What we're talking about Life, Death, and ERVs Thursday, October 2, 2014

Life, Death, and ERVs

I read an interesting article in Scientific American that discussed the so-called Peto’s Paradox. Dr. Richard Peto (University of Oxford) came up with the idea that if every cell has an equal probability of becoming cancerous, then larger animals would be predicted to develop cancer at higher rates than smaller animals. As it turns out,…

For quite a while, now, there has been a connection between Endogenous Retroviruses and HIV. For some unknown reason, some of the young ERVs in humans, the ones that can still code for a protein here and there, are reactivated in HIV+ patients. Scientists have found ERV RNA in HIV+ patient plasma, and they have…

In a phenomenon known as Peto's paradox, large mammals do not develop cancer more often than small mammals, despite having more cells that could go haywire. On Life Lines, Dr. Dolittle writes "Some researchers suggested that perhaps smaller animals developed more oxidative stress as a result of having higher metabolisms. Others proposed that perhaps larger animals have more genes that suppress tumors." But a new hypothesis argues that large mammals have evolved to minimize the activity of ERVs, which are ancient viral elements integrated into our DNA. Active ERVs can cause cancer and possibly other diseases; mice exhibit about 3300 active ERVs, while humans exhibit about 350. On the blog known as ERV, Abbie Smith writes "some of the young ERVs in humans, the ones that can still code for a protein here and there, are reactivated in HIV+ patients." Researchers are considering targeting these ERVs in order to combat HIV; as Abbie writes, "You could train the HIV+ individuals immune system to ‘see’ the ERV components in an HIV infected CD4+ T-cell, and BAM! Kill the HIV infected cell!" But she warns that other ERV components are expressed in many normal human cells, and teaching our immune system to target them might be a very bad idea.

Channel Surfing

Life Science

University of Washington biology professor David Barash published this op-ed in The New York Times recently. The title: “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class.” Intriguing! Let’s have a look. EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but…

Allspice, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon — they don’t actually look all that appetizing.

That same bozo who sent me the Hitler quote sent me another image in reply: Fair enough. Darwin got a lot of things wrong. I’m actually going to be lecturing my intro biology students on where Darwin screwed up in a few weeks, focusing mainly on his bad genetics, but I’ll toss that quote into…

Physical Science

The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Dr.…

Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist has officially been sent to the printers, so we’re at the phase of things where I don’t have anything to do but think about publicity. There are some reviews forthcoming, at least one of which I’m very happy about, but I’ll share more about that when it becomes public. I’ve…

My latest book project has been coediting the proceedings of the 2013 MOVES Conference held in New York City, which has turned out to be a lot harder than I anticipated. For the last few weeks it’s been all-consuming, and spending so many hours in front of the computer staring at other people’s writing has…

Environment

David G. Victor & Charles F. Kennel have an opinion piece in Nature arguing that it would be a really good idea to re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. Or possibly ask the orchestra to play a somewhat different tune. I paraphrase somewhat, you understand. Naturally, you should read their actual article first, and then…

This week’s snapshot of just one work-related fatality in the U.S. This one occurred on September 26 at a plywood plant in Moncure, North Carolina.

I’m not going to talk about Mark Steyn, other than to say that if you know who Rush Limbaugh is, Mark Steyn is a bit to the right and a tad more obnoxious, but not as smart. You can find out more by clicking here, using the Climate Change Science Search Engine. I’m also not…

Humanities

Building excitement around school meals with the help of guest chefs and fresh recipes could be a significant boon for school lunch programs as well as student eating habits, a new study found.

Two language-related items crossed in the Information Supercollider today: the first was Tom’s commentary on an opinion piece by Robert Crease and Alfred Goldhaber, the second Steven Pinker on the badness of academic writing. All of them are worth reading, and I only have small dissents to offer here. One is that, unlike Tom and…

A hot work environment killed at least 13 people in 2012 and 2013 (not counting cases from nineteen states, including California, that operate their own OSHA programs). On The Pump Handle, Celeste Monforton writes “the report shows the diversity of jobs and situations in which workers are at risk of suffering a heat-related illness or…

Education

University of Washington biology professor David Barash published this op-ed in The New York Times recently. The title: “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class.” Intriguing! Let’s have a look. EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but…

The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Dr.…

Building excitement around school meals with the help of guest chefs and fresh recipes could be a significant boon for school lunch programs as well as student eating habits, a new study found.

Politics

In announcing National Farm Safety Week, President Obama emphasized his Administration’s commitment to reducing hazards of agricultural work – including for young people. So how are we doing at protecting children and teens working on farms and ranches? Note: There is no federally required safety training for youth working in agriculture. Estimated injury rate is 38 per day and fatalities, 115 per year

Pregnant workers at center of major Supreme Court case; new legislation could help miners with black lung get needed care; thousands of Amazon.com workers in Germany go on strike; and labor advocates oppose changes to the National Labor Relations Board.

Modern media being what it is, I should get out in front of this, so: I am guilty of putting words in Einstein’s mouth. I mean, go watch my TED-Ed video on particles and waves, or just look at the image up top– that very clearly shows Einstein saying words that he probably never said.…

Medicine

Orac is feeling a little under the weather. I appear to have caught some respiratory crud that’s going around, which, fortunately, isn’t so bad that I can’t go to work, particularly given that today is a lab/office day, but unfortunately made me feel too tired last night to create one of my usual peerless examples…

My first article at The Guardian is up: No, Ebola in Dallas does not mean you and everyone else in the US is going to get it, too.

This discussion has been going on for some time, and a handful of recent events have prompted me to jump into it (beyond a simple comment or two). First, I saw a bunch of yammering among various biology teachers about this topic. Then Michael Osterholm wrote a well intentioned but seemingly deeply flawed opinion at…

Brain & Behavior

Learn more at this classic post by Don Prothero.

I am really excited about the comparative physiology conference that starts this weekend in San Diego! Here is a press release about the meeting (author Stacy Brooks from the American Physiological Society): Bethesda, Md. (September 25, 2014) — More than 400 comparative and evolutionary physiologists will gather to present new research and discoveries in animal physiology at…

I read an interesting article in Scientific American that discussed the so-called Peto’s Paradox. Dr. Richard Peto (University of Oxford) came up with the idea that if every cell has an equal probability of becoming cancerous, then larger animals would be predicted to develop cancer at higher rates than smaller animals. As it turns out,…

Technology

In this weeks’ news, Weizmann Institute scientists and researchers in Australia have invented a sort of tractor beam. In essence, a tractor beam is a wave that propagates outwards but pulls objects toward its point of origin, rather than pushing them out. Like the science fiction versions, such “beams” might be designed in the future…

I am really excited about the comparative physiology conference that starts this weekend in San Diego! Here is a press release about the meeting (author Stacy Brooks from the American Physiological Society): Bethesda, Md. (September 25, 2014) — More than 400 comparative and evolutionary physiologists will gather to present new research and discoveries in animal physiology at…

The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools. Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Jeff…

Information Science

I’m always interested in the present and future of libraries and higher education. There’s a steady stream of reports from various organizations that are broadly relevant to the (mostly academic) library biz but they can be tough to keep track of. I thought I’d aggregate some of those here. Of course I’ve very likely missed…

This is one scary book. Never mind The Exorcist or Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain trilogy, this is the real thing. And that’s because unlike those authors’ fevered dreams of gods and devils and vampires and plagues, the nightmare that all of our governments are spying on is really real. And we…

The Ig Nobel prizes were awarded last week and as usual they are hilarious. And this time around a Canadian was included! Yay Canada! What are the Ig Nobel prizes? For the uninitiated they are a mock set of awards given out at a lavish ceremony at Harvard every year for interesting and bizarre real…

Jobs

This week’s snapshot of just one work-related fatality in the U.S. This one occurred on September 26 at a plywood plant in Moncure, North Carolina.

In announcing National Farm Safety Week, President Obama emphasized his Administration’s commitment to reducing hazards of agricultural work – including for young people. So how are we doing at protecting children and teens working on farms and ranches? Note: There is no federally required safety training for youth working in agriculture. Estimated injury rate is 38 per day and fatalities, 115 per year

A recent study has uncovered another possible risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes: working long hours in low-paying jobs.