2010 January 31 Sunday
Most Eggs Gone For Women By Age 30

By age 30 only 12% of a woman's eggs still remain.

A successful collaboration between the Universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh has resulted in a better understanding of how many eggs a woman has in her ovaries (ovarian reserve) from conception to menopause. It is the first time that scientists have ever modelled human ovarian reserve from establishment before birth to menopause around 50 years of age.

By age 40 only 3% remain. The odds of a successful pregnancy at that point therefore are small to none.

Tom Kelsey, a Senior Research Fellow at the School of Computer Science at St Andrews, said, "Previous models have looked at the decline in ovarian reserve, but not at the dynamics of ovarian reserve from conception onwards. Our model shows that for 95% of women, by the age of 30 years, only 12% of their maximum ovarian reserve is present, and by the age of 40 years only 3% remains.

They find no evidence for stem cells that can make more eggs.

"Furthermore our model provides no evidence for the presence of stem germ cells in the ovary that could increase the number of eggs present in the ovary and delay the menopause."

Hollywood starlets having twins in their 40s are almost all using donor eggs.

Going forward the generation of new eggs from stem cells will certainly become possible some day. But when? My guess is it will even become preferable since future techniques for modifying genes in the stem cells will allow people to eliminate genetic defects and also combine the most designed genetic features from all their chromosomes (and beyond) into a single haploid egg. The same will be done with male sperm. Then the rate of human evolution will accelerate orders of magnitude over the current already fast rate of human evolution.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 31 03:47 PM  Biotech Reproduction
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2010 January 30 Saturday
Water Vapor Decline Halted Climate Warming?

Global temperatures over the last 10 years haven't risen as fast climate models predicted based on rising CO2. A new report might explain this result: a decline in water vapor appears to have slowed the warming.

A decrease in water vapor concentrations in parts of the middle atmosphere has contributed to a slowing of Earth’s warming, researchers are reporting. The finding, they said, offers part of the explanation for a string of years with relatively stable global surface temperatures.

Anyone know what mechanism might be responsible for the changes in water vapor reported in this study? Any reason to expect a continuation or reversal in the water vapor decline?

A period of increasing stratospheric water vapor was followed by a more recent period of water vapor decrease.

Stratospheric water vapor concentrations decreased by about 10% after the year 2000. Here, we show that this acted to slow the rate of increase in global surface temperature over 2000 to 2009 by about 25% compared to that which would have occurred due only to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. More limited data suggest that stratospheric water vapor probably increased between 1980 and 2000, which would have enhanced the decadal rate of surface warming during the 1990s by about 30% compared to estimates neglecting this change.

Will the decline in water vapor continue or reverse?

Note how a recent NASA announcement about record temperatures shows several of the latest 12 years all having about the same temperature. That's not an upward trend. The report above suggests why.

WASHINGTON -- A new analysis of global surface temperatures by NASA scientists finds the past year was tied for the second warmest since 1880. In the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year on record.

Although 2008 was the coolest year of the decade because of a strong La Nina that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean, 2009 saw a return to a near-record global temperatures as the La Nina diminished, according to the new analysis by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The past year was a small fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest on record, putting 2009 in a virtual tie with a cluster of other years --1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2007 -- for the second warmest on record.

If the water vapor stays at current levels then rising CO2 likely will cause a resumption in average air temperatures.

I am in the process of reading more about climate science. Anyone have suggested reading? I'm not looking for political diatribes or books about the politics of climate change. I'd like to develop a better understanding of climate science.

Update: The key question in my mind about this report: Did warming cause the decrease in water vapor in the stratosphere? Or is it coincidental. To put it more succinctly: Was the decrease in stratospheric water vapor a negative feedback of global warming? If you want to predict the future of the climate you have know all the major feedbacks and predict their future behavior. NOTE: I fixed this. changed "increase" to "decrease" in this paragraph.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 30 09:45 PM  Climate Feedbacks
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2010 January 28 Thursday
Moderately Overweight Elderly Live Longer?

Once you hit 70 is being overweight actually adaptive?

Adults aged over 70 years who are classified as overweight are less likely to die over a ten year period than adults who are in the 'normal' weight range, according to a new study published today in the Journal of The American Geriatrics Society.

It is hard to tease out the direction of cause and effect in a study such as this one. For example, a person who was overweight in their 50s and into their 60s could develop a disease that causes weight loss down to a "normal" weight by the time they hit 70. Then they die in their 70s from a disease that caused them to lose weight in their 60s. Not saying this result is explained by that possibility. But one must consider the possibility of disease causing weight loss years before diagnosis.

Researchers looked at data taken over a decade among more than 9,200 Australian men and women aged between 70 and 75 at the beginning of the study, who were assessed for their health and lifestyle as part of a study into healthy aging. The paper sheds light on the situation in Australia, which is ranked the third most obese country, behind the United States and the United Kingdom.

Obesity and overweight are most commonly defined according to body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing bodyweight (in kg) by the square of height (in metres). The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines four principal categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. The thresholds for these categories were primarily based on evidence from studies of morbidity and mortality risk in younger and middle-aged adults, but it remains unclear whether the overweight and obese cut-points are overly restrictive measures for predicting mortality in older people.

The study began in 1996 and recruited 4,677 men and 4,563 women. The participants were followed for ten years or until their death, whichever was sooner, and factors such as lifestyle, demographics, and health were measured. The research uncovered that mortality risk was lowest for participants with a BMI classified as overweight, with the risk of death reduced by 13% compared with normal weight participants. The benefits were only seen in the overweight category not in those people who are obese.

It is also possible that a moderately overweight person who develops a disease that causes weight loss in their 70s might live longer than a skinnier person because overweight person has stored fat to live off of while their appetite is poor due to disease. I've watched someone close to me die from cancer where the death came sooner due to loss of appetite.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 28 11:46 PM  Aging Weight Studies
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Lead A Cause Of Attention Deficit?

While genes are thought to be the biggest cause of hyperactivity and attention deficit exposure to lead might explain some cases.

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is among the costliest of behavioral disorders. Its combination of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity leads to accidental injuries, school failure, substance abuse, antisocial behavior and more. Yet despite nearly a century of study, the disorder’s roots remain mysterious. Much of modern ADHD research has focused on heritability of the condition, and indeed evidence suggests that genes may account for as much as 70 percent of hyperactivity and inattention in children. But that leaves 30 percent unexplained, so recently the focus has shifted to the environment. What is it that triggers an underlying susceptibility and changes it into a full-blown disorder? New research suggests that the culprit may be an old villain—lead—and what’s more it explains the causal pathway from exposure to disability.

Lead also lowers IQ. So it is certainly something we should keep away from children. Old lead paint and other sources of lead pollution do real harm.

The first study compared children formally diagnosed with ADHD to controls, and found that the children with the disorder had slightly higher levels of lead in their blood. This study showed a link only between blood lead and hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms, not inattention. But a second study showed a robust link between blood lead and both parent and teacher ratings of ADHD symptoms, including both hyperactivity and attention problems. In both studies, the connection was independent of IQ, family income, race, or maternal smoking during pregnancy.

Vitamins B1 and C will help against lead.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 28 11:38 PM  Pollution Health
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Air Quality Improvements Cut Child Ear Infections

An example of why we should make more strides to cut pollution.

A new study by researchers at UCLA and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston suggests that improvements in air quality over the past decade have resulted in fewer cases of ear infections in children.

Ear infections are one of the most common illnesses among children, with annual direct and indirect costs of $3 billion to $5 billion in the United States.

"We believe these findings, which demonstrate a direct correlation between air quality and ear infections, have both medical and political significance," said study co-author Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and an associate professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "The results validate the benefits of the revised Clean Air Act of 1990, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to implement and enforce regulations reducing air-pollutant emissions. It also shows that the improvements may have direct benefit on health-quality measures."

A new US Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut back nitrogen dioxide to cut smog formation will help. A third of human-caused NO2 emissions in the US come from electric power generation. If we shifted away from oil and natural gas for electric power and used more nukes and wind we'd breathe cleaner and healthier air. Electrified rails in place of diesel trucks would also help.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 28 11:03 PM  Pollution Health
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2010 January 27 Wednesday
Call For Climate Engineering Research

If the world heats up too much climate engineering with aersols might be needed.

Internationally coordinated research and field-testing on 'geoengineering' the planet's atmosphere to limit risk of climate change should begin soon along with building international governance of the technology, say scientists from the University of Calgary and the United States.

Collaborative and government-supported studies on solar-radiation management, a form of geo-engineering, would reduce the risk of nations' unilateral experiments and help identify technologies with the least risk, says U of C scientist David Keith, in an article published in the Jan. 27 online edition of Nature. Co-authors of the opinion piece are Edward Parson at the University of Michigan and Granger Morgan at Carnegie Mellon University.

"Solar-radiation management may be the only human response that can fend off rapid and high-consequence climate change impacts. The risks of not doing research outweigh the risks of doing it," says Keith, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy's energy and environmental systems group and a professor in the Schulich School of Engineering.

Solar-radiation management (SRM) would involve releasing megatonnes of light-scattering aerosol particles in the upper atmosphere to reduce Earth's absorption of solar energy, thereby cooling the planet. Another technique would be to release particles of sea salt to make low-altitude clouds reflect more solar energy back into space.

It is cheap to do.

Long-established estimates show that SRM could offset this century's predicted global average temperature rise more than 100 times more cheaply than achieving the same cooling by cutting emissions, Keith notes. "But this low price tag raises the risks of single groups acting alone, and of facile cheerleading that promotes exclusive reliance on SRM."

The effects are rapid when nature releases large quantities of sulfur aerosols from a volcano.

SRM would also cool the planet quickly, whereas even a massive program of carbon dioxide emission cuts will take many decades to slow global warming because the CO2 already accumulated in the atmosphere will take many years to naturally break down. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, for example, cooled the planet by about 0.5 degrees Celsius in less than a year by injecting sulphur into the stratosphere.

Pinatubo was small potatoes compared to Tambora in 1815 which caused crop failures for 2 years. But Tambora is small potates compared to Toba's eruption about 74,000 years ago. Another eruption like Toba would cause billions to die.

But if CO2 emissions keep rising and only aerosols are used to cool the planet then rains could decrease with resulting crop failures and other problems.

But a world cooled by managing sunlight will present risks, the scientists note. The planet would have less precipitation and less evaporation, and monsoon rains and winds might be weakened. Some areas would be more protected from temperature changes than others, creating local 'winners' and losers.'

The fact that climate engineering is possible and affordable is why I do not expect south Florida, most of Bangladesh, and other large low lying places won't be submerged by melting ice from Greenland and Antarctica. Push comes to shove we've got options. But we need to do the research in advance to learn about the scale and nature of side effects.

Update: Note that since climate engineering causes rapid changes in temperature we do not have to do it decades in advance of dangerous warming. Once it is obvious the Greenland or Antarctica ice is rapidly melting we can apply the brakes to the temperature rise at that point. Since people have such high discount rates with regard to future problems that seems the most likely scenario.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 27 11:35 PM  Climate Engineering
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Some Antioxidants Reduce Vasodilators

In sufficient doses antioxidants can squelch needed signaling chemicals in the body with harmful effect.

Antioxidants increasingly have been praised for their benefits against disease and aging, but recent studies at Kansas State University show that they also can cause harm.

Researchers in K-State's Cardiorespiratory Exercise Laboratory have been studying how to improve oxygen delivery to the skeletal muscle during physical activity by using antioxidants, which are nutrients in foods that can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to the body. Their findings show that sometimes antioxidants can impair muscle function.

"Antioxidant is one of those buzz words right now," said Steven Copp, a doctoral student in anatomy and physiology from Manhattan and a researcher in the lab. "Walking around grocery stores you see things advertised that are loaded with antioxidants. I think what a lot of people don't realize is that the antioxidant and pro-oxidant balance is really delicate. One of the things we've seen in our research is that you can't just give a larger dose of antioxidants and presume that there will be some sort of beneficial effect. In fact, you can actually make a problem worse."

Unfortunately the press release doesn't get specific about which antioxidants caused this effect.

Antioxidant therapies that reduce levels of vasodilators will reduce oxygen delivery to muscle.

"We're now learning that if antioxidant therapy takes away hydrogen peroxide – or other naturally occurring vasodilators, which are compounds that help open blood vessels – you impair the body's ability to deliver oxygen to the muscle so that it doesn't work properly," Poole said.

The body produces free radicals to serve signaling functions. Unfortunately these same free radicals damage us. Our bodies were obviously not designed to last forever. Our bodies use toxins to get metabolic tasks done. We grow old and die as a result. Or at least we will until scientists develop therapies that'll enable us to repair our bodies as fast as damage accumulates.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 27 12:49 AM  Aging Cardiovascular Studies
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Macrophage Growth Factor Rejuvenates Immune System?

Seems to work for mice at least.

By comparing the immune responses of both, young and old mice, to bacterial infection they found that the number of macrophages, one of the major cell populations involved in the elimination of infecting bacteria, decreases rapidly in aged mice. This decline in the number of fighters and the associated weakness of the immune defense may be responsible for the age-associated increase in susceptibility to infections. The HZI researchers have succeeded to enhance the resistance to an infection in aged mice by treating them with a macrophage-specific growth factor. This treatment increases the amount of macrophages in aged mice and improves their capacity to fight the infection. This study has been published in the current issue of the scientific magazine "Journal of Pathology".

The main task of the immune system is to protect the body against invading pathogens. For this purpose, a variety of different cell types and molecular factors work together in a complex network. Together, they compose a highly effective defense front line. As we are getting older, our immune system changes: infections are more frequent and more severe, some immune cell types lose certain properties and their functionality declines – in short: the immune system grows old. "Since the immune system protects our body against infections, to keep the immune system young and functional is a crucial factor for a healthy aging," says Eva Medina, head of the HZI research group "Infection Immunology".

While many elderly people die from infections there's more riding on immune system rejuvenation than just infection fighting. There's a bell-shaped distribution between people in immune system ability to attack cancer and the ability of the immune system to fight cancer declines with age. Immune system rejuvenation might cause a large decline in the incidence of diagnosed cancer as youthful immune systems will some day probably kill off many cancers at early stages of development.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 27 12:36 AM  Aging Immune System
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2010 January 26 Tuesday
Growth Hormone Lack Not Life Shortening

Low growth hormone among dwarves in a state in Brazil does not shorten their life expectancies.

People profoundly deficient in human growth hormone (HGH) due to a genetic mutation appear to live just as long as people who make normal amounts of the hormone, a new study shows. The findings suggest that HGH may not be the "fountain of youth" that some researchers have suggested.

"Without HGH, these people still live long, healthy lives, and our results don't seem to support the notion that lack of HGH slows or accelerates the aging process," says Roberto Salvatori, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Endocrinology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The researchers, working with an unusual population of dwarves residing in Itabaianinha county, a rural area in the northeastern Brazilian state of Sergipe, and led by Salvatori, sought to sort out conflicting results of previous studies on the effects of HGH on human aging.

Some studies have suggested that mice whose bodies don't efficiently produce or process the mouse equivalent to HGH have an extended lifespan. Other research has shown that people with low levels of HGH due to surgical or radiation damage to the pituitary gland that makes HGH have increased risk of cardiovascular disease, a factor that can shorten life span. These patients also have decreased levels of other important hormones that the pituitary produces, possibly confounding results.

Some people take HGH to reverse some of the effects of aging. Does HGH taken in this manner lengthen or shorten life spans?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 26 11:51 PM  Aging Drugs
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2010 January 25 Monday
Peanut Butter And Arugula Sandwich For Health?

Or perhaps peanut butter and kale? The greens would protect against aflatoxin.

LLNL researchers Graham Bench and Ken Turteltaub found that giving someone a small dose of chlorophyll (Chla) or chlorophyllin (CHL) — found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale — could reverse the effects of aflatoxin poisoning.

Aflatoxin is a potent, naturally occurring carcinogenic mycotoxin that is associated with the growth of two types of mold: Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. Food and food crops most prone to aflatoxin contamination include corn and corn products, cottonseed, peanuts and peanut products, tree nuts and milk.

We eat hamburgers with greens on them. But how would peanut butter taste with spinach or arugula? Or perhaps some radicchio?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 25 10:22 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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Low Carbo Diet Lowers Blood Pressure

If you need to lose weight and lower your blood pressure read this:

DURHAM, NC — In a head-to-head comparison, two popular weight loss methods proved equally effective at helping participants lose significant amounts of weight. But, in a surprising twist, a low-carbohydrate diet proved better at lowering blood pressure than the weight-loss drug orlistat, according to researchers at Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center.

Orlistat (aka Xenical or Alli) works by blocking fat absorption. So blocking fat absorption does not lower blood pressure as well as a low carb diet. Note that the orlistat diet participants were also counseled to reduce fat consumption.

The lead author recommends a low carb diet for those both overweight and with high blood pressure.

The findings send an important message to hypertensive people trying to lose weight, says William S. Yancy, Jr., MD, lead author of the study in the Jan. 25 Archives of Internal Medicine, and an associate professor of medicine at Duke. "If people have high blood pressure and a weight problem, a low-carbohydrate diet might be a better option than a weight loss medication."

The two diets yielded equal weight gains. They also improved blood cholesterol and glucose by about the same amount. But the low carb dieters did better on blood pressure control.

The average weight loss for both groups was nearly 10 percent of their body weight. "Not many studies are able to achieve that," says Yancy, who attributes the significant weight loss to the group counseling that was offered for 48 weeks. In fact, he says "people tolerated orlistat better than I expected. Orlistat use is often limited by gastro-intestinal side effects, but these can be avoided, or at least lessened, by following a low-fat diet closely. We counseled people on orlistat in our study fairly extensively about the low-fat diet."

In addition to achieving equal success at weight loss, the methods proved equally effective at improving cholesterol and glucose levels.

But Yancy said it was the difference in blood pressure results that was most surprising.

Nearly half (47%) of patients in the low-carbohydrate group had their blood pressure medication decreased or discontinued while only 21 percent of the orlistat plus low-fat diet group experienced a reduction in medication use. Systolic blood pressure dropped considerably in the low-carbohydrate group when compared to the orlistat plus low-fat diet group.

I am curious to know whether the low carb dieters ate disproportionately more protein or fat. Would a high protein and low carb diet lower blood pressure as well as the low carb diet used in this study?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 25 10:15 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
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Men Feel Less Guilt Than Women?

The reaction of the researchers to their findings is as interesting as the research itself.

Although changing social and cultural contexts mean guilt has less power today than it once did, a new study has shown that in the West this emotion is "significantly higher" among women. The main problem, according to the experts, is not that women feel a lot of guilt (which they do), but rather that many males feel "too little".

The idea that males feel too little guilt brings to mind a recent post by Roissy, The Medicalization of Maleness. Any time a male behaves in ways to cause widespread disapproval (e.g. Tiger Woods) experts on behavioral disorders (in Woods' case treatment for supposed sexual addiction) come out of the woodwork to proclaim the need for professional treatment. I see the use of drugs for hyperactive male school children in a similar light. The drugs might be useful. But their use rests on the idea that a more male behavioral tendency is a medical disorder.

Females feel more guilt according to these researchers.

"Our initial hypothesis was that feelings of guilt are more intense among females, not only among adolescents but also among young and adult women, and they also show the highest scores for interpersonal sensitivity", Itziar Etxebarria, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), tells SINC.

The research, published in the Spanish Journal of Psychology, was carried out using a sample from three age groups (156 teenagers, 96 young people and 108 adults) equally divided between males and females. The team of psychologists asked them what situations most often caused them to feel guilt. They also carried out interpersonal sensitivity tests – the Davis Empathetic Concern Scale, and a questionnaire on Interpersonal Guilt, created purposely for this study.

When it came to comparing the measurements of intensity of habitual guilt of these groups, the researchers saw that this score was significantly higher for women, in all three age groups. "This difference is particularly stark in the 40-50-year-old age group", points out Etxebarria.

With younger women cheating on their spouses almost as much as younger men do I do not see the greater feelings of guilt doing much to restrain infidelity. Maybe the women feel worse about it but do it anyway.

Of course cheating heterosexual husbands need a woman to cheat with. Turns out lots of single women prefer taken men. Makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. A man who has a woman looks more appealing to other women because one woman already rated him as worthy.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 25 09:06 PM  Brain Sex Differences
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Michael Kanellos On Nuclear Power

Michael Kanellos, who writes lots of articles about solar power and other renewables for Greentech Media, has written a piece arguing that nuclear power, currently supplying 20% of US electric power, looks hard to avoid if the goal is to stop carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation.

And, despite all of the rooftops covered in solar panels you see today, solar right now only accounts for around 0.03 percent of power in the U.S. (That's three hundredths of a percent if you don't feel like counting the zeros.

Although pro nuke factoids might sound a little weird coming from someone who works at a research firm dedicated to green technologies, it is difficult to look at America's energy needs for a long time without warming to nuclear. Simply put, nuclear remains one of the most feasible ways right now to produce large amounts power consistently without generating carbon emissions. Constructing nuclear plants generates emissions, but once erected, the plants produce carbon-free power for decades.

When I read people argue that we need to stop global warming from melting Antarctica and Greenland one of the indicators I look at to gauge their practicality is their position on nuclear power. Nukes deliver baseload nuclear power just like most coal electric power plants. Coal electric accounts for one third of total US carbon dioxide emissions. I do not believe wind can displace all coal electric power. But nukes could.

Please click thru and read the full article before raising points of disagreement in the comments. He addresses a number of arguments about nukes versus renewables like wind, geothermal and solar. One important argument: The renewables do not each work everywhere. What works in Texas or North Dakota doesn't work in Maine. Insolation levels, wind levels, and availability of geothermal vary quite a bit by geography.

The geography problem is especially big in densely populated areas. India has over 10 times the population density of the United States and is on course to hit 14 or 15 times current US population density. Nuclear power plants take up small footprints. So they work well for dense populations and in areas where the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 25 08:10 PM  Energy Nuclear
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New Nuclear Power Costs Too High?

A November 2009 report by Citibank about nuclear power costs and viability of new nuclear plants in the UK and Europe provides useful information to those (such as myself) interested in the economics of nuclear power. The Citi report claims most of the time new nuclear power would cost more than the the wholesale price of electricity in Britain. See the graph on page 10 (PDF).

Power Price: Nuclear power stations have very high fixed costs and relatively low variable costs. Their cash flows and profitability are therefore particularly sensitive to the price that they sell their power. As we show later, even at the low end of the build cost estimates, we calculate that a new nuclear station will require €65/MWh (£58.5/MWh) in real terms year in/year out to hit its breakeven hurdle rate. As we show in Figure 5, the UK has only seen prices at that level on a sustained basis for 20 months of the last 115 months. It was a sudden drop in power prices that drove British Energy to the brink of bankruptcy in 2003. No nuclear power station has ever been built to our knowledge where the developer takes the power price risk.

I've come across reports claiming that nuclear power can't compete in Europe without a carbon tax of at least 40 Euro per metric tonne.

The report points to cost and schedule overruns in recent nuclear plant projects and argues that new nuclear plants have considerable construction cost risks. These risks raise the cost of capital (the market wants higher interest rates on bonds) and therefore raise total costs.

Both Westinghouse and Areva claim to be able to construct a new third generation plant (AP-1000 and EPR, respectively) in 3 years from first pouring of concrete. However, evidence to date suggests this is not necessarily the case, as Olkiluoto and Flamanville projects have both suffered delays, while the first AP-1000 unit under construction, in SanMen China, is running significantly over its $1,000/KW construction cost target and is expected to be over $3,500/KW target on current estimates.

The SanMen delay tells us that the Olkiluoto and Flamanville are not outliers.

Note the wide range of cost estimates. This is an indication of uncertainty and uncertainly means risk and higher capital costs.

Georgia Power stated in mid 2008 that two 1100MW reactors would cost up to $14 billion, depending on financing terms. This gives significantly high cost assumptions of $6,360 per kilowatt.

In November 2008, Tennessee Valley Authority updated its estimates for Bellefonte units 3 & 4 relating to two AP1000 reactors of 2234MW combined. It said that overnight capital cost estimates ranged from $2,516 to $4,649/kW for a combined construction cost of $5.6 to $10.4 billion.

The next few nukes built in the US will have US federal credit guarantees that will lower the cost of capital. If the builders can finish construction in a timely manner those plants will probably turn out to be profitable.

Does anyone know how long the US wind production tax credit lasts on newly installed turbines?

The Energy Bill recently passed by the US Congress recognises such risks and provides production credits of 1.8 cents per KWh for the first 3 years of operation, equivalent to the subsidy provided to the wind generation segment.

The US can't cut carbon dioxide emissions without a large nuclear build. Given a large (a few hundred) reactor build the US could pretty much eliminate the one third of total US CO2 emissions that come from coal electric power. We'd also breathe less soot and ozone too.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 25 12:05 AM  Energy Nuclear
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2010 January 23 Saturday
Osteoarthritis Costs And Cell Therapies

Osteoarthritis is expensive, prevalent, and painful.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the ten most disabling diseases in the developed world and is set to become more of a financial burden on health services as average life expectancy increases.

OA is the most common form of arthritis, affecting nearly 27 million Americans or 12.1% of the adult population of the United States, according to Laurence et al.¹ A 2001 study showed that the disease costs US health services about $89.1 billion,2 and indirect costs relating to wages and productivity losses and unplanned home care averaged $4603 per person.3

Aging and accumulated damage are expensive. If they didn't happen the total cost of health care would be a small fraction of what it is today.

Rejuvenation of the body's own repair systems is the best way to solve most aging problems. The most promising technique for joint repair involves extracting cells from cartilage, growing up the cells, and then reinjecting these cells so that they'll repair the joint.

In a review for F1000 Medicine Reports, Yves Henrotin and Jean-Emile Dubuc examine the range of therapies currently on offer for repairing cartilaginous tissue. They also consider how recent technological developments could affect the treatment of OA in elderly populations.

The most promising therapeutic technique is Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI), which involves non-invasively removing a small sample of cartilage from a healthy site, isolating and culturing cells, then re-implanting them into the damaged area.

A recent enhancement to this method is matrix-assisted ACI (MACI) - where the cultured cells are fixed within a biomaterial before being implanted to promote a smooth integration with the existing tissues. ACI and MACI have previously been reserved for younger patients who are not severely obese (i.e. with a BMI below 35), whose cartilage defect is relatively small and where other therapies have already been tried.

Reserved for younger patients: Of course. Cells in older people do not divide and do repairs as vigorously as cells in younger people. To make ACI and MACI useful for older people will probably require development of ways to either rejuvenate stem cells or to create local environments that stimulate the cells to grow. Irina Conboy is working that problem.

My worry: can the problem of tired stem cells be solved without raising the risk of cancer? Will we have to wait for non-toxic and effective ways to knock out cancer cells before we can safely turn up the activity of stem cells in aged bodies?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 23 11:16 PM  Biotech Repair Joints
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2010 January 22 Friday
US Spends Only $4 Million Per Year On Asteroid Detection

Chump change.

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Research Council lays out options NASA could follow to detect more near-Earth objects (NEOs) – asteroids and comets that could pose a hazard if they cross Earth's orbit. The report says the $4 million the U.S. spends annually to search for NEOs is insufficient to meet a congressionally mandated requirement to detect NEOs that could threaten Earth.

An asteroid could wipe out human civilization. Surely the threat warrants more than $4 million per year to detect a large asteroid or comet on a collision course with Earth.

Congress said go find potential threats. But didn't legislate the money to do the job.

Congress mandated in 2005 that NASA discover 90 percent of NEOs whose diameter is 140 meters or greater by 2020, and asked the National Research Council in 2008 to form a committee to determine the optimum approach to doing so. In an interim report released last year, the committee concluded that it was impossible for NASA to meet that goal, since Congress has not appropriated new funds for the survey nor has the administration asked for them.

A faster search is best done with space telescopes. But ground telescopes can also play an important role at lower cost.

In its final report, the committee lays out two approaches that would allow NASA to complete its goal soon after the 2020 deadline; the approach chosen would depend on the priority policymakers attach to spotting NEOs. If finishing NASA's survey as close as possible to the original 2020 deadline is considered most important, a mission using a space-based telescope conducted in concert with observations from a suitable ground-based telescope is the best approach, the report says. If conserving costs is deemed most important, the use of a ground-based telescope only is preferable.

I'd rather build up ground and space search capabilities than spend more on putting humans on a space station or to send more probes to the outer planets. I would also put asteroid search ahead of many other government programs in priority. How about you?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 22 09:36 PM  Dangers Asteroids
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Energy Usage In Homes And Cars

I happened to be reading some 2007 Congressional hearing on how to use social science techniques of persuasion to modify behavior with regards to energy usage. The introduction to the hearing outlines how much energy we use in homes and in cars.

In 2005, U.S. households consumed 21 quadrillion BTU (quad) of primary energy, accounting for 21 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. To put this in perspective, people in the United States consume 2.4 times as much energy at home as those in Western Europe, in large part because our homes are twice as large and not designed for energy efficiency, despite the availability of affordable technologies to make them so. Household vehicles account for an additional 14 quad or 14 percent of primary energy, resulting in an overall household total of more than one-third of annual U.S. energy consumption.

With homes and private cars using only about 35% of the energy used in the US I'm a little surprised that the total for those two uses isn't higher. In the US economy about 70% of GDP goes to consumption. So I expected a larger fraction of all energy usage would show up more clearly in the category of consumers. But the figures above tell us most of the energy we use is embodied in products and services we buy. We do not directly use most of the energy used to support us.

What I'd like to find: a breakdown of energy embodied in various categories of products we buy. How much energy goes into building a house in the first place? How much of the energy we use is to create and deliver the food we eat? If the price of oil or natural gas or electricity doubles which product costs will rise the most? Anyone have some good links that address these questions?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 22 06:13 PM  Energy Lifestyle
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Neuroscience In The Justice System

Neurolaw: the use of neuroscience in legal settings. Scare you any?

In the article "Neurolaw," in the inaugural issue of WIREs Cognitive Science, co-authors Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Annabelle Belcher assess the potential for the latest cognitive science research to revolutionize the legal system.

Neurolaw, also known as legal neuroscience, builds upon the research of cognitive, psychological, and social neuroscience by considering the implications for these disciplines within a legal framework. Each of these disciplinary collaborations has been ground-breaking in increasing our knowledge of the way the human brain operates, and now neurolaw continues this trend.

I think one of the ways neuroscience is going to be used is to show that we can't trust human memories in many settings. It isn't just going to be about ascertaining what a person knows or has done. It'll also be about whether we can trust what a person believes to be witnessed events.

How accurate will brain scans become at detecting deception? Will brain scans be able to detect whether, say, a person's reaction to a picture of a crime scene shows they've been there?

One of the most controversial ways neuroscience is being used in the courtroom is through 'mind reading' and the detection of mental states. While only courts in New Mexico currently permit traditional lie detector, or polygraph, tests there are a number of companies claiming to have used neuroscience methods to detect lies. Some of these methods involve electroencephalography (EEG), whereby brain activity is measured through small electrodes placed on the scalp. This widely accepted method of measuring brain electrical potentials has already been used in two forensic techniques which have appeared in US courtrooms: brain fingerprinting and brain electrical oscillations signature (BEOS). Brain fingerprinting purportedly tests for 'guilty knowledge,' or memory of a kind that only a guilty person could have. Other forms of guilt detection, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), are based on the assumption that lying and truth-telling are associated with distinctive activity in different areas of the brain. These and other potential forms of 'mind reading' are still in development but may have far-reaching implications for court cases.

If neuroscience will be used in the legal system will its use be voluntary?

"Some proponents of neurolaw think that neuroscience will soon be used widely throughout the legal system and that it is bound to produce profound changes in both substantive and procedural law," conclude the authors. "Other leaders in neurolaw employ a less sanguine tone, urging caution so as to prevent misuses and abuses of neuroscience within courts, legislatures, prisons, and other parts of the legal system. Either way we need to be ready to prevent misuses and encourage legitimate applications of neuroscience and the only way to achieve these goals is for neuroscientists and lawyers to work together in the field of neurolaw."

I expect dictatorships to use brain scans and other neurotech in courts and in police investigations a lot more aggressively. China will use it more than the United States.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 22 12:54 AM  Brain Ethics Law
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Eastern US Could Get 20% Electricity From Wind In 2024

The United States could get a lot more of its electric power from wind.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS). This unprecedented two-and-a-half year technical study of future high-penetration wind scenarios was designed to analyze the economic, operational, and technical implications of shifting 20 percent or more of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy by the year 2024.

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” said David Corbus, NREL project manager for the study. “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the Midwest, offshore wind in the East or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.”

NREL says that while transmission infrastructure would need some big expansions the transmission costs would make up a pretty small portion of the cost of wind electric power.

If I understand this correctly 20% of wind power for the Eastern Interconnect would by itself mean 14% of total US electric power would come from wind.

“To put the scale of this study in perspective, consider that just over 70 percent of the U.S. population gets its power from the Eastern Interconnect. Incorporating high amounts of wind power in the Eastern grid goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country,” said Corbus. “We can bring more wind power online, but if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage.”

The Eastern Interconnect covers a large portion of the United States.

DOE commissioned the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study (EWITS) (PDF 17.8 MB) Download Adobe Reader through its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The investigation, which began in 2007, was the first of its kind in terms of scope, scale, and process. The study was designed to answer questions posed by a variety of stakeholders about a range of important and contemporary technical issues related to a 20% wind scenario for the large portion of the electric load (demand for energy) that resides in the Eastern Interconnection. The Eastern Interconnection is one of the three synchronous grids covering the lower 48 U.S. states. It extends roughly from the western borders of the Plains states through to the Atlantic coast, excluding most of the state of Texas.

The full report is 242 pages long (PDF).

My interpretation of page 37 is that the northern plains states will continue to have low costs for electricity due to large amounts of high quality wind and low population density. Maybe big computer server farms will get moved into the Dakotas and Manitoba Canada.

Regarding costs see page 68. My interpretation of that graph is that the marginal cost of additional nameplate capacity goes way up as higher quality wind resources become more fully utilized and additional capacity gets built in lower wind areas and at even higher cost offshore. Costs more than double and the cost slope becomes very steep. Wind has real penetration limits. Beyond some point nuclear power makes more sense.

We can't displace coal for electric power generating using wind alone. Much more nuclear power is needed. Currently nuclear supplies about 20% of US electric power while coal is near 50%. To displace coal would require 20% of power from wind along with about a tripling of current nuclear power capacity.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 22 12:38 AM  Energy Wind
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2010 January 21 Thursday
Stem Cells Converted Into Endothelial Cells

Scientists at Cornell have developed a better technique for coaxing stem cells into becoming lining for blood vessels.

NEW YORK (Jan. 20, 2010) -- In a significant step toward restoring healthy blood circulation to treat a variety of diseases, a team of scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College has developed a new technique and described a novel mechanism for turning human embryonic and pluripotent stem cells into plentiful, functional endothelial cells, which are critical to the formation of blood vessels. Endothelial cells form the interior "lining" of all blood vessels and are the main component of capillaries, the smallest and most abundant vessels. In the near future, the researchers believe, it will be possible to inject these cells into humans to heal damaged organs and tissues.

The new approach allows scientists to generate virtually unlimited quantities of durable endothelial cells -- more than 40-fold the quantity possible with previous approaches. Based on insights into the genetic mechanisms that regulate how embryonic stem cells form vascular endothelial cells, the approach may also yield new ways to study genetically inherited vascular diseases. The study appears in the advance online issue of Nature Biotechnology.

We are getting closer to the point where use of stem cells against degenerative diseases enters into large scale clinical practice. We aren't there yet. But in the next 10 years we will very likely see this happen.

The ability to repair the cardiovascular system will certainly be used to treat diseases. But if blood vessels can be repaired then stroke and most heart attacks could be avoidable in the first place.

"This technique is the first of its kind with serious potential as a treatment for a diverse array of diseases, especially cardiovascular disease, stroke and vascular complications of diabetes," says Dr. Shahin Rafii, the study's senior author. Dr. Rafii is the Arthur B. Belfer Professor in Genetic Medicine and co-director of the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College, and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 21 12:34 AM  Biotech Stem Cells
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2010 January 20 Wednesday
Blueberries Improve Elderly Brain Function?

Lab animal Eat those blueberries.

Scientists are reporting the first evidence from human research that blueberries — one of the richest sources of healthful antioxidants and other so-called phytochemicals — improve memory. They said the study establishes a basis for comprehensive human clinical trials to determine whether blueberries really deserve their growing reputation as a memory enhancer. A report on the study appears in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication.

Robert Krikorian and colleagues point out that previous studies in laboratory animals suggest that eating blueberries may help boost memory in the aged. Until now, however, there had been little scientific work aimed at testing the effect of blueberry supplementation on memory in people.

In the study, one group of volunteers in their 70s with early memory decline drank the equivalent of 2-2 l/2 cups of a commercially available blueberry juice every day for two months. A control group drank a beverage without blueberry juice. The blueberry juice group showed significant improvement on learning and memory tests, the scientists say. "These preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration," said the report. The research involved scientists from the University of Cincinnati, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Canadian department of agriculture.

Other research finds vegetables and berries slow brain aging. More here and here.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 20 11:52 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
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New Media Use By Children Up By Hours Per Week

A Kaiser Family Foundation study finds cell phones and other devices have increased the number of hours kids spend using entertainment media. Even though conventional TV consumption is down increased internet TV consumption more than makes up for that loss. Even more TV is being consumed.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 today.  And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today.

Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds is the third in a series of large-scale, nationally representative surveys by the Foundation about young people’s media use.  It includes data from all three waves of the study (1999, 2004, and 2009), and is among the largest and most comprehensive publicly available sources of information about media use among American youth.

Mobile media driving increased consumption.  The increase in media use is driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods.  Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership among 8- to 18-year-olds: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players.  During this period, cell phones and iPods have become true multi-media devices: in fact, young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33).

Friends and relatives complain of kids who are game addicts and who get little accomplished due to their social networking, messaging, and games obsessions.

What I'd like to know: What are the net effects of iPods, Facebook, MySpace, video games, and the like? Are young males less physically violent because they can find an outlet for their aggressiveness in video games? Are kids more ignorant of political and economic news because they spend less time reading newspapers and magazines?

What are the effects of these new forms of media on smarter versus dumber kids? Do smarter kids use the media to learn faster? Or does it pull them away from studies? Do bright kids get more benefit from the new media while dumber kids are more likely to use it to waste more time? I would expect brighter kids to find ways to use it more adaptively.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 20 11:12 PM  Comm Tech Society
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East Asian Pollution Driving Western North America Ozone

The planet is so small and Asian economic development so big that the north American west coast ozone surges from Asian pollution. Too many people industrializing and too much dirty energy technology.

Springtime ozone levels above western North America are rising primarily due to air flowing eastward from the Pacific Ocean, a trend that is largest when the air originates in Asia. These increases in ozone could make it more difficult for the United States to meet Clean Air Act standards for ozone pollution at ground level, according to a new international study. Published online Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the journal Nature, the study analyzed large sets of ozone data captured since 1984.

"In springtime, pollution from across the hemisphere, not nearby sources, contributes to the ozone increases above western North America," said lead author Owen R. Cooper, Ph.D., of the NOAA-funded Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "When air is transported from a broad region of south and east Asia, the trend is largest."

We'd be better off with more nuclear power. But coal electric is cheaper than nuclear. So China's continuing a massive coal electric build up. Expect a lot more pollution where that came from.

In the absence of national policies and/or binding international agreements that would limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, world coal consumption is projected to increase from 127 quadrillion Btu in 2006 to 190 quadrillion Btu in 2030, an average annual rate of 1.7 percent. Much of the projected increase in coal use occurs in the non-OECD Asia region, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total world increase in coal use from 2006 to 2030. In fact, much of the region’s increase in energy demand is expected to be met by coal, particularly in the electric power and industrial sectors. For example, installed coal-fired generating capacity in China is projected to nearly triple from 2006 to 2030, and coal use in China’s industrial sector grows by nearly 60 percent.

I hope Richard Heinberg's correct that world coal reserves are greatly overestimated. I like Heinberg's summary of the interests at stake in the recent Copenhagen climate negotiations.

China produces half the world's cement and 40 percent of its iron and steel; over the next 15 years, it plans to urbanize a number of its people about equal to the total population of North America—a continent that took more than a century to accomplish a similar-sized task. That means more cement, steel, appliances, power plants, and all the other energy-guzzling accouterments of urban existence. Mark Lynas, an environmental writer who was present at the final Friday night negotiations at Copenhagen, summarized the situation this way: "China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to."

More ozone coming from ethanol in gasoline too.

"What we found is that at the warmer temperatures, with E85, there is a slight increase in ozone compared to what gasoline would produce," said Diana Ginnebaugh, a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering, who worked on the study. She will present the results of the study on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. "But even a slight increase is a concern, especially in a place like Los Angeles, because you already have episodes of high ozone that you have to be concerned about, so you don't want any increase."

But it was at colder temperatures, below freezing, that it appeared the health impacts of E85 would be felt most strongly.

"We found a pretty substantial increase in ozone production from E85 at cold temperatures, relative to gasoline, when emissions and atmospheric chemistry alone were considered," Ginnebaugh said. Although ozone is generally lower under cold-temperature winter conditions, "If you switched to E85, suddenly you could have a place like Denver exceeding ozone health-effects limits and then they would have a health concern that they don't have now."

By Randall Parker 2010 January 20 10:13 PM  Pollution Trends
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2010 January 19 Tuesday
Buy A Used Space Shuttle $28.2 Million Each

These babies are priced to move and won't last long.

The space agency announced late last week it has dropped the sale price of a used space shuttle from $42 million to the bargain-basement price of $28.8 million. With NASA moving to retire the space shuttle fleet this fall, the agency is looking to move a few shuttles and bring in some much-needed cash.

When I look at the NASA space shuttles I see really bad design choices made in the 1970s and kept alive for a few decades at taxpayer expense. They were never leading edge technology. Putting humans together with cargo was a fundamental mistake. The design put humans at higher risk (with fatal results) while requiring higher than necessary safety standards for cargo that made the cargo expensive to put into space.

A bad safety culture at NASA made the risks even greater. Politicos kept the shuttle alive because lots of rubes thought they were seeing really great technology launching people into space. The space shuttle was more about keeping alive a mythology than advancing the state of the possible for a human move into space.

Our greatest hope for lower costs of transportation into low Earth orbit comes from the idea of using a giant beanstalk elevator to move things into space.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 19 11:10 PM  Space Launch
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New Diabetes Genetic Variants Found

More genetic variants that influence blood sugar and insulin have been identified.

A major international study with leadership from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers has identified 10 new gene variants associated with blood sugar or insulin levels. Two of these novel variants and three that earlier studies associated with glucose levels were also found to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Along with a related study from members of the same research consortium, associating additional genetic variants with the metabolic response to a sugary meal, the report will appear in Nature Genetics and has been released online.

"Only four gene variants had previously been associated with glucose metabolism, and just one of them was known to affect type 2 diabetes. With more genes identified, we can see patterns emerge," says Jose Florez, MD, PhD, of the MGH Diabetes Unit and the Center for Human Genetic Research, co-lead author of the report. "Finding these new pathways can help us better undertand how glucose is regulated, distinguish between normal and pathological glucose variations and develop potential new therapies for type 2 diabetes.

This study illustrates how declining costs of genetic testing cause much larger steps forward in discovery of significant genetic variants. The 4 previously discovered genetic variants were probably not all discovered in the same scientific paper. Then along comes one piece of research that reports two and a half times more genetic variants in blood sugar and insulin levels than were previously known. The rate of discovery goes up because the scale of genetic testing has risen so much due to big drops in costs.

122,000 people and 2.5 million locations (SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphisms) in human genomes were examined.

Both studies were conducted by the Meta-Analyses of Glucose and Insulin-related Traits Consortium (MAGIC), a collaboration among researchers from centers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia that analyzed gene samples from 54 previous studies involving more than 122,000 individuals of European descent. The study co-led by MGH scientists – along with colleagues from Boston University, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and the University of Michigan – began by analyzing about 2.5 million gene variations (called SNPs) from 21 genome-wide searches for variants associated with glucose and insulin regulation in more than 46,000 nondiabetic participants. The 25 most promising SNPs from the first phase were then tested in more than 76,000 nondiabetic participants in 33 other studies, leading to new associations of nine SNPs with fasting glucose levels and one with fasting insulin and with a measure of insulin resistance.

More genetic variants for glucose and insulin levels await to be found.

"We were delighted that we were able to find so many SNPs associated with raised levels of glucose," says Dr Inês Barroso, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, "but amazed that we found only one strong association with levels of insulin. We don't think this is a technical difference, but that the genetics is telling us that the two measures, insulin and glucose, have different architectures, with fewer genes, rarer variants or greater environmental influence affecting insulin resistance."

The team have strong evidence that other genetic factors remain to be found: their study explains about ten per cent of the genetic effect on fasting glucose. They believe that there will be rarer variants with a larger impact that would not be found by a study such as this.

In the next 5 years we'll witness more discoveries about the meaning of genetic variants than we've seen in all previous history because genetic testing costs have fallen so far so fast. Costs have dropped by orders of magnitude and continue to drop rapidly. Scientists face a flood of data from which they will be able to tease out many discoveries.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 19 12:34 AM  Biotech Advance Rates
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Gastric Bypass Benefit For Morbidly Obese

University of Cincinnati researchers found that gastric bypass surgery increases average life expectancy of the morbidly obese by 3 years.

Researchers led by Daniel Schauer, an assistant professor of medicine at UC, found the surgery added three years to the life expectancy of the average morbidly obese gastric bypass patient - a 42-year-old woman with a body mass index (BMI) of 45.

The benefits were greatest for younger patients.

The efficacy of surgery in reducing mortality was less important for older men, the analysis also showed. A 75-year-man with a BMI of 35 could expect only a very slight gain in life span -- perhaps one or two months.

"Younger patients have lower surgical risk and more time over which to realize the benefits of surgery. For older patients, the gain is smaller, and for some, gastric bypass surgery will decrease life expectancy," Schauer and colleagues wrote.

Mind you, surgical teams that do a lot of these procedures probably do so at lower risk. Since some people die due to complications of the surgery one needs to weigh the risks against the potential benefits.

Type 2 diabetes combined with obesity might also justify gastric bypass.

Jan 18, 2010 – Recent research shows surgical weight loss procedures like gastric banding and gastric bypass can help more type 2 diabetics manage, and potentially cure, their disease. In a study reviewed by the Diabetes Surgery Summit Consensus Conference, weight loss surgery was shown to help type 2 diabetics with a body mass index, also called BMI, of 30 or more control their disease. Surgery was previously recommended as an option to treat only those with a BMI of 35 or higher. The summit revised its recommendations for surgical treatment to include suitable candidates with a BMI between 30 and 35.

Gastric bypass cures type 2 diabetes in many overweight patients.

An Australian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2008 found that 73 percent of type 2 diabetics with BMIs between 30 and 40 were cured of the disease after receiving an adjustable gastric band. Just 13 percent of patients in the study achieved the same result with conventional therapies.

We really need safer ways to control appetite and weight.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 19 12:09 AM  Aging Weight Studies
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2010 January 17 Sunday
Vitamin D And Calcium Reduce Bone Fractures

Across a wide range of ages both vitamin D and calcium supplements cut the incidence of bone breaks.

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Taking both calcium and vitamin D supplements on a daily basis reduces the risk of bone fractures, regardless of whether a person is young or old, male or female, or has had fractures in the past, a large study of nearly 70,000 patients from throughout the United States and Europe has found.

The study included data published in 2006 from clinical trials conducted at UC Davis in Sacramento as part of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). It appears online in this week’s edition of the British Medical Journal.

“What is important about this very large study is that goes a long way toward resolving conflicting evidence about the role of vitamin D, either alone or in combination with calcium, in reducing fractures,” said John Robbins, professor of internal medicine at UC Davis and a co-author of the journal article. “Our WHI research in Sacramento included more than 1,000 healthy, postmenopausal women and concluded that taking calcium and vitamin D together helped them preserve bone health and prevent fractures. This latest analysis, because it incorporates so many more people, really confirms our earlier conclusions.”

Bottom line: Yes, they both help.

Vitamin D alone is not as effective as when combined with calcium.

“This study supports a growing consensus that combined calcium and vitamin D is more effective than vitamin D alone in reducing a variety of fractures,” said Robbins. “Interestingly, this combination of supplements benefits both women and men of all ages, which is not something we fully expected to find. We now need to investigate the best dosage, duration and optimal way for people to take it.”

I'm already taking vitamin D every day. But I do not always take calcium. Sounds like calcium is worth taking regularly too. Any thoughts on this?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 17 10:27 PM 
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59 Year Old Pregnant After Baby At Age 57

Susan Tollefsen, who gave birth to her 2 year old daughter Freya when she was 57, is now 59 and pregnant with baby #2.

A 59-year-old woman has become the oldest person ever to be offered fertility treatment by a British clinic.

Doctors at the private London Women’s Clinic on Harley Street, one of the most successful IVF units in the country, have unanimously agreed to help Susan Tollefsen conceive.

Leave aside the ethical considerations due to possible harm to the fetus due to developing in a 59 year old womb. It is amazing that a 59 year old womb might carry a baby to term. Of course, a few older women have already completed pregnancies successfully (though some with premature delivery). Rajo Devi, 70 when she gave birth to a premature baby, might hold the record for oldest woman to deliver a baby. This is risky stuff for the woman. 69 year old Spanish woman Maria del Carmen Bousada died of cancer 2 years after giving birth to twins. She might have gotten the cancer from hormones used to reverse her menopause. Since her brother might not live long enough to raise the twins they'll probably wind up orphans at some point. Higher rates of complications with age stir ethical debate about elderly women starting pregnancies.

The willingness of some women in their 50s and older to try to start risky pregnancies makes me think women like them will eventually try untested risky stem cell rejuvenation therapies to make their wombs and other body parts more able to carry a baby to term. The desire to reproduce is an instinct that drives some to take considerable risks with their health and the health of the babies they bear.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 17 06:54 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
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2010 January 14 Thursday
MAOA Gene Influences Gambling Versus Risk Aversion

Some researchers at Hebrew U, National University of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong U have taken a look at whether a gene for breaking down neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine) influences risk taking behavior. If you like to gamble rather than buy insurance you can blame it on your monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA) high activity allele.

Decision making often entails longshot risks involving a small chance of receiving a substantial outcome. People tend to be risk preferring (averse) when facing longshot risks involving significant gains (losses). This differentiation towards longshot risks underpins the markets for lottery as well as for insurance. Both lottery and insurance have emerged since ancient times and continue to play a useful role in the modern economy. In this study, we observe subjects' incentivized choices in a controlled laboratory setting, and investigate their association with a widely studied, promoter-region repeat functional polymorphism in monoamine oxidase A gene (MAOA). We find that subjects with the high activity (4-repeat) allele are characterized by a preference for the longshot lottery and also less insurance purchasing than subjects with the low activity (3-repeat) allele. This is the first result to link attitude towards longshot risks to a specific gene. It complements recent findings on the neurobiological basis of economic risk taking.

Regular readers will anticipate this question: When it becomes possible to select genes for offspring will people prefer genes for risk taking? Or the genes for playing it safe and buying insurance? You can imagine that the insurance industry and gambling industry will promote conflicting choices of genes for future generations. Which industry will win?

The discussion section of this paper (which is on Plos One and therefore open access) references research into other genes that influence risk taking. One can imagine that someone with enough different risk taking alleles either ruins their life gambling or they take up dangerous sports.

Several recent papers have explored the molecular genetic basis of economic risk taking. With 95 subjects, Dreber et al. [12] showed that the dopamine receptor D4 gene (DRD4) exon 3 repeats are associated with financial risk taking. This was replicated independently in a 65-subject study by Kuhnen & Chiao [13] who found additionally an association with the serotonin transporter (5-HTTLPR). Zhong et al. [15] proposed a neurochemical model relating dopamine and serotonin tones respectively to valuation sensitivity over gains and losses and derived its implication on risk attitude over risks involving moderate probabilities. They tested and validated their hypothesis with a gene association experiment showing that dopamine transporter (DAT1) is associated with risk attitude over gains and that an intronic 17 bp variable number of tandem repeat of serotonin transporter (STin2) is associated with risk attitude over losses. Roe et al. [14] showed that economic risk attitude is associated with several vesicular monoamine transporter (VMAT2) SNPs. The present paper is the first investigation of the neurogenetic correlates of attitude towards longshot risks observed through laboratory-based economic experiments. Our findings complement existing evidence about the role of MAOA in the modulation of personality traits including harm avoidance [23].

If I was going to select a genetic profile for an offspring with all the knowledge we'll have 10 years from now I'd be tempted to select the genes that make the ultimate rational trader. I figure a lot of wealthy people will do just that and the effect will be to increase inequality as genetically wealthy people out-compete others in making investment decisions.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 14 11:04 PM  Brain Genetics
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2010 January 13 Wednesday
Men Like Smell Of Ovulating Women

The hormones released during ovulation would probably make a powerful perfume.

Results revealed that men who smelled tee shirts of ovulating women subsequently had higher levels of testosterone than men who smelled tee shirts worn by non-ovulating women or men who smelled the control shirts. In addition, after smelling the shirts, the men rated the odors on pleasantness and rated the shirts worn by ovulating women as the most pleasant smelling.

The authors note that "the present research is the first to provide direct evidence that olfactory cues to female ovulation influence biological responses in men." In other words, this study suggests that testosterone levels may be responsive to smells indicating when a woman is fertile. The authors conclude that this biological response may promote mating-related behavior by males.

Men are genetically programmed to go for fertile women. No surprise here.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 13 11:22 PM  Brain Sexuality
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Cheating On Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reports?

BusinessWeek has an article on how more potent green house gases are rising more in the atmosphere than would be predicted by various reported industrial sources for them. The worry is that users are cheating and hiding the extent of their use of gases like sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which is 23,900 times more potent a warmer than carbon dioxide.

If you believe the reports, emissions of SF6 are declining. The reports are wrong. When researchers actually measure the chemical in the air, they find it in quantities more than three times greater than what the reported amounts would indicate—and levels are increasing, not declining. The findings were a surprise, says NOAA's Tans: "It wasn't on anyone's radar screen."

What happens when carbon taxes raise the economic stakes for compliance?

It's a cautionary tale. "If we can cheat on something like sulfur hexafluoride, what happens when carbon dioxide is worth $50 or $100 per ton?" asks Michael R. Woelk, CEO of Picarro, a measuring instruments company in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Nitrogen trifluoride is a similar story.

SF6 is not unique. Scripps' Weiss has found more than three times as much nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) in the atmosphere as he expected. NF3 is a chemical used in flat panel manufacturing—and is a powerful greenhouse gas.

The article says that since China doesn't have to report its greenhouse gas emissions (and strongly opposed a requirement to report emissions in the recent Copenhagen negotiations) we do not know how much of these emissions are coming from China. Given China's rapid economic growth if they are a major source of these rare but potent gases they are probably going to become a much bigger problem.

Click thru and read the full article for the details.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 13 11:04 PM  Pollution Green House Gases
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Self Control Is Contagious?

Parents who try very hard to buy into school districts that feature better performing and better behaved children probably appreciate a truth about human nature. People are influenced by the extent of self control exercised by others around them.

Athens, Ga. – Before patting yourself on the back for resisting that cookie or kicking yourself for giving in to temptation, look around. A new University of Georgia study has revealed that self-control—or the lack thereof—is contagious.

In a just-published series of studies involving hundreds of volunteers, researchers have found that watching or even thinking about someone with good self-control makes others more likely exert self-control. The researchers found that the opposite holds, too, so that people with bad self-control influence others negatively. The effect is so powerful, in fact, that seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flashing on a screen for just 10 milliseconds changed the behavior of volunteers.

“The take home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control,” said lead author Michelle vanDellen, a visiting assistant professor in the UGA department of psychology. “And by exhibiting self-control, you’re helping others around you do the same.”

The press release describes 5 experiments the researchers conducted. Here are the first two:

In the first study, the researchers randomly assigned 36 volunteers to think about a friend with either good or bad self-control. Those that thought about a friend with good self-control persisted longer on a handgrip task commonly used to measure self-control, while the opposite held true for those who were asked to think about a friend with bad self-control.

In the second study, 71 volunteers watched others exert self-control by choosing a carrot from a plate in front of them instead of a cookie from a nearby plate, while others watched people eat the cookies instead of the carrots. The volunteers had no interaction with the tasters other than watching them, yet their performance was altered on a later test of self-control depending on who they were randomly assigned to watch.

Maybe people who are on diets need to view a little video on their cell phone several times a day showing someone else bypassing cookies to eat vegetables. Create an environment (which can be at least partially virtual) around yourself showing other people doing what you want yourself to do.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 13 10:57 PM  Brain Conditioning
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Nanowires Poke Molecules Into Cells

Nanowires can deliver drugs and other compounds into cells grown in culture

Many experiments in biology rely on manipulating cells: adding a gene, protein, or other molecule, for instance, to study its effects on the cell. But getting a molecule into a cell is much like breaking into a fortress; it often relies on biological tricks such as infecting a cell with a virus or attaching a protein to another one that will sneak it through the cell's membrane. Many of these methods are specific to certain types of cells and only work with specific molecules. A paper in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a surprisingly simple and direct alternative: using nanowires as needles to poke molecules into cells.

This involves growing cells on a bed of nanowires. The nanowires can poke into the cells and then release molecules once they are inside. This will enable rapid screening of how many different kinds of molecules affect the behavior of cells.

I can imagine something like these nanowires used to deliver gene therapy into cells. We still need better ways to deliver gene therapy. While this technique might help with gene therapy in vitro it does not appear to provide a better way to deliver genes into cells in the body (i.e. in vivo). We need great in vivo gene therapy delivery mechanisms especially in order to rejuvenate the brain. Gotta deliver new genetic programming into old cells that hold the memories and skills accumulation of our lives.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 13 10:31 PM  Biotech Manipulations
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Y Chromosome Still Evolving

Some have theorized that the Y chromosome is in decline, that the chromosome that makes men into men is losing out in the rush of evolution. But no. I'm sure many guys will be happy to know that the Y chromosome is evolving under heavy evolutionary pressure.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (January 13, 2010) – Contrary to a widely held scientific theory that the mammalian Y chromosome is slowly decaying or stagnating, new evidence suggests that in fact the Y is actually evolving quite rapidly through continuous, wholesale renovation.

By conducting the first comprehensive interspecies comparison of Y chromosomes, Whitehead Institute researchers have found considerable differences in the genetic sequences of the human and chimpanzee Ys—an indication that these chromosomes have evolved more quickly than the rest of their respective genomes over the 6 million years since they emerged from a common ancestor. The findings are published online this week in the journal Nature.

"The region of the Y that is evolving the fastest is the part that plays a role in sperm production," say Jennifer Hughes, first author on the Nature paper and a postdoctoral researcher in Whitehead Institute Director David Page's lab. "The rest of the Y is evolving more like the rest of the genome, only a little bit faster."

A lot of other versions of the Y chromosome fell by the wayside so that our versions could emerge victorious over all those loser Ys. This should not be surprising. One guy can knock up a lot of women. The competition between males to reproduce is much stiffer than the competition between females. More Y chromosomes than X chromosomes lose the race to reproduce in each generation.

The Y chromosome is undergoing renovation.

The results overturned the expectation that the chimp and human Y chromosomes would be highly similar. Instead, they differ remarkably in their structure and gene content. The chimp Y, for example, has lost one third to one half of the human Y chromosome genes--a significant change in a relatively short period of time. Page points out that this is not all about gene decay or loss. He likens the Y chromosome changes to a home undergoing continual renovation.

"People are living in the house, but there's always some room that's being demolished and reconstructed," says Page, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "And this is not the norm for the genome as a whole."

Human evolution has been happening quite rapidly. Once genetic testing for embryo selection becomes widespread human evolution will accelerate at a much faster rate than that seen in the recent 10,000 year explosion. The next decade will witness an explosion of human genetic revelations which (in addition to upending politically correct ideologies) will enable people to select embryos that contain much more optimal genetic variations. This will reduce the risk of having offspring not as good looking, healthy, or bright as their parents. Newer generations will be better looking, healthier, and smarter.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 13 10:26 PM  Trends, Human Evolution
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2010 January 12 Tuesday
Antidepressants Best With Severely Depressed

If you are mildly depressed an anti-depressant probably isn't going to do you much good.

An analysis of randomized trials indicates that compared with placebo, the magnitude of benefit of antidepressant medications varies with the severity of depressive symptoms, and may provide little benefit for patients with mild or moderate depression, but appear to provide substantial benefit for patients with very severe depression, according to an article in the January 6 issue of JAMA.

Antidepressant medications (ADM) are the current standard of treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), but there is little evidence that they have a specific pharmacological effect relative to placebo for patients with less severe depression, according to background information in the article.

On the bright side the mildly depressed aren't as urgently in need of help. Best that a drug does the most good for those severely depressed.

The authors found that the efficacy of ADM treatment for depression varied considerably, depending on symptom severity. “True drug effects (an advantage of ADM over placebo) were nonexistent to negligible among depressed patients with mild, moderate, and even severe baseline symptoms, whereas they were large for patients with very severe symptoms.”

By Randall Parker 2010 January 12 11:01 PM  Brain Depression
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2010 January 11 Monday
Television Watchers Die Sooner

TV kills.

Study highlights:

  • A study found that every hour spent in front of the television per day brings with it an 11 percent greater risk of premature death from all causes, and an 18 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
  • The findings apply to both obese and overweight people as well as people with a healthy weight because prolonged periods of sitting have an unhealthy influence on blood sugar and blood fat levels.

DALLAS, Jan. 11, 2010 — Couch potatoes beware: every hour of television watched per day may increase the risk of dying earlier from cardiovascular disease, according to research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Australian researchers tracked the lifestyle habits of 8,800 adults and found that each hour spent in front of the television daily was associated with:
• an 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes,
• a 9 percent increased risk of cancer death; and
• an 18 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related death.

Compared with people who watched less than two hours of television daily, those who watched more than four hours a day had a 46 percent higher risk of death from all causes and an 80 percent increased risk for CVD-related death. This association held regardless of other independent and common cardiovascular disease risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, unhealthy diet, excessive waist circumference, and leisure-time exercises.

Uh oh, sitting in front of computers probably kills too. We weren't designed for the environment we've created for ourselves with technology.

While the study focused specifically on television watching, the findings suggest that any prolonged sedentary behavior, such as sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, may pose a risk to one’s health. The human body was designed to move, not sit for extended periods of time, said David Dunstan, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and professor and Head of the Physical Activity Laboratory in the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 11 11:21 PM  Aging Lifestyle Studies
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Women In Relationships Get Fatter

Thinking about living with your girlfriend? For the sake of her health and your own esthetic experience put some emotional distance between you and the special lady.

After adjusting for other variables, the 10-year weight gain for an average 140-pound woman was 20 pounds if she had a baby and a partner, 15 if she had a partner but no baby, and only 11 pounds if she was childless with no partner. The number of women with a baby but no partner was too small to draw statistically significant conclusions.

Nature really doesn't want us thrilled and happy. Nature just wants us to reproduce. Once we are deeply hooked up the thrills get taken away. Obviously humans are in need of some serious amounts of genetic engineering.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 11 11:20 PM  Brain Appetite
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Computer Servers Cheap Compared To Electricity

The challenge in computing has shifted from making them faster to make them do more work per unit of energy used. Hardware no longer costs as much as electricity in some computer server farms.

Over the next couple of years, balancing performance, reliability and energy will grow trickier because of shift in data center economics. It’s expected that at least half of the Fortune 2000 companies will spend more on electricity than on purchasing new hardware by about 2010, according to Hewlett-Packard executives.

I picture a future with lots of server farms combined with solar photovoltaic installations straddling the equator in low cloud, high insolation regions. Since the computers will cost less than the electric power fiber optic cables connecting these server farms can shift compute jobs around the planet as the Earth spins thru its 24 hour day.

That future won't happen until photovoltaic costs fall by another order of magnitude and computer electric power usage climbs even higher.

Currently Google locates server farms closer to customers in order to minimize latency on query responses. But compute jobs that aren't interactive (e.g. big sims of climate or for designs) don't need that proximity to users. The biggest obstacle to shifting them around might be the size of their datasets. Will dataset size serve as an obstacle to simulation shifting around the clock? Or will fiber optic transmission capacity be so cheap that shifting jobs from server to server several times a day won't pose any cost problems?

Of course, if 4th gen nuclear reactors end up being cheaper than PV 20 years from now server farms will probably each continue to run 24x7.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 11 09:30 PM  Energy Electric Users
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Exercise Helps With Mild Cognitive Impairment

Folks with mild cognitive impairment are helped by exercise.

Moderate physical activity performed in midlife or later appears to be associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment, whereas a six-month high-intensity aerobic exercise program may improve cognitive function in individuals who already have the condition, according to two reports in the January issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The problem with this result is the (usually insurmountable) challenge of trying to get old folks to change their ways. Heck, try to get someone middle aged to take up regular exercise if they aren't already doing it. I predict low odds of success.

Old folks who are mildly cognitively impaired strike me as even less likely to change their ways than old folks who are still playing with a full deck of mental cards. I'd lay better odds for old folks who are living in facilities that have lots of other old folks around and exercise sessions hosted by trainers. If you can manage to convince an older loved one to get into regular exercise real benefits are probably awaiting.

Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate state between the normal thinking, learning and memory changes that occur with age and dementia, according to background information in one of the articles. Each year, 10 percent to 15 percent of individuals with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia, as compared with 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population. Previous studies in animals and humans have suggested that exercise may improve cognitive function.

In one article, Laura D. Baker, Ph.D., of the University of Washington School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, and colleagues report the results of a randomized, controlled clinical trial involving 33 adults with mild cognitive impairment (17 women, average age 70). A group of 23 were randomly assigned to an aerobic exercise group and exercised at high intensity levels under the supervision of a trainer for 45 to 60 minutes per day, four days per week. The control group of 10 individuals performed supervised stretching exercises according to the same schedule but kept their heart rate low. Fitness testing, body fat analysis, blood tests of metabolic markers and cognitive functions were assessed before, during and after the six-month trial.

A total of 29 participants completed the study. Overall, the patients in the high-intensity aerobic exercise group experienced improved cognitive function compared with those in the control group. These effects were more pronounced in women than in men, despite similar increases in fitness. The sex differences may be related to the metabolic effects of exercise, as changes to the body's use and production of insulin, glucose and the stress hormone cortisol differed in men and women.

I happen to live close enough to stores to walk to them. I walk for many errands. I think getting exercise while doing tasks you want to get done is a lot more sustainable way to get more exercise. If you can find higher exercise ways to do things that need doing then you can get real benefits.

If you live many miles from stores and don't have any high exercise chores that need doing then consider getting a high energy dog. The chore then becomes running the dog on a daily basis. Of course, people who let their dogs run free in a rural setting don't need to put them on leashes and run along with them. But most people live in areas where leashes are necessary. So let your dog serve as your personal trainer.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 11 08:01 PM  Aging Exercise Studies
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Appliance Rebate Increases Energy Usage?

A couple of U Del economists think a government rebate to encourage people to buy new appliances might result in more energy used for refrigerators as some buyers will just add a refrigerator rather than replace it.

NEWARK, DEL – Taxpayers will lose a significant portion of the $300 Million they are shelling out for the federal government's appliance rebate program and the energy-saving program could actually increase energy usage, two University of Delaware economists say.

Economics Professors Burton Abrams and George Parsons published their analysis of the program in the 1st Quarter 2010 issue of the Milken Institute Review. (Published Jan. 11, 2010)

Abrams and Parsons focused their analysis on refrigerators – a major energy user. They believe in some cases, consumers will buy new refrigerators but keep the old for extra capacity, increasing energy usage. Unlike the Cash for Clunkers program, the appliance program does not require salvaging older models

They added benefits to the consumer and what society gets back in environmental benefits, and found for every $100 spent by taxpayers for refrigerators, $6 is lost.

The rebates, which range from $50-$200, could be lowered to $30 and result in the same consumer response, they wrote.

Abrams and Parsons say while Cash for Clunkers wasted $825 million, this new program's loss will be significantly smaller but is similarly ill conceived.

Aren't appliances mostly imported? So doesn't this incentive also increase the trade deficit? If reduced energy usage combined with a boost in employment is the goal then I suspect it would make more sense to provide economic incentives for home efficiency. Insulation installation requires labor and a lot of the materials are still domestically made.

The US government could more easily and cheaply incentivize old inefficient appliance replacement by creating a web site where people could enter serial numbers and other info about an appliance to get an estimate of how much energy it uses per year, what their local cost is per kwh, and what they'd save per year if they bought one of a list of highest rated energy efficient replacements. Information is much cheaper to generate and dispense and can be very powerful in its effects.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 11 06:36 PM  Energy Policy
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2010 January 10 Sunday
Lower Gene Methylation In IVF Babies

Methyl groups put on the backbone of DNA regulate gene expression. Some researchers find that IVF babies do not have the same pattern of DNA methylation as babies conceived using natural sex.

“These epigenetic differences have the potential to affect embyronic development and foetal growth, as well as influencing long-term patterns of gene expression associated with increased risk of many human diseases,” said Professor Carmen Sapienza, a geneticist at Temple University in Philadelphia, who jointly led the research.

People who use IVF are, on average, older than people making babies without the help assisted reproduction technologies. Plus, they have problems that prevent them from starting pregnancies naturally, The researchers can not rule out the possibility that these factors explain the difference in methylation. A much larger sample set of babies born to women of a wide range of ages might provide hints as to whether IVF is the cause. If IVF is the cause then why? Too much oxygen exposure? Or maybe the drugs used to cause egg maturation?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 10 10:40 PM  Biotech Reproduction
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2010 January 08 Friday
Boston Consulting Group On Electric Car Battery Costs

Boston Consulting Group says car battery costs will not fall far enough in the next 10 years to allow a massive shift toward electric vehicles.

Although electric-car battery costs are expected to fall sharply over the coming decade, they are unlikely to drop enough to spark widespread adoption of fully electric vehicles without a major breakthrough in battery technology, according to a new study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

The study, released today, concludes that the long-term cost target used by many carmakers in planning their future fleets of electric cars--$250 per kilowatt-hour (kWh)--is unlikely to be achieved unless there is a major breakthrough in battery chemistry that substantially increases the energy a battery can store without significantly increasing the cost of either battery materials or the manufacturing process.

"Given current technology options, we see substantial challenges to achieving this goal by 2020," said Xavier Mosquet, Detroit-based leader of BCG's global automotive practice and a coauthor of the study. "For years, people have been saying that one of the keys to reducing our dependency on fossil fuels is the electrification of the vehicle fleet. The reality is, electric-car batteries are both too expensive and too technologically limited for this to happen in the foreseeable future."

BCG isn't just saying cost is a problem. They also see weight as holding back EVs. That makes sense. The 400+ lb battery in the Chevy Volt provides a 40 mile range on electric power. To go 200 miles in electric power would require 2000 lb just for the battery. Forget about the typical car's 400+ mile range until battery energy density goes up by some multiple.

BCG says currently prices are between $1,000 and $1,200 per kwh. To put that in perspective a compact or midsize car might use a quarter of a kwh per mile. So at current prices a 100 mile range will require 25 kwh or at least $25,000. The cost is worse than that since batteries are not typically allowed to run all the way down.

Most electric cars in the new decade will use lithium-ion batteries, which are lighter and more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries used today in hybrids like the Toyota Prius. Citing the current cost of similar lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronics (about $250 to $400 per kWh), many original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) hope that the cost of an automotive lithium-ion battery pack will fall from its current price of between $1,000 and $1,200 per kWh to between $250 and $500 per kWh at scaled production. BCG, however, points out that consumer batteries are simpler than car batteries and must meet significantly less demanding requirements, especially regarding safety and life span. So actual battery costs will likely be higher than what carmakers predict.

The OEMs are hoping for a substantial price decline once volumes go up. Will that happen in just a few years?

BCG talked to many major players to come up with their cost numbers. Any optimists want to dismiss this report in the comments section? (you know who you are)

The report, titled Batteries for Electric Cars: Challenges, Opportunities and the Outlook to 2020, is a companion piece to a report BCG published in January 2009 on the future of alternative power-train technologies (The Comeback of the Electric Car? How Real, How Soon, and What Must Happen Next). The new report's findings are based on a detailed analysis of existing e-car battery research and interviews with more than 50 battery suppliers, auto OEMs, university researchers, start-up battery-technology companies, and government agencies across Asia, the United States, and Western Europe. The report also draws on the firm's extensive work with auto OEMs and suppliers worldwide.

BCG's numbers seem hard to dismiss.

Only $360-$440 per kWh by 2020 if BCG gets it right.

To show how battery costs will decline, BCG uses the example of a typical supplier of lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminum (NCA) batteries--one of the most prominent technologies for automotive applications. BCG's analysis suggests that by 2020, the price that OEMs pay for NCA batteries will decrease by 60 to 65 percent, from current levels of $990-$1,220 per kWh to $360-$440 per kWh. So the cost for a 15-kWh NCA range-extender pack would fall from around $16,000 to about $6,000. The price to consumers will similarly fall, from $1,400-$1,800 per kWh to $570-$700 per kWh--or $8,000-$10,000 for the same pack.

Batteries could still conceivably go into wider use in 2020 if the availability of oil becomes so limited that pluggable hybrids become the preferred way to get to work. 40 mile range on electric power ala the Chevy Volt would allow most people to do their commutes without gasoline. Pure electric cars with 100+ mile range are going to maintain more of a niche status unless prices fall even farther.

Note that a premium electric sports car maker can sell an electric car with batteries that do not last as long as mass market customers expect. So an exotic sports car maker can use lower priced lithium batteries designed for computers. But a company like General Motors needs to achieve a much higher durability and reliability in a mass market design.

Update: The real cost of electric car batteries continues to be debated on web logs and in the press. Back in March 2009 Jon Lauckner of GM criticized a CMU study on electric cars by claiming that $1000 per kwh is hundreds of dollars too high. So why is BCG, which certainly knows about GM's claim, citing a higher figure?

At its core, the study’s conclusion is based on an incorrect assumption of the cost of battery packs. In the CMU study, the so-called “base case” used a Lithium-Ion battery cost of $1,000 per kWh ($16,000 for a 40 mile Volt pack) that was cited in earlier academic articles. The problem is this cost is many hundreds of dollars per kWh higher than the actual cost of the Volt pack today. Moreover, our battery team is already starting work on new concepts that will further decrease the cost of the Volt battery pack quite substantially in a second-generation Volt pack. Unfortunately, the impact of dramatically lower battery costs (to $250 per kWh) was treated only as a “sensitivity” in the CMU study when it probably should have been highlighted as THE critical element that would dramatically change the cost-effectiveness of plug-ins with greater electric-only range.

What's behind these conflicting prices on EV batteries?

Update II: Here is the new study (PDF).

By Randall Parker 2010 January 08 08:08 PM  Energy Transportation
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2010 January 07 Thursday
Battery Costs For Electric Cars Versus Prius

A much debated topic in the comments section of FuturePundit posts on energy is the current price and future prices for pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and pure electric vehicles (EVs). A Bloomberg article about the future of Nissan and Renault sheds some light on the economics of EV batteries. The forthcoming Nissan Leaf pure EV compact car will go 100 miles per charge.

Ghosn’s first electric car, the Leaf, can travel only 100 miles (160 kilometers) without recharging -- putting him in competition with hybrid vehicles that have no such limits.

The car will be sold without a battery which will be leased. But what's the cost of the battery? Would you believe over $15k?

For Rod Lache, a Deutsche Bank AG analyst in New York, the cost of electric vehicles’ battery packs is a major constraint. A pack as big as the Leaf’s costs $15,600, Lache says. That compares with about $30 for a gas tank in conventional cars that travel four times farther.

How much fuel does that battery pack need to save you in order to make it worth your while? The answer depends heavily on the future prices of oil and gasoline.

The future of the electric car depends heavily on how fast battery prices fall.

Lache predicts that high-volume manufacturing will cut battery costs -- now $650 per kilowatt-hour -- in half by 2020. Ghosn says costs will fall faster.

Imagine you bought the battery with a loan over a period of 10 years. I am assuming 10 years as a useful life just for the sake of argument. I used an online mortgage calculator, put in a loan for $15,600, 7.5% interest rate (interest rates are higher on cars than on mortgages), and 10 years. The monthly payment is $185. If you aren't spending more than that per month on gasoline for a compact car then the battery isn't going to save you money. You are welcome to use other assumptions, plug them into a mortgage calculator, and post the results in the comments.

Note that the Leaf will be a compact. You can instead get a moderately larger (or the same size?) Toyota Prius for less than or equal to the expected $25,000 to $30,000 price for the Leaf. The Prius is probably good for 50 mpg. If you drive, say, 1000 miles per month that is 20 gallons per month. Suppose world oil production starts declining and gasoline shoots up to shocking price of $10 per gallon. That Prius will cost you only $200 per month in gasoline, will have a longer range than the Leaf, and more room. Plus, the Leaf's electric recharge for 1000 miles will probably run you at least 250 kwh which will likely cost you $25 or so (depending on where you live and time of day).

I cut the interest rate on the battery purchase to only 5.5% and came up with $169.30 per month. A Prius is still a better deal at $8 per gallon for gasoline.

Questions remain: Did Rod Lache come up with a realistic price for the Leaf's battery? How long will the battery last? Will it last 120,000 miles in 10 years of use? How long will it take for gasoline to hit the price points where an EV starts to make sense?

I see a more compelling case for a PHEV like the Chevy Volt. GM can use a smaller battery because they are shooting for a 40 mile range on electric power with the rest of the range coming from a gasoline engine.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 07 06:32 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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Cell Phones Protect Against Alzheimer's Disease?

After years of reports aimed at looking for a causal relationship between cell phone use and brain cancer a new report finds that in mice genetically engineered to get Alzheimer's exposure to electromagnetic waves is protective.

Tampa, FL (Jan. 6, 2010) – The millions of people who spend hours every day on a cell phone may have a new excuse for yakking. A surprising new study in mice provides the first evidence that long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves associated with cell phone use may actually protect against, and even reverse, Alzheimer's disease. The study, led by University of South Florida researchers at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC), was published today in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

"It surprised us to find that cell phone exposure, begun in early adulthood, protects the memory of mice otherwise destined to develop Alzheimer's symptoms," said lead author Gary Arendash, PhD, USF Research Professor at the Florida ADRC. "It was even more astonishing that the electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones actually reversed memory impairment in old Alzheimer's mice."

The researchers showed that exposing old Alzheimer's mice to electromagnetic waves generated by cell phones erased brain deposits of the harmful protein beta-amyloid, in addition to preventing the protein's build-up in younger Alzheimer's mice. The sticky brain plaques formed by the abnormal accumulation of beta amyloid are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Most treatments against Alzheimer's try to target beta-amyloid.

I'm picturing a future where people are assigned to periodically swap in freshly charged batteries in cell phones strapped on to granny's head.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 07 12:11 AM  Brain Alzheimers Disease
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Electric Bikes Big In China

More electric bikes are sold in China than in the rest of the world combined.

The cycles in question, known as “e-bikes”, are battery-enhanced machines that are the darlings of the modern, urban Chinese. More than 20 million were sold this year, putting a vast army of commuters, unable to afford cars or motorcycles — and without licences — on the roads at a sedate maximum speed of 12 km/h (7½ mph).

If the rules stay as they are, analysts say, e-bike sales may rise to 25 million next year. If they change, as seems possible, the ramifications will stretch far beyond the streets of Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou.

The article discusses a proposal in the Chinese government to classify the e-bikes as motorcycles so that people will have to get drivers licenses to operate them. This is expected to dampen sales.

What I find noteworthy about this report is the scale on which electric bikes are used. While some people think declining world oil production after Peak Oil will lead to a huge collapse my own view is that we have lots of cheap (albeit less comfortable) ways to get around with less energy. Electric bikes are a cheap and obvious option. Electric bikes and scooters at a variety of ascending prices for faster speed and longer range would allow many people to get around without oil. The more affluent will drive pluggable hybrid cars.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 07 12:07 AM  Energy Electric Cars
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2010 January 06 Wednesday
Study Questions Ethanol Subsidies

It has been quite a long time since I last bashed corn ethanol. I tired of this sport years ago. But a report from the Baker Institute gives academic credence to the obvious: Corn ethanol subsidies for energy security amount to bad policy.

The United States needs to fundamentally rethink its policy of promoting ethanol to diversify its energy sources and increase energy security, according to a new policy paper by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The paper, "Fundamentals of a Sustainable U.S. Biofuels Policy," questions the economic, environmental and logistical basis for the billions of dollars in federal subsidies and protectionist tariffs that go to domestic ethanol producers every year. "We need to set realistic targets for ethanol in the United States instead of just throwing taxpayer money out the window," said Amy Myers Jaffe, one of the report's authors.

Jaffe is a fellow in energy studies at the Baker Institute and associate director of the Rice Energy Program.

Corn ethanol costs a lot. It can't scale.

As an example of the unintended economic consequences of U.S. biofuels policy, the report notes that in 2008 "the U.S. government spent $4 billion in biofuels subsidies to replace roughly 2 percent of the U.S. gasoline supply. The average cost to the taxpayer of those 'substituted' barrels of gasoline was roughly $82 a barrel, or $1.95 per gallon on top of the retail gasoline price (i.e., what consumers pay at the pump)." The report questions whether mandated volumes for biofuels can be met and whether biofuels are improving the environment or energy security.

We do not have enough land for corn ethanol to make a big dent in our dependence on oil. Farming takes energy for tractors, fertilizer, and other purposes. Harvesting and transporting the corn to ethanol production facilities takes energy and the conversion process takes energy. According to some analysts one has to use energy equaled to 1 barrel of oil to get ethanol energy equivalent of 1.3 barrels of oil.

Agriculture creates damaging run-off that creates a big dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The idea that corn ethanol reduces CO2 emissions is in doubt.

The report, which includes analysis by environmental scientists, highlights the environmental threats posed by current biofuels policy. "Increases in corn-based ethanol production in the Midwest could cause an increase in detrimental regional environmental impacts," the study states, "including exacerbating damage to ecosystems and fisheries along the Mississippi River and in the Gulf of Mexico and creating water shortages in some areas experiencing significant increases in fuel crop irrigation." Moreover, the report challenges claims that ethanol use lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and argues, "There is no scientific consensus on the climate-friendly nature of U.S.-produced corn-based ethanol, and it should not be credited with reducing GHGs when compared to the burning of traditional gasoline."

For a small fraction of the money we spend to subsidize corn ethanol we could fund more researchers to work on genetically engineering algae to excrete oil for diesel fuel. Algae probably have the best prospects for workable biomass energy.

The Baker Institute report on ethanol reminds of another recent report from Stanford researchers critical of ethanol's environmental effect on air quality. Ethanol increases ozone levels, especially in winter.

"What we found is that at the warmer temperatures, with E85, there is a slight increase in ozone compared to what gasoline would produce," said Diana Ginnebaugh, a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering, who worked on the study. She will present the results of the study on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. "But even a slight increase is a concern, especially in a place like Los Angeles, because you already have episodes of high ozone that you have to be concerned about, so you don't want any increase."

But it was at colder temperatures, below freezing, that it appeared the health impacts of E85 would be felt most strongly.

"We found a pretty substantial increase in ozone production from E85 at cold temperatures, relative to gasoline when emissions and atmospheric chemistry alone were considered," Ginnebaugh said. Although ozone is generally lower under cold-temperature winter conditions, "If you switched to E85, suddenly you could have a place like Denver exceeding ozone health-effects limits and then they would have a health concern that they don't have now."

The problem with cold weather emissions arises because the catalytic converters used on vehicles have to warm up before they reach full efficiency. So until they get warm, a larger proportion of pollutants escapes from the tailpipe into the air.

We subsidize corn ethanol because of the power of the farm lobby and also due to naivete of a portion of the public that thinks anything involving more green plants must be a good idea.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 06 11:51 PM  Energy Biomass
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2010 January 05 Tuesday
Octomom Doc Accused Of Negligence

The California Medical Board doesn't think highly of medical procedures that produce octuplet pregnancies.

A disciplinary complaint filed by the California Medical Board said that Dr Michael Kamrava acted “beyond reasonable judgment” by helping Nadya Suleman to conceive octuplets.

8 babies developing in a womb are each going to get well less than ideal nutrition for optimal development of brain and body. Such babies are at risk of learning disabilities and other problems later in life.

A disaster?

Dr. Richard Paulson, who heads the fertility program at the University of Southern California, said it sounds like Kamrava did nothing ''to prevent this disaster.'' ''An octuplet pregnancy, in my opinion, is a disaster,'' said Paulson, who has no role in the case.

Was this fertility doctor negligent? Was Nadya Suleman irresponsible and were her actions harmful to the public interest? Does the public interest matter? Are there external costs to pregnancies?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 05 11:41 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
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Ghrelin Hormone Regulates Mouse Food Seeking

Blocking the hormone ghrelin in mice reduced how hard they'd try to get food. Mice with added ghrelin were more drawn to food.

The premise that hunger makes food look more appealing is a widely held belief – just ask those who cruise grocery store aisles on an empty stomach, only to go home with a full basket and an empty wallet.

Prior research studies have suggested that the so-called hunger hormone ghrelin, which the body produces when it's hungry, might act on the brain to trigger this behavior. New research in mice by UT Southwestern Medical Center scientists suggest that ghrelin might also work in the brain to make some people keep eating "pleasurable" foods when they're already full.

"What we show is that there may be situations where we are driven to seek out and eat very rewarding foods, even if we're full, for no other reason than our brain tells us to," said Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at UT Southwestern and co-senior author of the study appearing online and in a future edition of Biological Psychiatry.

Scientists previously have linked increased levels of ghrelin to intensifying the rewarding or pleasurable feelings one gets from cocaine or alcohol. Dr. Zigman said his team speculated that ghrelin might also increase specific rewarding aspects of eating.

Drugs that block ghrelin production might make weight loss, drug addiction, and alcoholism easier to control.

Would added ghrelin help dangerously skinny people who have anorexia?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 05 11:20 PM  Brain Appetite
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Exercise Slows Telomere Decay?

Researchers in Germany find that endurance training slows the decay of the telomere caps on chromosomes, suggesting that exercise can slow the aging process.

Researchers focused on telomeres, the protective caps on the chromosomes that keep a cell's DNA stable but shorten with age.

They found telomeres shortened less quickly in key immune cells of athletes with a long history of endurance training.

The study, by Saarland University, appears in the journal Circulation.

A previous study found the converse: Sedentary Lifestyles Age Chromosome Telomeres Faster. Telomere length has been linked to rate of aging in many studies. Also see my previous posts "Telomere Length Indicates Mortality Risk" and "Chronic Stress Accelerates Aging As Measured By Telomere Length" and New Telomere Lengthening Technique Developed and Telomeres Wear Down Quicker In Men Than Women and Aged Blood Stem Cells Indicator For Cardiovascular Disease Risk.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 05 12:22 AM  Aging Exercise Studies
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Superoxide Causes Muscle Atrophy With Age?

Blame shriveled muscles on free radicals.

If you're an aging baby boomer hoping for a buffer physique, there's hope. A team of American scientists from Texas and Michigan have made a significant discovery about the cause of age-related muscle atrophy that could lead to new drugs to halt this natural process. This research, available online the FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), shows that free radicals, such as reactive oxygen species, damage mitochondria in muscle cells, leading to cell death and muscle atrophy. Now that scientists understand the cause of age-related muscle loss, they can begin to develop new drugs to halt the process.

Just because free radical damage to mitochondria accelerate age-related muscle loss that does not prove that accumulated damage to mitochondria is the major reason for muscle loss as we age. It might be the major cause. But this study does not prove it.

Regardless of what causes muscle atrophy there's a decent chance stem cell therapies that generate new muscle cells could reverse it. Though it is possible that existing damaged mitochondria spew out toxic compounds that would mess up new cells created from stem cells.

Mice lacking an enzyme that breaks down superoxide suffered faster muscle loss.

"Age-related muscle atrophy in skeletal muscle is inevitable. However, we know it can be slowed down or delayed," said Holly Van Remmen, Ph.D., co-author of the study, from the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "Our goal is to increase our understanding of the basic mechanisms underlying sarcopenia to gain insight that will help us to discover therapeutic interventions to slow or limit this process."

To make this discovery, Van Remmen and colleagues used mice that were genetically manipulated to prevent them from having a protective antioxidant (CuZnSOD). As a result of not being able to produce this antioxidant, the mice had very high levels of free radicals (reactive oxygen species) and lost muscle mass and function at a much faster rate than normal mice. Additionally, the muscles of the genetically modified mice were much smaller and weaker than those of normal mice. Scientists believe that these findings mimic effects of the normal aging process in humans, but at an accelerated rate.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 05 12:15 AM  Aging Mechanisms
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Pomegranate Cuts Breast Cancer Risk?

An in vitro study suggests that pomegranate might reduce breast cancer risk by reducing estrogen production.

Eating fruit, such as pomegranates, that contain anti-aromatase phytochemicals reduces the incidence of hormone-dependent breast cancer, according to results of a study published in the January issue of Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Pomegranate is enriched in a series of compounds known as ellagitannins that, as shown in this study, appear to be responsible for the anti-proliferative effect of the pomegranate.

"Phytochemicals suppress estrogen production that prevents the proliferation of breast cancer cells and the growth of estrogen-responsive tumors," said principal investigator Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the Division of Tumor Cell Biology and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Research Program at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif.

Previous research has shown that pomegranate juice — punica granatum L — is high in antioxidant activity, which is generally attributed to the fruit's high polyphenol content. Ellagic acid found in pomegranates inhibits aromatase, an enzyme that converts androgen to estrogen. Aromatase plays a key role in breast carcinogenesis; therefore, the growth of breast cancer is inhibited.

What would this do to fertility? Anyone have any idea? Also, what other (perhaps mild) side effects would come from reduced estrogen production? Menopause causes problems. But pomegranate probably has a much smaller effect on estrogen production than menopause.

Have any studies been done on impact of foods on hormone levels? Do any foods appreciably lower estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, or other hormones?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 05 12:03 AM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
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2010 January 04 Monday
Yet Another Promising Battery Chemistry

Yet another company with a new lithium battery chemistry is touting their chemistry will cut costs and make electric cars more affordable. British company Qinetiq claims 1.6 times the energy density of existing lithium batteries at half the cost.

The battery is based on lithium-ion iron-sulfide chemistry, which has a number of advantages over the chemistry of existing batteries, says Gary Mepsted, technical manager for Qinetiq's power sources group. The new battery would cost half as much as existing vehicle batteries and could last longer and recharge more quickly that other lithium batteries.

It is a measure of the perceived future demand for vehicle batteries that so many companies and academic research groups are announcing advances and prospects for future cost drops for vehicle batteries. I see a couple of factors driving this interest. First off, the remaining oil is mostly in harder to reach places with an increasing fraction of all oil exploration happening in deep water and in the Arctic The remaining land-based oil is heavvier and more expensive to process (e.g. Alberta tar sands). Second, the political movement pushing for carbon taxes to stop global warming further raise the expectations for more expensive liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

With competitive biomass energy fuels looking like a distant prospect pluggable hybrid and pure electric cars become the major contenders for cutting liquid fossil fuels usage.

Anyone know what percentage of a lithium battery is lithium? I'm curious to get an idea of what percentage of the battery's cost comes from raw materials. Do we need to wait for carbon nanotube batteries in order for vehicle batteries to become really cheap?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 04 11:42 PM  Energy Batteries
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2010 January 03 Sunday
Last Interglacial Had Higher Seas

If the current interglacial is going to naturally cause sea levels to rise 6.6 meters (21.6 feet) would you favor unnatural measures to stop it? Or would you prefer to lose south Florida as long as the cause isn't humans? In the last interglacial a lot more ice melted. At least that's the claim of a recent paper in Nature.

We find a 95% probability that global sea level peaked at least 6.6 m higher than today during the last interglacial; it is likely (67% probability) to have exceeded 8.0 m but is unlikely (33% probability) to have exceeded 9.4 m. When global sea level was close to its current level (≥-10 m), the millennial average rate of global sea level rise is very likely to have exceeded 5.6 m kyr-1 but is unlikely to have exceeded 9.2 m kyr-1.

A few readers might be trying to decide whether this latest paper supports whatever position they hold on catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (add the acronym CAGW to your memory banks if it is not already there) so they'll know whether to praise or scoff at this report. To those readers I say: give it a break.

So would you want to stop natural melting?

I'm curious to know whether interglacials ever reach a long stage where the ice melting and freezing balances for thousands of years? Or is it pretty much the case of net melting for thousands of years until net freezing begins? Anyone know?

By Randall Parker 2010 January 03 11:59 PM  Climate Trends
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New Technique Sequences Old DNA

Caveman DNA to reveal all.

DNA that is left in the remains of long-dead plants, animals, or humans allows a direct look into the history of evolution. So far, studies of this kind on ancestral members of our own species have been hampered by scientists' inability to distinguish the ancient DNA from modern-day human DNA contamination. Now, research by Svante Pääbo from The Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, published online on December 31st in Current Biology — a Cell Press publication — overcomes this hurdle and shows how it is possible to directly analyze DNA from a member of our own species who lived around 30,000 years ago.

The ability to sequence individual DNA strands allows the scientists to recognize which pieces of DNA really are ancient. So 30,000 year old DNA can be sequenced.

Using the remains of humans that lived in Russia about 30,000 years ago, Pääbo and his colleagues now make use of the latest DNA sequencing (i.e., reading the sequence of bases that make up the DNA strands) techniques to overcome this problem. These techniques, known as "second-generation sequencing," enable the researchers to "read" directly from ancient DNA molecules, without having to use probes to multiply the DNA. Moreover, they can read from very short sequence fragments that are typical of DNA ancient remains because over time the DNA strands tend to break up. By contrast, DNA that is younger and only recently came in contact with the sample would consist of much longer fragments. This and other features, such as the chemical damage incurred by ancient as opposed to modern DNA, effectively enabled the researchers to distinguish between genuine ancient DNA molecules and modern contamination. "We can now do what I thought was impossible just a year ago – determine reliable DNA sequences from modern humans - but this is still possible only from very well-preserved specimens," says Pääbo.

I expect these 30,000 year old humans to be genetically different than us in important ways. For an argument on why that should be so see an excellent book by Greg Cochran and Henry Harpending entitled The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 03 11:45 PM  Biotech Assay Tools
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Carbon Nanotubes For DNA Sequencing

Carbon nanotubes can measure electrical fields of individual DNA letters.

Faster sequencing of DNA holds enormous potential for biology and medicine, particularly for personalized diagnosis and customized treatment based on each individual's genomic makeup. At present however, sequencing technology remains cumbersome and cost prohibitive for most clinical applications, though this may be changing, thanks to a range of innovative new techniques.

In the current issue of Science, Stuart Lindsay, director of Arizona State University's Center for Single Molecule Biophysics at the Biodesign Institute, along with his colleagues, demonstrates the potential of one such method in which a single-stranded ribbon of DNA is threaded through a carbon nanotube, producing voltage spikes that provide information about the passage of DNA bases as they pass through the tube—a process known as translocation.

This technique is nowhere near ready for production use. But it illustrates where biology is going: manipulate individual molecules using nanotechnology. As computer chip manufacturing advances have shown, the smaller things can be made the lower costs can drop. Carbon nanotubes and other nano components will be used to make nanodevices for doing biological assays and manipulations. DNA will be sequenced and synthesized by cheap small devices. DNA sequencing machines will some day be hand held.

Miniaturization of computing and communication technologies led to the cell phone and texting. The resulting reshaping of personal interactions illustrates how technology that each person can hold will change how we relate to each other. I argue that something similar will happen with personal DNA sequencers. People will check out each others' DNA sequences in mating situations such as in bars and night clubs. In some cases the DNA samples will be gotten surreptitiously (e.g. kiss someone while running fingers thru their hair to get hair ends with cells on them). In other cases potential mates will simply demand some spit to check out. People will choose others based on odds of personality traits and other characteristics at least partially controlled by genes.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 03 10:40 PM  Biotech Assay Tools
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States Fight Over Asian Carp Invasion Threat

Time to close the canal connection between the Illinois River and Lake Michigan in order to keep the Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.

In an urgent effort to close down Chicago-area passages that could allow the unwanted fish to reach Lake Michigan, the State of Michigan is suing the State of Illinois and other entities that govern the waterways here. Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin have filed documents in recent days supporting Michigan’s move, and Indiana says it will soon do the same.

My take: the states around the Great Lakes have been seriously slow in stepping to the threat posed by Asian carp. They shouldn't have waited until Asian carp reached several miles from the Great Lakes before getting around to suing the very negligent and irresponsible state of Illinois. This is serious.

Background: Asian carp have been eating their way up the Mississippi River system for years.

Asian carp were originally brought over to clean catfish ponds.

Two species of Asian carp -- the bighead and silver -- were imported by catfish farmers in the 1970's to remove algae and suspended matter out of their ponds. During large floods in the early 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed their banks, and the Asian carp were released into local waterways in the Mississippi River basin.

The carp have steadily made their way northward up the Mississippi, becoming the most abundant species in some areas of the River.

They outcompete native fish species that have much more economic value.

Asian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. They are well-suited to the climate of the Great Lakes region, which is similar to their native Asian habitats.

Researchers expect that Asian carp would disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes. Due to their large size, ravenous appetites, and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.

The connection between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan has got to be closed.

"We have to take care of this problem permanently," says Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a joint U.S.-Canadian commission that coordinates fisheries management. "We need pure biological separation between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes basin."

Chicago business and political interests do not want to lose easy use of barges for shipping. So there's a fight.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 03 10:20 PM  Environment Invasive Species
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UPS Hybrid Diesel Cuts Costs

A UPS 1st gen hybrid delivery van boosts fuel efficiency 28.9% and cuts cost per mile by 15%.

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has collected and analyzed fuel economy, maintenance and other vehicle performance data from UPS’s first generation hybrid diesel step delivery vans powered by an Eaton Corp. electric hybrid propulsion system.

The diesel hybrid delivery vans improved the on-road fuel economy by 28.9 percent resulting in a 15 percent improvement in total cost per mile while maintaining similar reliability and operational performance as compared to conventional vehicles.

The vans did well in a 12 month eval in Phoenix. So they must be able to handle the heat.

Funded by the DOE's Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity (AVTA), NREL's Fleet Test & Evaluation (FT&E) team performed a 12-month evaluation of six of these hybrid vans at a UPS location in Phoenix.

The report released this week details the year-long demonstration project, including how the FT&E team collected and analyzed fuel economy, maintenance and other vehicle performance data on the vans, which are being used in delivery service.

UPS has ordered 200 of the hybrids. With such large savings why is the order so small?

UPS has recently ordered an additional 200 Eaton hybrid electric powered vans.

200 hybrid delivery trucks still amount to small potatoes compared to the over 100,000 vehicles which a 2006 articles says UPS operates.

UPS deliver 15 million packages per day in over 200 countries. UPS has over 100,000 vehicles and 600 airplanes. UPS employs over 400,000 people. UPS is the ninth largest airline on the planet. They are experts at reducing the cost and fuel usage of moving millions of packages. Over 1,700 of those vehicles use alternative fuel, savings millions of gallons of oil and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2000, UPS alternative-fuel vehicles have logged 108 million route miles — enough to circle the Earth more than 4,300 times. These 1,700 vehicles run on natural gas, propane and hydrogen. (www.community.ups.com/environment/fuels.html)

Big fleet. UPS as the 9th largest airline. Wow. I had no idea.

That 2006 article provides some idea of how much fuel each hybrid will save per year.

UPS has ordered 50 hybrid delivery trucks, which will reduce fuel consumption by 44,000 gallons per year.

Okay, that's 880 gallons saved per year per vehicle. Suppose this latest design can save as much as the 2006 article expected. If UPS could replicate that across 100,000 vehicles they might be able to save 88 million gallons of fuel per year.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 03 01:07 PM  Energy Transportation
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2010 January 02 Saturday
China And India Displacing OECD Oil Consumption

Writing in a comment on a post at The Oil Drum Gregor Macdonald very succinctly sums up an energy future where China, India, and other rapidly developing countries gradually displace OECD countries as oil purchasers.

High oil prices are more painful to the OECD/Developed world user than the Developing world user. In the Developing world coal accounts for the largest chunk of BTU consumption, and the marginal utility to the new user of oil is high. In other words, the OECD user is embedded in a system where the historical consumption pattern has been to use much more oil per capita. But in the developing world, just a small amount of oil to the new user of oil is transformational. It will be the developing world therefore that will take oil to much, much higher prices in the next decade. They will use small amounts per capita, but the aggregate demand will be scary high. After all, the developing world's systems are not leveraged to oil. They are new users of oil--and unlike us, aren't married to a system that breaks from high oil prices.

Macdonald sees an even bigger future for coal. To prevent that either technological advances have to lower the cost of competitors down to coal's cost (and good luck with that) or developed and developing countries have to agree to tax carbon emissions. I'm not betting on big carbon taxes. I keep hoping for bigger pushes to lower the cost of nuclear, and other competitors. Otherwise Asian demand and Peak Oil will push the whole world toward coal.

I see the OECD becoming increasingly poorer, and turning to the preferred energy source of the poor: Coal. I see the developing world continuing to progress along its current coal-fired powergen pathway, while adding large amounts of oil but in small per-capita terms. It will be the developing world that will get oil above 200 dollars (in today's terms) on a sustainable basis.

Rembrandt Koppelaar, President of ASPO Netherlands, captures this shift of oil consumption from the developed to the developing countries in his Oil Watch Monthly reports (PDF). See pages 8-12 for OECD (developed countries of Europe, US, Japan, Canada, etc) and then compare their oil consumption usage trends (all down including the US) with the trends for India and China on page 13. US oil consumption has already peaked. China and India can afford to drive up oil prices to levels that cause Americans and Europeans to drive less and to switch to more fuel efficient vehicles. This trend will continue.

My advice: Get yourself out in front of this trend. Don't get run over by it. While you can still afford to make financial decisions that insulate your living standard from the price of oil. Don't buy another SUV until they come as pluggable hybrids. If you have an oil heating furnace take a hard look at ground sink heat pumps. Or move closer to your job (provided you think your job can survive higher oil prices). The really hard part I see in the adjustment is how to find a job that'll survive Peak Oil.

You might think that surely Europe is turning away from coal or at least turning toward carbon capture from coal electric plants. But so far the price of carbon emission rights in Europe is too low to force a large scale switch to nuclear power.

E.ON and Centrica warned that they would not invest the tens of billions of pounds to build expensive new nuclear reactors and clean coal plants at today's carbon price, which is supposed to penalise dirty coal and gas plants.

Spot prices are now around €12 (£10) a tonne, close to a six-month low, and experts say that to make building new nuclear reactors financially viable, a price closer to €40 is needed.

What I'd like to know: What do these numbers tell us about the price difference between coal electric and new nuclear electric power? What's the difference in pennies per kwh? The key fact we need: How many kwh or mwh get generated per tonne of carbon emitted when coal is burned? Anyone know how to calculate this?

So far European steps to build more nukes seem pretty small. As soon as the rest of Europe announces plans to build as many nukes total as France has alone I'll think nuclear power is going to play a big role in Europe cutting CO2 emissions.

FRANCE - Building a 1,600 MWe EPR at Flamanville, which is expected to begin operation in 2012. France announced plans in January 2009 to build another one at its Penly power station.

GERMANY - The new center-right government plans to extend the lives of Germany's 17 nuclear plants but is expected to uphold an existing ban on building new nuclear power stations.

HUNGARY - Government agreed in April to allow preparations for building another unit at the Paks nuclear plant to begin. It could take over 11 years to build. [ID:nLE437132] Paks' existing four reactors supply about a third of Hungary's electricity.

Click thru and read the full list if you are interested. Several European countries might build a nuke or two. But the numbers don't begin to approach what's needed to stop most coal burning.

The United States might be able to go with natural gas from shales (Marcellus, Bakken, Fayetteville, etc) instead of more coal. But I do not think most countries are going to find natural gas a lower cost choice.

Update: Gregor Macdonald argues that this transition away from oil is more problematic than previous energy transitions because the transition is toward lower power density energy sources. True enough for most of the alternatives on offer. Obviously, nuclear power is higher energy density but requires so much capital investment that it has high costs. Plus, electricity is inconvenient and costly for cars and impractical for airplanes.

Those who would propose a successful energy transition over the next 20 years have failed, on a number of fronts, to produce a holistic model that pays respect to both the history of previous energy transtions, and to all (not just some) of the hurdles that lay before us. For example, one group of transitionists will lay out the technical feasibility of running the world exclusively on clean power. But they ignore the construction phase, or the energy required to fund it. Other transitionists will appear to address the construction phase, but instead will elide over crucial engineering details by invoking historical examples of national will–like the space program, or the retooling of Detroit during WW II. Most neglected however is the history of previous energy transitions. And here we find the largest hurdle of all. For, in humanity’s last two transitions, from wood to coal and then coal to oil, the trajectory each time was to a higher power density energy source. Energy transition is disruptive enough, but much less so when you are gaining energy density. And how do you suppose transition will be this time, going in the opposite direction, to lower density sources?

There's no strong political will to do the transition. It'll happen after Peak Oil as the amount of oil exported per year declines by 5% per year.

By Randall Parker 2010 January 02 12:46 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels
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