Thursday, July 30, 2009

Burn, baby, burn.

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Well, it's official: pale is the new tan.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (a subgroup of the WHO) has moved tanning beds into the highest category of cancer risk -- "carcinogenic to humans".

Previously classified as "probably carcinogenic", this move means that tanning beds are now deemed equally as deadly (from a cancer-causing standpoint) as mustard gas and arsenic.

Sound like overkill? Well, according to twenty recent studies, using a tanning bed before the age of 30 will increase your likelihood of skin cancer by 75%. People under the age of 18 who regularly use tanning beds were also found to be eight times more likely to develop melanoma than those who don't.

I know what you're thinking. Pale, UV-free skin should be coming back into style, right? I can finally bare my pasty white legs with pride, knowing I'm avoiding a horrible fate later in life! Well unfortunately, this probably isn't the case.

In reality, the fact that tanning causes cancer and premature aging has been known for decades, but it still hasn't curbed the pressure on young people to maintain a "healthy" glow year round.

In my opinion, the best we can hope for is a good tanning lotion.

- Brit Trogen

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cartesian Complexity

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Descartes is way too complicated.

I think, therefore I am. Cogito ergo sum. I think I'm smart, I think you are awesome for reading this... I think, therefore I am.
5 words, simple, straightforward, a catch phrase for generations. But those 5 words are way too complicated.

Thoughts define us, they make us human, they make us individuals and they make us real.

But, what is a thought?

Neurons in our brain make thoughts, transmit feelings and express ideas. Those signals are transmitted down neurons as an action potential. Action potentials follow a simple formula: sodium channels open, potassium channels open, sodium channels close, potassium channels close. Repeat.

That is it. No grand fireworks complexity: sodium channels open - Romeo and Juliet, potassium channels open - quantum mechanics, sodium channels close - structure of DNA, potassium channels close - the Sistine Chapel.

How do we get thought from that simple formula? Complex interactions between neurons, criss-crossing across our brain through speech centers, taste centers, memory centers. Incredible numbers of neurons connect in the most complicated network imaginable - but it all comes down to: sodium channels open, potassium channels open, sodium channels close, potassium channels close. Repeat.

- Torah Kachur

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Dog Came Back

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In early 2009,
BioArts International cloned five puppies from the DNA of a 9/11 "hero dog" as the conclusion to their Most Cloneworthy Dog in the World competition. Quite the publicity stunt... but it raises some issues.

Because besides the fact that it takes hundreds of unsuccessful attempts to create one living clone, even cloned animals that appear to be perfectly healthy often end up having major health issues in later life.

The reasons for this aren't yet known. If you copy the DNA from an animal that lived a healthy life, shouldn't history repeat itself? Is God smiting down the evil clones, or is something else going on?

Cloning involves three "mother" animals: one to provide an empty egg, one to give the DNA you want copied, and one to birth the offspring. This is a far cry from natural conception, so it's possible the procedure itself could be causing the problems.

The original DNA could also be the problem -- If there are any harmful mutations in the original animal they might be passed directly to the clone, speeding the onset of genetic diseases.

But whatever the reason, consumers should think carefully about the consequences before jumping in. Do you really want Fido back, if Fido V.2 will get cancer within a few years, leaving your wallet $100,000 lighter?

And the companies that offer to clone your pet probably don't care about clone longevity, so long as they get paid up front.

Just something to think about.

- Brit Trogen

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Simple Protist?

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Is it strange to be creeped out by a single-celled organism?

Algae are one of the simplest forms of life, yet they are constantly meddling in human society. Reproducing like mad, poisoning our water supply in deceivingly colourful blooms, constantly reminding us that our oceans and lakes are filled with the crap they thrive on. What downers.

In a bold escalation of their aggression, algae were discovered last week assembling in a 24-kilometer long, stringy mass of black slime off the coast of Alaska. Scientific tests confirmed that, contrary to my initial hypothesis identifying the blob as Sarah Palin's political future, the slime is, in fact, algae.

Look at the pictures for yourself. A massive, hairy, fish-catching, bird-eating, hissing log of sludge. Okay, the hissing part I made up…but it might as well be true. There were reports of a goose skeleton and feathers pulled out of this thing!

If oversized, oily drain trappings don't creep you out, know that some algal blooms are more insidious. The tropical species Gambierdiscus toxicus produces ciguatoxin, a chemical that builds up in reef fish and can cause its human victims to experience a gastrointestinal circus, not to mention the possible hallucinations, numbness, or even paralysis.

Its clear these "simple" organisms are becoming more sophisticated by the minute. We must not underestimate the ingenuity of our microscopic rivals. I mean, its not like we could actually learn something from these ecological weirdos, right?

~Rheanna Sand

Monday, July 20, 2009

Raindrops keep falling on my head..

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Ever wonder why raindrops come in different sizes? No....? Neither have I.

But - some people have thought of this delightful question. And, they now know the answer.

My first reaction was that raindrops would come together and break apart as they fly down towards the Earth. Turns out - I could also get a PhD in raindrop shape and behavior.

It is more complicated than just breaking up and combining. As those little raindrops fall towards the ground, they open like a parachute. When their little parachute bursts - they shatter into tiny pieces of all different sizes.

Sometimes science seems useless, and sometimes it is. But, in this case, understanding raindrop formation is important because they made some really cool pictures, got to stand in the rain for the sake of research, and most importantly - looked into fluid dynamics and behavior in air resistance.

I'd love to demonstrate my new appreciation for this research.... but... its sunny today.

-- Torah Kachur

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Science in Seconds

Welcome to the Science in Seconds blog -- your fix for cool and current news in science that you can read in sixty seconds or less.

Unless you're a slow reader.

We'll be updating several times a week with tidbits on a variety of topics. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the sudden influx of knowledge that floods your brain with every visit.

-- Torah, Rheanna and Brit.