2013 January 28 Monday
Fruit And Vegetables Today Predict Mood Tomorrow

Tracking mood and diet by a daily internet survey shows fruits and vegetables make people happier.

A total of 281 young adults (with a mean age of 20 years) completed an internet-based daily food diary for 21 consecutive days. Prior to this, participants completed a questionnaire giving details of their age, gender, ethnicity, weight and height. Those with a history of an eating disorder were excluded.

Gotta love the power of the internet for running studies on what makes humans tick.

On each of the 21 days participants logged into their diary each evening and rated how they felt using nine positive and nine negative adjectives. They were also asked five questions about what they had eaten that day. Specifically, participants were asked to report the number of servings eaten of fruit (excluding fruit juice and dried fruit), vegetables (excluding juices), and several categories of unhealthy foods like biscuits/cookies, potato crisps, and cakes/muffins.

Do you want to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic

The results showed a strong day-to-day relationship between more positive mood and higher fruit and vegetable consumption, but not other foods.

"On days when people ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally did," says Dr Conner.

One day's diet predicts the next day's positive mood. Eat for tomorrow.

To understand which comes first – feeling positive or eating healthier foods – Dr Conner and her team ran additional analyses and found that eating fruits and vegetables predicted improvements in positive mood the next day, suggesting that healthy foods may improve mood. These findings held regardless of the BMI of individuals.

"After further analysis we demonstrated that young people would need to consume approximately seven to eight total servings of fruits and vegetables per day to notice a meaningful positive change. One serving of fruit or vegetables is approximately the size that could fit in your palm, or half a cup. My co-author Bonnie White suggests that this can be done by making half your plate at each meal vegetables and snacking on whole fruit like apples," says Dr Conner.

Gotta eat some cauliflower before I go to sleep tonight.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 28 10:18 PM 
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2013 January 26 Saturday
If You Want To Write A Disaster Novel

Hey disaster novelists: Remember bicycles, skate boards, roller skates, and push scooters.

I'm reading some after-the-electromagnetic pulse disaster novels where the electric grid has collapsed. Lots of people walking home or fleeing home on foot. In the vast majority of these novels there is no mention of any means of human transportation between a car and walking. So some guy has to walk home hundreds or thousands of miles across a post-apocalyptic landscape to get back to his family. Every person he comes across either is on foot or has some Mad Max truck fuel. What's with that?

Is this bias by the authors due to a total lack of bicycles, skate boards, roller skates, and push scooters in their rural or suburban neighborhoods? Am I so out of touch with life in some American states that I'm mistaken in thinking that large areas have no bikes? I do not think so. In the United States annual bicycle sales at 20" wheel size and above run at 11 to 14 million per year. If we suddenly couldn't get any gasoline easily tens of millions could bicycle and maybe well over a third the population. Throw in skate boards, roller skates, and other smaller stuff and 3 mph travel seems avoidable.

What's even weirder: post-plague novels have this problem. So, fine, most people do not own a bicycle. But if 99+% of the population has just died surely there is a bicycle for each and every person still alive. Hiking is really optional in such a scenario. The average travel speed should be above 10 mph if almost everyone dies.

And another thing: If almost everyone dies then stale gasoline is not not a reason for all cars to stop working. You could still cruise around in a diesel Jetta or Benz or a diesel pick-up truck. The diesel fuel will last a long time.

So make your post-disaster personal transportation realistic.

One other thing: If you are writing a self-published Kindle book find someone you know to read it for grammar and spelling.

Update: A practical point for preppers: If you are the kind of guy who keeps a gun and a backpack full of food and camping gear in your trunk (never knowing when civilization will collapse while you are far from home) then you should put a bicycle in there too. If you are keeping all your prepper gear at home then keep bikes at home too.

This brings up another point I do not see in WTSHTF disaster novels: What's cheap to buy extras of before TSHTF to use for trading once civilization has collapsed? Water filters. Bicycles. Think of the trading value of a bike WTSHTF. How about superglue? Stores for a long time with lots of uses. Ditto duct tape.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 26 02:35 PM 
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Hybrid Wing Design To Cut Fuel Usage In Half

Kevin Bullis, energy editor at Technology Review has the details. Composites. Super-efficient jet engine. A flying wing. Sounds like fun. When can we ride on one?

Combined with an extremely efficient type of engine, called an ultra-high bypass ratio engine, the hybrid wing design could use half as much fuel as conventional aircraft.

NASA, Pratt & Whitney, Boeing, and some other companies are working on this. Given the long design cycles for airplanes do not expect a substantial impact on passenger aviation until the 2020s.

What I wonder: will increasing energy efficiency of aircraft make passenger trains an environmentally bad idea for passenger transport? I can see electric trains in France making sense because of France's heavy reliance on nuclear power. But do the electric trains in China, powered by massive fleets of polluting coal electric power plants, really make sense as compared to passenger aircraft travel? I'm guessing no. As for diesel-powered passenger trains in the US with low load capacities: how can they make environmental sense as compared to flying?

By Randall Parker 2013 January 26 02:24 PM 
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2013 January 23 Wednesday
Will Automation Cause Mass Unemployment?

Georgia Tech robotics prof Henrik I. Christensen says robots will create more jobs rather than leave masses unemployed.

During his talk, Dr. Christensen said that the evidence indicated that the opposite was true. While automation may transform the work force and eliminate certain jobs, it also creates new kinds of jobs that are generally better paying and that require higher-skilled workers.

Sound good? Not so fast. The key is at the end of the sentence: that require higher-skilled workers. What about the people who aren't smart enough to do this higher skilled work? Once robots take over their dishwashing job or their janitorial job what low skilled work are they going to do?

Some people aren't smart enough to even drive a fork lift. They can't hold a 3-D model of what's going on around them well enough to avoid running over people and knocking over shelves. But even the fork lift jobs aren't going to last. Already Kiva Systems is automating lots of warehouse jobs out of existence. More powerful robots will eliminate more indoor manual labor to the point where we'll have lights-out no-human-involvement warehouses for a wide range of product categories.

I buy the argument that robots will reduce the amount of manufacturing shipped to low wage countries such as China. But since the least skilled jobs seem like they are easier to automate I see robots as causing a shortage of work for the least skilled workers.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 23 09:55 PM 
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Greg Bear Thinks We Are Too Complacent On Asteroids

Science fiction writer Greg Bear thinks we should take more seriously the threat posed by large asteroids like Apophis that are periodically flying by the Earth.

Yet there's always a possibility we don't have these measurements exactly right. Something could happen at any point in Apophis' orbit to modify its course, just a smidgen. A tiny collision with another object, way out beyond Mars? What could change between now and 2029, or during any orbit thereafter?

Apophis masses at more than 20 million tons. If it hit Earth, the impact would unleash a blast the equivalent of over a billion tons of TNT. That's not an extinction event, but it could easily cause billions of deaths and months, if not years, of climate disruption.

I share Bear's concern. My personal motto: First, don't die. Wouldn't we feel really really really foolish to wake up one morning to the news that in a few days a newly discovered asteroid was going to hit the Earth and kill 99.9999% of us? We ought to have a much bigger effort to identify all the asteroids flying around. Plus, we ought to develop asteroid deflection defenses at various levels of depth. We should have near Earth and distant capability for shifting asteroid orbits.

The likelihood that governments are going to remain pretty lame about asteroid defenses reminds me: preppers (people who prefer for WTSHTF) ought to think a lot more about underground redoubts. It is not just that underground is the place to be when a massive asteroid is going to cause supersonic blasts of air to sweep around the Earth and then cause an extensive period of darkness.

Underground bug-out places have other advantages as well. Of course, underground is the place to be when a VE-8 volcanic eruption blacks out the sun, stops photosynthesis, and causes freezing temperatures in the summer. But also underground living has great advantages should an electro-magnetic pulse (natural or human-caused) fry the electric grid and cause governments to collapse. If your underground redoubt has well hidden entrances the big advantage is that people won't know you are there. While society turns into a scene from Mad Max you can live a fairly normal life (at least if you like reading books in low light conditions).

The question in my mind: is underground construction too costly for a refuge? You still need air and electric power. So how to make an affordable and very well hidden underground place to hide WTSHTF?

By Randall Parker 2013 January 23 09:33 PM 
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2013 January 21 Monday
Biofuels Seen As Inferior To Solar Panels For Car Power

After taking a few year break from bashing biofuels as mostly bad ideas (at least barring a genetically engineered breakthrough) it is time to bash them some more. We do not have enough land to grow corn for corn ethanol and doing this with government mandates and subsidies raises the cost of food.

In 2005, President George W. Bush and American corn farmers saw corn ethanol as a promising fossil fuel substitute that would reduce both American dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, the 2005 energy bill mandated that 4 billion gallons of renewable fuel be added to the gasoline supply in 2006. That rose to 4.7 billion gallons in 2007 and 7.5 billion in 2012.

Since then, life cycle assessments (LCAs) have shown that corn ethanol has modest if any effect on reducing CO2 emissions and may actually increase them, while posing a threat to natural habitats and food supplies, as food stocks are turned to fuel and marginal lands are put under the plough to keep up with demand. In 2010, fuel ethanol consumed 40 percent of U.S. corn production, and 2012 prices are at record highs. Since the U.S. also accounts for 40 percent of the world's corn, U.S. ethanol production has affected corn prices around the planet.

It is bad enough that the planet is overpopulated, we are overfishing the oceans, depleting natural resources, depleting aquifers, causing soil depleting and destroying habitats at a fast rate. Lots of species are going to go extinct as the human population's further growth pushes it into most of the remaining wild areas. This all strikes me as bad. But on top of that biofuels accelerate the shift of even more marginal lands into agricultural production for meager benefits.

Solar panels to charge battery electric vehicles are a far more efficient use of land area for transportation.

The results, which appear in a paper titled "Spatially Explicit Life Cycle Assessment of Sun-to-Wheels Transportation Pathways in the U.S." and published in the Dec. 26 issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, showed photovoltaics (PV) to be much more efficient than biomass at turning sunlight into energy to fuel a car.

"PV is orders of magnitude more efficient than biofuels pathways in terms of land use – 30, 50, even 200 times more efficient – depending on the specific crop and local conditions," says Geyer. "You get the same amount of energy using much less land, and PV doesn't require farm land."

Of course we need better batteries that cost less and ditto lower cost PV. Both those will come in time. They'll come faster if biofuel tax-paid subsidies are ended.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 21 09:09 PM 
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2013 January 20 Sunday
Gene Therapy Creates Heart Pacemaker Cells

With gene therapy there's no need to miss a beat.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles created biological pacemaker cells by inserting a single gene, called Tbx18, into a virus and injecting the engineered virus into the hearts of guinea pigs bred to have arrhythmia.

The gene prompts the creation of an exact replica of a raisin-sized node in the heart’s upper right chamber which normally maintains regular heart rhythms. Tbx18 transformed heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes, into a colony of natural pacemaker cells.

Combine this with gene therapies and cell therapies to fix or replace damaged heart muscle and we could cut out most death from heart failure.

How soon until heart repair becomes routine? I'm thinking some time in the 2020s or maybe the 2030s at the latest.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 20 10:11 AM 
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2013 January 17 Thursday
Brain Differences Confer Resistance To Cocaine Addiction?

Abnormally large frontal lobes seem to make recreational cocaine users resistant to addiction.

People who take cocaine over many years without becoming addicted have a brain structure which is significantly different from those individuals who developed cocaine-dependence, researchers have discovered. New research from the University of Cambridge has found that recreational drug users who have not developed a dependence have an abnormally large frontal lobe, the section of the brain implicated in self-control. Their research was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

For the study, led by Dr Karen Ersche, individuals who use cocaine on a regular basis underwent a brain scan and completed a series of personality tests. The majority of the cocaine users were addicted to the drug but some were not (despite having used it for several years).

When offspring genetic engineering becomes practical the rush to make kids smarter will have the side effect of making them less susceptible to cocaine addiction.

The frontal lobes are like a strong driver of a stage coach with really big muscles for pulling on the reins of charging horses. Some people lack the strong driver and the horses gallop out of control.

The scientists discovered that a region in the frontal lobes of the brain, known to be critically implicated in decision-making and self-control, was abnormally bigger in the recreational cocaine users. The Cambridge researchers suggest that this abnormal increase in grey matter volume, which they believe predates drug use, might reflect resilience to the effects of cocaine, and even possibly helps these recreational cocaine users to exert self-control and to make advantageous decisions which minimize the risk of them becoming addicted.

They found that this same region in the frontal lobes of the brain was significantly reduced in size in people with cocaine dependence, confirming earlier research that had found similar results. They believe that at least some of these changes are the result of drug use, which causes drug users to lose grey matter.

The more intense cocaine use of the addict accelerates grey matter loss, further weakening the control unit.

If you've got a strong sensation-seeking desire but lack impulsivity and compulsivity you can have your thrills and probably come out okay.

They also found that people who use illicit drugs like cocaine exhibit high levels of sensation-seeking personality traits, but only those developing dependence show personality traits of impulsivity and compulsivity.

Our drugs, cell phones, TV sets, and other products of modern society are too much for the most impulsive among us to handle.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 17 09:53 PM 
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2013 January 16 Wednesday
Gene And Cell Therapies Against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

A pair of reports demonstrate gene therapy and cell therapy benefits in animal models of the genetic muscle disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). A gene therapy that introduces a subset of the dystrophin gene (which is defected in DMD) boosted muscle force in dogs.

"We placed the new microgene into a virus and then injected the virus into dystrophic dogs' muscles," Duan said. Following gene therapy, Duan's team examined the dogs for signs of muscle disease and measured muscle force in treated and untreated dogs. After careful evaluation of 22 dogs, Duan and colleagues found that the new version of micro-dystrophin not only reduced inflammation and fibrosis, it also effectively improved muscle strength.

Even if you do not know anyone with DMD the research into it still matters to you. Why? All of us suffer dystrophy (wasting away) of our muscles due to aging. This happens to us at a much slower rate than with with those who have genetic defects. But some potential therapies for DMD might also be useful for muscle rejuvenation.

Cell therapies against DMD hold the biggest hope of also offering benefit for old people whose muscles are shriveling. So a report from University of Illinois on a stem cell treatment for DMD also moves us closer to stem cell treatments for aged muscles.

CHAMPAIGN, lll. — Researchers have shown that transplanting stem cells derived from normal mouse blood vessels into the hearts of mice that model the pathology associated with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) prevents the decrease in heart function associated with DMD.

The stem cells helped prevent heart muscle deterioration.

In the new study, the researchers injected stem cells known as aorta-derived mesoangioblasts (ADM) into the hearts of dystrophin-deficient mice that serve as a model for human DMD. The ADM stem cells have a working copy of the dystrophin gene.

This stem cell therapy prevented or delayed heart problems in mice that did not already show signs of the functional or structural defects typical of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the researchers report.

Support muscular dystrophy research. Among the hearts it will save could be your own.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 16 10:38 PM 
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2013 January 14 Monday
Electric Cars Cheap Used

An article in Consumer Reports highlights the faster depreciation rates for electric Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt cars. Is less than $20k realistic for a 2011 Leaf? I dialed up a California zip code with a 500 mile range at autotrader.com and went fishing. Sure enough, you can get a low mileage Leaf for under 20 grand. One with less than 6000 miles goes for $22k and another under 5000 miles goes for under $21k.

Does the limited range of the Leaf so reduce average miles driven that 2 year old Leafs are just going to have low mileage? Makes it hard to pay back the cost of the $16k battery if the average driver can't manage to drive it very far. On the other hand, maybe owning the Leaf just makes people drive less so they really do save a lot of money for gasoline.

The same dollars spent on a single EV would save far more fuel if spread across 4 or 5 different cars to make them each conventional hybrids. A Ford Fusion hybrid or Prius hybrid makes more sense. We need better and much cheaper batteries for EV economics to work.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 14 10:15 PM 
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2013 January 10 Thursday
Breath Compounds Can Signal Colon Cancer

Some day our bedrooms will have sensors embedded in them that monitor the gases that we breath out as we sleep. Our home medical diagnostic systems will wake us up to warn of early stage infections, signs of cancer, and other health problems. Volatile organic compounds in breath have telltale patterns when someone has colon cancer.

Led by Donato F. Altomare, MD, of the Department of Emergency and Organ Transplantation at the University Aldo Moro of Bari, researchers collected exhaled breath from 37 patients with colorectal cancer and 41 healthy controls which was processed offline to evaluate the VOC profile. VOCs of interest had been identified and selected, and VOC patterns able to discriminate patients from controls set up.

A probabilistic neural network (PNN) was used to identify the pattern of VOCs that better discriminated between the two groups.

Results showed that patients with colorectal cancer have a different selective VOC pattern compared with healthy controls, based on analysis of 15 of 58 specific compounds in exhaled breath samples.

The PNN in this study was able to discriminate patients with colorectal cancer with an accuracy of over 75%, with the model correctly assigning 19 patients.

Note that they were comparing against healthy controls but likely not longitudinally (through time). Home monitoring systems will be able to do better than this because they'll have baselines from when they first started measuring your breath. Plus, sensors built into toilets will provide additional signals about health problems at very early stages.

Given sufficiently advanced sensors built into beds, toilets, sinks and even around mirrors (to measure coloration changes in eyes and skin) diagnosis in a doctor's office will become the exception. Most diagnosis will happen while you are at home. Then why not have a prescription order made while you sleep with delivery to your door as you wake up?

By Randall Parker 2013 January 10 11:01 PM 
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Gene Therapy Fixes Scarred Heart Muscle

Rats suffering from heart muscle scarring from heart attacks finally have hope of repair.

NEW YORK (Jan. 4, 2013) -- A cocktail of three specific genes can reprogram cells in the scars caused by heart attacks into functioning muscle cells, and the addition of a gene that stimulates the growth of blood vessels enhances that effect, said researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College, Baylor College of Medicine and Stony Brook University Medical Center in a report that appears online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

"The idea of reprogramming scar tissue in the heart into functioning heart muscle was exciting," said Dr. Todd K. Rosengart, chair of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at BCM and the report's corresponding author. "The theory is that if you have a big heart attack, your doctor can just inject these three genes into the scar tissue during surgery and change it back into heart muscle. However, in these animal studies, we found that even the effect is enhanced when combined with the VEGF gene."

"This experiment is a proof of principle," said Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and a pioneer in gene therapy, who played an important role in the research. "Now we need to go further to understand the activity of these genes and determine if they are effective in even larger hearts."

This research could be speeded up if people with heart failure were allowed to volunteer for high risk gene therapy experiments. People with heart failure are already getting ready to check out from the life hotel. They should be allowed to take a big risk for themselves and biomedical science.

Even with the slow rate at which animal experiment results get turned into human therapies I'd be quite surprised if we did not have gene therapies for repair of damaged hearts in 15 years.

During a heart attack, blood supply is cut off to the heart, resulting in the death of heart muscle. The damage leaves behind a scar and a much weakened heart. Eventually, most people who have had serious heart attacks will develop heart failure.

Changing the scar into heart muscle would strengthen the heart. To accomplish this, during surgery, Rosengart and his colleagues transferred three forms of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene that enhances blood vessel growth or an inactive material (both attached to a gene vector) into the hearts of rats. Three weeks later, the rats received either Gata4, Mef 2c and Tbx5 (the cocktail of transcription factor genes called GMT) or an inactive material. (A transcription factor binds to specific DNA sequences and starts the process that translates the genetic information into a protein.)

The GMT genes alone reduced the amount of scar tissue by half compared to animals that did not receive the genes, and there were more heart muscle cells in the animals that were treated with GMT. The hearts of animals that received GMT alone also worked better as defined by ejection fraction than those who had not received genes. (Ejection fraction refers to the percentage of blood that is pumped out of a filled ventricle or pumping chamber of the heart.)

The hearts of the animals that had received both the GMT and the VEGF gene transfers had an ejection fraction four times greater than that of the animals that had received only the GMT transfer.

We might also benefit from enhancing the ability for a heart to repair itself before a heart begins to fail. Humans turn out to make cardiomyocyte heart cells up to age 20. If we could use gene therapy or cell therapy to reactivate that capability in our 50s or 60s we might be able to turn back the clock on heart aging.

Boston, Mass. — Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital have found, for the first time that young humans (infants, children and adolescents) are capable of generating new heart muscle cells. These findings refute the long-held belief that the human heart grows after birth exclusively by enlargement of existing cells, and raise the possibility that scientists could stimulate production of new cells to repair injured hearts.

Findings of the study, "Cardiomyocyte proliferation contributes to post-natal heart growth in young humans," were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Online Early Edition, the week of Jan 7-Jan 11, 2013. The study was led by Bernhard Kühn, MD, of the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children's.

Beginning in 2009, Dr. Kühn and his team looked at specimens from healthy human hearts, ranging in age from 0 to 59 years. Using several laboratory assays, they documented that cells in these hearts were still dividing after birth, significantly expanding the heart cell population. The cells regenerated at their highest rates during infancy. Regeneration declined after infancy, rose during the adolescent growth spurt, and continued up until around age 20.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 10 08:56 PM 
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Obesity Due To High Fetal Polyunsaturated Fat Exposure?

Yet another theory on why the obesity epidemic. If pregnant moms ate less vegetable oil and more fish oil their babies might not be so fat. Of course no cause and effect is proved from the observed pattern.

Southampton researchers have demonstrated that mothers who have higher levels of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which are found in cooking oils and nuts, during pregnancy have fatter children.

The study, carried out by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, assessed the fat and muscle mass of 293 boys and girls at four and six years, who are part of the Southampton Women's Survey (SWS), a large prospective mother-offspring cohort.

Their assessments were compared to the concentrations of PUFAs which were measured in blood samples collected from their mothers during pregnancy.

The study, published in the January edition of Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that children who were born to mothers who had had greater levels of n-6 PUFAs during pregnancy had greater fat mass.

Dr Nicholas Harvey, Senior Lecturer at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, who led the research with Dr Rebecca Moon, Clinical Research Fellow, comments: "Obesity is a rising problem in this country and there have been very few studies of mother's fatty acid levels during pregnancy and offspring fat mass. These results suggest that alterations to maternal diet during pregnancy to reduce n-6 PUFAs intake might have a beneficial effect on the body composition of the developing child."

More omega 3 fatty acids are associated with more muscle and bone in the baby.

Results from the study also showed weaker associations between a mother's levels of n-3 PUFAs, more commonly known as omega 3 and found in fish oil, and muscle mass in their offspring – the higher the level of n-3 the less fat and more muscle and bone in the baby.

Too much fructose? Too much refined grain? Too much omega-6 fatty acids? Not enough omega-3 fatty acids? If you reverse modern dietary trends you might not know exactly what helps but one of the things you change could provide benefits.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 10 08:46 PM 
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2013 January 08 Tuesday
New Gene Editing Technique To Revolutionize Gene Therapy?

Tired of waiting for the biotech revolution? It is getting closer. A bunch of scientists are enthusing about a new way to insert genes into human cells.

A simple, precise and inexpensive method for cutting DNA to insert genes into human cells could transform genetic medicine, making routine what now are expensive, complicated and rare procedures for replacing defective genes in order to fix genetic disease or even cure AIDS.

Discovered last year by Jennifer Doudna and Martin Jinek of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine-Sweden, the technique was labeled a "tour de force" in a 2012 review in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

That review was based solely on the team's June 28, 2012, Science paper, in which the researchers described a new method of precisely targeting and cutting DNA in bacteria.

Out with the expensive, complicated, and rare procedures for replacing defective genes. Enough of the snails pace rate of progress. Time to go to town fixing and improving our DNA.

Two new papers published last week in the journal Science Express demonstrate that the technique also works in human cells. A paper by Doudna and her team reporting similarly successful results in human cells has been accepted for publication by the new open-access journal eLife.

A simple, precise and inexpensive method for cutting DNA to insert genes into human cells could transform genetic medicine, making routine what now are expensive, complicated and rare procedures for replacing defective genes in order to fix genetic disease or even cure AIDS.

Discovered last year by Jennifer Doudna and Martin Jinek of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine-Sweden, the technique was labeled a "tour de force" in a 2012 review in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

That review was based solely on the team's June 28, 2012, Science paper, in which the researchers described a new method of precisely targeting and cutting DNA in bacteria.

Two new papers published last week in the journal Science Express demonstrate that the technique also works in human cells. A paper by Doudna and her team reporting similarly successful results in human cells has been accepted for publication by the new open-access journal eLife.

Existing techniques are too slow. Faster and easier techniques will speed up rates of iteration by experimenters and make it easer to create therapies.

"The ability to modify specific elements of an organism's genes has been essential to advance our understanding of biology, including human health," said Doudna, a professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at UC Berkeley. "However, the techniques for making these modifications in animals and humans have been a huge bottleneck in both research and the development of human therapeutics.

"This is going to remove a major bottleneck in the field, because it means that essentially anybody can use this kind of genome editing or reprogramming to introduce genetic changes into mammalian or, quite likely, other eukaryotic systems."

"I think this is going to be a real hit," said George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and principal author of one of the Science Express papers. "There are going to be a lot of people practicing this method because it is easier and about 100 times more compact than other techniques."

Revolutionized genome engineering is in the offing.

"Based on the feedback we've received, it's possible that this technique will completely revolutionize genome engineering in animals and plants," said Doudna, who also holds an appointment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "It's easy to program and could potentially be as powerful as the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)."

I'm thinking the 2020s will be when the gene therapies and cell therapies make a huge impact on human health, performance, and longevity. Maybe the late 2010s. But for the next few years we aren't going to see much at the clinical level.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 08 08:06 PM 
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2013 January 06 Sunday
Bye Bye Shopping Malls Due To Online Buying

Jeff Jordan, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, takes a look at dying shopping malls that are failing due to the shift to online buying.

Speaking as someone who has never enjoyed shopping online shopping is a boon. Far larger selection, more competition with tons of price comparison, shopping any time at any hour of of day, any day of the week, and on holidays. That's great. Love it. I go months without stepping foot inside a bricks and mortar shopping center. What I still buy in person: food and gasoline. Occasional trips to a drug store for chocolate or liquor.

What's interesting about the migration to online buying: people getting more stuff shipped to them is only part of the story. Whole categories of goods have gone virtual and, in the process, their new forms destroy the demand for other physical goods. Take ebooks. They also destroy demand for book shelves. You don't need lots of bookshelves to hold your Kindle or Nook books. You also do not need shelves to hold records, cassette tapes, or VCR tapes.

Of course, if you do not need records you do not a phonograph to play them. You also do not need a VCR or a high end Nakamichi cassette deck. You might decide you don't need a wristwatch either or a portable cassette or CD player since your phone serves both of those purposes. Bye bye lots of retail stores.

A drop in demand for retail stores also cuts demand for cars to travel to them as well as gasoline, oil changes, car repair, and mass transit rides. Physical goods ordered online and delivered directly to your front step are delivered in a more energy-efficient fashion. The two-way trips of many people get replaced by a loop by a delivery truck which makes many deliveries in the same neighborhood.

Or how about cameras? How about film? Lots of film development drop-off kiosks have disappeared. Lots more pictures being taken by the phone. Think about the phone. It is absorbing so many other functions. Music, books, maps. What's the strangest thing you find you use the phone for?

What's the most notable physical good that you no longer buy? Any surprises? What are you looking forward to no longer buying as electronic and internet technologies advance? Do you expect advances in other technologies to collapse demand for still other goods?

Here's what I'm most looking forward to: rejuvenation biotechnologies that will cause a collapse in the demand for wheelchairs, canes, and the myriad of other goods used by old people to compensate for their physical and mental deterioration.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 06 08:58 PM 
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2013 January 05 Saturday
Mars Trip Would Speed Up Brain Aging And Alzheimers

Radiation levels comparable to what Mars astronauts would get exposed to accelerated amyloid beta (Aβ) plaque accumulation in mice.

As if space travel was not already filled with enough dangers, a new study out today in the journal PLOS ONE shows that cosmic radiation – which would bombard astronauts on deep space missions to places like Mars – could accelerate the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

We need to develop rejuvenation therapies before we attempt to colonize Mars. We also need biotechnologies that will enable colonists to use microorganisms and plants to produce drugs, textiles, and structural materials.

"Galactic cosmic radiation poses a significant threat to future astronauts," said M. Kerry O'Banion, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the senior author of the study. "The possibility that radiation exposure in space may give rise to health problems such as cancer has long been recognized. However, this study shows for the first time that exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer's disease."

While space is full of radiation, the earth's magnetic field generally protects the planet and people in low earth orbit from these particles. However, once astronauts leave orbit, they are exposed to constant shower of various radioactive particles. With appropriate warning, astronauts can be shielded from dangerous radiation associated with solar flares. But there are also other forms of cosmic radiation that, for all intents and purposes, cannot be effectively blocked.

We also need to find out whether neurological impairment from radiation on a Mars trip would cause cognitive impairment during the early months of human life on Mars.

At Brookhaven, the animals were exposed to various doses of radiation, including levels comparable to what astronauts would be experience during a mission to Mars. Back in Rochester, a team of researchers – including URMC graduate student Jonathan Cherry, who was first author on the paper – evaluated the cognitive and biological impact of the exposure. The mice underwent a series of experiments during which they had to recall objects or specific locations. The researchers observed that mice exposed to radiation were far more likely to fail these tasks – suggesting neurological impairment – earlier than these symptoms would typically appear.

The brains of the mice also showed signs of vascular alterations and a greater than normal accumulation of beta amyloid, the protein "plaque" that accumulates in the brain and is one of the hallmarks of the disease.

"These findings clearly suggest that exposure to radiation in space has the potential to accelerate the development of Alzheimer's disease," said O'Banion. "This is yet another factor that NASA, which is clearly concerned about the health risks to its astronauts, will need to take into account as it plans future missions."

By Randall Parker 2013 January 05 04:24 PM 
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Flu Tracking Sites Could Track Zombie Outbreaks

As I've previously argued, we have the ability to stop a zombie apocalypse/ Movies and novels about the coming zombie apocalypse ignore our many advantages in a battle against zombies. Yet another example of advantages we have against a zombie outbreak is the Flu Near You web site which provides a 2 week earlier warning when a new influenza pandemic hits. Surely it would be easy to upgrade that site with a feature for reporting zombie outbreaks.

But over at Google Flu Trends, which monitors flu activity in the U.S. and around the world based on internet search terms, this year’s season has already topped the bright-red “intense” category.

And at Flu Near You, a new real-time tracking tool that’s gaining about 100 participants each week, about 4 percent of the 10,000 users say they’ve come down with flu symptoms.

Clearly we need sites with names like Zombie Trends, Zombies Near You, and of course Zombie Fighting Success Stories with the latest case studies of groups and individuals reporting what works and what fails.

A two week warning would give you plenty of time to get a FedEx delivery of a Glock or Beretta and ammo. The early orders would give the ammo makers more time to ramp up production and go to 24x7 manufacturing. Before the government has a clue (and long before it becomes honest about the unfolding disaster) you could order guns and ammo for everyone you care about. Say your friends already own shotguns and lots of shells. Perfect time to order some shotgun shell belts so you can get together and clean out your neighborhood.

If you have no strong ties to the place you happen to be living then consider traveling to a gun and ammo factory to serve as a neighborhood guard. If the ammunition factories get overrun early in the crisis that'd seriously undermine our ability to put a cap on the infection.

Smart phones with GPS could come in handy. A smart phone app could let you just tap for each zombie you see. Better yet, take pictures and have them automatically uploaded to a site that displays picture feeds by neighborhood. Image processing software could identify duplicates and come up with real time estimated zombie counts.

What else: In Apocalypse Z the lead character uses a wet suit to make zombie bites less likely to succeed and this saves his life. Well, you can organize your dive club to suit up and get them together with your hunting buddies when you need to do close in fighting. Infected apartment building? Time to don wet suits with a pair of 13 shot pistols and multiple cartridges each.

Once you've cleaned up your own neighborhood you could consult a flu tracking site and get together with other groups to clean up other neighborhoods. While countries with low gun ownership rates collapse into chaso your own city could become perfectly safe.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 05 03:43 PM 
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2013 January 02 Wednesday
Alzheimer's Drug Works In Mice

Mice are lucky they aren't protected by regulatory agencies. If this is a cure in humans will we get it in 7, 8, 9, 10 years?

A new ray of hope has broken through the clouded outcomes associated with Alzheimer's disease. A new research report published in January 2013 print issue of the FASEB Journal by scientists from the National Institutes of Health shows that when a molecule called TFP5 is injected into mice with disease that is the equivalent of human Alzheimer's, symptoms are reversed and memory is restored—without obvious toxic side effects.

If I had Alzheimer's, had access to this drug, and still had enough brain left to understand the above paragraph I'd inject myself with TFP5 immediately. No way would I wait for the drug regulatory process. I might start low and take successively higher doses each day. But I'd certainly not think it made sense to wait for years for clinical trials to be organized. If TFP5 does damage to humans better to run the risk of dying from it in the short term than the slow death of one's mind over several years.

Clinical trials: sure but when? The regulatory apparatus around killer diseases does not let desperate people (who have little to lose after all) to try desperate measures. I'd rather run the risk and if an experimental treatment is going to kill me at least rapidly let the medical researchers know that the treatment is a failure. Go down fighting.

"We hope that clinical trial studies in AD patients should yield an extended and a better quality of life as observed in mice upon TFP5 treatment," said Harish C. Pant, Ph.D., a senior researcher involved in the work from the Laboratory of Neurochemistry at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders at Stroke at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. "Therefore, we suggest that TFP5 should be an effective therapeutic compound."

We need faster progress in treating the degenerative diseases of old age like heart disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and assorted organs failures.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 02 09:11 PM 
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Biochips For Multi-Tissue Type Experiments

Why experiment with just one tissue type at a time when biochips will let us test drugs in complex systems of tissues? I'm happy to see DARPA funding this. Faster biomedical progress thru automation and miniaturization.

In a large-scale project recently funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration, several MIT faculty members are working on a “human-on-a-chip” system that scientists could use to study up to 10 human tissue types at a time. The goal is to create a customizable system of interconnected tissues, grown in small wells on a plate, allowing researchers to analyze how tissues respond to different drugs.

“If they’re developing a drug for Alzheimer’s, they may want to examine the uptake by the intestine, the metabolism by the liver, and the toxicity on heart tissue, brain tissue or lung tissue,” says Linda Griffith, the S.E.T.I. Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering at MIT and leader of the research team, which also includes scientists from the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Zyoxel and MatTek.

We need faster iteration rates for drug testing and other bio experimentation. Anything that'll cut cycle time will get us to better treatments sooner and more cures and methods to do rejuvenation.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 02 08:53 PM 
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Fructose Versus Glucose, The Brain, Obesity

The scientific debate continues to rage about whether a sharp rise in fructose consumption is responsible for the obesity epidemic. The latest round: glucose but not fructose causes a change in the area of the brain that regulates appetite.

CHICAGO – In a study examining possible factors regarding the associations between fructose consumption and weight gain, brain magnetic resonance imaging of study participants indicated that ingestion of glucose but not fructose reduced cerebral blood flow and activity in brain regions that regulate appetite, and ingestion of glucose but not fructose produced increased ratings of satiety and fullness, according to a preliminary study published in the January 2 issue of JAMA.

"Increases in fructose consumption have paralleled the increasing prevalence of obesity, and high-fructose diets are thought to promote weight gain and insulin resistance. Fructose ingestion produces smaller increases in circulating satiety hormones compared with glucose ingestion, and central administration of fructose provokes feeding in rodents, whereas centrally administered glucose promotes satiety," according to background information in the article.

After drinking a soda or something else with high fructose corn syrup do you find yourself engaging in food-seeking behavior? Homo Americanus was characterized by fanatical food-seeking behavior and left behind recently discovered food preparation structures known as "fast food restaurants". Anthropologists hypothesize these structures were the cause of species extinction.

"Thus, fructose possibly increases food-seeking behavior and increases food intake." How brain regions associated with fructose- and glucose-mediated changes in animal feeding behaviors translates to humans is not completely understood.

I can see it now: Chocolates marketed with pure glucose sweetener for appetite control. Free of sucrose and corn syrup. I'm up for experimentation. How about you?

Kathleen A. Page, M.D., of Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., and colleagues conducted a study to examine neurophysiological factors that might underlie associations between fructose consumption and weight gain. The study included 20 healthy adult volunteers who underwent two magnetic resonance imaging sessions in conjunction with fructose or glucose drink ingestion. The primary outcome measure for the study was the relative changes in hypothalamic (a region of the brain) regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) after glucose or fructose ingestion.

The researchers found that there was a significantly greater reduction in hypothalamic CBF after glucose vs. fructose ingestion. "Glucose but not fructose ingestion reduced the activation of the hypothalamus, insula, and striatum—brain regions that regulate appetite, motivation, and reward processing; glucose ingestion also increased functional connections between the hypothalamic-striatal network and increased satiety."

"The disparate responses to fructose were associated with reduced systemic levels of the satiety-signaling hormone insulin and were not likely attributable to an inability of fructose to cross the blood-brain barrier into the hypothalamus or to a lack of hypothalamic expression of genes necessary for fructose metabolism."

It'll take too long to genetically reengineer our hypothalamus genes to use fructose as an appetite suppression signal. We need pure glucose sweets.

By Randall Parker 2013 January 02 08:27 PM 
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