Science update

Recent things of note:

  • We’re going to have to wait until 2016 for our next lot of Space porn starring Jupiter. NASA will be launching the Juno mission in 2011, with the probe skimming above the cloud tops. It’s sure to make for some really pretty storm pictures.
  • Guys at Harvard have found a group of genes which seem to be involved in cellular aging in organisms from yeast to mice. Additionally, genetically engineering more copies, or providing drugs that activated the genes and the mice lives 24-46 percent longer. (Cue Morgan quoting “Of course I plan to live forever, but failing that a few thousand years would be fine…”).

And finally a nice little lamentation piece over at the daily galaxy, entitled “What Color’s Your Spaceship?” The problem with science education, from which I gathered the following very good quote:

For a new generation of graduate students the internet is an invaluable resource, a telephone, newsreel and the biggest reference in the world all in one.  But in many schools, where the internet is acknowledged at all it is painted as an evil source of cheating and laziness.  The problem is that kids are smart: for all its problems the internet is the greatest informational archive ever created, and if you tell a kid that using it is wrong then that kid is going to file you under “lying or stupid” and ignore everything you say.


Well it turns out that what we all suspected is in fact true: Bad boys get more girls. Rather amusing really given that at the pub on friday I got to watch one such individual involved in discussion of this very topic with a bunch of girls who were all vehemently denying that they were looking for a bad boys to give them hot lovin’ and then discard them like a used and crumpled tissue (well perhaps I’m embellishing a little on that last description).

Good news ladies, bad news ladies

First the good news (possibly). Boffins (to use the appropriate official top gear nomenclature) have figured out how to create sperm from female bone marrow cells. Now, in theory at least, women can reproduce without the aid of men, although as the page points out, we’re still useful to keep around for mowing the lawn and fixing cars. The technique sounds pretty high risk (from the stand point of the proportion of the sperm that have cellular structural (and thus presumably chromosomal or genetic) defects, but as with all science once the concept has been proven the wrinkles usually get ironed out pretty quickly).

The bad news is that even if they can reproduce sans men, they are still going to get forgetful when it happens. Ozzie scientists have proven that so called pregnancy brain is a real phenomenon, although they have not tried to speculate on what the actual cause is. This is all quite funny because I’ve been listening to Simone complain for a few months now about how she keeps on forgetting things and feels generally somewhat more wooley brained than usual. One of her old bosses said that she didn’t realise how bad it was until after she had had her baby and her memory came back. Perhaps it is supposed to serve an evolutionary purpose, helping women forget just how unpleasant pregnancy can be so that they can do it multiple times and advance the species…


Simone is currently accepting tenders on proposals to redesign the anatomy and (more importantly) physiology of the female reproductive system in specific relation to it’s adaptation and responses to pregnancy.

All design proposals with appropriate costings should be forwarded to Simone, care of “M**** F****ing Morning Sickness, Bentley Park, Cairns”.

One additional design suggestion which while not being an absolute requirement for any submission, would be a favoring component of any successful bid would be the ability to transfer symptoms (or indeed just the entire pregnancy) to the male other half…

Sushi Side Effects

Curious little mention on Slashdot of an article in Practical Neurology about a neurotoxin in tropical fish which, among other equally odd effects, causes a reversal in the sensations of hot and cold. That would certainly be unusual to experience, but an amusing party joke if you could make it short lived and reversible…


At the moment I’m going through quite a bit of respiratory physiology, and I can’t help noticing that I constantly become consciously aware of my breathing. I get that thing where I suddenly notice that I’m breathing, pause mid breath, and then have to think for a tic before I remember what comes next and I start breathing normally again.

It doesn’t happen when I’m studying any other kind of physiology, which is why it’s so curious.

Flight of ideas

One of the things I am living about being in Dunedin is the exposure to Academic medicine, with our lecturers as often as not being dual clinicians and researchers. They really know the stuff, and keep on hinting at the bits that are still unresolved, or those tidbits that have recently arisen from exciting research breakthroughs. Having gone through the UQ Med school and worked for Queensland Health (neither of which have administrations even remotely interested in research) it’s unbelievably refreshing to be around other minds who are interested in how things work, not just the fact that they do. (and who do research that involves more that glorified counting and stamp collecting).

For the first time in what seems like years I find myself wandering along a million miles away deep in contemplation of how I could solve some of the problems in Medicine, how I could improve myself, and how I could come to take over the world (or at least become a giant in my little corner of it). I used to get it all the time when I was doing my Biochemistry undergrad degree, but haven’t felt it much since starting studying medicine, and I had forgotten how invigorated and vibrant it made me feel to know of all the big holes that exist in our knowledge just waiting for me to devote a happy life to figuring them out.

Oops, I cured cancer

In what surely has to be one of the more amusing lab “accidents” a researched may have accidentally stumbled onto a cure for a number of different kinds of cancer.

She was working with cancerous epithelial cells while researching treatments for inflammatory bowel disease when she made a mistake and added too much of one of her test drugs.

Afterwards she found that all the cancer cells had died. Initially she was irritated at her mistake ruining her experiment until one of her co-workers pointed out that perhaps “it killed all my cancer cells” was actually a cause for excitement.
So we’ll have to wait and see if it makes it to clinical trials, but it’s a pretty cool story.