As usual we start by calling your attention to our Human Rights Action Update blog. Please check it out and act for people whose human rights are being abused.
Pollyanna wishes to express her shock and regret over the loss of life at US legations caused by a film offensive to Islam made in California. The reaction in the Muslim world is totally disproportionate and certainly the US government cannot be blamed for the acts of individuals who enjoy freedom of expression. The film is revolting, but the violence is nonetheless unjustified, certainly the killings in Libya.
FISH OR SNAKE OILS
We have long believed, along with everyone else, that by taking fish oil pills, known as Omega 3, we were reducing our risk of heart disease. Now we are told that this is not the case. A review of 20 studies covering nearly 70,000 participants finds no statistically significant evidence that supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), commonly referred to as fish oil supplements, is linked to a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, or premature death. The results have been published in JAMA. This follows the debunking of the organic food mythology. Our colleague Bob Park at the University of Maryland has been hammering at the snake oil salesmen with connections in Congress for years. We suggest you look through his blog What's New and search for what he has to say about food supplements. You might also find his article on bogus science worth reading. We are sure that in the case of Omega 3 there was no attempt to deceive on the part of the scientific community.
JUNK FOOD AND OUR BRAINS
While we are on the subject of food and food additives, we might take a look at what happens to us when we binge on junk food. We know about obesity in children and adults and the growing spread of bad eating habits. Now there is another aspect that is coming up, the dreaded disease of old age, Alzheimer's. A large body of evidence now suggests that Alzheimer's is primarily a metabolic disease. Some scientists have gone so far as to rename it: they call it type 3 diabetes. The fact that the food industry is so lightly regulated means that huge economic interests have an interest in making us overeat. As George Monbiot writes in the Guardian:
A scarcely regulated food industry can engineer its products – loading them with fat, salt, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup – to bypass the neurological signals that would otherwise prompt people to stop eating. It can bombard both adults and children with advertising. It can (as we discovered yesterday) use the freedom granted to academy schools to sell the chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks now banned from sale in maintained schools. It can kill off the only effective system (the traffic-light label) for informing people how much fat, sugar and salt their food contains. Then it can turn to the government and blame consumers for eating the products it sells. This is class war, a war against the poor fought by the executive class in government and industry.
|Because regulation is light, the industry can kill off the only effective system for telling us how much fat, sugar and salt food contains. Photograph: Brownstock Inc/Alamy|
It is criminal and we sit still for it. Pollyanna is not glad about this at all.
MOLLUSC SEX SWITCH
It is fascinating that an Antarctic mollusc, Lissarca miliaris is hermaphroditic and can change sex as required by the reproductive cycle in the extremely cold waters of Antarctica. It had long been known that the females brood their young from egg to fully shelled mollusc, but the new results show that males also contain eggs.
|Lissarca miliaris young develop inside the shell|
|Nautiluses move through the water by pumping air into and out of gas filled chambers within their shells|
JUNK IS NOT REALLY JUNK
For a long time it was believed that a large part of the DNA molecule, the parts that are not actual genes containing instructions for proteins, was unessential junk. Now we know better, thanks to a major effort by a large number of dedicated scientists in the ENCODE project. These bits of DNA once were dismissed as “junk” but turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches. The implications for medicine are colossal. The greater part of DNA consists of molecular switches that control which genes are used in a cell and when they are used, and determine, for instance, whether a cell becomes a liver cell or a neuron.
The discoveries were published on last week in six papers in the journal Nature and in 24 papers in Genome Research and Genome Biology. In addition, The Journal of Biological Chemistry is publishing six review articles, and Science is publishing yet another article.
Pollyanna is more than glad, she is thrilled and delighted and cheers the efforts of the ENCODE project.
GENETICS, DNA AND THE QUEEN OF SHEBA
|Image Credit: Photos.com|
Pollyanna of course knows the Biblical story of the Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon. The Ethiopian tradition says that she had a child by him from whom the Ethiopian nation is descended. Recent research involving genome comparisons of of Ethiopian people has discovered similarities to those of populations in Israel and Syria, thus providing genetic evidence that may support the tale of the legendary Queen of Sheba.
“We found that some Ethiopians have 40 percent to 50 percent of their genome closer to the genomes of populations outside of Africa, while the remaining half of their genome is closer to populations within the African continent,” study co-author Toomas Kivisild of the University of Cambridge said, according to HealthDay News reports. “We calculated genetic distances and found that these non-African regions of the genome are closest to populations in Egypt, Israel and Syria, rather than to the neighboring Yemeni and Arabs.”Of course, the dating cannot be extremely accurate, usually +- a few hundred years, but the gene flow story is consistent with the legends.
Likewise, Dr. Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, co-lead author of the study, told Briggs, “Genetics can tell us about historical events… By analyzing the genetics of Ethiopia and several other regions we can see that there was gene flow into Ethiopia, probably from the Levant, around 3,000 years ago, and this fits perfectly with the story of the Queen of Sheba.”It would appear, says Pollyanna, that Her Majesty had quite a pleasant visit to Jerusalem.
It is hard to think of a pulsar without thinking of weirdness, but at a meeting in Beijing last month, the astrophysics community came out with some super weirdos in the pulsar family. Presenters cautiously discussed several new — indeed, some very new — discoveries, including a millisecond pulsar parked in the heart of a triple system, another “planet”-pulsar pair similar to the (erroneously named) diamond planet, and a very distant, mysterious burst resembling the controversial Lorimer burst discovered in 2007 in archived data.
|The burst after dedispersion and channel summing has been applied, shown as a function of time|
We once attended a meeting in Snowmass CO on the similarities between Jupiter and pulsars. It was interesting, but not much was in common except weirdness. Note the declension of the adjective:
We confess to having scanned this out of The New Yorker, nostra culpa.
POLLYANNA'S FEMINIST RANT:MARRIAGE FOR LOVE
In Pakistan, as in much of the Muslim world, marriages are usually arranged by the parents with the couple, certainly the woman, having little or nothing to say. Recently, however, since a change in law in 2003 made free choice marriages legal, more and more young women are marrying for love and not at the behest of parents. For many of them this can be a very dangerous decision and Pollyanna is raising her voice in protest. We consider this a fundamental breach of basic human rights. We applaud the courage of these young couples and would like to see the sort of cultural and political change in Pakistan and elsewhere that would grant women the right to make their own decisions without fear. The Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organization active throughout Pakistan, is making a major effort along these lines. We would like to quote Mahnaz Rahman, resident directorof the foundation:
“Things are changing; the girls are becoming bolder, they are continuously taking steps, and they are not afraid to die. They know that they will be killed, but even then they are taking these steps because they can’t conform to the values of their parents. They are the girls of this modern age.”
When a woman disagrees with her parents’ choice of husband, she has few options, Ms. Rahman said. If she wants to marry someone else, the two must elope and leave the family home behind. By leaving the home, though, the daughter is considered to have dishonored her family, and that is where culture, custom and the legal system intersect with retribution.
Pollyanna has hope for better days for these brave women.
We have not had a book review on the blog for a while. A history of Bell Labs, the famous research center in New Jersey, where we spent a few years as post-doc in the old days has come out. Bell Labs was really a university lab masquerading as part of a large industrial complex, AT&T. The book, ‘The Idea Factory,’ by Jon Gertner, is reviewed in the New York Times by Walter Isaacson.
The Idea Factory describes the history of the Laboratory from its inception in 1925 up to its decline late in the century. During its days of greatness, when AT&T could pour money into it at will while enjoying its monopoly on telephone service in the US, Bell Labs produced the transistor, the laser and information theory that underlies our world of communication and computers along with countless other innovations.
Reprinted with permission of Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc. and courtesy of the AT&T Archives and History Center
We recall it as as great place to do science, even in space physics which was a bit of a sideshow at the Labs.
WHAT IF? XKCD ANSWERS THE PUBLIC
This week's question is quite ridiculous, but amusing in a puerile sort of way.
BACK TO SCHOOL
As we all know, this is the time of year when children are sent back to be incarcerated in the institutions we have set up to give them something resembling an education and preparation for life. All went back, some happy about it as our granddaughter Shira in Winnipeg and some less so, such as our little friend Cynthia from Gene Weingarten's strip. OK, back to school with you Cynthia and maybe you will have less time for nasty tweets.