Archive for May, 2010

NCBI ROFL: Sword swallowing and its side effects.

By ncbi rofl | May 28, 2010 7:00 pm

spacing is important Fig 1: One of the authors (DM)
swallowing seven swords.

It’s BMJ week (again) on NCBI ROFL! After the success of our first BMJ week, we decided to devote another week to fun articles from holiday issues of the British Medical Journal. Enjoy!

“OBJECTIVE: To evaluate information on the practice and associated ill effects of sword swallowing. DESIGN: Letters sent to sword swallowers requesting information on technique and complications. SETTING: Membership lists of the Sword Swallowers’ Association International. PARTICIPANTS: 110 sword swallowers from 16 countries. Read More


Dang, What Was That? Astronomers Wonder What Just Whizzed by Earth

By Joseph Calamia | May 28, 2010 1:10 pm

Momma always said to pick up after yourself. Otherwise, you won’t know where your old pieces of junk will end up, and might end up confusing them with asteroids.

Astronomers have decided that a near-Earth object that passed by Earth last week is likely a rocket piece, a chunk of metal left behind in the darkness of space while some orbiter or NASA explorer zoomed off on an exciting mission.


Richard Kowalski at the Catalina Sky Survey discovered “2010 KQ,” a few-meter-wide something or other, headed for Earth on May 16. Tracked by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” the something made a relatively close pass to our planet (it was just a bit further out than the moon’s orbit) on May 21. Yesterday, NASA announced that the object was likely the upper-stage of a rocket.

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Teen's Winning Science Fair Project Could Turn Tire Dumps Into Power Stations

By Joseph Calamia | May 28, 2010 10:58 am

tiresWhen other Albertans saw landfill fodder, 17-year-old Kyle Schole saw electricity. His project, “Microbial Degredation of Vehicle Tires,” which uses a strain of bacteria to harness energy from decomposing rubber tires, hasn’t yet hit the journal circuit. But it has won the farm-raised teenager a gold-prize at his national science fair.

Schole devised his plan while driving past an Alberta tire recycling plant. Though his town was already transforming tires into speed bumps and surfacing, he wanted to pop those wheelies into something more. He decided to make a few calls, and chatted up a few microbiologists from Canada, Scotland, and Australia. He then had to find the perfect rubber-munching bacteria.

His farm wasn’t equipped to deal with biohazardous materials so he spent his summer in labs at the Westlock Health Care Centre. He estimates that the project took him over 400 hours, but in the end he successfully created a microbial fuel cell that converts chemical energy released during the tire’s microbial decomposition into electricity. For his efforts, he won a $6,000 cash prize and a $10,000 scholarship to the Canadian university of his choice.

The “science fair maniac” told the The Edmonton Journal:

“I’m a very curious guy–whether it’s tinkering on the farm with my dad or working on science projects,” said Schole. “So I’m often thinking, ‘What would be a neat thing to test and improve on?'”

For more warm-fuzzies, see the CTV video coverage, with interview.

Related content:
DISCOVER: Science Fair for a Better Planet
Discoblog: It’s In the Bag! Teenager Wins Science Fair, Solves Massive Environmental Problem
The Loom: Microbial Art
The Loom: I For One Welcome Our Microbial Overlords

Image: flickr/Mykl Roventine

NCBI ROFL: Origins of magic: review of genetic and epigenetic effects.

By ncbi rofl | May 27, 2010 7:00 pm

potterbookIt’s BMJ week (again) on NCBI ROFL! After the success of our first BMJ week, we decided to devote another week to fun articles from holiday issues of the British Medical Journal.  Enjoy!

“Objective: To assess the evidence for a genetic basis to magic. Setting: Harry Potter novels of J K Rowling. Participants: Muggles, witches, wizards, and squibs. Interventions: Limited. Main outcome measures: Family and twin studies, magical ability, and specific magical skills. Results: Magic shows strong evidence of heritability, with familial aggregation and concordance in twins. Evidence suggests magical ability to be a quantitative trait. Specific magical skills, notably being able to speak to snakes, predict the future, and change hair colour, all seem heritable. Read More


Genetically Engineered Bugs Can Smell Blue Light

By Joseph Calamia | May 27, 2010 5:24 pm

blue-bananaDo I smell a banana? Nope. It’s a blue light I’m smelling.

Fruit fly larvae made this mistake while participating in a study recently published in Frontiers in Neuroscience Behavior. By adding a light-sensitive protein to certain smell receptors in the larvae, German scientists allowed the genetically engineered bugs to essentially smell light.

The team, under the guidance of Klemens Störtkuhl at Ruhr University Bochum, is attempting to understand “olfactory coding”–how the brain transforms chemical signals into perceptible smells. Normally, a fly’s olfactory receptor neurons only send an electrical signal to its brain when the fly smells something, but by adding a protein the researchers caused a neuron to fire when the one-millimeter bug was basking in blue light.

The fly brain uses some of its 28 olfactory neurons to detect bad smells, and others for good ones. Protein puppeteers, the researchers could pick which neuron to add the light-sensing protein to. The good-smelling neurons respond to a smorgasbord of fly-friendly scents: like banana, marzipan, and glue (apparently rotting fruit gives off these scents). By attaching the light-sensitive protein to one of these neurons, researchers caused the typically light-fearing insects to crawl straight towards the blue glow.

According to a ScienceDaily article, given their successful mapping of these larvae olfactory neurons, the researchers next hope to make adult fruit flies go bananas.

Related content:
Discoblog: Neuroscientist Says We Perceive “Smounds”—Half Sound, Half Smell
80beats: A Life-Extending Coup: Flies That Can’t Smell Food Live 30 Percent Longer
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Smell a lady, shrug off flu – how female odours give male mice an immune boost
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Elephants smell the difference between human ethnic groups
DISCOVER: The Brain: The First Yardstick for Measuring Smells

Image: flickr / Jason Gulledge

Punked! Slate's Doctored Photos Mess With Readers' Memories

By Joseph Calamia | May 27, 2010 3:21 pm

clinton“How will we remember the 2000s? What were the high and low points? Who were the heroes and villains?” William Saletan asked in a Slate article last week.

Do you remember when Senator Joe Lieberman voted to convict President Clinton at his impeachment trial, when President George W. Bush chilled at his Texas ranch with Roger Clemens while Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and when Hillary Clinton used Jeremiah Wright in a 2008 TV attack ad against Barack Obama?

You shouldn’t remember any of these things, because they didn’t happen. But Slate made pictures to use as evidence that these events did actually occur as an exercise in “altering political memories.” Slate mixed doctored photos of these fake events with other photos of real ones, and asked the readers which they remembered. The readers had no idea they were part on an experiment in memory hacking.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

NCBI ROFL: Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass.

By ncbi rofl | May 26, 2010 7:00 pm

headbangingIt’s BMJ week (again) on NCBI ROFL! After the success of our first BMJ week, we decided to devote another week to fun articles from holiday issues of the British Medical Journal.  Enjoy!

“OBJECTIVE: To investigate the risks of mild traumatic brain injury and neck injury associated with head banging, a popular dance form accompanying heavy metal music. DESIGN: Observational studies, focus group, and biomechanical analysis. PARTICIPANTS: Head bangers. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Head Injury Criterion and Neck Injury Criterion were derived for head banging styles and both popular heavy metal songs and easy listening music controls. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: BMJ week, NCBI ROFL, ridiculous titles

A Rare Mental Disorder: The Deep Conviction That You Smell Bad

By Joseph Calamia | May 26, 2010 2:19 pm

laundryThey change their clothes frequently. They shower repeatedly, sometimes using a whole bar of soap in one go. Some even swallow perfume.

They think they smell bad, but they don’t.

Olfactory reference syndrome is a rare psychiatric disorder, but it can lead to isolation, depression, and suicide. It’s also a little-noticed, little-studied syndrome. But now a study to appear in Depression and Anxiety has looked at twenty sufferers and reviewed current literature on the disorder to determine its general characteristics.

Psychiatrists have known about the disorder’s symptoms for over a century, but treatment and diagnosis are difficult, in part because the syndrome doesn’t currently have its own classification in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–the handbook of mental health professionals. The manual combines the syndrome with other disorders, such as social phobia, delusional disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The new study gives recommendations for updating the next version of the manual, and suggests adding this disorder to an appendix of conditions that need further research.

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Something to Sneeze at: Scientist Catches Computer Virus

By Joseph Calamia | May 26, 2010 11:24 am

computer-virusMark Gasson, at the University of Reading, just caught something. A computer virus. Gasson claims to be the first man in the world to become infected with a computer virus.

But by “caught,” we mean he gave the virus to himself, and by “virus,” we mean a program that he designed.

Gasson put the virus in an RFID tag that was then implanted in Gasson’s hand. The tag—like the microchips used to track down missing dogs and cats—had allowed Gasson to open security doors and unlock his cell phone automatically. When infected, the tag spread its virus to other devices, for example, that door-opening system. If other people then used their own hand tags to open the door they could, hypothetically, also catch the virus.

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NCBI ROFL: Study proves chocolate bars different from bones.

By ncbi rofl | May 25, 2010 7:00 pm

It’s BMJ week (again) on NCBI ROFL! After the success of our first BMJ week, we decided to devote another week to fun articles from holiday issues of the British Medical Journal.  Enjoy!

Accuracy of comparing bone quality to chocolate bars for patient information purposes: observational study

“Within our area of practice relating to osteoporosis and fragility fracture we have noticed a tendency to compare normal, healthy bone to the finely honeycombed structure of a Crunchie (Cadbury Trebor Bassett; Bournville, Birmingham) chocolate bar and to compare abnormal, osteoporotic bone to the coarser structure of an Aero (Nestle UK; York) bar.  Although this explanation is readily appreciated by patients and clinicians it struck us that the comparison may not be completely valid as no work has been published on the fracture potential of each bar… To enable us to provide accurate data to our patients we studied the fracture risk for each chocolate bar.


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