2009 April 29 Wednesday
Solar Photovoltaics Prices Coming Down

The Q1 2009 conference call between photovoltaics maker SunPower's top executives and financial analysts covered the question of how fast solar panel prices are falling. Answer: pretty fast. While SunPower claims to have cut average selling prices by less than 10% so far this year the analysts point to competitors who've made bigger cuts and the CEO of SunPower admits they see another 20% of price cuts coming in the rest of 2009.

Nicholas Allen - Morgan Stanley

So you expect another 20% decline in pricing over the course of the year?

Thomas Werner

Yes. The way you should think of it from our perspective is that we are prepared for... or we've tested into our models up to 20% more price decline this year.

SunPower is probably the second strong player in the PV space after First Solar. This statement by its CEO is therefore very telling.

If you are thinking about putting solar panels in your house then wait. You can't possibly make or save enough money off those panels in the next 8 months to return you 20% of your costs.

The reference here to "poly pricing" is for polysilicon crystal which is a production input to silicon PV production (though not for thin film PV as made by First Solar). I've read other sources claiming that prices for poly have declined from a peak of $450 to $100 per kilogram.

Pavel Molchanov - Raymond James

Target for a 50% all-in cost reduction by 2012. Given that poly pricing had collapsed much faster than pretty much anyone would have expected, do you see any upside to that target?

Howard Wenger

Thanks Pavel for the question. Tom, I'll take this to keep us moving quickly. We also guided that two-thirds of that cost reduction which happened by 2010 or sooner. And yes, we are seeing some opportunity for that to accelerate.

So SunPower expects to cut their own production costs by a third by 2010 and more by 2012. This tells you where solar PV costs are going and how fast they are going there.

For the several years I've been writing posts about the prospects for solar panels a core of skeptical commenters have consistently reacted by claiming that PV costs have declined so little for so long that PV is never going to become viable. But look at the numbers above. The era of relative price stability in PV prices has ended. The era of rapid price declines is upon us. It is about time.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 29 10:28 PM  Energy Solar
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2009 April 28 Tuesday
6 Month Delay Seen For Pandemic Vaccines

We need faster methods for development and production of vaccines for when pandemics happen. A paper in PNAS draws attention to the time lag from emergence of a new influenza strain to availability of vaccines.

New research published today (Monday April 27) from the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust warns of a six-month time lag before effective vaccines can be manufactured in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.

By that time, the first wave of pandemic flu may be over before people are vaccinated, says Dr Iain Stephenson, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and a Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester.

In his paper published in PNAS- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA- Dr Stephenson makes the first case for a pre-pandemic vaccine to mitigate the worst effects of pandemic flu.

He said: "This study is the first to show an effective pre-pandemic vaccine approach. This means that we could vaccinate people potentially many years before a pandemic, to generate memory cells that are long lasting and can be rapidly boosted by a single dose of vaccine when needed."

The paper focuses on the H5N1 avian influenza threat that scientists have been worrying about for years. The swine flu threat probably popped up after the paper was submitted for publication.

A New York Times article also takes a look at vaccine production delays. One problem: right now the flu vaccine industry is gearing up to make their normal yearly vaccine. If they do not start making swine flu vaccine until after the regular vaccine production is done then we'll be more months away from getting swine flu vaccine.

If production of the swine flu vaccine were to start right after that, the first 50 million to 80 million doses would be available by September, Dr. Robinson said.

A full 600 million doses, enough to provide the required two shots for each American, could be finished by January. If immune stimulants called adjuvants were added to the vaccine, that could reduce the dosage needed by each person, allowing enough doses to be ready by late November, he said.

Those doses are only for the US and United States is less than 5% of the world's human population.

The existing way of making influenza vaccine with chicken eggs is slow. However, faster ways of growing vaccine using cell lines can be much faster. Baxter Internation claims their CELVAPAN method could cut months off the time it takes to make vaccine.

Baxter has claimed its H5N1 vaccine could be ready within 12 weeks of an influenza outbreak, compared with 20 to 28 weeks if traditional methods are used.

In addition, cell culture does not suffer from the seasonality of egg-based production, which requires embryonated eggs.

Will Baxter's method get rushed into production if a new pandemic is starting right now?

CELVAPAN is manufactured in a cell culture-based system in Bohumil, Czech Republic, at one of the largest cell culture vaccine production facilities in the world. Vero cell technology uses a well-established cell line originally derived from African green monkey kidneys in 1962. A continuous cell line has been derived from these cells so that an unlimited supply of cells is available without the requirement of generating additional cells from animals.

10 years from now pandemic flus won't be a problem because we'll have much faster ways to manufacture vaccines. While vaccine production capacity has improved a lot in response to the avian flu and SARS threats we still are vulnerable to a new dangerous pathogen.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 28 11:56 PM  Pandemic Vaccines
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Neurotic Men Improve Health Of Women

The guys have got to be both conscientious and neurotic in order to boost the health of their wives. But neurotic women do not improve the health of men.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Conscientiousness is a good thing in a mate, researchers report, not just because it's easier to live with someone who washes the dishes without being asked, but also because having a conscientious partner may actually be good for one's health. Their study, of adults over age 50, also found that women, but not men, get an added health benefit when paired with someone who is conscientious and neurotic.

This is the first large-scale analysis of what the authors call the "compensatory conscientiousness effect," the boost in health reported by those with conscientious spouses or romantic partners. The study appears this month in Psychological Science.

"Highly conscientious people are more organized and responsible and tend to follow through with their obligations, to be more impulse controlled and to follow rules," said University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts, who led the study. Highly neurotic people tend to be more moody and anxious, and to worry, he said.

Researchers have known since the early 1990s that people who are more conscientious tend to live longer than those who are less so. They are more likely to exercise, eat nutritious foods and adhere to vitamin or drug regimens, and are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs or take unwarranted risks, all of which may explain their better health. They also tend to have more stable relationships than people with low conscientiousness.

Since I write posts on health and longevity do I attract neurotic readers? What do you say, are you neurotic?

Why don't neurotic women cause their mates to live longer? Do the guys feel stressed from nagging?

I like to work with driven and conscientious people. You can rely on them to come thru. When offspring genetic engineering becomes possible will people make their kids more conscientious than they are? Will the human race (optimistically assuming the robots don't take over) be much more conscientious a couple hundred years from now?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 28 11:31 PM  Aging Lifestyle Studies
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Drugs And Vitamins Against Prostate Cancer

GlaxoSmithKline PLC's Avodart (dual 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor dutasteride which inhibits the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotesterone) cuts the risk of prostate cancer (and the same drug is also used to slow hair loss btw).

In the study, which involved 8,231 patients with increased risk of prostate cancer, 22.5% of men taking Avodart were diagnosed with prostate cancer after four years, compared with 29% who were taking a placebo.

But it did not cut the incidence of high grade tumors. Maybe those cancers were already present when Avodart dosing was started. Dutasteride might be better than finasteride (Proscar) for this purpose.

But wait, there's more. A big Mayo Clinic study found that statins seem to reduce the incidence of prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction and prostate enlargement.

Vitamin D might slow the development of existing prostate cancer.

Out of 26 men with recurrent prostate cancer, who took a daily dose of vitamin D2 bought from the chemist, five responded to the treatment.

In two the PSA level, fell by more than half, in two by 25-50% and in one man it fell by less than 25%.

Another small study found that pomegranate juice slows prostate cancer growth.

The two-stage clinical trial followed a total of 48 participants over six years. Eligible participants had a rising PSA after surgery or radiotherapy, a PSA greater than 0.2 ng/ml and less than 5 ng/ml and a Gleason score of 7 or less. These patients were treated by drinking eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily. Currently, in the sixth year of treatment, active patients who remain on the study have a median total follow-up of 56 months. These participants continue to experience a significant increase in PSA doubling time following treatment, from a mean of 15.4 months at baseline to 60 months post-treatment, with a median PSA slope decrease of 60 percent, 0.06 to 0.024.

One problem: I've yet to see pomegranate juice in a store.

So guys you've got drugs, a vitamin, and a juice to cut your risks of dying from prostate cancer.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 28 12:47 AM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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Salads On Menus Translate Into More Fries Sales?

Seeing the salad option causes vicarious salad consumption that justifies real french fries consumption?

DURHAM, N.C. –- Just seeing a salad on the menu seems to push some consumers to make a less healthy meal choice, according a Duke University researcher.

It's an effect called "vicarious goal fulfillment," in which a person can feel a goal has been met if they have taken some small action, like considering the salad without ordering it, said Gavan Fitzsimons, professor of marketing and psychology at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, who led the research.

In a lab experiment, participants possessing high levels of self-control related to food choices (as assessed by a pre-test) avoided french fries, the least healthy item on a menu, when presented with only unhealthy choices. But when a side salad was added to this menu, they became much more likely to take the fries.

The team's findings are available in the online version of the Journal of Consumer Research, and will appear in its October 2009 print edition.

Natural selection created some pretty strange cognitive biases in human minds. Methinks if you want to ensure you eat healthy food you should go to places that only offer healthy food.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 28 12:24 AM  Brain Appetite
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2009 April 26 Sunday
New Orleans Not Protectible From Extreme Flooding?

A report from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council argues that either people should be moved out of part of New Orleans or their houses should be elevated against flooding.

WASHINGTON -- Levees and floodwalls surrounding New Orleans -- no matter how large or sturdy -- cannot provide absolute protection against overtopping or failure in extreme events, says a new report by the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council. The voluntary relocation of people and neighborhoods from areas that are vulnerable to flooding should be considered as a viable public policy option, the report says. If relocation is not feasible, an alternative would be to elevate the first floor of buildings to at least the 100-year flood level.

This report looks at lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The report is the fifth and final one to provide recommendations to the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET), formed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine why New Orleans' hurricane-protection system failed during Hurricane Katrina and how it can be strengthened. The previous four reports by the NAE and Research Council examined various draft volumes of the IPET. This report reviews the 7,500-page IPET draft final report, reflects upon the lessons learned from Katrina, and offers advice for how to improve the hurricane-protection system in the New Orleans area.

Since New Orleans continues to sink while the coast continues to erode the situation there is going to become more precarious with time. Efforts to divert more of the silt in the Mississippi into flood plains could slow (reverse?) the erosion. That would lessen the demands on the levees. But this report argues that levees and floodwalls can't guarantee safety.

Although some of the report's recommendations to enhance hurricane preparedness have been widely acknowledged for years, many have not been adequately implemented, said the committee that wrote the report. For instance, levees and floodwalls should be viewed as a way to reduce risks from hurricanes and storm surges, not as measures that completely eliminate risk. As with any structure built to protect against flooding, the New Orleans hurricane-protection system promoted a false sense of security that areas behind the structures were absolutely safe for habitation and development, the report says. Unfortunately, there are substantial risks that never were adequately communicated to the public and undue optimism that the 350-mile structure network could provide reliable flood protection, the committee noted.

The Dutch decided to create barriers that can be extended to hold back the sea during severe storm conditions. This greatly shortens the length of water-land interface that they have to defend against worst case sea levels. I'd like to know why the authors of this report do not think this strategy will work for New Orleans. Is the cost too high? Or does the geology of the area make that approach unworkable?

Comprehensive flood planning and risk management should be based on a combination of structural and nonstructural measures, including the option of voluntary relocations, floodproofing and elevation of structures, and evacuation, the committee urged. Rebuilding the New Orleans area and its hurricane-protection system to its pre-Katrina state would leave the city and its inhabitants vulnerable to similar disasters. Instead, settlement in areas most vulnerable to flooding should be discouraged, and some consideration should be given to new designs of the New Orleans metro hurricane-protection system. As part of the future design, relocation of some structures and residents would help improve public safety and reduce flood damages.

The Netherlands takes a far more aggressive approach toward flood protection because it is a small country and doesn't have the choice of abandoning a substantial fraction of its territory. Whereas America is much larger and the people of New Orleans could live elsewhere. Rather than design for 100 year events the Dutch design for 1250 to 10,000 year events.

Urbanized areas of the country - such as the region surrounding Ter Heijde, which includes The Hague and Rotterdam - are engineered to withstand the kind of storm surge that comes only once in 10,000 years. More sparsely populated areas, such as those protected by the Delta Works, are safe against a 1-in-4,000-year flood. The lowest level of protection, found in rural areas, is for a 1-in-1,250-year flood. All are many times safer than New Orleans ever was.

If the land values of southern Louisiana are not high enough to pay for the most extreme flood protection then the most aggressive flood prevention approach does not seem justified to me. Obviously we can expect many denizens of New Orleans to disagree.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 26 10:26 PM  Engineering Large Scale
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Cells Made Pluripotent With Injected Proteins

We need the ability to turn our own adult cells into pluripotent (i.e. capable of becoming all cell types) stem cells. Stem cells made from our own tissue will be immunologically compatible and not rejected. Such stem cells will serve as a useful starting point to grow replacement organs and to create cell therapies. The first methods developed for converting adult cells into stem cells used gene therapy that runs the risk of converting cells into cancers. But a number of labs have developed successively safer ways to make pluripotent stem cells from adult cellls. Finally a team at Scripps has found a way to totally avoid the need for gene therapy. In their very promising approach the scientists used proteins made from the genes that cause cells to become pluripotent.

In a paper publishing online April 23rd in Cell Stem Cell, a Cell Press journal, Dr. Sheng Ding and colleagues from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, report an important step forward in the race to make reprogrammed stem cells that may be better suited for use in clinical settings.

Ding and his colleagues show that mouse cells can be reprogrammed to form stem cells with a combination of purified proteins and a chemical additive, thus avoiding the use of genetic material.

The discovery three years ago that adult cells could be reprogrammed to form induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, with similar properties to embryonic stem cells was a major scientific breakthrough. These cells hold enormous potential for drug development and even cell therapy processes, and this promise has garnered significant attention from scientists and the media worldwide. However, a major caveat to the eventual application of iPS cells is that until now all the methods used to generate them have required the introduction of genetic material to make the transcription factors needed for reprogramming. Although some research groups have recently generated iPS cells that lack genetic modifications, even the most advanced methods used genes in the form of plasmids, and thus the risk of genetic mutations caused by the introduced sequences remained.

In their new paper, Ding and co-authors avoid this risk entirely by adding specially modified versions of reprogramming proteins directly to the growing fibroblasts. The proteins are broken down by the cells after they are added to the culture, so to sustain protein activity long enough to induce reprogramming the authors used repeated cycles of protein addition. Ding and colleagues named the reprogrammed cells that arise from this process "protein-induced pluripotent stem cells," or piPS cells.

The Scientist has a good article on this advance (free registration required).

Although the technique was much less efficient than virus-based approaches -- 0.006% compared to 0.067% using Yamanaka's original method -- these reprogrammed cells, dubbed "protein-induced pluripotent stem cells," or piPS cells, passed all the benchmarks of pluripotency both in vitro and in vivo. Ding's team also showed that they could do away with one of the proteins, c-Myc, although this further reduced the already poor reprogramming efficiency by about a third.

Lots of labs will jump on this and work on ways to boost the conversion efficiency. One key to being able to do it at all came from Douglas Melton's lab at Harvard just last year. The Scientist reports a histone deacetylase inhibitor was needed in addition to the proteins. No doubt other compounds will be found that further boost the conversion process.

Being able to create pluripotent stem cells at will provides multiple benefits. The older approach of cloning with eggs doesn't just stir ethical objections from some Christians. That approach also requires availability of human eggs. Well, harvesting eggs from women entails risks and costs and not all women are willing to donate their eggs. The ability to avoid the generation of an embryo using eggs really helps make it a lot easier to create pluripotent stem cells from every person's own adult cells.

While a lot has been said about the importance of pluripotent stem cells they are, in a sense, just the starting point. Lots more work is needed to figure out how to turn them into all the other cell types that make up a human body. Each type of cell has a bunch of molecular switches (e.g. methyl groups attached to the DNA) that hold them in their state. We need to find ways to turn cells into each of the cell types. We also need to find ways to deliver the cells to where they are needed and to get them to attach and assume appropriate positions in the aged and damaged tissue. Our lives and eventual rejuvenation depend on rapid progress in solving this next set of problems.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 26 06:13 PM  Biotech Stem Cells
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2009 April 25 Saturday
Higher Absolute Humidity Would Slow Flu Spread?

Looking for ways to cut your odds of getting influenza? A February 2009 PNAS paper by Jeffrey Shamana Melvin Kohn points toward a way: a decline in absolute humidity might explain much of the increase in incidence of flu during the winter.

Influenza A incidence peaks during winter in temperate regions. The basis for this pronounced seasonality is not understood, nor is it well documented how influenza A transmission principally occurs. Previous studies indicate that relative humidity (RH) affects both influenza virus transmission (IVT) and influenza virus survival (IVS). Here, we reanalyze these data to explore the effects of absolute humidity on IVT and IVS. We find that absolute humidity (AH) constrains both transmission efficiency and IVS much more significantly than RH. In the studies presented, 50% of IVT variability and 90% of IVS variability are explained by AH, whereas, respectively, only 12% and 36% are explained by RH. In temperate regions, both outdoor and indoor AH possess a strong seasonal cycle that minimizes in winter. This seasonal cycle is consistent with a wintertime increase in IVS and IVT and may explain the seasonality of influenza. Thus, differences in AH provide a single, coherent, more physically sound explanation for the observed variability of IVS, IVT and influenza seasonality in temperate regions. This hypothesis can be further tested through future, additional laboratory, epidemiological and modeling studies.

Humidifiers in offices and other closed spaces might cut the incidence of the flu. If you live by yourself them a humidifier at home probably isn't going to lower your risk much unless you have visitors. However, stores, businesses, and government offices could probably reduce the spread of flu by keeping the air much more humid.

What other changes do we experience in winter that might account for winter flu outbreaks? Our blood vitamin D levels drop and vitamin D is an immune system modulator. Also see here. So make sure you get enough vitamin D if the swine flu that has crossed over into humans in Mexico turns into a big pandemic.

Update: Check out a Google Maps views of H1N1 swine flu spreading in humans. Note that the first map isn't actually a case map. Check out links on left.

Update II: Here is a Google map of real and suspected human H1N1 swine flu cases. This tracking by individual cases will become unwieldy in a few days. But for now it gives a good sense of how this flu is spreading.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 25 10:43 PM  Pandemic Prepare Business
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2009 April 24 Friday
Swine Flu Pandemic Breaking Out?

Very bad news.

MEXICO CITY – A unique strain of swine flu is the suspected killer of dozens of people in Mexico, where authorities closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters in the capital on Friday to try to contain an outbreak that has spurred concerns of a global flu epidemic. The worrisome new virus — which combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before — also sickened at least eight people in Texas and California, though there have been no deaths in the U.S.

A recombination of genetic elements from influenzas that infect different species holds the possibility of a much more deadly virus. Hybrids are bad. Some end up looking unlike any flu our immune systems have resistance to. Plus, they can contain mutations that make them especially lethal. The massive killer 1918 influenza pandemic originated in pigs. (correction: The 1918 virus probably originated in birds) That 1918 outbreak also was of type H1N1 and it killed from 2.5-5% of the world human population.

We are talking about lots of mixing.

Richard Besser, MD, the CDC's acting director, told reporters today during a press teleconference that the development is worrisome. "Our concern has grown since yesterday, based on what we've learned," he said. "We do not know if this will lead to the next pandemic, but our scientists are monitoring it and take the threat very seriously."

The swine flu A/H1N1 strain has been confirmed in one more US citizen, a child from San Diego who has recovered, raising the total number of US cases to eight, Besser said. The virus contains gene segments from four different influenza types: North American swine, North American avian, human, and Eurasian swine.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is on the case. The CDC says this influenza does not usually infect humans.

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented. See General Information about Swine Flu.

From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in California, Texas, and Mexico have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing. For more information see Human Swine Flu Investigation.

General Information about Swine Flu
Questions and answers and guidance for treatment and infection control

Human Swine Flu Investigation
Information about the investigation of human swine flu in California

Here are CDC recommendations for reducing your risk of getting sick.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you get sick, CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

CDC acting director Dr. Richard Besser thinks the odds are against containment.

"There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely," he said.

Mentally walk yourself thru how you are willing to change your lifestyle to reduce exposure to other people.

Mexico's government is trying to slow or stop the virus' spread.

The Mexican government was taking the threat seriously, shuttering schools and museums in Mexico City and canceling all government-sponsored gatherings for the weekend. More than six million children were kept out of school. Officials urged residents to avoid crowded public places like the subway and movie theaters.

If this takes off don't expect vaccines for months. If it turns out to be highly lethal consider my "workplace cocooning" proposal. If that isn't feasible for you then at least greatly reduce your physical exposure to other people and to surfaces that others touch.

Also see my previous post Influenza Like 1918 Strain Would Kill 62 Million. Let us hope this strain is not as dangerous as that.

Update: The 1918 pandemic is the standard to compare with. The H1N1 strain from 1918 killed between 50 and 100 million out of a total world population of 1.8 billion at the time. That's a range between 2.7% and 5.5%.

An estimated one third of the world's population (or ≈500 million persons) were infected and had clinically apparent illnesses (1,2) during the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic. The disease was exceptionally severe. Case-fatality rates were >2.5%, compared to <0.1% in other influenza pandemics (3,4). Total deaths were estimated at ≈50 million (5–7) and were arguably as high as 100 million (7).

The impact of this pandemic was not limited to 1918-1919. All influenza A pandemics since that time, and indeed almost all cases of influenza A worldwide (excepting human infections from avian viruses such as H5N1 and H7N7), have been caused by descendants of the 1918 virus, including "drifted" H1N1 viruses and reassorted H2N2 and H3N2 viruses. The latter are composed of key genes from the 1918 virus, updated by subsequently incorporated avian influenza genes that code for novel surface proteins, making the 1918 virus indeed the "mother" of all pandemics.

The 1918 fatality rate varied greatly in different parts of the world. How well you are fed, existing infections and diseases, access to health care, and ability to isolate oneself will all influence risk of contracting or dying once infected.

Update: Initial test results suggest Tamiflu and Relenza deliver some benefits against this new flu strain.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s flu treatment Relenza and Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu appear effective against the strains of the virus the CDC has tested, the companies said.

But if you didn't stockpile in advance your odds of getting either drug now are falling rapidly every day.

Update II: Check out a Google Maps views of H1N1 swine flu spreading in humans. Note that the first map isn't actually a case map. Check out links on left.

Update III: Here is a Google map of real and suspected human H1N1 swine flu cases. This tracking by individual cases will become unwieldy in a few days. But for now it gives a good sense of how this flu is spreading.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 24 06:32 PM  Pandemic Signs
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2009 April 23 Thursday
Slow Progress Seen Against Cancer

An informative article in the New York Times describes the rather slow progress of attempts to cure cancer.

Cancer has always been an expensive priority. Since the war on cancer began, the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s main cancer research entity, with 4,000 employees, has alone spent $105 billion.

If you think $105 billion sounds like a lot then look at this US GAO 2008 FY budget document. You can find multiple departments that each in a single year burn thru several times what the US government has spent in total to cure cancer. $105 billion is chump change for solving a problem that is, absent a cure, going to extremely painfully kill a large percentage of those reading this. To put it another way, its a little over $300 per American citizen. The costs of one year's lost productivity alone exceeds the total amount spent researching to find a cure. I'm digressing. But there's a point: We should try much harder to develop curative treatments for cancer.

After decades of new treatments the death rate from cancer hasn't declined much.

Yet the death rate for cancer, adjusted for the size and age of the population, dropped only 5 percent from 1950 to 2005. In contrast, the death rate for heart disease dropped 64 percent in that time, and for flu and pneumonia, it fell 58 percent.

It is a lot easier thru diet to cut heart disease risk than to cut cancer risk. It is also a lot easier to use drugs to alter metabolism to lower heart disease and other cardiovascular disease risks. Statins and blood pressure drugs will cut your heart disease risks. Also, emergency treatments for heart attack can reduce fatality rates long enough that drugs and diet can cut the risk of recurrence. Even still, you can chance your diet in many useful ways to cut your cancer risks. Do what you can to cut your risks. You might just avoid cancer long enough to still be around when cures are developed.

Think great progress has been made against cancer? Once a cancer mutates to enable metastasis the odds of survival become very low.

With breast cancer, for example, only 20 percent with metastatic disease — cancer that has spread outside the breast, like to bones, brain, lungs or liver — live five years or more, barely changed since the war on cancer began.

With colorectal cancer, only 10 percent with metastatic disease survive five years. That number, too, has hardly changed over the past four decades. The number has long been about 30 percent for metastatic prostate cancer, and in the single digits for lung cancer.

This illustrates the value of early detection. The earlier the detection the greater the chance that the cancer hasn't spread to more locations - especially not to inoperable locations. More powerful testing techniques might lead to more earlier detection. But I suspect that to really make early detection the means to cure more cancers will require development of assay technologies that work at home. To reliably detect cancers before metastasis but after they've has gotten big enough to create a clear biochemical signature in blood, saliva, or other secretions might require very frequent testing.

The article quotes a medical researcher who argues that the funding for treatment development is too conservative and aimed at developing treatments that will yield small increases in survival at lower risk of experimental failure. We need funding for higher risk but potentially much higher benefit treatments.

The problem with cancer is that it is your own cells going wild. It is very very hard to selectively kill all cancer cells while at the same time killing few of your own normal cells. To achieve such a high degree of selectivity requires an enormous amount of understanding of how cancer cell metabolism differs from normal cell metabolism. That, in turn, requires experimental tools far more powerful than what cancer researchers have had to work with for the vast bulk of the time they've been doing the research. Even today scientists still do not have a sufficiently detailed understanding of cellular regulation to know all the mechanisms where genetic mutation and epigenetic state change can turn cells cancerous, capable of extended growth, and metastatic.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 23 11:13 PM  Biotech Cancer
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2009 April 22 Wednesday
Walnuts Cut Breast Cancer In Mice

Mice get all the important answers before humans do.

DENVER – Walnut consumption may provide the body with essential omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and phytosterols that reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting 2009.

Elaine Hardman, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Marshall University School of Medicine, said that while her study was done with laboratory animals rather than humans, people should heed the recommendation to eat more walnuts.

"Walnuts are better than cookies, french fries or potato chips when you need a snack," said Hardman. "We know that a healthy diet overall prevents all manner of chronic diseases."

Hardman and colleagues studied mice that were fed a diet that they estimated was the human equivalent of two ounces of walnuts per day. A separate group of mice were fed a control diet.

Standard testing showed that walnut consumption significantly decreased breast tumor incidence, the number of glands with a tumor and tumor size.

"These laboratory mice typically have 100 percent tumor incidence at five months; walnut consumption delayed those tumors by at least three weeks," said Hardman.

Aside from the fats what are the other compounds in nuts that are good for you? Magnesium comes to mind. In fact, magnesium is on my short list of nutrients I get from pills.

I'd like to see this experiment repeated with other types of nuts and with mixes of fats that mirror the fat composition of walnuts and other nuts. Such experiments would hep to tease out the relative health value of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in walnuts (they are way higher in ALA than other nuts) versus other compounds in the nuts. If it turns out ALA plays a big beneficial role in cutting breast cancer risk then I'd like to see the series of experiments extended to fish omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 22 11:27 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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2009 April 21 Tuesday
Most River Flow Rates Dropping

The long term trend since 1948 shows declining fresh water flows in many major rivers around the world.

Several of the rivers channeling less water serve large populations, including the Yellow River in northern China, the Ganges in India, the Niger in West Africa, and the Colorado in the southwestern United States. In contrast, the scientists reported greater stream flow over sparsely populated areas near the Arctic Ocean, where snow and ice are rapidly melting.


Dai and his co-authors analyzed the flows of 925 of the planet's largest rivers, combining actual measurements with computer-based stream flow models to fill in data gaps. The rivers in the study drain water from every major landmass except Antarctica and Greenland and account for 73 percent of the world's total stream flow.

Overall, the study found that, from 1948 to 2004, annual freshwater discharge into the Pacific Ocean fell by about 6 percent, or 526 cubic kilometers--approximately the same volume of water that flows out of the Mississippi River each year. The annual flow into the Indian Ocean dropped by about 3 percent, or 140 cubic kilometers. In contrast, annual river discharge into the Arctic Ocean rose about 10 percent, or 460 cubic kilometers.

In the United States, the Columbia River's flow declined by about 14 percent during the 1948-2004 study period, largely because of reduced precipitation and higher water usage in the West. The Mississippi River, however, has increased by 22 percent over the same period because of greater precipitation across the Midwest since 1948.

If the world heats up due to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide one of the most problematic effects will be shifts in precipitation patterns. The dry zones will likely expand. The American Southwest could be especially hard hit by drought. Note that very large scale droughts also occur naturally.

Here is the original paper (PDF).

By Randall Parker 2009 April 21 11:56 PM  Climate Trends
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Ideal Sleep Range From 7 To 8 Hours Per Night?

Are you getting an ideal amount of sleep to avoid insulin-resistant diabetes?

Quebec City, April 21, 2009—Researchers at Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine have found that people who sleep too much or not enough are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance. The risk is 2½ times higher for people who sleep less than 7 hours or more than 8 hours a night. The findings were published recently on the website of the journal Sleep Medicine.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion after analyzing the life habits of 276 subjects over a 6-year period. They determined that over this timespan, approximately 20% of those with long and short sleep duration developed type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance versus only 7% among subjects who were average duration sleepers. Even after taking into account the effect attributable to differences in body mass among the subjects, the risk of diabetes and insulin resistance was still twice as high among those with longer and shorter sleep duration than average sleepers.

Sleep amount correlates with the incidence of many diseases.

The researchers also point out that diabetes is not the only risk associated with sleep duration. A growing number of studies have shed light on a similar relationship between sleep and obesity, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality. The authors observe that among adults, between 7 and 8 hours of nighttime sleep appears to be the optimum duration to protect against common diseases and premature death.

Modern life is cutting in to the hours people sleep.

However, it seems that fewer and fewer people sleep the optimum number of hours. A survey conducted in 1960 showed that American adults slept an average of 8 to 8.9 hours a night. By 1995, that average had dropped to 7 hours. A study conducted in 2004 by the National Center for Health Statistics found that one-third of adults aged 30 to 64 slept less than 6 hours a night.

Are you getting enough sleep? Anyone get too much? If I was following the lesson of this report I wouldn't be up so late writing blog posts.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 21 11:51 PM  Aging Lifestyle Studies
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Cell Phones Display Ultrasound Images

Another step closer to the medical tricorder.

Computer engineers at Washington University in St. Louis are bringing the minimalist approach to medical care and computing by coupling USB-based ultrasound probe technology with a smartphone, enabling a compact, mobile computational platform and a medical imaging device that fits in the palm of a hand.

I see this as part of a trend that amounts to a sort of democratization of medical testing. While this instrument at its current stage of development still requires an expert to wield it that won't always be the case. Small stuff costs less. It just has to become more powerful and more able to analyze images to discern what they mean without human expertise.

One way ultrasound for the masses could work is for the images to be sent via 4G and other faster wireless networks to a server. Then the server could do the computational heavy lifting to explain the medical significance of the stream of images.

William D. Richard, Ph.D., WUSTL associate professor of computer science and engineering, and David Zar, research associate in computer science and engineering, have made commercial USB ultrasound probes compatible with Microsoft Windows mobile-based smartphones, thanks to a $100,000 grant Microsoft awarded the two in 2008. In order to make commercial USB ultrasound probes work with smartphones, the researchers had to optimize every aspect of probe design and operation, from power consumption and data transfer rate to image formation algorithms. As a result, it is now possible to build smartphone-compatible USB ultrasound probes for imaging the kidney, liver, bladder and eyes, endocavity probes for prostate and uterine screenings and biopsies, and vascular probes for imaging veins and arteries for starting IVs and central lines. Both medicine and global computer use will never be the same.

In the future our houses, cars, and offices will contain embedded medical instruments that watch us during our daily tasks and let us know when we are developing medical conditions. Oh, and our bodies will contain embedded miniaturized medical testing devices that'll let our smart phones know when we have a problem. At least this will happen unless the robots take over first.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 21 11:25 PM  Biotech Assay Tools
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2009 April 20 Monday
Many Teen Pathological Video Game Players Found

Game abuse, a silent cancer eating away at the foundations of industrial electronic society.

AMES, Iowa -- Parents have been saying for years that their kids are "addicted" to video games, but a new study by an Iowa State University psychology professor is the first to actually report that pathological patterns of video game addiction exist in a national sample of youth, aged 8 to 18.

In a national Harris Poll survey of 1,178 American youths (ages 8-18), ISU Assistant Professor of Psychology Douglas Gentile found nearly one in 10 of the gamers (8.5 percent) to be pathological players according to standards established for pathological gambling -- causing family, social, school or psychological damage because of their video game playing habits.

"Although the general public uses the word 'addiction,' clinicians often report it as pathological use," said Gentile, who is also director of research for the Minneapolis-based National Institute on Media and the Family. "This is the first study to tell us the national prevalence of pathological play among youth gamers, and it is almost 1 in 10."

Don't look at suburban housing tracts as idyllic and happy places. Those manicured lawns hide epidemic levels of substance abuse whether the substance in question is video games or instant messaging phones. Kids are booting up, logging in, and dropping out.

Maybe the games fulfill a need for excitement in brains that crave it?

The study also found that pathological gamers were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with attention problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

But does video game addiction leave kids with little time to smoke pot or take crack cocaine? Do the evil demon video games compete with other forms of vice for attention? Or do they compete with wholesome, fulfilling, and constructive activities? Inquiring minds want to know.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 20 11:30 PM  Brain Addiction
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Protein For Breakfast Cuts Appetite For Day?

Go for eggs over bagels for breakfast?

A study led by Maria Luz Fernandez, Ph.D., professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut, investigated the differences in post-meal hunger and daily caloric intake when eating a breakfast of either protein-rich eggs or carbohydrate-rich bagels. Although the two breakfast options contained an identical amount of calories, the researchers found that adult men who consumed eggs for breakfast:

  • consumed fewer calories following the egg breakfast compared to the bagel breakfast
  • consumed fewer total calories in the 24-hour period after the egg breakfast compared to the bagel breakfast
  • reported feeling less hungry and more satisfied three hours after the egg breakfast compared to the bagel breakfast(1)

This study supports previous research published in the International Journal of Obesity, which found that eating eggs for breakfast as part of a reduced-calorie diet helped overweight dieters lose 65 percent more weight and feel more energetic than dieters who ate a bagel breakfast of equal calories and volume. The study also found no significant difference in blood levels of LDL- and HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides between the individuals who ate the egg breakfast and those who ate the bagel breakfast.(2)

Click thru to read results of a second study that found solid food protein cuts appetite but liquid food protein does not. So don't eat those protein diet drinks. Stick to solids.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 20 11:20 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
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Fructose Sweetening Increases Intraabdominal Fat?

First off, you are better off just drinking water. But fructose sweetening of beverages might be worse than glucose sweetening.

In 2005, the average American consumed 64kg of added sugar, a sizeable proportion of which came through drinking soft drinks. Now, in a 10-week study, Peter Havel and colleagues, at the University of California at Davis, Davis, have provided evidence that human consumption of fructose-sweetened but not glucose-sweetened beverages can adversely affect both sensitivity to the hormone insulin and how the body handles fats, creating medical conditions that increase susceptibility to heart attack and stroke.

In the study, overweight and obese individuals consumed glucose- or fructose-sweetened beverages that provided 25% of their energy requirements for 10 weeks. During this period, individuals in both groups put on about the same amount of weight, but only those consuming fructose-sweetened beverages exhibited an increase in intraabdominal fat. Further, only these individuals became less sensitive to the hormone insulin (which controls glucose levels in the blood) and showed signs of dyslipidemia (increased levels of fat-soluble molecules known as lipids in the blood). As discussed in an accompanying commentary by Susanna Hofmann and Matthias Tschöp, although these are signs of the metabolic syndrome, which increases an individual's risk of heart attack, the long-term affects of fructose over-consumption on susceptibility to heart attack remain unknown.

Also see my previous posts Liquid Calories Key To Weight Loss, More Evidence For Fructose Obesity Link, and "Fructose Consumption May Lead To Obesity". However, do not let the fructose-fat link dissuade you from eating fruits. Fruits are beneficial.

But avoid fruit juice.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 20 11:11 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
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2009 April 19 Sunday
Africa Experiences Recurring Long Big Droughts

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times reports on a recent study that found part of Africa went thru a drought that started in the 1400s and lasted over 3 centuries until 1750.

For at least 3,000 years, a drumbeat of potent droughts, far longer and more severe than any experienced recently, have seared a belt of sub-Saharan Africa that is now home to tens of millions of the world’s poorest people, climate researchers report in a new study.

The last really long drought in Africa occurred while Europe was going thru its Little Ice Age cold period.

The last such drought, persisting more than three centuries, ended around 1750, the research team writes in the April 17 issue of the journal Science.

Future big long-lasting droughts in Africa are inevitable (assuming no climate engineering). They are a natural occurrence. But human pollutants might make them occur more often and more severely.

Humans have inadvertently caused severe climate change in the past. The diseases brought from Europe to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese explorers caused the collapse of the Aztec and Inca empires. The empire collapses caused abandoned farmland to revert to forests, sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere and probably helping to trigger the Little Ice Age. That cooling caused a big increase in food prices in Europe and lots of disease and starvation. Perhaps that cooling also caused (or at least contributed to) the multi-century dry spell in Africa.

The Western hemisphere is not immune from big climatic shifts. North America has also experienced century-long droughts over the last 7000 years.

Climate changes naturally. Climate is not naturally stable. Since humans harness a very substantial and increasing portion of all the world's biomass our margin for handling severe natural changes is shrinking by some measures. We would have a harder time tapping into a larger portion of the world's biomass if the total biomass shrunk for some (man-made or natural) reason. On the other hand, we do have more technology to use to buffer the effects of climate change on us - at least those of us who live in industrialized countries.

Some day when climate changes due to natural long term processes, human pollutants, volcanic eruptions, or a massive asteroid strike if you are still around don't be shocked. We've been living through a period of relatively less severe climate change. Unless we develop the ability and willingness to control long term climate trends this period of relative stability will end some day.

Update: An excellent February 2008 National Geographic article "Drying of the West" explores past, present, and future dry spells in the US West.

Stine found drowned stumps in many other places in the Sierra Nevada. They all fell into two distinct generations, corresponding to two distinct droughts. The first had begun sometime before 900 and lasted over two centuries. There followed several extremely wet decades, not unlike those of the early 20th century. Then the next epic drought kicked in for 150 years, ending around 1350. Stine estimates that the runoff into Sierran lakes during the droughts must have been less than 60 percent of the modern average, and it may have been as low as 25 percent, for decades at a time. "What we have come to consider normal is profoundly wet," Stine said. "We're kidding ourselves if we think that's going to continue, with or without global warming."

By Randall Parker 2009 April 19 05:35 PM  Climate Trends
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SUNY ESF Profs Rank Overpopulation Above Global Warming As Problem

Professors who work on environmental research place human overpopulation as the top environmental problem on planet Earth.

Overpopulation is the world’s top environmental issue, followed closely by climate change and the need to develop renewable energy resources to replace fossil fuels, according to a survey of the faculty at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF).

Just in time for Earth Day (April 22) the faculty at the college, at which environmental issues are the sole focus, was asked to help prioritize the planet’s most pressing environmental problems.

Overpopulation came out on top, with several professors pointing out its ties to other problems that rank high on the list.

“Overpopulation is the only problem,” said Dr. Charles A. Hall, a systems ecologist. “If we had 100 million people on Earth — or better, 10 million — no others would be a problem.” (Current estimates put the planet’s population at more than six billion.)

Dr. Allan P. Drew, a forest ecologist, put it this way: “Overpopulation means that we are putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than we should, just because more people are doing it and this is related to overconsumption by people in general, especially in the ‘developed’ world.”

Charles Hall is correct that with a much smaller population our environmental problems would be far smaller. I think the optimal human population is well above 10 million though. We need more scientists and engineers to develop the technologies we need to live longer and healthier lives. 10 million people just could not accomplish that much scientifically and technologically. But 1 billion would probably be enough.

With only 1 billion people our rate of consumption of oil, coal, and other natural resources would be a smaller and tolerable rate. Our resources would last longer. Ocean overfishing wouldn't be a problem. Species extinctions would be a small fraction of the current rate. Much more of the world would be covered with forests. Particulate pollution would be much lower and greenhouse gases would be much lower as well.

What I would like to know: If environmental scientists and other types of scientists from many more universities were asked to rank human problems how would they rank them? In the mainstream press global warming (now rebranded as climate change) gets by far the most attention. Species extinctions, habitat loss, and resource depletion attract very little attention in comparison. But these environmental scientists at SUNY ESF rank human overpopulation as the top environmental problem on planet Earth.

I agree with these professors. The larger the human population gets the more it impinges on all the other species on the planet. But as long as human reproduction is seen as a basic right I expect the human population to continue to grow. Even the projected peaking of human population later in the 21st century is probably overoptimistic because selective pressures to raise fertility are bound to cause a rebound eventually. Humanity is under heavy selective pressure for genes that raise fertility. That selective pressure will eventually change the frequency of genes that govern reproductive behavior and humans will make more babies as a result.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 19 01:36 PM  Trends Demographic
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2009 April 18 Saturday
Wearable SixthSense Computers For Immersive Internet

MIT postdoc Pranav Mistry has created a wearable computer called Sixth Sense that is connected to the internet and which, among other things, will do web searches on products you pick up.

Say the wearer goes to the grocery store and picks up a box of cereal from the shelf. The camera sees this action and identifies the product. An Internet search automatically finds its exact specifications, such as the brand or nutrition facts. Then, the projector beams a green or red light onto the item, letting the wearer know if the cereal meets user-defined criteria. A consumer, for instance, might only want to buy a brand that is American-made, packaged in recyclable materials, or high in fiber.

You can already get an iPhone app that'll read product codes on products in stores and look up information about them. So this isn't so much a new function as a slightly different way to carry the functionality. But a device that constantly takes in local environment information will in the future do much more.

When outside conditions aren’t enough to prompt the Internet search, Sixth Sense makes use of gestures. Tracing a circle on your wrist tells the device to project a digital clock on your arm – the world’s lightest wristwatch, a fan joked. And the most natural function of all might be the way the camera snaps a picture when the wearer frames something with his fingers.

In this early stage, Mistry wraps colored tape around his thumbs and pointer fingers, markers that make them easier for the Web cam to spot.

This immersive real-time approach to integrating the internet with your life looks like the future. You'll have processes running on servers taking data feeds from your cell phone and from computer sensor networks built into your clothing. Software on your worn computers and on the servers will constantly analyse your surroundings and provide you with useful information.

Imagine looking at another person and having a computer camera in your glasses take a picture of their irises to to do a look-up on who they are. If they show up as dangerous on a police database you could be warned about the sorts of dangers they pose. If they are really dangerous they might be wearing a computer that not only allows the police to track their real-time movements but also to alert people around them of prior convictions for rape, pedophilia, car theft, and other charges.

Another useful function: name recall. You run into someone you haven't seen for a long time and your computer takes a picture, passes it to a server, compares it to everyone you've ever known, and comes back and tells you that's Jill Smith from your high school graduating class and that she's got a last name of Clark but is legally separated.

From Mistry's web site:

'SixthSense' is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information. By using a camera and a tiny projector mounted in a pendant like wearable device, 'SixthSense' sees what you see and visually augments any surfaces or objects we are interacting with. It projects information onto surfaces, walls, and physical objects around us, and lets us interact with the projected information through natural hand gestures, arm movements, or our interaction with the object itself. 'SixthSense' attempts to free information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 18 07:42 PM  Comm Tech Society
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Facebook Lowering College Student Performance?

Are losers attracted to Facebook or does Facebook addiction turn people into losers?

Typically, Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, while non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0.

In addition, users said they averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

Of course the third possibility is that learning less in college doesn't hurt one's ultimate career prospects. Maybe being more social even better equips one to use networking to advance in one's career.

How much are technological addictions lowering people's performance at productive work? I know women who describe to me the huge amount of time their teenage sons spend in virtual reality games and other online addictions. They see their kids accomplishing less toward setting themselves up to succeed in the job market.

Different media (blogs, discussion forums, social networking sites, phone messaging, etc) encourage and discourage different kinds of intellectual activity. My own writing of web logs has made me do a lot more reading of material to give me more accurate and informed opinions. The web logs end up serving as an extended memory bank on many topics and I understand far more about a variety of topics as a result. But from what I've been reading in Facebook posts so far what I see is that media form seems to discourage deeper intellectual development. A larger number of less informed people speak to each other in smaller groups about trivial things.

There are probably corners of Facebook that have more substantial discussions. But the format gives you so much coming from your old childhood friends that it seems defocusing and shallow. People writing higher quality material are better off writing blogs.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 18 03:54 PM  Comm Tech Society
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Electric Hummers Coming To Save Us

Afraid to buy that Hummer you are hankering for because you fear the coming of Peak Oil? Fear no more. Across the desolate landscape of post-peak post-apocalyptic America will stride an electric Hummer good for 40 miles per battery charge.

The Hummer is the poster child of excess consumption and inefficiency, but a Utah company is converting the much-maligned SUVs into a range-extended electric vehicle good for 100 mpg and a range of 40 miles.

Raser Technologies will unveil the Raser H3 on Monday in Detroit. It promises a 90 mph top speed, off-road capability and a lithium ion-battery you can recharge in as little as three hours. What's more, the company says the drivetrain can be installed in other trucks and it hopes to have 2,000 converted vehicles on the road by the end of next year.

Use electric power to cruise away from the starving crowds of collapsing cities. Make for your country hide-out which has what you need to feed your Hummer: A big wind mill up on a local hill and solar panels on your sprawling ranch house. You'll of course use the Hummer to trade food and guns with people in neighboring valleys.

Hopefully before the collapse higher energy density batteries will come to market to enable you to increase the size of your trading route.

Update: I almost forgot to mention: Those solar panels on your sprawling ranch house will be made out of silicon-based photovoltaics. None of those cheap 9% efficiency thin film solar panels for sissies. Uh-uh. No way. You go with the high efficiency stuff to get you the juice you need to power your hummer. Plus, you convert that PV electric power into 240V for fast recharges. None of that wimpy 110V power.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 18 09:25 AM  Energy Electric Cars
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2009 April 16 Thursday
Best Cooking Methods To Retain Antioxidants

Artichokes are indestructible whereas cauliflower, peas, and zucchini took heavy losses.

Some vegetable cooking methods may be better than others when it comes to maintaining beneficial antioxidant levels, according to a new study in the Journal of Food Science, published by the Institute of Food Technologists. Results showed that, depending on the vegetable, cooking on a flat metal surface with no oil (griddling) and microwave cooking maintained the highest antioxidant levels.

Fruits and vegetables are considered to be the major contributors of nutritional antioxidants, which may prevent cancer and other diseases. Because of their high antioxidant levels and low-calorie content, consumers are encouraged to eat several servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Researchers at the University of Murcia and the University of Complutense in Spain examined how various cooking methods affected antioxidant activity by analyzing six cooking methods with 20 vegetables. The six cooking methods were boiling, pressure-cooking, baking, microwaving, griddling and frying. Their findings showed the following:

• The highest antioxidant loss was observed in cauliflower after boiling and microwaving, peas after boiling, and zucchini after boiling and frying.
• Green beans, beets, and garlic were found to keep their antioxidant levels after most cooking treatments.
• The vegetables that increased their antioxidant levels after all cooking methods were green beans (except green beans after boiling), celery and carrots.
• Artichoke was the only vegetable that kept its high antioxidant level during all the cooking methods.

Griddle- and microwave-cooking helped maintain the highest levels of antioxidants, produced the lowest losses while “pressure-cooking and boiling [led] to the greatest losses,” says lead researcher A. M. Jiménez-Monreal. “In short, water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables.”

Eat more raw vegetables and you can avoid losses in all but a few vegetables. Cook grean beans, celery and carrots. Then eat all the rest raw.

You can also read a review of the beneficial compounds found in Brassica vegetables.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 16 10:18 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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2009 April 15 Wednesday
California Utility To Buy Solar Satellite Power?

Space solar power beamed to Earth with microwaves might start providing electric power in California by 2016.

Now Solaren Corporation, a startup based in Manhattan Beach, CA, is trying to get the idea off the ground. It's working with the California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which intends to enter into a power-purchase agreement with the company. If the agreement is approved by regulators, starting in 2016, the utility will purchase 200 megawatts of power from Solaren at an undisclosed price--that is, if the startup can get a system into space and working by then. The company has already selected a site in California for the receiving station; it hasn't said exactly where, but it will be close to a PG&E substation and won't require long-distance transmission lines.

For transmitting the power down to Earth the article mentions both microwaves and lasers. Are lasers practical for this purpose? In that case wouldn't another photovoltaic array be needed on the surface to convert again to electricity? Granted, that array would receive a very focused beam of light. So the area needed would be much smaller.

Also, does anyone know the conversion efficiency for microwaves into electricity?

It is hard to judge the odds of this getting off the ground (both figuratively and literally) by 2016.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 15 10:26 PM  Energy Solar
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Prenatal Methamphetamine Alters Fetal Brain Development

Pregnant women using meth are messing up their babies. How about locking them up until the babies are born?

ST. PAUL, Minn. – A first of its kind study examining the effects of methamphetamine use during pregnancy has found the drug appears to cause abnormal brain development in children. The research is published in the April 15, 2009, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Methamphetamine use is an increasing problem among women of childbearing age, leading to an increasing number of children with prenatal meth exposure," said study author Linda Chang, MD, with the John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. "But until now, the effects of prenatal meth exposure on the developing brain of a child were little known."

For the study, brain scans were performed on 29 three and four-year-old children whose mothers used meth while pregnant and 37 unexposed children of the same ages. The MRI scans used diffusion tensor imaging to help measure the diffusion of molecules in a child's brain, which can indicate abnormal microscopic brain structures that might reflect abnormal brain development.

The scans showed that children with prenatal meth exposure had differences in the white matter structure and maturation of their brains compared to unexposed children. The children with prenatal meth exposure had up to four percent lower diffusion of molecules in the white matter of their brains.

The brain damage probably lasts for life. We shouldn't let women do this to their babies. We all pay for it for decades to come.

The antiepilepsy drug valproate also messes up prenatal brain development.

Three-year-olds whose mothers took the antiepileptic drug valproate during pregnancy had average IQs six to nine points lower than children exposed to three other antiepileptic drugs, a landmark multi-center study has found.

The study's authors say that women of childbearing age should avoid valproate as a first choice drug for the treatment of epilepsy. The results are published in the April 16, 2009, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 15 09:55 PM  Brain Development
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2009 April 14 Tuesday
22 Year Record For Sperm Storage And Pregnancy

A British guy suffering from leukemia had his sperm stored 22 years ago and his sperm produced a baby 22 years later - a new record.

Chris Biblis was 16 when doctors told him that he needed radiotherapy that would leave him sterile and recommended before going ahead with the life-saving treatment that they put a sample of his sperm into cryogenic storage for future use.

Now aged 38, he is celebrating the birth of a healthy baby daughter, Stella, who was conceived after scientists injected a defrosted sperm into an egg from his wife, Melodie, and implanted it in her uterus.

I'm thinking guys in their teens ought to get their sperm stored and girls in their teens ought to get their eggs stored.

Women wouldn't need to undergo heavy (and risky) hormone therapy to extract eggs. A technique called in vitro maturation (IVM) cuts costs and risks with IVM down to $5000 at one clinic. What I wonder: can eggs be frozen before maturation? That'd delay costs and make egg storage at a young age more affordable.

Huge banks of stored sperm and eggs would open up the possibility of much bigger and higher quality markets for sperm and eggs. Once DNA sequencing becomes cheap I expect teens will advertise for offers for their sperm and eggs by publishing their DNA sequences on web sites under pseudonyms.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 14 11:33 PM  Biotech Reproduction
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Fat And Happy: They Go Together In Taiwanese Children

Do happy kids decide to eat more food or does getting fatty change brain chemistry to make kids happier?

For the first time, Chang and Nayga looked at the relationship between unhealthy dietary habits and children’s psychological health. In particular, they studied the effects of fast food and soft drink consumption on children’s body weight and unhappiness.  Using data from the National Health Interview Survey in Taiwan - a nationwide survey carried out in 2001 – the authors looked at the fast food and soft drink consumption, body weight and level of happiness of 2,366 children aged between 2 and 12 years old.  Fast food included French fries, pizza and hamburgers; soft drinks included soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

A quarter of the children in the survey sample were overweight or obese and approximately 19 percent sometimes or often felt unhappy, sad or depressed.  The study’s key finding was that children who ate fast food and drank soft drinks were more likely to be overweight, but they were also less likely to be unhappy. The authors’ analysis also highlighted a number of factors influencing children’s body weight, eating patterns and happiness.  For example, mothers’ consumption of fast food and soft drinks predicted her child’s eating habits.  Those children who ate fast food were more likely to also consume soft drinks.  Children from lower income households were more likely to have unhealthy dietary habits and be overweight or obese.

What is going on with this result? Is the relationship real? If so, in which direction does the arrow of causality flow?

Keep in mind this result is from Taiwan. Would it hold in Japan or Scotland or Greece?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 14 11:08 PM  Brain Happiness
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To Perform Better Be The Ball

Picture yourself holding the thing you want to understand and control better and you will perform better.

We've heard it before: "Imagine yourself passing the exam or scoring a goal and it will happen." We may roll our eyes and think that's easier said than done, but in a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychologists Christopher Davoli and Richard Abrams from Washington University suggest that the imagination may be more effective than we think in helping us reach our goals.

A group of students searched visual displays for specific letters (which were scattered among other letters serving as distractors) and identified them as quickly as possible by pressing a button. While performing this task, the students were asked to either imagine themselves holding the display monitor with both hands or with their hands behind their backs (it was emphasized that they were not to assume those poses, but just imagine them).

The results showed that simply imagining a posture may have effects that are similar to actually assuming the pose. The participants spent more time searching the display when they imagined themselves holding the monitor, compared to when they imagined themselves with their hands behind their backs. The researchers suggest that the slower rate of searching indicates a more thorough analysis of items closer to the hands. Previous research has shown that we spend more time looking at items close to our hands (items close to us are usually more important than those further away), but this is the first study suggesting that merely imagining something close to our hands will cause us to pay more attention to it.

They call the space around your body the "peripersonal space". Sounds cool.

Isn't this the message that Chevy Chase's character explained to Danny the Caddy in Caddyshack? "Stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball".

"Find your center, hear nothing, feel nothing".

By Randall Parker 2009 April 14 10:25 PM  Brain Performance
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Massive Carbon Dioxide Release From Clearing Rain Forests

Palm oil plantations used to make biodiesel fuel make the carbon dioxide emissions problem worse, not better. The greenies who support biodiesel from palm oil help wipe out species and melt polar ice. Efficiently killing two birds with one stone.

April 14, 2009 – A new study finds that it will take more than 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost when biofuel plantations are established on forestlands. If the original habitat was peatland, carbon balance would take more than 600 years. The study appears in Conservation Biology.

The oil palm, increasingly used as a source for biofuel, has replaced soybean as the world’s most traded oilseed crop. Global production of palm oil has increased exponentially over the past 40 years. In 2006, 85 percent of the global palm-oil crop was produced in Indonesia and Malaysia, countries whose combined annual tropical forest loss is around 20,000 square kilometers.

Conversion of forest to oil palm also results in significant impoverishment of both plant and animal communities. Other tropical crops suitable for biofuel use, like soybean, sugar cane and jatropha, are all likely to have similar impacts on climate and biodiversity.

“Biofuels are a bad deal for forests, wildlife and the climate if they replace tropical rain forests,” says research scientist Finn Danielsen, lead author of the study. “In fact, they hasten climate change by removing one of the world’s most efficient carbon storage tools, intact tropical rain forests.”

The European Union should ban the import of biodiesel made from palm oil. Hello, anyone home?

This isn't hard to figure out.

Tropical forests contain more than half of the Earth’s terrestrial species. They also store around 46 percent of the world’s living terrestrial carbon, and 25 percent of total net global carbon emissions may stem from deforestation. There is therefore an inherent contradiction in any strategy to clear tropical forest to grow crops for so-called carbon-neutral fuels.

Old growth forests contain far more biomass than whatever grows up in their place after they are destroyed.

We already have a huge problem with habitat loss due to population growth and industrialization. Why make it even worse with biomass fuels?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 14 10:10 PM  Energy Biomass
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How To Transition Away From Oil?

Chemical engineer, former oil field worker, and energy policy writer Robert Rapier comments about an Energy Information Administration Energy Conference press panel he recently appeared on. Rapier makes an argument I fully agree with: trying to cut down the oil industry before substitutes are practical is just asking for trouble.

A representative from (I believe) the California Independent Petroleum Association got up and made a statement that he felt that despite the important role the industry plays, they are being demonized and singled out for punitive taxes. I responded that I could empathize; that one of my greatest concerns is that we will discourage domestic oil and gas production, and then biofuels fail to deliver per expectations. In that case I think we become even more dependent upon OPEC.

Fellow panelist Eric Pooley disagreed and said we need even stronger incentives for moving away from oil. That really misses the point I was making, though. You can have the strongest incentives in the world, but they can't assure that technology breakthroughs will occur. So while you are promoting one industry at the expense of another, very successful industry that plays a critical role in the world, what is the contingency plan if the incentives don't pay off?

We can't replace most uses of oil in the next 10 years. Grain crops for biomass ethanol can't do it since we don't have enough land. Maybe cellulosic ethanol tech will mature. But if it does then say bye bye to lots more rain forests. Maybe biodiesel algae will mature and drop far enough in cost to become viable. I certainly hope so. But I don't think we should count on it. The problem might take 20 years to solve for all we know.

I happen to think we are pretty close to world peak oil production and urgently need to develop energy substitutes. But that's not an argument for heavily taxing the oil industry or restricting where they can drill. We are already in enough trouble. Why make it worse?

I'm such an enthusiast for electric cars and better batteries because to the extent that we can shift a portion of our transportation needs to electric power we reduce our dependence on liquid fuels. Our approaching energy crisis is really a liquid fuels crisis. We have lots more scalable ways to produce electricity than we do liquid fuels.

But electric vehicles have limits. As Alan Searchwell explains some usage patterns map better to what electric vehicles do well.

Electric drive systems should be able to gain some serious traction in the commercial vehicle market since electric drive in commercial vehicles is a more viable option NOW. One reason is that a large percentage of delivery vehicles operate on fixed routes and schedules so their use and charging cycles can be planned with more certainty than an individual's personal transportation. Smaller delivery vehicles also tend to do shorter range trips, so electric drive systems are a particularly good fit. Routes can be planned so that vehicles return to base long before they run out of juice. In addition, fleet operation bases can be equiped with high power fast charging stations or battery swap stations, if fast turnaround times are more important than the cost of spare battery packs. School buses, airport shuttles and other pasenger moving operations that frequently move people on routes that are less than 50 miles round trip also present opportunities.

For example, during a recent trip to the US, I spent some time at a car rental location and observed that there were a couple of shuttles making trips to Miami International Airport and back, a trip that I estimate takes less than half an hour to complete. Also at the location were several shuttles sitting idle. If these shuttles were electric, the idle ones could be plugged in while the shuttles were working. When the working ones need charging, they could be plugged in and one of the idle ones used to replace them.

We need to shift to electric (and to trains for that matter) where we can so that the remaining liquid fuels can be used in application where electric power isn't practical.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 14 08:21 AM  Energy Policy
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2009 April 13 Monday
Review Finds Predictable Set Of Healthy Foods

A review of a large set of diet and heart studies finds that the Mediterranean diet and predictably healthy foods like vegetables are good for you.

A review of previously published studies suggests that vegetable and nut intake and a Mediterranean dietary pattern appear to be associated with a lower risk for heart disease, according to a report published in the April 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. However, intake of trans-fatty acids and foods with a high glycemic index may be harmful to heart health.

"The relationship between dietary factors and coronary heart disease has been a major focus of health research for almost half a century," the authors write as background information in the article. Although "a wealth of literature" has been published on the topic, "the strength of the evidence supporting valid associations has not been evaluated systematically in a single investigation."

Andrew Mente, Ph.D., of the Population Health Research Institute, and colleagues conducted a systematic search for articles investigating dietary factors in relation to heart disease published between 1950 and June 2007. A total of 146 prospective cohort studies (looking back on the habits of a particular group of individuals) and 43 randomized controlled trials (where participants are randomly assigned to a dietary intervention or a control group) were identified and included in the systematic review.

The Mediterranean diet looks beneficial. No surprise there. Vegetables, nuts, and foods with low glycemic index are good for you.

When the researchers pooled the study results and applied a predefined algorithm, "we identified strong evidence of a causal relationship for protective factors, including intake of vegetables, nuts and monounsaturated fatty acids and Mediterranean, prudent and high-quality dietary patterns, and harmful factors, including intake of trans–fatty acids and foods with a high glycemic index or load and a western dietary pattern," they write. "Among these dietary exposures, however, only a Mediterranean dietary pattern has been studied in randomized controlled trials and significantly associated with coronary heart disease."

In addition, modest relationships were found supporting a causal relationship between intake of several other foods and vitamins and heart disease risk, including fish, omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources, folate, whole grains, alcohol, fruits, fiber and dietary vitamins E and C and beta carotene. Weak evidence also supported causal relationships between vitamin E and ascorbic acid supplements, saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and total fats, alpha-linoleic acid, meat, eggs and milk.

No one food shows a strong causal relationship. You have to get a lot of things right or a lot of things wrong to push you firmly toward lower or higher disease risk. Where to start? Find out what are the low and high glycemic index foods. I lowered my own average food glycemic index by changing rice brands (Uncle Ben's Converted is one of the more surefire ways to shift to lower glycemic index foods - and they ought to pay me to say that ;)) and eating more beans and vegetables.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 13 11:05 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies
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Flax Might Cut Colon Cancer Risk

Flax cuts colon cancer risk in mice with genetic predisposition to colon cancer.

New research from South Dakota State University offers evidence that including flax in the diet may help prevent colorectal tumors or keep tumors from growing as quickly when they do form.

Distinguished professor Chandradhar Dwivedi, head of SDSU’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, directed the study by departmental graduate student researchers Ajay Bommareddy, Xiaoying Zhang and professional doctor of pharmacy student Dustin Schrader.

“The study was conducted in a special strain of mice that develop spontaneous intestinal tumors due to mutation in a gene,” Dwivedi said.

“This model is developed to investigate the effects of cancer preventive agents on genetically predisposed individuals,” he said.

“Results indicated that mice on diets supplemented with flaxseed meal and flaxseed oil had, on average, 45 percent fewer tumors in the small intestine and the colon compared to the control group.”

Maybe the lignan compounds or the alpha-linolenic acid in flax cut the cancer risks

By Randall Parker 2009 April 13 10:58 PM  Biotech Cancer
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Chevy Volt Battery Overengineered Due To Unknowns

The Technology Review has an interesting article about Chevy Volt. A second generation of the forthcoming pluggable hybrid Chevrolet Volt will probably be cheaper once factors influencing battery life are better understood.

One way to save money is by improving the battery system. For the first version of the Volt, GM has taken extra pains to make sure that the battery will last, Posawatz said. A dedicated heating and cooling system will prevent the temperature extremes that can quickly degrade a battery. In addition, because discharging the battery completely can also shorten its life, control systems keep the battery from being discharged more than about 50 percent. But these measures could be overkill, Posawatz noted. "We have put in place a lot of extra fail-safe engineering solutions," he said. "So there are some opportunities [to reduce costs] as we refine the design."

Regards those control systems that prevent more than 50% discharge: If the battery warranty is less than the 10 year expected life of the battery then once the battery goes off warranty it would be nice of owners had a way to change the control system calibration to allow deeper discharge. If the owner is willing to take the financial risk then why not let the owner do deeper discharges in order to get longer ranges? A 75% discharge would increase battery range from 50% to 75%.

If battery prices fall then the 50% discharge limit will make less economic sense as replacements become cheaper. Similarly, when the price of oil once more goes above $100 per barrel and even higher the trade-off between avoiding battery replacement costs versus avoiding money on gasoline will shift toward the latter.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 13 10:11 PM  Energy Batteries
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2009 April 12 Sunday
Safer Way To Convert Adult Cells To Pluripotent Stem Cells

The ability to convert adult cells from our own bodies into pluripotent (capable of becoming all cell types) cells that resemble embryonic stem cells would allow the development of cell therapies that are immunologically compatible with each person's immune system. Efforts to make cell type conversion safer keep getting better and better. The problem is how to convert the cells without DNA damage that can lead to cancer. Some UCSF researchers just took another step in this direction by reducing the number of genes that need to be inserted into adult cells to convert them into pluripotent stem cells.

A team of UCSF researchers has for the first time used tiny molecules called microRNAs to help turn adult mouse cells back to their embryonic state. These reprogrammed cells are pluripotent, meaning that, like embryonic stem cells, they have the capacity to become any cell type in the body.

The findings suggest that scientists will soon be able to replace retroviruses and even genes currently used in laboratory experiments to induce pluripotency in adult cells. This would make potential stem cell-based therapies safer by eliminating the risks posed to humans by these DNA-based methods, including alteration of the genome and risk of cancer.

"Using small molecules such as microRNAs to manipulate cells will play a major role in the future of stem cell biology," says senior author Robert Blelloch, MD, PhD, of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

It says something (not good) about the state of gene therapy that scientists find it necessary to develop techniques that avoid the need to put genes into cells in order to achieve therapeutic results.

These scientists still need to rely on genes introduced using viruses. But they were able to reduce the number of genes from 4 to 3. They intend to do more work to develop more microRNA molecules that will substitute for the remaining 3 genes.

Previous methods for creating embryonic stem cell-like cells have relied on the introduction of DNA that encodes four transcription factors, proteins that play a role in the production of genes. The limitation of this method is that three of the four genes that code for these transcription factors -- oct4, klf4 and c-myc – are oncogenes, meaning they promote the uncontrolled cell growth characteristic of cancer.

In the current study, led by Robert Judson, a graduate student in the Blelloch lab, the scientists induced pluripotency using a combination of infection and transfection. The infection involved introducing three viruses, each containing a transcription factor known to induce pluripotency. The transcription factor for c-myc was not included. The transfection involved a simple process in which the tiny microRNA molecules were mixed with a lipid, allowing them to pass through the cell membrane. By labeling the fibroblast cells, they showed that the treated cells could be incorporated into a mouse embryo and become every cell type in the adult animal -- including germline cells that would produce the next generation of mice.

Once they've eliminated the need for genes carried by viruses These scientists also want to go even farther and use microRNAs to turn cells into whatever cell types are needed in therapy.

Currently, Blelloch and his colleagues are working to replace all four transcription factors with microRNAs and conducting experiments that will reveal the mechanism by which these small molecules are able to induce pluripotency. The team will also be looking to determine which microRNAs might be able to turn adult cells directly into particular adult cell types, by-passing the embryonic stem cell-like stage altogether.

These folks and researchers in other labs will surely succeed in finding ways to convert cells into large numbers of different cell types. Just being able to create certain desired cell types and inject them into some locations in the body will be enough to treat some problems. But other problems will require additional tissue engineering technology in order to create complex 3 dimensional structures. For example, the ability to create a nerve cell isn't enough to bridge across a severed spinal cord. The axons and dendrites of the nerves and supporting cells must form complex relationships in order to carry signals up and down the spinal cord.

Lots of organs are made up of multiple types of cells arranged to work together to perform organ functions. To grow individual organs requires the creation of 3 dimensional biochemical and physical micro-environments which growing organs encounter during embryonic development. Tissue engineering for organ growth requires not just the ability to convert cells into different cell types but also to orchestrate the arrangement of cells of multiple types. When this becomes a solvable problem human bodies will become as fixable as cars with one exception - the brain. The brain is the long pole in the tent for full body rejuvenation. To rejuvenate the brain will require solving an even larger and harder set of problems.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 12 11:21 PM  Biotech Stem Cells
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2009 April 11 Saturday
Particulate Pollution And Less Sulfur Pollution Warmed North Pole?

Human-caused sulfur aerosols cause cooling. Human-caused black carbon emissions absorb more sunlight and cause heating. Picture the carbon settling on ice and absorbing sunlight rather than letting the ice reflect sunlight back into space. Well, regulations in Western countries reduced sulfur aerosol emissions and therefore reduced the amount of human-caused cooling. Sulfur aerosols emissions and carbon particulate emissions play big roles in temperature changes. Global warming isn't just about carbon dioxide.

Though greenhouse gases are invariably at the center of discussions about global climate change, new NASA research suggests that much of the atmospheric warming observed in the Arctic since 1976 may be due to changes in tiny airborne particles called aerosols.

It matters where the pollution occurs since the particulates do not stay airborne for long.

Emitted by natural and human sources, aerosols can directly influence climate by reflecting or absorbing the sun's radiation. The small particles also affect climate indirectly by seeding clouds and changing cloud properties, such as reflectivity.

A new study, led by climate scientist Drew Shindell of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, used a coupled ocean-atmosphere model to investigate how sensitive different regional climates are to changes in levels of carbon dioxide, ozone, and aerosols.

The researchers found that the mid and high latitudes are especially responsive to changes in the level of aerosols. Indeed, the model suggests aerosols likely account for 45 percent or more of the warming that has occurred in the Arctic during the last three decades. The results were published in the April issue of Nature Geoscience.

Carbon particulates cause cancer, respiratory disease, and heart disease. So efforts to cut carbon particulates pollution from coal electric plants, diesel engines, and other industrial activity would improve our health as well as keep more water bound up as ice.

Though there are several varieties of aerosols, previous research has shown that two types -- sulfates and black carbon -- play an especially critical role in regulating climate change. Both are products of human activity.

Sulfates, which come primarily from the burning of coal and oil, scatter incoming solar radiation and have a net cooling effect on climate. Over the past three decades, the United States and European countries have passed a series of laws that have reduced sulfate emissions by 50 percent. While improving air quality and aiding public health, the result has been less atmospheric cooling from sulfates.

One problem is that much of the carbon particulate pollution is coming from countries (most notably China) which place little importance on improving air quality. Parenthetically, Western countries have fed this process by exporting a lot of their manufacturing to a China that allows far more pollution from the same amount of manufacturing activity.

Increased black carbon particulate emissions from Asia have increased absorption of solar radiation while decreased sulfur aerosols from Western countries has cut the cooling effect of Western pollution.

At the same time, black carbon emissions have steadily risen, largely because of increasing emissions from Asia. Black carbon -- small, soot-like particles produced by industrial processes and the combustion of diesel and biofuels -- absorb incoming solar radiation and have a strong warming influence on the atmosphere.

The Northern Hemisphere has far more industrial activity. So the Arctic's temperature has risen more than the Antarctic's temperature.

The regions of Earth that showed the strongest responses to aerosols in the model are the same regions that have witnessed the greatest real-world temperature increases since 1976. The Arctic region has seen its surface air temperatures increase by 1.5 C (2.7 F) since the mid-1970s. In the Antarctic, where aerosols play less of a role, the surface air temperature has increased about 0.35 C (0.6 F).

China's pollution is on a massive scale. I see little chance we can convince the Chinese to cut their particulate pollution any time soon. But Western countries could at least cut their own particulate pollution and gain health advantages in the process.

Gregory Benford suggests we could cool the planet with silicon dioxide rather than sulfur as the cooling aerosol. Combine the silicon dioxide with a huge reduction in carbon particulates and we could stop the ice melt plus improve our health.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 11 06:11 PM  Climate Trends
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2009 April 09 Thursday
Carbon Taxes To Hit Big Coal Electric States Hardest

Some US states aren't keen on taxes to cut carbon dioxide emissions because they rely on cheap coal electric power.

Jaime Haro, AmerenUE’s director of asset management and trading, said his company paid $30 to produce a megawatt of electricity. The coal burned emits roughly a ton of carbon dioxide. If federal legislation effectively prices emissions at $30 a ton — estimates have varied from $20 to $115 — “my costs could double,” Mr. Haro said.

Those costs probably would be passed on to customers.

For now, Missouri ranks among the lowest five states in retail electricity rates — about 6.3 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with a national average of 8.9 cents.

Most competing non-coal sources of electric power are at $100 and higher per megawatt-hour. Coal electric is cheap as long as external costs are ignored.

You can tell where in the United States coal generates most electricity just by looking at a table of by-state electric power costs. Leave aside some northwestern states that get most of their power from cheap hydro. The rest of the low electric price states are big coal burners. Wyoming at 8.18 cents/kwh has the massive Powder River Basic coal deposits and local electric power plants burning that cheap coal. Similarly, North Dakota at 7.48 cents/kwh has big coal deposits and coal electric plants running off of their cheap coal.

This regional distribution of coal reserves and coal electric plants has important ramifications for efforts in the US Congress to cut CO2 emissions. Some states will pay huge increases in electric power costs if carbon emissions get taxed. Houses built less efficiently for low cost electricity will become much more expensive to own. So Senators from these states could potentially block efforts to tax CO2 emissions.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 09 11:20 PM  Energy Electric Generators
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April 10 In History: Tambora Eruption 1815

A Wired article reminds that April 10 is the day in 1815 when the Tambora volcano erupted with full force (Volcanic Explosivity Index of VEI of 7), bringing a cold and hungry summer.

Snow fell in New England and Eastern Canada in June. (Quebec City got a foot of the stuff.) Frost was recorded in each of the summer months. Drought struck in July and August, and the sunlight was weak. Crops were stunted or failed entirely. Much of what survived and looked near to harvest was killed off by a September frost.

1816 weather was even worse than 1815, with widespread starvation as a result. Tambora was a bigger eruption than the better known 1887 Krakatoa eruption (a mere VEI 6).

The eruption even caused bad wine. But I bet the beer was still pretty good. So not to worry.

Even the wine from 1816 was bad.

Alain Vauthier, who owns one of the oldest vineyards in Bordeaux, France, keeps a fair bit of wine from each vintage in the cellar. He has an impressive collection, which stretches back to the beginning of the 19th century, but there are only a few bottles from 1816. Vauthier says that's as it should be.

"It is not a good vintage," Vauthier says. "It is a bad time, bad weather, bad summer."

Daniel Lawton is the owner of Bordeaux's oldest wine brokerage house. His assessment of the 1816 vintage is even less charitable.

"Detestable, you understand? Horrible," Lawton says. "A quarter of the normal crop. Very difficult to make good wine. Just a terrible year."

A map of volcanic eruptions in Indonesia since 1900 AD shows that Indonesia is an excellent candidate for the next huge volcanic eruption.

The Santorini (or Thera) eruption of about 1630 BC (the date is not precise) was close in size to Tambora. That eruption wiped out Bronze Age Minoans on a Greek (er, Minoan) island. But the biggest eruption in the last 2 million years was again in the Indonesian island chain: Toba about 74000 years ago

The scale of the Toba eruption is difficult to comprehend. Pyroclastic flows (hot flows of ash and pumice) covered an area of at least 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 sq mi), with deposits as thick as 600 m (2,000 ft) near the vents.

Ash fall was widespread over much of southeast Asia. An ash layer approximately 15 cm (6 in) thick was deposited over the entire Indian subcontinent. Our appreciation of the magnitude of this eruption continues to grow as Toba ash is recognized farther and farther from the source.

The volume of the Toba eruption is estimated at 2,800 cubic kilometers (670 cu mi). To give some comparison with more recent eruptions, the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens produced less than 1 cubic kilometer (0.25 cu mi). Vesuvius (A.D. 79) erupted about 5 cubic kilometers (1.2 cu mi), and Krakatoa in Indonesia (1883) about 12 cubic kilometers (3 cu mi). Closer to home, the volume of Kilauea's ongoing eruption is about 2.6 cubic kilometers (0.6 cu mi), erupted over the last 22 years.

VEI isn't the only thing to worry about with volcanoes. Just how much of the ejecta is sulfur makes a really big difference with the weather. The 1600 Huaynaputina eruption in Peru was only a VEI 6 but it released so much cooling sulfur aerosols that it caused crop failures with famine in Russia and other crop failures.

Other volcanic eruptions of approximately Huaynaputina’s size or larger have occurred more recently, including Pinatubo in 1991 and Indonesia’s Krakatau in 1883, but they didn’t cool Earth as much and didn’t trigger societal upheavals. The reason, researchers say, may stem from the immense volumes of sulfur-rich fluids that fueled Huaynaputina’s eruption, which released an exceptional amount of planet-cooling aerosols.

So picture a VEI 7 eruption total with high sulfur aerosol content. Then picture a huge increase in food prices and lots of cold weather for a couple of years. Or picture a VEI 8 eruption if you really want to think grim thoughts. Hopefully this won't happen before the Singularity.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 09 05:59 PM  Dangers Natural Geological
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2009 April 08 Wednesday
Waist Circumference Seen As Heart Attack Risk Factor

You can be at higher risk of heart failure even if your body mass index (BMI) is in a normal range. The type of fat you have is as important as the total amount of fat you have.

The researchers examined two Swedish population-based studies, the Swedish Mammography Cohort (made up of 36,873 women aged 48 to 83) and the Cohort of Swedish Men (43,487 men aged 45 to 79) who responded to questionnaires asking for information about their height, weight and waist circumference. Over a seven-year period between January 1998 and December 2004 the researchers reported 382 first-time heart-failure events among the women (including 357 hospital admissions and 25 deaths) and 718 first-time heart-failure events among men (accounting for 679 hospital admissions and 39 deaths.)

Their analysis found that based on the answers provided by the study participants, 34 percent of the women were overweight and 11 percent were obese, while 46 percent of the men were overweight and 10 percent were obese.

“By any measure – BMI, waist circumference, waist to hip ratio or waist to height ratio –our findings showed that excess body weight was associated with higher rates of heart failure,” explains Levitan.

Further breakdown of the numbers showed that among the women with a BMI of 25 (within the normal range), a 10-centimeter higher waist measurement was associated with a 15 percent higher heart failure rate; women with a BMI of 30 had an 18 percent increased heart failure rate. In men with a BMI of 25, a 10-centimeter higher waist circumference was associated with a 16 percent higher heart failure rate; the rate increased to 18 percent when men’s BMI increased to 30.

So fat on your waist is a bigger threat than fat on, say, your hips. So then does liposuction of stomach fat reduce heart attack risk?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 08 11:13 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
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Cheaper Way To Extract Oil Shale Found?

How about a 2/3rds reduction in the price of oil extraction from oil shale?

More recently, companies such as Royal Dutch Shell have developed ways to tap the oil in situ, by drilling boreholes that are thousands of feet deep and feeding into them inch-thick cables that are heated using electrical resistance and that literally cook the surrounding rock. The kerogen liquefies and gradually pools around an extraction well, where the oil-like fluid can easily be pumped to the surface.

The process involves no mining, uses less water than other approaches, and doesn't leave behind man-made mountains of kerogen-sapped shale. And according to a Rand Corporation study, it can also be done at a third of the cost of mining and surface processing.

An affordable way to extract oil from oil shale would make the United States into one of the best places to be when conventional worldwide oil production starts its final decline. The US has an amount of oil in shale equal to about 25 years of oil supply at the world's current oil consumption rate.

Will technological innovations push off the date of Peak Oil or at least greatly slow the oil production decline rate?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 08 11:10 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels
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Nerves Grown From Brain To Spinal Cord In Rats

One step closer to repairing crippling spinal cord injuries.

For the first time, researchers have clearly shown regeneration of a critical type of nerve fiber that travels between the brain and the spinal cord and which is required for voluntary movement. The regeneration was accomplished in a brain injury site in rats by scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and is described in a study to be published in the April 6th early on-line edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“This finding establishes a method for regenerating a system of nerve fibers called corticospinal motor axons. Restoring these axons is an essential step in one day enabling patients to regain voluntary movement after spinal cord injury,” said Mark Tuszynski, MD, PhD, professor of neurosciences, director of the Center for Neural Repair at UC San Diego and neurologist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Health System.

Most of us are going to live to see the day when tissue engineering biotechnologies make it possible to repair types of damage that we now must live with. Got very worn joints? Damaged tendons that won't heal? Damaged vocal cords? Nerve damage in an extremity? All this stuff is going to become repairable.

Genetic engineering made this possible.

The UC San Diego team achieved corticospinal regeneration by genetically engineering the injured neurons to over-express receptors for a type of nervous system growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The growth factor was delivered to a brain lesion site in injured rats. There, the axons – because they now expressed trkB, the receptor for BDNF– were able to respond to the growth factor and regenerate into the injury site. In the absence of overexpression of trkB, no regeneration occurred.

Although functional recovery in the animals was not assessed, the new study shows for the first time that regeneration of the corticospinal system – which normally does not respond to treatment – can be achieved in a brain lesion site.

Scientists will continue to find ways to improve genetic engineering techniques. Cells will therefore become more controllable. Humans will become repairable just like cars.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 08 10:27 PM  Biotech Neuron Repair
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2009 April 07 Tuesday
High Fat Protein Diet Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

A diet high in fat and branched chain amino acids (BCAA) causes rats to develop insulin resistance.

It's basically a given that diets loaded with fat can lead to considerable health problems. But a new study in the April issue of Cell Metabolism, a Cell Press publication, shows that in some cases diets that are high in both fat and protein can be even worse.

The researchers led by Christopher Newgard of Duke Medical Center report that rats fed high-fat (HF) diets supplemented with extra so-called branched chain amino acids (BCAA) don't have to eat as much or gain as much weight to develop insulin resistance as do chubbier animals fed a high-fat diet alone. Moreover, those ill effects of branched chain amino acids, which include 3 of the 20 amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins, occurred only in the context of a high-fat diet.

"We've all made a big deal out of the fact that people in the U.S. eat too much fat and sugar, but we've underestimated the protein component," Newgard said. And indeed, he said, surveys have shown that most people who overeat don't show any particular prejudice toward one food group or another.

By comparing the metabolic profiles of obese versus lean people in the new study, the researchers found that key among the many differences between the two groups were elevated levels of BCAA in those who were overweight. They also showed that BCAA tend to climb along with insulin resistance, a condition that is a precursor to diabetes. To further explore that correlation, they turned to studies of rats. Those controlled feeding studies revealed that, despite having reduced food intake and a low rate of weight gain equivalent to animals on standard chow, rats that consume more fat and BCAA were as insulin resistant as rats fed an HF diet. When added to a normal mouse diet, extra BCAA didn't result in insulin resistance.

I wonder if this is an artificial result. Does it apply to us eating real world diets? Would it happen with higher general protein diet and not just higher BCAA? Are there foods high in BCAA and low in the other amino acids?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 07 11:11 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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2009 April 06 Monday
Apples Cut Breast Cancer Risk?

An apple a day keeps the breast cancer away.

Six studies published in the past year by a prominent Cornell researcher add to growing evidence that an apple a day -- as well as daily helpings of other fruits and vegetables -- can help keep the breast-cancer doctor away.

In one of his very recent papers, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (57:1), Rui Hai Liu, Cornell associate professor of food science and a member of Cornell's Institute for Comparative and Environmental Toxicology, reports that fresh apple extracts significantly inhibited the size of mammary tumors in rats -- and the more extracts they were given, the greater the inhibition.

"We not only observed that the treated animals had fewer tumors, but the tumors were smaller, less malignant and grew more slowly compared with the tumors in the untreated rats," said Liu, pointing out that the study confirmed the findings of his preliminary study in rats published in 2007.

In his latest study, for example, he found that a type of adenocarcinoma -- a highly malignant tumor and the main cause of death of breast-cancer patients, as well as of animals with mammary cancer -- was evident in 81 percent of tumors in the control animals. However, it developed in only 57 percent, 50 percent and 23 percent of the rats fed low, middle and high doses of apple extracts (the equivalent of one, three and six apples a day in humans), respectively, during the 24-week study.

Mushrooms and green tea will probably also cut breast cancer risk.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 06 11:35 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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Injected Stem Cells Under Magnetic Control

Inject stem cells and then guide them to damaged bone using magnets.

Doctors may soon be able to patch up damaged bones and joints anywhere in the body with a simple shot in the arm.

A team at Keele University is testing injectible stem cells that they say they can control with a magnet.

Once injected these immature cells can be guided to precisely where their help is needed and encouraged to grow new cartilage and bone, work on mice shows.

Think of all the people with knee problems, elbow problems, pains in finger joints, back pains, or other skeletal problems. They will finally become repairable when this biotechnology reaches the market. We should become repairable. We can fix our cars. We should be able to fix ourselves.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 06 11:23 PM  Biotech Stem Cells
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2009 April 05 Sunday
Robot Formulates Hypotheses And Does Experiments

Using algorithms for a limited form of artificial intelligence a robot named Adam used knowledge about yeast genetics to formulate hypotheses and carry out experiments.

As reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, Adam autonomously hypothesized that certain genes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae code for enzymes that catalyze some of the microorganism's biochemical reactions. The yeast is noteworthy, as scientists use it to model more complex life systems.

Adam then devised experiments to test its prediction, ran the experiments using laboratory robotics, interpreted the results, and used those findings to revise its original hypothesis and test it out further. The researchers used their own separate experiments to confirm that Adam's hypotheses were both novel and correct--all the while probably wondering how soon they'd become obsolete.

The automation of lab work is the wild card that makes the future progress of biological science hard to predict. How fast will robots take over lab work? Will they hit a sudden critical mass of capabilities at some point where suddenly they'll enable an order of magnitude speed-up (or even greater) in the rate of progress of biomedical research? Will this happen in the 2020s? 2030s?

The robots will take over intellectually easier tasks first.

Ross King from the department of computer science at Aberystwyth University, and who led the team, told BBC News that he envisaged a future when human scientists' time would be "freed up to do more advanced experiments".

Robotic colleagues, he said, could carry out the more mundane and time-consuming tasks.

"Adam is a prototype but, in 10-20 years, I think machines like this could be commonly used in laboratories," said Professor King.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 05 11:11 PM  Biotech Advance Rates
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MIT Viruses Build Batteries

Biotech for nanotech.

For the first time, MIT researchers have shown they can genetically engineer viruses to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.

The new virus-produced batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries being considered to power plug-in hybrid cars, and they could also be used to power a range of personal electronic devices, said Angela Belcher, the MIT materials scientist who led the research team.

The new batteries, described in the April 2 online edition of Science, could be manufactured with a cheap and environmentally benign process: The synthesis takes place at and below room temperature and requires no harmful organic solvents, and the materials that go into the battery are non-toxic.

The lithium batteries in this case used iron phosphate.

To achieve that, the researchers, including MIT Professor Gerbrand Ceder of materials science and Associate Professor Michael Strano of chemical engineering, genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.

This is just at the lab bench level and still a long way from production. However, once perfected this harnessing biological organisms to construct things at the level of individual molecules will enable the cheap production of materials that currently would be extremely difficult to make.

Longer lasting cell phone batteries would be a big convenience but batteries good enough to enable cheap electric cars is a greater prospect.

"We could run an iPod on it for about three times as long as current iPod batteries. If we really scale it, it would be used in a car," she added. Such scaling is not even close, Belcher cautioned.

Batteries are a more important technology than any one way to generate electricity. Better batteries will enable us to at least partially escape our dependence on liquid fossil fuels for transportation.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 05 10:50 PM  Energy Batteries
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China Makes Big Push For Electric Cars

The momentum behind electric cars keeps building. The top leadership of China has decided to turn China into a big maker of electric cars.

TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

Since this command is coming from the top and the Chinese can move mountains with that level of commitment you can be sure that this initiative will take off.

Beyond manufacturing, subsidies of up to $8,800 are being offered to taxi fleets and local government agencies in 13 Chinese cities for each hybrid or all-electric vehicle they purchase. The state electricity grid has been ordered to set up electric car charging stations in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

Government research subsidies for electric car designs are increasing rapidly. And an interagency panel is planning tax credits for consumers who buy alternative energy vehicles.

The US could soon find itself in permanent 3rd place for electric car manufacture.

State-owned Chinese car maker SAIC will use US technology to speed their entry into the hybrid car market.

BEIJING -- SAIC Motor Corp., one of China's biggest state-owned auto makers, is turning to American technology suppliers to engineer a gasoline-electric hybrid car that could go on sale in China as soon as next year.

SAIC is planning to use technology from A123 Systems, a closely held battery maker based in Watertown, Mass., and auto-parts maker Delphi Corp., based in Troy, Mich., according to a Delphi statement and people familiar with the matter.

Chinese mobile phone maker BYD has designed the batteries for its own electric car.

When BYD Auto launches one of China's first mass produced fully electric sedans later this year, it will be trying to conquer the world rather than save it. But such is the explosive growth of China's car market and thirst for petrol that the two goals are likely to become ever more synonymous.

The E6 plug-in is currently under wraps at the company's sprawling industrial complex in Shenzhen, but it will soon be at the vanguard of a company's – and a nation's – plans to dominate the global market for "clean-transport".

Electric cars look expensive with today's gasoline prices. But when an economic recovery kicks in and demand recovers the economics of electric vehicles will become a lot more favorable.

Meanwhile in the North American market Ford will role out pluggable hybrid and pure electric cars in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Ford is also working with auto supplier Magna International to release an all-electric compact sedan in 2011, which will get about 70 percent better mileage than non-hybrid models. This car will be a Focus-size vehicle that will go 100 miles on a charge, said Greg Frenette, the assistant chief engineer of battery electric-vehicle applications at Ford.

Ford also has a pluggable hybrid coming in 2012.

Ford's first pure electric vehicle looks like a crossover van for moving people. Previous articles reported this vehicle as aimed at the taxi market.

During an exclusive interview with FOXNews.com, Lisa Drake, Chief Engineer for Ford Global Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles told the FOX Car Report LIVE! program that her company’s upcoming electric vehicle will be priced between $50,000 and $70,000 when it goes on sale in 2010.

What I wonder: How fast for a recharge? If you've got the amps and 220V can it get recharged in, say, a half hour? If so, a shop that sends out, say, plumbing repair workers or other local driving workers could recharge the vehicle and lunch and go thru 2 recharge cycles a day. That sort of usage pattern would maximize the return on investment.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 05 06:42 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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2009 April 04 Saturday
Lifestyle After Cancer Diagnosis Matters For Survival

Smokers, problem drinkers, couch potatoes, and people who don't each much fruit all have lower survival rates once diagnosed with cancer.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Head and neck cancer patients who smoked, drank, didn't exercise or didn't eat enough fruit when they were diagnosed had worse survival outcomes than those with better health habits, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"While there has been a recent emphasis on biomarkers and genes that might be linked to cancer survival, the health habits a person has at diagnosis play a major role in his or her survival," says study author Sonia Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., associate professor of nursing at the U-M School of Nursing, research assistant professor of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School, and research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

Each of the factors was independently associated with survival. Results of the study appear online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The researchers surveyed 504 head and neck cancer patients about five health behaviors: smoking, alcohol use, diet, exercise and sleep. Patients were surveyed every three months for two years then yearly after that.

Smoking was the biggest predictor of survival, with current smokers having the shortest survival. Problem drinking and low fruit intake were also associated with worse survival, although vegetable intake was not. Lack of exercise also appears to decrease survival.

It could be that the smokers get more deadly cancer in the first place. All these influences might act on the body before one gets cancer. For example, sustained oxidative stress will age the immune system more rapidly. So once you get cancer your immune response to it will be weaker if you've been living a dissipated lifestyle.

What I'd like to see: Compare cancer survival time to telomere length at time of cancer diagnosis. The other factors above might work by shortening telomeres and worsening the ability of the body to fight off cancer. Obesity and stress accelerate chromosome telomere tip aging and chronic stress shortens immune cell telomeres. Regards the reference above to lack of exercise: a sedentary lifestyle shortens telomeres too. Plus, getting less vitamin D appears to shorten telomeres as well.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 04 04:11 PM  Biotech Advance Rates
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Liquid Calories Key To Weight Loss

Do not drink high calorie drinks if you want to keep the weight off. Parenthetically, I saw this coming and have only drank water about 99% of the time for decades. Works for me.

When it comes to weight loss, what you drink may be more important than what you eat, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Researchers examined the relationship between beverage consumption among adults and weight change and found that weight loss was positively associated with a reduction in liquid calorie consumption and liquid calorie intake had a stronger impact on weight than solid calorie intake. The results are published in the April 1, 2009, issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

 “Both liquid and solid calories were associated with weight change, however, only a reduction in liquid calorie intake was shown to significantly affect weight loss during the 6-month follow up,” said Benjamin Caballero MD, PhD, senior author of the study and a professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health.  “A reduction in liquid calorie intake was associated with a weight loss of 0.25 kg at 6 months and 0.24 kg at 18 months. Among sugar-sweetened beverages, a reduction of 1 serving was associated with a weight loss of 0.5 kg at 6 months and 0.7 kg at 18 months.  Of the seven types of beverages examined, sugar-sweetened beverages were the only beverages significantly associated with weight change.”

Solid foods make your stomach stretched and the calories in them get absorbed more rapidly. Want to lose weight? My advice is raise the lower the glycemic index of your diet while also increasing fiber consumption. Also, drink water and rarely drink anything sweet.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 04 04:04 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
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2009 April 03 Friday
Commercial Hunters Seen As Bigger Threat To Great Apes

Market forces are wiping out our distant relatives.

Commercial hunters from towns are exacting a much bigger toll on great apes than subsistence hunters from small villages, according to an analysis of ape nest density near human settlements.

The finding that numbers of gorillas and chimpanzees appear to have dwindled twice as much near towns in Gabon than near villages supports a focus on conservation efforts that tackle commercial hunting over those that aim to convince villagers to give up subsistence hunting, says Hjalmar Kühl at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who conducted the study with colleagues.

The 2009 human population growth rate in Gabon is 1.934%. From 2007 to 2050 one projection has the Gabon population growing 56%. The hunting of the great apes and other primates will only intensify.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 03 11:48 PM  Trends Extinction
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Warp Drive Destabilizes At Light Speed

Captain, the warp drive is destabilizing.

Bad news I'm afraid -- it looks as if faster-than-light travel isn't possible after all. That's the conclusion of a new study into how warp drives would behave when quantum mechanics is taken into account. "Warp drives would become rapidly unstable once superluminal speeds are reached," say Stefano Finazzi at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, and a couple of friends.

The details.

I'm more interested in visiting parallel universes. Parallel Earths of universes that diverged from our timeline within tens or even hundreds of millions of years are more likely to be compatible with human life than other planets in our universe where life separately evolved.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 03 11:14 PM  Space Exploration
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Heart Muscle Cells Divide And Create Replacements

The heart creates new cells even after it reaches adult size. Work in Sweden carefully quantifies the rate at which new cells get generated.

In a finding that may open new approaches to treating heart disease, Swedish scientists have succeeded in measuring a highly controversial property of the human heart: the rate at which its muscle cells are renewed during a person’s lifetime.

So much for the conventional wisdom.

The finding upturns what has long been conventional wisdom: that the heart cannot produce new muscle cells and so people die with the same heart they were born with.

The problem is that the replacement rate declines with age. Then when pieces break they do not get replaced and we decay.

About 1 percent of the heart muscle cells are replaced every year at age 25, and that rate gradually falls to less than half a percent per year by age 75, concluded a team of researchers led by Dr. Jonas Frisen of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

What we need: youthful cell therapies that will bump the cell replacement rate back up to 1% per year. Likely we will need an even faster replacement rate to make up for lost time. We need these therapies in other organs and other parts of the body as well. Certainly we need replacement cells for other muscle types.

Update: This report is reason for optimism. Since we have an existing mechanism whereby damaged heart muscle cells get replaced the development of cell therapies to replace muscle cells becomes easier. The existing mechanism for repair can be rejuvenated and enhanced with better replacement cells. Also, the very gradual rate of replacement means if we can just restore the repair process it might be able to gradually regain lost ground by slowly but steadily producing more cells to fit into niches where they are needed.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 03 12:19 AM  Aging Cardiovascular Studies
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2009 April 02 Thursday
Sleep Clears Brain For New Learning

Gotta go to sleep to clear the deck.

St. Louis, March 30, 2009 —A new theory about sleep's benefits for the brain gets a boost from fruit flies in this week's Science. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found evidence that sleep, already recognized as a promoter of long-term memories, also helps clear room in the brain for new learning.

The critical question: How many synapses, or junctures where nerve cells communicate with each other, are modified by sleep? Neurologists believe creation of new synapses is one key way the brain encodes memories and learning, but this cannot continue unabated and may be where sleep comes in.

"There are a number of reasons why the brain can't indefinitely add synapses, including the finite spatial constraints of the skull," says senior author Paul Shaw, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "We were able to track the creation of new synapses in fruit flies during learning experiences, and to show that sleep pushed that number back down."

This isn't the first research result I've come across that supports this idea. You sleep and lots of less important memories of the day basically get tossed out. You wake up the next day with a less cluttered mind better prepared to record a new set of events.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 02 11:59 PM  Brain Sleep
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Voice Communication Increasingly Obsolete?

Hey, I'd rather get an SMS text message or an email than a phone call to, say, remind me of a dentist's appointment or tell me I was late sending in a Census survey. Voice is so slow. People leave meandering voice mails that they think thru while they are recording their message. Written communication saves time and it is easier to back up in to review a particular point. Turns out a lot of people prefer to read text messages over listening to voice mails. Will future trans-humans use genetic engineering to remove our genes for vocal chords? Better to just implant text messaging computer chips in our brains.

Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of communication. Data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice messaging systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers, shows that over 30 percent of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes "rarely even dial in" to check them, said Saul Einbinder, senior vice president for marketing and business development for uReach, in an e-mail message.

By contrast, 91 percent of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour, and they are four times more likely to respond to texts than to voice messages within minutes, according to a 2008 study for Sprint conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation.

I hear anecdotes like sisters who text message each other at the dinner table with their parents sitting there. It is a way to make conversations more private. I'd like to know how the text messaging addicts, TV watching addicts, and electronic game playing addicts differ in personality and intelligence and testosterone levels.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 02 11:53 PM  Comm Tech Society
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2009 April 01 Wednesday
Solar Minimum Hits Long Range Low

The Sun is at a 11 year low of a sunspot activity cycle. This cycle bottom is lower than typical for most of the last 100 years. Last time the Sun had fewer sunspots was 1913.

April 1, 2009: The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower.

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year's 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days: plot. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year's 90 days (87%).

It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Sometimes the Sun hits a minimum and stays there for an extended period of time. The Dalton Minimum from 1790 to 1830 and the Maunder Minimum from 1645 to 1715 each lasted for decades. The Maunder Minimum coincided with the coldest part of the Little Ice Age. Scientists have no way to predict when the Sun will go thru another extended period of low sun spots or whether we will suffer much colder weather as a consequence. So far we have no way to make accurate long term Sun weather forecasts.

By Randall Parker 2009 April 01 11:10 PM  Climate Trends
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If The New Cars In Storage Were Electric

So I'm reading this Wall Street Journal article on surplus cars in storage and the thought occurs to me: If only these cars were all electric they could be used for grid load balancing while they were waiting to be sold. All those batteries could shift electric power from night to day.

Practically every small car in the market is stacked up at dealerships. At the end of February, Honda Motor Co. had 22,191 Fits on dealer lots -- enough to last 125 days at the current sales rate, according to Autodata Corp. In July, it had a nine-day supply, while the industry generally considers a 55- to 60-day supply healthy.

For other models the supply situation is even worse. Toyota Motor Corp. has enough Yaris subcompacts to last 175 days. Chrysler LLC has a 205-day supply of the Dodge Caliber. And Chevrolet dealers have 427 days' worth of Aveo subcompacts. At the current sales rate, General Motors Corp. could stop making the Aveo and it wouldn't run out until May 24, 2010.

Got any ideas on how to put Chevy Aveos to constructive use?

By Randall Parker 2009 April 01 07:56 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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