"Things that correlate with autism" is basically an entire genre of scientific research, in and of itself, and nobody does a better job of breaking those studies down than Emily Willingham. Her latest piece is about a recent study that correlates induced labor at birth with autism diagnosis later in life
. — Maggie
It would take a simple experiment to prove, once and for all, what causes "brain freeze". Unfortunately/fortunately the condition isn't particularly serious, so nobody has ever gotten a grant to perform that simple study
. — Maggie
The family of Henrietta Lacks — a woman whose cervical cancer cells were harvested and used in scientific research for decades without her knowledge or consent — will now play a role in deciding who has access to the Lacks' cell genome data, and for what purposes. There are loopholes in the new system. For instance, the agreement only applies to scientists who receive National Institutes of Health funding. And the genome of the cells has been sequenced so many times, at this point, that anybody who wasn't NIH funded and didn't want to voluntarily abide by the agreement essentially wouldn't have to.
But it is a big step forward, both for the Lacks family (whose own genetic information is contained in those genome sequences) and for the idea that human genetic information belongs to the people it comes from — not to whoever happens to sequence it.
The happy selfie posted here features NIH director Francis Collins posing with some of Henrietta Lacks' descendants after the agreement was announced.
CTD units are incredibly important to ocean research, measuring three basic factors of sea water — conductivity, temperature, and depth. Almost every major research vessel has one. But the units are part of what ensures that it's expensive to get started doing ocean science. Each one can cost between $5000-$25,000. Now, a group of ocean scientists are trying to finance the design of an open-source CTD that could be built by anyone for less than $200. You can help fund their efforts at Rockethub. — Maggie
Yesterday, Rob told you about the first public tasting of a burger that was grown in a laboratory
, from strips of flesh built up from muscle stem cells. I found a couple of great links today that build on that news. First: The secret ingredient in lab-grown meat
is fetal cow blood. (It's both a significant part of the high price of lab meat, and a reason why your vegan friend won't be eating lab meat anytime soon.) Also be sure to check out synthetic biologist Christina Agapakis' perspective
— she tones down some of the hype while making it clear why lab meat is still pretty impressive. — Maggie
This week, scientists cloned a mouse
from cells found in a drop of mouse blood. That's different from other cloned mice, whose creation relied on more invasive sampling from the liver, bone marrow, and lymph nodes (read: the original animal was euthanized). Cloning mice is valuable for scientific research — it's handy to have your subjects be as alike one another as possible. Now, scientists have a way to do that without having to kill the original mouse. — Maggie
The Genera Project was started last summer to create an easily-searchable catalog of peer-reviewed scientific studies
dealing with the risk, benefits, and safety analysis of genetically modified plants. The project isn't done yet — for instance, the "easily searchable" part isn't yet active and they aren't done cataloging the 600+ studies in the database. I thought it was worth pointing this resource out to you folks, though, especially because at least 126 of the studies currently in the database are free from questionable funding
— either from big corporations or blatantly anti-GMO activist groups. Definitely a project to keep an eye on. — Maggie
Really, really intriguing piece at Nature News by Heidi Ledford. It's all about a class of patients called "exceptional responders" — aka, the people who got a benefit (sometimes a big one) from a medication or treatment that otherwise failed the clinical trial process
. When we do clinical trials, we're looking at group averages. We want to know whether a drug performed better than placebo when administered to lots of people. Sometimes, though, drugs that can't do that do seem to have a positive effect for a few lucky individuals. Now, scientists are trying to figure out why that is. What makes those people special? And how should this change the way we do research? — Maggie
Here's an incredibly cool video showing the prow of a massive ice breaking ship as it plows through Antarctica's Ross Sea. The footage is sped up, to pack two months of travel into five minutes. But, unlike a lot of time-lapse videos, this one also has a really informative audio track, in which marine scientist Cassandra Brooks waxes poetic about the many different kinds of ice and explains why she and her team were out there, breaking through the stuff, to begin with.
Bonus: At the end, you get to see the absolute adorableness that is penguins on high-speed fast forward.
Via Deep Sea News
This morning, Marketplace Tech Report had a story on a new cellulose-based building material that could be made by genetically engineered bacteria — altered versions of the bacteria that naturally make stuff like kombucha. This tech sounds like it's got a long way to go from laboratory to the real world, but if they can perfect the process and make it large enough quantities, what you'd end up with a strong, inexpensive goop that could be used to build everything from medical dressings, to digital paper, to spaceships. Yes, you could theoretically use this stuff to make rocket casings, according to R. Malcolm Brown, Jr.
, a professor of cell biology at UT Austin. And if you can build a rocket from this stuff, you could also break the same material back down into an edible, high-fiber foodstuff. — Maggie
It's drug week at Popular Science and Shaunacy Ferro would like you to know why doctors can't give you LSD — and why they maybe ought to be
. — Maggie
i09's Annalee Newitz is donating her body to science when she dies. In a moving and fascinating article, she tells the story of her mother's death, how it led her to make this choice for herself, and what happens to bodies once they find their way into the hands of medical schools and scientists
. — Maggie
In a study of 6,455 semen samples (yup), scientists at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that human sperm were most atheletic — and were found in the highest concentrations — in winter. There was a marked decrease in sperm motility and numbers in spring, summer, and fall
. It's an interesting and logical addendum to the fact that sperm counts and motility decrease in men who subject their testicles to warm conditions; in hot tubs, say, or a pair of overly tight underpants. — Maggie
This excerpt from the new book, Toms River
by Dan Fagin, has me instantly intrigued. The book is about one of the rare places where scientists were able to prove that not only was there a cluster of cancer cases, but that those cases could be linked to a cause. The excerpt explains why this is such a rare thing.
Turns out, just because it looks like a town has more cancers than it should, doesn't mean that's always what's going on. — Maggie
Let's just play this safe and assume that, until more samples have been collected and detailed DNA analysis has been done, the real answer to the question, "Is bacteria found in Antarctica's Lake Vostok
actually new to science or just contamination from the drilling?" is "We don't really know."
This is a great example of why making scientific pronouncements from the field, before you've had time to do the really in-depth analysis that goes into writing a peer-reviewed research paper, can be problematic. Right now, you've got different camps of researchers making totally contradictory claims. Who is right is, so far, anybody's guess. — Maggie