Other Science News

Oregon State University researchers report that DNA nucleic acid bases enter a “dark state” on exposure to ultraviolet radiation, wherein they are less stable. This can lead to mutations. They also demonstrate that this effect largely is mitigated by the presence of water. They conclude that the presence of water was necessary to the origin of life.

Another group of researchers at Oregon State have presented evidence that the population decline in white sturgeon of the Columbia River is tied to increasing amounts of pollutants, including PCBs and DDT.

At the University of Oslo, they have been looking at Crucian Carp, which they say can “live for months without oxygen”. They want to see if the carp’s means of dealing with anoxic conditions can be applied to humans. An anoxic-living vertebrate? That’s real news to me.

And at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, they are looking to the brittlestar as a model organism on regeneration of tissue, organs, and limbs using stem cells. Since brittlestars are invertebrates, pretty much no one gives a rip what researchers do to them or with them. The release explains that this will allow them “to do experiments that avoid the ethical issues associated with human and vertebrate research.”

Got a headache? Get lots of headaches? Get lots of headaches that the usual treatments don’t touch? The Mayo Clinic in Arizona is doing trials on an implanted neurostimulator that stimulates the occipital nerve. Of 16 patients in the test study, “Six patients had no change or less than 50 percent reduction in pain, eight reported 50 to 95 percent pain relief and two had complete relief.” You need two implants for this, to stimulate the occipital nerve on both the left and right.

In “Oh, no” news, UC San Diego researchers say that “‘Hands Free’ Isn’t Mind Free: Performing Even Easy Tasks Impairs Driving”, where they demonstrate that in their test group, use of a hands-free telephony device still results in 174 milliseconds delay in response time. “Participants were 174 milliseconds slower at braking when the two tasks occurred at the same time than when they were presented 350 milliseconds apart. While 174 milliseconds may sound tiny, it translates to 16 feet in a car going 65 mph.” Now, I’m going to have to say that I’m not liking the way that these results are reported on the ScienceDaily site. Response time studies have always shown a high degree of variability in response times both within the same subject and between subjects, and I suspect that this study is no exception. But we got nothing to indicate just how large the standard deviation was in the response time difference in the study group, just the impossibly precise figure of an additional 174 ms added to normal response time. What does that mean? If this study is like other RT studies, it means that it is likely that the range of RTs with the treatment substantially overlapped the RTs when stimuli were more than 350ms apart. And on the other end, that people will quite likely experience the occasional RT that is much longer than the 174 ms delay average. Deciding to drop back an additional 16 feet at 65 mph to compensate for using a hands-free device should not be thought of as a sure thing: the RT in some particular case could be longer than the average figure, leading to very bad outcomes.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.