Archive for June, 2008

Journalism Fail

By Melissa Lafsky | June 23, 2008 4:08 pm

SAI Screenshot


Take My Breath Away…And Analyze It in a Lab

By Andrew Moseman | June 23, 2008 3:16 pm

Breath—it can show a lot about your healthFor years, police have been using breath to tell when people have had a little too much to drink, by taking Breathalyzer readings to determine their blood alcohol levels. Now, some scientists are hoping that your breath could say a lot more about you than how much you’ve had to drink or what you ate for lunch.

Science News reported recently on Joachim D. Pleil, a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency who is developing technology to learn more about a person’s health by analyzing their breath. An average breath, Pleil says, contains 200 different chemicals. In total, scientists have identified more than 3,000 different compounds coming out of our mouths. If researchers figure out what the makeup of a person’s breath says about their health, Pleil says, the benefits to medicine could be great.

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Forget the Pesticide, California Says—Just Send in Sterile Moths

By Andrew Moseman | June 20, 2008 3:01 pm

Northern Californians say no to spraying pesticides.California residents need no longer worry that anti-moth pesticides will rain down from the sky onto their houses. But they should still be on the lookout for thousands and thousands more moths.

The light brown apple moth, native to Australia, invaded northern California in March 2007 and state agricultural officials say it is a major threat to many different crops proceeded to chow down on crops. Initially, the state planned to spray moth-infested areas, including residential ones, with a chemical that acts as a phony pheromone, mimicking the female scent and throwing the males off course so they don’t mate. According to The New York Times, there were “numerous complaints” of respiratory problems after the chemical was sprayed last November. And after an outcry from Northern Californians who didn’t want it in their town, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger relented and changed course.

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Weekly Science Blog Roundup

By Andrew Moseman | June 20, 2008 12:26 pm

Yee-haw! It’s the blog roundup.Can you power an entire dance club with dancing? The British are about to try.

The Boston Globe unveils the science of the perfect nap. Even thinking about taking an afternoon siesta seems to improve your mood.

Dear Presidential candidates: Why no love for economists?

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Hey, That’s My Patent! Biotech Brouhaha Erupts Over Cloning Dogs

By Andrew Moseman | June 19, 2008 6:08 pm

black lab.
I’m not one of a kind?!?

There can be only one dog cloning operation, or so says Lou Hawthorne, the CEO of BioArts, a biotech company based in California.

You may have heard that a South Korean company called RNL Bio announced earlier this week that they produced four cloned copies of a Labrador retriever. The original dog, Marine, was excellent at cancer-sniffing—able to pick out breast, prostate, lung, and bladder cancer cells. But she couldn’t have puppies, so her owner, canine trainer Yuji Satoh, asked RNL Bio to clone her. Two of the four new Marines have been donated to Satoh’s training center and to the Seoul National University lab; the other two are on the market for a cool half-million dollars each. And RNL Bio announced plans to venture into the pet market, cloning your deceased canine if you’ve got the cash.

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Why Do I Feel Woozy? I’ve Only Had One Enormous Glass of Wine

By Andrew Moseman | June 19, 2008 5:02 pm

It’s just one drink, right? Well, it depends.The next time you think about making that cocktail a double, wait—it might already be one.

William Kerr, along with colleagues from the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute, took a scientific bar crawl—no, not the kind where you visit science-themed drinking establishments. The researchers visited 80 places in northern California, mostly bars and restaurants, to find out the alcohol content of their drinks—by analyzing them, not by partaking. Compared to the scientific standard of one drink—12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or one and a half ounces of 80-proof liquor—the bars and restaurants were pretty generous with their liquor, giving out stronger booze than the researchers expected, and more of it.

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MORE ABOUT: alcohol

Are Highly Fertile Women More Likely to Have Gay Sons?

By Andrew Moseman | June 18, 2008 5:29 pm

Homosexuality in men may be connected to highly fertile womenSome have argued that homosexuality is unnatural because the biological purpose of sex is for reproduction, and gay couples can’t conceive children in the “natural” way. But as it turns out, homosexuality might actually be related to increased fertility and reproduction, though not in a way you might expect.

A team of Italian researchers led by Andrea Camperio-Ciani had been working on solving the Darwinian paradox of homosexuality—that is, if being gay is hereditary, and gay people have fewer or no children, homosexuality should have vanished from the gene pool. In 2004, the team studied Italian families and found that the female relatives of gay men were more fertile than average women. After using a series of computer models to analyze that data, the scientists released a study this week saying that homosexuality in men is genetically connected to women who have high fertility. In their model, male homosexuality has to be governed by two genetic loci—particular fixed positions on a chromosome—and at least one locus and maybe both must be on the X chromosome, meaning it’s passed down from mother to child.

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MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

I’m Telling You Birds—You’re Just Going to Love this Neighborhood

By Andrew Moseman | June 18, 2008 1:48 pm

a black-throated blue warblerWe thumb through real estate listings and drive around neighborhoods to find the best place to live, but some birds have it easier—they just listen to songs.

Male black-throated blue warblers sing to their newborn chicks in the autumn, probably trying to teach the young ones to sing themselves. But biologist Matthew Betts from Oregon State University, along with two Canadian colleagues, studied the warblers in New Hampshire and found that the song of males who successfully reproduced is also a cue—when other males hear it, they assume that location must be a good place to nest, and so they’ll try to return there the next year. Not only that, the scientists say, but eavesdropping on the songs other warblers can override the birds’ other senses.

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Go Ahead and Have Seconds; Your Sperm Won’t Mind

By Andrew Moseman | June 17, 2008 4:23 pm

Obesity may not contribute to lowered sperm countsAmerican men are getting heftier, but worries that their waistlines and sperm counts are inversely related might be a little overrated.

Nanette Santoro from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx just finished a study finding that men with very high body mass indexes did not show decreased sperm counts or lowered sperm quality, contrary to conventional wisdom. She and her colleagues studied nearly 300 overweight men between the ages of 18 and 50, and found that while many showed lower testosterone levels, the subjects’ sperm production was no different than ordinary men.

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MORE ABOUT: obesity, sex & gender

Is Growth Hormone a Placebo? Sports Cheaters Might be Fooling Their Own Brains

By Andrew Moseman | June 17, 2008 12:37 pm

A continuing problemSome say athletic success is more mental than physical, and cheating in sports might be, too.

Along with steroids, growth hormone has become one of the hot-button banned substances in professional sports. The Mitchell Report, released in December, outed 86 Major League Baseball players as steroids or growth hormone users. But according to Jennifer Hansen, a researcher at Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, the edge athletes receive by taking growth hormone might be mostly in their minds.

Hansen’s study gathered 64 young volunteers who played recreational sports, and in an eight-week double-blind experiment, researchers gave some of the athletes growth hormone and gave others a placebo. Male subjects, she says, were especially likely to believe they’d received growth hormone even if they hadn’t. But the athletes of both sexes who were wrong—who thought they were on growth hormone but had actually taken the placebo—believed that the substance had helped their performance, and they showed slight improvements in several athletic tests.

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MORE ABOUT: sports, the brain

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