Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

Science Headlines for Week 1 of December 2009

December 6th, 2009

Ok, what’s with the new science-blog format?

Honestly, the day job has been very busy, something had to give, and lately that has meant fewer science posts.  But, in an effort to stay current, we’re going to try something new: Very condensed posts about more things we find very interesting provided a little less often.  Hopefully, at least weekly.  We’ll see if this works.  And in the mean time let us know what you think.  The best way is to send a tweet to: @daveoei or post a comment on the site.  Enjoy!




  • New mathematical model points to at least two stable weights per individual, does not offer suggestion on hitting the lower of the two. Harvard
  • Very early intervention certainly isn’t a cure for autism, but the apparent marked effectiveness of therapies starting at 18 months certainly makes the effort worthwhile.  University of Washington


6 Great Pictures from Shuttle Mission STS-119

April 3rd, 2009

If you know where to look, you can find a treasure trove of great pictures from each and every NASA mission, including, of course, those of the Space Shuttle.  It’s not easy though, that despite the improved look-and-feel of NASA’s website.  But if you’re interested in shuttle-specific images, here’s a good jumping off page.

Getting back, here are some of the best images of the just-completed mission STS-119.  You won’t find any of astronauts with frizzy hair, or astronauts in gravity-defying poses (that’s so 1990).  You will find juxtapositions of Earth, with the ISS, astronauts on EVA, and of course, the shuttle.

Here are the pictures, enjoy, and a word of warning – they’re quite large!


How Udderly Odd – Cows with Built-in Magnets Confirmed?

March 17th, 2009
Cows on Microsoft Live

How Udderly Odd - Cows with Built-in Magnets Confirmed?

Last year, after looking at over 8000 images of domestic cattle on Google Earth, a group of scientists led by Hynek Burda and Sabine Begall found that something interesting: Cows tended to align their bodies north-south.

While the reason for why cows did this was elusive, the methodology they used was such that anybody with a computer and internet access could have reached the same results.

Google Earth, a monster of a program, is a free one by Google that provides detailed satellite images, topographic maps, etc… of our planet.  These researchers simply looked at a lot of cows spread across Earth and made this simple discovery.  But was this cause of this mystery-behavior the work of magnetism or the sun?  The researchers suggested it was magnetism because cows were seen pointing north-south even in cloudy conditions.

But there was one way to find out definitively.

Enter Google Earth again.  Except this time, they focused on cows…under high-powered electrical lines.

Contrary to popular belief, the Earth’s magnetic field is very weak, measuring in at no more than 60 microteslas.  Just for reference, a typical refrigerator magnet pulls in at about 5,000 microteslas.  Which means that electrical lines, despite being some distance off the ground from these cows could still provide enough of a disruption to Earth’s magnetic field to confuse cows.

And confuse cows they did.  The researchers found that cows under electrical lines were oriented randomly, not in neat north-south orientations.

Of course, none of this explains the picture I provided above.  It’s not from Google Earth, but from Microsoft Live.  It’s a picture of cows from the Netherlands, which if correctly depicted, shows them oriented more east-west (see the link below if you don’t believe me).  None, in fact, are oriented north-south.

Perhaps it’s just another example of things being done a little differently over in Holland.  Or maybe there are underground wires that are interfering with these cow’s internal compass. Regardless, for now go ahead and put me on the skeptical but highly amused side.

Image source:


Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?

March 1st, 2009
Whole Foods, Tigers, Global Warming & Orangutans. What’s the Link?  Photo by Dave Watts of Birdlife International.

Tigers, Whole Foods, Global Warming & Orangutans. What's the Link? Photo by Dave Watts.

Palm oil.

Palm what?

If you pay as little attention to your food as I do then you’re probably just as surprised as I am that: 1) Some palm trees make edible fruit; and 2) Some of this fruit is linked to endangered species destruction and deforestation.

It so happens that for the last 50 years or so, palm oil has been making head-ways into the foods we eat.  It’s also in bio-fuels we burn and cosmetics some of you may use.  Recently, there’s been a huge push for the introduction of palm oil in U.S. foods because of new trans-fat reporting requirements.  Because palm oil doesn’t have any, it’s been used as a choice to replace non-trans-fat-free shortening.

And while we are collectively healthier for eating less trans-fat, there are measurable global consequences that have resulted from this relatively tiny shift in our dietary habits.  Namely, deforestation on a vast scale and threatened species nearing extinction.

Read more…

Biology, Business and Politics, Featured Articles, Global Science

Turtles Shell Helmets Courtesy of Sinking Ships

February 23rd, 2009
USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992.  Photo courtesy of

USS Mullinnix as it's getting sunk as part of naval tests in August 1992. Photo by

The path to science discovery and application does not always follow a straight line.  This is one such example.

For years the U.S. Navy has conducted tests of the explosive variety in an effort to make ships stronger and bombs more potent.  I can only assume they’re succeeding in doing a very good job at both.

But since these tests tend to take place over open water, there’s collateral damage of the marine variety.  In particular, dolphins and turtles.

Read more…

Biology, Business and Politics, Engineering and Tech

Coffee v. Strokes: Coffee Wins

February 22nd, 2009
Does coffee help prevent strokes?  Photo courtesy of

Does coffee help prevent strokes? Photo courtesy of

Doctor David Liebeskind of UCLA et al. announced late last week at the International Stroke Conference an interesting finding with regard to the relationship between coffee consumption and…wait for it…strokes.

While previous publications have touted the seemingly beneficial effects of coffee drinking, how it relates to strokes was not established.

But after looking at daily coffee intake amongst a sample of over 30,000 individuals (of which, over 9,000 were coffee drinkers), they found lower incidences of strokes in those who drank more coffee.  In other words, those who imbibed at least 6 cups a day had fewer strokes than those who drank 3-5, who had fewer than those who drank 1-2, who had fewer than those who didn’t drink any.

If that wasn’t enough, the incidence of cardiac disease, diabetes, and hypertension was also lower for those who drank more coffee.

Right about now you might be asking why this is. Is coffee good for you? Should I drink more? The simple answer is, nobody knows.

Which implies that despite these findings, caution is in order.  The results represent correlations, not necessarily cause and effect.  The authors state that the mechanism behind these “benefits” is as yet unknown and more research is required.

For example, it is possible that those who drink a lot of coffee have greater wealth and thus better access to health care than those who drink less.  After all, last I checked 6 cafe mochas at Starbucks can easily set you back $20 a day. Which is about the cost of a very good PPO with a very good health insurance company here in California.

Source: International Stroke Conference Oral and Poster Presentations

Biology, Medicine

The $787 Billion Stimulus Package Gets Dissected

February 19th, 2009

Yesterday, Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package which narrowly passed the Senate just last week. And today, courtesy of The New England Journal of Medicine, we have a better idea of what that means to science and medicine.

To get all the details, you should jump straight to the source. In a nutshell, NIH funding increases by $10 billion, compared to a total budget of $29.5 billion last year. Plus, just over $1 billion will go to support various wellness programs and training for health professionals.

It’s clear that doctors and related scientists won’t be hurting any time soon, although the stimulus package mandates significant changes to the way doctors manage and safeguards patient information. But perhaps the biggest winner falls into an area you may have heard little about. Well, we suspect that will change shortly.

Read more…


Where’s Yo-Yo?

January 27th, 2009
Inaguration 2009.  Photo by David Bergman.

Inauguration 2009. Can you find Yo-Yo Ma? Photo by David Bergman.

This is what appears to be a blurry picture of the 2009 presidential innaguration.  In fact, it’s 220 images stitched together, taken with a Canon G10 and the Gigapan Imager by photographer David Bergman.  The Gigapan Imager is a robotic mount that moves a regular digital camera along  panoramic tracks while taking pictures along the way.  The result is what you see above – a very very very scaled down version of the final 1.47 gigabyte image.

Yo-Yo Ma with iPhone

Yo-Yo Ma with iPhone

While you can view and pan around this Gigapan image here, I’ve collected a list of some things I challenge you to find:

  1. President Obama (easy)
  2. Teddy Kennedy
  3. Tipper Gore
  4. Yo-Yo Ma with iPhone
  5. Newt Gingrich not paying attention
  6. Snipers(?) on the Capital
  7. Snipers on another building
  8. Tents lined up in an unusual place

Actually, I’ll show you what Yo-Yo Ma looks like.  What’s he doing?!  Good luck hunting!

Biology, Physics

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