2010 September 30 Thursday
Plants As Threatened With Extinction As Animals

Habitats keep shrinking with no end in sight.

A global analysis of extinction risk for the world's plants, conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has revealed that the world's plants are as threatened as mammals, with one in five of the world's plant species threatened with extinction. The study is a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world's estimated 380,000 plant species is known, announced as governments are to meet in Nagoya, Japan in mid-October 2010 to set new targets at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit.

Some highlights:

  • Of almost 4,000 species that have been carefully assessed, over one fifth (22%) are classed as Threatened

  • Plants are more threatened than birds, as threatened as mammals and less threatened than amphibians or corals

  • Gymnosperms (the plant group including conifers and cycads) are the most threatened group

  • The most threatened habitat is tropical rain forest.

  • Most threatened plant species are found in the tropics

  • The most threatening process is man-induced habitat loss, mostly the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture or livestock use

Population growth and industrialization will both accelerate the conversion of habitats to agriculture. The next couple billion growth in human population will much more environmental damage than the previous two billion because the reserves have shrunk so far. Plant and animals that could still survive in, say, half the original area can't survive in a tenth the area or after their natural environment is totally gone.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 30 10:42 PM  Trends Extinction
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Trans Fats Boost Baby Obesity?

One can easily find lots of competing theories for the obesity boom including omega 6 fatty acids and fructose. Here's another possibility: Does mom's consumption of junk foods high in trans fats boost baby obesity?

Athens, Ga. – A new University of Georgia study suggests that mothers who consume a diet high in trans fats double the likelihood that their infants will have high levels of body fat.

What fructose, trans fats, and omega 6 fatty acids all have in common: their portion of our diets went up as obesity rose. From that perspective they make obvious suspects. So it makes sense to pay attention to research linking any of them to the rise in obesity, insulin resistant diabetes, and other elements of metabolic syndrome.

Researchers, whose results appear in the early online edition of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that infants whose mothers consumed more than 4.5 grams of trans fats per day while breastfeeding were twice as likely to have high percentages of body fat, or adiposity, than infants whose mothers consumed less than 4.5 grams per day of trans fats.

The researchers investigated different fatty acids, but determined trans fats to be the most important contributor to excess body fat. "Trans fats stuck out as a predictor to increased adiposity in both mothers and their babies," said study co-author Alex Anderson, assistant professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Trans fats are certainly harmful and to be avoided. You might think, however, that since trans fat consumption is an approximate proxy for junk food consumption that other elements of junk food are as much to blame as trans fats. For example, a medium order of french fries can over 3 times the 4.5 grams threshold reported in this study. But in the last 5 years fast food restaurants such as McDonald's dropping the use of trans fats in french fry oil. Many commercial doughnuts have 5 grams of trans fat. But if you must eat doughnuts be aware that Dunkin Donuts stopped using trans fats in October 2007. I quite like the honesty of Dunkin Donuts about this move: They only made the doughnut less unhealthy, no pretending.

“The goal was not to make a healthy doughnut, it was really to create a doughnut that was better,” said Joe Scafido, Dunkin’s chief creative and innovation officer. “Certainly, we did not create a healthy doughnut.”

KFC eliminated trans fat from chicken frying in 2007. Other restaurant chains have cut trans fats as well including Wendy's. But your lowest odds of eating trans fat in restaurants comes from eating in jurisdictions where it is banned: California, NYC, some New York State counties and some other jurisdictions have banned restaurant trans fats. But it isn't clear to me whether any of these bans extend to grocery store food food. Anyone know?

My advice: avoid trans fats entirely. Cut your omega 6 fatty acid consumption. Get more omega 3s. Avoid high fructose corn syrup too. Roll back the big changes in diet that accompanied the rise in obesity.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 30 10:04 PM  Aging Weight Studies
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2010 September 29 Wednesday
Habitable Planet 20 Light Years Away?

When will the invasion space ships from Gliese 581g arrive overhead and begin planetary bombardment?

Washington, D.C. Astronomers have found a new, potentially habitable Earth-sized planet. It is one of two new planets discovered around the star Gliese 581, some 20 light years away. The planet, Gliese 581g, is located in a "habitable zone"—a distance from the star where the planet receives just the right amount of stellar energy to maintain liquid water at or near the planet's surface. The 11- year study, published in the Astrophysical Journal and posted online at arXiv.org, suggests that the fraction of stars in the Milky Way harboring potentially habitable planets could be greater than previously thought—as much as a few tens of percent.

We need to create a planetary defense system to defend us against the Glieseans.

The lower end of its estimated range of surface gravity places it within a livable range for humans. Time to start building an invasion fleet of our own?

"Our calculations indicate that the planet is between 3.1 and 4.3 Earth masses, has a circular 36.6-day orbit, and a radius estimated between 1.2 and 1.5 Earth radii," remarked co-author Paul Butler of Carnegie's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.

Its semi-major axis—half the length through the long direction of its elliptical orbital path—is 0.146 astronomical units (one AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun), and its surface gravity is similar to Earth's at 1.1 to 1.7 g.

20 light years means they are currently receiving our 1990 TV and radio show signals.

The planet does not spin on an axis. So the places to live on it are in perpetual twilight.

The planet is tidally locked to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness. One effect of this is to stabilize the planet's surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet's surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the "terminator"), with surface temperatures decreasing toward the dark side and increasing toward the light side.

"Any emerging life forms would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around, depending on their longitude," Vogt said.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 29 10:35 PM  Space Alien Intelligence
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Beer Proteome Published

The big Firestone beer I tried at dinner tonight has me in the right frame of mind to write this post. Scientists investigate an important topic.

In an advance that may give brewers powerful new ability to engineer the flavor and aroma of beer — the world's favorite alcoholic beverage — scientists are publishing the most comprehensive deciphering of the beer's "proteome" ever reported. Their report on the proteome (the set of proteins that make beer "beer") appears in ACS' monthly Journal of Proteome Research.

This sort of research will inevitably lead to genetic engineering of barley, yeast, and corn to produce the ideal beer. Or, rather, the ideal pale ale, the ideal lager, and so on. Then European beers will fall behind in taste as the EU will probably ban the genetically engineered grains.

I expect we'll eventually see beers classified by their proteome pattern as well as other chemical fingerprints. You'll be able to web surf to a site that has all that data and it'll tell you that if you like a certain Dutch beer then which German or Japanese or American beer you ought to try. It'll be like Pandora for music but for beer.

Pier Giorgio Righetti and colleagues say they were inspired to do the research by a popular Belgian story, Les Maîtres de l'Orge (The Brew Masters), which chronicles the fortunes of a family of brewers over 150 years. They realized that beer ranks behind only water and tea as the world's most popular beverage, and yet little research had been done to identify the full set of proteins that make up beer. Those proteins, they note, play a key role in the formation, texture, and stability of the foamy "head" that drinkers value so highly. Nevertheless, scientists had identified only a dozen beer proteins, including seven from the barley used to make beer and two from yeast.

They identified 20 barley proteins, 40 proteins from yeast, and two proteins from corn, representing the largest-ever portrait of the beer proteome. "These findings might help brewers in devising fermentation processes in which the release of yeast proteins could be minimized, if such components could alter the flavor of beer, or maximized in case of species improving beer's aroma," the report notes.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 29 10:14 PM  Brain Appetite
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2010 September 28 Tuesday
Passivhaus High Home Efficiency Shows Up In America

A Prius is so 5 years ago as a way to signal your dedication to energy efficiency or the environment. The German Passivhaus extremely high efficiency home design standard represents a far bigger dedication to energy efficiency. It is so cool (er, warm) that I'm tempted to move somewhere cold to justify building one. The 106F temperature in my town on Monday makes that an even more appealing idea.

A so-called passive home like the one the Landaus are now building is so purposefully designed and built — from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken air envelope — that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England.

Why mess around with wimpy Energy Star and LEED design goals when you can step up to some serious techno-geek levels of efficiency?

Energy Star and LEED aim for efficiency improvements of at least 15 percent over conventional construction — and both programs can earn a variety of tax credits and other incentives. The passive-home standard, perhaps because it’s unfamiliar to many officials who create efficiency stimulus programs, is eligible for few direct government subsidies, despite the fact that homes using it can be up to 80 percent more energy-efficient, over all, than standard new houses and consume just 10 percent of the heating and cooling energy.

Want to have serious bragging rights? Build to the Passivhaus standard. Also, while the German Passivhaus institute has an American affiliate that uses English style spelling you can emphasize the sheer engineering geekiness of what you are doing by using the more chic German spelling.

But seriously, I am impressed that such a large improvement in home efficiency is possible at an affordable increment in cost (maybe 10% or 15% according to the article). Given where I expect oil and eventually natural gas prices to go the only other long term feasible option for heating in really cold areas is ground sink heat pumps. Electric power costs won't rise as much as first oil and later natural gas. So heat pump heating costs will stay low compared to oil and natural gas. But since the migration away from heating oil in the US is over two thirds complete I do not expect the coming rise in oil prices to provide a major impetus for PassivHaus.

The article neglected to mention one advantage of PassivHaus design: in the face of the spread of the Asian stink bug the extreme sealing characteristic of PassivHaus will keep out the bug invasion.

Mr. Jacobs, the urban entomologist, said the response to stink bugs so far is not an overreaction. “I’m standing here in my living room watching some of them crawl up my walls,” he said. “The best thing to do is make your house as tight as possible. Use masking tape to seal around sliding glass doors, air-conditioners.”

PassivHaus will protect you from foreign insects from other continents.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 28 08:31 PM  Energy Heating
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Multiverse Means Universe Ends In 5 Billion Years?

The clock is ticking. We've got just 5 billion years to figure out out to break out of this pocket in the multiverse into a universe with more time left to run. The last restaurant at the end of the universe will be sitting its final guests just billion years hence. That restaurant should be located at the multiverse space port for a last meal before we escape.

"We could run into the end of time," Ben Freivogel tells a seminar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Several colleagues seem nonplussed, and one Nobel laureate looks downright exasperated. "I'm aware that this sounds like a crazy conclusion," Freivogel admits, generating a round of what sounds like relieved laughter. But perhaps their relief is short-lived.

If there is an infinite number of universes in the multiverse then doesn't this mean that a universe identical to this one has already come into existence and winked out again? Didn't Kara Thrace say something to that affect too? In how many universes did she say it? Maybe there's a universe where she said it for real too.

Of course, if identical universe recur then similar universes probably recur as well. In a trip to some similar universe what do you most want to find is different?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 28 05:05 PM  Space Multiverse
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2010 September 27 Monday
Milk Increases Weight Loss?

Got milk? Or got excess fat?

Now there's a new reason to grab a glass of milk when you're on diet, suggests a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In a 2-year weight loss study, milk drinkers had an advantage over those who skipped the milk. Israeli researchers found that adults who drank the most milk (nearly 2 glasses per day) and had the highest vitamin D levels at 6 months, lost more weight after 2 years than those who had little or no milk or milk products -- nearly 12 pounds weight loss, on average.

Researchers also found that each additional 6-ounce serving of milk or milk products (about 3/4 of a glass of milk) was associated with 10 pounds successful weight loss above the average, at 6 months.

If the effect here is real then why? Do calcium and/or vitamin D suppress appetite? Or some other combination of nutrients in milk perhaps? This reminds me of Stephan Guyenet's post on a report about a multivitamin supplement that supposedly caused weight loss in obese people. If obesity is a result of a metabolism going very awry then could nutrient deficiencies be a contributing factor?

Another idea: displacement. Maybe the milk fats displace from the diet omega 6 fatty acids which cause obesity. Or maybe the milk fats cancel out some metabolic effects of omega 6s?

Could it be that corn fed to a cow to make milk is healthier for us than corn oil consumed directly? Yes, I know, it is heretical to think the last few decades of mainstream dietary advice is mostly wrong. I'm a heretic in so many ways. Why not add on another one?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 27 09:00 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
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2010 September 26 Sunday
Estrogen Spikes During Ovulation Reduce Learning

Higher estrogen during ovulation reduces the ability of female rodents to pay attention.

Montreal September 24, 2010 – Feeling a little sluggish and having trouble concentrating? Hormones might be to blame according to new research from Concordia University published in the journal Brain and Cognition. The study shows that high estrogen levels are associated with an inability to pay attention and learn – the first such paper to report how this impediment can be due to a direct effect of the hormone on mature brain structures.

"Although estrogen is known to play a significant role in learning and memory, there has been no clear consensus on its effect," says senior author Wayne Brake, an associate professor at Concordia's Center for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology. "Our findings, using a well-established model of learning called latent inhibition, shows conclusively that high estrogen levels inhibit the cognitive ability in female rodents."

Since something similar happens with human females the researchers are happy that they've established a rodent model to use to study estrogen's effects on the brain.

Human females have high estrogen levels while they are ovulating. These high levels have also been shown to interfere with women's ability to pay attention.

Since very few ovulations result in pregnancy and most of the time women do not want to become pregnant while ovulating the interference in learning ability caused by estrogen imposes a big cost with perhaps no benefit most of the time. A method to either block the estrogen surge or block its cognitive effects would raise the mental performance of millions of ovulating women.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 26 11:48 AM  Brain Sex Differences
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2010 September 24 Friday
Americans Eat Small Amounts Of Vegetables

Decades of exhortations to eat more vegetables have fallen on deaf ears according to this CDC report.

This report describes the results of that analysis, which indicated that, in 2009, an estimated 32.5% of adults consumed fruit two or more times per day and 26.3% consumed vegetables three or more times per day, far short of the national targets. Overall, the proportion of adults who met the fruit target declined slightly, but significantly, from 34.4% in 2000 to 32.5% in 2009; no significant change was observed in meeting the vegetable target.

People do not like vegetables and vegetables are inconvenient. Exhortations about eating better will not change this for the vast majority.

My modest proposal for solving this problem: hide vegetables inside of other foods. Imagine french fries that have some vegetable ground up into them. The vegetables could form the core inside the fry so as to keep the outside appearance unchanged. Or the vegetable could be mixed in with the fry but then a batter layer could be added to the outside of the fry. Could this be done in a way that is sellable at McDonald's? Or perhaps at a slightly more upscale fast food joint? Parenthetically, is there a good fast food hamburger? I haven't found it yet if it exists. One big problem: cheap buns. Hate em.

Meat can be used to boost consumption of berries and cherries. Cherries mixed in to ground beef even reduces carcinogen formation during cooking. So double bonus points. Stews are another way to use meat to deliver healthy foods.

Oklahomans are really bad about eating vegetables.

In 2009, an estimated 32.5% of U.S. adults consumed fruit two or more times per day (Table 1), with the highest percentage in DC (40.2%) and the lowest in Oklahoma (18.1%). The percentage of adults who consumed vegetables three or more times per day was 26.3%, with the highest percentage in Tennessee (33.0%) and the lowest in South Dakota (19.6%). Thus, no state met either of the Healthy People 2010 targets related to fruit and vegetable consumption among adults. Twelve states and DC had 35%--45% of adults who consumed fruit two or more times per day, compared with no states that had 35%--45% of adults who consumed vegetables three or more times per day (Figure).

The New York Times puts a human face on this report with New Yorkers who are embarrassed to admit how little they eat in the way of vegetables.

No one really wants to admit that they don’t eat vegetables. A nurse who works at the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side openly acknowledges that vegetables make her gag. Still, she begged to not be publicly identified because she is in the health care field and knows that she should set a better example.

David Bernstein, who lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is sheepish about the lack of vegetables in his diet. He waits tables at the hip M. Wells restaurant in Long Island City, Queens, and knows his way around the Union Square Greenmarket. But his diet consists largely of bacon, yogurt and frozen stuffed chicken breasts.

Embarrassed? Want a diet you can enjoy eating and still feel good about it? Some people have switched to advocating the Paleo Diet (and this has become a lifestyle) so they can make a virtue of their meat eating (plus, the Paleo Diet even makes sense). Stephan Guyenet covers that territory pretty well. See, for example his post on saturated fat, glycemic index, and insulin sensitivity. Also, his two part piece on coconut oil. After reading those posts read his brief take on dissolving away your bones with corn oil and corn oil and other high omega 6 fat sources as causes of cancer. Parenthetically, I see this as strengthening my argument for genetically engineering plant crops to boost omega 3 content. The very same genetic engineering will cause omega 3 to displace omega 6 in the oil as corn and other crops make omega 3 instead of omega 6. Bonus points.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 24 07:29 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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Oil Demand Shifting To Less Price Sensitive Markets

A February 2010 paper by by Joyce M. Dargay (Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds) and Dermot Gately (Dept. of Economics, NYU) makes its argument in its title: World oil demand’s shift toward faster growing and less price-responsive products and regions

Two liters a day – that’s what per-capita world oil demand has been for forty years. Yet this constancy conceals dramatic changes. While per-capita demand in the OECD and the FSU have been reduced – primarily due to fuel-switching away from oil in electricity generation and space heating, and by economic collapse in the FSU – per-capita oil demand in the rest of the world has nearly tripled, to more than 1 liter/day. In addition, the rest of the world’s population has grown much faster than in the OECD and FSU (1.85% v. 0.74% annually). As a result, the rest of the world’s total oil consumption has grown seven times faster (4.4% annually, versus 0.6% in the OECD and FSU) – increasing from 14% of the world total in 1971, to 39% today. Strangely, however, recent projections by DOE, IEA, and OPEC project a sharp deceleration of per-capita oil demand growth through 2030 in the rest of the world – from 2.54% annually since 1971 to 0.6% annually (DOE) or 1% annually (IEA, OPEC).

As someone who thinks Peak Oil is close I obviously do not expect world oil consumption to rise anywhere near as much as these researchers project demand will rise. Rather, due to geological limitations I expect production at best will rise very slowly and then plateau. After that comes world oil production decline. Therefore this rising demand will push up prices and those high prices will destroy demand elsewhere and I agree with them that demand is shifting toward less price-responsive customers.

The marginal utility of another barrel of oil is far higher when the oil is sold to a large number of scooter drivers in India or across a large number of small car drivers in China who are experiencing rising living standards (contrasted with the median income decline in the United States). So it seems inevitable that oil consumption will decline in the West faster than it does in the most rapidly developing markets in Asia.

The big rise in gasoline prices in 2007 and 2008 started a decline in vehicle miles driven in the United States that went even deeper as the recession started to bite. The result was the biggest decline in vehicle miles driven in at least 25 years. The current rate of vehicle miles driven is about equal to what it was 5 years ago - in spite of about 5% population growth since then.

A good overview of the shift in demand can be seen in Rembrandt Koppelaar's August 2010 Oil Watch Monthly (PDF). It has useful charts of world, regional, and national rates of oil consumption starting on page 8. The OECD oil consumption chart 20 on page 8 shows the Western countries and Japan on a downhill trend in their oil consumption while chart 23 on page 9 shows US oil consumption down as well. By contrast, the oil consumption charts for India and China on page 13 show their growing demand which is effectively displacing a portion of Western demand. The relatively high oil prices of today are made possible rising demand in India, China, and the oil exporting countries. They can afford to grow their consumption in the face of rising prices.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 24 07:29 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations
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2010 September 23 Thursday
Easier Way To Do Perceptual Learning

Learning musical pitch discrimination can be done with half the effort.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Scientists long have recognized that many perceptual skills important for language comprehension and reading can be enhanced through practice. Now research from Northwestern University suggests a new way of training that could reduce by at least half the effort previously thought necessary to make learning gains.

The research also may be the first behavioral demonstration of metaplasticity -- the idea that experiences that on their own do not generate learning can influence how effective later experiences are at generating learning.

"Prior to our work much of the research into perceptual learning could be summed up as 'no pain, no gain,'" says Beverly Wright, first author of a study in the Sept. 22 Journal of Neuroscience and communication sciences and disorders professor at Northwestern. "Our work suggests that you can have the same gain in learning with substantially less pain."

20 minutes of training followed by 20 minutes of listening to a musical tone was just as effective as 40 minutes of training. Click thru and read the details.

But the Northwestern researchers found that robust learning occurred when they combined periods of practice that alone were too brief to cause learning with periods of mere exposure to perceptual stimuli. "To our surprise, we found that two 'wrongs' actually can make a right when it comes to perceptual learning," says Wright.

What's more, they found that the combination led to perceptual learning gains that were equal to the learning gains made by participants who performed twice as much continuous task training (training which by nature of its repetition and length often is onerous).

The whole area of optimal training time, optimal exposure time, and intervals between quizzes to help consolidate learning holds out the potential for faster learning with less effort to form longer lasting memories and skills.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 23 10:14 PM  Brain Memory
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China Top Fish Consumer

Expect more fisheries depletion.

WASHINGTON—China leads the world in tonnage of fish caught annually as well as the amount of fish consumed, according to new findings reported in National Geographic magazine.

It is troubling that even at current still fairly low per capita GDP ($6,567 per capita GDP in purchasing power parity in 2009) China already consumes more fish than any other country. Consider that at current GDP 98 countries (even Namibia!) have higher per capita GDP. Imagine what China's fish demand will be at double and eventually triple and quadruple its current per capita GDP. The ocean's fisheries already are harvested at an unsustainable level.

Japan is number 2 and the US is number 3. Enough Asian nations are industrializing that current Japanese and US fish consumption levels from wild catch are not sustainable.

The research, conducted by the University of British Columbia in collaboration with the National Geographic Society and The Pew Charitable Trusts, ranks the top 20 nations that have the greatest impact on ocean ecosystems through catching or consuming marine wildlife.

China's top ranking results from its enormous population, despite its very low per capita footprint of fish catch and consumption. Japan is high on the list too, a result of its rate of consumption (often by importation) of fish rather than its catch. The "top 20" lists of fish catch and consumption are unveiled in the October issue of National Geographic magazine.

The United States comes in third in both lists, due to its relatively large population and tendency to eat top predator fish such as Atlantic salmon. Peru ranks second in the world in catch though is not in the top 20 fish-consuming countries because Peruvians on the whole eat little seafood.

One might argue that the growth in fish consumption will come from aquaculture. Sure. But overfishing of fisheries will increase even as fish farming doubles and doubles again. Fishing fleets are already more than double sustainable size.

Humanity's demand for seafood has now driven fishing fleets into every virgin fishing ground in the world, the scientists say. A report by the World Bank and United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that even if the number of boats, hooks and nets now used were cut by half, the world would still end up catching too many fish to be sustainable for the future.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 23 09:39 PM  Trends Resource Depletion
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How Omega 3 Fatty Acids Reduce Inflammation

If you feel more motivated to improve your diet when you read research explaining mechanisms of how nutrients help your body function better then read on. The omega 3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) reduce inflammation by binding macrophage (immune cell) GPR120 receptors and, by doing so, reduce inflammation.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have identified the molecular mechanism that makes omega-3 fatty acids so effective in reducing chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.

The discovery could lead to development of a simple dietary remedy for many of the more than 23 million Americans suffering from diabetes and other conditions.

Reduced inflammation and enhanced insulin sensitivity.

The scientists conducted their research using cell cultures and mice, some of the latter genetically modified to lack the GPR120 receptor. All of the mice were fed a high-fat diet with or without omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. The supplementation treatment inhibited inflammation and enhanced insulin sensitivity in ordinary obese mice, but had no effect in GPR120 knockout mice. A chemical agonist of omega-3 fatty acids produced similar results.

Given that the oceans are overfished already and yet EPA and DHA are good for our health what we need is genetic engineering of grain crops (e.g. soy and corn) to produce EPA and DHA. Then the grains could be fed to farmed salmon.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 23 08:44 PM  Aging Diet Metabolism
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2010 September 22 Wednesday
Climate Engineering Delivers Uneven Costs And Benefits

Your position on climate engineering might be driven by how it will change rains and temperatures where you live.

Reflecting sunlight from the Earth by geoengineering would undoubtedly cool the climate, but would different countries agree on how much to reflect? Research by climate scientists at the University of Bristol shows that the impact of geoengineering would be felt in very different ways across the world.

Previous studies of geoengineering approaches, aimed at averting dangerous climate change, have shown that although the average global temperature could be restored to 'normal' levels, some regions would remain too warm, whereas others would 'overshoot' and cool to much. In addition, average rainfall would be reduced.

People in coastal and low land regions are most likely to look at human-caused global warming from the vantage point of ice melts and ocean level rises. They've got more to lose from rising ocean levels than they have to lose or gain from changes in local temperatures or rains. But in other areas impacts on crops or on average comfort will weigh more heavily.

Doing engineering to climate to cool the planet introduces other effects on precipitation and the temperature changes are not uniform.

Their analysis revealed that with increasing geoengineering strength, most regions become drier while others buck the trend and become increasingly wet. For example, the USA became drier with increasing geoengineering, and returned to normal conditions under half-strength geoengineering, whereas Australia became wetter, returning to normal conditions only for full strength geoengineering

Even within a single country there's no consistent net benefit or cost to climate engineering. If your daily experience is the weather of Fairbanks Alaska then warming will likely deliver a big net benefit. But Phoenix Arizona is already hot enough without any additional warming.

In a very wet region a decrease in rain intensity might be welcome. But in US Western states or Australia more rain would deliver a net benefit given already limited water supplies. Cooling would also enable more snow pack to survive into summer to supply more water for crops in dry months.

I expect climate engineering will be done eventually. But it will be highly divisive among nations because it will create winners and losers within and between nations.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 22 10:19 PM  Climate Engineering
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IVF Kids Smarter Than Comparable Peers?

Babies born from in vitro fertilization (IVF) appear to be smarter than their peers in one study done in Iowa.

Children conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) perform at least as well as their peers on academic tests at all ages from grade 3 to 12, according to a new University of Iowa study.

I would expect IVF users to be more educated and affluent than non-users of IVF on average. IVF costs thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Also, IVF is used more by older parents. Well, education delays reproduction and increases the odds that IVF will be needed. So smarter people are more likely to need IVF to start pregnancies. One would expect their kids to be smarter on average - at least if IVF isn't lowering their intelligence enough to counteract the beneficial effects of smarter parents disproportionally using IVF.

It is not clear whether these researchers tried to adjust for parental educational attainment or income. Doesn't sound like it.

In fact, the study, published in the October issue of the journal Human Reproduction, found that children who were conceived by IVF actually scored better than age- and gender-matched peers on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Iowa Test for Educational Development (ITBS/ED).

"Our findings are reassuring for clinicians and patients as they suggest that being conceived through IVF does not have any detrimental effects on a child's intelligence or cognitive development," said lead study author Bradley Van Voorhis, M.D., UI professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care at UI Hospitals and Clinics.

To investigate whether being conceived by IVF had long-term negative effects on children's cognitive development, Van Voorhis and colleagues compared the academic performance of 423 Iowa children, ages 8 to 17, who were conceived by IVF at UI Hospitals and Clinics with the performance of 372 age- and gender-matched peers from the same Iowa schools. The researchers also analyzed whether different characteristics of the children, parents or IVF methods affected children's test scores.

The IVF kids performed better than the chosen peers.

The study found that children born by IVF performed above average on standardized tests compared to their peers, and that a number of factors were linked to higher test scores, including older age of the mother, higher education levels of both parents and lower levels of divorce.

With Robert Plomin's recent progress in his search for IQ genes we are getting closer to the day when IVF embryo selection will be done to boost intelligence of offspring. Once IVF with embryo selection guided by genetic tests becomes a useful way to boost average offspring intelligence I expect we will see a huge shift toward use of IVF to start pregnancies. Even millions of women who have no problem conceiving naturally will opt for IVF in order to get offspring who are smarter, better looking, and healthier all around.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 22 10:05 PM  Biotech Reproduction
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2010 September 21 Tuesday
100X Solar Energy Concentrator With Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes can concentrate solar energy from a larger area onto photovoltaic cells in a smaller area.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Using carbon nanotubes (hollow tubes of carbon atoms), MIT chemical engineers have found a way to concentrate solar energy 100 times more than a regular photovoltaic cell. Such nanotubes could form antennas that capture and focus light energy, potentially allowing much smaller and more powerful solar arrays.

"Instead of having your whole roof be a photovoltaic cell, you could have little spots that were tiny photovoltaic cells, with antennas that would drive photons into them," says Michael Strano, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and leader of the research team.

The idea with solar concentrators is to come up with concentrators that cost much less per area covered than photovoltaic (PV) cells would cost for that same area. Then use much higher efficiency PV cells to focus the light onto. The higher efficiency cells cost more per area but cost less overall of they can cover a very small area but get solar power from a larger area.

Since so many ways to lower solar power exist I expect its costs to keep on falling. In the long run solar power will become very cheap. So electric power during the day in the summer will become cheaper than electric power the rest of the time.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 21 10:48 PM  Energy Solar
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Oxytocin Helps Only Socially Less Proficient

If you are already socially competent oxytocin isn't going to raise the level of your game.

Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found that the naturally-occurring hormone oxytocin selectively improves social cognitive abilities for less socially proficient individuals, but has little effect on those who are more socially proficient. The study was published today in Psychological Science.

Researchers at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University wanted to determine if oxytocin, popularly dubbed the "hormone of love," could have widespread benefit in making us more understanding of others. They conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over challenge, giving 27 healthy adult men oxytocin or a placebo delivered nasally. Participants then performed an empathic accuracy task in which they watched videos of people discussing emotional events from their life and rated how they thought the people in the videos were feeling.

That oxytocin can even improve the social skills of those with some degree of autism (and there's a spectrum of autism from quite mild to quite severe) is itself a curious result. If autism was caused only by a lack of some capability (e.g. missing or smaller neural networks for making sense of emotions of others) then one might expect a hormone couldn't help with that. Does oxytocin work by boosting the activity of of existing neural networks? Or by suppressing neural networks that themselves suppress yet other parts of the brain that do social calculating? In other words, does oxytocin free up some latent capabilities to enable to come online?

Improved empathic accuracy.

Although all participants were healthy adults who did not have autism, the researchers looked at whether differences in social cognitive expertise affected response to oxytocin. Social competency was measured using the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), a common self-report instrument that predicts social cognitive performance. Researchers hypothesized that oxytocin and AQ would interact to predict social cognitive performance. Results showed that oxytocin improved empathic accuracy, but only in those individuals who were less socially proficient.

"Oxytocin is widely believed to make all people more empathic and understanding of others," said Jennifer Bartz, PhD, Assistant Professor, Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and lead author of the study. "Our study contradicts that. Instead, oxytocin appears to be helpful only for those who are less socially proficient."

Kids should probably be given AQ tests along with IQ tests so that their nature is less mysterious to them. Let them know where they stand and what their weaknesses are. That'll put them in a better position to make career choices and work on methods to compensate for their weaknesses while figuring out how to better leverage their strengths.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 21 10:22 PM  Brain Performance
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Cell Phone Conversations Lower Brain Performance

A “halfalogue” is much worse than a dialogue. People who want to use cell phones to talk need the equivalent of a smoker's area. Far better that they do texting or emailing.

“Yeah, I’m on my way home.” “That’s funny.” “Uh-huh.” “What? No! I thought you were – ” “Oh, ok.” Listening to someone talk on a cell phone is very annoying. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds out why: Hearing just one side of a conversation is much more distracting than hearing both sides and reduces our attention in other tasks. 

Lauren Emberson, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, came up with the idea for the study when she was taking the bus as an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “I was commuting for 45 minutes by bus every day and I really felt like I couldn’t do anything else when someone was on a cell phone,” she says. “I couldn’t read. I couldn’t even listen to my music. I was just so distracted, and I started to wonder about why that could be.” 

I always watch for research on how cell phone one-side conversations distract people around a cell phone talker because I find it so true. Hearing one side of a conversation is very distracting, far more so than hearing the whole conversation.

For the experiment, Emberson recorded two pairs of female college roommates as they had a cell phone conversation. She recorded each conversation both as a dialogue, in which both women could be heard by a listener, and as a “halfalogue” in which only one side of the conversation could be heard, the same as overhearing a cell-phone conversation. She also recorded each woman recapping the conversation in a monologue. Then she played the recordings at volunteers as they did various tasks on the computer that require attention, such as tracking a moving dot using a computer mouse. 

The unpredictability of hearing only one side of a conversation taxes mental resources more heavily and makes it harder to filter out the conversation.

Sure enough, volunteers were much worse at the concentration tasks when they could only hear half of the conversation. Emberson thinks this is because our brains more or less ignore predictable things, while paying more attention to things that are unpredictable. When both sides of the conversation are audible, it flows predictably, but a cell phone conversation is quite unpredictable. Emberson conducted the study with Gary Lupyan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michael Goldstein of Cornell University, and Michael Spivey of the University of California-Merced.

So look, people carrying on cell phone conversations on buses, in airplanes before take-off and after landing (oh I hate that - better to just message), and in restaurants are stressing the brains of the people around them, ruining their peace of mind, cutting back on their already limited amount of time needed for mental rest and rejuvenation. Worse yet are the people who do not turn off their cell phones in theaters and at classical music concerts and operas.

Another pet peeve: Locking A Car With A Short Horn Blast Is Rude And Obnoxious.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 21 08:40 PM  Comm Tech Society
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2010 September 20 Monday
Low Stress Men More Attractive To Women

The ladies find more stressed guys less attractive.

Men with low stress levels are significantly more attractive to women than highly stressed rivals, according to new research conducted at the University of Abertay Dundee.

Dr Fhionna Moore, a Psychology Lecturer at Abertay University, led a research team investigating links between hormones and attractiveness. By analysing hormone levels in young men and developing ‘composite’ images of typical faces, they could judge how attractive a group of women found facial cues to different hormone levels.

The study – which is published (Wednesday 15 September) in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal – found a strong link between low levels of the stress hormone cortisol in men and how attractive they were to women. It also found no clear link between attractiveness and high levels of the sex hormone testosterone, as has been previously claimed.

Since low cortisol is also good for your long term health Swedish massage and chocolate can help you live longer and have a better love life. Can I trouble a reader to find out whether beer drinking also lowers cortisol? That'd be ideal.

When women are most fertile they find low stress levels more attractive. This has an obvious evolutionary explanation:

The study also showed that female attraction to men with low stress levels was at its highest during the fertile phase of the female menstrual cycle.

She added: “We believe that the link between low stress levels and high attractiveness to women is because an ability to handle stressful situations suggests a strong genetic make-up, the future suitability of a partner, and their ability to pass on ‘good genes’ to their children.

Similar cortisol and testosterone levels predicted greater attractiveness.

“Interestingly, our research also showed increased attractiveness for men with consistent hormone levels. So low cortisol and low testosterone, or high cortisol and high testosterone, were both found to be more attractive than one level being high and the other low.”

The high testosterone, high cortisol result is interesting. Such men probably burn brighter but burn out sooner.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 20 10:48 PM  Brain Sexuality
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Neural Networks For Emotional Robots

I refuse to get emotionally sucked into feeling for a robot pet driven by neural network software.

Designers of robot pets are fighting a never-ending battle with consumers to provide entertaining and realistic gadgets that respond to human interaction in ever more nuanced ways, mimicking the behavior of real pet animals or even people. Researchers in Taiwan are now looking at a new design paradigm that could see the development of a robot vision module that might one-day recognize human facial expressions and respond appropriately.

Part of the problem is that robot design takes a long time, while the consumer life cycle of any given product is very short. Moreover, fixed prototypes and repetitive behavior in domestic robots for entertainment is no longer of interest to sophisticated users. Today, they expect their robot pets to be almost as good as the "robots" they see in 3D movies and games.

The researchers, Wei-Po Lee, Tsung-Hsien Yang and Bingchiang Jeng of National Sun Yat-sen University, have now turned to neural networks to help them break the cycle of repetitive behavior in robot toys and to endow them with almost emotional responses to interactions.

The idea of emotional robots seems as pathetic to me as the idea of Japanese men taking virtual robots on vacation. If your abode is too small for a dog at least consider a cat. Or a talking parrot like Alex.

On the bright side, a market for emotional robots will help drive the development of smarter machines so that machine intelligence can become smart enough to some day start a world war between humans and terminators. That war will relieve the ennui of those who are not killed before they get a chance to become underground heroic guerrilla fighters. Most people who need an emotional robot probably stand a chance of feeling more fulfilled by their role in a human-terminator war.

What would be more interesting than emotional robots: dogs genetically engineered for higher intelligence.

What would be far more useful that emotional robots: artificial intelligence that could accelerate the development of rejuvenation therapies.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 20 10:30 PM  Robots Pets
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Adenovirus Infection Causes Obesity?

Could a vaccine against adenovirus 36 reduce the rate of obesity in future generations?

Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, MD,  associate professor of clinical pediatrics at UC San Diego, and colleagues examined 124 children, ages 8 to 18, for the presence of antibodies specific to adenovirus 36 (AD36), one of more than 50 strains of adenovirus known to infect humans and cause a variety of respiratory, gastrointestinal and other infections. AD36 is the only human adenovirus currently linked to human obesity.

Slightly more than half of the children in the study (67) were considered obese, based on a Body Mass Index or BMI in the 95th percentile or greater. The researchers detected neutralizing antibodies specific to AD36 in 19 of the children (15 percent). The majority of these AD36-positive children (78 percent) were obese, with AD36 antibodies much more frequent in obese children (15 of 67) than in non-obese children (4 of 57).

Children who were AD36-positive weighed almost 50 pounds more, on average, than children who were AD36-negative. Within the group of obese children, those with evidence of AD36 infection weighed an average of 35 pounds more than obese children who were AD36-negative.

So then does the virus integrate into host cell genomes of cells in fat layers and send out signals to replicate? If so, the virus would have to do this to many cells through out the body with lasting results in a great many cells. Otherwise the obesity would feature a very uneven distribution of fat. Do the obese kids with AD36 antibodies have fat distribution similar to that of obese kids who lack AD36 antibodies?

The virus might cause progenitors to fat cells to replicate more rapidly.

In cell cultures, Schwimmer said, the virus infects pre-adipocytes or immature fat cells, prompting them to develop more quickly and proliferate in greater numbers than normal. “This might be the mechanism for obesity,” Schwimmer said, “but more work needs to be done.”

Cells that replicate totally out of control are popularly known as cancer. Viruses cause some forms of cancer. So it seems at least plausible that a virus could cause a more limited proliferation of fat cells. Some obese people might need a treatment roughly equivalent to anti-cancer therapies - though preferably an anti-cancer therapy of the future that does not cause large scale damage and death of normal cells.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 20 08:11 PM  Brain Appetite
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2010 September 19 Sunday
Direct Genetic Testing Companies Face Regulation

In a Hastings Center special issue on personalized medicine Ronni Sandroff, editorial director of Health and Family at Consumer Reports, has an article Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests and the Right to Know: Genetic testing can be too much information, but that doesn’t mean it should be kept from consumers. (requires free registration)

Pathway Genomics Corporation and Walgreens announced in May that they would offer genetic testing collection kits at the drug chain. The Food and Drug Administration took notice. In a May 10th letter, the agency notified Pathway Genomics that its product, “intended to report customary and personal genetic health disposition results for more than 70 health conditions . . . Appears to meet the definition of a device as regulated under the Federal Food and Drug and Cosmetic Act,” thus requiring FDA approval. The company has delayed plans to market the product. A similar letter was sent to five other direct-to-consumer testing companies in June.

I think the FDA should step out of the way. We really do have a right to know our full DNA sequence or any subset thereof.

As for interpreting the results: If the FDA gets into the job of deciding which genetic variants have known effects on every disease, ability, function, and appearance of humans then the FDA will be biting off far more than it can handle. The FDA's decisions will tend to be very slow in coming with interpretations coming many years later than would otherwise be the case. As long as the companies providing test results do not cause harm by causing customers to make decisions that harm their health I do not think the direct-to-consumer testing companies should face much in the way of government regulation.

Current genetic tests do not yield definitive results on many of the conditions for which they try to assess risks. But as the meaning of more genetic markers become known ambiguous and contradictory interpretations will become less common.

Most telling, on July 22, the Government Accountability Office released a study in which it sent identical DNA samples to four genetic testing firms to test for fifteen common diseases and conditions. Contradictory results abounded. For example, various companies told a forty-eight-year-old male that he had average, below-average, or above-average risk for prostate cancer. These contradictions can be explained, in part, by the fact that companies analyzed different genetic “markers,” and that scientists disagree about what these mean in real-life situations.

As long as the companies state when each marker by itself does not predict 100% odds of getting some disease people should be able to receive interpretations of their test results from the test vendors.

I see a lot riding on the ability of companies to offer direct-to-consumer genetic tests and other forms of biological testing. We will have much faster product development and innovation if people can directly request tests and get test results. A faster rate of test development with less government regulation will accelerate the rate of biotechnological advance. A faster rate of advance will save lives in the long run.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 19 09:43 PM  Policy Medical
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Brain Area Key For Introspection

If you do a lot of introspecting you probably have a big anterior prefrontal cortex behind your eyes.

A specific region of the brain appears to be larger in individuals who are good at turning their thoughts inward and reflecting upon their decisions, according to new research published in the journal Science. This act of introspection—or "thinking about your thinking"—is a key aspect of human consciousness, though scientists have noted plenty of variation in peoples' abilities to introspect.

The new study will be published in the 17 September issue of the journal Science. Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

In light of their findings, this team of researchers, led by Prof. Geraint Rees from University College London, suggests that the volume of gray matter in the anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain, which lies right behind our eyes, is a strong indicator of a person's introspective ability. Furthermore, they say the structure of white matter connected to this area is also linked to this process of introspection.

The researchers claim to have measured introspection by asking study participants to express a probability of whether they were right for problems they had to solve. Click thru to read the details. I'm not sure their method of measuring introspection ability is a good measure of that ability.

What I'd like to know: How strong is the correlation between anterior prefrontal cortex size and IQ? Do there exist many high-IQ people who have low capacity for introspection? Are these people marked by a greater tendency to express certainty? Would the introspection ability measured by these researchers correlate with certainty that people express about their past decisions or about their positions on political questions?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 19 09:39 AM  Brain Personality
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2010 September 18 Saturday
Old Age Memory Losses All On Road To Dementia

If you are losing memory as you age the process causing that is likely the same process that causes dementia and Alzheimer's disease - just not as far along.

Simply getting older is not the cause of mild memory lapses often called senior moments, according to a new study by researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center.  The study, published in the September 15, 2010, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that even the very early mild changes in memory that are much more common in old age than dementia are caused by the same brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

“The very early mild cognitive changes once thought to be normal aging are really the first signs of progressive dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s disease.” said Robert S.Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center. “The pathology in the brain related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias has a much greater impact on memory function in old age than we previously recognized.”

Brain aging is my most disliked form of aging. Your brain is who you are. I do not want to lose my own identity, not even part of it, before death. Brain decay is like living daily partial death.

Nuns, priests, and brothers had their cognitive function tracked and then their brains were autopsied.

The study involved over 350 nuns, priests and brothers who participated in Rush’s Religious Orders Study and completed up to 13 years of annual cognitive testing. After death, the brains were examined for the lesions associated with dementia: neurofibrillary tangles, cerebral infarction (stroke), and Lewy bodies.

These results suggest that anything that decreases your odds of dementia or Alzheimer's will also slow and delay brain aging.

The brain changes that caused mild decline in cognitive function were the same in kind but not extent as compared to more advanced mental decay.

Researchers looked at the rate of change in cognitive function over time. The last four to five years of life showed a very rapid decline. The preceding years showed a much more gradual decline that would be described as normal aging.

As expected, pathologic lesions were related to the rapid decline, but researchers were somewhat surprised to find the pathology was very strongly predictive of the mild changes in cognitive function.

Higher tangle density adversely affected all forms of cognition at all trajectory points. Both Lewy bodies and stroke approximately doubled the rate of gradual memory decline, and almost no gradual decline was seen in the absence of lesions.

If you live a long time you can not avoid the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer's patients. By age 90 virtually everyone still alive has these tangles and plaques in their brains. We need ways to prevent and reverse their formation.

Want to reduce your odds of memory loss with age? Read my Aging Diet Brain Studies category archive and check out which dietary changes you can make to improve your odds.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 18 12:58 PM  Aging Brain Studies
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Higher Altitute Increases Suicide Risk?

Move downhill if you are thinking of offing yourself.

SALT LAKE CITY—The Intermountain West is renowned for the beauty of its towering mountains and high deserts, but according to new research from an investigator with the University of Utah Brain Institute the region's lofty altitudes significantly influence a deadly problem: the high prevalence of suicides in this part of the country.

In the Sept. 15, 2010, online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, Perry F. Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, professor of psychiatry at the U School of Medicine and an investigator with Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, and colleagues report that the risk for suicide increases by nearly one-third at an altitude of 2,000 meters, or approximately 6,500 feet above sea level.

In the United States the Western states have the highest suicide rates. What's with Alaska? Vitamin D deficiency? Or just the bitter cold?

In 2006, the latest year for which national data was available, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon accounted for nine of the 10 highest suicide rates in the country. Alaska also was in the top 10 in suicide rates.

The researchers analyzed data at the level of individual counties to reach their conclusion.

After analyzing data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database with information on 3,108 counties in the lower 48 states and District of Columbia, Renshaw and his colleagues from the University of Utah Brain Institute, Veteran Affairs Salt Lake City Health System, and Case Western Reserve University concluded that altitude is an independent risk factor for suicide, and that "this association may have arisen from the effects of metabolic stress associated with mild hypoxia (inadequate oxygen intake)" in people with mood disorders. In other words, people with problems such as depression might be at greater risk for suicide if they live at higher altitudes.

What I want to know: Does high altitude living also correlate with earlier onset of dementia or Alzheimer's Disease? Mild hypoxia has got to be bad for you.

What I also want to know: Does the link between altitude and suicide risk become greater with age as lung capacity declines? More hypoxia in old age and hence more suicide?

The pattern holds for South Korea as well.

To verify the study conclusions, Namkug Kim, Ph.D., the study's first author and a former post-doctoral fellow under Renshaw, conducted a similar data study in South Korea and found that the suicide rate in areas at 2,000 meters increased by 125 percent in that country.

The pattern might break down for Tibetans and other populations that are genetically adapted to high altitude living.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 18 09:27 AM  Brain Depression
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2010 September 16 Thursday
Alzheimer's Drug Improves Perceptual Learning

Will college students (or maybe tennis players training to track balls) start taking their senile grandparents to multiple doctors to get multiple copies of the same Alzheimer's drug prescription?

Berkeley — Research on a drug commonly prescribed to Alzheimer's disease patients is helping neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, better understand perceptual learning in healthy adults.

In a new study, to be published online Thursday, Sept. 16, in the journal Current Biology, researchers from UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and School of Optometry found that study participants showed significantly greater benefits from practice on a task that involved discriminating directions of motion after they took donepezil, sold under the brand name Aricept, compared with a placebo.

The study examined the effects of detecting whether successive moving dots were moving in the same direction. The results prove nothing about the utility of taking this drug to study science, law, or history. The researchers want to study the effects of this drug on other forms of learning.

Will the development of new drugs for Alzheimer's, dementia, and other neurological disorders also produce more drugs that boost intellectual ability? Seems likely.

The study was double blind.

Neither the researchers nor the participants knew whether they were taking the placebo or donepezil, a cholinesterase inhibitor that enhances the effects of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain. Cholinesterase inhibitors act by blocking an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is known to play an important role in mediating visual attention and, in animal studies, has been found to promote changes in the brain that are associated with learning.

Have you used drugs to enhance your ability to learn? If so, which drugs and which ones helped? Still using drugs to either enhance learning or to enhance performance of tasks you already know how to do? Anything work better than caffeine?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 16 06:38 PM  Brain Enhancement
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2010 September 15 Wednesday
Massage Lowers Stress Marker Cortisol

Hey, trying to stay healthy involves all sorts of sacrifices like eating dark chocolate. I realize some of you feel burdened every time you read about yet another thing you should do to improve your health. One more obligation, yet another chore. Staying healthy is hard work. I can't offer you relief because here's another one: You've got to get regular massages to lower stress.

LOS ANGELES – Sept. 7, 2010 – Researchers in Cedars-Sinai's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences have reported people who undergo massage experience measureable changes in their body's immune and endocrine response.

Although there have been previous, smaller studies about the health benefits of massage, the Cedars-Sinai study is widely believed to be the first systematic study of a larger group of healthy adults.

No shirking your responsibility. Buck it up. The arguments for Swedish massage are just too compelling to ignore:

Among the study's results:

  • People in the Swedish massage group experienced significant changes in lymphocytes ,(lymphocyte numbers and percentages white blood cells that play a large role in defending the body from disease.
  • Swedish massage caused a large decrease (effect size -.74) in Arginine Vasopressin (AVP) a hormone believed to play a role in aggressive behavior and linked to helping cause increases in the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Swedish massage caused a decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Swedish massage caused a notable decrease in most cytokines produced by stimulated white blood cells.

Do not dismiss the cortisol-lowering benefits of massage. High cortisol is associated with a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Chevy Chase, MD—High levels of the stress hormone cortisol strongly predict cardiovascular death among both persons with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease according to a new study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

In stressful situations, the body responds by producing the hormone cortisol. The effects of cortisol are intended to help the body recover from stress and regain a status of homeostasis, however chronically elevated cortisol levels have been associated with cardiovascular risk factors, such as the metabolic syndrome and accelerated atherosclerosis.

The highest level of cortisol is assocated with a 5 times greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers found that urinary cortisol did not increase the risk of non-cardiovascular mortality but did increase cardiovascular mortality risk. The third of the subjects with the highest urinary cortisol had a five-fold increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

Chocolate also appears to cut cortisol and also cut risk of cardiovascular disease.

So when you go for a massage take some dark chocolate along to eat at the same time. Also, marriage and romance lower cortisol.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 15 11:14 PM  Aging Lifestyle Studies
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2010 September 14 Tuesday
Video Games Improve Fast Decision Making?

Play a video game to improve your mind's ability to accurately assess and act on information?

Cognitive scientists from the University of Rochester have discovered that playing action video games trains people to make the right decisions faster. The researchers found that video game players develop a heightened sensitivity to what is going on around them, and this benefit doesn't just make them better at playing video games, but improves a wide variety of general skills that can help with everyday activities like multitasking, driving, reading small print, keeping track of friends in a crowd, and navigating around town.

In an upcoming study in the journal Current Biology, authors Daphne Bavelier, Alexandre Pouget, and C. Shawn Green report that video games could provide a potent training regimen for speeding up reactions in many types of real-life situations.

Video games have grown in popularity to the point where 68 percent of American households have members that play them, according to a 2009 report by the Entertainment Software Association.

I'm picturing a mom saying "No outdoor sports for you young man. You can't go out and play until you get a better score on your video game".

Strategy games do not speed up decision-making ability.

The researchers tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video game players. They split the subjects into two groups. One group played 50 hours of the fast-paced action video games "Call of Duty 2" and "Unreal Tournament," and the other group played 50 hours of the slow-moving strategy game "The Sims 2."

Faster decisions with no loss of accuracy.

After this training period, all of the subjects were asked to make quick decisions in several tasks designed by the researchers. In the tasks, the participants had to look at a screen, analyze what was going on, and answer a simple question about the action in as little time as possible (i.e. whether a clump of erratically moving dots was migrating right or left across the screen on average). In order to make sure the effect wasn't limited to just visual perception, the participants were also asked to complete an analogous task that was purely auditory.

The action game players were up to 25 percent faster at coming to a conclusion and answered just as many questions correctly as their strategy game playing peers.

But is the sort of faster decision-making that action games develop the best for better performance in the business world?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 14 10:34 PM  Brain Performance
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CEO Behavior And Testosterone Levels

“High testosterone responders tend to reject low offers even though this is against their interest.”

HANOVER, MD, September 8, 2010 – High testosterone levels in CEOs negotiating mergers and acquisitions are linked to a higher rate of dropped deals and an increase in hostile takeover attempts, according to a new study in the September issue of Management Science, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®).

Deal or No Deal: Hormones and the Mergers and Acquisitions Game” is by Maurice Levi, Kai Li, and Feng Zhang of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. The study appears in the current issue of Management Science.

A podcast interview with Prof. Levi is at www.scienceofbetter.org/podcast/levi.html.

Although observers might expect M&A bids to follow analysis of business advantage, the authors find that more human factors are also at work.

“We find a strong association between male CEOs being young and their withdrawal rate of initiated M&As,” the authors say, characterizing these rejectionist younger executives as showing dominance-seeking behavior. “High testosterone responders tend to reject low offers even though this is against their interest.”

Younger CEOs are 4% more likely to initiate an attempt to acquire another company than older men, the study finds. In a more marked finding, male CEOs’ relative youth increases their likelihood of withdrawing a merger/acquisition bid by as much as 20%.

It strikes me that what is needed is the ability to raise and lower testosterone as differing business condiions require different optimal testosterone levels. Turn the knob up or down to adjust your personality and behavior as needed. 50 years from now I expect personality modification will become widespread.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 14 12:10 AM  Brain Sex Differences
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2010 September 13 Monday
Livers Make Less Omega 3 Fat In Alzheimer's Patients

Omega 3 fatty acid DHA, found in fish, is not produced as much in livers of Alzheimer's patients and this causes brain depletion of DHA.

Irvine, Calif. — UC Irvine researchers have discovered that markedly depleted amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid in brain tissue samples from Alzheimer's patients may be due to the liver's inability to produce the complex fat, also contained in fish-oil supplements.

Low levels of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, have been associated with the chronic neurodegenerative disease affecting millions of Americans, but no cause had been identified.

In postmortem liver tissue from Alzheimer's patients, the UCI team found a defect in the organ's ability to make DHA from shorter molecules present in leafy plants and other foods. Previous studies have shown that most brain DHA is manufactured in the liver.

Non-Alzheimer's livers did not have this defect, said Daniele Piomelli, the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences and director of the Center for Drug Discovery at UCI, who led the research with Giuseppe Astarita, project scientist in pharmacology.

What I wonder: Will genetic tests eventually tell some of us we need to get more DHA due to genetically-caused liver enzyme deficiencies? Short of that, blood tests could at least indicate low DHA levels. Then again, you could just eat salmon regularly and live in ignorance of whether your liver is synthesizing DHA.

Want another reason to get more DHA into your diet? Other recent research also shed light on how the anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic mechanisms of omega 3 fatty acids work:

Fish oil is touted for its anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic benefits, but scientist weren't sure how the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil work. Now, according to a report in the September 3rd issue of the journal Cell, scientists have nailed how omega-3 fatty acids both shut down inflammation and reverse diabetes in obese mice.

Omega-3s alleviate inflammation by acting on a receptor (GPR120) found in fat tissue and on inflammatory immune cells called macrophages, studies in mice show.

"Omega-3s are very potent activators of GPR120 on macrophages -- more potent than any other anti-inflammatory we've ever seen," said Jerrold Olefsky of the University of California, San Diego.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 13 11:53 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
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2010 September 12 Sunday
Teleanesthesia With Remote Anesthesiologists

In the comments of my recent post Anesthesiologists Demand To Outrun Supply? a number of medical doctors, including several anesthesiologists, took strong exception to the possibility of automating anesthesiology. Well, researchers at McGill University in Canada and Pisa University in Italy have recently used videoconferencing to allow anesthesiologists to control drug delivery remotely thru an automated system.

Videoconferences may be known for putting people to sleep, but never like this. Dr. Thomas Hemmerling and his team of McGill's Department of Anesthesia achieved a world first on August 30, 2010, when they treated patients undergoing thyroid gland surgery in Italy remotely from Montreal. The approach is part of new technological advancements, known as 'Teleanesthesia', and it involves a team of engineers, researchers and anesthesiologists who will ultimately apply the drugs intravenously which are then controlled remotely through an automated system.

This achievement is a product of an on-going scientific collaboration between Dr. Hemmerling's team and the Italian team of Dr. Zaouter of the Department of Anesthesia of Pisa University (Chairman Prof. Giunta).

Humans are still making the decisions at this stage of development. This approach does not provide remote anesthesiologists with the ability to do everything they normally do such as intubation and other physical activities that anesthesiologists normally do. But in theory a far less expensive person could be trained to do the physical actions for a remote anesthesiologist. However, if an internet link went down during an operation the loss of remote control could become a big problem.

Check out a related site newanesthesia.com.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 12 12:24 PM  Medical Surgery Automation
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Best Ways To Enhance Learning?

Benedict Carey of the New York Times surveys what is known about techniques for enhanced learning. Varying your study locations is cited as a technique which has been confirmed by much research.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

“We have known these principles for some time, and it’s intriguing that schools don’t pick them up, or that people don’t learn them by trial and error,” said Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Instead, we walk around with all sorts of unexamined beliefs about what works that are mistaken.”

Carey mentions other techniques including varying how many kinds of things you learn at one setting.

Curiously, a new report in Science finds the opposite result about learning environments: evidence that varying learning conditions does not help to enhance learning.

The researchers conducted three studies at Beijing Normal University in which subjects were shown different sets of photographs or words multiple times in different orders. The scientists recorded subjects' brain activity while they studied the material. They were asked to recall or recognize those items between 30 minutes and six hours later, in order to test the decades-old "encoding variability theory."

That theory suggests people will remember something more effectively — the name of the third President of the United States, for example — if they study it at different times in different contexts — a dorm room, the library, a coffee shop — than if they review it several times in one sitting. The different sensory experiences will give the brain various reminders of that information and multiple routes to access Thomas Jefferson's identity.

Based on that theory, Poldrack and his colleagues predicted subjects would retain memories of the photos or words more effectively if their brains were activated in different ways while studying that information multiple times.

Instead, the scientists found the subjects' memories were better when their pattern of brain activity was more similar across the different study episodes.

The researchers say they haven't disproven the theory that Carey reports is well established.

The Times piece also quotes the accomplished Washington U of St. Louis memory researcher Henry Roediger about the value of testing and time intervals between learning and recall. I've covered Roediger's research and think it quite valuable.

Educational institutions really ought to take Roediger's results and use them to revamp the presentation and testing of materials that students are meant to learn. Students need access to practice tests that pop up an optimal number of days after they first get taught some material. Also, it might make sense to present more material near the beginning of a course in order to provide more time for the brain to go thru optimal cycle times for learning followed by retrieval to enhance memory consolidation.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 12 11:39 AM  Brain Memory
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2010 September 11 Saturday
Hormones Predict Sustained Weight Loss

Levels of the hormones ghrelin, leptin, and insulin before weight loss even begins influence whether weight loss can be sustained.

In this study, researchers evaluated a group of 104 obese or overweight men and women during an 8-week low-calorie diet and again 32 weeks after treatment. Researchers measured body weight as well as plasma fasting ghrelin, leptin and insulin concentrations before, during and after dieting. They found that subjects with higher plasma leptin and lower ghrelin levels before dieting were more prone to regain weight lost after dieting and that these hormone levels could be proposed as biomarkers for predicting obesity-treatment outcomes.

"We believe this research is of foremost relevance in clinical terms as it may indicate that the outcome of weight therapy may be pre-conditioned," said Crujeiras. "Furthermore, our findings may provide endocrinology and nutrition professionals a tool to identify individuals in need of specialized weight-loss programs that first target appetite hormone levels before beginning conventional dietary treatment."

Ghrelin increases appetite while leptin reduces it. Correction: So why does a person with lower ghrelin and higher leptin have a weight problem in the first place? See my update below. One possibility: Leptin insensitivity. So once they lose weight and go off their diet their appetites drive them to put on too much weight again. Ghrelin might also cause abdominal fat accumulation.

So any way to adjust your hormone levels in order to keep weight off? Not sure. But Byron J. Richards, author of The Leptin Diet: How Fit Is Your Fat?, argues that snacking is a major cause of low leptin and therefore of weight gain.

No snacks, high protein breakfast, and low carb. A high protein, low carb breakfast is pretty easily doable.

Update: As someone points out in the comments, the study subjects who regained the most weight had higher leptin levels - which one might expect would help them suppress appetite. So what gives? Leptin and ghrelin levels are hard to interpret because some people might have brain insensitivity to leptin (which reminds of type II diabetes which is characterized by insulin insensitivity and higher insulin levels). The result above might really indicate that people gain weight because leptin no longer suppresses their appetite. A high fat diet decreased mouse leptin sensitivity in one study and estrogen deficiency caused leptin sensitivity in rats. A diet that increases leptin sensitivity might be the key to weight loss.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 11 06:41 PM  Brain Appetite
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Centenarians Overcounted In Japan

While Japan has official life expectancies of 86.4 years for women and 79.6 years for men the number of old aged is over-counted due to a combination of poor record keeping and pension fraud.

After its survey of family registration records nationwide, the ministry found that 234,354 centenarians were listed as alive, but no one seemed to know where they were, according to the Associated Press.

So perhaps the Japanese aren't so healthy after all.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 11 07:36 AM  Aging Studies
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Early Terminator Robot Design Deceives Other Robots

Think the future might be boring? Not to worry. Researchers at Georgia Tech are busy developing technology that will turn the future into an epic technological disaster.

A robot deceives an enemy soldier by creating a false trail and hiding so that it will not be caught. While this sounds like a scene from one of the Terminator movies, it's actually the scenario of an experiment conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology as part of what is believed to be the first detailed examination of robot deception.

"We have developed algorithms that allow a robot to determine whether it should deceive a human or other intelligent machine and we have designed techniques that help the robot select the best deceptive strategy to reduce its chance of being discovered," said Ronald Arkin, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing.

Marketers will jump on this once the technology becomes advanced enough that robots can feign emotions. "If super lube can make my leg joints as good as new imagine what it can do to your car's transmission".

By Randall Parker 2010 September 11 07:22 AM  Robots Dangers
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2010 September 06 Monday
Will Terminator Robots Come In Fly Miniature?

Picture a movie where robotic flies swarm and wipe out one town after another. Someone escapes and tries to warn the authorities. No one will believe our hero that robotic flies threaten to wipe out humanity. How does it end? Harmless and useful for humanity or the foundation of a nightmare future?

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Sept. 2, 2010 -- Engineers at Harvard University have created a millionth-scale automobile differential to govern the flight of minuscule aerial robots that could someday be used to probe environmental hazards, forest fires, and other places too perilous for people.

Their new approach is the first to passively balance the aerodynamic forces encountered by these miniature flying devices, letting their wings flap asymmetrically in response to gusts of wind, wing damage, and other real-world impediments.

Will the robot flies have little voices? Will they be controlled by a central server that our heroes will track down and, while losing a few supporting actors, penetrate and destroy so that the flies drop harmlessly to the ground? The sequel will involve activation of a secret back-up server at an automated robot fly factory that only people who died in the first movie knew about.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 06 09:11 PM  Robots Dangers
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German Military Study Warns On Peak Oil

An internal study on the approach of Peak Oil done by the military of Germany (which was not supposed to see the light of day) shows the German military expecting drastic changes in the international order as a result of Peak Oil.

The issue is so politically explosive that it's remarkable when an institution like the Bundeswehr, the German military, uses the term "peak oil" at all. But a military study currently circulating on the German blogosphere goes even further.

The study is a product of the Future Analysis department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center, a think tank tasked with fixing a direction for the German military. The team of authors, led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Will, uses sometimes-dramatic language to depict the consequences of an irreversible depletion of raw materials. It warns of shifts in the global balance of power, of the formation of new relationships based on interdependency, of a decline in importance of the western industrial nations, of the "total collapse of the markets" and of serious political and economic crises.

The report authors foresee a future where despotic oil producing nations dictate foreign policy to oil importers. The authors worry about extremist political movements. Financial panics are probably an even stronger possibility. An extended period of economic contraction much more severe than the last few years will send many more banks into bankruptcy.

My advice: Next time you buy a car make it a hybrid. Next time you move or change jobs choose a location that cuts the length of your commute. But the cost of gasoline is not the chief problem we individually face as we head into a period of shrinking oil availability. No, our biggest challenge will be to stay gainfully employed at jobs which pay comparable to our current salaries. Given enough buying power you can deal with what's coming. Without the cash life becomes much more difficult and stressful.

Robert Rapier has more on the German report.

The Guardian suggests the UK government is also secretly concerned about Peak Oil.

Speculation that government ministers are far more concerned about a future supply crunch than they have admitted has been fuelled by the revelation that they are canvassing views from industry and the scientific community about "peak oil".

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is also refusing to hand over policy documents about "peak oil" – the point at which oil production reaches its maximum and then declines – under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, despite releasing others in which it admits "secrecy around the topic is probably not good".

A UK industry group including billionaire Richard Branson already believes Peak Oil is close.

London, 10 February, 2010: A group of leading business people today call for urgent action to prepare the UK for Peak Oil. The second report of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) finds that oil shortages, insecurity of supply and price volatility will destabilise economic, political and social activity potentially by 2015. Peak Oil refers to the point where the highest practicable rate of global oil production has been achieved and from which future levels of production will either plateau, or begin to diminish. This means an end to the era of cheap oil.

Update: If you are thinking passenger rail has a big role to play in adapting to Peak Oil then think again. Reihan Salam points to rail industry concerns that high speed passenger rail would displace as much as 6 times as much freight rail trains. Given that trucks use about 10 times as much oil as trains for hauling freight it probably makes more sense to shift more freight to rail rather than more passengers.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 06 11:05 AM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations
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Muscle Loss With Aging To Be Treated As Disease

The New York Times reports on a push in medicine: Age-related muscle loss is as bad as bone loss and should also be labeled and treated as a disease.

In addition, geriatric specialists, in particular, are now trying to establish the age-related loss of muscles as a medical condition under the name sarcopenia, from the Greek for loss of flesh. Simply put, sarcopenia is to muscle what osteoporosis is to bone.

“In the future, sarcopenia will be known as much as osteoporosis is now,” said Dr. Bruno Vellas, president of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

I welcome the labeling of every aspect of aging as a disease because only diseases get research and treatment. General aging does not get attacked head on. So by all means, label every change we experience while aging as a vile disease. How about hair graying and hair loss? Surely diseases. Ditto all other changes in appearance.

Don't feel as flexible as you used to? That's a disease. Don't have the energy of a 17 year old? Disease, horrible malady. Needs a cure. Finding yourself needing reading glasses in your early 40s? Don't kid yourself. That's a disease. Demand a cure. Stem cells, gene therapy, nano repair bots, whatever it takes.

Am I missing any other important changes that come with age that have not yet been labeled as diseases?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 06 09:22 AM  Aging Trends
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2010 September 05 Sunday
Dopamine Gene Variants Cut Student Performance?

Blame your bad grades on your dopamine gene variants.

The academic performance of adolescents will suffer in at least one of four key subjects –– English, math, science, history –– if their DNA contains one or more of three specific dopamine gene variations, according to a study led by renowned biosocial criminologist Kevin M. Beaver of The Florida State University.

The research sheds new light on the genetic components of academic performance during middle and high school, and on the interplay of specific genes and environmental factors such as peer behavior or school conditions.

They looked at 2,500 kids enrolled in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health over 14 years to reach this conclusion. Once gene sequencing becomes really cheap imagine what will be discovered if the same 2,500 have their full genomes sequenced and they are given IQ tests as well. We are getting close to when most of the genetic variants that influence IQ will be discovered.

“We believe that dopaminergic genes affect GPA because they have previously been linked to factors associated with academic performance, including adolescent delinquency, working memory, intelligence and cognitive abilities, and ADHD, among others,” Beaver said. “So, the genetic effect would operate indirectly via these other correlates to GPA and school performance.”

What's needed: For a group like these students to be given many tests of cognitive performance and personality.Then do full genome sequencing and genetic testing for large copy variations that sequencing might not catch.

3 different dopamine genes have variants correlated with scholastic performance.

For instance, they found a marginally significant negative effect on English grades for students with a single dopamine variant in a gene known as DAT1, but no apparent effect on math, history or science. In contrast, a variant in the DRD2 gene was correlated with a markedly negative effect on grades in all four subjects. Students with a single, DRD4 variant had significantly lower grades in English and math, but only marginally lower grades in history and science.

In 10 years I predict it will become commonplace for especially ambitious prospective parents to opt for in vitro fertilization (IVF) combined with genetic testing to do embryo selection for most desired genetic characteristics. Why run the risk of giving birth to merely average or even sociopathic criminal kids? Parents will jump at the chance to reduce risks and produce better outcomes.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 05 08:05 PM  Brain Intelligence
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2010 September 04 Saturday
Japan: Men Take Virtual Girlfriends On Vacation

You might find this pathetic.

In the first month of the city's promotional campaign launched July 10, more than 1,500 male fans of the Japanese dating-simulation game LovePlus+ have flocked to Atami for a romantic date with their videogame character girlfriends.

The men are real. The girls are cartoon characters on a screen. The trips are actual, can be expensive and aim to re-create the virtual weekend outing featured in the game, a product of Konami Corp. played on Nintendo Co.'s DS videogame system.

Imagine how popular virtual girlfriends will become as computer processors and software make them more life-like. I almost erroneously typed "realistic" rather than life-like. Of course, the guys don't want realistic. Or maybe the realistic women don't want the guys.

What I wonder: When it becomes possible to genetically engineer offspring will parents only choose to make their boys and girls more attractive? Or will they also give them attributes that will make them more drawn to relationships and more happy in relationships?

I ask this because for each guy who is vacationing with his virtual girlfriend there's some woman sitting home alone or hanging out with her girl friends. They aren't connecting up. Which side does not feel enough attraction to the remaining singles of the other sex? How does all this separation come to be? Is it due to insufficient physical attraction? The guys not making enough money for the girls to be attracted to status? Or are they too shy? Or what?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 04 01:05 PM  Virtual Beings Relationships
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2010 September 02 Thursday
Artificial Light Suppresses Melatonin, Boosts Cancer

University of Haifa researchers found evidence that Light At Night (LAN) has harmful health effects. Bright city lights might boost your risks of cancer by suppressing melatonin production.

The results show once again the clear link between LAN and cancer: the cancerous growths in mice exposed to “short days” were smallest (0.85 cubic cm. average), while those mice exposed to the interval of LAN during dark hours had larger growths (1.84 cubic cm. average) and those exposed to “long days” even larger growths (5.92 cubic cm. average).

The study also discovered that suppression of melatonin definitely influences development of the tumor. The size of tumor in mice exposed to “long days” but treated with melatonin was only 0.62 cubic cm. on average, which is not much different from the size of the growth in mice exposed to “short days”. The study also found that the death rate in mice treated with melatonin was significantly lower than in those not treated.

The researchers say that their study results show that suppression of melatonin due to exposure to LAN is linked to the worrying rise in the number of cancer patients over the past few years. However, it is not yet clear what mechanism causes this.

I'm sitting here in a dark room writing this post with only the monitor light to guide me. I've got a Logitech gamer keyboard because it has lighted keys. Very handy.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 02 09:37 PM  Aging Cancer Studies
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2010 September 01 Wednesday
5 Nanometer Computer Chips

While Moore's Law for increasing computer chip transistor density won't go on for more than another 20 years it is still happening. Intel introduced 32 nanometer chips in 2009 and will introduce 22 nm chips in 2011. The New York Times reports on Rice University and Hewlett-Packard researchers who have developed 5 nanometer logic devices.

These chips store only 1,000 bits of data, but if the new technology fulfills the promise its inventors see, single chips that store as much as today’s highest capacity disk drives could be possible in five years. The new method involves filaments as thin as five nanometers in width — thinner than what the industry hopes to achieve by the end of the decade using standard techniques. The initial discovery was made by Jun Yao, a graduate researcher at Rice. Mr. Yao said he stumbled on the switch by accident.

Will spinning disk drive capacity grow fast enough to remain competitive? Or will solid state drives start replacing spinning disk drives for mass storage?

Handheld computers (mobile phones, music players, games, etc) benefit much more than desktop or even laptop PCs when memory becomes much smaller. But here's what I want to know: What are you going to store in your future cell phone's 4 terabyte memory chip?

By Randall Parker 2010 September 01 11:26 PM  Computing Hardware Advances
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Airplanes, Telecomm Cut Optimal City Size

City size needed for successful industries has shrunk due to cheap air flights and low costs and high speeds for telecommunications and internet access.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A city’s size no longer is the key factor in building vibrant local economies, according to a study by a Michigan State University sociologist.

Zachary Neal found that although America's largest cities once had the most sophisticated economies, today that honor goes to cities with many connections to other places, regardless of their size. The study was published online Aug. 30 in the research journal City and Community.

The rise of commercial aviation, high-speed rail, the Internet and other technological advances have allowed smaller cities to compete with urban powers such as New York and Chicago, Neal said. The study identifies Denver, Phoenix and even Bentonville, Ark. – Wal-Mart’s corporate home – as some of the most well-connected and economically sophisticated communities.

Air travel started the trend. Low cost communications further accelerated it. What I wonder: How essential is the air travel? Will very high res teleconferencing substantially reduce the need for business air travel?

Neal examined the population and air-traffic data for 64 U.S. cities from 1900 to 2000. He found that a city’s population was the most important factor for its economy until the 1950s, when the spread of commercial air travel fostered more cross-country business networks. That trend continued with advances such as teleconferencing and the growth of the Internet.

To the extent that high speed internet and very high res 3-D video teleconferencing can reduce the need for air travel the communications technologies will also open up economic development to smaller cities and towns that are not near airports. Any place where enough brain power can concentrate will be sufficient to build up an industry.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 01 10:49 PM  Comm Tech Society
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Air Safety Differences In Less Developed Countries

Want to live a long long time and get rejuvenation therapies? First avoid dying in an air accident in a less developed country.

HANOVER, MD, September 1, 2010 – Passengers who fly in Developing World countries face 13 times the risk of being killed in an air accident as passengers in the First World. The more economically advanced countries in the Developing World have better overall safety records than the others, but even their death risk per flight is seven times as high as that in First World countries.

These results come from research by Arnold Barnett, a prof at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Click thru and read the details if you plan to fly outside the most developed countries.

What is surprising: even countries like Brazil and Taiwan have only Developing World levels of safety, not the much better safety records of the most developed countries. So if you plan on flying to developing countries take First World airlines.

By Randall Parker 2010 September 01 05:20 PM  Fatality Risks
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