Daily Archives: November 8, 2007

HIV: Congo to Haiti to Pandemic

Lots of people are talking about this latest paper on HIV. It is an “open access” paper in the PNAS, and you can get it here.Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus that can cause AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). It is a member of a larger group of viruses (the Smian immunodeficiency viruses) which are generally thought to be of African origin. There are two types of HIV (HIV-1, and HIV-2), with HIV-1 being the more virulent and, in human populations, most widespread.There are several theories as to the origin of HIV. When I was in Zaire in the mid 1980s, people in the cities were insisting that several Zairois had been brought to the US and infected with “Sida” (AIDS) and sent back t Zaire unaware of their condition to spread the disease. It has been suggested that HIV was accidentally included in polio vaccine. These and other ideas are highly unlikely, as it turns out. Continue reading HIV: Congo to Haiti to Pandemic

Are you having trouble reading this?

You roll your head, hoping to loosen the knots in your neck, and shut your eyes. After rubbing them you settle back into staring, hunched inches away from the computer screen. Despite the brief reprise your vision remains cloudy, causing the words on the monitor to blur. At this point, you need to know: With each further click on the keyboard, video watched on YouTube, and e-mail sent–are you damaging your vision?

The answer? It depends. Go here to find out.Thanks, Scott, for the tip.

Why is global warming important?

When discussing global warming (and more broadly, climate change), especially here in the Great White North, it is often quipped that a little global warming is not necessarily a bad thing. So what if cold regions get warmer? That would be good for growing more food, having a warmer winter, and so on. Also, when we note the very large “natural” climate changes and contrast this with what is happening now, some people conclude that human-induced global warming is small change and therefore unimportant.There are two reasons why this is wrong. Continue reading Why is global warming important?

Improving Brain Function

How the brain works … what it does, how it does it, and how well it does it … is a matter of how neurons are arranged in relation to each other, in circuits. But that is only part of the story. These neurons also need to function properly, and the connections between them need to function properly. For instance, it is thought that Einstein’s brain (he was a smart-guy, we assume) was not especially large, but it is though the had a somewhat better than average setup for keeping his neurons happy.A protein called postsynaptic density-95 (PSD-95) acts as a structural element around which other components of the synapse … the “connection” between two nerurons” is built. The more PSD-95 available, the better the connection, according to MIT researchers with a recent paper in Nature.It was already known that mice with an altered PDD95 gene … to produce an ineffective protein … had trouble with memory and learning.The newly reported research describes the molecular processes associated with the function of this protein. There could be real-life applications of this work. According to Morgan H. Sheng, Menicon Professor of Neuroscience at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory:

“Adding a phosphate group to a single amino acid allows PSD-95 to promote synapse size and strength, … Therefore, promoting this process could help improve cognitive function.”

This will be in the November 8th Nature and is reported here as well.

Giraffe at Augrabies

i-26ee7843ca4d883fb63ea74021ec2172-Augrabies_giraffe.jpgGiraffa camelopardalis .. the tallest of all land animals.It is said that giraffes evolved a long neck in order to feed off the top of trees, avoiding competition with other browsing mammals. However, most leaves are actually eaten by insects who can get to these leaves as well as any other. Personally, I think the long neck is an adaptation to having very long legs. The long neck allows the giraffe to reach water without having to get too far down on the ground or lay on its side.

YA Genome: Fruit Flies

I’m sure you’ ve heard, but in case not: Not one, not two, not even three, but TEN new genomes were just released, bringing the total for fruit fly genomes to twelve species.These fruit flies diverged several tens of millions of years ago, which in the large picture, is kinda recent. This will allow a useful meso-time scale comparative study across diverging genomes trapped in somewhat less divergent phenotypes.We are now starting to see patterning in the fundamental nature of selection For instance, it is now possible to begin to estimate the relative rate of genetic change at the base-pair level that is accounted for by different kinds of selective forces, such as sexual selection, selection on the immune system, and so on, and to place this in the broader context of neutral process.A good place to start reading about this is here, at Nature News.

Bell Museum (Minneapolis) Happenings

Bell Museum of Natural History EventsIn addition to the regular menu of science and culture programs, this month the Bell Museum will be hosting the second annual Diorama-rama on November 16th from 7-10 p.m. – featuring dioramas made by you, plus live music, tours and more. Don’t miss this opportunity to revisit the Bell Museum and to see a new exhibit about the history of the museum’s diorama displays.If you are interested in making a diorama to display, visit bellmuseum.org for guidelines.Also this month: Cafe Scientifique explores sustainable agriculture and synthetic biology, Science Trivia is back at the Nomad World Pub, and two screenings of “A River Reborn” at the Bell Museum.Diorama-ramaDioramas on display November 16-18Opening event Friday, November 15, 7-10 p.m.Free with museum admissionCreate a diorama and submit it for display at the Bell Museum. For guidelines and this year’s theme visit bellmuseum.org. At the opening event, tour the museum’s renowned habitat dioramas, and see new exhibits that explore the history of these displays as well as what we can learn from them today.CAFE SCIENTIFIQUE:Food Systems and Land UseTuesday, November 13, 6 p.m.Kitty Cat Klub, DinkytownKate Clancy, Senior Fellow and Endowed Chair in the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, will discuss the challenges to land use and pose questions as to what the future of land-use planning ought to look like.Computational BiologyTuesday, November 20, 7 p.m.Bryant-Lake Bowl, UptownMarc Riedel, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota will discuss his research, which uses computational models and methods inspired by biological systems.SCIENCE ON SCREEN:A River Reborn: The Restoration of Fossil CreekThursday, November 15, 7 p.m.Sunday, November 18, 2 p.m.Bell Museum AuditoriumAn apt name for this once dry and lifeless Arizona stream, Fossil Creek was dammed and diverted for almost 100 years to generate electricity for nearby mining operations. Now, in one of the most dramatic environmental restoration projects of our time, scientists, hydroelectric company officials, the Yavapai-Apache Nation, landowners and environmentalists are collaborating to return Fossil Creek to its natural state. This documentary chronicles the growing effort to balance fulfillment of human needs with protection of the natural systems that support human life. (60 minutes)SCIENCE TRIVIA:SCIENCE TRIVIA Wednesday, November 14th, 8 p.m.Nomad World Pub: 501 Cedar Ave. S$10 registration fee per teamJoin the Nomad World Pub and the Bell Museum of Natural History for a brain-thrilling night of science trivia, hosted by Doomtree MC and self-professed science geek, Dessa. Test your scientific knowledge with questions ranging from current science and biology to science fiction. Gather a group of up to 5 friends and compete for gift certificates, and other great prizes. Pre-registration is recommended but not required.Call 612-626-1897 to secure your spot!

Where Are They Now? Lemurs Let Loose Live

i-5fa23fcfa7d6d1ae246b137b8d54c7cd-lemurstanding.jpgTen years ago, thirteen lucky lemurs were taken from Duke’s primate center and the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, and other facilities, and let loose in their native lands in Madagascar.These were black and white ruffed lemurs, Varecia variegata variegata. They are rain forest dwellers native to Madagascar.Several were almost instantly eaten by predators, which is not at all surprising because the Predator IQ is pretty much determined by environmental factors in primates (as is intelligence in general). Of the original 13, three survive today.Lemurs being lemurs, there was also romance, and in the end there are now six or more offspring born of five of the original animals. Most of the offspring that were born in the wild were also eaten by predators, more than would have happened if they were born of wild primates, most likely. This is not surprising, since the ability to do complex thing in primates is not inherited genetically, but rather, passed on through cultural processes, and none of the original lemurs were savvy about predators.Hopefully as generations go by, the survival rate will go up, and if that happens fast enough, this group will not go extinct.The story is detailed, with more pictures and even sound files you can listen to, here at Duke’s site.