Category Archives: Science

Quote of the day: When Jane Goodall goes ape

As the world’s leading expert on chimpanzee behavior in the wild, Jane Goodall took a unique approach to a high government official to urge him to bring her community-based environmental education and action Roots & Shoots program into his country. She described the occasion in an interview with Der Spiegel:

I remember once meeting the Chinese environment minister. I wanted to convince him to allow our Roots and Shoots program into Chinese schools. However, he spoke no English, and so now here we were, just sitting, a translator between us, and I had only 10 minutes time. So I gathered my courage and started off saying, “If I was a female chimp and I was greeting a very high-ranking male, I would be very stupid if I didn’t do the proper submissive greeting,” and I made this submissive sound: “Ö-hö-hö-hö-hö-hö.” The male, I continued, would now have to pet the female, and with that I took his hand. He stiffened and we sort of had a little tug of war, but I didn’t give up and put his hand on my head. At first, there was dead silence. But then he began to laugh. In the end, we talked for an hour and a half, and since that time we now have Roots & Shoots at Chinese schools.

Map of the day II: Carbon trapped in permafrost

And in danger of escaping as temperatures rise, via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

BLOG Carbon

Anorexia, a case of microbes and gut feelings?

In our anthropocentric arrogance, humans typically draw a sharp line between Self and Other. But the more we learn, the fuzzier the boundaries get. Each self contains a great deal of other, from the viral genetic invaders in our very DNA to the vast population of microbes inhabiting our digestive tracts.

And now we are discovering that our own mental states may be directly impacted by the nature of the population of all those intestinal flora.

From the University of North Carolina School of Medicine via Newswise:

Researchers at the UNC School of Medicine found that people with anorexia nervosa have very different microbial communities residing inside their guts compared to healthy individuals and that this bacterial imbalance is associated with some of the psychological symptoms related to the eating disorder.

The findings, published today in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, provide more evidence that the abundance and diversity of the gut microbiota – the trillions of bacteria that affect digestive health and immunity – could also affect the so-called “gut-brain axis.” This research suggests that gut bacteria could play a prominent role in the debilitating symptoms of anorexia nervosa, a serious eating disorder that affects more than 3 million Americans and has the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder.

“Other studies have linked gut bacteria to weight regulation and behavior,” said Ian Carroll, PhD, senior author of the paper and assistant professor of medicine in the UNC Center for Gastrointestinal Biology and Disease. “Since people with anorexia nervosa exhibit extreme weight dysregulation, we decided to study this relationship further.”

Carroll added, “We’re not able to say a gut bacterial imbalance causes the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, including associated symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. But the severe limitation of nutritional intake at the center of anorexia nervosa could change the composition of the gut microbial community. These changes could contribute to the anxiety, depression, and further weight loss of people with the disorder. It’s a vicious cycle, and we want to see if we can help patients avoid or reverse that phenomenon. We want to know if altering their gut microbiota could help them with weight maintenance and mood stabilization over time.”

Fructose consumption impairs brain healing

Your mother was right: Drinking soft drinks does cause brain damage, or at least impairs healing from brain injuries.

Following up on yesterday’s item on the politics of Big Sugar comes this item from the UCLA Newsroom:

A diet high in processed fructose sabotages rats’ brains’ ability to heal after head trauma, UCLA neuroscientists report.

Revealing a link between nutrition and brain health, the finding offers implications for the 5.3 million Americans living with a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.7 million people suffer a TBI each year, resulting in 52,000 annual deaths

“Americans consume most of their fructose from processed foods sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery and integrative biology and physiology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. “We found that processed fructose inflicts surprisingly harmful effects on the brain’s ability to repair itself after a head trauma.”

Fructose also occurs naturally in fruit, which contains antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients that prevent the same damage.

In the UCLA study, published today in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, laboratory rats were fed standard rat chow and trained for five days to escape a maze. Then they were randomly assigned to a group that was fed plain water or a group that was fed fructose-infused water for six weeks. The fructose was crystallized from corn in a dose simulating a human diet high in foods and drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.

A week later, the rats were anesthetized and underwent a brief pulse of fluid to the head to reproduce aspects of human traumatic brain injury. After an additional six weeks, the researchers retested all the rats’ ability to recall the route and escape the maze.

The scientists discovered that the animals on the fructose diet took 30 percent longer to find the exit compared to those that drank plain water.

The UCLA team found that fructose altered a wealth of biological processes in the animals’ brains after trauma. The sweetener interfered with the ability of neurons to communicate with each other, rewire connections after injury, record memories and produce enough energy to fuel basic functions.

Read the rest.

Not Sweet: Big Sugar & Big Science Collude

A dentist with a strong sense of compassion and the skills of an investigative UC San Francisco post-doctoral fellow Crista Kearns has devoted herself to exposing the pernicious interface between three powerful institutions, government, the sugar industry, and academia.

What triggered her curiosity was the failure of federal guidelines to include cautions about sugar guidelines for the education of diabetic patients in healthy food choices. This led her to the discovery of a potent nexus of corruption, where fear of the loss of corporate clout and funds has intimidated legislators to set recommended daily maximums for sugar intake, recruited academic scientists to produce distorted research findings, and launched public relations campaigns to hide the real nature of our sweet addiction.

Kearns has written extensively about the politics and health consequences of Big Sugar’s products, and in this presentation to the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, she outlines some of her findings.

From UCTV:

Sugar Industry Manipulation of Research: Implications for Oral Health

Program notes:

The UCSF School of Dentistry hosted the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, featuring presentations related to nutrition, sugar, and oral health worldwide. This presentation by Dr. Cristin Kearns, from the UCSF School of Medicine is one of a series of three presentations that address the science connecting the diet, nutrition, and oral health, as well as the challenges in setting guidelines and policy to reduce sugar consumption and improve nutrition worldwide. Recorded on 05.05.2015.

What make Kearns even more unique is her skill as an investigative journalist [as in these two articles for Mother Jones] as well as as an academic [as in this peer-reviewed research in PLOS Medicine].

Writing for Mother Jones, she described the critical turning point in her life, after she became frustrated with the failure of those federal diabetes education guidelines:

I already had a demanding schedule managing dental operations for Kaiser Permanente’s Dental Care Program, so I gave up TV and spent my evenings staring at Google search results instead. It took a while to hone my searches, but I eventually found enough evidence to convince me there was a story to be had. I quit my day job and dug deeper, getting away from the internet and into the musty paper archives of university libraries.

Fifteen months later, near the end of my financial rope, I tried not to get overexcited when I came across a promising reference in a library catalog of files from a bankrupt sugar company. The librarian who had archived the files wasn’t sure they contained what I was looking for; the bulk of the collection consisted of photos kept around to document the impact of the beet sugar industry on farm labor.

There in the library reading room, standing over a cardboard storage carton, I opened a folder and caught a glimpse of the first document. I sunk down in my chair and whispered “thank you” to nobody in particular. For there, below the blue letterhead of the Sugar Association, the trade group that would become the focus of our story, “Sweet Little Lies,” the word “CONFIDENTIAL” leapt off the page. I didn’t yet know what I had, but I knew I was on the right path.

Kerans also has her own blog, Sugar Politics.

Maps of the day: Dry California & El Niño hopes

From the California Department of Water Resources, the severely depleted levels of the Golden State’s reservoirs explains why both agribusiness and urban governments are hoping for those promised El Niño deluges:


With water rationing the rule for both in both town and country, the arriving El Niño is being brought to the western shores of the Americas by a current of warm water out of Asia that triggers precipitation as it hits the colder waters of the Eastern Pacific.

The warm waters have already triggered an invasion of Australian jellyfish off the California shores, as well as a host of other changes in marine life.

From the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, here’s a map of temperature anomalies in the Pacific, with the warm current clearly visible toward the bottom:

BLOG El nino

Quote of the day: Fuku-ed up from the get-go

From the The Fukushima Daiichi Accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s final report on the three-reactor-meltdown disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 16,000 dead and more than 2,500 missing:

A major factor that contributed to the accident was the widespread assumption in Japan that its nuclear power plants were so safe that an accident of this magnitude was simply unthinkable. This assumption was accepted by nuclear power plant operators and was not challenged by regulators or by the Government. As a result, Japan was not sufficiently prepared for a severe nuclear accident in March 2011. The Fukushima Daiichi accident exposed certain weaknesses in Japan’s regulatory framework. Responsibilities were divided among a number of bodies, and it was not always clear where authority lay.


The regulation of nuclear safety in Japan at the time of the accident was performed by a number of organizations with different roles and responsibilities and complex interrelationships. It was not fully clear which organizations had the responsibility and authority to issue binding instructions on how to respond to safety issues without delay.

The regulatory inspection programme was rigidly structured, which reduced the regulatory body’s ability to verify safety at the proper times and to identify potential new safety issues.

The regulations, guidelines and procedures in place at the time of the accident were not fully in line with international practice in some key areas, most notably in relation to periodic safety reviews, re-evaluation of hazards, severe accident management and safety culture.