‘Firefly’ stem cells may help repair damaged hearts

September 29, 2010

‘Firefly’ stem cells may help repair damaged hearts. No, these aren’t cells from actual fireflies but cells so named for their ability to glow like fireflies and contains the same enzyme that makes fireflies glow. But I think the coolest part of this story is this:

The “firefly” stem cells glow brighter and brighter as they develop into healthy heart muscle, allowing doctors to track whether and where the stem cells are working.

So essentially we can now track the stem cells and see exactly what they’re doing. Kinda takes all the mystery out of it.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 7.23.10

July 24, 2010

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

1. Another study allegedly suggests beautiful women make men stupid

Just five minutes alone with an attractive female raise the levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, according to a study from the University of Valencia.

The effects are heightened in men who believe that the woman in question is “out of their league”.

Researchers tested 84 male students by asking each one to sit in a room and solve a Sudoku puzzle. Two strangers, one male and one female, were also in the room.

When the female stranger left the room and the two men remained sitting together, the volunteer’s stress levels did not rise. However, when the volunteer was left alone with the female stranger, his cortisol levels rose.

The researchers concluded: “In this study we considered that for most men the presence of an attractive woman may induce the perception that there is an opportunity for courtship.

I don’t know how this became a hot topic in scientific research. Maybe a few too many lonely male scientists are out to prove women are evil or will be the downfall of civilization.

2. How to create lesbian mice – That’s not what I’m personally into but apparently if one were so inclined to turn female mice into lesbians, all it takes is deleting a single gene. Of course the rodent religious right will still continue to insist that it’s just the choice to live a sinful lifestyle and reject the teachings of the mouse messiah. Why else would they call the aforementioned gene “FucM”? Mickey wants you to repent! He died for your sins.

Begin operation kill all humans.

3. Robot Ranger sets untethered walking record

A Cornell University robot named Ranger walked 14.3 miles in about 11 hours, setting an unofficial world record at Cornell’s Barton Hall early on July 6. A human — armed with nothing more than a standard remote control for toys — steered the untethered robot.

The 14.3-mile record beats the former world record set by Boston Dynamics’ BigDog, which had claimed the record at 12.8 miles.

Sure, it can walk on a track but how’d it do in the rocky terrain of Tatoine?

4. Ben Stein tells the unemployed to get a job -Here’s what Stein had to tell America’s unemployed:

The people who have been laid off and cannot find work are generally people with poor work habits and poor personalities. I say “generally” because there are exceptions. But in general, as I survey the ranks of those who are unemployed, I see people who have overbearing and unpleasant personalities and/or who do not know how to do a day’s work. They are people who create either little utility or negative utility on the job.

And this was Nixon’s speech writer! I didn’t think it was possible but Stein seems to understand less about the job market than he does about biology and history.

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Testing autism from the womb may soon be a reality

June 9, 2010

Autism tests from the womb may not be far off. Contrary to what vaccine deniers would have us believe, autism is inherently genetic. That’s not to say that there can’t be any environmental factors involved as well but there  none required to explain autism. And given that researchers have already identified 300 genes associated with autism, the fact that some people are simply born with a predisposition towards it, cannot be denied.

Now researchers are suggesting they may have a complete map of all the genes responsible for the condition within two years and that we may soon be capable of testing for autism in newborns or even possibly at the embryonic stage.

News From Around The Blogosphere 5.20.10

May 21, 2010

1. Antievolution bill denied in Missouri – House Bill 1651 was another transparent creationist attempt to undermine evolution. First they tried “creation science” and that was ruled unconstitutional. Then came “Intelligent Design” and that was exposed as a fraud. Then came the “Teach the controversy” and “academic freedom” laws. And now this is the latest strategy they seem to be using. The bill calls calls for the teaching of the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. The problem is there are no weaknesses to evolution. You might as well demand the teaching the weaknesses of heliocentricism or the weaknesses of Round Earth Theory.

2. Saudi woman kicks virtue cop’s ass – In Saudi Arabia, they have virtue cops who patrol public places looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing (cause it’s a serious crime to socialize there). This religion cop saw a young, 20-something couple and approached them. He asked them to confirm their identities and relationship to one another (and you thought Arizona was fascist). That’s when the young man collapsed and the woman beat the shit out of the cop. Awesome!

“To see resistance from a woman means a lot,” Wajiha Al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist, told The Media Line news agency. “People are fed up with these religious police, and now they have to pay the price for the humiliation they put people through for years and years. This is just the beginning and there will be more resistance.”

“The media and the Internet have given people a lot of power and the freedom to express their anger,” she said. “The Hai’a are like a militia, but now whenever they do something it’s all over the Internet. This gives them a horrible reputation and gives people power to react.”

3. Being an evangelical pastor has its down side – A new survey finds that being an evangelical pastor is a pretty strong indicator that your life sucks. Here’s just a few examples:

  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80 percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 40% of pastors polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

4. Scientists create new cell controlled by man-made genetic instructions

Although the ultimate goal of creating artificial organisms is still far off, the experiment points to a future in which microbes could be manufactured with novel functions, such as the ability to digest pollutants or produce fuels. Some ethicists fear that the strategy could also be used to produce biological weapons and other dangerous life forms.

And to think, they said we were mad…MAD! Muhahahaha!

5. Researchers find first drug that has therapeutic effect in a type of autism

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have identified a drug that improves communication between nerve cells in a mouse model of Phelan-McDermid Syndrome (PMS). Behavioral symptoms of PMS fall under the autism spectrum disorder category.

And to think, if anti-vaxxers had their way this research would not even exist.

6. Psychic caught stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars

Marks ran a psychic business out of Lafayette. Police said she convinced clients that certain numbers were bad and they needed to give her their credit card and bank account numbers. Investigators say she also convinced customers to give her large amounts of money so she could cleanse it of evil spirits.

. . .

One woman said she lost $240,000. Others claimed to have lost their life savings to Marks.

“She told me, ‘Don’t tell anybody about me. If you tell anybody bad things will happen to you,'” Bermudez-Hafer said.

District Attorney Stan Garnett offered advice to those who visit psychics.

“Don’t start giving psychics large amounts of money based on some understanding of magic that’s going to happen,” Garnett said.

An even better piece of advice is to avoid “psychics” altogether. As for Marks, I foresee an orange jumpsuit in her future.

News From Around The Blogosphere 4.2.10

April 2, 2010

1. Researchers find aging gene in worm

Scientists funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) at the University of Birmingham have discovered that a gene called DAF-16 is strongly involved in determining the rate of ageing and average lifespan of the laboratory worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and its close evolutionary cousins. DAF-16 is found in many other animals, including humans. It is possible that this knowledge could open up new avenues for altering ageing, immunity and resistance to stresses in humans.

Of course it will be years before any practical application to humans comes out of this, if ever, but it’s cool none the less.

2. Exorcist discovers Satan behind media’s accurate coverage of Catholic sex scandal – We’ve already gotten one exorcist to claim that Satan was possessing the Church leaders into performing the rapes in the first place. Now another exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, has publicly stated that the media’s desire to inform the public of these crimes, particularly at the New York Times, was “prompted by the devil.” I could have told you that. I mean, really, when was the last time the media was sincerely interested in honest journalism?

And speaking of demonic journalists. . .

3. Simon Singh reports once more in The Guardian – After winning his appeal, Singh wants to remind people that the battle for libel reform in the UK is only just beginning.

4. Filipinos celebrate this Zombie Weekend by crucifying themselves – This is an annual tradition in the Philippines on Zombie Weekend where many Filipinos choose to re-enact Jesus’ zombie-fication by actually nailing themselves to wooden crosses.

The Catholic Church disapproves of the annual ritual of devotion but says it cannot stop people in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic country from being voluntarily nailed to a cross or flagellating themselves, only educate them that it isn’t necessary.

Yes, the Catholic Church would much rather they celebrate in a more traditional fashion, by raping young boys and covering it up.

5. Scientists discover gene and part of the brain controlling gullibility, the WTF1 gene – And if you believed that then you have the WTF1 gene. April Fools!

Now speaking of April Fools. . .

6. Shroud of Turin is back in the news – Despite the fact that the face merely looks like the male model who happened to pose as Jesus in Renaissance paintings and despite its total debunking as a several hundred year old forgery, somehow someone has resurrected (hehe, see what I did there) the debate. And it couldn’t come at a more perfect time as it perfectly coincides with my April Fools piece in the Gotham Skeptic about the discovery of Jesus’ face in a Rorschach Test. Check it out.

News From Around The Blogosphere 2.25.10

February 26, 2010

1. A new study suggests acupuncture is good for depression in pregnancy. . .or does it?

In other words, acupuncture specific for depression produced an effect that was not different from that of one of the controls. But by creating a group that combined non-specific acupuncture (ineffective) with massage (effective), they were able to create a composite that was ineffective, and then they compared the experimental group with the composite. But that doesn’t change the fact that acupuncture for depression was no better than massage.

Have the authors shown that acupuncture specific for depression is effective for treating depression in pregnant women? I don’t think so. If it offers no advantage over massage, we can forget about acupuncture and simply offer depressed pregnant women a day at the spa. It is no less effective and probably far more enjoyable.

2. Smile or Die:  How positive thinking fooled America and the world – In her new book, Barbara Ehrenreich presents the evidence of numerous studies demonstrating that positive thinking has no effect on survival rates. She also provides testimonies that suggest that possibly great harm comes from this false hope.

Pity, for example, the woman who wrote to the mind/body medical guru Deepak Chopra: “Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps re-occurring? I am positive I am going to beat it, yet it does get harder with each diagnosis to keep a positive attitude.”

New Age mysticism may sound harmless enough but here is a great example of how dangerous such irrational beliefs are.

3. A gene mutation is linked to autistic symptoms in mice – Once again, this is research that would not exist if J.B. Handley, Jenny McCarthy, and their anti-vaccine cohorts were making the decisions because they have zero interest in exploring the genetic basis for autism.

4. Stem Cells restore sight to blind mice – I feel like this news story is a rerun. Anyway though, once again this is research that might not have existed if George Bush was president.

An international research team led by Columbia University Medical Center successfully used mouse embryonic stem cells to replace diseased retinal cells and restore sight in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. This strategy could potentially become a new treatment for retinitis pigmentosa, a leading cause of blindness that affects approximately one in 3,000 to 4,000 people, or 1.5 million people worldwide.

News From Around The Blogosphere 01.23.09

January 24, 2009

Obama already bringing science back – Not only has the Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trials for treating spinal cord patients with embryonic stem cells but he’s reversing a lot of Bush blunders.

Pennsylvania man considers bank error a “gift from God” – Uh, that’s not a gift.  That’s stealing from the bank.

Jerry Coyne officially a member of the New Atheist club – Coyne has written a lengthy piece in The New Republic that comes down hard on the pro-evolution books written by theistic scientists Karl Giberson and Ken Miller. Now even though I agree that the brilliant Stephen J. Gould was wrong in declaring science and religion different magistia to avoid taking the kind of hard anti-religious stance that Richard Dawkins has, I’ve always given Ken Miller a pass because I like and respect him in addition to think that he is possibly the best critic against “Intelligent Design” that we have. But intellectually I agree with Coyne that science and religion just cannot be reconciled.

Here is a video of Ken Miller smoking creationists in a debate better than anyone I’ve ever seen and also later referencing his religious faith:

Creationism’s big banana himself Ray Comfort challenges PZ Myers to another dual – Does that make this a rematch?

Evidence we live in a holographic reality? Whoa! – Okay, probably not. But this is interesting all the same.


Scientists from the Joint Quantum Institute at the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan have successfully teleported quantum information between two separate atoms in unconnected enclosures a meter apart. Here’s Science Daily’s report on it.

Honk if you love quantum entanglement.


Aging Secret In Genetically Altered Fruit Fly – “Brown University researchers have identified a cellular mechanism that could someday help fight the aging process.

The finding by Stephen Helfand and Nicola Neretti and others adds another piece to the puzzle that Helfand, a professor of biology, molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry, first discovered in 2000. Back then, he identified a mutation in the Indy (“I’m Not Dead Yet”) gene that can extend the life span of fruit flies.”

Hear that McCain and Palin? FRUIT FLIES!!!!