Of Schemes and Memes Blog

Best of nature.com blogs, SciLogs.com and Scitable: 10 – 16 August

Camels may be the MERS virus host

MERS-CoV particles as seen by negative stain electron microscopy. CYNTHIA GOLDSMITH/MAUREEN METCALFE/AZAIBI TAMIN/CDC

As the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) continues to spread, scientists have been searching for the intermediate host that might carry this virus and transmit it to humans. Mohammed Yahia elaborates in the House of Wisdom Blog:

The MERS virus belongs to a family that is usually found in bats. Some scientists argue that there might not be an intermediate host, and that it probably makes its way to humans from food contaminated by bat dropping or saliva. However, a group of researchers have tested blood samples from several animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and race camels, and suggest the camels – which come from Oman – may be the elusive intermediate host.

Further information can be found in  Mohammed’s post. 

Nature PastCast: August 1975

Kerri Smith explains in the Of Schemes and Memes blog that sometimes revolutions do happen in science. Historian Lara Marks thinks the story of monoclonal antibodies is one of them, and the latest episode of the Nature PastCast recounts that story:

These immune molecules form the basis of six out of ten of the world’s best-selling drugs, and they’re found in home-testing kits for pregnancy and menopause, and hospital tests for MRSA and HIV. They can be made to recognise specific molecules, tagging them for destruction by the body’s own immune system.

“As a historian you’re meant to be cynical, but it was revolutionary. It did transform things,”

she says in the latest episode of the Nature PastCast, which recounts the story.


California governor vetoes egg-payment law

Erica Check Hayden reports in the News Blog that California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a proposed law that would have allowed payments to women who give their eggs to scientific researchers:

The measure gained attention in May after an Oregon researcher, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, published a paper showing that he could derive stem cell lines from cloned human embryos. Mitalipov paid the women who donated the eggs US$3,000–7,000 apiece, removing a significant bottleneck in the cloning process: the availability of human eggs, which must be harvested in a time-consuming and uncomfortable procedure.

In his veto message on 13 August, Brown cited ethical concerns: “Not everything in life is for sale nor should it be,” Brown wrote. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama, co-sponsored the proposed law. A coalition of conservative and watchdog groups opposed it and lauded the veto.

Continue to Erica’s post to find out more.

Aerosols contributing to climate change in India, China

Subhra Priyadarshini explains in the Indigenus Blog, researchers have found that aerosols (for example, black carbon particles in diesel exhaust and sulfate particles produced by coal burning) in India and China may indirectly contribute to climate change:

Coal burning is one of the key contributors to aerosol emissions. JOERG BOETHLING / ALAMY

Higher black carbon levels in the atmosphere lead to warming, whereas increased sulfate levels cause cooling.

To find out the situation in India and China, the researchers examined emissions from the most important aerosol sources in the two neighbouring countries and estimated the net radiative forcing from each source, both locally and globally. In this analysis, they used models developed by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

More information on this can be found in Subhra’s post. 

How To Learn By Blogging About Science

This week’s Soapbox Science guest post is by Scott Wagers. He looks at ways we can learn by blogging about science:

Here is how you can make certain you learn the most from blogging:

A 12 step process

  1. Determine a strategy: What do you want to learn about? What is important for you to learn about? The most popular blog posts are those that teach something, or ‘How to posts’. Even something you might think is mundane, such as the technique for cell culture, is probably interesting to lots of people. If you want to learn how to do that something, there is no better way than to write about it.

The post includes some excellent advice and top-tips from Scott Wagers, feel free to share your own too.

Flogging a dying rat and riding the wave

The wave of death is a well studied phenomenon that runs under various more sober names.

SciLogs blogger Markus A Dahlemlooks at whether there are any signs of heightened consciousness in dying brains:

A new study suggests exactly that, namely heightened consciousness in rats after cardiac arrest. First of all, whatever the brain’s briefly lasting (~30s) high frequency oscillations mean, they are not new.

The paper—though an elegant study with some new results from what I can see on the first glimpse—seems to completely ignore the literature on so called spreading depression/depolarization and anoxic depolarization, see for example the review paper in “Nature Medicine” by Jens Dreier. A similar study was published in 2011 talking wonderfully unagitated about “latency to unconsciousness” only to conclude that the observed oscillations are the ‘wave of death’. There was a theoretical study by the group of van Putten, which shed some light on the exact physiological mechanisms on a single cell level.

More on this research can be found in Marku’s post.

Indian court halts projects in wake of calamitous monsoon

On Tuesday, India’s Supreme Court put a moratorium on the construction of new hydroelectric dams in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Sanjay Kumar reveals more in the News Blog: 

The region witnessed unusually heavy rain and catastrophic floods and landslides in mid-June that left more than 5,000 people dead or missing. Some ecologists and geologists suggested that a proliferation of dams and hydroelectric projects was in part to blame for exacerbating the effects of the monsoon.

The court’s findings reflected those concerns, describing the “mushrooming of a large number of hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand” and their impact on the basins of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers, the two major tributaries that merge to form the Ganges River.

The court ordered the environment ministry and the Uttarakhand government ”not to grant any further environmental or forest clearance for any hydro-electric power project in the state until further orders”.  It also mandated fresh scrutiny of the environmental impact of 24 proposed hydropower projects.

Find out more in Sanjay’s post. 

HFCS Kills Baby Giraffes
Scitable blogger Luke De looks at the myths associated with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sugar, fructose, and your health:

They concluded that HFCS contributed more to obesity than sucrose or food, a mix of molecules. 1 2 Fat is stored in sacs, and it is very interesting that the abdominal sac, beer gut, grew the most in the fructose fed rats. Accumulation of abdominal fat is actually worse than accumulation of other kinds of fat. Stanhope found similar evidence but he compared glucose to fructose. In this case fructose contributed more to visceral fat. From these two studies one could conclude that high fructose diets would generate a larger beer gut than diets high in other sugars. . . right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

Join in the disucssion and share your thoughts in Luke’s comment thread. 

The Second Digital Generation

Individuals who grew up in the digital era, while very technically savvy, may be outdone by the up and coming “second digital generation.” Shannon Bohle continues this discussion in her latest blog post on SciLogs:

Meet British-Australian, Nicholas D’Aloisio-Montilla (born 1995), a high school student who lives in London and has been dubbed the “world’s youngest VC-funded entrepreneur.” In March of this year, at age 17, he earned $30 million USD when Yahoo! bought his smart phone news aggregator application. D’Aloisio-Montilla had started programming just four years earlier, at age 12.By 15, he produced his first app which raised $300,000 USD in venture capital (VC), and by 16, his projects had amassed $1 million USD in VC funding. Investors in his company included big names like Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono, and Stephen Fry. The funding side might have come a little easier for D’Aloisio-Montilla because he probably had a bit of help from his father, Lou Montilla, who is Vice President at Morgan Stanley in London, but the programming was all his. Today, Nick has been hired by Yahoo! 

Hear more on this, as well as some interesting statistics in Shannon’s post.


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