Daily Archives: June 20, 2012

Is science on the verge of curing retinal degenerative disease?

We can’t say how long the ‘verge’ is. Certainly years. But is it years-years or decades-years? Quite possibly sooner than many might have guessed just a few years ago. I like to be cautious about predicting breakthroughs that have not happened yet, but the results reported a few days ago at a major conference seem to have solved or significantly advanced solving some of the key problems in using stem cells to grown eye tissue.

There had been a lot of promising news over the last few years, and one of the most astonishing finds was reported from Japan just a few days ago at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Yokohama, Japan. Research Yoskiki Sasai has produced a proto eye from stem cells. This is different than previous stem cell results in three very important ways:

1) This is a three dimensional structure, mirroring normal eye structure, unlike earlier stem cell work which has produced a much less useful two dimensional structure;

2) The lab-grown biological structure is anatomically complete having both rods and cones in proto-form. Previous work only produced usable rods. This structure would, if it worked, produce an “eye” or a “retina” (or some transplantable thing) that would see color and see well.

3) Stem cell produced products seem to have latent stem cells embedded in them, often, which is one of the risk factors for cancer as an unintended side effect. According to the report provided a few days ago, this method should not have that problem.

Also of interest, the researchers have developed a way of packaging the grown retinal tissue for shipment and storage.

We should be impressed and we should be thankful that the Japanese have continued to fund and carry out research that was illegal in the US for so long. Had this work been funded at the levels that US based research tends to be funded, we’d probably have packaged up retina replacements ready to go in eye clinics by now. Depending on how politics works out in the US over the next few years, this produce will probably not be available here anyway. Retinal transplants will probably only be done overseas in countries without Republicans.

There is much more to the story than this, having to do with findings about how cells differentiate, which perhaps we can cover another time. Read all about it here in a reproduction of an article from Nature. The original report is cited below.

Main source: Cyranoski, David. 2012. Biologists grow human-eye precursor from stem cells: Achievement raises hopes for optic repair in the clinic. Nature. 15 June 2012.

See also: Restoring sight with wireless implants: A combination of video goggles and photovoltaic retinal implants could make vision restoration more practicable.

Music of the Birds. And more!

Music of the Birds by Lang Elliott is a classic book and CD combo well over 10 years old, that provided bird lovers with a chance to learn to identify and appreciate the songs of numerous species. Over the last decade or so many other CD-based bird song offerings have become available. More recently, Lang teamed up with Marie Read to produce an iBook (iAuthored) version of Music of the Birds which takes advantage of the iAuthored iBook format in many ways. This is my first review of an iAuthored book, and obviously the first one on this blog, so I want to use the opportunity to discuss what a iAuthored iBook does. Continue reading Music of the Birds. And more!

Maggie Koerth Baker, A writer’s writer on “The World’s Shittiest Secret Society”

Maggie Koerth Baker, whom I am so very happy to know and count as a friend and sort of neighbor, has written an essay that is clearly one of the the most important and powerful essays regarding the topics of miscarriage abortion that you will ever read.

Someone said the other day somewhere out there in the intertubual space, quoting someone, that “You know you’re a writer when you suffer a painful injury and think, ‘great, now I can write about pain from personal experience.'” At this very moment, the ink is still wet on Maggie’s essay which is meant to do exactly that, to discuss miscarriage and abortion and many of the things that go along with these things from a very personal perspective.

Holy crap, Maggie. I want to see you soon and give you a hug or something.

Everybody, give yourself a few minutes and click here.

Creationism News

Cringing in Kansas

The renewed complaints of a few members of the Kansas state board of education about evolution is making Kansans cringe, according to the editorial board of the Lawrence Journal-World (June 15, 2012). As NCSE previously reported, when the board heard a presentation about the current status of the Next Generation Science Standards on June 12, 2012, Ken Willard, a member of the board, distributed a letter arguing that the draft standards ” ignore evidence against evolution, don’t respect religious diversity, and promote secular humanism.”…

Read the rest here.

NCSE’s Newton on creationism and climate change denial

“What do creationists and climate change deniers have in common?” asks NCSE’s Steven Newton, writing in the May 2012 issue of the American Geoscience Institute’s magazine, Earth. “The answer to the riddle is that creationists and climate change deniers have a lot in common — most especially..

Read the rest here

The Rocks Don't Lie (geology and flood myths)

The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood by David Montgomery is new book on the Noachian flood. It is by a real life geologist and is not a creationist book. Might be a good gift for your annoying creationist relative.

Here is a write-up from the publisher:

In Tibet, geologist David R. Montgomery heard a local story about a great flood that bore a striking similarity to Noah’s Flood. Intrigued, Montgomery began investigating the world’s flood stories and—drawing from historic works by theologians, natural philosophers, and scientists—discovered the counterintuitive role Noah’s Flood played in the development of both geology and creationism. Steno, the grandfather of geology, even invoked the Flood in laying geology’s founding principles based on his observations of northern Italian landscapes. Centuries later, the founders of modern creationism based their irrational view of a global flood on a perceptive critique of geology. With an explorer’s eye and a refreshing approach to both faith and science, Montgomery takes readers on a journey across landscapes and cultures. In the process we discover the illusive nature of truth, whether viewed through the lens of science or religion, and how it changed through history and continues changing, even today.

… and here is a FREE COPY of a chapter of the book courtesy of the National Center for Science Education.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, it is not even close to true that “every culture has a flood myth.” But there is a falshood pertaining to that question: See “Every Culture Has A …

Photo of the geology of Red Rock Canyon, Nevada by the author.

Many Duluth Zoo Animals Dead In Floods

Duluth, a second tier Minnesota city on Lake Superior, has been flooding. This is a little unusual; heavy rains following a period of saturation have caused a local river that is usually not even heard of to grow very large and cause flooding that a lot of people haven’t seen before.

The polar bear and the seal were able to leave their enclosures in the high water. The bear was darted and is safely put away somewhere, the seal is said to have taken a stroll around the neighborhood. But the barn animals, apparently including cattle, ovicaprids, and donkey have all perished in the flood.

This raises an interesting point. The flooding risk to a given piece of land is pretty much known in the US for everywhere. It seems like it would be a fairly easy task to determine if animal enclosures or other areas in a zoo are at risk of being flooded like this, and then to redesign to allow for animals to escape to somewhere. One would think that his would be a responsibility automatically addressed by Zoo managers. I’m fairly sure the federal governing body for Zoos is, at least in part, the USDA. Perhaps they have an opinion on this.

In this particular case, it seems (subject to revision) that a particular culvert had become blocked with debris, and thus water backed up into the zoo. Eventually, the culvert was totally washed out which presumably would have allowed flood water to recede. It is possible to re-engineer culverts to avoid this sort of thing from happening. An assessment of the likelihood of flooding here may well have led to such a fix prior to the incident.

Should existing zoos be assessed for future flood risk?

Here’s a local news story.

Yes, the animals were contained within the property, but not necessarily alive. My sense is that he already knows the state of the animals but is letting the Zoo folks handle the news.

And yes, the “Highway 61” mentioned in the news is, indeed this one:

Photo of bear by clairity