Archive for Uncategorized

Syphilis detecting handshake used by sailors

// April 16th, 2010 // Comments Off on Syphilis detecting handshake used by sailors // Just for Fun, Science at Home, Uncategorized

Back in the days before antibiotics, syphilis was a dreadful problem encountered on occasion by hapless sailors on shore leave bewitched by young maidens.

Fortunately they could use their super-secret special handshake to detect syphilis. A demonstration is below, feel free to use it when dating.

Amazing! And you can sneak it in when dancing if you miss your opportunity for the greeting handshake. Thanks to Mr. Science Show, the man in the video for the hat tip.

Common weedkiller causes sex change in frogs

// March 11th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Uncategorized

That picture is two genetically male frogs doing the do. One of them has had a sex change, and is now a laydee frog with ovaries! Why has this happened? It’s been blamed on atrazine.

The paper
was published in the March early edition of PNAS. It adds further evidence against the weedkiller’s safety in an ongoing controversial debate.

Heading the team from California and Ohio was Dr. Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Hayes has published several papers on the dangers of atrazine, a herbicide used extensively in Australia and the US. In the past he’s raised concerns that it can disrupt hormones even in small quantities, and this paper provides new evidence which is hard to ignore.

40 male frogs (Xenopus laevis) were raised from larva while exposed to 2.5 ppb atrazine. Their gender and testosterone levels were compared to male controls raised without the herbicide.

At sexual maturity 90% of the males exposed to atrazine had less testosterone than normal. In competition with control males, the atrazine treated frogs were less successful in mating. When they did mate, they were significantly less fertile.

The remaining four genetic males looked like females, and dissection of two revealed ovaries. The other two mated with control males and produced offspring which were all male.

Feminisation and decreased fertility spell disaster for frog populations. A drop in reproduction rate is bad enough, but it gets worse. With males masquerading as females they could breed themselves into extinction and we wouldn’t even know.

On the other hand, Dr. Hayes (pictured) has had a bit of a history with atrazine. I’d call it a crusade. He’s done a lot of research on it and some of it has been ripped to shreds by other researchers. In some cases his work has been deemed unreplicable, and that’s a big no-no in the science biz. Your results HAVE to be repeatable, otherwise it’s just not a good experiment.

On the other other hand, those people who’ve kicked the crap out of his work are largely people from EcoRisk, which are partially funded by the manufacturers of atrazine. It’s possible their designs were flawed so the amount of atrazine used wasn’t constant. Plus, well, it is a bit of a conflict of interest, right? But if that’s where the funding comes from…

So an activist on one side and a possibly bias company on the other. Hell, who’s right and who’s wrong? Do we want to take the risk? The Australian and US governments say that it’s a safe herbicide, but the European Union disagree.

While we wait for a decision, frogs may be the ones to suffer.

Or not.

Damn controversy.

The government has our DNA

// February 26th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Uncategorized

DNA from newborn babies is being routinely screened for genetic testing, and in some cases the sample is kept indefinitely.

Last December a Dublin hospital was found keeping a DNA database in secret and is now under investigation. In the USA and Australia they don’t need to do it in secret, they have government support. Hell, it’s legislation.

BabyBetween two and three days after birth, blood is collected from a heel prick and sent for analysis for several genetic diseases, including cystic fibrosis. In Australia, you can say “No” to testing, but it is strongly recommended. I don’t really have a problem with testing, it could potentially identify serious diseases early and let you start treatment early. It’s what they do later that bugs me.

In Australia the blood is kept on a screening card indefinitely in a secure facility. Some groups are allowed to access them, the most alarming of which are the police “when no other sample is available” and ethics-approved health research.

Several Victorian hospitals are researching a written informed consent project to improve parent’s understanding of the screening process. It’s a great idea. Honestly, I can’t believe this was not required from the beginning. People CAN opt out of testing, or can have the screening card returned to them after two years… but how many KNOW that they can do that?

In America the rules change between states as to how long the records are kept, and here’s a list for 2010. In California, Michigan, and Minnesota they are kept indefinitely, as is the case in Florida where it recently became the subject of a CNN report.

Cigarette smoking man

For me it brings back my pirate paranoia built upon the wreck of so many X-Files episodes and a dim (but now flaring) belief that the government harvested everyone’s DNA when giving the worldwide smallpox vaccine, and have been documenting newborn DNA ever since. But that’s me. Hopefully it’s not that bad. Yet.

American blog Southern Fried Science also covered the story, and did a really interesting post on why a DNA database is a very bad idea. Makes you think.

I’m blown away by it, what are your thoughts? Are you concerned or do you think I’m being a bit paranoid? Is there something we can do? Is the time for activism nigh?

Making Slime

// October 23rd, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Uncategorized

Arr, how many times have you sailed across the wide ocean seas brimming with bubbling sea life under the silent surface and wondered how AWESOME it would be if the sea was made of slime?

Well wonder no more. Today we makes slime.

Slime is a very useful substance, mostly for turning regular (read: boring) games such as wrestling into much more exciting games, such as slime wrestling. There are plenty of ways to make slime, like you can buy those little packs of ingredients and mix them together like making muffins out of a box. But I sneer at such cookery, I like things old school, and cheap. The results? Messy.

How to Make Slime from Captain Skellett on Vimeo.

The resulting fluid is non-Newtonian, meaning that it’s viscosity is effected by shear. In this case, it is shear thickening, meaning that it gets mighty hard to stir if you try to stir it mighty hard. The other kind is shear thinning, which includes stuff like toothpaste which is easy to squeeze out of a bottle but sticks pretty well to your toothbrush. Newtonian liquids include stuff like water, which don’t care how fast you stir it.

Cornflour, water, and food colouring. Life doesn’t get any simpler than that, and who doesn’t have cornflour that they never used stashed in their kitchen somewhere? I have heard tales of a you tube video where someone fills their pool with this stuff and then runs across it. Yummy. I made this video with a group of friends and we had snacks on the lawn afterward, and there was blue goo EVERYWHERE, all over the ground and people’s clothing’s and towels. SO AWESOME. I heartily recommend it.






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