Friday, January 29, 2010

New Scientist: Stem cell debut set for 2010

Stem cells. You've probably heard about them sometime or another. It is one of the most controversially discussed topics in recent years. It's protests range from religious to ethical grounds. Should stem cells grown from human embryonic stem cells be used to cure various diseases by producing new tissue in dead cells? I was quite divided over the topic, what with all the pro's and con's flying about. This article however has completely refreshed my mind when it comes to the possibilities of stem cells.
"Human embryonic stem cells are unique in their ability to grow into all 200 types of human tissue."
There have been many hurdles in the progress of stem cell research mostly due to cut funds, though most developed countries continue to have their program up and running. The most dire problem with inserting stem cells into a human body is it's unpredictable versatility.

If a few hESC's (stem cells) failed to differenciate between the desired tissue and healthy tissues the cell may disrupt the body's processes and even cause cancer.
Quite recently the FDA ( U.S. Food and Drug Administration) won the approval of using stem cells to treat rare eye conditions, spinal cord injuries, diabetes (by turning stem cells into insulin-producing beta cells), heart and coronary artery problems and even to produce new skin for people with burns and scars.
All these disease and injuries could be cured in an instant with stem cells. Although some of these treatments are still to be perfected and approved some have already been tested on human subjects with progressive results such as in Advance Cell Technology of Worchester, Massachussets.
However in matters as dangerous and sensitive as these safety is of the utmost importance.
"Safety issues, while still there, are tractable." Alan Colman, Institute of Medical Biology in Singapore
25 November 2009 by  Andy Coghlan
Magazine issue 2736.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Audio Review: The Naked Scientists

I recently browsed through some of the free podcasts available on iTunes and this one caught my eye... or ear in this case. The Naked Scientists is a very fun and easy to listen podcast which provides insightful and resourceful knowledge in a new way. Solely through the power of hearing, the cast of the Naked Scientists answer such ill-ridden and "never-thought of that" questions that they make listeners (or in this case, me) hang onto their every word.

Does farting make you weigh less?Can we create artificial nerve signals?, Do all satellites around a planet, star, etc orbit in the same direction? If so, why?
These are only some of the questions being asked and answered on the show. I myself am intrigued every time I hear an out of this world question that is easily answered by one of the "naked scientists".
Another interesting part of the podcast is Kitchen Science. This consists of scientific experiments with real meaning that may be conducted in your own home. Examples of this include: Melting Ice with Salt and Build your own helicopter guide.

The cast of the "Naked Scientists" are fun and humorous especially when they are in the middle of a Kitchen Science experiment.
I would definetly recommend this podcast to anyone interested in rarely asked scientific research and of course an open mind. I try to be as open-minded as possible but I must admit the science does sometimes make me...

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Scientist: The Calorie Delusion

For years I have tried to decipher the calorie enigma. People always talk about calories: how much that burger you're eating has, their daily intake and the most important thing of all - how to reduce the number of calories per food. At this point you should probably concentrate on eating rather than listening.

This article does clarify on how different foods have different amounts of calories as all calorie articles should. However it the text tells us that " calorie estimates on food labels are based on flawed and outdated science and provide misleading information..." Who would have thought? Rejoice all you diet freaks who think that just one calorie over the daily intake will kill them.

"Some food labels may over or underestimate this figure by as much as 25 per cent..." The old way of calculating the energy given to the body by foods was developed in the late 19th century. The cehmist in charge, Wilbur Olin Atwater, calculated the energy content of various foods by burning them and measuring how much heat energy was given out. Atwater then calculated the amount of energy lost as undigested food in faeces, and as chemical energy in the form of urea, ammonia and organic acids found in urine, and then he subtracted these figures from the total. This gave him some approximate values known as the metabolisable energy.

This method has now been proved wrong. Three new factors have now been added to the equation: Texture, Type of Sugar and Cooking. Let's compare two foods: a granola bar and a brownie. The granola proves more difficult to chew so it uses up more energy to be digested than a brownie. The brownie contains refined sugars and flour which is much easier to break down than complex carbohydrates in the granola bar.
Of course we will not be able to use this example for cooking so let's take another one: a steak. If the meat is ground and cooked it will digested easily by the organism unlike raw and intact meat.

From all this we can put in perspective the amount of changes in the nutrition facts of every product. According to The UN Food and Organization (FAO) "the problems and burdens ensuing from such a change would appear to outweigh by far the benefits". Next time you think of having that steak well-done, think again. You might just save a bit of calories.

15 July 2009 by Bijal Trivedi
Magazine issue 2717.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

BBC News: Life in extreme cold around the world

Due to the recent record breaking low temperatures around the globe (mostly in Norway where thermometers recorded an all-time low of -45ºC), I have decided to search the Internet for more ground-breaking temperatures. BBC provided me with the best possible article filled with unimaginable records.

The lowest temperature ever recorded has been in Vostok, Antarctica : -89.2ºC. Of course no one lives there so how and why this temperature was recorded is a mystery.
Most interestingly however there is a populated village (Oymyakon, Russia) with an average winter temperature of -45ºC. Schools only shut down when temperatures are below -50ºC. The English should be ashamed of closing schools when there is a large snowfall or -20ºC outside. According to the article, glasses cannot be worn outside as they freeze to your skin forever. I don't know why people would live there.

Nearby there is actually a large population center: Yakutsk which possess two airports, an university and several schools. Its average is about -40ºC. Of course these temperatures are not restricted to Russia. In the Western hemisphere temperatures are not too shabby either. International Falls, Minnesota has a mean yearly temperature of 0ºC. It has been considered the coldest city in the Americas.

I however do not have any experience with such matters (Here in Portugal people are shocked when temperatures reach 0ºC). However I will say this: next time you find that your car's windshield has frozen or that your best route to work is closed because of snowfall, be happy. At least your glasses haven't glued to your nose.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Video Review: The Ten Dimensions

The ten dimensions! Some think that they are possible and real and others believe its all a sham. I am quite difficult to be persuaded to an idea of such a grand scale without some measure of proof. That is why I looked on various science and video sites until I found the video pictured above.

I first heard of the possibility of more dimensions in New Scientist: Magazine issue 2723, by Richard Webb. One thing that I remember clearly from that article is the following sentence: "We don't have any trouble coping with three dimensions or four but it's when we start to explore worlds that embody more – or indeed fewer – dimensions that things get really tough."

The first three dimensions are described as something we can see and affect: the first dimension being a dot, the second a line and the third a split or a fold. The fourth dimension which represents time is a concept that has been around for some time and is mostly accepted.  As we know time is described as a line ("timeline"), we cannot change it in any way until we reach the 5th dimension. This is where things start to get interesting and complicating. The fifth, sixth and seventh dimension all involve changing space and time so as to replace your past and present by the power of choice. Dimension's 7,8 and 9 represent all the possible realities and universes and our ability to shift through space and time to reach them. They are also represented as a dot, a line and a fold. When we come to the 10th dimension however we can go no further because we represent all possible timelines and all possible universes as a single dot the cycle cannot continue.

The continual cycle of the dimensions (dot, line, fold) is quite a exceptional way to simplify a theory that would have otherwise required thousands of mathematical and scientific theories to explain. It is quite amazing how such a complex theorem can be expressed as lines and dots.