NYT Science Times summary for Aug 23, 2011

[more loose lipped school blog writing]

Flamingos are weird. Flamingos are not well understood birds. They're generally associated with tropical climates, but they more accurately are found with brine shrimp in salt plains so, in some odd places like the Andes where they freeze their little pink selves. Their pinkness is a direct response to their diet. They are an ancient group of birds distinctly flamingo fossils date back 50 million years, though they are not a diverse group of critters with only 5 or 6 species. Flamingos are filter feeders the "avian equivalent of baleen whales". The article has some whimsical prose, I found the following amusing, "They skate slowly through their chosen wetland, as stiff and pompous Monty Python philosophers on a soccer field..." The articl doesn't really reveal much about flamingos which probably goes to support the authors point that the birds are little understood. The research being conducted in the field is looking to understand their social structures, why they stand on one leg, how they eat, their mating patterns and, how enormous flocks function synchronously.

No surprises for Bisexual Men, They exist says headline. Northwestern University has conducted tests trying to identify if men are "gay straight or lying" which was followed by another test that though too small to generalize says, yes there are in fact men who are aroused by stimuli depicting men women and both.  The test subjects in the first study were captured from ads in primarily gay sources, in the more recent study the criteria for test subjects required that the participants have experience and relationships with both men and women rather than stated declarations of desire.  Ultimately what the studies show is that sexual orientation and identity and desire are a complicated combo of physical and mental soup.  Folks in the field of bisexual support organizations and research institutes say 'thanks, for the validation, but there is more to it than that.'

To circumcise or not. Circumcision is a commonly practiced operation in the United States, in the US studies question the validity of conducting the practice with such a broad sword. Circumcision, researches say has meager risk reduction and there is no medically compelling reason to do it. In Africa however advocates are pushing circumcision as an AIDS prevention methodology. Findings from research in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda suggest that circumcised men were less likely to contract HIV than intact men (female partners) as well reduces the spread of HPV. Critics say AIDS in Africa and the US are are very different - most in the US with HIV/AIDS are infected by other men not women (states the article). Circumcision doesn't seem to reduce risk with male partners.  The article goes on to say if you find yourself faced with the parenting decision; plan ahead by researching the pros and cons so you can make a dispassionate decision at the time of the birth and, make sure your partner is on the same page.

Skeleton, sugar and sex. Hypothesis: bones help regulate fertility in men. There is more to bone than previously thought, the skeleton seems to help regulate blood sugar (cool) and now researchers suspect the skeletal system may play a role in reproductivity. Hormones affect bone density as we age - hormones changing causes in bone density in us, in women more than men, but men too.  The article says "...if the sex organs talk to bones, then bones must talk back...". Studies in mice show male mice without a certain protein called osteocalcin produced less testosterone were less fertile and had fewer and smaller offspring, female fertility was unaffected. The question on the table, is it a critical mechanism or a back up system. Researchers are now going to study men. "Bone might not just be a victim of aging, it might also be a contributor."

Born and Evolved to Run NYT Article on human evolution, designed to run Daniel Lieberman studies human evolution, looking to the paleolithic body and evolution to understand possibilities for reducing injuries that result from modern living such as fallen arches, osteoporosis, cancer, myopia, diabetes, impacted wisdom teeth and back troubles for example. He claims that we've spend a gazillion years not wearing shoes, as humans we are designed to run great distances (he states we are all capable of it) evolved as pack hunters which run to wear down prey by sheer endurance.  Also noted that barefoot runners place themselves on the ground differently with almost no impact reducing stress and injury.

Daniel Lieberman did a TEDx talk about this study of evolution as seen here - it's 18 minutes and, well, interesting!

Ice Flow New map tracks ice flow as it moves across the continent of antartica, the map is comprised of data from NASA and the Canadian, European and Japanese space agencies the. The new maps is really the first time we get to see true ice floe rather than best guess speculation.

A plant protein called CLASP is the 'construction boss' of plant growth, it tells plant cells where to go, without it plants would develop as dwarfs.

The Gilded Trap Prolific lobsters have Maine lobstermen by the balls (I must have been tired when I wrote that). Lobster predators have been overfished creating an artificial ecosystem and now It's boom times in Maine harbors but the excitement could cause environmental and economic consequences in the future as natural predators return to normal numbers.

Fishing Gear Is Altered to Reduce Collateral Catches Researchers and regulators are working with fishermen to develop gear that works to catch only the target creature and or deter unwanted creatures from taking the bait. Fish hooks that only haul fish of a certain wait (as not not catch a heavier species), "pingers: a noise maker designed to scare dolphin away from tuna grounds while the boat/gear is present, circular hooks that sea turtles can't get caught on. Some fishermen push back on over regulation but generally comply.

Malaria Research The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation sponsors a grant award for malaria research - the winner went to a group that is trying to zap malaria with microwaves. "It's a crazy idea that might just work."


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