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What we're talking about Life, Death, and ERVs Friday, October 31, 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

It’s yet another creationist conference in which the imminent demise of evolutionary theory will be declared this weekend, and it’s being held on a university campus, which is always jarring. The university is said to be “uneasy” about it all. The 1 November event, called the Origin Summit, is sponsored by Creation Summit, an Oklahoma-based…

It’s the Bone Eating Snot Flower Worm. As a bonus, it’s also one of those species where the large adult forms are all females, and the males have been reduced to a tiny bag of sperm attached for life to a Bone Eating Snot Flower Worm.

Physical Science

“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.” -Wayne Dyer We like to think of our Solar System as typical: a central star with a number of planets — some gas giants and some rocky worlds — in orbit around it. Yes, there’s some variety, with binary or trinary star systems…

“Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these.” -Ovid With all that we know of astronomy, with the hundreds of billions of galaxies and hundreds of billions of stars in each that we know are there, it might surprise you to learn that the stars — for the most part…

A fine if somewhat intermittent tradition hereabouts has been the offering of high-concept Halloween costumes for people interested in physics, surfacing in 2010, 2012, and 2013. I’m a little too fried right now to do anything all that deep, but I’ll try to offer a few suggestions; see also these particle-physics suggestions from Symmetry magazine,…

Environment

After more than a decade, OSHA used its “general duty clause” to issue citations to a poultry processing firm for ergonomic hazards.

This was technically difficult owing to internet conditions but interviewer Vijay Kishore Vaidyanathan did a great job with what he had. In particular he did a great job editing out the constant explosions in the background!

Despite significant unanswered questions about human and environmental health impacts – and no exposure monitoring requirements – the EPA has approved a new herbicide called Enlist Duo for use on genetically engineered corn and soybeans in six Midwestern states. Environmental groups and farmers are suing to block approval, saying EPA failed to adequately assess health risks.

Humanities

Pope Francis has been continuing his campaign of liberalization within the Roman Catholic Church. At the recent synod on the family, reform-minded bishops within the Church, many installed by Francis, proposed language that, while not changing doctrine, would have liberalized the Church’s stance toward homosexuals and divorced people. The paragraphs that are getting all the…

Raising the federal minimum wage isn’t only good for workers — it’s good for the federal budget as well, according to a new issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute.

A new book will make you stop and think about the relationship between the microscopic world and the one we pass by every day. Life’s Blueprint – The Science and Art of Embryo Creation; Benny Shilo, Yale University Press, 174 pages. When a stem cell divides, one daughter maintains the stem cell fate while the…

Education

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. Briana Pobiner …

A recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology presents evidence that altering the sex of just the fat body in heads of fruit flies (Drosophila) causes them to have stress responses similar to the opposite sex. Males and females vary in their response to stress. It turns…

Teachers in the D.C. Metropolitan area- we are now accepting applications for the Nifty Fifty (x4) Program! Click here to apply NOW to host a speaker at your school during the 2014/2015 school year. Nifty Fifty talks will take place during the months of February, March and April of 2015. The deadline to apply is Friday, November…

Politics

Pope Francis has been continuing his campaign of liberalization within the Roman Catholic Church. At the recent synod on the family, reform-minded bishops within the Church, many installed by Francis, proposed language that, while not changing doctrine, would have liberalized the Church’s stance toward homosexuals and divorced people. The paragraphs that are getting all the…

Raising the federal minimum wage isn’t only good for workers — it’s good for the federal budget as well, according to a new issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute.

Fred Upton is the incumbent Republican Congressional Representative for southwest Michigan’s 6th district. Upton is considered to be one of Michigan’s most powerful Republicans. He is the Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is an important position in relation to climate change. He has been in the House since being elected in…

Medicine

R.I.P., McKenzie Lowe. Unfortunately, Stanislaw Burzynski was no more able to save you than anyone else, his claims of great success treating pediatric brain tumors notwithstanding: HUDSON — Thirteen-year-old Hudson resident McKenzie Lowe died Friday evening after a 2-year-battle against an aggressive and inoperable brain stem tumor. McKenzie died at 10:27 p.m. in her own…

If there is one thing that the ongoing Ebola outbreak in Africa has revealed to the world, it’s the full extent of quackery that is out there and advertised as being able to treat deadly diseases such as Ebola. The deadlier the disease, the more quackery is out there, amplified by the scariness of the…

One of the biggest medical conspiracy theories for a long time has been that there exist out there all sorts of fantastic cures for cancer and other deadly diseases but you can’t have them because (1) “they” don’t want you to know about them (as I like to call it, the Kevin Trudeau approach) and/or…

Brain & Behavior

A recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology presents evidence that altering the sex of just the fat body in heads of fruit flies (Drosophila) causes them to have stress responses similar to the opposite sex. Males and females vary in their response to stress. It turns…

While pharmaceutical companies are making billions in painkiller profits, it’s the public sector that ends up bearing the burden and cost of the fallout that accompanies skyrocketing sales of highly addictive prescription opioids. After the jump is a Pump Handle Q&A with two public health officials at the forefront of the opioid abuse epidemic within America’s big cities.

According to a new statement from the CDC, while Ebola is deadly to humans and animals, it is very difficult to catch. Therefore, they concluded that pets are not at significant risk of Ebola in the US. Moreover, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming ill in Africa. For more information, visit…

Technology

ADDED NOTE: I’ve discovered a bug that is annoying enough that it causes me to regret having upgraded right away, so I want to mention it right away. This may only apply to those who use Chrome. (Bear in mind, for me Yosemite give me nothing new that I need, and since iOS 8 will…

Here is a list of things to do after you have installed Ubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn. There is some discussion of whether or not you should upgraded to 14.10 here, but the short version is, for most people an upgrade from 14.04 is not necessary but not a bad idea, and an upgrade from any…

Last summer we were driving up north, in our Prius, and one of those coal rollers tailgated us for a while, then passed us. On the right. On the median. Jerk. When we were trying to decide whether or not to buy a Prius, last winter, I looked into the usual things one looks into.…

Information Science

A new book will make you stop and think about the relationship between the microscopic world and the one we pass by every day. Life’s Blueprint – The Science and Art of Embryo Creation; Benny Shilo, Yale University Press, 174 pages. When a stem cell divides, one daughter maintains the stem cell fate while the…

It has been a year since I last updated my chronological listing of the Harper Conservative government’s war on science. The newly updated master list is here, where you can also read more about this project in general. The previous update from October 2013 is here. Some preliminary metrics about the impact of that original…

I find the whole idea of a “sharing economy” where people barter and exchange and free up excess capacity in their own lives and situations to make others’ lives a little easier and cheaper an interesting notion. And worthwhile. After all broadly speaking the open access and open source movements do partake of this same…

Jobs

After more than a decade, OSHA used its “general duty clause” to issue citations to a poultry processing firm for ergonomic hazards.

Raising the federal minimum wage isn’t only good for workers — it’s good for the federal budget as well, according to a new issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute.

Despite significant unanswered questions about human and environmental health impacts – and no exposure monitoring requirements – the EPA has approved a new herbicide called Enlist Duo for use on genetically engineered corn and soybeans in six Midwestern states. Environmental groups and farmers are suing to block approval, saying EPA failed to adequately assess health risks.