Human evolution has virtually come to a halt, according to Professor Steve Jones of UCL (University College London). Speaking today at a UCL Lunch Hour Lecture in London, Professor Jones argues that human evolution has reached the end of the line and we have arrived at utopia - or as close to it as we are likely to get.
Posted: 08 Oct 2008 03:40 AM CDT
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry 2008 was awarded to Osamu Shimomura (b. 1928) of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), at Woods Hole, Massachusetts and Boston University Medical School, Martin Chalfie (b. 1947) of Columbia University, New York, and Roger Tsien (b. 1952) of the University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, “for the discovery (1962 by Shimomura) and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP”. Important, of course, and congratulations to all three…but I just knew it would be bio again!
The Nobel org press release for the Chemistry Prize can be found here.
The remarkable brightly glowing green fluorescent protein, GFP, was first observed in the beautiful jellyfish, Aequorea victoria in 1962. Since then, this protein has become one of the most important tools used in contemporary bioscience. With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread. Of course, the things that the public know about GFP are the green-glowing mice and pigs that have hit the tabloid headlines over the years.
I’ve written about green fluorescent proteins (although not green flourescent proteins) on several occasions over the years. Briefly in an item on artificial cells in December 2004. In Reactive Reports in September 2005. In New Scientist (”Genetic Weeding and Feeding for Tobacco Plants”, Jan. 4, 1992, p. 11). In SpectroscopyNOW in January 2008. And, more substantially, in American Scientist (January 1996) on the use of a green-glowing jellyfish protein to create a night-time warning signal for crop farmers. Plants under stress would activate their GFP genes and start glowing, revealing which areas of which fields were affected by disease or pests and so tell the farmer where to spray. Of course, the idea of green-glowing cereals would have any tabloid headline writer spluttering into their cornflakes of a morning.
As I said earlier in the week, on the post for the Nobel Prize for Medicine 2008 and on the Nobel Prize for Physics announcement yesterday, the Nobel press team has employed various social media gizmos to disseminate the news faster than ever before, including SMS, RSS, widgets (see left), and twitter.
You can check back here later in the week and next week for the Literature, Economics, and Peace Prizes, the widget at the top left of this post will provide the details as soon as they are released. It’s almost as exciting as sniping your bids on eBay.
Posted: 07 Oct 2008 05:20 PM CDT
With less than thirty days left until (U.S.) Election Day 2008, SkepticalityÂchecks in with noted skeptic Lt. Colonel Hal Bidlack (U.S. Air Force, Retired) â theÂDemocratic Party'sÂ5th Congressional DistrictÂcandidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Swoopy talks with Hal about the challenging and expensive process of seekingÂpublic office in the United States, and how the recent upset of financialÂmarkets is shaping this election season. Hal also explains how his study of the U.S.ÂConstitution and experience as the nation's premier Alexander Hamilton scholar lendsÂvaluable insight even in 2008.
This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now
Posted: 07 Oct 2008 10:00 AM CDT
Roberta Weiss, a nephrologist (kidney doctor) emailed to provide Sciencebase readers with some more background on melamine toxicity. Weiss suggests that, “Probably acute renal failure resulting from cyanuric acid crystal formation in the kidneys of babies that ingested the melamine contaminated formula was responsible for the infant deaths, not kidney stone formation.”
Weiss is a kidney doctor for adults, but emphasises that she has never seen a case of melamine related kidney or bladder stones. However, there have been animal studies carried out since the 1980s that do demonstrate that the ingestion of melamine by mice can cause bladder stones, known technically as urolitiasis. These are apparently associated with ulcerations in the bladder. Weiss adds that the animal food tainted with melamine that killed so many pets in the US contained products in the feed from China.
As I’ve mentioned here before, melamine is an organic compound used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizers. It releases cyanide when burned and has been associated with cyanide poisoning in industrial accidents. Melamine monomer, as opposed to the plastic used to make kitchen utensils and table coverings, itself also has irritant properties. It has been added to various food products to illicitly and fraudulently boost the measured protein content without the expense of actually improving the food’s nutritional value.
According to The Register, Chinese company, Xuzhou Anying, was advertising “dust of melamine” as something it called “ESB protein powder” on the global market trading website, Alibaba. “The latest product, ESB protein powder, which is researched and developed by Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., Ltd… Contains protein 160 - 300 percent, which solves the problem for shortage of protein resource,” it boasted. A horrifying thought, makes you wonder what is actually in those nasty protein powder drinks bodybuilders use.
“Melamine ingestion results in the production of cyanuric acid in the kidneys,” adds Weiss, “which results in intratubular crystal formation and acute renal failure.” This, she explains occurred in cats who were fed melamine in combination with cyanuric acid experimentally after the pet food issues to demonstrate what may have been happening during that incident.
According to Economics And Finance (Cai Jing) magazine, as reported in the Epoch Times, it is common practice to add melamine to livestock feed along with sodium nitrite, urea, ammonia, silica, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrite, glacial acetic acid, activated carbon materials, urea, ammonia, potassium nitrate, to improve its nutritional profile and other properties of the feed. The use of melamine in this context contravenes international regulations where they exist.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) points out that, “Regulation regarding its use in animal feed do not always exist as it is only recent events which indicated the need to regulate for this substance. However, some countries have established regulations and do not permit the use of melamine in animal feed.” Indeed, the FAO specifically states: “Melamine is not permitted in food or feed stuffs.”
Nevertheless, the FAO says, melamine is often used in agricultural fertilisers. But, has also warned that the commonly used pesticide cyromazine can break down to form melamine (PDF document). This might also explain why melamine has been found in lettuce, water cress, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes and other agricultural products in China. Contamination levels are very low at 17 milligrams of melamine per kilogram of mushrooms, for instance. They are notably low compared to the levels of melamine found in contaminated infant formula milk, which were as high as 2560 milligrams per kilogram of ready-to-eat product. The levels of cyanuric acid in these products is unknown.
Sciencebase regular “Offy” pointed me to the North Korean publication The Daily NK, which asks whether there were melamine deaths in 2005. “According to merchants trading between China and North Korea, the Chinese Melamine-tainted milk affair started in Pyongyang in the summer of 2005. At the time, infants who ate imported Chinese powdered milk fell unconscious and, in more serious cases, died.” At the time, the North Korean authorities tested imported Chinese milk and banned it on the basis of their findings.
Because of the pet food problem, pet owners like Offy, have been following this stayed on this for well over a year. “Politics has trumped health in favour of industry for a very long time in the US…it’s not just a problem in China,” she says. Cai Jing blames a lack of supervision for the melamine crisis and suggests an approach that will allow China’s fledgling market economy to continue to grow but at the same time minimising the chances of a similar scandal occurring again. It says that the melamine milk crisis has taught China that government oversight to spot corruption is essential, but it also suggests that the government not be allowed to simply meddle with the market. This would, Cai Jing says, be the only way to ensure a safe food industry.
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