On The Road To Designer Babies?

Finally!  The weekend and I can kick back and do something religious….like sleep.

Did anyone see the movie Gattaca?  I believe it was about choosing what your baby will look like…a designer baby…..I am sure there have been a dozen or more movies that touch on this type of DNA manipulation…….looks like life is about to mimic art…….

Advances in DNA research are fairly common these days, but a new study out of China seems to qualify for bombshell status: Scientists there edited the genes of human embryos for the first time, reports Nature. This gets into controversial and “ethically charged” territory, notes the MIT Technology Review, because if a mistake is made at the embryonic level, the mutation could get passed on to future generations. It also raises a whole new set of concerns about “designer babies.” To dampen the controversy, the researchers out of Sun Yat-sen University did not use embryos capable of developing into babies. As they explain in Protein & Cell, they used a new gene-editing technique called CRISPR/Cas9 on 86 embryos to try to modify a gene responsible for a blood disorder. Things did not go well.

“Only 28 had the defective sequence removed, and an even tinier fraction of those ended up with the ‘pasted-in’ healthy genetic sequence,” reports Quartz. Worse, mutations were introduced elsewhere. Researchers stopped the experiment, calling the technique “too immature.” Critics not only agree, they want a moratorium on all such work. “There needs to be careful consideration not only of the safety but also of the social and ethical implications of applying this technology to alter our germ lines,” a Harvard researcher tells NPR. At National Geographic, Carl Zimmer compares the controversy to the early days of human cloning and suspects “this week will go down as a pivotal moment in the history of medicine.” This particular experiment may have tanked, but it’s not a “deal-breaker” for the technology, he writes. But, as with cloning, society may now have to make some decisions about what’s appropriate. (Read more about why some scientists want to halt gene editing in humans.)

I kinda have a problem with this…….I understand the medical side of it but this is one of those things that will quickly become a money making enterprise…….does Khan come to mind here?

The Need To Know

It is the weekend and I have found a wealth of absolute BS to fill the next couple of days…..I have said in the past that there has got to be a way to get on the list for the grant money they pass out.  I have seen some amazingly stupid research that was probably paid for by the tax payer…..stuff we really needed to know……

And then there are these studies that I was so worried that I would die before an answer was discovered…..,…

The human chin is something of a mystery to scientists. How, exactly, did we end up with a seemingly useless structure at the bottom of our face? One theory, as Smithsonian reported in 2012, is that they offer some support as we chew. Small amounts of stress can break down bone, allowing it to grow back tougher, which many thought could explain why our chins are much less pronounced as children than as adults. But new research out of the University of Iowa rejects that idea. Researchers followed a group of almost 40 subjects as they grew from age three to adulthood. Turns out those whose jaws endured the most wear and tear actually had the smallest chins, io9 reports.

So if it’s not stress on the jaw, how do we explain our chins? The researchers suggest that it could actually be the result of our faces getting smaller as we evolved. Neanderthals didn’t have chins—but they did have bigger heads than we do. While our heads shrunk over time, as male testosterone levels decreased, the chin may have remained as a sort of facial leftover. Other researchers have also pointed to sex hormones in explaining our chins, Smithsonian notes: Women may be attracted to guys with larger chins because it signals good genes, whereas smaller chins may be linked to higher estrogen, perhaps making them an attractive feature in women. No definitive answers yet, but it’s something to chew on. (Meanwhile, an injection could be available soon to fix a different kind of chin.)

Did that help explain Jay Leno’s chin?

Now that mystery has been solved there is one that has plagued me for years…..why do my knuckles pop?

Scientists equipped with an MRI scanner, a finger-pulling device, and a man they call the “Wayne Gretzky of knuckle-cracking” say they have cracked the mystery of that popping sound your knuckles make when cracked. In a University of Alberta press release, the team says their video reveals that the sound is caused by the formation of a gas-filled bubble created by a drop in pressure when the joints are separated. “We call it the ‘pull my finger study’—and actually pulled on someone’s finger and filmed what happens in the MRI,” the lead researcher says. “When you do that, you can actually see very clearly what is happening inside the joint.” The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

The bubble comes from the fluid that lubricates the joints, the lead researcher says. “If you’ve ever washed up glass plates, you’ll know they can be hard to separate when they are wet,” he tells the Guardian. “The film of water between them creates a tension that needs to be overcome. It’s similar with joints. When you pull on them, they resist at first, and then suddenly give way.” He says he started the study after a local chiropractor—who served as their champion knuckle-cracker—approached him with the theory. The researcher, an expert in spinal structure, says the findings could help explain the cause of joint problems and help doctors stop them before they begin. (Other researchers have discovered a new body part in the knee.)

Whew!  Another mystery solved before I crap out…….

Now aren’t you glad you stopped by today?

“I Like Big Butts”

Sir Mix-a-lot wailing in the corner…….the song got me thinking about what he was saying…..why is it that most men like  “junk in the trunk”?

Okay Ladies I am not a pig I promise…..I am just honest……

I am an old fart and he been girl watching for too many years to count….no I am not one of those pigs that whistles and yells out crap….but I do  enjoy watching the ladies glide by……(at least I admit it)…….

Why do we like those curves?

A new study finds that there’s an evolutionary reason men prefer women with a “theoretically optimal angle of lumbar curvature.” Another way of putting it? Even prehistoric guys probably liked a gal with a curvy backside. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin ran a two-part study, published in Evolution and Human Behavior: In the first part, men rated the attractiveness of manipulated images of spinal curves; most best liked a 45.5-degree curve from back to buttocks. In the second part, men were shown pictures of women with different buttock sizes—and they still most preferred the ones whose spinal curvature was closest to the ideal, meaning it’s the lumbar curvature they like, not just “big butts,” researchers say in a press release. But “men may be directing their attention to the butt and obtaining information about women’s spines, even if they are unaware that that is what their minds are doing,” the lead researcher explains, per Medical Daily.

As for that evolutionary reason for the preference, researchers attribute it to “prehistoric influences.” Explains the lead researcher, “This spinal structure would have enabled pregnant women to balance their weight over the hips. These women would have been more effective at foraging during pregnancy and less likely to suffer spinal injuries. In turn, men who preferred these women would have had mates who were better able to provide for fetus and offspring, and who would have been able to carry out multiple pregnancies without injury.” Researchers note that this preference has evolved over thousands of years. “This adds to a growing body of evidence that beauty is not entirely arbitrary, or ‘in the eyes of the beholder,'” says a co-author, “but rather has a coherent adaptive logic.”

And there you have it!

Did that creep you out?  Well I can top that…….

You should enjoy having fun with people and you should not be afraid of contact.” Normally, a line like that in a help-wanted ad would raise red flags, but not so much in this case. A German social media company that specializes in the sex industry is looking for a brothel tester, reports Newsweek. The ideal applicant has a college degree, speaks more than one language, and has experience visiting brothels. The company—called Kaufmich, which roughly translates to “Buying me”—says the main point to rate safety and health standards and emphasizes that sex (and the ranking of sex workers) is “only a part of the job,” reports CNBC. For the record, both men and women can apply.

Ladies–I promise I will post something along these lines for you to enjoy……that is if I can find something that is not offensive……

Even More Space Stuff

As always I am looking to the stars for answers….(how’s that for philosophical?)……..and while reading stuff I came across two more articles about space stuff…..

Before I start…….Mars has moons with names…..Jupiter has moons with names…..Saturn the same……then why is the Earth’s moon named…..MOON?

First there is Mars….always a source of great speculation and wonder…….and in the last decade information about the planet is coming at an alarming pace…….

Imagine all the water in the Arctic Ocean. Now, imagine all that and more on Mars. If you visited the Red Planet roughly 4.3 billion years ago, that’s what you likely would have found, say NASA scientists. Their new study arrived at that “solid estimate … by determining how much water was lost to space,” says lead author Geronimo Villanueva. The Guardian reports the scientists used three powerful infrared telescopes to analyze two forms of water in Mars’ atmosphere: H2O and HDO, in which deuterium (aka “heavy” hydrogen) has taken the place of one hydrogen atom. As National Geographic explains, Mars’ gravity is weaker than our own; that allowed hydrogen to escape from the atmosphere and into space over time, boosting the amount of deuterium in its water. Scientists compared the ratio of HDO to H2O in Martian water today with that in water from a 4.5 billion-year-old Mars meteorite to arrive at their conclusions, a press release states.

They ultimately calculated that Mars was once home to 20 million cubic kilometers of ocean. It could have covered every inch of the planet in water 450 feet deep, but the scientists think a different scenario is more likely: that the ocean covered roughly a fifth of the planet, was located in the northern hemisphere, and was as much as a mile deep. While National Geographic observes the findings back up “reams of earlier evidence that water once existed on the surface” of Mars, another study author points out the assessment of the degree of water lost indicates something new. “The planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than was previously thought, suggesting it might have been habitable for longer,” a scientist says. (Mysterious plumes on Mars are stumping scientists.)

Speaking of water in space….the common belief is that before we can find life we need to locate water…….but is there a chance there is water in our system?

Thanks to the Cassini spacecraft, we already knew that one of Saturn’s moons has a big ocean. Now things have gotten more interesting on Enceladus. It turns out that the ocean is not only warm, it seems to have the same kind of hydrothermal activity going on as oceans on Earth, reports NASA. Bottom line: “This may be the place to go look for life in the outer solar system,” says a Cornell scientist not involved with the new study in Nature. That would be microbial life, under conditions similar to those in a network of hot springs under the Atlantic Ocean known as the “Lost City,” reports AP. Some scientists think that ancient hydrothermal field yielded the first life on our planet.

Some extra-terrestrial sleuthing resulted in the Enceladus discovery: Knowing that a geyser shooting up from the moon’s south pole sends up dust particles that settle on Saturn’s outer ring, researchers analyzed the outer ring. They discovered that the dust particles were mostly silica, explains Popular Mechanics, and the makeup of that silica yielded details about the ocean in which they were formed. “We think that the temperature at least in some part of the ocean must be higher than 190 degrees Fahrenheit,” team member Sean Hsu tells NPR. “If you could swim a little bit further from the really hot part then it could be comfy.” The only way to “nail the habitability question” is to send up a new spacecraft to Enceladus with more modern instruments, says the Cornell researcher. He’s already working on the proposal. (Read about how Pluto might rejoin the planet club.)

And the discoveries just keep coming and coming….eventually we should have first hand knowledge…….those days are closer than we imagine…..I do believe.

Older Than We Thought?

As my regulars may know is that my daughter and I have this running battle about Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons ……that debate is ongoing….but that is not about this piece I read…

It is commonly known that “Lucy” found in Ethiopia in the decades gone by was maybe the first human to walk upright…..  but wait!  we have a new candidate…….

It’s just a small piece of a jawbone with five teeth, but its discovery in Ethiopia is changing the timeline of human origins. Researchers say the bone is from an individual who lived 2.8 million years ago and belonged to the genus Homo, the lineage from which modern humans emerged. In fact, this is the earliest known member of the group ever found—by about 400,000 years, reports AP. A student from Arizona State University found the fossil in 2013 in the same general area where one of the most famous fossils in history was discovered, that of “Lucy,” an ape-like ancestor that lived about 3 million years ago. The newly discovered fossil might be the link between Lucy, or Australopithecus afarensis, and the first primitive humans, reports the BBC.

“That’s what we are arguing,” says Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. “By finding this jaw bone we’ve figured out where that trajectory started. This is the first Homo. It marks in all likelihood a major adaptive transition.” It’s not clear yet whether the fossil belongs to a species of Homo previously known, such as Homo habilis, or is an entirely new one, reports the Guardian. An expert from George Washington University not involved with the find says it seems safe to conclude that the creature was either at the start of the Homo line or “within shouting distance.”

They keep finding these older and older evidence of our ancestors…..but so fare NO one has confirmed that ancient aliens had anything to do with it……but some keep hoping.

“Good To The Last Drop”

AHHHHHHHHHH!  The weekend and I can relax…..speaking of relaxation…..I cannot imagine a day without my good steady friend coffee……my fave is Jamaican Blue Mountain…..a bit pricey but I get it and ration it……I have been told….in the past that as much coffee can be bad for my health…….

That was years ago and today it appears as coffee is not the evil addiction that they originally wanted me to believe…….

Rejoice yet again, coffee lovers: A new study says that four or more cups a day may reduce your chance of getting multiple sclerosis, LiveScience reports. An international group of researchers looked at two datasets—one Swedish and one American—and found that people who didn’t drink coffee were 1.5 times more likely to develop MS than those who downed about four cups daily. The analysis of nearly 7,000 people echoes earlier research that mice, raised to get an MS-like illness, never developed it when given hefty doses of caffeine. Why caffeine? Well, with MS, the immune system strikes nerve fibers by attacking a protective covering called myelin. And scientists believe that caffeine blocks a body chemical that allows immune cells into the central nervous system to crush myelin.

Now, the caveats: The new study finds no causal link between caffeine and reducing the chances of MS, the LA Times notes. Further, it’s based on self-reported coffee habits that date back 10 years and may be sketchy. “I think from the MS perspective, there are too few data to support changing coffee intake at this time,” says study leader Ellen Mowry. “Further research should be done … as it may lead to identifying new targets for [MS] treatment.” On the bright side, she says, the two data sets came up with very similar results. Coffee has also been found to reduce the chance of skin cancer and breast cancer, Yahoo reports, and a Harvard study of over 130,000 volunteers found that even six cups daily led to no greater chance of dying

So coffee is not the villain as they once thought…….but wait….there is more……..

Indulging in coffee may lower your risk for melanoma, make for awesome naps, and even help fend off retinal degeneration. Now there’s another possible health benefit: According to a study published in the Heart journal, people who drank a moderate amount of coffee (three to five cups a day) had the lowest levels of CAC (coronary artery calcium), which when built up can be an early indicator of heart disease, the Los Angeles Times reports. Individuals who drank one to three cups had somewhat higher CAC levels, followed by elevated calcium levels in both those who had one cup or less and java junkies (more than five cups a day). This research only compounds the “coffee good/coffee bad” debate, the BBC notes.

Scientists tracked 28,138 male and female subjects from two South Korean cities who had a health screening complete with a CT scan to figure out their calcium levels; participants also had to fill out a food survey. The researchers controlled for other lifestyle factors as well, including smoking and exercise. The study does have its limitations: Scientists still have no clue if it’s the caffeine in the coffee that does the trick or some other element, and the study may not readily translate to the general public because the South Korean diet and lifestyle is so different from ours. “While this study does highlight a potential link, more research is needed to confirm these findings and understand what the reason is for the association,” Victoria Taylor of the British Heart Foundation tells the BBC

I can remember when eggs were going to kill me…..now not so much…….with each new study coffee has more health benefits than harm…….that is good news….but to be honest….I would give up coffee anyway…….

Go out and have a great cup of coffee today….it cannot hurt!

News From The “Final Frontier”

Sunday and the latest spacey stuff news……I always enjoy reading the new stuff about space……and it seems to be a continuing saga…..

For instance…….

Saturn’s moon Titan, which happens to be larger than the planet Mercury, is cold. Very cold. As in -290 degrees Fahrenheit is not out of the ordinary. These super low temps, combined with an atmosphere roughly 1.5 times as dense as Earth’s, have resulted in a few extraordinary bodies of liquid methane and ethane, reports Extreme Tech, and scientists are anxious to explore their depths. (In fact, Titan is the only body aside from Earth to boast liquid lakes on its surface.) So NASA is working up a (very early) model of a submarine drone that could do just that—one that CNET reports will likely be nuclear-powered, weigh a ton, and come equipped with a seafloor camera, sampling system, and other fancy futuristic robotic accoutrements.

But don’t get too excited just yet. First, this is a fully automated mission: “Even if it were possible for humans to go swimming in Titan’s seas,” notes CNET, it “would be something like swimming in a freezing ocean of liquefied natural gas.” Hence, NASA‘s goal of sending the “highly capable science craft” to Titan’s largest sea, Kraken Mare, around the year 2040, in what it calls “an unprecedented planetary exploration mission.” Many details remain to be sorted out, including how to get the craft to Titan (Boeing’s X-37 is a possibility), how to land it (parachute drop), and while there, how to communicate with Earthlings (planar phased-array antenna). (Something else on Titan has been stumping NASA.)

There is always something new about Mars…….

Amateur astronomers have made an unexpected discovery: massive plumes spouting up at least 125 miles from the surface of Mars. Two plumes, up to 620 miles wide, were spotted over the Terra Cimmeria area in the red planet’s Southern Hemisphere by at least 18 people over two 10-day periods in March and April 2012, Discovery News reports. A witness tells the BBC one plume looked like a “projection sticking out of the side of the planet.” They appeared to form during cold mornings and changed “from double blob protrusions to pillars or finger-plume-like morphologies,” according to a study in Nature. As to what’s causing them, “Frankly, I’m puzzled,” says a lead scientist. Clouds made of carbon dioxide and ice crystals have been spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope in the past, but they only reached 62 miles from the planet’s surface, CBS News reports. Clouds of dust reached just 37 miles high.

Scientists have two theories, but “both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere,” they say. The plumes could be caused by “a reflective cloud of water-ice, carbon dioxide-ice, or dust particles,” the study author explains, but clouds shouldn’t be able to form at such altitudes where the atmosphere is so thin. Others note the plumes may be bright auroras “1,000 times stronger than the strongest aurora” on Earth, but that, too, is “highly unrealistic.” Whatever the cause, “this type of feature must be very rare, to have been observed only once out of all of the time that telescopic observers and spacecraft have been observing Mars,” a scientist says. NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, now in Mars’ orbit, may be able to shed light on the mystery, researchers say.

Then there is the manned mission to Mars…..unfortunately it will most likely be a one way trip……who the Hell would choose to die on Mars?  Right?

From 202,586 to about 1,000 and now winnowed down to 100. That’s how many finalists are left competing for a one-way ticket to Mars in the highly publicized Mars One project. The finalists will now compete for one of 24 crew member spots, with the goal of sending those 24 to Mars to set up a settlement by as early as 2024, NBC News reports; the Dutch nonprofit hopes to make the competition into a reality-TV show. Fifty men and 50 women (hopefuls can check names on the finalists’ list here) have been selected after undergoing personal online interviews with Norbert Kraft, the project’s chief medical officer.

The remaining competitors will next be placed onto teams to see how well they handle group situations. “Being one of the best individual candidates does not automatically make you the greatest team player,” Kraft says, per a Mars One news release. Meanwhile, Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp applauds the elite new group, saying, “The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars.” But is the mission even really going to happen? As NBC notes, a 2014 MIT press release called some of the logistics “overly optimistic.”

There you have it…news from the edge of the cosmos……

Now go and enjoy thew rest of your weekend!