2010 November 30 Tuesday
Universal Microfluidics Connector For Portable Labs

20 years from now microfluidic chips will plug into our smart phones (or maybe into our virtual reality goggles). When we need to do a fast genetic test (either in a bar with a potential mate or at the pound when choosing a dog to adopt) pluggable microfluidic chips will come in handy.

Biomedical engineers at UC Davis have developed a plug-in interface for the microfluidic chips that will form the basis of the next generation of compact medical devices. They hope that the "fit to flow" interface will become as ubiquitous as the USB interface for computer peripherals.

UC Davis filed a provisional patent on the invention Nov. 1. A paper describing the devices was published online Nov. 25 by the journal Lab on a Chip.

"We think there is a huge need for an interface to bridge microfluidics to electronic devices," said Tingrui Pan, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis. Pan and graduate student Arnold Chen - invented the chip and co-authored the paper.

Or maybe a microfluidic chip will come in handy at a picnic where each person brings a dish. Does that casserole have a bad case of salmonella or another pathogen that risks trashing your intestines? A quick test of a sample could come in handy.

Or how about testing your own blood for micronutrient deficiencies or signs that you really are as behind in your sleep as you feel?

If you could do fast biological tests in the course of your day what would you test for?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 30 09:59 PM  Biotech Assay Tools
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Oxytocin Boosts Memories Of Mom

For better or worse oxytocin will intensify your feelings about Mom.

Researchers have found that the naturally-occurring hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin intensifies men's memories of their mother's affections during childhood. The study was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine wanted to determine whether oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter that is known to regulate attachment and social memory in animals, is also involved in human attachment memories. They conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial, giving 31 healthy adult men oxytocin or a placebo delivered nasally on two occasions. Prior to administering the drug/placebo, the researchers measured the men's attachment style. About 90 minutes after administering the oxytocin or the placebo the researchers assessed participants' recollection of their mother's care and closeness in childhood.

Either more caring or less caring memories were dredged up.

They found that men who were less anxious and more securely attached remembered their mothers as more caring and remembered being closer to their mothers in childhood when they received oxytocin, compared to when they received placebo. However, men who were more anxiously attached remembered their mothers as less caring and remembered being less close to their mothers in childhood when they received oxytocin, compared to when they received placebo. These results were not due to more general effects of oxytocin on mood or well-being.

So then is there a drug or hormone that'll intensify your feelings about high school? If so, any takers? I'd just as soon forget about it myself. But if I live long enough to get rejuvenation therapies then I'm looking forward to forming memories of my second childhood.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 30 09:51 PM  Brain Development
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Exhibitionist Narcissists Most Likely To Cheat In College

College students with narcissistic traits are more likely to cheat.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – College students who exhibit narcissistic tendencies are more likely than fellow students to cheat on exams and assignments, a new study shows.

The results suggested that narcissists were motivated to cheat because their academic performance functions as an opportunity to show off to others, and they didn't feel particularly guilty about their actions.

"Narcissists really want to be admired by others, and you look good in college if you're getting good grades," said Amy Brunell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Newark.

"They also tend to feel less guilt, so they don't mind cheating their way to the top."

But narcissism is made up of a few components. It was the most strongly exhibitionist narcissists who were most likely to cheat. They wanted to draw attention to themselves with high grades.

"We found that one of the more harmless parts of narcissism -- exhibitionism -- is most associated with academic cheating, which is somewhat surprising," she said.

Exhibitionism is the desire to show off, to make yourself the center of attention.

The two other dimensions of narcissism -- the desire for power and the belief you are a special person -- were not as strongly linked to academic dishonesty.

I'd like to know what percentage of famous actors are narcissists. Are successful musicians more or less likely to be narcissists? With music part of the draw is the love of music. Another part, especially for guys, is getting laid. So exhibitionism might play a smaller role in motivating guys to become famous musical performers.

A variation of my standard question on genetics and human traits: Once offspring genetic engineering becomes feasible will parents choose more or less narcissistic children? Will future generations be more or less exhibitionist on average?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 30 06:51 PM  Brain Ethics Law
Entry Permalink | Comments(10)
2010 November 29 Monday
Walk, Don't Run For Lower Osteoarthritis Risk

Running too much degenerates cartilage but walking probably cuts osteoarthritis risk.

CHICAGO – People at risk for osteoarthritis may be able to delay the onset of the disease or even prevent it with simple changes to their physical activity, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"According to the results of our study, participating in a high-impact activity, such as running, more than one hour per day at least three times a week appears associated with more degenerated cartilage and potentially a higher risk for development of osteoarthritis," said the study's senior author Thomas M. Link, M.D., professor of radiology and chief of musculoskeletal imaging at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). "On the other hand, engaging in light exercise and refraining from frequent knee-bending activities may protect against the onset of the disease."

Count me skeptical of the health benefits of long range running. Stephan Guyenet makes a lot of sense on exercise.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 29 11:19 PM  Aging Exercise Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
Walking Slows Brain Decline

Take a walk for your brain.

CHICAGO – Walking may slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease, as well as in healthy adults, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

"We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer's and MCI, especially in areas of the brain's key memory and learning centers," said Cyrus Raji, Ph.D., from the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. "We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years."

Put on your walking shoes and start hoofing it.

The findings showed across the board that greater amounts of physical activity were associated with greater brain volume. Cognitively impaired people needed to walk at least 58 city blocks, or approximately five miles, per week to maintain brain volume and slow cognitive decline. The healthy adults needed to walk at least 72 city blocks, or six miles, per week to maintain brain volume and significantly reduce their risk for cognitive decline.

Over five years, MMSE scores decreased by an average of five points in cognitively impaired patients who did not engage in a sufficient level of physical activity, compared with a decrease of only one point in patients who met the physical activity requirement.

Need walking music? Try Gerry Mulligan's 1956 "Walking Shoes".

By Randall Parker 2010 November 29 11:00 PM  Aging Exercise Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Play Genetic Game For Scientific Research

Want to contribute to genetic research project? Scientists at McGill University in Canada have developed an online genetic game whose players will, by playing, contribute to genetic research. Here's your chance to do genetic research? Who's game?

Playing online can mean more than killing time, thanks to a new game developed by a team of bioinformaticians at McGill University. Now, players can contribute in a fun way to genetic research. "There are some calculations that the human brain does more efficiently than any computer can, such as recognizing a face," explained lead researcher Dr. Jérôme Waldispuhl of the School of Computer Science. "Recognizing and sorting the patterns in the human genetic code falls in that category. Our new online game enables players to have fun while contributing to genetic research – players can even choose which genetic disease they want to help decode." The game is called Phylo and can be played at http://phylo.cs.mcgill.ca.

The game has been tested within the scientific community to ensure its accuracy, but was officially launched today at 11 a.m. "We're hoping that people will enjoy playing the game and that many participants will sign up," Waldispühl said. "This is an opportunity for people to use their free time to contribute in an extremely important way to medical research." Many human diseases are caused by defects in the DNA code, and researchers are only just beginning to unravel this link.

What a great cause. You need Adobe Flash player installed to play.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 29 10:42 PM  Worthy Causes
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
2010 November 28 Sunday
Hospital Quality Study Finds No Improvement

Medical mistake rates in some North Carolina hospitals show no improvements from 2002 to 2007.

STANFORD, Calif. — Despite concerted efforts, no decreases in patient harm were detected at 10 randomly selected North Carolina hospitals between 2002 and 2007, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

Since a 1999 Institute of Medicine report sounded the alarm about high medical error rates, most U.S. hospitals have changed their operations to keep patients safer. The researchers wanted to assess whether these patient-safety efforts reduced harm. They studied hospitals in North Carolina because that state has shown a particularly strong commitment to patient safety.

The US car makers had to improve safety because they were losing customers (lots of customers) to Japanese makers. Well, there's no Consumer Reports or J.D. Powers rating hospitals the way car makers are rated for quality. So the pressures to improve quality have got to be less intense. Can hospital error rates fall substantially? Can this be done with just internal bureaucratic pressure? Or with regulatory pressure? Or are market incentives needed? If so, what form of incentives?

Some best practices were still not being used in 2007. This NY Times article has good coverage.

The findings were a disappointment but not a surprise, Dr. Landrigan said. Many of the problems were caused by the hospitals’ failure to use measures that had been proved to avert mistakes and to prevent infections from devices like urinary catheters, ventilators and lines inserted into veins and arteries.

Why did it take so long from 2007 to 2010 to publish the results? What's needed is a much shorter loop between a measured time and known results. In manufacturing settings the quality measurement results are often known the same day or in even less time.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 28 10:51 PM  Medical Quality
Entry Permalink | Comments(13)
Vaccine Prevents Colon Cancer Recurrence

Initiating an immune response prevented recurrence of a colon cancer that had metastasized to the liver.

"The results of the study suggest a new way to approach cancer treatment," said Richard Barth Jr., MD, Chief of General Surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a member of the Gastrointestinal Clinical Oncology Group at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, who is the study's principal investigator. "Basically, we've worked out a way to use dendritic cells, which initiate immune responses, to induce an antitumor response."

So the cancer had already mutated the ability to metastatize and had created a secondary tumor in the liver big enough to identify and remove. In these cases the odds are very high the tumor has landed in other places and the removal from the liver just buys some time. But in those patients who had tumors removed from their livers and who produced an immune response to the vaccine most unexpectedly survived over 5 years.

In the study, Barth first operated on 26 patients to remove tumors that had spread from the colon to the liver. While some of these patients would be expected to be cured with surgery alone, most of them would eventually die from tiny metastases that were undetectable at the time the tumors were removed from the liver. The DC vaccine treatment was given one month after surgery. The results were that T-cell immune responses were induced against the patient's own tumor in more than 60% of the patients. The patients were followed for a minimum of 5.5 years.; Five years after their vaccine treatment, 63% of the patients who developed an immune response against their own tumor were alive and tumor-free. In contrast, just 18% of the patients who did not develop an immune response against their own tumor were alive and tumor-free.

Since they were followed for a minimum of 5.5 years these people were treated in 2004 and even earlier. So if this vaccine were widely available for the last 5 years lots more people would be alive. I wonder when the vaccine will become widely available. If it was up to me it would become immediately available. But I do not think like FDA bureaucrats.

What about the people who do not produce an immune response to the tumor is their immune system weakened by chemo or radiation? Or is their immune system too old or are they poorly nourished? Or does their immune system just lack the antibodies that could respond to the antigens? Or what?

MORE...
By Randall Parker 2010 November 28 06:27 PM  Biotech Cancer
Entry Permalink | Comments(11)
Gene Prevents Alzheimer's Disease In Mice

The mouse conspiracy to cure themselves of all diseases continues apace.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—November 21, 2010— Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease (GIND) in San Francisco have discovered a new strategy to prevent memory deficits in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease (AD). Humans with AD and mice genetically engineered to simulate the disease have abnormally low levels of an enzyme called EphB2 in memory centers of the brain. Improving EphB2 levels in such mice by gene therapy completely fixed their memory problems. The findings will be published in the November 28 issue of the journal Nature.

Just for the sake of argument imagine that a gene therapy delivered to every brain cell could raise levels of EphB2 and thereby prevent Alzheimer's Disease. Okay, will this even be practical to do anything in the next few decades?

Sound easy? Hold on. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons (to be fair some estimates are down in the range of 10's of billions of neurons). Well, okay, how to deliver exactly 1 copy of a gene to 100 billion cells all sitting behind barriers designed to protect them? Even if we could get thru the barriers how to prevent some cells from getting dozens or hundreds of copies of a gene before other cells get any? That's not just a rhetorical question (though rhetorical questions are great and I encourage their use). I'd like to know how to approach the problem.

One can break this up: How to package the genes so they can get into cells? How to structure the inner portion of the package so the delivered genes will either integrate into the host genome without causing damage or otherwise situate themselves to function well for an extended period of time? How to get the genes into neurons that are, for whatever reason, harder to reach? Finally, how to prevent overdosing? Is overdosing the hardest and most serious problem? Maybe a delivered package could include code for machinery that would break down a newly arriving second package. But that would take a lot of work to make such a specific extra bit of functionality and might make the delivered package too big.

As I always bring up when I read debates about when we will be able to rejuvenate our bodies and greatly extend human lifespans, brain rejuvenation is the hardest part. We can't replace our nerves without replacing who we are. We need to fix them in place. Gene therapy, nano repair bots, and helper cell therapies (e.g. new glial cells) will all be needed for this purpose. I do not think that gene therapy and helper cell therapy by themselves will be sufficient in the long run. But if we are lucky then we can extend our brains for, say, an extra 50 years to give time for the nanobots to be developed. If we are not so lucky then we'll become a society of young bodies and senile minds.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 28 12:36 PM  Brain Alzheimers Disease
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2010 November 26 Friday
Aubrey de Grey Versus David Brin On Rejuvenation

At a site called I Look Forward To Aubrey de Grey offers a more optimistic view on the rate of advance for rejuvenation therapies.

I think we have a 50% chance of achieving medicine capable of getting people to 200 in the decade 2030-2040. Presuming we do indeed do that, the actual achievement of 200 will probably be in the decade 2140-2150 - it will be someone who was about 85-90 at the time that the relevant therapies were developed.

Aubrey's view of the 2030-2040 decade as being pivotal sounds plausible to me just because of all the activity in tissue engineering, with replacement trachea and bladders grown for humans for example. The future of replacement parts is no longer the distant science fiction future but, rather, the "most of us will live to see this" future.

By contrast, science fiction writer David Brin (whose StarTide Rising and Uplift War I recommend) sees the problems with rejuvenation as much harder to solve.

All advances to date have involved allowing ever-greater percentages of humanity to hit the "wall" at age 100, and maybe coast a few years beyond. Getting beyond that will require either;
1) THOROUGH nanotechnology, applied down at the INTRA-cellular level, or
2) genetic recoding to enhance repair capabilities in new ways (good news for our great grandchildren, maybe, or
3) gradual replacement of failing parts and systems with prosthetics, or 4) uploading.

I think Brin's placing too much emphasis on the hardest problems and missing out on the lower hanging fruit. In particular, for much of the body we will be able replace cells and organs. So the need to get into cells to do intra-cellular repair is avoided, or at least delayed.

But Brin is correct on one point: The need for intra-cellular repair of brain cells. The hardest part of rejuvenation is brain repair. But even in the brain there's quite a lot of potential for cell therapies and immune therapies. Aging brains need replacement cells for their vasculature. They also need immune cells that will go in and remove the extra-cellular junk. I do not believe either of those types of treatment require nanotechnology. They might buy our brains enough time for the nanotech to be developed.

Since I see brain repair as the toughest problem my biggest question about the feasibility of rejuvenation revolves around when and what we will be able to do for aged neurons in situ. Since the brain is so much harder to rejuvenate will we have rejuvenated bodies but senile minds? How much time can we buy our neurons with gene therapies or by giving them newer support cells? (e.g. new glial cells and new vascular cells)

For those of you not familiar with Aubrey de Grey watch a talk Aubrey gave on rejuvenation in the summer of 2009.

Also see Aubrey's interview with Stephen Colbert and my post about his book Ending Aging.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 26 05:44 PM  Aging Debate
Entry Permalink | Comments(55)
2010 November 25 Thursday
High Protein, Low Glycemic Index To Avoid Weight Gain

More protein and lower glycemic index carbs work best to keep the weight off.

Researchers at the Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE), University of Copenhagen, can now unveil the results of the world's largest diet study: If you want to lose weight, you should maintain a diet that is high in proteins with more lean meat, low-fat dairy products and beans and fewer finely refined starch calories such as white bread and white rice. With this diet, you can also eat until you are full without counting calories and without gaining weight. Finally, the extensive study concludes that the official dietary recommendations are not sufficient for preventing obesity.

After going on an 800 calories/day diet the participants were put on different maintenance diets to see which diet would keep the weight off.

A total of 772 European families participated, comprising 938 adult family members and 827 children. The overweight adults initially followed an 800 kcal/day diet for eight weeks, losing an average of 11 kg. They were then randomly assigned to one of five different low-fat diet types which they followed for six months in order to test which diet was most effective at preventing weight regain.

The results are plain to see in this chart. The Low Protein-High Glycemic Index (LP-HGI) diet was worst. The High Protein-Low Glycemic Index (HP-LGI) diet was best.

DanishDietHiProteinLoGI.jpg

This is right out of the Paleo Diet game book. Stay away from those high glycemic index grains. Eat more meat.

If you want to eat some carbs that are low in glycemic index then check out this searchable glycemic index food database. Check out your foods in that database. Note that rices span a very wide range of glycemic index values. The sticky rice in Chinese restaurants is some of the highest glycemic index food you can eat. But Uncle Ben's Converted Rice is one of the very low glycemic index foods.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 25 07:07 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(15)
91 Year Old Woman Sets Athletic Records

91 year old Canadian Olga Kotelko holds many athletic records for her age group.

Masters competitions usually begin at 35 years, and include many in their 60s, 70s and 80s (and a few, like Kotelko, in their 90s, and one or two over 100). Of the thousands who descended on Lahti, hundreds were older than 75. And the one getting all the attention was Kotelko. She is considered one of the world’s greatest athletes, holding 23 world records, 17 in her current age category, 90 to 95.

...

At last fall’s Lahti championship, Kotelko threw a javelin more than 20 feet farther than her nearest age-group rival. At the World Masters Games in Sydney, Kotelko’s time in the 100 meters — 23.95 seconds — was faster than that of some finalists in the 80-to-84-year category, two brackets down.

Her 16.1 foot shot-put record compares with the world record for all women of 74.3 feet. So she's way below what a youthful athlete can do. But to do what she can do at age 91 is extremely rare.

People in their late 60s and beyond lose most of their muscle mass. Kotelko is losing hers much more slowly. So researchers who study mitochondria (a sort of cell within a cell that breaks down sugars for energy) are looking for hints that perhaps her mitochondria are not aging as rapidly. Early indications are that, yes, her mitochondria in her muscles are in much better shape than expected for someone her age.

The article is worth reading. It starts to get scientifically interesting on page 3 where it starts to survey some of the theories of aging. One question a scientist brings up: Is it that the muscles are aging or that neurons are losing their connections to the muscles? That's an important question to figure out because it would guide choice of rejuvenation therapies. Would youthful muscle stem cells do the trick? Or youthful nerve stem cells? Or some sort of drug to guide neurons to reconnect with muscle strands?

The body is made up of parts just like a car is made up of parts. Develop the ability to replace worn out body parts and you gain the ability to keep an old body going just like replacing car parts enables you to keep an old car on the road.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 25 06:19 PM  Aging Exercise Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Charlie Kam: The Very Model Of A Singulatarian

If you want to give a friend a fast easy introduction to transhumanism, life extension, and the Singularity (where technological advance accelerates to an incomprehensible rate) then show them Charlie Kam's 2007 performance "I am the very model of a singularitarian".

That's a take-off on Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" song "I am the very model of a modern Major General".

You can find several performances of the latter on YouTube.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 25 04:50 PM  Transhumans Singularity
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Cheap DNA Testing Deal

Razib Khan and Ray Sawhill both alerted me to a special personal DNA testing deal from 23andme.com for $99 plus $60 for a year of data analysis updates (where new research tells more about the half million DNA letters they test). Razib says to get the discount the discount codes are LOYALFAN, HHY6P4, GIZMODO99.

23andme does what is called SNP testing. SNP stands for single nucleotide polymorphism. Sounds fancy, right? Not really. SNPs are places in your 2.9 billion DNA letters where people differ from each other. The half million that 23andme test are so far known to be more interesting from a medical or genealogical standpoint than some millions of other known SNPs.

So do they offer practical useful information? For some people, yes. For example, they check some SNPs that are associated with higher risk of side effects from cholesterol-lowering statins and blood thinners such as Warfarin. I think DNA testing for drug side effects will provide a big boon because not only can we use DNA tests to avoid side effects from existing drugs but also when drugs cause dangerous side effects during drug development fewer drugs will need to be dropped from development if a subset of at-risk people can be identified. With genetic tests that identify those at risk everyone else will be able to still use these drugs which otherwise would never make it to market.

I would like to see the genetic testing services provided by companies like 23andme to be used more routinely with medical research studies on humans. For example, I recently reported on how some people get little or no benefit from exercise. If the people who did that study had also used 23andme's testing service on their study subjects they might already have clues as to which SNPs might contribute to those findings.

I expect genetic testing will eventually tell us lots of insights useful for our daily lives. For example, do we benefit from exercise, what kinds, and what kinds to avoid? What about fat versus protein versus carbohydrates or types of fats? Nutrigenomics will provide some answers which will allow us to customize our diets. Also, which drugs to avoid or take? Both the long and short term benefits and risks of drugs depend at least partly on our genetic makeup.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 25 09:47 AM  Biotech Assay Services
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 November 23 Tuesday
Reforestation Boosts Forestry Product Imports

About half the reforestry acreage in one country is balanced by increased logging and forest loss in other countries.

In five of the six countries (with the exception of India), the return of native forests was accompanied by a reduction in timber harvests and new farmland, thus creating a demand for imported wood and agricultural products.

"For every 100 acres of reforestation in these five countries, they imported the equivalent of 74 acres of forest products," said Meyfroidt, a postdoctoral researcher at Louvain and lead author of the study. "Taking into account their exports of agricultural products, the net balance amounted to 22 acres of land used in other countries."

During the past five years, the net land-use displacement increased to 52 acres of imported agricultural or forestry products for every 100 acres reforested, he added. That is, for every acre of reforested land, a half-acre was used elsewhere, including countries like Brazil and Indonesia, which together accounted for 61 percent of the all deforestation in the humid tropics between 2000 and 2005.

So if some government dictates reforesting of former forests and jungles more trees will get cut down in Brazil and Indonesia. We need cheap substitutes for wood. Unfortunately economic growth will increase buying power for wood products. So I expect even more deforestation as the world economy grows.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 23 10:38 PM  Trends Bio Resource Usage
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
2010 November 22 Monday
Alpha Carotene Beneficial In Vegetables?

Since randomized trials of beta carotene supplementation did not appear to show a health benefit scientists have been trying to figure out what about vegetables make people healthier. One theory: alpha carotene might be a key beneficial substance in cancers.

High blood levels of the antioxidant alpha-carotene appear to be associated with a reduced risk of dying over a 14-year period, according to a report posted online today that will be published in the March 28 print issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Oxygen-related damage to DNA, proteins and fats may play a role in the development of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, according to background information in the article. Carotenoids—including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lycopene—are produced by plants and microorganisms and act as antioxidants, counteracting this damage. Carotenoids in the human body are obtained mainly through eating fruits and vegetables rich in the nutrients, or through antioxidant supplements.

Paleo Diet expert Loren Cordain says the lower acidity of vegetables balances higher acidic foods. Vegetables also contain assorted flavonoids and other compounds. So is alpha carotene a real benefit or just a marker for whatever else in veggies is good for you?

People with higher blood alpha carotene had lower all-cause mortality.

Over the course of the study, 3,810 participants died; the risk for dying was lower with higher levels of alpha-carotene in the blood. Compared with individuals with blood alpha-carotene levels between 0 and 1 micrograms per deciliter, the risk of death during the study period was 23 percent lower among who had concentrations between 2 and 3 micrograms per deciliter, 27 percent lower with levels between 4 and 5 micrograms per deciliter, 34 percent lower with levels between 6 and 8 micrograms per deciliter and 39 percent lower with levels of 9 micrograms per deciliter or higher.

Higher alpha-carotene concentration also appeared to be associated with lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer individually, and of all other causes. "The association between serum alpha-carotene concentrations and risk of death from all causes was significant in most subgroups stratified by demographic characteristics, lifestyle habits and health risk factors," the authors write.

It seems likely the vegetables really are good for your health. You do not have to know how they deliver their health benefits. You can just eat them. Go for the yellow-orange vegetables and deep greens. About to buy food for Thanksgiving Day? Go for sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and dark greens.

Alpha-carotene is chemically similar to beta-carotene but may be more effective at inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in the brain, liver and skin, they note. "Moreover, results from a population-based case-control study of the association between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and risk of lung cancer suggest that consumption of yellow-orange (carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin and winter squash) and dark-green (broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnips greens, collards and leaf lettuce) vegetables, which have a high alpha-carotene content, was more strongly associated with a decreased risk of lung cancer than was consumption of all other types of vegetables," the authors write.

Count me in the ranks of those who would rather pass on broccoli. Better winter squash or sweet potatoes. Yams too.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 22 10:53 PM  Aging Diet Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Energy Prices Boost Rural Living Costs

In the UK the added costs of living in a rural area raises the minimum income needed to live a fairly minimal existence.

The Commission for Rural Communities said someone in a remote village needed £18,600 a year to get by, compared with £14,400 for an urban dweller.

It means a villager must earn about 50% above the minimum wage of £5.93 an hour to reach a minimum living standard.

The report cited transport and fuel as the main extra cost burdens.

Curiously, the difference in living costs for a "rural town" versus an urban area was fairly small as compared to the additional costs of villages or, even more expensive, hamlets. Anyone know what the sizes are for each of these categories?

Since fuel taxes are higher in Britain than in America in a sense the British are living in America's energy future. The higher energy taxes in Britain simulate the effects of futurel higher energy costs due to Peak Oil. If compared today one would expect a smaller price premium in living costs in rural America as compared to rural Britain. Has any reader come across sources of information on living costs as a function of population density in the United States?

Of course, Britain is a much more densely populated country than the US. So one can get further away from populated areas in the US. So I wonder just how remote a remote British village can be, at least in England.

Since I expect Peak Oil to cause a big increase in the costs of transportation the rural area living cost disadvantage will grow. Shipping costs and commuting and other travel costs will all go up faster in rural communities. Also, shipping costs will rise more rapidly in areas more distant from sea ports and cargo rail stations. Though rural areas in farm country will have food supply advantages due to proximity to crops.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 22 10:13 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 November 21 Sunday
World CO2 Emissions Dropped 1.3% In 2009

The recession in the industrialized countries was big enough to cause a small global decline in carbon dioxide emissions.

In a paper published today in Nature Geoscience, the authors found that despite the major financial crisis that hit the world last year, global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuel in 2009 were only 1.3 per cent below the record 2008 figures. This is less than half the drop predicted a year ago.

The industrialized nations saw big drops in CO2 emissions. 8.6% for UK is much deeper than GDP figures would lead one to expect.

The global financial crisis severely affected western economies, leading to large reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, UK emissions were 8.6% lower in 2009 than in 2008. Similar figures apply to USA, Japan, France, Germany, and most other industrialised nations.

But the CO2 emissions growth in China and India suggests rapid economic growth in these countries while Western countries languished.

However, emerging economies had a strong economic performance despite the financial crisis, and recorded substantial increases in CO2 emissions (e.g. China +8 per cent, India +6.2 per cent).

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, lead author of the research, said: "The 2009 drop in CO2 emissions is less than half that anticipated a year ago. This is because the drop in world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was less than anticipated and the carbon intensity of world GDP, which is the amount of CO2 released per unit of GDP, improved by only 0.7 per cent in 2009 – well below its long-term average of 1.7% per year."

The poor improvements in carbon intensity were caused by an increased share of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions produced by emerging economies with a relatively high carbon intensity, and an increasing reliance on coal.

China now makes more cars per year than the United States. That effectively bakes in a big future growth in Chinese oil consumption. But currently an astounding 74% of China's energy comes from coal. That's a rare level of dependence on coal.

Coal supplied the vast majority (74 percent) of China’s total energy consumption requirements in 2008. Oil is the second-largest source, accounting for 15 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. While China has made an effort to diversify its energy supplies, hydroelectric sources (7 percent), natural gas (4 percent), nuclear power (1 percent), and other renewables (0.2 percent) account for relatively small amounts of China’s energy consumption mix. EIA envisages coal’s share of the energy mix will fall to 62 percent by 2035 due to anticipated increased efficiencies and China’s goal to reduce its carbon intensity or carbon emissions per unit of GDP by at least 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. China also recently announced plans to reduce its energy intensity levels (energy consumed per unit of GDP) by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020 and increase non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 15 percent of the energy mix in the same time period.

By contrast, the United States gets about 21% of its energy from coal.

I expect the Chinese economy to diversify away from coal out of necessity. The Chinese government is considering a limit on coal production growth in order to stretch dwindling reserves. Wind and nuclear will become larger electric power sources. But Chinese CO2 emissions will continue to grow for years if they can find fossil fuels to burn.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 21 10:56 PM  Pollution Green House Gases
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
Meeting On Tiger Species Extinction Threat

After a 97% decline in the number of tigers from around 100 years ago the number of countries with tigers in their borders has dropped from 25 to 13.

The International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg is being staged in response to a calamitous 97% decline in tigers in the wild over a century.

We could be a dozen years away from total tiger extinction.

Jim Leape, director general of WWF, said that 40 years of conservation efforts had failed to halt poaching, loss of habitat and the decline of prey species. As a result, several subspecies have already died out, the wild population has shrunk to just 3,200 tigers and the number continues to shrink every day.

"The reasons for this disaster are well known," Leape said. "Unless we take drastic action, there will be no tigers by the next year of the tiger in 2022."

I do not see how the tigers are going to be saved given continued population growth, industrialization, and rising demand for tiger parts. They might survive in zoos.

It would make sense to gather DNA samples from as many of the surviving tigers as possible so at least their genetic sequences can be preserved in case the US population ever drops low enough to make realistic to reestablish wild tiger populations. The same makes sense for many other threatened species: get their DNA safely sequenced and stored in databases.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 21 05:34 PM  Trends Extinction
Entry Permalink | Comments(8)
2010 November 20 Saturday
Scaffolding Grows Replacement Human Trachea

Maria Konovalenko points to an impressive feat of tissue engineering. Using the cartilage of a donor trachea to form a scaffolding the stem cells from the nose and bone marrow of a 19 year old girl were grown on the cartilage scaffolding and then the new windpipe was implanted as a replacement for a cancerous trachea.

A British teenager has been given a new windpipe grown from her own stem cells in a pioneering operation. The 19-year-old has now been discharged after having the procedure in Italy.

Curiously, this is not the first success at growing replacement tracheas. Whether the stem cells are first grown on the trachea for a while before implantation has differed in the few times trachea replacements have been installed. Click thru to read the details.

The use of donor organ non-cell scaffolding to grow replacement organs has also been done with rat livers. MIT researchers have created scaffolding for growing knee and other joint tissue. Other research shows promise for creating scaffolding to grow heart tissue replacements.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 20 10:05 PM  Biotech Tissue Engineering
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 November 18 Thursday
Gene Therapy Immune Tweak Kills Melanoma In Mice

Complete melanoma remission in mice was achieved with gene therapy to turn up the immune system against the cancer.

INDIANAPOLIS – A potent anti-tumor gene introduced into mice with metastatic melanoma has resulted in permanent immune reconfiguration and produced a complete remission of their cancer, according to an article to be published in the December 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. The online version is now available.

The cloned gene came from a patient with melanoma and the gene amped up immune response to melanoma.

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers used a modified lentivirus to introduce a potent anti-melanoma T cell receptor gene into the hematopoietic stem cells of mice. Hematopoietic stem cells are the bone marrow cells that produce all blood and immune system cells.

The T cell gene, which recognizes a specific protein found on the surface of melanoma, was isolated and cloned from a patient with melanoma. The gene-modified stems cells were then transplanted back into hosts and found to eradicate metastatic melanoma for the lifetime of the mice.

A result like this will take years before it is tried on humans. But why? If you've been given a malignant melanoma diagnosis death sentence by a doctor why shouldn't you be allowed to get highly experimental gene therapies? That people with fatal diseases can't bypass the drug approval process and try anything that works on lab animals just seems immoral to me.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 18 10:32 PM  Biotech Cancer
Entry Permalink | Comments(16)
CERN Scientists Build Anti-Matter Container

A warp core breach due to failure of the anti-matter containment field suddenly starts to look possible.

A clearer understanding of the Universe, its origins and maybe even its destiny is a significant step closer, thanks to new research.

As part of a major international experiment called ALPHA*, based at CERN in Switzerland, researchers have helped to achieve trapping and holding atoms of 'anti-hydrogen', which has not previously been possible.

The project involves physicists at Swansea University led by Professor Mike Charlton, Dr Niels Madsen and Dr Dirk Peter van der Werf and the University of Liverpool under Professor Paul Nolan, all supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

This breakthrough will make it possible to study 'anti-matter' closely for the first time, and so develop unprecedented insight into its composition/structure and improve understanding of the fundamental physical principles that underpin the Universe and the way it works.

Anti-matter propulsion for Mars colonists?

The way I see it there's no point in using anti-matter propulsion to move between stars until we master rejuvenation technologies, miniaturize the technologies, and develop the ability to hibernate. But terraforming robots should be sent decades in advance to prepare a planet for colonist arrival.

CERN researchers are also looking for parallel universes. So when we burst into these parallel universes we'll be able to defend ourselves with anti-matter weapons.

And as their Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva moves into high gear, they are talking increasingly of the "New Physics" on the horizon that could totally change current views of the universe and how it works.

"Parallel universes, unknown forms of matter, extra dimensions... These are not the stuff of cheap science fiction but very concrete physics theories that scientists are trying to confirm with the LHC and other experiments.

Is there such a large infinity of parallel universes that some have parallel Earths with similar histories? If so, what's different?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 18 10:13 PM  Space Colonization
Entry Permalink | Comments(8)
Some Get Little Benefit From Exercise?

Some of you are feeling very hopeful from that headline. Might be pointless to go jogging or lift weights? Finally escape from physical effort. Finnish researchers found that some people do not increase muscle mass or aerobic capacity or insulin sensitivity thru exercise.

Recently, researchers in Finland made the discovery that some people’s bodies do not respond as expected to weight training, others don’t respond to endurance exercise and, in some lamentable cases, some don’t respond to either. In other words, there are those who just do not become fitter or stronger, no matter what exercise they undertake.

Some people do not build up muscles when they exercise. Some do not improve their vascular capacity. One could go thru exercise programs and measure this about yourself. This is about the only way to find out until genetic testing becomes cheap enough to enable the discovery of all the genetic variants that control body response to exercise.

You've heard about nutrigenomics, right? That's where genetic testing will some day (sooner please) tell us individually what our best diet would be. Well, not sure how to make this into a single word but the same is going to happen for exercise. Exercisogenomics? Any suggestions? Or does some word already exist for this purpose?

Of course, your genetic results might bring unwanted news: Little benefit from exercise plus high risks of heart disease, stroke, and type II insulin-insensitive diabetes. We need gene therapies and cell therapies that'll make our bodies not need exercise and have much lower risk of a large assortment of diseases.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 18 08:49 PM  Aging Exercise Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(15)
2010 November 17 Wednesday
Growth Factor Reverses Gum Tissue Loss On Teeth

Japanese researchers find that a growth factor helps to reverse the effect of periodontitis

In an article titled "FGF-2 Stimulates Periodontal Regeneration: Results of a Multicenter Randomized Clinical Trial," which is published in the International and American Associations for Dental Research's Journal of Dental Research, M. Kitamura, from Osaka University Graduate School of Dentistry, Japan, and a team of researchers conducted a human clinical trial to determine the safety and effectiveness of fibroblast growth factor-2 (FGF-2) for clinical application. This is the largest study to date in the field of periodontal regenerative therapy.

We really ought to have the ability to get receded gums to grow back onto teeth. This is one of many ways where if we could just instruct cells to do our bidding we could prevent or reverse a form of age-related decay in our bodies.

This research looks promising.

A randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted in 253 adults afflicted with periodontitis. Periodontal surgery was performed, during which one of three different doses of FGF-2 was randomly administered to localized bone defects. Each dose of FGF-2 showed significant superiority over the standard of care (vehicle alone (p < 0.01)) for the percentage of bone fill at 36 wks after administration, and the percentage peaked in the mid-dose FGF-2 group. These results strongly support the topical application of FGF-2 can be efficacious in the regeneration of human periodontal tissue that has been destroyed by periodontitis.

MORE...
By Randall Parker 2010 November 17 10:49 PM  Biotech Teeth And Gums
Entry Permalink | Comments(10)
2010 November 16 Tuesday
One Way Trips To Mars First?

Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies argue that of a human trip to Mars was one way then costs could be slashed and the mission could be done much sooner.

A human mission to Mars is technologically feasible, but hugely expensive requiring enormous financial and political commitments. A creative solution to this dilemma would be a one-way human mission to Mars in place of the manned return mission that remains stuck on the drawing board. Our proposal would cut the costs several fold but ensure at the same time a continuous commitment to the exploration of Mars in particular and space in general. It would also obviate the need for years of rehabilitation for returning astronauts, which would not be an issue if the astronauts were to remain in the low-gravity environment of Mars. We envision that Mars exploration would begin and proceed for a long time on the basis of outbound journeys only. A mission to Mars could use some of the hardware that has been developed for the Moon program. One approach could be to send four astronauts initially, two on each of two space craft, each with a lander and sufficient supplies, to stake a single outpost on Mars. A one-way human mission to Mars would not be a fixed duration project as in the Apollo program, but the first step in establishing a permanent human presence on the planet. The astronauts would be re-supplied on a periodic basis from Earth with basic necessities, but otherwise would be expected to become increasingly proficient at harvesting and utilizing resources available on Mars. Eventually the outpost would reach self-sufficiency, and then it could serve as a hub for a greatly expanded colonization program. There are many reasons why a human colony on Mars is a desirable goal, scientifically and politically. The strategy of one-way missions brings this goal within technological and financial feasibility. Nevertheless, to attain it would require not only major international cooperation, but a return to the exploration spirit and risk-taking ethos of the great period of Earth exploration, from Columbus to Amundsen, but which has nowadays been replaced with a culture of safety and political correctness.

They advocate sending older crews. Though such crews would be unable to create self-sustaining populations. As I've previously argued, rejuvenation therapies would enable colonizing missions of much longer duration. If we wait 30 or 40 years for the rejuv tech then a Mars colony could start out with a population that could live and reproduce there for centuries. Send youthful polymath minds. The radiation damage of the trip could get repaired once the astronauts reach Mars. Robots (which will also be much more advanced in 30-40 years) could build up rejuvenation labs before humans arrived.

The Obama Administration is not keen on one-way trips.

President Obama informed NASA last April that he "`believed by the mid-2030s that we could send humans to orbit Mars and safely return them to Earth. And that a landing would soon follow,'" said agency spokesman Michael Braukus.

No where did Obama suggest the astronauts be left behind.

"We want our people back," Braukus said.

But what if some people were really willing to go on a one-way trip to Mars? Granted, they'd probably die sooner due to less advanced medical care. But what if they really wanted to go? Why not let them?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 16 11:48 PM  Space Colonization
Entry Permalink | Comments(18)
Silent Vascular Disease Common With Age

Vascular disease isn't just about massive heart attacks and strokes. Vascular disease causes brain damage that degrades brain function as we age.

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Older people who are leading active, healthy lifestyles often have silent vascular disease that can be seen on brain scans that affect their ability to think, according to a new study led by UC Davis researchers and published online today in the Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA Archives journals.

Silent undiagnosed vascular disease in the brain is really common in older folks.

"This study shows that silent vascular disease is really common as we get older and it influences our thinking abilities," said Charles DeCarli, professor of neurology in the School of Medicine at UC Davis and director of the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Center. "We're beginning to realize that vascular disease plays a major role in Alzheimer's disease — they go together."

The study findings are based on data from participants in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The initiative tracks individuals who are normal, those who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and people with Alzheimer's disease using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) imaging and laboratory and cognitive testing to track changes in their cognitive status.

If you aren't worried about your arteries and heart because you figure we all have go to die somehow then think again. Clogged arteries are about more than heart attacks. The damage that accumulates as we age doesn't just add up until sudden massive system failure. It causes many smaller cuts over years.

It has been too long since my last vitamin D plug. Well, witamin D might help protect the brain against strokes.

Low levels of vitamin D, the essential nutrient obtained from milk, fortified cereals and exposure to sunlight, doubles the risk of stroke in whites, but not in blacks, according to a new report by researchers at Johns Hopkins.

Stroke is the nation's third leading cause of death, killing more than 140,000 Americans annually and temporarily or permanently disabling over half a million when there is a loss of blood flow to the brain.

Researchers say their findings, to be presented Nov. 15 at the American Heart Association's (AHA) annual Scientific Sessions in Chicago, back up evidence from earlier work at Johns Hopkins linking vitamin D deficiency to higher rates of death, heart disease and peripheral artery disease in adults.

For more ideas on how to preserve your brain from vascular damage check out my Aging Diet Heart Studies category archive.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 16 11:31 PM  Aging Brain Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Chinese Government Worries On Domestic Peak Coal

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Chinese government might place a limit on coal mining in order to make Chinese domestic coal reserves last longer.

State-run media reported that Beijing is considering capping domestic coal output in the 2011-2015 period, partly because officials worry miners are running down reserves too quickly to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding economy.

"China accounts for around 14% of global coal reserves but its share of global coal consumption is already over triple that at 47%, which is unsustainable," Hong Kong-based brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets said in a report last month.

Their main worry on coal consumption is not global warming. They want their reserves to last longer and would rather import more coal now in order to delay development of a later greater dependency on imported coal. Since imported coal will cost more one effect of this move could be to drive up Chinese demand for nuclear, wind, and other electric power sources.

China's industrialization places demands on resources that could grow to be multiples of current US resource consumption.

Update: Over at The Old Drum read Euan Mearns on China's unsustainable coal production growth and estimates on ultimately recoverable coal reserves. Kjell Aleklett believes China is very close to peak domestic coal production regardless of what their policy makers decide.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 16 11:26 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels
Entry Permalink | Comments(19)
Will Perpetually Young Become Extremely Risk Averse?

Seth Shostak thinks perpetual youth is a recipe for stagnation and extreme cocooning where people stay home out of fear in virtual reality.

Regrettably, you might not find any groceries. Farming is one of the most dangerous jobs around, and any farmer who lives long enough to fear riding in a car has had a more-than-even chance of being killed in the back forty. Incidentally, that's about the same death rate as mining coal, so we'll need to get those wind turbines built if you want electricity at home.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: if we extend human lifetimes a lot -- to millennia, rather than centuries -- all the small risks you heedlessly take every day will have a devastating cumulative impact. Most jobs will become unattractive, because just about any occupation becomes, eventually, a deadly occupation. We'll automate nearly everything we can, and stay at home immersed in a virtual world.

First of all, he's missing just how much interaction and change will be possible using virtual worlds. Second, what's wrong with having robots do all the dangerous work? That seems like a feature, not a bug.

Third, I question the extent to which people will avoid risk-taking. Humans aren't that rational. Look at the risk-taking junkies now jumping out of airplanes, kayaking, snow boarding, and speeding around country roads. They find the prospect extreme thrills in risky endeavors extremely alluring. Absent some gene therapy to dampen their desire for risk I expect rejuvenation will make them more prone to take risks, not less. Who is more likely to do extreme skiing? Someone with a young body or an old body?

I've previously explored this issue in my posts Will Longer Lives Make People More Risk Averse? and Will Eternal Youthfulness Lead To Less Ambition?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 16 11:13 PM  Aging Debate
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2010 November 15 Monday
Lost Religion Leads To More Brand Loyalty?

Do the non-religious have greater brand loyalty?

Prof. Ron Shachar of Tel Aviv University's Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that a consumer's religiosity has a large impact on his likelihood for choosing particular brands. Comsumers who are deeply religious are less likely to display an explicit preference for a particular brand, while more secular populations are more prone to define their self-worth through loyalty to corporate brands instead of religious denominations.

This research, in collaboration with Duke University and New York University scientists, recently appeared in the journal Marketing Science.

I am reminded of a quote (comes in variations) attributed to G.K. Chesterton: "When a Man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything." The real origin of the quote might be Emile Cammaerts writing about Chesterton:

The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.

Okay, without taking a side in the God Stuff debate can we think rationally about what is going on here? (the answer to that question might depend on our specific brand loyalties - not sure if my fairly shallow loyalties to Google, Amazon, or Norelco will serve as an obstacle). My take: I suspect we all have a finite capacity for loyalty or feeling of being allied or bonded. Take away a supernatural belief and reverence and basically some unused capacity for loyalty (need for loyalty?) becomes available for hijacking by corporate marketers. Is this an improvement? It depends on the specific beliefs and loyalties. For example, I'd rather someone have loyalty to a brand of running shoes or cell phone than loyalty to a diety who he thinks wants him to blow up tube stations. But loyalties to cigarette brands or sugary soda brands are definitely harmful to health.

Think religious thoughts before shopping and your purchasing choices will be less driven by brand loyalties.

Researchers discovered that those participants who wrote about their religion prior to the shopping experience were less likely to pick national brands when it came to products linked to appearance or self-expression — specifically, products which reflected status, such as fashion accessories and items of clothing. For people who weren't deeply religious, corporate logos often took the place of religious symbols like a crucifix or Star of David, providing feelings of self-worth and well-being. According to Prof. Shachar, two additional lab experiments done by this research team have demonstrated that like religiousity, consumers use brands to express their sense of self-worth.

Ever noticed how some ex-religious believers are incredibly bitter toward their former religion? This seems most visible with some ex-Catholics. Well, since brand loyalty seems to develop more strongly when religious loyalty is absent loss of brand loyalty makes people extremely emotional about their former loyalty.

It's just like a bad breakup: People get emotional when they end a relationship with a brand. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines what happens when people turn their backs on the brands they once loved.

"Customers who were once enthusiastic about a brand may represent a headache for the associated firm beyond the lost revenue of foregone sales because they sometimes become committed to harming the firm," write authors Allison R. Johnson (University of Western Ontario), Maggie Matear (Queens University, Kingston, Ontario), and Matthew Thomson (University of Western Ontario).

Online forums are overloaded with customer complaints from people who once loved or were loyal to particular brands but now strongly oppose them. "I used to love (name of store), let me tell you all why I plan to never go back there again; I hate them with a passion now," writes one unhappy former customer, for example.

Why do these people feel so strongly about brands they once favored? According to the authors, some people identify so strongly with brands that they become relevant to their identity and self-concept. Thus, when people feel betrayed by brands, they experience shame and insecurity. "As in human relationships, this loss of identity can manifest itself in negative feelings, and subsequent actions may (by design) be unconstructive, malicious, and expressly aimed at hurting the former relationship partner," the authors write.

Do you have any strongly felt brand loyalties that might disappoint you? Might want to try some competing products before you become disappointed. That way your loyalty will weaken before your loss of brand faith. That'll make it easier to move on.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 15 09:04 PM  Brain Loyalty
Entry Permalink | Comments(23)
Space-Time Cloak Possible?

Imagine a cloaking device that turns on briefly to hide an event that occurs.

The study, by researchers from Imperial College London, involves a new class of materials called metamaterials, which can be artificially engineered to distort light or sound waves. With conventional materials, light typically travels along a straight line, but with metamaterials, scientists can exploit a wealth of additional flexibility to create undetectable blind spots. By deflecting certain parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, an image can be altered or made to look like it has disappeared.

Previously, a team led by Professor Sir John Pendry at Imperial College London showed that metamaterials could be used to make an optical invisibility cloak. Now, a team led by Professor Martin McCall has mathematically extended the idea of a cloak that conceals objects to one that conceals events.

"Number One, we need to allow the diplomatic shuttle hidden behind us to move away without the enemy detecting it. Hide their escape with the ship's space-time cloaking device".

By speeding up some light and slowing down other light an observation gap can be created.

"Light normally slows down as it enters a material, but it is theoretically possible to manipulate the light rays so that some parts speed up and others slow down," says McCall, from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London. When light is 'opened up' in this way, rather than being curved in space, the leading half of the light speeds up and arrives before an event, whilst the trailing half is made to lag behind and arrives too late. The result is that for a brief period the event is not illuminated, and escapes detection. Once the concealed passage has been used, the cloak can then be 'closed' seamlessly.

I am guessing the observation gap is very small. But could it be long enough to fire phasers?

Or one could use it to make a person seem to instantly move a substantial distance. So that's how that's done.

Such a space-time cloak would open up a temporary corridor through which energy, information and matter could be manipulated or transported undetected. "If you had someone moving along the corridor, it would appear to a distant observer as if they had relocated instantaneously, creating the illusion of a Star-Trek transporter," says McCall. "So, theoretically, this person might be able to do something and you wouldn't notice!"

The space-time cloak does not give the actor additional time. Just what is done during that time is hidden. What's needed is an instant localized time warp so that one could get a lot done in a small amount of time. Like Spock after the others slowed down when he was sped up and fixing the Enterprise.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 15 06:18 PM  Real Science Fiction
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 November 14 Sunday
Craig Venter To NASA: Engineer Your Astronauts

Gene therapy, cell therapy, and tissue engineering techniques could be used to rebuild astronauts. No mention of robotic prostheses.

Craig Venter has an answer. The biologist told a group of scientists at NASA Ames on Saturday that NASA already does genetic selection when it picks astronauts. He just suggests that the space agency get even more systematic about its process.

“Inner ear changes could allow people to escape motion sickness,” Venter said. “(You could have genes for) bone regeneration, DNA repair from radiation, a strong immune system, small stature, high energy utilization, a low risk of genetic disease, smell receptors, a lack of hair, slow skin turnover, dental decay and so on. If people are traveling in space for their whole lives, they may want to engineer genetic traits for other purposes.”

Okay, this is an obvious and unoriginal idea. But we are approaching the era when it becomes possible to start working on the problem. Tissue engineered astronauts could become common in the 2020s. While I would argue NASA should have higher priorities (asteroid defense most notably) the spin-offs for mainstream medicine would be substantial and of far greater benefit than all the other spin-offs from NASA engineering to date.

Note to NASA: Collect tissue samples of all surviving astronauts and even of people who failed out of the astronaut program for health reasons. The DNA in the tissue samples could be sequenced and compared to the medical records of each astronaut. Which ones had the hardest time adjusting to weightlessness? Which ones had a harder or easier time readjusting once back down on Earth? The genetic variants that contributed to these differences would be good to know.

The US Air Force and Navy could conduct an even bigger research program into pilot performance and genetics because orders of magnitude more people have become military pilots than astronauts. Sports performance research has an overlap with NASA's needs as well. So does aging research in areas such as osteoporosis (bone loss) and sarcopenia (muscle loss). How to maintain bone and muscle mass in space for long periods?

I would argue that space exploration really needs rejuvenation therapies. The cost of moving humans around in space is so great that their lasting decades longer in young bodies would offer great advantages in, say, a Mars colony. The first generation would stay young enough long enough to produce lots of offspring, pass on their many skills (colonists would likely be chosen in part for their polymath skills), and do lots of work.

Interplanetary travel would absolutely require rejuvenation therapies to minimize the costs (and considerable risks) of training new generations. Also, why start out on a few hundred year trip across the stars only to die a couple of centuries for reaching a destination?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 14 12:22 PM  Space Colonization
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2010 November 11 Thursday
Aging Brains Notice More Irrelevant Information

The ability to filter out irrelevant info declines with age. So what sorts of technological aids can reduce the flow of irrelevant stimuli?

A University of Toronto study shows that visual attention — the brain’s ability to selectively filter unattended or unwanted information from reaching awareness — diminishes with age, leaving older adults less capable of filtering out distracting or irrelevant information. Further, this age-related "leaky" attentional filter fundamentally impacts the way visual information is encoded into memory. Older adults with impaired visual attention have better memory for "irrelevant" information. The research, conducted by members of U of T’s Department of Psychology, will be published Wednesday, November 3 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

I've long thought it would help to create less cluttered workplaces, reduce lighting, put up more real walls rather than cubicle walls, and reduce sources of interrupt. The advantage of doing so probably increases with age. Aging minds are probably more easily distracted into taking note of many sort of off-topic things in an environment.

On a related note, people daydreaming or otherwise thinking about something besides their current activities are less happy.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects' thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.

"A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind," Killingsworth and Gilbert write. "The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost."

The researchers believe the direction of causation is from mind-wandering to unhappiness, rather than the other way around.

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects' mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

"Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to 'be here now,'" Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. "These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind."

This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Stay on topic and stay in the present. You'll be happier if you can manage this.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 11 10:19 PM  Aging Brain Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
2010 November 10 Wednesday
DHA Delays Early Brain Decline

Use omega 3 fatty acid DHA for your brain if you are getting up in the years.

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 8, 2010 — A study published in the November edition of Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association suggests that taking docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may improve memory and learning in older adults with mild cognitive impairments. This is promising news for many aging Americans who are searching for options to maintain memory and support overall cognitive health.

The "Memory Improvement with Docosahexaenoic Acid Study" (MIDAS) was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the effects of DHA—the principle omega-3 fatty acid in the brain—on improving cognitive functions in healthy older adults with age-related cognitive decline. The study found that DHA taken for six months improved memory and learning in healthy, older adults with mild memory complaints.

It is far more sensible to improve your diet and therefore improve brain nutrition as early in life as possible than to try to intervene against Alzheimer's after brain aging as gotten so far advanced that it becomes a clinically recognizable disease.

While another recent study found that DNA does not work against already diagnosed Alzheimer's these researchers think DNA will help at an earlier stage of brain aging.

These findings underscore the importance of early DHA intervention. While the MIDAS study focused on a population of healthy adults with age-associated memory impairment, a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), conducted in a population that had previously been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, did not indicate DHA provided a statistically significant benefit to cognitive function. The lead author of the JAMA study also highlighted that their results may have been different had DHA been administered before the participants' disease progressed.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 10 10:59 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Fetal Testosterone Exposure Boosts Male Risk Taking

Testosterone before birth make men take greater risks in all aspects of life.

Montreal November 9, 2010 – Potential investors might wish to examine the fingers of their financial advisor prior to signing over any savings. A new study from Concordia University has found the length between the second and fourth finger is an indicator of high levels of prenatal testosterone, risk-taking and potential financial success in men. The findings, published in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences, suggest that alpha males may take greater risks in relationships, on the squash court and in the financial market.

If your ring finger is longer than your index finger (the finger you use to point at things) then you were exposed to more testosterone. I bet most female CEOs have long ring fingers. Ditto for Wall Street traders and male CEOs for that matter.

You've got to take risks to achieve big successes.

"Previous studies have linked high testosterone levels with risky behaviour and financial success," says senior researcher Gad Saad, Concordia University Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption as well as a marketing professor at the John Molson School of Business. "We investigated the relationship between prenatal testosterone and various risk proclivities. Our findings show an association between high testosterone and risk-taking among males in three domains: recreational, social and financial."

"Since women tend to be attracted to men who are fit, assertive and rich, men are apt to take risks with sports, people and money to be attractive to potential mates. What's interesting is that this tendency is influenced by testosterone exposure – more testosterone in the womb can lead to more risks in the rink, the bar and the trading floor in later in life," says first author and Concordia doctoral student, Eric Stenstrom.

What I wonder: Once it becomes possible to control fetal testosterone exposure will expectant parents opt to make their male or their female babies more aggressive and masculine? To put it another way: Will the incidence of longer ring fingers be higher 50 years from now?

What I also wonder: Will ways be found to modulate and funnel risk-taking behavior to make it more focused on financial success? Will parents opt to make their kids rather like Ferengi with a stronger focus on acquisition? This seems doable. There are probably genes that boost risks of becoming gambling addicts that are separate from genes that boost more constructive forms of risk-taking.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 10 08:15 PM  Brain Sex Differences
Entry Permalink | Comments(11)
2010 November 09 Tuesday
Switching To New Server

If you think you've lost any comments then it would be due to a migration of this site to a faster server. The data is being copied from the old to the new server and then the DNS entry for the site's address will be changed to the new server's address. That DNS change can take hours to propagate to all the DNS servers in the world. If you happen to access the old server after the data migration then your comments will be lost. Sorry about that.

On the bright side, the hope is that the new server will be less susceptible to outages caused by bot storms.

Since I do not know whether I'm currently accessing the old or new server and where the data migration is at I'm not even sure this post will survive onto the new server. The opportunity to migrate to the new server came up very suddenly and this is not a planned migration.

Update: Bringing up the new server took longer than expected. If you are reading this update then you are reading the new server. I expect you will see faster page loads during busier parts of the day. Also, site outages due to bot storms should be less frequent.

Some comments ended up going to the old server after the data was migrated. This was partly due to DNS update propagation delays. Basically, this site moved to a new IP address. But when a site changes its IP address that news does not instantly spread to all the domain name servers across the web. So many browsers were getting the old address when they queried their DNS server for an IP address for futurepundit.com. Therefore they visited the old server after the data migration and some people wrote comments to that server that are lost. Sorry about that.

I still have a problem with blog spam getting thru that I am trying to fix. If you see more spam be aware that it is getting cleaned out once or twice a day until an extension needed for CAPTCHA is installed on the new server.

Update II: The CAPTCHA problem is fixed. Spam should go back down to a much less annoying level.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 09 04:41 PM  Miscellaneous Site Problems
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 November 08 Monday
COMT-Val Gene Variant Increases Altruism?

Does a variant of a gene that cleans up neurotransmitter dopamine more effectively make its carriers more altruistic?

Do you like to do good things for other people? If so, your genes might be responsible for this. At least, the results of a study conducted by researchers of the University of Bonn suggest this. According to the study, a minute change in a particular gene is associated with a significantly higher willingness to donate. People with this change gave twice as much money on average to a charitable cause as did other study subjects. The results have now been published in the journal Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience (doi: 10.1093/scan/nsq083).

The researchers working with the psychologist Professor Dr. Martin Reuter invited their students to take a "retention test": The roughly 100 participants were to memorize series of numbers and then repeat them as correctly as possible. They received the sum of five Euros for doing this. Afterwards, they could either take their hard-earned money home or donate any portion of it to a charitable cause. This decision was made freely and in apparent anonymity. "However, we always knew how much money was in the cash box beforehand and could therefore calculate the amount donated", explains Reuter.

COMT-Met carriers do not give up as much money.

This mini-mutation also has effects on behavior: "Students with the COMT-Val gene donated twice as much money on average as did fellow students with the COMT-Met variant", explains Reuter. This is the first time that researchers have been able to establish a connection between a particular gene and altruistic deeds. However, it was already known from studies on twins that altruistic behavior is also partly influenced by our genes.

This seems fairly easily testable on larger populations. This reminds me: We need web sites where people to use genetic testing services such as 23andme can submit their genetic testing results and take a lot of online tests to check various hypotheses and theories about genes and human nature. A study like the one above could be tested with many thousands of volunteers.

These results point out why we should have the legally recognized right (tell the FDA) to do direct-to-consumer genetic testing btw: If people are free to get lots of genetic test data collected on them on their own nickel then massive voluntary studies of genes and human nature and health could be conducted without anyone ever showing up at a medical clinic or research facility. This could lower the cost of genetic research on humanity by orders of magnitude.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 08 10:45 PM  Brain Genetics
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Low Vitamin D Associated With Higher Weight Gain

In a study of children in Colombia low blood vitamin D was associated with higher rate of weight gain.

Villamor worked with colleagues at the National University of Colombia and began the research while at Harvard. The investigators recruited a group of 479 school children ages 5-12 from Bogota, Colombia, in 2006 and followed them for about 30 months. They measured vitamin D in blood taken at the beginning of the study, and then examined the link between vitamin D levels and changes in three indicators of body fat over time: body mass index, waist circumference and subscapular-to-triceps skin fold ratio.

"We found that the kids with the lowest vitamin D levels at the beginning tended to gain weight faster than the kids with higher levels," said Villamor, who added that children with the lowest vitamin D levels had more drastic increases in central body fat measures.

On a related note another study found greater weight loss among people who drink milk. Would vitamin D alone account for this? Or are other components of milk helping?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 08 10:34 PM  Aging Diet Weight Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(7)
Seeing Meat Makes Men Less Aggressive?

Be careful around vegetarians. They rarely get the calming benefit of looking at meat. A researcher found that the sight of meat made men less aggressive.

Frank Kachanoff was surprised. He thought the sight of meat on the table would make people more aggressive, not less. After all, don’t football coaches feed their players big hunks of red meat before a game in hopes of pumping them up? And what about our images of a grunting or growling animal snarling at anyone who dares take their meat away from them? Wouldn’t that go for humans, too?

Kachanoff, a researcher with a special interest in evolution at McGill University’s Department of Psychology, has discovered quite the reverse. According to research presented at a recent symposium at McGill, seeing meat appears to make human beings significantly less aggressive. “I was inspired by research on priming and aggression, that has shown that just looking at an object which is learned to be associated with aggression, such as a gun, can make someone more likely to behave aggressively. I wanted to know if we might respond aggressively to certain stimuli in our environment not because of learned associations, but because of an innate predisposition. I wanted to know if just looking at the meat would suffice to provoke an aggressive behavior.”

This makes sense in a way: Hunters had to be aggressive during the hunt. But once the deer, antelope, moose, or buffalo was brought down and cut open there was no more need for the aggression needed during the hunt.

Does this also speak against hamburgers? Does hiding meat under the bun deprive us of the relaxation that meat should bring us? Should we prefer rare steaks? I am guessing that redder meat works better to calm down wild guys.

Update: If meat makes men less aggressive then does our modern environment (where men rarely hunt) leave us visually deficient to meat exposure?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 08 10:18 PM  Brain Innate
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Personal Flying Drones

When you walk out of the house out of reach of your home guard robots you won't have to leave behind the advantages of machine companions. A Wall Street Journal article reports several of the efforts to create miniature flying drones (cheaper unmanned aerial vehicles for individual use) will reach project completion in 2011.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, professor and former Navy fighter pilot Missy Cummings is working with her students to build a "Personal Sentry" drone. Under a military contract with Boeing Corp., her goal is to develop a drone the size of a pizza box with small propellers that can watch a soldier's back on the battlefield. When a drone sees approaching danger, it will buzz a warning to a soldier's cellphone.

But the real prize may be in civilian applications. "The military stuff is kind of passe," Ms. Cummings said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist from MIT to tell you if we can do it for a soldier in the field, we can do it for anybody."

After the military the earlier adopters are expected to include celebrity-stalking paparazzi photographers.

Where I see this going: The total surveillance society where individuals do as much surveilling as corporations and governments. Declining costs of computers and other things small means surveillance for the masses.

Surveillance robots, whether on the ground or in the air, can serve a lot of useful purposes. MIT's Missy Cummings sees parents using small flying drones accompanying children as they walk to school. People walking thru dangerous neighborhoods might feel safer with a guard drone overhead that a cell phone could signal to report a video feed when someone pulls a gun or knife. Or the drone could scan for other humans at night (using IR) to identify which streets look more or less dangerous to walk down. A drone could also be controllable to direct a very bright light at an approaching assailant.

The ability of surveillance drones to record high-res images could be combined with a wireless link to a criminal face matching computer server. So convicted rapists and muggers could be identified. Crowd sourcing becomes a real possibility. Many different personally owned drones could (along with cameras mounted in cars and outside of stores and houses) all pass info to servers that could then track the movement of known dangerous people (why they are out on the street is another subject). Also, after a crime is committed as soon as, say, a victim of rape or robbery reports the crime all recent drone feed logs in the vicinity could be scoured to identify possible suspects and start tracking them. Neighborhood watches could signal people to all send out their drones to do a massive sweep of the area.

I can imagine flying drones being sent off to a drug store to land on the roof to be loaded with a drug prescription or other light item. The energy costs would probably be lower than the energy costs of driving a car to the store. Wouldn't work for a large grocery load. But would work for trips to get smaller items.

A bigger flying drone operated by, say, Starbucks or 7/11 could deliver coffee to a number of houses on a route. Or how about drones that deliver newspapers? A delivery truck could drive along with a flat bed where the drones lift off and deliver newspapers down side streets. Reduced labor costs, faster delivery.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 08 07:45 PM  Surveillance Robots
Entry Permalink | Comments(14)
2010 November 07 Sunday
Blocking Stress Hormone Improves Memory In Old Mice

Blocking an enzyme which makes stress hormones improves memory in old mice. Perhaps blocking this enzyme would slow the rate of brain decay with age?

Such memory loss has been linked with high levels of 'stress' steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids which have a deleterious effect on the part of the brain that helps us to remember. An enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 is involved in making these hormones and has been shown to be more active in the brain during ageing.

In a study published today in the Journal of Neuroscience, the team reports the effects of a new synthetic compound that selectively blocks 11beta-HSD1 on the ability of mice to complete a memory task, called the Y maze.

Professor Jonathan Seckl from the University of Edinburgh, who discovered the role of 11beta-HSD1 in the brain, described the findings: "Normal old mice often have marked deficits in learning and memory just like some elderly people. We found that life-long partial deficiency of 11beta-HSD1 prevented memory decline with ageing. But we were very surprised to find that the blocking compound works quickly over a few days to improve memory in old mice suggesting it might be a good treatment for the already elderly."

The effects were seen after only 10 days of treatment.

I tend toward skepticism about compounds that might slow aging. Short term beneficial effects often come at the cost of assorted longer term harms. The way metabolism works usually as a constructive reason. That even holds for many metabolic changes in an aging body. For example, cells divide less as you age. Efforts to up-regulate stem cells might enable those stem cells to do more repair and slow the rate of aging. But stimulating old cells to divide faster probably will increase the incidence of cancer. More often than not intervention with drugs has costs and those costs can outweigh the benefits.

The researchers have previously found that carbenoxolone improves memory in heath elderly men and also people with insulin-resistant diabetes.

Professor Brian Walker and Dr Scott Webster from the University of Edinburgh are leading the drug development programme. Professor Walker added: "These results provide proof-of-concept that this class of drugs could be useful to treat age-related decline in memory. We previously showed that carbenoxolone, an old drug that blocks multiple enzymes including 11beta-HSD1, improves memory in healthy elderly men and in patients with type 2 diabetes after just a month of treatment, so we are optimistic that our new compounds will be effective in humans. The next step is to conduct further studies with our preclinical candidate to prove that the compound is safe to take into clinical trials, hopefully within a year."

I expect drugs for revving up and adjusting our metabolism to lessen the effects of aging will become much more useful once we have great ways to cure cancer. More generally, medical science and biotechnology will supply ways to better manage side effects. So interventions with drugs will become more likely to yield a net benefit.

In order to manage drug side effects and manipulate the metabolism for a net benefit we need much more complicated and complete models of human genomes, cells, and metabolism. Since side effects do not fall equally on all people who use a drug the development of ways to individualized prediction of side effects will open up the possibility of much more aggressive drug use with fewer side effects and more benefits.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 07 04:46 PM  Aging Brain Drug Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
2010 November 04 Thursday
Tumor Protein Suppresses Immune Attack On Cancer

Stromal cells in tumors excrete a protein that tells the immune system not to attack cancer cells. A way to suppress that protein would open up tumors to immune attack.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge hope to revolutionise cancer therapy after discovering one of the reasons why many previous attempts to harness the immune system to treat cancerous tumours have failed.

New research, published today in the journal Science, reveals that a type of stromal cell found in many cancers which expresses fibroblast activation protein alpha (FAP), plays a major role in suppressing the immune response in cancerous tumours – thereby restricting the use of vaccines and other therapies which rely on the body's immune system to work. They have also found that if they destroy these cells in a tumour immune suppression is relieved, allowing the immune system to control the previously uncontrolled tumour.

Tumors need many mutations in order to grow. Mutations that allow them to suppress immune response probably are among the mutations that make cancers more deadly.

In transgenic mice wiping out the stromal cells that make FAP opened up the tumors to immune attack.

In order to determine if FAP expressing stromal cells contribute to the resistance of a tumour to vaccination, the researchers created a transgenic mouse model which allowed them to destroy cells which expressed FAP. When FAP-expressing cells were destroyed in tumours in mice with established Lewis lung carcinomas (of which only 2% of the tumour cells are FAP-expressing), the cancer began to rapidly 'die'. The Fearon lab now hopes to collaborate with scientists at the CRUK Cambridge Research Institute to evaluate the effects of depleting FAP-expressing cells in a mouse model that more closely resemble human cancer, and to examine FAP-expressing cells of human tumours.

Drugs that would suppress or block FAP might work to activate the immune system to wipe out cancers. During such a drug treatment the patient might also experience harm from auto-immune attacks on healthy cells. Well, as compared to death from terminal cancer a temporary auto-immune disease would probably be the lesser of two evils.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 04 11:15 PM  Biotech Cancer
Entry Permalink | Comments(6)
MRI Shows Brain Lactic Acid As Aging Indicator

A magnetic resonance imaging scan in mice shows lactic acid as a predictor for other signs of brain aging.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have shown that they may be able to monitor the aging process in the brain, by using MRI technique to measure the brain lactic acid levels. Their findings suggest that the lactate levels increase in advance of other aging symptoms, and therefore could be used as an indicator of aging and age-related diseases of the CNS.

My initial reaction to the first paragraph: Geez, I hope this is an indicator of poor brain circulation and therefore low brain oxygen. That's something we could hope to delay. But no. The researchers believe the rising lactic acid is an indicator of accumulated mitochondrial gene damage. A much harder problem to avoid or fix.

In the current study, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers show that the damage to the mitochondria slowly increases with age in brains of mice and causes altered expression in certain genes that are responsible for the formation of lactate. They also show that brain lactate levels may increase in advance of other indices of aging, and can be detected using non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging techniques.

The researchers suspect MRI measurements of lactic acid will also predict brain deterioration in humans.

We need gene therapy that will deliver replacement mitochondrial genes to all the cells in the body, especially to brain cells.

Brain rejuvenation is going to be the most difficult challenge for reversing general human aging. The cells must be repaired in place rather than replaced with new organs or stem cell therapy. So brain rejuvenation requires the most advanced techniques for cell repair.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 04 10:28 PM  Aging Brain Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
2010 November 03 Wednesday
Home Robots Guard Houses

A pair of New York Times articles catch the emerging new zeitgeist: Robots and surveillance cameras keep watch both inside and outside homes.

When Robert Oschler, a programmer, leaves his home, he knows it is secure. And if he ever has cause for concern, he can open his laptop and survey the house through the eyes of his watchdogs.

“I don’t have any pets. I just have pet robots, and they’re pretty well behaved,” Mr. Oschler said. “Fortunately I’ve never logged in and seen a human face.”

Think about how cell phones are displacing PDAs, iPods, and GPS devices. Well, at home it seems logical for a Roomba or a Neato robotic vacuum cleaner to take on more functions like home surveillance. After all, the vacuum needs to cruise around the house anyway. Add in more sensors and an 802.11 transceiver to talk to the main house server and the vacuum robots become security guards too.

People are watching their yards and neighbors with motion-activated surveillance cameras. Such cameras could alert the house robots too.

With their cameras hidden in bushes or dangling from windows, these homeowners are outing not just littering dog owners, but also bottle snatchers and car scratchers. Although Mr. Miller’s surveillance system came with two motion-activated cameras, he used only one of them, anchoring it with a zip tie to a concrete balustrade outside an upstairs window and running the wire inside, where he plugged it into a DVR.

A month’s worth of video footage clearly showed one of his neighbors slinging bags of dog feces into his yard. “You’d see him come from all directions and even turn around afterwards — like I was his dumping destination and not just a convenient stop on his way,” said Mr. Miller, who showed the video evidence to his community’s security patrol. “They were stunned, and wrote the guy a citation for improper waste disposal, littering and leash law violations.”

So how to take all this up a level? I see a few possibilities:

  • Home robots could have drugged dart delivery capability remotely controllable by police to knock out a home invader.
  • One inner room in the house could have a remotely closable door that would trap an invader who entered that room. The reverse purpose of a safe room for getting away from a home invader.
  • A smart device in the house that would get a tissue sample from the home invader for later lab DNA testing. What is a good way to do this?

Got any other ideas for home robotic security short of a fully functional android?

By Randall Parker 2010 November 03 11:16 PM  Surveillance Robots
Entry Permalink | Comments(24)
Unhealthier Americans Live As Long As Healthier Brits

Ever come across simplistic commentators who compare health care systems by comparing life expectancies? Most annoying. Many factors determine life expectancy aside from health care systems. Diets, exercise, even weather influence life expectancy. The need to control for these other factors make well done health care system performance comparisons non-trivial. The RAND Corp has taken an interesting approach to comparison of two health care systems: Older Americans who have more chronic diseases than similar aged older English live just as long as their English counterparts on average. This probably shows the higher amount of money spent per American patient really is buying life expectancy benefits.

Older Americans are less healthy than their English counterparts, but they live as long or even longer than their English peers, according to a new study by researchers from the RAND Corporation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies in London.

Researchers found that while Americans aged 55 to 64 have higher rates of chronic diseases than their peers in England, they died at about the same rate. And Americans age 65 and older -- while still sicker than their English peers -- had a lower death rate than similar people in England, according to findings published in the journal Demography.

The paper was co-authored by James Banks and Alastair Muriel of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and James P. Smith, distinguished chair in labor markets and demographic studies at RAND.

What I take away from this: If you want to maximize your life expectancy while waiting for rejuvenation therapies then choose a diet and lifestyle that will make your risk of chronic illnesses even lower than chronic disease rates in England and make sure you can afford the very best medical care. Given an ideal diet (i.e. a diet that is probably better than what you eat now), exercise, low exposure to pollutants, and other health-promoting practices you can delay the onset of chronic diseases. Then once they hit you can use cash and an excellent nearby research hospital (and, yes, quality of care varies considerably) to further delay the grim reaper.

Better to be sick in America.

"If you get sick at older ages, you will die sooner in England than in the United States," Smith said. "It appears that at least in terms of survival at older ages with chronic disease, the medical system in the United States may be better than the system in England."

The study expands upon an earlier analysis by Banks and Smith that found that Americans aged 55 to 64 suffered from diseases such as diabetes at rates up to twice those seen among similarly aged people in England. The trend was observed across all socioeconomic groups.

The American health care system (really an assortment of systems) is expensive. But it delivers a number of benefits. One is mentioned above: It does a better job of managing and treating chronic diseases of old age. But that's not all. It also does not make people wait as long. A person who has, say, a bad hip who has to wait for months to get it fixed loses work (which costs both the individual and the government money) and experiences a lot of pain while waiting. The queues that are characteristic of cheaper health care systems impose costs on customers/supplicants.

My favorite advantage of the American health care system is that it presents huge incentives to the market for the development of newer and better treatments. That's what makes the biggest difference to most of us in the long run. If you are many years away from your first life-threatening illness then the speed or thoroughness with which the current health care system treats you is less important than what future treatments it will offer you 10, 20, 30 or more years from now. I favor a health care system that offers huge incentives for new treatments and low barriers to entry for those treatments.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 03 10:27 PM  Policy Medical
Entry Permalink | Comments(9)
2010 November 02 Tuesday
Dr. James Schlesinger: The Peak Oil Debate Is Over

James Schlesinger served in high positions under Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, and as the first US Energy Secretary. He's become convinced that the peak of world oil production is near:

What is the evidence?

First, we remain heavily dependent on super-giant and giant oilfields discovered in the 50s and 60s of the last century… I might add, of the last millennium. Only rarely in recent decades have discoveries equaled production. Mostly, it’s been one barrel discovered for every three barrels produced.

Second, old super-giants like Burgan in Kuwait and [Cantarell] in Mexico have gone into decline earlier than had been anticipated… and going into decline have been Alaska, the North Sea, western Siberia and the like.

Third, while it is not yet “Twilight in the Desert” (as you may have read) still we are well into the afternoon, even in Saudi Arabia. Even the Ghawar oilfield is increasingly hard to sustain.

Fourth, in 2004 we experienced our first demand-driven price spike, as opposed to the previous price spikes driven by supply interruptions. We still operate at about the level of production capacity of 2004.

Schlesinger has also written the foreword to the new book The Impending World Energy Mess by Robert L. Hirsch, Roger H. Bezdek, and Robert M. Wendling.

The rate of discovery is a fraction of the rate of consumption. World discovery peaked in the early 1960s. The rate of consumption surpassed the rate of discovery in the early 1980s. Since then we've been eating thru oil fields discovered long ago. I do not see the burden of evidence as on the Peakists any longer. An argument opposed to the expectation of a close peak needs to explain where the oil is going to come from that will enable much higher rates of production.

My advice: prepare in your personal life. When you move or take a job aim to minimize driving distances and ask yourself how vulnerable your job is to a decline in world oil production. Think about better home insulation. Think about other ways you can reduce your dependence on oil. Oil prices are headed upward and economic growth will remain anemic until an extended period of contraction sets in.

Update: James Lentz, President and COO of Toyota Motor Sales USA gave the Toyota view on Peak Oil almost a year ago: "we will probably see peak oil sometime around the end of the next decade." He said it could come as early as 2017.

The peak in Western consumption comes years before the peak in global production because oil consumption growth in oil producer states is cutting oil exports and Asian demand is displacing Western demand. India and China will bid up prices to levels that will cut Western demand well before production peaks. My guess is Western consumption has already peaked.

Update II: Charles Maxwell thinks the peak comes between 2015 and 2017.

Maxwell: Yes. Globally, I believe we’re quite close to the peak, simply because we’ve gone from 6 percent increases in production to 3 percent per year increases, to half a percent per year increases. I think peak will come between 2015 and 2017. So, we’re nearly on it.

But with increased internal consumption by oil producing countries and rising demand from developing Asian countries peak consumption by Western countries will come much sooner. For some Western countries peak consumption has already happened.

Update III: I am skeptical about our ability to rapidly transition to new energy sources. Peter Tertzakian's book A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point and the Challenges Facing an Energy Dependent World sketches out information about previous energy transitions (e.g. sperm whale oil to petroleum oil for lighting) and how long they took. Many of those transitions were to more convenient energy forms. Well, liquid hydrocarbons are the most convenient energy form, especially for transportation. So the next transition is going to be to less convenient energy forms that cost more to use.

Update IV: See Robert Hirsch's slide show presentation on Peak Oil and also see former BP Chief Petroleum Engineer Jeremy Gilbert's slide show on Peak Oil.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 02 11:43 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations
Entry Permalink | Comments(78)
Beet Juice Boosts Blood Brain Flow In Older Adults

Beet juice for the brain.

Winston-Salem, N.C. – Researchers for the first time have shown that drinking beet juice can increase blood flow to the brain in older adults – a finding that could hold great potential for combating the progression of dementia.

The research findings are available online in Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, the peer-reviewed journal of the Nitric Oxide Society and will be available in print soon. (Read the abstract.)

"There have been several very high-profile studies showing that drinking beet juice can lower blood pressure, but we wanted to show that drinking beet juice also increases perfusion, or blood flow, to the brain," said Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest University's Translational Science Center; Fostering Independence in Aging. "There are areas in the brain that become poorly perfused as you age, and that's believed to be associated with dementia and poor cognition."

I wonder whether this is the best way to achieve better brain blood flow. Would a better diet avoid constriction of blood vessels that the nitrites are opening? What are the downsides to consuming so much nitrates?

The high-nitrate diet improved blood flow to the frontal lobes.

The MRIs showed that after eating a high-nitrate diet, the older adults had increased blood flow to the white matter of the frontal lobes – the areas of the brain commonly associated with degeneration that leads to dementia and other cognitive conditions.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 02 11:23 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(5)
Immune Cells Help Reshape Brain

Microglia cells helps form connections between neurons.

Immune cells known as microglia, long thought to be activated in the brain only when fighting infection or injury, are constantly active and likely play a central role in one of the most basic, central phenomena in the brain – the creation and elimination of synapses. The findings, publishing next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology, catapult the humble microglia cell from its well-recognized duty of protecting the brain to direct involvement in creating the cellular networks at the core of brain behavior. Its apparent role as an architect of synapses – junctions between brain cells called neurons – comes as a surprise to researchers long accustomed to thinking of microglia as cells focused exclusively on keeping the brain safe from threats.

Pretty cool. While I did not expect this particular discovery I've been expecting to see lots of cell types to turn out to have more purposes than they were originally expected to serve. Here's why: It is economical to take a cell that is going to be there for one purpose and make it also do other tasks. Why not? It is there after all. It is getting fed. It is taking up room and resources. It has the full genome (complete genetic software program) of the organism. Get it to execute more pieces of genetic code. I see this as an example of the efficiency and economy of function that evolutionary processes running for hundreds of millions of years are able to produce.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 02 10:53 PM  Brain Evolution
Entry Permalink | Comments(0)
Black Raspberries Cut Colon Cancer In Mice

Fitting with my general advice to eat berries and cherries (higher in phytonutrients than the bigger fruits) black raspberries cut the incidence of colon cancer in two mouse strains.

The researchers used two strains of mice, Apc1638 and Muc2, which each have a specific gene knocked out, causing the mice to develop either intestinal tumors (in the case of Apc1638) or colitis in the case of Muc2. Colitis is an inflammation of the large intestine that can contribute to the development of colorectal cancer.

Both mouse strains were randomized to be fed either a Western-style, high-risk diet (high in fat and low in calcium and vitamin D) or the same diet supplemented with 10 percent freeze-dried black raspberry powder for 12 weeks.

The researchers found that in both mouse strains the black raspberry-supplemented diet produced a broad range of protective effects in the intestine, colon and rectum and inhibited tumor formation.

In the Apc1638 mice, tumor incidence was reduced by 45 percent and the number of tumors by 60 percent. The researchers found that black raspberries inhibited tumor development by suppressing a protein, known as beta-catenin, which binds to the APC gene.

In the Muc2 mice, tumor incidence and the number of tumors were both reduced by 50 percent, and black raspberries inhibited tumor development by reducing chronic inflammation associated with colitis.

Since colon cancer is the number 2 cancer killer of both men and women the ability to avoid it would substantially cut your risk of dying from cancer.

This report fits with a larger pattern about berries, cherries, and grapes as colon cancer risk reducers. See my previous posts Blueberries Reduce Colon Cancer Risk?, Grapes Might Reduce Colon Cancer Risk, and Purple Corn And Chokeberries Against Colon Cancer.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 02 10:15 PM  Aging Diet Cancer Studies
Entry Permalink | Comments(2)
2010 November 01 Monday
Mini Human Livers Grown In Lab

We are all wearing out. So it is good news that more progress is being made in developing our future needed replacement parts.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010 – Researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have reached an early, but important, milestone in the quest to grow replacement livers in the lab. They are the first to use human liver cells to successfully engineer miniature livers that function – at least in a laboratory setting – like human livers. The next step is to see if the livers will continue to function after transplantation in an animal model.

The ultimate goal of the research, which will be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston, is to provide a solution to the shortage of donor livers available for patients who need transplants. Laboratory-engineered livers could also be used to test the safety of new drugs.

"We are excited about the possibilities this research represents, but must stress that we're at an early stage and many technical hurdles must be overcome before it could benefit patients," said Shay Soker, Ph.D., professor of regenerative medicine and project director. "Not only must we learn how to grow billions of liver cells at one time in order to engineer livers large enough for patients, but we must determine whether these organs are safe to use in patients."

Organ replacement is not just about replacing aged organs. Another important purpose for new organ transplants: they will become a great way to get rid of cancer. Genetic testing can identify very early stage cancers. Those genetic tests will let us know with lots of warning when we will need a replacement part. But we will need home genetic testing for cancer to enable sufficiently cheap and convenient testing to enable early stage identification of cancers. Home genetic testing is an essential technology for extending our lives.

Once we know that we need replacement organs then genetic testing in tissue engineering labs will help to identify genetically undamaged cell lines suitable for growing replacement parts. Genetic testing has many uses in maintaining our health because the biological software that is our DNA has to be maintained in an uncorrupted state in order to assure our continued good health.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 01 11:30 PM  Biotech Organ Replacement
Entry Permalink | Comments(1)
Sugary Sodas Boost Insulin Resistance Risk

No surprise here but a useful reminder: A meta analysis of studies on sugary beverage consumption and health finds risk of metabolic syndrome and insulin-resistant type diabetes.

Boston, MA—A new study has found that regular consumption of soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a clear and consistently greater risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. According to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers, the study provides empirical evidence that intake of sugary beverages should be limited to reduce risk of these conditions.

Since I already only drink water and the occasional beer this does not fall into the category of News I Can Use. But surely some readers must still be drinking the demon cola drinks on a regular basis. If so, confess the heinous sin of soda gluttony. Beware of where it can take you.

Parenthetically, sugary drinks are still widely available in schools. Schools ought to just ban them.

Avoid insulin resistance and weight gain.

The findings showed that drinking one to two sugary drinks per day increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 26% and the risk of metabolic syndrome by 20% compared with those who consumed less than one sugary drink per month. Drinking one 12-ounce serving per day increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 15%.

"The association that we observed between soda consumption and risk of diabetes is likely a cause-and-effect relationship because other studies have documented that sugary beverages cause weight gain, and weight gain is closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes," said Hu.

So let me state the obvious: Bad foods really are bad for you.

Then we come to good foods. Vitamin K, found in high concentrations in kale and spinach, slows the development of insulin resistance. So good foods really are good for you too.

By Randall Parker 2010 November 01 11:04 PM  Aging Diet Metabolism
Entry Permalink | Comments(3)
Site Traffic Info
Site Copyright
The contents of this site are copyright ©