Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Roundup of the Internets

The media keeps reporting that this poltroon

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told the police that he dyed his hair red to look like the Joker.

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The Joker's hair is green. Which means you can add color-blindness to his list of problems.

The news, which seems to rush off after certain scientists like a school of piranhas - why does it do that? Do some scientists possess a certain pheromone that attracts bored reporters to their news conferences? Some scientists toil away forever without even seeing a single cub reporter! - the news has discovered some scientists who have "created an artificial jellyfish from heart cells".  (BBC)
Prof Parker said he wanted to challenge the traditional view of synthetic biology which is "focused on genetic manipulations of cells". Instead of building just a cell, he sought to "build a beast".
They used silicone to fashion a jellyfish-shaped body with eight arm-like appendages. Next, they printed a pattern made of protein onto the "body" that resembled the muscle architecture of the real animal. They grew the heart muscle cells on top, with the protein pattern serving as a road map for the growth and organisation of the rat tissue.
But although this "swims" "like" a jellyfish for a few minutes, it isn't a "beast" any more than if I flayed a scientist, draped the skin over a chair and told reporters it was an artificial human. Even the lead scientist says so, and the news is quite happy to report her saying it, all the while repeating "artificial jellyfish".
Lead author Janna Nawroth...said researchers tried to copy a tissue or organ "based on what they think is important or what they see as the major components without necessarily understanding if those components are relevant to the desired function".[...]The team aims to carry out further work on the artificial jellyfish.
National Geographic has a photo of Mont Saint Michel from space that looks like something from a role-playing game. Although Mont St. Michel looks like something from a role-playing game when you're on the ground too.

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Can this be true, or is it another round of scientists with great PR? Gizmodo reports that the Genia Photonics laser spectroscope is being bought by the Dept. of Homeland Security because

The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people. [...] But the machine can sniff out a lot more than just explosives, chemicals and bioweapons. The company that invented it, Genia Photonics, says that its laser scanner technology is able to "penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances." 
Wait, that said "more than explosives, chemicals and bioweapons" and then went on to say explosives, things that impact safety and pharmacological substances. Aren't those two lists the same?

Never mind.  Elsewhere it says that the unit can detect adrenaline, other reports seem to think it can detect any molecule, and Genia's website says it could be used for lipids detection and cancer cell detection. Makes me wonder why the laboratory I work at has literally hundreds of quarter-million dollar LC-MS/MS (tandem mass spectrometers) to quantify things like IGF-1 and Insulin in blood samples if you can just point a laser at someone and instantly know everything about them.  Genia's website disappointingly claims, "The versatility of our products offers to the end-user many possibilities and opens door to new researches ever considered," (sic) but we can probably overlook that as the name "Genia" looks to be very expensive.

National Geographic also has an article on a new Maya temple being investigated by archaeologists. I love this stuff - imagine trekking through the jungle and coming across evidence of a lost civilization? It's like something from Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard!

RIP Sally Ride.  She was the 'first American woman in space', which always seemed to be one of those dog-walking-on-its-hind-legs compliments. But she was a lot more than that, being a tireless proponent of science who wrote and published science books for children. It's a losing battle in today's America, where children are going to study whatever's left after big companies have torn everything they don't like out of the syllabus (and not to mention the god-botherers), but she certainly tried. In the obituary, she came out as a lesbian, living with her partner for 27 years. That partner, of course, is ineligible for survivor benefits from NASA as the federal government cannot recognize same-sex partnerships as a marriage under DOMA.  That's how America treats its heroes.

Plus her name always reminds me of Wilson Pickett.




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