The New York Times wouldn’t call it “soylent green buffalo,” but I would. Picture, if you would, vats of yeast engineered to give off THC, cannabidiol and other compounds from marijuana: “This is something that could literally change the lives of millions of people,” said Kevin Chen, the chief executive of Hyasynth Bio, a company working to create yeasts that produce THC and cannabidiol, another marijuana compound of medicinal interest. In a paper published this month in the journal Biotechnology Letters, biochemists at the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany reported that they had engineered a strain of yeast that produces THC. They also have unpublished data to show they succeeded in creating a yeast strain that can make cannabidiol. Both yeasts rely on so-called precursor molecules — not simple sugars, which would be ideal — and can produce only small amounts of THC and cannabidiol. But Oliver Kayser, a biochemist at the university, hopes […]
This is one of a whole deck of… well, they’re practically a technological tarot, really. They’re playing cards illustrating concepts in engineering. (The two of diamonds is also beautiful, though some might prefer the human figures in cards like the seven of clubs.)
They were originally collected by William Barclay Parsons, the chief engineer of the New York City subway. He was on the library board from 1911 to 1932, when he died. More importantly, he also donated a set of mechanics pla…
The one carries oxygen around, the other keeps the system clean. They’re teeny tiny.
Image from the Electron Microscopy Facility at The National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI-Frederick).
SOURCE:Based on “Lasers used to levitate glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum”, Science Daily, 7 Sep 2015, as used in the post “A laser levitating glowing nanodiamonds in a vacuum..”
ABSTRACT: I really wanted to use “A laser levitating nanodiamonds in a vacuum” as a lyric, because it’s got such a great rhythm, but no, it didn’t happen.
Musically, things fell together well – I came up with chords on a guitar, and t…
ARTIST: grant, featuring Sebastian Balfour. (Originally by Harry Nilsson.)
SOURCE: It doesn’t have a research source. It’s a penitential cover of a haunting song by Harry Nilsson that Three Dog Night turned into a prog anthem, which Aimee Mann turned into stunning reclamation project. Nilsson still wins.
ABSTRACT: I’ve been a penitential cover* behind for months and months. I first had the idea of doing this song in something like this way …
I like the desert in Nevada already because of the sense of perspective – such wide, flat spaces (wider and flatter even than Florida’s water-level wet prairies), sometimes flanked by mountains just big enough to provide a frame of reference. This is how small you are. This is how far you have to go.
That’s the ideal landscape for this kind of project. How big are we really? How far away is the place next door?
This far away. …
This is a jellyfish drawn by Philip Henry Gosse, a naturalist and Creationist (!) who gave us the word “aquarium” as a place to see marine creatures. Before Gosse, an aquarium was a place to water cattle.
He built the very first public one as the “Fish House” of the London Zoo in 1853.
A few years later, he published a book trying to prove that fossils couldn’t disprove Genesis because of course the act of creation would make things appear to be older than they are. …
Times of Israel reports on archaelogists puzzling out just *how* high Philistines were getting for religious reasons: In an upcoming symposium in Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, aptly titled “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” archaeologists will discuss the analysis of findings from an incineration pit in Yavneh that was discovered a decade ago. The findings constitute the oldest known ritual use of the intoxicating Hyoscyamus plant, which has an effect on the body similar to that of alcohol. Thousands of artifacts used for worship were found inside the Yavneh pit, including clay and stone bowls, some of which served to hold the intoxicating plants, as well as hallucinogenic substances such as nutmeg. … According to [Dr. Devori] Mandar [of the Earth Science Institute at Hebrew University], the field of “sensory archaeology” is in its very early stages, and substantial knowledge is still lacking.
Nature opens the door to home-brewed heroin – just add water and sugar: A paper published on 18 May in Nature Chemical Biology reports the creation of a yeast strain containing the first half of a biochemical pathway that turns simple sugars into morphine — mimicking the process by which poppies make opiates. Combined with other advances, researchers predict that it will be only a few years — or even months — before a single engineered yeast strain can complete the entire process. Besides giving biologists the power to tinker with the morphine-production process, the advance could lead to more-effective, less addictive and cheaper painkillers that could be brewed under tight controls in fermentation vats. At the same time, it could enable widespread, localized production of illegal opiates such as heroin, increasing people’s access to such drugs. … “It’s easy to point to heroin; that’s a concrete problem,” says bioengineer John Dueber of the University […]
Nature reviews a broad survey of research – two studies that conclude psychedelic drug use can’t be linked to psychosis: In the first study, clinical psychologists Pål-Ørjan Johansen and Teri Suzanne Krebs, both at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, scoured data from the US National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual random sample of the general population, and analysed answers from more than 135,000 people who took part in surveys from 2008 to 2011. Of those, 14% described themselves as having used at any point in their lives any of the three ‘classic’ psychedelics: LSD, psilocybin (the active ingredient in so-called magic mushrooms) and mescaline (found in the peyote and San Pedro cacti). The researchers found that individuals in this group were not at increased risk of developing 11 indicators of mental-health problems such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts. Their paper appears in the […]
Live Science grants us deep insight into the biochemistry of the bar pickup, revealing that prospective partners look a whole lot better after they’ve had one drink than they do after two: In the study, 40 students at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom volunteered to get a little tipsy. To see how the students’ appearances changed with each drink, the researchers photographed their faces three times: when sober, after drinking the equivalent of one glass of wine, and after drinking a second alcoholic drink. The participants were asked to make a neutral facial expression for each photo. A separate group of heterosexual students then rated how attractive they found each headshot in side-by-side comparisons. They saw either a photo of a person sober next to a photo of the person taken after one drink, or a sober photo next to a photo taken after two drinks. It turned out that the photos […]
L.A. Times examines the biochemical power that love – or at least the “love hormone” oxytocin – has to neutralize alcohol and beat alcoholism: …[N]ew research finds that, in male rats at least, oxytocin also blunts the inebriating effects of moderately heavy doses of alcohol. It does so, the study found, by suppressing the activity of receptors in the brain–GABA receptors, which respond to the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid–that are key nodes in the circuitry of reward-related behaviors and addiction. That finding prompted the study’s authors to suggest the intriguing proposition that oxytocin might reduce cravings across a range of addictive behaviors. To explore the interaction between oxytocin and alcohol, researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia first gave young adult male rats an infusion of oxytocin and then administered a dose of alcohol roughly equivalent to a human drinking a bottle of wine over a few hours. On a battery of tests, a comparison […]
Popular Science looks at the hard facts behind decriminalization and legalization (two different things!) of marijuana – and what science says happens when cannabis consumption is no longer a major crime: What happens to states that decriminalize marijuana? The best-known consequence to decriminalizing marijuana: The criminal-justice system saves money and resources. We’ve seen strong scientific backing on this because it’s a relatively easy outcome to measure. Drug-related arrests and prison sentences decrease, which may fall in line with the majority American attitude that the government spends too much enforcing marijuana laws, anyway. Exactly how much money will a state will save in prosecution costs? That’s under intense debate. Different studies of California have found savings ranging from hundreds of millions of dollars to more than a billion dollars–an unhelpfully big range. Do people use marijuana more after their home state decriminalizes it? No, or not much. Studies of use after decriminalization generally find either no […]
New Scientist reveals how menthol – something originally added to cigarettes to soothe smokers’ throats – actually makes cigarettes more ‘cigarette-y’: People who smoke menthol cigarettes often smoke more frequently and can be less likely to quit – and it could be because fresh-tasting menthol is changing their brains to more sensitive to nicotine. How menthol enhances nicotine addiction has been something of a mystery. Now, Brandon Henderson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and his colleagues have shown that exposing mice to menthol alone causes them to develop more nicotinic receptors, the parts of the brain that are targeted by nicotine. … In one study of giving up smoking, 50 per cent of unflavoured-cigarette smokers were able to quit, while menthol smokers showed quitting rates as low as 23 per cent, depending on ethnicity. Over time, smokers of both menthol and unflavoured cigarettes acquire more receptors for nicotine, particularly in neurons involved […]
IFL Science takes another look (courtesy of ISI Foundation researchers) at magic mushroom trips, and finds some surprises in what exactly psilocybin mushrooms do to your brain: Prior studies have found that that getting high on psilocybin doesn’t just create a colorful, psychedelic experience for a couple of hours; it can cause neurological changes that last over a year. These changes resulted in a personality that was more open to the creative arts and became happier, even 14 months after receiving the psilocybin. Though previous research surmised that psilocybin decreased brain activity, the current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see what was really going on. The study used 15 participants with prior positive experiences with hallucinogens to avoid a bad trip inside the enclosed machine. Some of the participants received psilocybin, while the other half received a saline placebo. Surprisingly, the researchers saw that upon receiving psilocybin, the brain actually re-organized connections […]
Nature has more on how the veterinary tranquilizer-slash-rave drug can reverse “anhedonia” (the inability to feel happy) for 14 days – long enough to bust sufferers out of otherwise untreatable bipolar depression: The present study used a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover design to examine whether a single ketamine infusion could reduce anhedonia levels in 36 patients with treatment-resistant bipolar depression. The study also used positron emission tomography imaging in a subset of patients to explore the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning ketamine’s anti-anhedonic effects. We found that ketamine rapidly reduced the levels of anhedonia. Furthermore, this reduction occurred independently from reductions in general depressive symptoms. “Positron emission tomography imaging” is a fancy way to say “PET scan.” They were looking inside people’s brains. And what they found… Anti-anhedonic effects were specifically related to increased glucose metabolism in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and putamen. Our study emphasizes the importance of the glutamatergic system in treatment-refractory bipolar depression, […]
SONG: “Could You Tell Me Your Name?” [Download] ARTIST: grant. SOURCE: Based on“Anxiety and sleeping pills ‘linked to dementia’”, BBC News, 9 September 2014, as used in the post “Worried? Trouble sleeping? Congrats, you might have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s.” ABSTRACT: For the first week of September, or maybe a little longer, I went on this (for me, kinda weird) soul kick and wound up programming the drums and a rough form of that Rhodes part to kind of work it out of my system. (It’s all about the two. Make everything happen on the two.) I forgot about it for three weeks. Then, I kinda decided the most song-like science story was about Alzheimer’s. And I remembered. Oh, there’s that thing you did, right? Maybe you could make a lyric work with that. Well, I am no Al Green. I’m not even Al Green’s grandmother’s demented red-tick hound. And because of the way […]
BBC reports the in no way worrisome news that researchers have discovered a correlation benzodiazepines (pills for anxiety and sleep) and a hugely increased risk of dementia: A study of older Canadian adults found that past benzodiazepine use for three months or more was linked to an increased risk (up to 51%) of dementia. … “Benzodiazepine use is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” lead researcher, Sophie Billioti de Gage of the University of Bordeaux, France, and colleagues wrote in the BMJ. “Unwarranted long-term use of these drugs should be considered as a public health concern.” The study involved about 2,000 cases of Alzheimer’s disease in adults aged over 66 living in Quebec. All had been prescribed benzodiazepines. They were compared with about 7,000 healthy people of the same age living in the same community. Benzodiazepines include Valium, Librium, Klonopin, and Xanax.
Scientific American has more on the weird quantum effects that make consciousness go bye-bye: General anaesthetics may extinguish consciousness through mysterious quantum biological effects that cause subtle changes in the electronic state of proteins, rather than through ‘conventional’ pharmacological mechanisms such as directly interfering with receptors or ion channels, new research proposes. The work, carried out by a team led by Luca Turin of the Alexander Fleming Research Centre in Athens, Greece, could go some way towards explaining a generic mechanism of action for general anaesthetics. … The team showed that if around 30 fruit flies are cooled to a few degrees above freezing to render them motionless, it is possible to obtain a steady electron spin resonance signal (ESR) from the population. When the flies are exposed to anaesthetic, a jump in the ESR signal is observed, compared with the resistant flies, indicating an increase in the number of unpaired electrons. … [Says Turin:] […]
Laboratory Equipment reveals recent findings (as cannabis becomes easier to research) that the marijuana plant might make better supercapacitors than the “wonder material” graphene: David Mitlin explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers — and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene. “Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from bio-waste using a simple process, and therefore, […]
Science Daily pokes a hole in the optimism around electronic cigarettes with findings that they’re really not that different from the kind you light and burn: The devices, which are rapidly gaining a foothold in popular culture particularly among youth, are marketed as a healthier alternative to tobacco smoking, as an effective tool to stop smoking, and as a way to circumvent smoke-free laws by allowing users to “smoke anywhere.” Often the ads stress that e-cigarettes produce only “harmless water vapor.” But in their analysis of the marketing, health and behavioral effects of the products, which are unregulated, the UCSF scientists found that e-cigarette use is associated with significantly lower odds of quitting cigarettes. They also found that while the data are still limited, e-cigarette emissions “are not merely ‘harmless water vapor,’ as is frequently claimed, and can be a source of indoor air pollution.” … While most youth using e-cigarettes are dual users, up […]