Poison Ivy hopped up on CO2

Forget global warming, if we don’t stop polluting the air with CO2, then we’ll be taken over by monster mutant poison ivy.

That should get people listening. Finally.

Science News Online

Slow wave sleep and race

A blurb that’s just coming out into the press.

Slow wave activity (SWA), a stable trait dependent marker of the intensity of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, is lower in young healthy African-Americans compared to Caucasians who were matched for age, gender and body weight, according to recent research.

It would be interesting to see the full report on this, whether subjects were matched on social and economic scales, and whether other health issues played a factor.

Update: Apparently there was a big sleep convention lately. Here were some other findings:

Sleep restriction affects children’s speech

Electrical brain waves predict attentional deficits following sleep deprivation

Sleep disorders are highly prevalent among police officers

Sleep deprivation can lead to increased smoking and drinking

A good night’s sleep improves athletic performance

First vaccines, now antibiotics?

A new study shows that exposure to antibiotics early in life (1st year) predicts the occurrence of asthma later on. The evidence seems to suggest that treating non-respiratory infections with antibiotics will double the risk of asthma.

Also, check this out:

Furthermore, absence of a dog during the birth-year doubled asthma risk among children taking multiple courses of antibiotics.

“Dogs bring germs into the home, and it is thought that this exposure is required for the infant’s immune system to develop normally. Other research has shown that the presence of a dog in early life protects against the development of asthma,” said Dr. Kozyrskyj. “Exposure to germs is lower in the absence of a dog. The administration of an antibiotic may further reduce this exposure and increase the likelihood of asthma development.”

From skin cells to stem cells

Another big step in generating stem cells without using embryos. This finding was made in Japan, and before you get all skeptical, it was replicated by two labs in America. It’s not a magic bullet but neither are embryonic stem cells.

The iPS cells aren’t perfect, and could not be used safely to make genetically matched cells for transplant in, for example, spinal-cord injuries. Yamanaka found that one of the factors seems to contribute to cancer in 20% of his chimaeric mice.

One of the top science stories of the year so far.

Distilled H2O: bane to human existence or tasty treat?

Some questions are not easily answered by Google or Wikipedia. About a year ago our department moved into a new building that was equipped with distilled H2O at our sinks. Although it was easily determined that the dH2O in our lab was not fit for drinking (I got sick as a dog upon drinking it), this was a factor of decidedly undistilled water coming out of the distilled tap. Nevertheless, I was curious about whether or not distilled water was safe to drink, or beneficial. I must have looked through ten pages of Google to find an authoritative, definitive answer on this and couldn’t. I mostly found message boards saying one thing or another. It was simply ungooglable.

Anyway, one of my goals here is to make the ungooglable googlable, so I asked a friend and Chemistry PhD about it. First, some background.

Water is an aggressive solvent
The purer the water, the more aggressive it is as a solvent. Leave metal tools in water overnight, and it will probably be ok the next morning. If it is distilled, your tools will show signs of rust within hours. Those that warn about the dangers of DH2O claim that in like fashion it will leech minerals out of your body, leaving you in poor health and at worst mineral deficiencies.

However, because dH2O is so aggressive, it becomes “undistilled” rather quickly. If you leave a glass of dH2O out in the open air, it will soon become slightly acidic by breaking down carbon bonds from the air and producing carbonic acid. So any concerns about dH2O leeching out minerals can be solved by simply leaving the water out. High end water filtration systems for domestic use often run dH2O back through a bed of rocks so the water picks up minerals naturally before passing through your GI.

That being said, is there really harm in drinking dH2O straight out of the tap. Provided it is really distilled, my Chemistry PhD friend says there isn’t too much harm in it. Once the water hits your mouth it’s bombarded with organic molecules, and your stomach is very acidic and won’t contain the minerals that would leech out anyway. The only concern is that tap water provides minerals that are otherwise hard to get and you’d have to supplement. I estimate you could probably get away with drinkin 80% of your water dH2O with no problems.

The bigger question is whether dH2O is safe for making coffee. By all accounts it’s perfectly fine, because it is no longer distilled as it passes through the beans. One question I posed to my chemistry friends is whether the aggressive solvency of dH2O would extract more flavor and/or caffeine from the beans. My PhD friend said that caffeine is an alkaloid and since tap water is slightly acidic it would extract more caffeine. I think an experiment should be conducted to verify this.

Evidence for the inflammation hypothesis of Alzheimer’s

The inflammation hypothesis of Alzheimer’s, which suggests that inflammation in the brain triggers a cascade of cellular events that over time results in deposits and atrophy, and subsequent cognitive deficits, is still relatively controversial.

A Harvard researcher found a correlation between inflammation and future prevalence of Alzheimer’s.

The participants’ blood was tested for levels of cytokines, which are protein messengers that trigger inflammation. Those with the highest amount of cytokines in their blood were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as those with the lowest amount of cytokines.

Doogie mice version 2.0

“It’s pretty rare when you can make an animal smarter,” said Dr. James Bibb, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who led the study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

I’ll say. These guys deleted a certain gene, Cdk5, which apparently controls the destruction of the NMDA receptor. The NMDA receptor is important for learning new associations and retaining them as memories. Seems pretty legit.