Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Separation of non-monotheistic churches and State

Until recently, this was a non-issue to me, but I've come to understand how truly important it is to maintain distance between government and religion.  The separation of church and state seems to hold true, so long as one is talking about keeping non-Christian gods out of government, but it seems like the Judeo-Christian guy, God, keeps sneaking in on coins, bills, the pledge of allegiance, and the presidential inauguration

Several groups have filed a lawsuit to exclude "so help me God" from the end of the president's oath.  I whole-heartedly agree that there should be no requisite references to any particular religion/deity in government proceedings.  However, I also am glad to see that this lawsuit does not include the president-elect himself, because, "...he possesses rights as an individual that allow him to express religious beliefs." 

I think that is the fundamental difference that many people get upset over; Efforts to prevent religion from being taught in public science classrooms, or to exclude any reference to a deity from the pledge to our great country are not intended to silence anyone's personal views.  In fact, they are intended to to the opposite - to welcome and be inclusive of the multitude of cultures and beliefs that co-exist somewhat peacefully here. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I guess, so I don't feel so alone that evolution is the only science getting bashed by the woefully ignorant, here is a list of 7 (Stupid) People Who Sued the Scientific Method.

Not that I wouldn't want them to be right sometimes - sure it would be great if we would cure AIDS with vitamins, but we can't.  Why? Because all those silly science "experiments" provides evidence to the contrary.  Now, don't get me wrong, your fruity Flinstone vitamins will still help you get your daily dose of vitamin C or potassium, but unfortunately they won't protect you from STIs, or raise your IQ.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Skirting the issue

In Darfur, a region of Sudan, violence, especially against women continues. A recent article hailed the efforts of a US teen in working to send energy efficient stoves to the region so that the women would not have to spend long hours searching for wood and thus be less likely to be preyed upon.

While I applaud his efforts and agree that increasing the efficiency of practical items will help people in poverty-stricken nations, I can't help but pause at the focus of this article. Perhaps, rather than suggest that the way to help Darfur's women is to find ways to keep them indoors and "out of harms way" we (citizens willing to donate $40 for a stove, NOT the US government) could also promote education by building schools and supporting teachers, or investigate other culture-specific means to reduce violence.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Battle of the Sexes

There have been a few studies showing that certain genes are expressed at different levels in male and female mouse brains.  Recent work with rats might illuminate why males and females react differently to opiate drugs, like morphine: 

Morphine remains one of the most widely used drugs to alleviate severe persistent pain and doctors have noticed that it frequently does not work as well in women. However, the study from Georgia State University claims to be the first to pinpoint the reason why. It looked closely at a tiny area of the brain called the periaqueductal grey area (PAG), which is important in the way that pain signals are interpreted. Many neurons in this region have, on their surface, "receptors" designed to receive and lock onto the molecules found in opioid drugs. These "mu-opioid receptors", when locked onto an opioid drug, send a message telling the brain to stop responding to pain signals, reducing the sensation of pain.

The Georgia State team found that, in the rat brain, females had a lower level of mu-opioid receptors in this part of the brain, suggesting that the potential potency of morphine is much reduced.

Additional tests suggested that the response to morphine varied depending on which part of the menstrual cycle the female rat was in. 

Prions are good?

I learned today that there are naturally occurring and healthy prions in the brain.  That makes sense, now that I think about it, just as there are helpful and harmful versions of the same bacteria, there can also be helpful and harmful versions of prions. These healthy prions may help prevent Alzheimer's.  Also, healthy prions may function in our sense of smell.

So, I'm still not eating brains, but I won't completely write off prions as being potentially useful, at least not the healthy variety.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The spoils of war

So I guess not all is lost when we go to war. Military-funded research into regeneration of tissues has shown great promise in being able to encourage ones own tissues to regenerate lost bone, muscle and skin.  Preliminary research in rats and with a test human subject (missing the tip of a finger) have been successful. 

However, I still can't help but be slightly disheartened.  Why does it have to take a wounded soldier, my brother, my best friend, to lose an arm, for this sort of research to receive the kind of funding it deserves?

Recently, traveling in Europe, I realized how integrated the "war" in Iraq is in our US society. I know at least a half a dozen people of the top of my head that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just as many who are in some branch of the military and may potentially go there.  Thankfully none of these people have been severely disabled, but I know they have close friends who were.

There have been leaps and bounds in the efficiency of prosthetic devices, and now in physically regenerating damaged bodies, but how much are we working to heal damaged hearts and support mental re-integration into civilian life?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Happy Gilmore?

In the spirit of the season, and in a tribute to Adam Sandler's lyrical genius, here's a song for you to enjoy!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The outlook for science policy in the US just got a little brigher

Obama just named John Holdren, a qualified scientist and ardent science and technology advocate for many years, as his science advisor. See John give a quick science promomotion here


I broke my own rule to try just about anything, except brains, when I choked down some bread with a tiny bit of cow brains at my friend's Offal party. I did it, it really didn't taste bad at all and I survived - so I can be proud, but I still feel slightly sick to my stomach and my throat closes up just thinking of it. Prions, people, prions!!  And, as a seeming vindication that my rejection of brains, (and reason why my zombie friends no longer come over for dinner), is not utterly ridiculous, a story was released today about a NEW strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in Britian that people with a certain gene variant are susceptible to

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cookie Exchange

Monday night we had a cookie exchange - the first one I've hosted, and I use the word "host" very loosely.  In the interest of being eco-friendly I suggested that everyone just bring take-home containers instead of wrapping all cookies individually, then everyone could take home 6-8 of each kind of cookie in their own containers.  It didn't work out that way. I hope everyone who came went home with enough cookies, because we certainly had plenty leftover! Scott had his first excursion into peanut butter melty cookies using kisses with almonds - they were delicious! I made some sugar cookies with crushed peppermints, nothing special, but they are pretty. After a week of making several batches of trial cookies you'd think I'd be tired of them, but when everyone came over, I couldn't help but "test" each type as it walked in the door.
Tonight is the Biology Department Holiday party, then hoping to scrapbook some this weekend, do a little research, finish up shopping and hang out with a friend and her new little boy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

First of many

I haven't yet decided how I want to use this blog - personal updates, cookbook, new science facts, or just a sounding board - but it will probably turn into some combination of the above. 

Just to get the ball rolling, here's a taste of some things to be included in the future: