Things that correlate with autism

"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. Read the rest

What causes an ice cream headache?

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. Read the rest

A big win for consent, privacy, and genome data

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. Read the rest

Help ocean scientists build open-source research tools

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. Read the rest

More thoughts on lab meat

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. Read the rest

Why new cloned mice can help scientists treat lab animals more humanely

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. Read the rest

Independently funded studies on the safety of GM food

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. Read the rest

What happens when a drug works — but only for one person?

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? Read the rest

Two months aboard an Antarctic ice breaker, condensed to 5 minutes

Featuring five different kinds of sea ice + penguins on fast forward

A spaceship that tastes like Grape-Nuts

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. Read the rest

A resurgence in LSD research

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. Read the rest

Honoring death by donating your body to science

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. Read the rest

Some like it cold

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. Read the rest

Why "cancer clusters" are so hard to confirm

This excerpt from the new book, Read the rest

Lake Vostok bacteria: It's something new. No, it's not. Yes, it is, maybe.

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. Read the rest

Sucking up to shrimp

Say you're a marine biologist and you want to study the little bitty creatures of the sea — shrimps and worms and things like that. How do you go about capturing them?

Why, with an underwater vacuum, of course.

At the PNAS First Look blog, David Harris writes that this "SCUBA-tank powered vacuum, called an “airlift,” inhales shrimp, sand fleas, marine worms, and 'things that would swim away if they had the chance.'" Read the rest

Science and gun violence: why is the research so weak? [Part 2]

Part 2 of Science and gun violence: why is the research so weak?

The town of Macapá is in the north of Brazil, on the coast, where the Amazon River flows into the Atlantic. On December 5th, 2001, Sir Peter Blake and his crew decided to spend the night there. They were on their way back to the ocean after a journey down the Amazon, documenting the effects of climate change for the National Geographic Society.

That night, while their guard was down, a group of masked bandits boarded the boat. Read the rest

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