Ripped From the Journals: The Biggest Discoveries of the Week

By Eliza Strickland | August 21, 2009 6:45 pm

Nature 8-20Nature, August 20
Sometimes the big news is also really, really small. A paper published on Nature‘s Web site on Sunday describes how researchers made the world’s smallest laser, composed of a single nanoparticle measuring only 44 nanometers across. Researchers say the tiny devices could one day be the foundation for optical computers that use circuits made of light instead of electrical impulses. Another article in the journal has implications for the future of agriculture and how we’ll feed the planet’s booming population: A study of rice plants that can survive severe flooding found that two so-called SNORKEL genes are responsible. The hardy plants don’t produce high rice yields, but researchers say they can now try adding the genes to high-yield varieties to create a super plant for flood-prone regions.

The Annals of Internal Medicine, August 18
What killed Mozart? Maybe strep throat. While the medical sleuths who came up with this hypothesis acknowledge that there’s no way to test it–Mozart’s body vanished into a common grave that was later dug up to make room for more–their analysis of medical records in 1790s Vienna make strep a likely cause. The study found that edema was a common cause of death, which can be a complication of a strep infection; this could explain the severe swelling reported in Mozart’s final illness

Science 8-21

Science, August 21
One paper in Science may have received wide coverage partially because of the pretty pictures. Researchers found five new species of deep-sea worms that are thought to fling out luminescent green “bombs” when attacked by predators. The bombs don’t do any damage, but they do distract the predator for long enough for the worm to make its escape. Beyond the nifty visuals, the study is also a reminder of how little we know about life in the ocean depths. Another study published on Science‘s Web site shows that even though we’re still trying to find out what organisms currently grace our planet, we’re not holding back from trying to create entirely new synthetic life. Genetics pioneer Craig Venter announced that his team successfully took the genome from one species of bacteria, transplanted it into yeast cells for tinkering, and then placed the genome in a different bacterial species. The new organism “booted up” and came to life, Venter reports.

Current Biology, August 20
It’s so satisfying when science confirms a commonly held belief. This week, researchers found that people who are told to walk a straight course through the forest or desert really do end up going in circles. The study found that people trying to navigate without the aid the sun, moon, a map, or any obvious and looming landscapes walked a looping path. When the test subjects were later shown the course they followed on a GPS mapper, they were shocked. In another paper, scientists determined that our two nostrils are rivals for our brain’s attention. When test subjects were rigged up with a device that simultaneously piped one scent (roses) to one nostril and another scent (magic markers) to the second, the subjects detected the two scents in an alternating pattern, instead of a single odor that was a combination of the two.

New England Journal of Medicine, August 20
Many drug addiction counselors endorse harm reduction policies for hard-core heroin addicts, which can include supplying clean needles or “safe injection rooms” where addicts can shoot up, on the principle that such moves can reduce diseases and criminal behavior associated with addiction. Now, a new study has tested out the next controversial step in harm reduction: providing “prescription heroin” to addicts in a clinical setting. The study found that addicts who were given heroin were more likely to stick with a treatment program than those given methadone, and also reduced their criminal activity outside the clinic.

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  • Don

    Crazy way of reinforcing bad behavior. Normalize it, accept it and support it.

  • David Colton

    I don’t see this as normalizing, accepting, or supporting bad behavior. This is part of a treatment program, analogous to use of nicotine patches. It certainly isn’t intended to be long term support of their addiction and criminal activity.

    If it works, why not? This is right in so many ways.

    My first thought is “judge not that ye shall not be judged.” Nobody chooses to be a down and out, alienated and depressed junkie, so have a little compassion. Listen to the song, “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground. Many junkies are sensitive souls who find it hard to deal with all the evil and duplicity in the world. With a little support and care, many (certainly not all) can turn their lives around, as this program demonstrates.

    It seems well worth saving these people instead of us being the victims of crimes they commit to support their addiction, or supporting them in prison. When the get out of prison, brutalized and with poor job or social prospects, most go right back to drugs and crime. Criminalization and punishment is a stupid way for us to deal with the problem.

    I’d probably decriminalize personal drug use because the punitive approach fills up about 1/2 our prison and jail beds (which is bankrupting my state of California), ties up our legal system, and destroys families and lives. Mainly it hasn’t worked. The European system of treating drug abuse as a medical/family problem costs less and is much less costly.

  • Ken Erickson

    It’s my belief that a person so addicted has little real ability to withdraw from that addiction; the hold is too strong. I suspect that’s why even good families can have children who, as drug addicted adults, never take a ‘rightful’ place in society.
    I therefore see that the adoption of alternate ways of dealing with these souls needs to be considered; what we’re doing is not showing success.
    If you were to add up the benefits of jail versus support, I think the results would be highly in favour of the latter; we’d at least recover (to varing degrees) the ones who now are lost and unable to return on their own.

  • Kin

    I mean, this is different. Discover has no other source, because no one publishes in discover.
    The simple matter is that in the first place, nature/science are ripping off from researchers and peer reviews.

    This is totally acceptable discover, I condone it [Err, not in the "because I condone it sense, but in the - in contradiction to the other reader]

  • Jay Grassell MD

    Reply to David Colton:
    Based upon the heroin users I have seen in the past 25 years in the office and the ER, I’m still waiting to see the gentle and sensitive souls of whom you speak. My experience is of uniquely manipulative and deceitful behavior.
    As a taxpayer, I share your concern re: the impending bankrupcy of our home state of California. In your (or in any other that I have seen) cost/benefit analysis of legalizing opiate/meth/etc addiction, there is a clear ommission. Our California social welfare paradigm already automatically grants long term disability payments for self-destructive drug and alcohol addiction with no requirement for testing/treatment/rehabilitation. The oft-described “victimless crime” label so beloved by libertarians does in fact have victims: the diminishing number of those paying the bills.
    In fact, the nicotene patch analogy is false: nicotene is only prescribed for a limited period (of usually 12 weeks) whereas methadone maintenance programs (of which I have some knowledge) no longer maintain the pretense of time limitation or rehabilitation.

  • WL Lewis

    So let the taxpayer pay for junkies junk? Too many misguided programs like this are the reasons states have no money. If some governments give this garbage to the weak, then they might as well legalize them for tax money. Atleast I wouldn’t have to pay for a losers lifestyle. Wake up. The U.S. does not have an endless supply of money. Grow up. Look at the real world, not the 60′s attitude that has made everyone a victim. “Pie in the sky” doesn’t get anything done. Live in the REAL world. Good decision are made from hard choices, not just putting off the problem as this program does.

    Later

  • Emily Baker

    If heroin addicts are given drugs, first of all, they won’t commit crime to have them and thus lowering injuries, death, theft and jail space. Then, if they have a safe place to do so and to dispose of needles, the parks and cities are a safer place. They are a consequence of society and they are a part of it, it is unacceptable to let this sickness cause harm in society.

  • http://www.anewdayrehab.com Mike Slinskey

    Theories like the ones explained in this blog entry can sometimes rival those of a more technological magnitude, which can usually be a bit controversial. There are drug treatment facilities that have infrastructured a portion of their actual rehabilitation methods around the ones used in poison control treatment centers. By treating the problem with the problem. These methods are often used in detox facilities as well; as explained in the this post its also administered in methadone treatment. Some offer counseling, hygienic and other services of use to itinerant and impoverished individuals. Most prohibit the sale or purchase of illegal drugs. Safer injection rooms are legally sanctioned, supervised facilities designed to reduce the health and public order problems associated with illegal injection drug use.

    Much of the controversy over injecting centres is about the distribution of resources. Data on the effects of SIRs are scarce. Nonetheless, researchers have found SIRs to be an effective component of municipal drug strategies that include other low-threshold services, such as needle exchange and various forms of maintenance and treatment for drug abuse. In certain locations and under certain circumstances, SIRs may be an effective way to contact some of the most marginalized drug users and reduce the harm of their drug use on individual and community health and public order.

  • http://www.anewdayrehab.com Mike Slinskey

    Theories like the ones explained in this blog entry can sometimes rival those of a more technological magnitude, which can usually be a bit controversial. There are drug treatment facilities that have infrastructured a portion of their actual rehabilitation methods around the ones used in poison control treatment centers. By treating the problem with the problem. These methods are often used in detox facilities as well; as explained in the this post its also administered in methadone treatment. Some offer counseling, hygienic and other services of use to itinerant and impoverished individuals. Most prohibit the sale or purchase of illegal drugs. Safer injection rooms are legally sanctioned, supervised facilities designed to reduce the health and public order problems associated with illegal injection drug use.

    Illicit drug injection is associated with significant health and social consequences for drug users, their families and communities. The consequences include injection-related infections, overdose, blood borne disease transmission, exposure to discarded needles, violence, property crime and sex trade. Programs for the management of people who inject illicit drugs can be categorized as high-, medium- and low-threshold. “Threshold” refers to the eligibility criteria for program entrance and the state of readiness to participate and meet program demands. For example, abstinence-based programs are high-threshold, standard methadone maintenance programs are considered medium-threshold, and needle-exchange and street-based outreach programs are low-threshold programs. The inclusion of a range of low-threshold harm reduction services such as safe injection facilities has been crucial to the success of comprehensive drug strategies in Europe.

    Unlike illegal “shooting galleries” run by drug dealers, safe injection facilities are controlled health care settings where people can inject pre-obtained drugs under staff supervision and receive sterile injecting equipment, primary health care, counselling, and referral to health and social services. Injecting rooms are controversial because they are an attempt to decrease the negative consequences of existing drug abuse, rather than punish drug users through law enforcement. Critics of the practice say that they encourage drug abuse. Though, they appear to be successful in reducing public order problems associated with illicit drug use, including improper syringe disposal and public drug use. The fact that we haven’t had a major break-out of HIV here is thanks to innovative policies such as needle exchanges but nonetheless we’ve probably failed to contain Hepatitis C infection in the community.

    Much of the controversy over injecting centres is about the distribution of resources. Data on the effects of SIRs are scarce. Nonetheless, researchers have found SIRs to be an effective component of municipal drug strategies that include other low-threshold services, such as needle exchange and various forms of maintenance and treatment for drug abuse. In certain locations and under certain circumstances, SIRs may be an effective way to contact some of the most marginalized drug users and reduce the harm of their drug use on individual and community health and public order.

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