SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”, NASA.gov, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

Click to embiggen

Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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Science Art: Idolo de ignota localidad, Idolo de Arica, Idolo de ignota localidad.

Click to embiggen

Three idols, from the Anales del Museo Nacional de Chile, published between 1892 and 1910.

I found them in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which is usually full of biological specimens.

These three, however, are a little different… even if no one knows where two of them came from. Arica is a port city near two valleys that divide the Atacama Desert in north Chile.

He (or more likely she, even though as described in the text, “no hai tetas” and “la barba es d…

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Parasitic worm boosts human fertility.

20 November 2015 // 0 Comments

The BBC has me wondering just how many worm-babies there are out there (like blackout babies or blizzard babies). Because being infected with this parasitic worm increases your chance of getting pregnant: A study of 986 indigenous women in Bolivia indicated a lifetime of Ascaris lumbricoides, a type of roundworm, infection led to an extra two children. Researchers, writing in the journal Science, suggest the worm is altering the immune system to make it easier to become pregnant. Experts said the findings could lead to “novel fertility enhancing drugs”. Nine children is the average family size for Tsimane women in Bolivia. And about 70% of the population has a parasitic worm infection. … But while Ascaris lumbricoides increased fertility in the nine-year study, hookworms had the opposite effect, leading to three fewer children across a lifetime. Prof Aaron Blackwell, one of the researchers , from the University of California Santa Barara, told the BBC News […]

Step aside HIV. Tuberculosis is now the deadliest infectious disease.

28 October 2015 // 0 Comments

New Scientist reveals that, worldwide, more people died from TB than from AIDS: This year marks the deadline for the Millennium Development Goal of cutting the number of TB cases globally, set in 2000 by the UN. The World Health Organization’s annual report on the disease, out this week, says that goal has been reached. Even so, TB remains a major threat, killing 1.5 million people in 2014. The death toll for HIV was 1.2 million. “TB mortality is falling slowly, but we have had to re-estimate the global situation based on new information we received from crucial countries including Indonesia,” says Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO’s Global TB Programme. At the same time, there has been a reduction in HIV-related deaths, due to increased availability of antiretroviral drugs. “While TB incidence is falling, HIV is coming down more quickly,” Raviglione says. — So it’s good news. Could be better.

What makes tick-borne diseases so tough?

26 August 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature tries to figure out why we’re not making the headway we should against Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and the rest of the tick-borne nasties: [Scott] Williams is testing whether vaccinating mice against Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in the United States, can reduce the proportion of ticks that are infected. Health officials are looking on with interest. Connecticut has one of the highest rates of human Lyme disease in the country, and June is peak time for transmission. Borrelia burgdorferi infects an estimated 329,000 people in the United States each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. And although most people who get prompt treatment recover quickly — Williams has had Lyme three times — up to one in five develops long-term and potentially life-threatening symptoms, including heart, vision or memory problems, or debilitating joint pain. … Even the time-honoured protective strategies […]

A flu vaccine that really works. All the time.

25 August 2015 // 0 Comments

Wired brings up the potential of a universal flu vaccine – and the problems getting one together: Today, independent teams reported in Science and Nature Medicine how they’ve tinkered with a piece of viral protein so it can teach immune systems—in this case, in mice, ferrets, and monkeys—to fight whole groups of viruses rather than just a single strain. “It’s a great first step in the road for generating a universal flu vaccine,” says Gary Nabel, who oversaw one of the studies as former head of the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center. … Influenza viruses are covered in lollipop-shaped proteins called hemagglutinin, which they use to sneak into cells. Get familiar with hemagglutinin, or HA, because I’ll be talking about it a lot. The immune system produces molecules called antibodies that bind to and neutralize the head of HA, which, inconveniently for humans, mutates over and over to escape detection. The HA head […]

Genetically modified mosquitoes swarm Brazilian city.

8 July 2015 // 0 Comments

And, New Scientist points out, they’re here to help… because they breed fast and their young die too quickly to spread dengue fever: Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes have descended on the Brazilian city of Piracicaba in the battle against dengue and a test in Florida is also in prospect. The GM mosquitoes are all male, and when they mate with native females, they pass on a gene to offspring that causes the larvae to die before they mature. … The GM mosquitoes were designed by Oxitec of Abingdon, UK, and are bred en masse in a factory in Campinas, Brazil. The firm has a permit to commercialise and release the mozzies anywhere in Brazil. Oxitec is also waiting for a permission from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test the mosquitoes on Key Haven in the Florida Keys. Since April, 6 million GM mozzies have been released in the suburb of Piracicaba […]

Italian police pressure scientists investigating olive blight.

2 June 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature uncovers just how hard it can be to do research when your subjects keep dying: In the past year, plant scientists at various institutes in Bari, the capital of the Puglia region, have seen their work and their motivations criticized by local campaigners. Most recently, they have been subject to a police investigation about whether they are responsible for the introduction of the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, into Puglia, or for allowing its subsequent spread. Police have called in several researchers involved in Xylella research for questioning and confiscated computers and documents from scientific institutes. “We’d just like to be left to do our work without this suspicion and this stress,” says Donato Boscia, head of the Bari unit of the CNR Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP), whom police questioned in April. “The scientists in Puglia working on the Xylella outbreak have been working non-stop for two years,” adds Rodrigo Almeida, a Xylella expert […]

Penicillin-resistant germ found – from more than a decade before penicillin was discovered.

7 November 2014 // 0 Comments

New Scientist has more on WWI germ that can survive all kinds of modern medicines: Ernest Cable was a British soldier who died in 1915 from dysentery caught in the trenches of northern France during the first world war. Even if penicillin had been available to treat him, he would still have died because the bacterium that made him sick, Shigella flexneri, was already resistant to the world’s first antibiotic. That was years before Alexander Fleming discovered it in 1928. Nor would he have been saved by erythromycin, which was discovered later, in 1949. The bacterium was found to be resistant to that too. These historical insights into antibiotic resistance, now described as a global epidemic, come from DNA sequencing of the bacterial strain that killed Cable to mark the centenary of the first world war. … Codenamed NCTC1, and collected in 1915 by military bacteriologist William Broughton-Alcock in the hospital in Wimereux, France, where […]

Vaccine-resistant polio discovered. Yeah, almost a nightmare scenario.

5 November 2014 // 0 Comments

Science Daily reports on a bug that’ll be keeping some public health officials up nights: The global initiative to eradicate poliomyelitis through routine vaccination has helped reduce the number of cases by more than 99% in 30 years, from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 650 reported cases in 2011. However, major epidemics are still occurring today, such as the ones in the Republic of the Congo in 2010, Tajikistan in 2010, and China in 2011. The epidemic outbreak in 2010 in the Republic of the Congo differed from the others in its exceptionally high mortality rate of 47%: out of the 445 confirmed cases, nearly 210 died. The researchers first attributed the seriousness of the epidemic to low vaccine coverage. … In reality, the cause was something completely different. … The genetic sequence shows two mutations, unknown until now, of the proteins that form the “shell” (capsid) of the virus. On the face […]

Manure fertilizer boosts antibiotic resistance… somehow.

8 October 2014 // 0 Comments

Even, Nature explains, from cows that have never been around antibiotics. Something about cow manure runoff helps resistant bacteria grow in the soil: Because manure itself is known to change the composition of bacterial communities in soil, a team led by microbiologist Jo Handelsman, then at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, decided to examine whether it also affects drug resistance. The team treated soil samples with either a nitrogen-based fertilizer or with manure from cows that had never been fed antibiotics. The researchers examined soil bacteria sampled before and after the treatment, searching for genes that encode enzymes called ?-lactamases, which break down a class of antibiotic that includes penicillin. Two weeks after treatment, the soil spread with manure contained significantly higher numbers of bacteria producing ?-lactamases than did soil treated with only the nitrogen-based fertilizer. By tracing genetic markers in the resistant bacteria, the researchers found that these bacteria came from the soil […]

CDC: Stop shipping that flu around!

16 July 2014 // 0 Comments

Nature reports that the Centers for Disease Control have ceased all shipments of infectious disease pathogens until they can get them shipped right: Workers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, accidentally shipped highly dangerous H5N1 influenza virus to another government laboratory in March, the agency revealed today. The news comes weeks after the CDC announced that dozens of its employees were potentially exposed to anthrax because its staff did not follow established laboratory safety guidelines. In response to the incidents, the CDC today imposed a moratorium on shipments from its high-biosecurity facilities and shut down the laboratories responsible for the anthrax and H5N1 incidents, pending an investigation. “I’m disappointed by what happened and frankly I’m angry,” agency director Thomas Frieden said at a press conference. Oops. Uh, better luck next time?

Gonorrhea is coming back.

14 March 2014 // 0 Comments

The Verge is rolling out the red carpet to welcome back the clap: …[P]enicillin and various tetracyclines have all stopped working against the most prevalent strains. This means that today’s gonorrhea patient has very few treatment options left. … Unfortunately, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) thinks that emerging resistant strains will one day take the last remaining first-line treatment option away — a treatment that currently consists of a cephalosporin injection combined with an oral dose of either azithromycin or doxycycline. The government agency outlined how that scenario could unfold in a study released today. … For now, the CDC’s latest recommended treatment is holding steady in the US. The percentage of gonorrhea samples that need to be treated more aggressively is lower than it was in 2012. And it’s important to note that the US actually has a much lower gonorrhea incidence rate today than it did prior to the 1970s. … […]

Komodo dragons’ lethal, bone-crushing jaws not all *that* dirty.

1 July 2013 // 0 Comments

Discover Magazine tries to put the record straight, revealing that the supposedly septic-mouthed Komodo dragons have been getting a bad rap: But of all the terrible tales told about these dragons, none has been so persistent and pervasive than that of their bite. The mouths of Komodos are said to be laden with deadly bacteria from the decaying corpses they feed on, microbes so disgustingly virulent that the smallest bite lethally infects prey. As the story goes, Komodos have turned oral bacteria into a venom. … It appears that the filthy rumor started with early Komodo biologists in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Esteemed herpetologist Walter Auffenberg spent an entire year on the island of Komodo, watching and tagging the lizards to learn about their ecology. In his book on the subject, he noted that dragons fearlessly tackle animals like water buffalo that can be ten times their size. He also noticed that, often, […]

SONG: “Starts Beating”

23 December 2012 // 0 Comments

SONG: “Starts Beating” [Download] (To download: double right-click & “Save As”) ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on “Scientists build a biological pacemaker by injecting a modified virus into the heart”, io9.com, 17 December 2012, as used in the post “Virus rebuilds unhealthy hearts.” ABSTRACT: I like thinking about the metaphor of hearts being broken, because what everyone thinks of is that it hurts but the unspoken part of what it means is that it doesn’t work any more. So sometimes the one inflicting the pain is really the one with the broken heart, because something isn’t functioning any more. And the best revenge, of course, would be to make it function. To inject the gene-carrying virus that reactivates the cells responsible for the regular heartbeat. For empathy. For affection. For the need of another person. I wrote this song nearly entirely in my head while driving from West Palm Beach to Kendall. The instruments didn’t turn […]

Chimp retirement plan.

12 July 2012 // 2 Comments

Nature echoes the call for the National Institutes of Health to create a humane retirement plan for their primate research assistants: Last December, a report from the US Institute of Medicine concluded that most chimpanzee research was scientifically unnecessary and recommended that the NIH sharply curtail its support. The agency has since set up a working group to review existing studies and advise on whether they should be ended. [Hepatitis researcher Robert] Purcell and his team have formally requested that one study on liver disease, involving three of the remaining chimps at Bioqual, should be allowed to continue. But animal activists say that the Bioqual chimpanzees, which could undergo decades more research at the NIRC, should be retired. On 5 July, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), an animal-advocacy group in Washington DC, launched a petition and wrote to NIH director Francis Collins urging him to intervene to ensure that the animals are placed […]

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