I’M Sick Of It

In my day, the olden days, sometimes people just got sick. Now everything is a syndrome or disorder with a strange name and probably some acronym. I am sick of these. Of course for every syndrome there is a pill — typically with side effects that would keep me from ever using the cure.

Today I read about a new one that tops all that came before it.  POIS. I am sure you must have heard of it. No? It stands for post-orgasmic illness syndrome (I told you that they are all syndromes).

What are the symptoms of PIOS you ask? As described in an article in the Chicago Tribune, POIS is when men are allergic to their own semen, developing a mysterious flu-like illness after they have an ejaculation. Seriously? I do not intend to make light of the poor schmucks who suffer from this debilitating illness. Symptoms include feverishness, runny nose, extreme fatigue and burning eyes, which can last for up to a week.

No, I come to make fun of the researchers in the Netherlands who found these men and chose to study them only to come up with some asinine name like post-orgasmic illness syndrome.

Is there any illness left to discover and name. I get it with astronomers naming planets and stars…but illnesses.

I long for the good old days when you could just be sick.

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Animal News

From the pages of The Economist.

1. A New Giant Lizard” This week Biology Letters, one of the journals of the venerable Royal Society of which both Wallace and Darwin were fellows, describes something novel from northern Luzon, in the Philippines, that is large, showy and also slightly strange. It is a monitor lizard as long as a man is tall, which is a close relative of the notoriously carnivorous Komodo dragon, yet which is, itself, vegetarian.” I think it is cute. No one else in my family is into this kind of stuff. When in Orlando a few weeks ago we could have gotten free passes to Gator City. No takers.

2. Shelling Out. I have no idea why a story about cross breeding oysters would fascinate me. I like lite science. Always have. This one caught my fancy. (Do people say “caught my fancy” anymore? What would the texting for that be.) Here is an except from the story.

“As many gardeners and farmers know, crossbreeding two wimpy specimens sometimes produces strong offspring—an effect known as hybrid vigour. Hybrid vigour is common in plants and is found in some animals—though, some speculate, it may be lacking in European royalty.

Several years ago Dennis Hedgecock of the University of Southern California and his colleagues discovered that oysters can hybridise. If a tiny inbred strain called “oyster 6” is bred with the similarly puny “oyster 7”, the result is a large and fast-growing oyster—“oyster 6×7”—which is easy to open and produces tens of millions of eggs. The problem, though, is that when oyster 6×7 is bred with itself, the resulting offspring are puny again. The hybrid does not, in the jargon, breed true.

If new hybrids were easy to generate in quantity, that would not matter. But oysters 6 and 7 themselves produce only around a million eggs per adult, and their shells are hard to open. Oyster farms each need tens of billions of eggs to operate commercially. Constantly regenerating the hybrid is not a viable approach.

To get around this problem, Dr Hedgecock and his colleagues took some other puny inbreds and created a second hybrid line, oyster 8×9. This is also big, fast-growing and easy to open, and, like oyster 6×7, it produces tens of millions of eggs. The trick is that although it too does not breed true itself, when it is hybridised with 6×7 to produce a super-duper 6x7x8x9 crossbreed, the outcome is just as large, fast-growing and tasty. The result of this two-stage crossbreeding process is that, though none of the hybrids involved breeds true by itself, a marketable hybrid oyster can nevertheless be turned out in large quantities. That is the hope, although the proof will come next year, when the hybrids are grown on a commercial scale.”

Cross bred oysters with a little horseradish. Yum.

 

Food: Addiction or Cure

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The following is the opening from an article published in The Economist titled, “Treatment on a Plate“.

PEOPLE are programmed for addiction. Their brains are designed so that actions vital for propagating their genes—such as eating and having sex—are highly rewarding. Those reward pathways can, however, be subverted by external chemicals (in other words, drugs) and by certain sorts of behaviour such as gambling.”

The article goes on to describe the world’s improved understanding of the biochemistry behind addiction. Beginning to be, though not thoroughly, tested are theories that certain foods can help mitigate the cravings of addiction. These foods are ones known to have other health properties such as nuts, seeds, brown rice and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if food rather than drugs could help beat addiction? Just one question. What do people like me who’s addiction is food do?

Yes, I am a food addict. Only bicycling 50 miles a week kept me from blowing up like a balloon over the summer. In normal years I would lose weight during the cycling season but this year I was lucky to just to maintain. As soon as it got too cold to bike 5 pounds instantly appeared in my belly.

I eat due to stress. I eat the wrong things, those high in fats and processed sugars. Even when I eat healthy things, I eat too much. There is no such thing as portion control in my world.

So if food is the addiction is there a food cure for food? That would make it easy.

People Are The Same, Just Different

Why would a blog dedicated not only to the differences between people but the differences within each person start by saying that people are the same? Because we are!

What is important about being the same? If we are the same we should have the same rights. The same rights under the law, the same right to respect from others of our species, the same right to opportunity. Differences, whether real or perceived,  give the prejudiced among us an opportunity to say that some are superior to others and those that are not among the superior can be treated badly. Somehow it is always “us” that are superior and you all that are inferior.

Well, for those of us that believe in science as opposed to religious or ethnic mythologies, there is proof that we are more the same than not. As reported in The Economist;

Lluís Quintana-Murci and his colleagues at the Pasteur Institute, in Paris, published a study in Nature Genetics that looked at which genes have undergone recent natural selection at different rates in different parts of the world, and might thus contribute to any biological differences between races.

Given the fraught nature of the subject, the results are gratifyingly uncontroversial. Several of the differences Dr Quintana-Murci detected are in genes for the superficial racial markers of skin colour and hair form. Most of the others whose functions are known are connected either with diet or with resistance to disease.

…All in all, the school of thought which holds that humans, for all their outward variety, are a pretty homogenous species received a boost.

The remainder of the article can be found here.

So I guess the white supremacists and other hate groups got it wrong. There is nothing to feel supreme about at least on a group basis. No great differences discovered by race, sex, ethnicity, sexual persuasion (while I am not sure the researches specifically tested for this I am adding it to my list). I would argue that the people among us that act like menches are the ones with the right to feel superior.

Yes, as individuals we are different and as the French say Vive le Difference! Take the middle aged guy at O’Hare today with the Buzz Lightyear hat. He is clearly different. (I am not talking baseball cap but full toy size hat with the wings and everything.)

This blog will continue to identify and describe all of the nuances that make the people I encounter special in their own ways. Just remember that genetically the differences are minute and that you could be me or I be you. Treat each other well. Especially me.

A Forward Thinking Government

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In the U.S.? You have got to be kidding. Possibly with a new president but I will not be holding my breath. Wealthy, established interest groups trump long-term change every time. Even when the writing is on the wall our leaders have found a way to deny, deny, deny.

Not so in Holland. The impact of climate change matters when it causes water levels to rise and much of your country is below sea level. As recently reported on NPR, Holland is trying a couple of innovations to help cope with the coming reality.

In his report as part of an ongoing series on climate change titled “In a Strategic Reversal, Dutch Embrace Floods” reporter Joe Palca raises a question we should be asking of our leaders.  ” How do you get people to focus on an enormous but slow-moving threat?”  (He was referring to the very gradual phenomena of the rise in sea level.) First, Holland is evolving from its decades old strategy of  building strong barriers to keep the water out. The Dutch government “has decided to lower the dikes in about 40 parcels of land, allowing them to flood when the rivers rise. This will take the pressure off existing dikes farther down river.”

Palca found it interesting to have a government more interested in the effects of climate change than the general public.  How different than a government that toadies to big business and changes policy with every poll.

The second thing happening in Holland is that “architects are designing a new Holland that will float on water, and the Dutch government seems willing to try out the scheme. Innovation being supported by the government? What a concept.

Who knows if any of this will keep Holland from becoming Atlantis in 100 years. I just like the fact that they have recognized a future problem and are investing today in the solutions. As a country we have so much to learn.

Mercury Via MESSENGER

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I visited the NASA website for the first time today. My intent was to check out the pictures of the planet Mercury. The picture above is one of the better ones of Mercury’s craters taken at a distance of about 12,000 miles. ( I wish I had a telephoto lens to match that.)

Why explore Mercury?  For me personally, I am a sucker for understandable science with a particular fascination for planets.  For NASA scientists, they are exploring interesting parallels and differences to Earth. Possibly a better understanding of Mercury could help us better understand the creation of our planet. Both planets are terrestrial planets as are Venus and Mars but it is by far the densest of the four. Of the four, only Earth and Mercury have magnetic fields.   For more detail on the interest in Mercury click here.

Mercury would be an fun vacation spot for lovers of either hot or cold weather. Temps range from 427 degrees Celsius (800 degrees Fahrenheit) on the parts facing the sun to  -183C (-300F) on the part away from the sun. Think of the tan one could get on the sun side. You would however need a suntan lotion with a rating of 1M or so.

The NASA site is O.K. but not as cool as I had hoped. A couple of the videos I watched were at a grade school level. I’ll keep searching for content targeted to the intelligent yet non-scientific adult. One would think that the agency that sends vehicles throughout the solar system would have a rich and fascinating site. I guess that it may be appropriate for them to spend their scarce funds on things like making sure that the space shuttles do not blow up.

One last picture of Mercury. This one was a close up taken a mere 3,000 miles from the planet. The surface definition is enhanced in this view. More to come as MESSENGER will leave the planet’s orbit but return to Mercury in September of next year.

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Art and Science

Good news/Bad news from NPR’s Morning Addition Monday morning.  The good news.  Two thought provoking ideas ideas were offered, one about not blindly accepting accepted scientific concepts and the other on the artist’s role in science. The bad news. In order to hear these two ideas I had to withstand 7 minutes and 40 seconds of drivel disguised as a creative radio bit.  30 seconds would have been enough. First let’s discuss these ideas and then I will critique the bit.

Robert Krulwich‘s report was titled Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter… and Umami. The background. Several thousand years ago the Greek philosopher Democritus took up the question of how many tastes can a person taste. He postulated four; sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Once he marketed the idea to Aristotle and Plato and signed them as celebrity spokespersons all the Greeks were sold as were scientists for the next several thousand years. It became known became a scientific “fact” that everything we taste is some combination of those four ingredients.

No doubters until Auguste Escoffier said “Il n’est pas tellement”.  It is not so. Was Auguste a renown scientist? Doctor? Non! He was a chef. In fact in the late 1800’s he was thechef in France. He invented veal stock which according to the two knuckle heads on the radio (sorry, I could not completely wait until later to critique) was the most divine taste yet and was not a combination of the 4 accepted tastes. Sacre bleau!

Long story short a Japanese chemist had a similar thought. He discovered that this fifth taste was glutamate, particularly L-glutamate. It took another 100 years for scientists to take apart some taste buds and verify this fifth taste receptor. The taste was called umami in honor of the chemist.

So point number one. It is good to challenge common beliefs now and again. Even science can be wrong. However, in this day of religious nuttiness I prefer challenges with some appropriate support. Not just I said so. Point number two. Non-scientists, especially people with artistic capabilities often “see” reality before the scientists. Hopefully the scientists are listening. ‘Proust Was a Neuroscientist’ by Jonah Lehrer has more examples of artisans’ contributions to science. This idea of questioning the status quo when you have reason to believe differently is very intriguing to me. As is the concept that we should listen to and debate rather than simply dismiss alternate ideas.

OK I timed this. 1 minute 17 seconds to read this post so far.and I am a slow reader. I just saved you 6 minutes and 23 seconds of your life. Not to mention the quality of the time. It is hard to describe how pitifully Krulwich and Lehrer tried to create a theatre of the mind while dragging out this story. If you have the time to waste you can listen to it hear. When they start doing the cooking sounds as they tell Auguste’s part of the story just remember. I told you so.