What is it that makes cancer cells migrate from the main site of growth to other healthy tissues and how exactly do they move? A professor of Biological Chemistry at Johns Hopkins called Denise Montell (along with her team) have just brought us one step closer to finding out, and made a nifty video in the process.
In a impressive display of patience, Dr Montell and her team spent a year feeding a cluster of fruit fly cells inside an egg chamber with different solutions, trying to find the right one that would make the cluster migrate from one side of the egg to the other. These fruit fly cells are not cancerous, but what they are doing resembles what the cancer cells do and how they move. However, you can't watch them moving inside the ovary but if you take them out of the ovary they refuse to budge. Hence the need for the ideal medium to get them going. When the team finally hit on the perfect formula, they made a video, and you can now watch that process of cell migration online. You can see from video that different cells seem to take the lead in propelling the cluster forward at any one time, a movement compared to a flock of geese or a pack of cyclists. The team have also discovered a key protein that encourages this movement, called Kuzbanian. This will all translate to a better understanding of clinically useful cell migrations as well as cancer cell migrations.
One final thing, is there not an eerie similarity between the migrating cells and that green thing from Ghostbusters?
'Restoring' priceless works of art has never been an easy task. While it might have seemed like a good idea back in the 1960s to cover the porous marble of Michelangelo's David (and plenty of other valuable frescoes) in an acrylic polymer called paraloid, now it just seems downright insane. But how do you get the toxic coating off once you've plastered it on? Not with a nail brushes that's for sure. So step up the face mask.
A team from the University of Florence have discovered a way to make oil and water mix, by using a sugar-like molecule to emulsify them. Like a nanoparticle salad dressing without the vinegar. Or mustard. Anyway, the artwork is draped in thin Japanese paper and then the 'dressing' is poured on. This poultice is left on for a couple of hours and hey presto, no more paraloid. This technique only works where the slap happy sixties restorers plastered their paraloid, it's no help where other damage has been done in the name of restoration. But for David and his compatriots, it's good news indeed.
CAN SPEAKING PAPER FIGURE OUT A WAY TO MAKE MONEY LITERALLY TALK? (PHOTO: MANJIDES)
A team from Mid Sweden University have produced a prototype billboard embedded with conductive inks and printed speakers, so that when you touch it it plays audio at you. The article in BBC News says that the inventors think it could be useful in product packaging - and I do see the temptation. However, I don't really need my yoghurt to tell me how many grammes of fat it has or exactly how tasty it is. That would cause quite the cacophony in supermarkets.
Seems to me that this would be more useful for blind people, as a high-tech version of braille. But there'd presumably have to be some way of listening privately though (a printed headphone jack perhaps), otherwise you could reach the end of your intellectual magazine only to find it suddenly starts shouting out all the adverts for sex phone lines that are printed at the back. Very embarrassing.
A little bit of magic for a drizzly Monday morning (unless of course it's sunny everywhere but Britain...) comes to you courtesy of NASA.com and features a phenomenon called the equivalence principle. Back in the 16th century, Galileo Galilei rolled spheres made of different materials down a long slope, and showed that even though the spheres were very different, they reached the bottom of the slope at the same time. He concluded that gravity accelerates all objects equally regardless of their masses or the materials from which they are made. This 36 year old video shows astronaut David Scott, demonstrating just that, by standing on the moon and dropping a heavy geological hammer and a light falcon feather. Both items hit the ground at the same time, reinforcing Galileo's theory.
The experiment shown in the above video isn't necessarily the most accurate scientific demonstration (nor is it brilliant quality, unsurprisingly), but it was the first such demonstration to be done on the moon, and it's very eye-catching. Even though you know the outcome, it's just impossible to make your brain accept that the hammer and the feather will fall at the same rate. And yet they do.
In the good ole natural selection race, he who adapts best survives. Take for example a butterfly's fancy wing spots that are meant to look like scary eyes. It's a clever tactic. Moths have evolved a similarly cunning method of evading capture and certain death, which was reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
Some moths make noises and some don't, but doctoral student Jesse Barber from Wake Forest University has noticed that there is more of a motive than mere musicality to the moth's sounds. Bats eat moths, and prefer the taste of some to others. This study used three types of moth, two nice-tasting, and one nasty-tasting, and offered them to bats. The unappetizing moths made noises as they flew, and the bats soon learned that noise=yuk. So when offered a selection of more delicious moths the bats avoided the noisy ones and scoffed the silent ones. The tasty, noisy moths live to flutter another day, and descent with modification marches on. Go Darwin.
We depend on the Sun for life, but it an unpredictable master. Every now and again it flings out bundles of joy known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which can do an awful lot of damage when they slam into our vulnerable little planet. The CMEs can produce magnetic storms that could have the power to knock our gadget-heavy lifestyle back into the dark ages. Most of the CMEs aren't anything like that powerful, in fact they happen reasonably often and usually don't do that damage. But they can do some damage, including messing with our satellites and electrical transmission lines. Which is why it's interesting news that a team at SOHO (The Solar and Heloispheric Observatory) have discovered that the really big ones are preceded by radio 'screams' from the Sun. Here's how it works:
Strong CME shocks accelerate electrons in the solar wind, which in turn produce the radio signal. The same strong shock must also accelerate atomic nuclei in the solar wind, which produce the radiation storm.
The radio signal moves at the speed of light, but the particles lag behind. So we can 'hear' the scream and know that the CME isn't far behind. The article from the European Space Agency explains how the early warning system could be helpful (and has a nice clear explanation of the phenomenon) - if astronauts are showboating around on the outside of spacecrafts they could be told to get inside rightaway to be protected from the extra radiation. Handy indeed. But seeing as how the Sun is quite big and we are quite small, if a big ejection is on the way it's not like we can say 'Umbrellas up! CME a-coming' just yet...
I CAN DEFINITELY SEE THE FAMILY RESEMBLANCE... (PHOTO:NATASHAW)
I was on a trip in South America once, and was trying to spell my name to a ticket agent to buy a bus ticket. The poor woman got a bit confused in the hustle and bustle, and got my name wrong, writing down "Katie Jaws" on my ticket. Turns out she was prescient, because I am related to sharks. Well, according to ABC News Australia we all are actually.
Long ago in the ancient mists of time (450 million years ago to be exact), we shared a relative with our toothy friends. The elephant shark has some genes that are nearly identical to ours, meaning we have more in common with it than we do with other species closer to us on the evolutionary tree. We also have genes in common with mice and dogs, but that's not so suprising since we're all mammals. But we do have at least two things in common with sharks, so it does make sense these traits or characteristics would be expressed in our genes. For one, a shark's immune system is similar to ours, as sharks have all four types of white blood cells that humans have. The other thing we have in common with sharks is sex. Fish that should be closer to us on the evolutionary tree abstain from sex, preferring to keep fertilisation tidily outside the body. Sharks don't do this, and in case you hadn't noticed, neither do we.
So when I was recently confronted with the adorable sight of four white lion cubs recently born to the Jurques Zoological Park in France, I was immediately incapacitated.
These pale puffs aren't albinos. Instead they carry the recessive "chinchilla mutation" that only crops up when both parents carry it. This means that when zoos deliberately try and breed white lions, they face the danger of falling into the pit of an inbreeding depression - which is what happened with white tigers. Still, this marshmallow of a creature might persist only in captivity. Wild white lions were first recorded in 1928 but the mutation that causes their blanching seems to have been lost in the wild since.
So you know how I am all allergic to everything warm and snuggly and pet-like? And that I love animals more than people? How my first word was "cat" and before I even spoke I used to point at dogs from my pram and pant like a puppy in hopes my mother would take me over to see them?
Well the world is getting a lot better for the likes of me. There's non-shedding dogs like poodles (we have one), hairless cats like the Sphinx or the Devon Rex (that's next). And of course the genetically engineered Allerca cats - at only $4,000 pop (I'm saving).
And now there's another animal to add to my growing menagerie of IgE neutral pets. The Mexican hairless dog, Xoloitzcuintles or xolos for short. These wee dudes are anything new, however. They date back to the Aztecs (or so they say) where the dogs were believed to be sacred. For example, holding a pup to your belly could supposedly cure cramps. And in dire medical situation, you could even eat one.
They might be a bit shiny, but really, I think I'd rather snuggle it than barbecue it.
Is is ok to kill a shark to save a seal? Not an easy decision to make. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration thinks it's ok, and is currently seeking permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources to kill 10 sharks in the coming year. The seal in question is the Hawaiian Monk Seal, and the shark is the Galapagos Shark.
The justification for the plan is that the monk seal is classified as endangered (IUCN - Hawaiian Monk Seals) and the sharks are not. They've asked for and got permission to do this before, so they clearly think it's a good way to protect the few seals that are left.
The sharks don't give an arse for the IUCN red list, or the fact that we meddlesome humans think that Monk Seals are cute and worthy of protection. We see an endangered species, they see lunch. Protecting endangered species is never a straightforward task, because the animals are never killed 'just because'. If a poacher has killed an elephant, he's not done it just to be mean. He's done it because the ivory is obscenely valuable and he can make a large amount of money from it. If we stop him, his livelihood is gone. And in stepping in to protect a disappearing species, you sometimes have to take extreme steps, like sacrificing one group of animals for another.
However, the shark is classified as near-threatened (IUCN - Galapagos Shark) meaning it is not vulnerable now but is likely to be in the near future. I would therefore hope that anyone making decisions like this has the mantra Beware The Cane Toad echoing their heads the whole time as an example of when we can get it wrong. We as a species do not have a particularly good track record in meddling with the natural world. But with that in mind, it is possible to get it right, and hopefully the NOAA will manage to do just that for the seals.
There's an orangutan on the loose. Mopeds in a Taiwan zoo faced a grizzly fate when a 150kg beast escaped from his cage and went on the rampage. The animal got a brief taste of freedom before the zoo keepers faced him with "weapons and shields", tranquilised him and returned him to his cage. The video of the great escapee (complete with truly spectacular orange fringed fur) can be found at BBC News, or, with less commentary but available to viewers across the pond, at local news station wkyc.com. Fringe or no fringe, he can stay away from my scooter thank you very much...
ONE DAY SOON, FREEDOM SHALL BE MINE. MWA HA HA. (PHOTO: IMAGE00139)
A while back, I wrote about a project that planned to track walruses as they make their whiskery way around Greenland. When I mentioned the project, the BBC hadn't yet got its dedicated web area going. They have now, but have sadly lost contact with all but one of the walruses.
However, the sole representative of the walrus satellite party is still pottering about and can still be tracked via the BBC map here. She is known as Walrus 2 (not a very imaginative name) and is, at present, chilling out on the east coast of Canada. A very fine choice of holiday destination, I'm sure you will agree. Go check it out.
FAMILIES. CAN'T LIVE WITH EM, CANT LIVE WITHOUT EM. (PHOTO: AVALORE)
Families disagree a lot, that's what makes them fun. They are also unequal, with every family member being treated differently. Whether this is positive or negative rather depends on the family. Much as every parent would wish to be and try to be impartial and fair, it is simply impossible to treat all your children the same. I would lay money on the fact the most oft-spoken sentence in a family with more than one child is "It isn't FAIR".
I am a younger sibling, and I know for a fact that my older brother thought I got away with murder. He got to stay up late? So did I. He started getting pocket money? So did I. Very unfair. But it was the way that I used to provoke him until he hit me then go crying to mum, who would then of course take my side because I was smaller and a girl, that really broke his spirit and destroyed any faith he ever had in his parents.
Naturally, I just thought I was getting my revenge because he was older and got to do everything first. Naturally, he thought it was yet another example of how much our parents preferred me to him. And there's the key point. Whatever real or imagined imbalance in the way we were treated, we didn't agree about it. (We do now, as he still thinks they liked me better and I agree with him. Kidding). According to a study of family dynamics done in Illinois, that disagreement is pretty common. But in the families which communicated the best, any real or imagined imbalance was less of a problem. The moral of the story is that families should talk more, which is always a good idea. Of course the idea of teenaged siblings who communicate well with each other is about as likely as a low-flying pig, so this is a lesson for parents more than children. If you have to treat your children differently, for example with extra time or help, make sure the other kid knows why. It's basic psychology but it makes so much sense.
PS - If you need a good way to open communication with your family, why not try one of these little gizmos from Popgadget?
Here's the Eurekalert press release.
In anycase, whatever sense of splashing out on my clunking bike and injecting with vim fast evaporated when I saw Schwinn's new red hot electric bikes slated to debut this summer.
One battery charge takes less than 4 hours and lasts for 60 miles. Their seamless design doesn't have any of dorkiness of most electric bikes (take Peter Parker's ride in the disappointing yet supremely heckle-able Spiderman 3) either. God bless them they've even gone to the trouble of making sure a girl can ride in her summery skirt and save herself the perspiration of slugging up hills. All three models come in an optional low step thru frame. Bliss.
I get the news feed from the University of Washington's press office. I hadn't checked my RSS reader for while, and so there were a few releases waiting for me. The headlines are as follows.
1. Autism conference to look at link to mercury poisoning, mirror neurons, genetics (April 25)
2. Latest treatments, possible causes of autism to highlight press conference (May 1)
3. Children with autism have difficulty recognizing ordinary words (May 4)
And finally, my favorite,
4. 40 percent of 3-month-old infants are regularly watching TV, DVDs or videos (May 7)
Now I am not saying that TV and autism are connected or nothing...or that the rise of TV is responsible for the rise in autism (seeing as we've RULED OUT vaccines, it's as game as anything else)...it's just funny.
Now go play outdoors.
I am a psychic. Didn't I tell you that before? My bad. Anyways. I just had a vision about the future of fruit. You see a group of Cornell researchers have isolated several compounds from apple peels that all have anticancer effects on human breast, liver and colon cancer cells. Soon the health food companies will being to churn out the "Apple A Day Pill" - a concentrated form of these triterpenoids.
Subsequent clinical tests will show that the Apple A Day Pill does absolutely nothing, compared to consumption of whole apples. Media will report echoes of the whole tomato versus lycopene scandal of 2003.
It will be yet another chapter in the 'we spend billions of research dollars to figure out that eating a balance diet with lots of unprocessed foods and fresh fruits and veggies is good for us" book.
(PHOTO: LINNELL ESLER)
I always felt that the microwave popcorn butter flavor was noxious, and now I know why. It's because it's chock full of diacetyl, a perfectly normal byproduct of fermentation that lends a buttery or butterscotchy taste to food in large doses but also has an evil side. It causes debilitating lung damage in artificial butter factory workers amongst other pockets of the flavor industry.
The disease, called "popcorn worker's lung" is actually bronchiolitis obliterans, a debilitating form of lung damage which normally strikes those exposed to toxic gas or as a manifestation of transplant rejection (ironically lung transplants are the only known treatment of popcorn lung). Suffice to say it's nasty and people are lobbying hard to protect flavor industry workers against the effects of inhaling that seemingly wholesome fake flavor in large doses.
In the past five years, the flavor industry has dished out over $100 million to popcorn workers lung victims in lawsuits. California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber has introduced a bill to ban diacetyl in the workplace by 2010.
The next logical question is, what does this mean for the unwitting public? Judging by how the smell of fake butter permeates the air after nuking microwave popcorn, one imagines consumer exposure to be worthy of investigation. Back in 2003, the EPA commissioned a study to look at the effects of microwave popcorn in the home. It was slated to be finished by the end of that year but got stalled when the principal investigator was transferred to tend "homeland security duties." The EPA anticipates publication of the study in an academic journal by the middle of 2007. To which I reply, "pop goes the weasel."
DOESN'T IT JUST MAKE YOU WANT TO START WRITING? (PHOTO: SPHANTASY)
Letter writing is a lost skill and that's a tragedy. Email is great and all, but it's not exactly permanent, and most people don't bother to keep their old emails very long. That's fine when you're trying not to clog up your hard drive, but you just know we'll all regret it in the future. Just imagine if Darwin (owner of the best beard in all of history) had had a blog instead of written diaries and corresponded by post. We wouldn't know that he only used to wash his feet once a month while he was at school (or that he knew that was a nasty habit). Or that he engaged in correspondence with more than 2000 people during his lifetime. Or that when contemplating his earth shattering theory about the origin of the species he felt like was confessing to a murder. How do we know these things? Because Darwin's entire entire collection of letters is going to be put online tomorrow, and the folks at Darwin Project have sent out these little taster to get us interested.
The site has a Daily Quote section which promises to be really cool - but it would be even more cool to have a feature like the 'random article' button on Wikipedia. Click on it and up would pop a different Darwinism each time so you wouldn't have to wait a day for the next one. I might drop the folks at Darwin Project an email to suggest it. On second thoughts, maybe I should send a note in the post, just in case.
People these days don't do enough exercise. So, the brainy person who comes up ways to make exercise fun will save lives and make big bucks, because treadmills and running machines are effective but TEDIOUS. This isn't a new idea, pop into any posh gym anywhere around and you'll find a selection of telly programmes and radio stations on offer to stop you dying of boredom. However, what is a new idea is this - making you do your work while walking on a treadmill instead of perched on your arse at a desk, to stop you getting so fat. A new idea, and a silly idea. Gimmicks are cute, they sometimes work, we spend the majority of our day at work so why not make the most of that time and maximise movement, I get it. But talk about the worst of both worlds! If I'm miserable because I'm running on a running machine like a hamster in a wheel, don't give me a computer and make me work! That's just mean!