County Veterans Administration Clinic

March 11
Care of the Unshetlered Homeless
Jim Withers MD
Founder and director, International Street Medicine Institute
Founder and director, Operation Safety Net, Pittsburgh P


Senin, 14 Desember 2009

That's One Small Step for Gene Therapy...

French researchers report that they have successfully used gene therapy to treat beta-thalassemia in a 19-year-old male patient. Beta-thalassemia is a genetic blood disorder in which a defect in the gene coding for the beta-globin chain of hemoglobin results in persistent and life-threatening anemia and dangerously high blood iron levels. Two years after the treatment, according to the researchers, the young man no longer needs regular monthly blood transfusions and appears to be in good health.

The French team has the approval of French authorities to treat more patients with the same inherited disorder. The hope is that someday they’ll be able to successfully treat one of the most common of all genetic blood disorders – sickle cell anemia.

Sabtu, 12 Desember 2009

H1N1 Flu Deaths Update

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated this week that between 7,000 and 14,000 people have died of swine flu in the U.S. through mid-November, out of the 34-67 million people who had the swine flu so far.

Deaths caused by the flu are notoriously hard to estimate because most people are not tested for the flu when they have it and because people may die of a combination of causes, including the flu. The usual estimate is that the regular seasonal flu causes about 30,000 deaths each flu season (the winter months), so these latest swine flu numbers aren’t too bad. In fact they’re well below the government’s estimate back in August of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths from swine flu this season.

The big question is what will happen in January/February – will swine flu reassert itself in a third wave, as happened in the pandemics of 1918 and 1957? Will the H1N1 virus change to become more lethal, or more resistant to the vaccine? If either of these things happens the situation could change quickly. Most people in the U.S. are not yet immune to the swine flu because they have not had it yet and they have not been vaccinated against it.

Apparently many people think the danger is passed. We’ll hope they’re right. But if you still haven’t gotten your swine flu shot, it’s not too late. The vaccine supply seems to be pretty good these days.

Kamis, 10 Desember 2009

Prion-like Activity in Neurodegenerative Disorders

Could misfolded human proteins with prion-like activity contribute to the progression of certain chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, and Huntington’s disease? A common feature of all three of these diseases is the presence of abnormal accumulations of certain misfolded proteins in or around nerve cells in the brain. Eventually these protein accumulations become so extensive that they choke off nerve cell function.

No one is saying that these diseases are infectious, like mad cow disease. But according to the latest thinking, once an endogenous protein "goes rogue" and misfolds, it might then cause nearby normal proteins to misfold as well. Once the process starts it could become self-propagating, from one region of the brain to the next.

Rabu, 09 Desember 2009

Summer research opportunity #2

Caitlin passed on this reminder:

I thought it might be important to note that REU deadlines are usually between the second week of January and early March.

REU stands for Research Experience for Undergraduates and is an NSF funded program that is one of the largest sources of funding for undergraduate summer research. You apply to the individual REU sites for the funding so you need to do your homework.

Access the full list of REU sites here for Biological Sciences and here for a wider list of subjects.
Click on the individual sites to find full details and application details.

Winter internship opportunity

Bruce Tiffney passed this one on:

CCBER has several Coastal Fund-supported restoration intern positions (~ 6 hr/week) available this winter as well as several paid student worker positions (~10hr/week) available for students interested in developing their hands-on restoration skills. Lots of planting, plant identification, site maintenance, nursery work and camaraderie in the field!
Please send e-mail of interest including mention of relevant experience, winter schedule and an indication of the amount of time you want workduring the work week to Lisa Stratton: stratton@lifesci.ucsb.edu

Thank you very much,


Lisa Stratton, Ph.D.
Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration (CCBER)
Harder South, Rm 1005
UCSB, MC 9615
Santa Barbara, CA 93106

Office: (805) 893-4158
Fax: (805) 893-4222


Summer Research opportunity #1

Kathy Foltz passed this one on:

Dear Colleague:

We would appreciate you sharing the following opportunity with your students.

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.


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

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 13, 2010.

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


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 16, 2010.

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

Carol Casey
Associate Director
Student-Faculty Programs
California Institute of Technology
Mail Code 330-87
Pasadena, CA 91125
(626) 395-2887

Kamis, 03 Desember 2009

Show Your Working

From the BBC: 'Show Your Working': What 'ClimateGate' means.'

The "ClimateGate" affair - the publication of e-mails and documents hacked or leaked from one of the world's leading climate research institutions - is being intensely debated on the web. But what does it imply for climate science? Here, Mike Hulme and Jerome Ravetz say it shows that we need a more concerted effort to explain and engage the public in understanding the processes and practices of science and scientists.

Selasa, 01 Desember 2009

Ecological Consequences of Natural Oil Contamination

Heather Coleman
PhD Candidate Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009
2:00 p.m.
Bren Hall Dean's Conference Room (2436)
"Ecological Consequences of Natural Oil Contamination"
Faculty Advisor: Hunter Lenihan

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