2012 July 31 Tuesday
Drug Boosts Frontal Cortex Dopamine, Cuts Impulsiveness

Drugs to boost brain dopamine might help the excessively compulsive to control themselves.

Raising levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the frontal cortex of the brain significantly decreased impulsivity in healthy adults, in a study conducted by researchers at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Impulsivity is a risk factor for addiction to many substances, and it has been suggested that people with lower dopamine levels in the frontal cortex tend to be more impulsive," said lead author Andrew Kayser, PhD, an investigator at Gallo and an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF. "We wanted to see if we could decrease impulsivity by raising dopamine, and it seems as if we can."

The study was published on July 4 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study, 23 adult research participants were given either tolcapone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that inhibits a dopamine-degrading enzyme, or a placebo. The researchers then gave the participants a task that measured impulsivity, asking them to make a hypothetical choice between receiving a smaller amount of money immediately ("smaller sooner") or a larger amount at a later time ("larger later"). Each participant was tested twice, once with tolcapone and once with placebo.

I am intrigued by the idea of being able to biochemically one's mood and behavioral tendencies with great precision. Imagine being able to put yourself into one mental state when doing solitary work and another mental state when you know you are going to spend a lot of time communicating in business meetings. The ability to shift between introversion and extraversion strikes me as useful. So does the ability to shift one's time horizon. Go for long term rewards when studying or working on a design that takes months to implement. Go for shorter term rewards and turn up the extraversion when, say, doing sales pitches.

Another possibility (really, an inevitability): gene therapies to alter one's personality and behavior. If a drug that blocks an enzyme can boost brain dopamine and alter behavior then so a gene therapy that flips genetic switches to lower the expression of that same enzyme. A gene therapy can have more lasting impact as it can remain in cells for a long time. Imagine the mischief such gene therapies would make possible. For example, manage to get a gene therapy into top officials of a nation and suddenly their attitudes could soften toward an enemy national.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 31 10:41 PM  Brain Emotion Alteration
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2012 July 30 Monday
Genetically Equal Olympic Athletes?

Since super athletes have genes that make them far more able to compete some argue that sporting competitions are just elaborate games aimed at identifying who has the best genetic sequences. Great sporting competitions, whether professional or amateur, end up turning into elaborate mechanisms for filtering for the most genetically well endowed. Falling genetic sequencing costs promise to take away the need for sporting competitions for this purpose. Lore Sjöberg argues that in order to make great athletic contests more a measure of training effort and training program quality the various countries of the world should start out with genetically identical clones.

Why not level the genetic playing field?

Here’s the plan: We use genetic engineering to create a human being who is genetically average in every way, clone him — or her, we can flip a coin — and issue one Average Athlete Baby to each country to raise as they choose. Then, 18 years later, every country brings their Average Athlete Adult to whichever world-class city hasn’t suffered enough, and all the AAAs compete. In every event. They all must run a sprint, and a marathon, and shoot arrows and wrestle each other and do whatever “dressage” is. (I don’t know, but it sounds even kinkier than clone wrestling.)

I come down on the opposite side of the athletic doping debate: Why not legitimize both the natural genetic and biotechnological competitions in sports? Potential athletes should be genetically screened for the capacity to compete.Those with poorer genetic endowments should be free to seek gene therapies that will enhance their bodies to the point where they can compete with the naturally genetically great athletes.

Many major sporting organizations such as the Olympics, to keep out those using drugs to boost performance. Well, time to turn our backs on those boring natural athletic competitions. We should instead have sporting events dedicated to those who use athletic doping drugs, gene therapy, and cell therapy. Sports can push the biotechnological envelope and, in doing so, create medically useful innovations for the rest of us.

For example, most people reading this are on a declining slope for the amount of lean muscle mass in their body. This phenomenon, known as sarcopenia, starts at around age 25. Drugs, gene therapies, and cell therapies developed to boost muscle mass and extend an athlete's performance into their 30s and 40s could potentially also help the old frail who have very little muscle mass left.

Car racers have innovated quite a bit to enhance the performance of cars. By the same token, those who race with their bodies could do the same for biotechnology and human health.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 30 10:14 PM  Bodies Perfected Athletics
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2012 July 29 Sunday
Immune Dendritic Cells Accumulate Harmful Proteins

Our immune cells accumulate damaged proteins that impair their function. We need to replace these cells every few decades and keep our immune systems rocking.

"Aging is known to affect immune function, a phenomenon known as immunosenescence, but how this happens is not clear," said study leader Laura Santambrogio, M.D., Ph.D. , associate professor of pathology and of microbiology & immunology at Einstein. "Our study has uncovered several ways in which aging can worsen the body's overall ability to mount an effective immune response.

What I want: cell therapies that will replace senescent immune cells with youthful and highly functioning immune cells. Such therapies will not only reduce sickness and death from infection. The immune system also manages to kill some cancer cells. So one of the reasons that cancer incidence rises with age is immune system aging that undermines the ability of immune cells to identify and attack cancer cells. In fact, some cancers get held in a dormant state by the immune system. Plus, a healthy youthful immune system probably removes toxic beta amyloid protein from the brain and thereby prevents Alzheimer's disease. So your immune system's vigor matters even more than most people imagine.

These researchers found that old immune dendritic cells contain lots of damaged proteins.

The current study is the first to examine whether age-related oxidative stress compromises the function of a type of immune cell called dendritic cells. "Dendritic cells are known as the 'sentinels of the immune system' and alert the rest of the immune system to the presence of microbial invaders," explained Dr. Santambrogio. "When you are exposed to viruses or bacteria, these cells engulf the pathogens and present them to the immune system, saying in effect, 'There's an infection going on, and here is the culprit—go get it.'"

Dr. Santambrogio, in collaboration with Einstein colleagues Fernando Macian-Juan, M.D., Ph.D. , and Ana Maria Cuervo, M.D., Ph.D. , isolated dendritic cells from aging mice and found that oxidation-damaged proteins had accumulated in those cells and had caused harmful effects. For example, oxidatively modified proteins hampered the function of endosomes, the cell's organelle where pathogens are inactivated.

One of the proposed Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) is to remove accumulated intracellular junk. Likely we would benefit if we could remove the damaged proteins that accumulate in dendritic cells as we age. However, just outright replacing the old dendritic cells with young dendritic cells would deliver greater benefit as old cells have DNA damage that puts them at risk of becoming cancers too.

Possibly antioxidants could boost dendritic cell function so that vaccines would work better in old folks. But that remains to be proven. Also, the antioxidants would be very unlikely to restore youthful function.

When the mice were injected with a potent antioxidant in the abdominal cavity daily for two weeks, some of the effects of oxidative stress were reversed. This finding has implications for designing vaccines or therapies for humans, especially the elderly, whose weakened immune systems increase their susceptibility to infections and cancer, and reduces vaccine effectiveness. "Many elderly people respond very poorly to vaccination, so perhaps a cycle of therapy with antioxidants before vaccination might improve their immune response to vaccines," Dr. Santambrogio noted.

If I could choose a single system in the body for full rejuvenation I would choose the immune system, especially for anti-cancer protection. In second place I'd probably put the vascular system for lower risk of strokes and better nutrient delivery to the brain. After that I'd opt for either the brain (a faster brain combined with many years of accumulated skills) or muscles (heart muscle especially).

By Randall Parker 2012 July 29 10:18 PM  Aging Immune System
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2012 July 28 Saturday
Plug-In Hybrids Beating Pure Electric Cars

Pluggable Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are beating pure electric vehicles in sales in the United States by a ratio of over 3-to-1.

Thanks to a resurgent Chevrolet Volt and Toyota's introduction of a plug-in version of its popular Prius, sales of such vehicles have jumped 381 percent to more than 13,000 in the first half of this year, according to Edmunds.com.

4 thousand EVs and 13 thousand PHEVs are both small potatoes in a car market where total volumes range between 10 million and 15 million cars per year. The high costs of batteries continue to block EVs and PHEVs from making major inroads. At current battery prices (see below for a $652 per kilowatt-hour estimate) PHEVs will not become competitive until gasoline gets up near $6 per gallon.

More PHEVs are headed to market. Ford's new PHEV will go 20 miles on battery. With half the battery range of a Chevy Volt (and hence a cheaper battery) the C Max Energi's price comes in comes in at several thousand dollars lower than the Volt.

As Ford detailed last night, its first plug-in hybrid will retail for $33,750, has a combined gasoline + electric range of 550 miles, is expected to get a combined EPA rating of 95MPGe, and will go on sale later this year.

A McKinsey report predicts a 70% decline in electric battery prices by 2025.

The 23-kilowatt-hour battery used in Focus Electric, Ford Motor Co's first electric passenger car, can cost between $12,000 and $15,000, Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally said at a conference in April. That suggests Ford paid as much as $652 per kilowatt hour.

Even if true, that's 13 years from now. A 70% price decline would put the electric Focus's battery cost in 2025 near $3600 at the low end.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 28 08:50 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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2012 July 23 Monday
500 Mutations Per Blood Stem Cell By Age 50

You collect about 10 mutations per blood stem cell per year. The accumulation of these mutations leads to a rising incidence of blood cancers (leukemias) as we age. We need youthful replacement stem cells that have very few harmful mutations

AML is a blood cancer that develops when too many immature blood cells crowd out the healthy cells. In recent years, Washington University researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine have sequenced the genomes of 200 patients with AML to try to understand the mutations at the root of the disease.

Without fail, each patient's leukemia cells held hundreds of mutations, posing a conundrum for scientists, who have long believed that all the mutations in a cancer cell are likely to be important for the disease to progress.

"But we knew all of these mutations couldn't be important," says co-first author Daniel Link, MD, professor of medicine. "It didn't make any sense to us that so many mutations were present in all the cells in the tumor."

To investigate the origin of these mutations, the researchers isolated blood stem cells from healthy people of different ages. The youngest were newborns, and the oldest was in his 70s.

Every person has about 10,000 blood stem cells in their bone marrow, and the researchers found that each stem cell acquires about 10 mutations over the course of a year. By age 50, a person has accumulated nearly 500 mutations in every blood stem cell.

Future stem cell therapies will likely involve first filtering thru many individual cells from around the body to find cells that have no harmful accumulated mutations. Individual cells will be grown into several cells so a cell can be taken and sequenced without loosing a good original cell. The best cell discovered this way will be used to grow cell lines in vitro that will be manipulated for eventual return to the body in large numbers.

If we can replace aged stem cells in the bone marrow and other locations with far less mutated cells then our risk of cancer will decline substantially and the youthful stem cells will divide to produce adult cells that replace lost cells in various organs.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 23 10:48 PM  Aging Mechanisms
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2012 July 18 Wednesday
Nanoscale Scaffolds Grow Replacement Cartilage

Stem cells by themselves aren't going some of the big problems with aging and damaged tissue. Tissue engineering is needed to create 3-D environments that guide creation of replacement organs and other body parts. Some Johns Hopkins researchers have developed 3-D nanofiber scaffolds

In the laboratory, the researchers created a nanofiber-based network using a process called electrospinning, which entails shooting a polymer stream onto a charged platform, and added chondroitin sulfate—a compound commonly found in many joint supplements—to serve as a growth trigger. After characterizing the fibers, they made a number of different scaffolds from either spun polymer or spun polymer plus chondroitin. They then used goat bone marrow-derived stem cells (a widely used model) and seeded them in various scaffolds to see how stem cells responded to the material.

Elisseeff and her team watched the cells grow and found that compared to cells growing without scaffold, these cells developed into more voluminous, cartilage-like tissue. "The nanofibers provided a platform where a larger volume of tissue could be produced," says Elisseeff, adding that 3-dimensional nanofiber scaffolds were more useful than the more common nanofiber sheets for studying cartilage defects in humans.

The many people who live in pain due to damaged cartilage would benefit from the ability to grow more cartilage.

Nanofiber scaffolds improved higher quality cartilage production in rats.

The investigators then tested their system in an animal model. They implanted the nanofiber scaffolds into damaged cartilage in the knees of rats, and compared the results to damaged cartilage in knees left alone.

They found that the use of the nanofiber scaffolds improved tissue development and repair as measured by the production of collagen, a component of cartilage. The nanofiber scaffolds resulted in greater production of a more durable type of collagen, which is usually lacking in surgically repaired cartilage tissue. In rats, for example, they found that the limbs with damaged cartilage treated with nanofiber scaffolds generated a higher percentage of the more durable collagen (type 2) than those damaged areas that were left untreated.

Since we have cartilage in so many joints we really need a way to cause cartilage repair without the need for surgery to deliver a scaffolding or new cartilage into each aged and worn joint.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 18 11:29 PM  Body Repair Joints
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Trees And Bushes Cut City Pollution

More greenery would be good for our lungs.

Trees, bushes and other greenery growing in the concrete-and-glass canyons of cities can reduce levels of two of the most worrisome air pollutants by eight times more than previously believed, a new study has found. A report on the research appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Thomas Pugh and colleagues explain that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and microscopic particulate matter (PM) — both of which can be harmful to human health — exceed safe levels on the streets of many cities. Past research suggested that trees and other green plants can improve urban air quality by removing those pollutants from the air. However, the improvement seemed to be small, a reduction of less than 5 percent. The new study sought a better understanding of the effects of green plants in the sometimes stagnant air of city streets, which the authors term "urban street canyons."

Climbing ivy cuts nitrogen dioxide and particulate pollution.

The study concluded that judicious placement of grass, climbing ivy and other plants in urban canyons can reduce the concentration at street level of NO2 by as much as 40 percent and PM by 60 percent, much more than previously believed. The authors even suggest building plant-covered "green billboards" in these urban canyons to increase the amount of foliage. Trees were also shown to be effective, but only if care is taken to avoid trapping pollutants beneath their crowns.

Plants are good for our health. Cities should plant more of them.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 18 11:10 PM  Pollution Air
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2012 July 16 Monday
Brain Region Predicts Degree Of Altruism

A big temporoparietal junction (TPJ) in the brain enables greater understanding of the perspective of others. That enhanced ability to see from another perspective makes people more altruistic.

"This is the first study to link both brain anatomy and brain activation to human altruism," says senior study author Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich. "The findings suggest that the development of altruism through appropriate training or social practices might occur through changes in the brain structure and the neural activations that we identified in our study."

Individuals who excel at understanding others' intents and beliefs are more altruistic than those who struggle at this task. The ability to understand others' perspectives has previously been associated with activity in a brain region known as the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). Based on these past findings, Fehr and his team reasoned that the size and activation of the TPJ would relate to individual differences in altruism.

In the new study, subjects underwent a brain imaging scan and played a game in which they had to decide how to split money between themselves and anonymous partners. Subjects who made more generous decisions had a larger TPJ in the right hemisphere of the brain compared with subjects who made stingy decisions.

Moreover, activity in the TPJ reflected each subject's specific cutoff value for the maximal cost the subject was willing to endure to increase the partner's payoff. Activity in the TPJ was higher during hard decisions—when the personal cost of an altruistic act was just below the cutoff value—than during easy decisions associated with a very low or very high cost.

Once it becomes possible to select genes for offspring will future parents choose genes that make for bigger or smaller TPJ? In other words, will future humans be more or less altrustic?

By Randall Parker 2012 July 16 07:52 PM  Brain Altruism
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2012 July 12 Thursday
Elvis Mice Have Presley's DNA

Way cool. Think of the possibilities.

As a pop comeback, it's certainly among the more unusual. Royal College of Art graduate student Koby Barhad's project All That I Am features genetically-engineered mice with DNA taken from the hair of Elvis Presley. The aim is to explore a range of philosophical and ethical issues.

How about a cat that contains some Marilyn Monroe DNA?

The possibilities are endless. Take a small portion of a departed loved one's DNA and get it put into a new puppy.

I know what you narcissists are thinking: Put your own DNA into pets and plants. Imagine a pet who has your eye color because it contains your genes for eye pigment control.

It seems inevitable that humans will make their pets more intelligent.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 12 09:54 PM  Biotech Pet Uplift
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2012 July 11 Wednesday
Cancer Evolves: Why It Keeps Beating New Therapies

Some Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have written an opinion piece on the key role that evolution plays in allowing cancers to adapt to new therapies aimed at wiping it out.

While targeted therapies have been among the most recent approaches to treating cancer, the authors suggest that the vast changes in the genetics of tumors via mutations reduce the effectiveness of targeted therapies and are a reason why targeted therapies cease to work.

"The emergence of resistance is predictable and inevitable as a fundamental property of carcinogenesis," Gatenby said. "However, this fundamental fact is commonly ignored in the design of treatment strategies. The emergence of drug resistance is rarely, if ever, dealt with until it occurs."

Since cancers are genetically very heterogeneous and they mutate at a fast rate drugs aimed at cancers very often fail to wipe out some small number of cancer cells that have mutations that enable them to survive. Then the small number of survivors starts multiplying to fill in niches left by the cancer cells killed by a therapy. Rather quickly a therapy ceases to work and the cancer comes back full force.

The researchers speculate that cancer cells can be directed to evolve in ways that make it easier to prevent resistance. I find this wishful thinking.

In an effort to develop patient-specific, long-term therapeutic strategies, the authors contend that resistance should be anticipated. By "anticipation" in action, they mean developing "adaptive therapies" prior to the emergence of resistance.

Cancer cells, they wrote, can only adapt to immediate selection forces. Cancer cells cannot anticipate future environmental conditions or evolutionary dynamics. This concept, said the authors, may provide an advantage when designing new therapies by "directing" the natural selection processes to prevent the outgrowth of resistant cancer populations and so improve outcomes.

How will cancer be defeated? One way I can see is to develop many very effective therapies that each use a different mechanism. Then deliver them all at once. The odds of all cancer cells containing mutations to resist many therapies goes down if the therapies are delivered in parallel rather than serially. In time we'll get many more therapies. I expect this approach to work eventually, especially with therapies which have low toxicity to normal cells..

There is, however, a way to harness cancer's ability to evolve drug resistance against it: Use therapies that cause cancer cells to select for up-regulating genes that make the cells much more vulnerable to classes of toxins or monoclonal antibodies. Basically, make it evolutionarily adaptive for cancer cells to set themselves up for a fall.

For example, provide cancers with a chemical compound that becomes beneficial to them if the cancers up-regulate some enzyme that converts the compound into a source of food. Once the cancer cells have up-regulated the enzyme then give them a different chemical compound that the same enzyme will convert into a toxin.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 11 10:01 PM  Biotech Cancer
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2012 July 10 Tuesday
Stand Up To Live Longer

Sitting kills.

Restricting the amount of time spent seated every day to less than 3 hours might boost the life expectancy of US adults by an extra 2 years, indicates an analysis of published research in the online journal BMJ Open.

Only an observational study. But other studies have found the same pattern.

And cutting down TV viewing to less than 2 hours every day might extend life by almost 1.4 years, the findings suggest.

Several previous studies have linked extended periods spent sitting down and/or watching TV to poor health, such as diabetes and death from heart disease/stroke.

I say get rid of the TV. You'll go thru withdrawal, maybe even for months. But once you've kicked the TV addiction it loses its allure.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 10 11:21 PM  Aging Lifestyle Studies
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2012 July 08 Sunday
US Cellphone Carriers Flooded With Law Enforcement Requests

As computer and communications technology advances make large scale data collection affordable and routine governments demand rising amounts of info from cellphone carriers.

WASHINGTON — In the first public accounting of its kind, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to a startling 1.3 million demands for subscriber information last year from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations.

What I'd like to see: a study that measures the efficacy of these requests. How much would the rates of arrest and conviction drop if police, prosecutors and assorted other law enforcement investigators had no access to cellphone data? Also, for what types of criminal investigation are text messages, call records, caller locations, and the like most efficacious? Also, does the data flood decrease arrests and convictions of innocents? Note that DNA evidence developed after convictions has freed a number of wrongfully convicted suspects. Do call records, text messages, and the like used in criminal investigations have the same effect?

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Are we at risk from the data law enforcement agencies are collecting? Certainly in societies where governments jail and otherwise suppress dissenting views electronic data collection by government can be used to identify those who hold taboo opinions. But in the United States and other Western societies are governments using cellphone records, online postings, and the like to target people for intimidation and silencing?

While government surveillance of citizens is one aspect of a transparent society where lots of watching is going on the government role needs to be put into perspective. We are consuming increasing amounts of freely provided messages (both both narrow cast and broadcast) pictures, videos, and even live video feeds of what all of us are doing. We write for blogs, social media feeds, tweets, and other formats. We create profiles with many intimate details. Teens are sending nude photos to each other in surprisingly large numbers. People are choosing to give up substantial portions of their privacy. Will they voluntarily give up even more in the future? Update: Why'd I even ask that last question? The answer is of course Yes.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 08 08:51 PM  Surveillance Society
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White Abalone Endangered Off Southern California

Plummeting white abalone populations off of SoCal.

Scientists from NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service report a significant decline of endangered white abalone off the coast of Southern California in the journal Biological Conservation.

"Since 2002, we have been surveying white abalone off San Diego using an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV)," said Kevin Stierhoff, research fisheries biologist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, and lead author of the journal article. "In the absence of fishing, we hoped to see the population stabilize or increase. However, our latest assessment using data collected in 2008 and 2010 indicates that the white abalone population has continued to decline by approximately 78 percent over the last ten years."

The abalone breeding strategy does not work well when their population densities get too low.

These results confirm predictions made by scientists in 2001 suggesting that wild populations had dwindled to levels that were too low to support successful reproduction, and that as animals died of natural causes, a new generation would not emerge to replace them. White abalone are "broadcast spawners," projecting eggs and sperm into the water column at the same time for fertilization. If there is not a suitable partner close by, it is unlikely any offspring will be produced.

"Unfortunately we have continued to see white abalone grow larger, older and further apart with no evidence of significant numbers of offspring for the last ten years," said John Butler, a research biologist at NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center and co-author of the article. "While it could be the juveniles are hiding or too difficult to see, it is more likely that the species is just failing to reproduce."

The scientists see a need for captive breeding programs, or else the species will not survive. Wow.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 08 06:59 PM  Trends Extinction
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Parkinson's Onset Preceded By Other Symptoms

Parkinson's disease is about more than shaking limbs. Years before the visible shaking comes pain, emotional health problems, and physical health problems. This is yet another reason why we need biotechnologies to reverse aging. All the things that go wrong with us as we age ought not be allowed to happen.

Amsterdam, NL, July 2, 2012 – Growing evidence suggests that Parkinson's disease (PD) often starts with non-motor symptoms that precede diagnosis by several years. In the first study to examine patterns in the quality of life of Parkinson' disease patients prior to diagnosis, researchers have documented declines in physical and mental health, pain, and emotional health beginning several years before the onset of the disease and continuing thereafter. Their results are reported in the latest issue of Journal of Parkinson's Disease.

Pain. Aging brains cause pain. So lets make our brains young again. Risks rise with age. If you can make it to 100 years your odds will go up to about 10%.

Think of PD as accelerated aging of part of the brain.

"We observed a decline in physical function in PD patients relative to their healthy counterparts beginning three years prior to diagnosis in men and seven and a half years prior to diagnosis in women," says lead investigator Natalia Palacios, PhD, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health. "The decline continues at a rate that is five to seven times faster than the average yearly decline caused by normal aging in individuals without the disease."

Given all the roles served by dopaminergic neurons (the kinds of neurons lost in PD) it is not surprising that their loss causes a host of other problems.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 08 06:51 PM  Aging Brain Studies
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2012 July 04 Wednesday
Humans Causing US Southwest Forest Burn Out

Craig Allen of the US Geological Service thinks human-caused changes to the US southern Rockies forest ecosystem caused fire-burning patterns that are wiping out forests.

But beginning in 1900, when railroads enabled the spread of livestock, cattle devoured the grassy surface fuels and the fire cycle stopped. A decade later, a national policy of forest fire suppression formalized this new normal. Over the next century, forest density went from 80 trees per acre to more than 1,000.

80 trees to 1000 trees per acre is a huge increase in biomass density. The problem: Now when fire comes the heat is so intense that fires no longer stay on the ground. They burn up into the trees and wipe them out.

With so many trees crammed into the forest, fires climbed straight to the canopy instead of remaining on the ground.

Could partial removal of trees before a fire be done profitably to reduce the incidence of fires that totally destroy forests?

The Ponderosa forests have been mismanaged.

The emerging consensus is that the Ponderosa pine forests of northern Arizona and New Mexico have been mismanaged for more than a century. Small ground fires historically burned through these forests with some regularity, keeping the trees widely spaced. But decades of fire suppression have allowed trees to grow so thick that the forests are now referred to as “dog-hair thickets.”

Many trees evolved to do well with recurring low intensity fires. Some types of trees have serotinous cones (more on serotiny) that depend on low intensity fires to cause them to release their seeds. But a very intense fire in high density forests will burn the cones completely, leaving no seeds. Can seed planting help the recovery of forests in the US southwest? Or has the climate become too dry to enable replanting to work?

By Randall Parker 2012 July 04 03:58 PM  Trends Habitat Loss
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Media Exposure Increases Emotional Pain From Terrorism

Ignorance is bliss. Watching media coverage of a terrorist attack increases emotional pain. Most obvious lesson: spend less time watching TV news reports of terrorist attacks. But I think there's an important larger lesson: manage your media intake with an eye toward managing your emotional state.

BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL --July 2, 2012 – "Exposure to media coverage of terrorist missile attacks increases pain levels in people already suffering from chronic pain," according to a new study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers.

"Does War Hurt? Effects of Media Exposure After Missile Attacks on Chronic Pain," published in the online version of the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings, showed that exposure to the attacks through the media predicted an increase in pain intensity and in the sensory component of pain during the pre-post war period, but did not predict depression or anxiety.

Ease of access to media has increased the advantages to be had by managing your exposures to media. Your emotional and intellectual state can become too impacted by distant events that don't even educate you about larger important trends in the world. emotional state by selecting your exposures to media becomes more important as media reports become more immediate. When wireless and cellular high speed connections become even faster and cheaper and tablets or video head gear make it easy to watch media everywhere we need to step back and turn off the constant flow.

What I want: Better ability to block stories and types of stories. For example, I'd love to have the ability to tell Google News and news sites "show me no stories that mention Joe Paterno". I don't want to know. Ditto for some politician on trial for using campaign money on his mistress. This isn't due to a general apathy on my part. I've got a voracious appetite for many types of news and can not find enough time to read on subjects that interest me. So all the more need to block out whatever passing topic the masses are obsessing about.

Since I do not watch TV the lack of filters on TV news shows does not present a problem for me. But the online news sites are failing to address the demand for fine grained subject blocking. Would you use this feature if it was available?

By Randall Parker 2012 July 04 01:30 PM  Comm Tech News Filters
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2012 July 02 Monday
Get There First To Influence Choices

First come, first served or bought or joined.

We experience the world serially rather than simultaneously. A century of research on human and nonhuman animals has suggested that the first experience in a series of two or more is cognitively privileged. We report three experiments designed to test the effect of first position on implicit preference and choice using targets that range from individual humans and social groups to consumer goods. Experiment 1 demonstrated an implicit preference to buy goods from the first salesperson encountered and to join teams encountered first, even when the difference in encounter is mere seconds. In Experiment 2 the first of two consumer items presented in quick succession was more likely to be chosen. In Experiment 3 an alternative hypothesis that first position merely accentuates the valence of options was ruled out by demonstrating that first position enhances preference for the first even when it is evaluatively negative in meaning (a criminal). Together, these experiments demonstrate a “first is best” effect and we offer possible interpretations based on evolutionary mechanisms of this “bound” on rational behavior and suggest that automaticity of judgment may be a helpful principle in clarifying previous inconsistencies in the empirical record on the effects of order on preference and choice.

There's something to be said for managing what you see first. For example, when shopping for some kind of item you might want to make the first thing you look at be something unappealing. That way you'll reject it and therefore consider all the remaining items more objectively.

Put first what you want people to choose.

The authors say their findings may have practical applications in a variety of settings including in consumer marketing.

"The order of individuals performing on talent shows like American Idol. The order of potential companies recommended by a stockbroker. The order of college acceptance letters received by an applicant. All of these firsts have privileged status," says Carney. "Our research shows that managers, for example in management or marketing, may want to develop their business strategies knowing that first encounters are preferable to their clients or consumers."

The study found that especially in circumstances under which decisions must be made quickly or without much deliberation, preferences are unconsciously and immediately guided to those options presented first. While there are sometimes rational reasons to prefer firsts, e.g. the first resume is designated on the top of the pile because that person wanted the job the most, Carney says the "first is best" effect suggests that firsts are preferred even when completely unwarranted and irrational.

The study's first experiment asked 123 participants to evaluate three groups: (a) two teams, (b) two male salespersons, and (c) two female salespersons. First, participants were asked to join one of the two teams and were introduced to the Hadleys and the Rodsons. Immediately following the introduction, they decided which team to join. Next, participants were told they were buying a car and introduced to two male salespersons: Jim and Jon. Immediately following the introduction, they selected the salesperson from whom they preferred to buy a car. Finally, participants were told they needed to re-make their car-buying decision and that they would be introduced to two new salespersons; this time, female: Lisa and Lori. After sequential introduction they, again, decided which person they'd like to buy a car from.

We've got so many biases built into our reasoning ability it is amazing we do as well as we do.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 02 10:37 PM  Brain Economics
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Even Low Doses Of Fast Food Do Serious Damage

Nobody dare be shocked by this finding. Fast food is toxic, even in low doses. Once a week does serious damage.

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (JULY 2, 2012) – The dangers of fast food are well documented; the portions are often larger and the food is generally high in calories and low in nutrients. Now, University of Minnesota School of Public Health researchers have examined the eating habits of residents in Singapore and found new evidence that a diet heavy in fast food increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

The latest research, published online today by the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that people who consume fast food even once a week increase their risk of dying from coronary heart disease by 20 percent in comparison to people who avoid fast food. For people eating fast food two-three times each week, the risk increases by 50 percent, and the risk climbs to nearly 80 percent for people who consume fast food items four or more times each week.

Do some people eat fast food because they want to die but don't want to be seen to be trying to kill themselves?

Get yourself back to traditional foods. (and FuturePundit thinks dark chocolate is a traditional food - it is certainly a tradition for me)

To arrive at their results, School of Public Health researchers worked alongside researchers from the National University of Singapore. Together, they examined results of a study conducted over a period of 16 years beginning in 1993, which looked at the eating habits of 52,000 Chinese residents of Singapore who have experienced a recent and sudden transition from traditional foods to Western-style fast food.

Vegetables. Fruits. Unrefined foods. Go paleo.

By Randall Parker 2012 July 02 09:13 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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